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ISIS, Terror and the Moral Hypocrisy of the West

*Thanks to Middle East Eye, which published an abridged version of this post here:

Over the past months, ISIS, which had been fighting the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, changed tactics and swept east from Syria and conquered vast swaths of largely-Sunni territory in western Iraq.  In the process, it massacred thousands of Shiites, Kurds, Yazidis and other minorities in its path.

More recently, ISIS developed a new tactic which both riveted and horrified the world.  Gruesome videos of an ISIS executioner beheading westerners kidnapped in the violence of the Syrian civil war have swept social and mainstream media.  These radical Islamists are odious.  They ought to be, and have been rejected by the world, including Sunni Muslims themselves.

But there has been a strange transformation in the western attitude toward the Islamist group: when it was slaughtering Arabs and sweeping across hundreds of miles of Iraqi desert, we paid little heed.  Yes, there were expressions of concern and security officials debated about the failure of the U.S. strategy to prop up a dysfunctional Iraqi government whose army wilted in the face of ISIS.  But there were no calls to arms.  No vast mobilization of international will to address the threat.

That only resulted from what, for ISIS, was a brilliant media tactic—airing and disseminating the executions of westerners via social media.  When one of our own was beheaded before our very eyes, then ISIS became something it hadn’t been while it was confining itself to killing Arabs: it became evil personified, an enemy of western civilization, a force that must be exterminated.  What had been merely a menace when it practically conquered an entire country (Iraq), became Satan himself when it killed three westerners.  As a result, we mounted an international campaign costing over $400-million so far to roll back ISIS.

Less than a year before, in the midst of the Syrian civil war, foreign powers were falling all over themselves to fund and arm ISIS, the Nusra Front and Al-Qaeda offshoots.  The Gulf States led the charge.  Saudi power-prince Bandar ibn Sultan, who was its intelligence chief at the time, provided the radical Sunni fighters with hundreds of millions, if not billions, as Yossi Melman notes:

…Myopia…afflicted Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – all allies of the United States, driven by hatred for…The governments of these countries either turned a blind eye to the burgeoning Al-Qaida branches, or even encouraged charity organizations and influential sheikhs to fund or provide religious support for the anti-Shi’ite struggle by Al-Qaida.

The Saudi architect of this policy was Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former ambassador to the US and until a few years ago chief of Saudi intelligence and its national security adviser. Approximately one year ago, when the Saudi royal family realized that it had helped create this uncontrolled monster, Prince Bandar was forced to step down – though his deteriorating health was given as the official reason for his resignation.

At one point, Bandar even secretly visited Israel to coordinate Saudi intelligence operations in Syria, Iran and elsewhere with his Israeli intelligence counterparts.

In other words, we helped make ISIS the monster it is.  But once it escaped the bonds we created and began wreaking havoc like a golem, then we forget it was us who created it.

Drone War on the Muslim World

Our drone counter-terror strategy too has elicited outrage throughout the region.  In our fervor to root out Al Qaeda, we’ve killed over 3,000 Muslims in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  We are universally condemned for this.  It only makes our purported enemies stronger, offering them an immensely attractive recruitment tool.  But what do the drone killings offer us?  Only 4% of the dead are actual Al Qaeda militants.   Most of the rest are civilians caught in the crossfire.  What is it accomplishing?

And why is our rage for vengeance against ISIS pure and noble while the Muslim counter-reaction is bestial and uncivilized?

Let’s also not forget the millions of Iraqis and Afghanis killed during our invasions and occupations of their respective countries.  Though some may claim there were important principles we were defending, it becomes clearer with each passing day that whatever those principles may’ve been, our expenditure in blood and treasure was for naught.  Iraq is closer than ever to ethnic dissolution and God only knows what’s in store for Afghanistan as the Taliban becomes even stronger and challenges our allies there.

Do we believe the citizens of these countries will forgive and forget what we did there?  Or that Muslims the world over will do the same?

Terror in Gaza

When Palestinian militants kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers a few months ago, Israel sent 10,000 soldiers to find them and track down the killers. This operation turned into a massive pogrom: 7 Palestinians were killed in protests, 500 were arrested, most having nothing to with the crime. Thousands of private homes were ransacked by the invading troops.

In a revenge attack, Israeli settlement youths kidnapped a 16 year-old East Jerusalem Palestinian.  They beat him senseless with a tire iron, poured gasoline on his body and down his throat, and set him on fire.  Though the killers were arrested and are being tried, and Israeli Jews expressed almost universal outrage, there was no mass movement to suppress the radical settler ideology that spawned this murder.  Because that ideology is a powerful and mainstream political phenomenon in Israel.  To do the right thing, Israel would’ve had to cut off its own right hand.

Israel’s mass violence in the West Bank spurred Hamas to launch rockets in solidarity against southern Israel.   Though the aerial assault sent hundreds of thousands of Israelis into air raid shelters, the Palestinian ordnance caused only minor property damage.

Israel’s response was to “go nuclear.”  Or, as they say in colloquial Hebrew, “the landlord went nuts.”  It invaded Gaza, beginning a 50-day war that took 2,100 Gazan lives including 500 children. 70 Israelis died, almost all invading troops.

This slaughter was for the sake of 3 Israeli dead.   I am not saying those Israeli lives were not precious. Nor justifying the kidnapping and murder. But why are 3 Israeli lives worth 2,100 Palestinian?  If the world shares Israel’s outrage at the teenagers’ deaths, why not the 500 Gazan kids?  If killing three is terror, why is killing 2,100 not?

Terror in Jerusalem

A few days ago, a Palestinian from Silwan drove his car onto the tracks at an East Jerusalem light rail station killing a three-month old baby and young Israeli woman.  The crime, for which Hamas acknowledged responsibility, was horrible, even inexcusable…until you consider the pain of 500 mothers and father who lost their children last summer in Gaza.  Inexcusable until you consider the settlers of Elad and Ateret Cohanim who have stolen the homes of hundreds of Silwan residents through subterfuge and fraud in an attempt to Judaize the city’s Palestinian neighborhoods.  Inexcusable until you consider Israeli Border Police this week assaulting the sacred precincts of the Haram al Sharif and filling its hall with the stench and explosion of tear gas canisters.  In fact, the Palestinian wrote a Facebook post a few days before the attack which featured a picture of Al Aqsa in flames with the caption “Al Aqsa in danger.”

yehudah glick

Yehudah Glick, settler activist seeking to rebuild Temple, who was severely wounded yesterday in possible Jerusalem assassination attempt.

Even after you consider such provocations, many will still find the murder of a three-month old baby inexcusable.  My point is to remember that terrorism doesn’t arise from a vacuum.  A single terror attack always has a context.  That the death of one three month old baby was preceded by the prior deaths of many other babies.  And that all the babies’ suffering should be treated with the same gravity.  And terror always leads to more terror.

yehudah glick third temple

Yehudah Glick displays image of Third Temple, to be built on ruins of Dome of the Rock

In the past few hours, Yehuda Glick, an Israeli settler activist who advocated building the Third Temple and destroying the Muslim holy places on the Temple Mount, was severely injured in a potential assassination attempt.  If Bibi Netanyahu and his settler allies want to rebuild the Holy Temple and destroy Muslim holy sites, there is a price that will be paid.  This is just the start of it, I’m afraid.

For anyone arguing that such Israeli views are on the fringe, I remind you that Moshe Feiglin, a Kahanist and deputy Knesset speaker, supports destroying the Dome of the Rock and rebuilding the Temple.  And the Bayit Yehudi MK candidate, Jeremy Gimpel, told a U.S. Christian evangelical church audience that the Dome of the Rock must be destroyed.  One may argue that in the context of another country, such views are those of crackpots and not to be taken seriously.  But in Israel, crackpots have a habit of becoming prime ministers and generals.  Words are taken as deeds.  And deeds kill.

Glick and Gimpel’s origins in the bowels of right-wing American Orthodoxy remind us the nerve toxin that it has injected into the Israeli body politic.  Think of the American settler-terrorists who’ve played such a formative role not just in the settler movement, but in the consciousness of latter-day Israel: Jack Teitel, Meir Kahane, Baruch Goldstein. Naftali Bennett is a more polished version of these as leader of the Bayit Yehudi party, but the legacy he brings to Israeli politics is no less toxic.

Several hours after the assassination attempt, the Border Police, Israel’s crack thug-assassins murdered a suspect in the attack in his East Jerusalem home.  They said, as they always do in these circumstances, that the suspect fired first, and Israeli forces were forced to return fire, killing him.  We know what we think of this explanation.  If the IDF is willing to kill its own to prevent their capture by Hamas, do you think security forces would have any hesitation liquidating terror suspects?

While speaking of Israel and Hamas, let’s recall that the original rapid growth of the Islamic movement was facilitated and encouraged by Israeli intelligence.  Just as the CIA exploited the mujahedeen in the U.S. Cold War battle with the Soviet Union, so Israel took advantage of the new Islamic group in its battle against Arafat’s secularist Fatah.  How quickly we forget, that in our hubris to promote our own interests, the monsters we create may, like Frankenstein, turn on their creators.

Returning to this past summer’s war, what did the world do in the midst of the carnage?  Our State Department and virtually every other western government expressed shock and outrage at the Hamas rockets, but none at the massive killings by the IDF.  Gaza today looks like Dresden after it was levelled by U.S. bombers during World War II.  Yet does anyone actually believe those generals who ordered the slaughter during Protective Edge will face the justice Nazi generals faced at Nuremberg?  Or will they face no judgment, as the British and American generals who killed tens of thousands of Germans in the Dresden fireball?

In other words, there is a massive double standard here.  Western lives are worth outrage.  They are worth mounting a massive military campaign to oust ISIS.  Muslim lives?  Not so much.

anat rimon or

Anat Rimon Or’s Yom Kippur “dvar Torah” on ISIS and the price paid by the west for terror

An Israeli Joan of Arc

In a related matter, an Israeli professor of education, Anat Rimon-Or, wrote a Facebook post about the hypocrisy of western attitudes toward ISIS.  In it, she expressed some ideas similar to those here.  She even goes farther and claims “heretically” that there is even a spark of the human in ISIS:

ISIL has been defined [by the world] as an enemy with demonic qualities representing nothing more than urge to kill and murder. Like Hamas before it, in July-August of this year [Operation Protective Edge].  It’s necessary to explode this image of the murderous demon, because it has no connection to the [Palestinian] people or organizations to which it is attached. Its sole purpose is to legitimize unjust murder [of Islamists like Hamas or ISIS]. It’s even possible that we’re speaking of a people or the organization that is very cruel.  But it isn’t the cruelty that creates the demonic image but the [western] intention to exterminate.  This is true regarding Jews, Hamas, or ISIL.

That is why we need to battle against image of the murderous demon. We have to find, behind it, the human utterance, which is always there (even if the organization, for its own reasons, conceals it well), and to point to it as a basis for an agreement that will stop the bloodshed.

Rimon-Or also suggests that instead of liquidating ISIS, the U.S. should pay reparations to the Iraqi people for the decade worth of suffering & mayhem we inflicted on them.  She implies that without such mass violence and our invasion, there might not even be an ISIS to fight.

Controversial, perhaps.  But the avalanche of hate that befell her was unprecedented even in the trash-talking political culture that is Israel.  Right-wing columnist, Ben Dror Yemini, called her a “mad professor.”  There were calls for her firing from Beit Berl College, where she teaches education.  On TV, an interviewer was so aghast at her views that he talked over her for the entire interview, refusing to allow her to complete a coherent thought.  I imagine this was the way the English viewed Joan of Arc before they burned her at the stake: as a radical, troublemaker, enemy of the State, even a terrorist.

So many Facebook users reported Rimon-Or’s post that Facebook censored and removed it.  It’s preserved here (in Hebrew).

The nature of political debate is much harsher in Israel than outside.  The political climate is intensely nationalistic, chauvinistic, and violent.  The room for diverse views is increasingly narrow.  Those even moderately outside the rightist mainstream are violently assaulted or intimidated both in social media and by police and hooligans during protests on the streets.

Israel is the canary in the coal mine.  If we are not careful, our own societies will become as racist, violent and intolerant as Israel is.  Just as drones, racial profiling and similar counter-terror methods got their start there and were transferred to the west, so may this murderous hatred not just for Islam, but for any person or idea deemed “other.”

H/t to Richard Flantz and John Brown for Rimon-Or story.

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Fear, Loathing and Terror in Israel-Palestine

I gave this talk earlier this week to the Unitarian Universalist Humanists of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Seattle on October 23rd. My talk goes till 46:00 approximately. The rest is Q&A, including a vocal altercation with an obstreperous audience member who thought I gave short shrift to Israelis:

When Jeanette, your president, first asked me to speak to you last summer, we were in the midst of a terrible 50-day war in Gaza which cost the lives of 2,100 Gazans and more than 70 Israelis.   It was a bloodbath the likes of which even this violent place hadn’t seen in decades. Today, Gaza is in ruins, deliberately destroyed by the Israelis.   A drone’s eye view of Gaza I watched shows devastation that reminds me of the Dresden bombing during WWII.

The world largely stood by and did nothing.   Though U. S., Turkey and Qatar offered to mediate, Israel distrusted all of them as being biased toward Hamas.  It preferred the services of the Egyptian military junta with which it has a cozy relationship.

About the best we can say in terms of a ‘positive’ outcome is that the massacre left a foul taste in most of the world’s mouth.   It sank Israel’s reputation in the world even lower than it already was.

That’s enhanced the stature of both the BDS movement and the Palestinian Authority’s campaign for full statehood within the UN.  There are only two parties opposed: Israel, as can be expected, and the U.S.  We’ve sided with Israel throughout, vetoing Security Council resolutions opposing settlements and supporting a Palestinian state.  For all that, we have precious little to show for it.   Even our own leaders, Barack Obama and John Kerry. don’t have any faith in Israel’s leadership.

But due to the iron grip the Israel Lobby holds on our policy towards Israel-Palestine, we are immobilized. We cannot even be the honest broker between the two sides which we’d like to be.

During Operation Protective Edge we were placed in the awkward role of bystander.  It reminded me of riding in a car on the freeway as you pass a fatal accident.   You feel the horror and dread of death while being helpless to intervene.

The background to all this was the failure of the Israel-Palestine peace talks brokered by John Kerry over the past year.  While some had great hopes for a positive outcome, I was skeptical since I didn’t see the will for an agreement on the Israeli side, nor the will to exert pressure on the American side.  When those talks died a few months ago amidst much recrimination against Israel by the U.S. negotiators, the stage was set for last summer’s war and the subsequent rise in terror attacks on both sides.

Yesterday brought a new page of bloody terror the conflict.  In a heinous attack in occupied East Jerusalem, a Palestinian from Silwan drove his car into the light rail tracks at the Ammunition Hill station, killing a 3-month old baby and young woman, both Israeli Jews.  In a statement on its website, Hamas took credit and called the killing of the child a “brave attack.”  Needless to say, this displays the psychopathology that currently rules here.

The loss of such a tender young child’s life is senseless.  The mourning of the mother who was pushing her child’s baby carriage rends the heart.  But let’s also remember the 500 dead Gazan children from Operation Protective Edge, and their mothers who were bereft at the loss of the precious lives they brought into the world with such hopes and dreams.

The Ammunition Hill attack is an example of the chickens of settlerism coming home to roost.  I’ve used this expression made famous by Malcolm X to evoke the fatal inevitability of violence and hate in this unending conflict.  Bibi Netanyahu recently defended the theft of Palestinian homes in Silwan and expulsion of their residents on U.S. TV.  The theft was organized by settler NGOs like Ateret Cohanim and Elad using fraudulent real estate deals involving fake middlemen earning commissions for their subterfuge.  In fact, yesterday the former group, whose chief U.S. fundraiser is the wife of a major New York City Orthodox Jewish Democratic leader, stole several homes in Silwan and forcefully evicted residents and replaced them with settlers.

Israel’s settlerist government supports such ethnic cleansing.  Israel’s chief ally, the U.S., tepidly objects to the thievery.  What are Palestinians to think about this?  No one defends their rights to remain in homes they’ve occupied for generations.  If deranged or extremist Palestinian militants take the law into their own hands in the midst of the vacuum, who’s to blame (aside from the perpetrators)?  Obama is to blame.  Kerry is to blame.  The EU is to blame.  If they take no action, the situation will only get worse.  In fact, yesterday’s Haaretz used the term “Jerusalem Intifada” to denote a mounting wave of resistance and violence sparked by Israeli ultra-nationalism.

Settlers under the leadership of deputy Knesset speaker, Moshe Feiglin, have swarmed the Temple Mount, staking their claim to rebuild the Holy Temple in what they hope will be the near future.  They make no bones about the fact that they seek to destroy the Muslim holy sites there.  Ateret Cohanim and other religious extremist groups are the key forces behind this project.

Palestinians reacted with characteristic outrage at this intrusion on their sovereign holy ground.  In the past days, Border Police invaded the sacred precincts, showered worshippers with tear gas and accompanying explosions.  It was a madhouse, and all this on what is for Muslims holy ground.  This was a flagrant provocation by the Israeli police doing the bidding of settlers.

Again, what is a Palestinian Muslim to think?  That the Jews have his interests at heart?  That they will accommodate them in any way?  This is increasingly a zero-sum game for both sides.  Either “we” win or “they” do.  There is less and less chance of a compromise allowing both sides to win.  This is a recipe for apocalyptic conflict.  Religious war with blood flowing freely.  We saw this in the invocations of the divine in the battle cry of the IDF’s Givati commander, Col. Winter, during Operation Protective Edge.  He likened the Gazans to “Philistines” and called upon the Lord to bless his forces in battle and slay them as Samson slew his enemies and brought down the pagan temple.

This should make every reasonable person shiver with foreboding.  Wars that have political origins can be ended through talks and compromise.  But once the passions of the divine, sacred causes, and holy war enter, all bets are off.

Unfortunately, those who should know better, Obama, Kerry and others, are trying benign neglect.  It may’ve worked for Daniel Moynihan in the 1969-era Nixon administration.  But not here, not now.

The Israeli prime minister has loudly proclaimed that he will militarize Palestinian neighborhoods.  He will flood them with Border Police who attempt to put the fear of the Jewish God into residents.  They will pummel and brutalize East Jerusalem, which will incite even greater violence.  More Palestinians will be emboldened to resist and the cycle of terror will only get worse.  This is a festering sore that the world has allowed to become infected.

Ammunition Hill is across the Green Line in occupied East Jerusalem.  It is also the site of the light rail line that was attacked.  With the ever-tightening vise of settlerism squeezing Palestinians out of Jerusalem, the light rail line has become a symbol of oppression.  It has been trashed, vandalized and burned by Palestinian militants.  It is a symbol of their displacement and the official violence accompanying it.  Though Israelis see the line as a positive development integrating the city and its neighborhood, that can only happen when all residents want to be part of the whole.  Palestinians do not accept their marginalization within this scheme.  The line, for them, helps Jews and advances Jewish interests.  That’s a deadly formula as far as Palestinians are concerned.

Let me make clear what I always do in such situations: this talk is not a justification of terrorism.  It is an admission of reality.  If Israeli Jews weren’t stealing Palestinian land, if Israel accepted a compromise agreement, if the world cared about what happens to Palestinians, then they would not need to resort to terrorism.  As long as Israel can invade frontline neighbors with impunity and kill Palestinians, Lebanese, and even Syrians in the thousands, terrorism will fester.  And let’s not forget that Palestinian terrorism doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  Operation Protective Edge was itself a massive terror attack that killed 500 children.  That’s state-sponsored terror.

If Israel was smart, it would recognize Palestine, accept its sovereignty, and put authorities there and the world on notice that it expected them to provide security.  Palestinians would rise to the challenge because they would have something to lose: their reputation and sovereignty.  For extra protection, international monitors like those serving on the Lebanon-Israel border, could maintain the border as a conflict-free zone.  Now, Palestinians are emasculated and powerless in the face of Israeli power.  Powerlessness does not breed responsibility.  Just the opposite.

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What Israel Has to Teach Us

The post title is, of course, meant ironically.  What does Israel have to teach the U.S., except how to be a better national security state?  How to sacrifice rights for security, liberty for surveillance, privacy for intrusion?  How to replace the striving for peace for a state of perpetual war.

We’ve learned so much from Israel on this score.  In the midst of the Al Qaeda airplane bomb threats involving the Shoe Bomber and a others, Israeli security consultants and their media enablers plastered the airwaves with encomiums to Israel’s purported airtight airline security program.  There were billions at stake of course since every major world airport contracts with firms to devise and implement security protocols.  For a few months, Israel was smelling pretty good on that score.  Until people started realizing that Israel’s so-called security gold standard came at the expense of anyone with dark skin or an Arab name.  Stories began to circulate of Shin Bet agents working on behalf of El Al who were turning away flyers simply because of their skin color (South Africa).  This little incident almost lost the Israeli airline landing rights in the country.  In other words, one of the bedrock principles of the Israelis is racial-profiling.  The equivalent of: if you’re Black, get back; white outa sight!

Further, while Israeli airport security may protect flyers who succeed in getting aboard an Israeli airline, many of the principles used derive from Israel’s Occupation regime and its draconian treatment of the Palestinians.  Israel’s claim of excellence in this area derives from its permanent war footing against the Palestinians.  If you look for enemies everywhere, you will eventually find one (along with many you will offend with false positives).  Israel is quite good at identifying and nabbing enemies. If it can’t do that, it makes new enemies to fill the quota (cf., Turkey).

susan rice israel

National security advisor, Susan Rice, address at IAF Palmachim base (White House)

Similarly, Israel was the first nation to develop drones, which it uses both to spy on its Arab neighbors and assassinate undesirable Palestinians.  U.S. counter-terror strategy embraced drones with a vengeance, and its now pretty much the sole component of our relationship with the Arab-Muslim world.  Ask the average Middle Easterner what’s the first word he or she thinks of when you say “USA” and undoubtedly it will be “drone.”

A related concept which the U.S. already used before Israel’s model was offered to us was targeted killing.  We have a long history of assassinating our foreign enemies.  But in the past we reserved such treatment for those who were our most formidable foes.  We didn’t bother assassinating mere thorns in our side.  But Israel taught us a lesson here as well.  Israel, of course, targeted the creme de la creme of enemy militants like Ghassan Khanfani, Sheikh Yassine and Salah Shehadeh.  But it didn’t stop there.  Since the first Intifada (perhaps even earlier) it assassinated rank and file militants on their way to launch a rocket.  No target became too small or insignificant.  And of course as the circle of targets widened and the sheer numbers of attempts increased, the numbers of Palestinian civilians killed rose as well.

The U.S. has adopted a similar approach to Al Qaeda and other Islamist insurgencies we’ve taken on: of course we want the bin Ladens and Zarkawis, but we’ll take the mid-level and even low-level guys as well.  The number of potential targets grew.  Ways in which you were added to the list were haphazard, not vetted with care or caution.  And of course, the numbers of civilians who’ve died is astronomical: at least 2,500 according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.  Of the 3,000 killed, only 4% were confirmed Al Qaeda members and a few hundred were militants affiliated with other Islamist cells.  The rest: civilians.

I was reminded of this when I read, Big Brother’s Liberal Friends, an excellent skewering of the “liberal” NSA warriors Michael Kinsley, Sean Wilentz and George Packer.  Each has published their own smear of Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden.

But this summary of the value of the Snowden expose was the money quote for me:

…Not only are America’s overseas interventions problematic by themselves, but they are also increasingly undermining domestic liberties. Intelligence efforts that are supposed to be focused abroad turn out to have sweeping domestic consequences. It’s impossible to distinguish intelligence data on domestic and foreign actors. Security officials in various countries can work together across borders to circumvent and undermine domestic protections, actively helping each other to remake laws that restrict their freedom of operation. And at home, officials can use these new arrangements to work around and undermine civil rights. This commingling of domestic and international politics is complex and poorly understood.

This struck home in considering the debilitating effects of the Israel Occupation on Israeli society itself.  It’s commonly believed that Israelis put up an Iron Wall between themselves and their Palestinian neighbors.  And to a great extent this true.  Israelis will not learn much about what happens day to day inside Palestinian society, unless it concerns terrorism, a security threat, or war.  They will hardly meet Palestinians, nor socialize with them.  And if such things do happen, Israeli extremists make sure that Palestinians know, on pain of assault or worse, that they’re not welcome among Jews.

But regardless of the Israeli effort to insulate itself from Palestinians, the Occupation seeps into Israeli life.  Of course the crushing burden of tens of billions of dollars spent on security related to Occupation weighs down the economy.  The everyday oppression meted out by young Israeli soldiers at checkpoints and the like is transferred when they return home.  The brutality and violence forced upon them by virtue of the role they play does not stay at their military posts.  It enters into their relationships with friends, family, colleagues, etc.  That’s why thousands have followed the completion of their military service with pilgrimages to drug dens of India and elsewhere.  They’re trying to medicate their pain and work themselves into an insensate stupor.

While Israel calls itself a democracy, it enforces an apartheid system in the West Bank.  This a system in which rights don’t exist, in which security is god, and all other issues take second-place.  Justice, such as it is, is meted out by military judges who care little about the niceties of civilian rule of law.  The hatred at the root of Occupation is also transferred by Jews to their fellow Palestinian citizens.  If residents of the West Bank are the enemy, why shouldn’t Palestinian citizens of Israel as well?  How are they any different?  They look the same, talk the same, act the same.  They all hate us.  So we see fellow Israeli citizens demonized as if they were alien.  The discrimination and intolerance which even Pres. Reuven Rivlin has acknowledged this week, becomes a just sacrifice for the sake of security.

Occupation establishes a hierarchy of power in which the soldier stands at the apex and the Palestinian sits at the bottom.  The soldier is god, the civilian is an animal (the words of the Israeli boys themselves who man checkpoints).  These are attitudes one can see in Israel itself.  The average citizen accepts abridgement of his or her rights for the greater good.  Power is willingly handed over to the elite and figures of authority, those who know better.  The bargain is made assuming that the bosses have the common man’s best interests at heart.  But we know how that bargain goes, and how easy it is to break that bond of trust.

Oligarchs are offered the keys to the kingdom and all the coin of the realm.  The system is jury-rigged for them and by them.  Sure, the common man or woman may protest as they did during the Tel Aviv social justice protests.  Hundreds of thousands then marched for their rights.  The elites shivered a bit, but weren’t worried.  They patiently waited out the storm knowing things would revert back to the norm.

In this, they had the model of Israel’s economic treatment of the Palestinians.  The latter have no independent economy.  They are under Israeli control.  Israel turns the tap on and can turn it off as well.  In this system, Israel is the oligarch and the Palestinians are the hapless consumer subject to the whims of the financial elite.

In this sense, those at the J14 protests who complained that Occupation must be separated from the economic demands of the largely Israeli Jewish audience, made a fatal mistake.  What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but what happens in Bilin, Qalqilya or Ramallah doesn’t stay there.  It mutates and migrates to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Beersheba.

Another sickness afflicting Israel is corruption.  It exists on a massive scale from the top to the bottom.  It’s more subtle than in third-world countries where its endemic and overt.  But it prevails everywhere.  Every politician of any significance, every police commander is on the take in one way or another.

Part of this phenomenon derives from the overwhelming impact of the military on society.  It, and its budget is sacrosanct.  There is hardly any oversight.  Generals and politicians may quibble about a program or a billion here or there.  But everyone knows in the end, the boys can’t be let down.  We must sacrifice everything for them.  We must give them everything they need.

In such a system, abuse is rampant.  Budgets are inflated. Weapons systems are touted because they line the pocket of some defense contractor to whom someone owes a favor.  Generals are promoted not for their acumen, but due to who their allies are.

That is what is leading Israel down a path to authoritarianism.  Whatever democracy there once was is gone, or almost disappeared.  Strong men (and they are largely men) rule.  The security services, whether police or Shin Bet, have the run of the place.  There are no constraints on their actions.  Even Israeli Jews are subject to their whims.

This is yet another model Israel may be offering the U.S.  The question is whether this is what we will become, as seems likely based on the national security agenda of Bush and Obama.  Or whether, we have the strength and fortitude to roundly reject what Israel has to offer.

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bibiton leviev

Yediot article on Lev Leviev’s Jerusalem residential construction projects: “Africa-Israel not building in East Jerusalem”

Lev Leviev is not a man known for his moral conscience.  He made his fortune exporting conflict diamonds from Africa through his holding company, Africa-Israel (A-I), and cozying up to dictators there.  His home construction subsidiary made a reputation for building settlements.  Who knows, perhaps he’s turning over a new leaf?

Yediot Achronot examined (Hebrew) the construction projects Africa-Israel has planned for Jerusalem.  There are projects totaling 900 units and worth $600-million, and all are in West Jerusalem.  Not a single unit in occupied territory.  One wonders whether Leviev prefers keeping his reputation clean so that western pension funds won’t divest themselves, as they have from other Israeli companies like banks and the water company, Mekorot. The headline says:

The plans of Leviev’s conglomerate are motivated by political pressure and fear of boycott.

In the article, a senior A-I manager says the company’s current policy is not to build outside the Green Line and the reporter speculates on the reason in the headline above.  But as of October 2013, the BDS movement took issue with A-I’s characterization, saying the firm was building in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo and had been for the past two years.  It seems the company wanted to have it both ways: to reap profits from settlement construction while telling the world it’s clean.

jerusalem light rail cartoon

Jerusalem light rail “zipper.” Song lyrics: “Between cities and rocks the train flies…”

It is possible that A-I has instituted a new policy that it will not initiate new projects over the Green Line.  If so, that’s exceedingly welcome news for the BDS movement.  Though this should be examined carefully to determine if it’s true.  Adalah just released a statement calling for caution before accepting the article’s claim at face value as A-I has told the world before that it wasn’t building settlements, when it was.

The article portrays a multi-national conglomerate beset by political turmoil over its support for Israel’s Occupation and settlements.  It implies that A-I has seen the handwriting on the wall of the international investment community and decided that to preserve its financial health it had best divest from projects that bring unwanted scrutiny and notoriety.  If true, this indicates BDS works in a big way, despite the derision and delirium with which the movement is viewed by pro-Israel forces.

I’ve also displayed this Shlomo Cohen cartoon from Yisrael HaYom (Bibiton) showing Jerusalem’s light rail line, whose tracks are a zipper connecting the two separate unraveling cities of East and West Jerusalem.  Note that the “zipper” is splitting just as the train arrives, after it’s been stoned by Palestinians.  The cartoon caption: “Between cities and rocks the train flies” is a riff on an old Israeli children’s song whose original lyrics are: “Between mountains and rocks the train flies, and of all the boys I love you [best].”

Without realizing it (perhaps), even Bibiton admits that Jerusalem is NOT one united city as the (prime-) master declares, but two cities at war because one seeks to impose its will on the other.

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Defense Minister Bogie Yaalon, a devout adherent of settler ideology, has been persona non grata for the U.S. administration for the past six months.  He was largely responsible for torpedoing John Kerry’s year-long peace talks.  On top of that, he dissed Kerry publicly, calling him “messianic” and “obsessive,” for the crime of exerting pressure on the Israelis to compromise in the negotiations.

Seeking to get himself out of the dog house, Yaalon traveled to Washington DC this week for what he hoped would be meetings with top-level administration officials.  But it didn’t work.  The highest he managed to snag beside defense secretary Hagel was UN Ambassador Samantha Power.  The only reason he succeeded with her is that Power had agreed to the meeting before the administration decided to give the Israeli a cold shoulder.

It wasn’t just a silent snub, a U.S. official (possibly ambassador Daniel Shapiro) leaked to Yediot Achronot about Yaalon’s humiliation, intending to rub it in.  The ex-chief of staff tried to shrug it all off by saying the bad blood was in the past.  But statements from Washington showed otherwise.

In the past, I’ve written about Yaalon’s intimacy with the most extreme elements of the settler movement.  He toured Australia on a Likud fundraising trip with Moshe Feiglin, which Meir Kahane’s son helped organize.  Kahane lives in Tapuach, one of the most violent and homicidal of settler outposts.

So it comes as no surprise that the defense minister bowed to settler ‘pressure‘ to deny public transport access to Palestinian workers traveling to and from Israel.  Settlers  offered the bogus argument that the workers posed a security threat to them on the buses, and to Israelis inside Israel.  They manipulated the alleged threat by lifting a Hamas song created during Operation Protective Edge, which was intended to spook Israelis with the threat of Palestinian military prowess.  They accompanied the ominous musical message with video images of Palestinian workers disembarking from Israeli buses.  The message was that any of these faces could be the next terrorist bombing one of these buses.

Yaalon prohibits Palestinians from riding Israeli public buses

Defense Minister Yaalon ‘driving’ an Israeli settler bus full of Jewish Ku Klux Klan riders (Amir Schiby)

The propaganda is crude and unpersuasive.  If it were in this country you’d breath a sigh of relief that right-wing media efforts are so primitive.  But in Israel, it doesn’t matter how primitive the propaganda is.  The settlers own the levers of power.  They rule.  They don’t need sophisticated media outreach.  They don’t need polish to persuade Israel, since Israel is already persuaded.

Ironically, the argument about the Palestinians offering a terror threat within the Green Line was contradicted by the statement from the defense ministry the next day that the new apartheid system did not prevent Palestinians from traveling to Israel, it only meant they had to travel in more restrictive fashion (through a different checkpoint).

It’s worth noting that IDF commanders on the ground in the West Bank said there was no terror threat from these integrated buses.  And there have been no previous terror attacks from this source.  Of course there haven’t.  Palestinians need work.  Why would they allow a terror attack in their midst and destroy their own livelihood?  And why would terrorists target a bus full of Palestinian workers?

Unfortunately, this is logic and reason; and settlerism doesn’t respect such niceties.  It respects hate, fear and ignorance.  It respects racism and Islamophobia.  It respects Judeo-nationalism.

There is only one reason for this new apartheid ruling: Jewish settlers hate Palestinians and refuse to ride with them.  In this way, they are no different than the whites of Birmingham who found riding on a bus with Blacks to be distasteful.  The difference between the U.S. South and Judean Occupation is that a Palestinian Rosa Parks would be arrested, beaten, and sent to prison.  If Palestinians boycotted the Israeli public transport system it wouldn’t harm settlers in any way since they’ve already created an apartheid system that divides Jews from Palestinians.  There is no way, unlike 1950s Birmingham, that Palestinians can pose an economic threat to Israeli Jews.

Peace Now leader Yariv Oppenheimer said that this decision returns Israel to those darkest periods of human history, from American slavery to South African apartheid, and show the ugly face of Occupation.”

Israeli liberals like Gershom Gorenberg are fond of asking inane questions like “where is the Palestinian Gandhi.”  This is the wrong question.  It’s obvious why there’s no Palestinian Gandhi: because he’s in an Israeli prison or dead.  Unlike Gandhi or Martin Luther King, I believe there are times when non-violence fails in the face of implacable evil and violence.  When the perpetrators have no conscience and are willing to go to any means to defend their privilege, then non-violence cannot succeed.  We’ve seen tens of thousands of examples of Israeli homicidal violence against Palestinians which resulted in little or no echo of compassion from Israelis.  Even if there was compassion, there was no accompanying resolve to change.

In one perverse way, Yaalon’s ruling makes me happy.  It shows the true face not just of settlerism, but of the entire Israeli apartheid system.  Make no mistake, Occupation is not a moral stain external to the Israeli State.  It is at the heart of the State.  The State as currently constituted could not exist without it.  And with each new outrage, the world is further awakened from its moral slumber.  BDS will become stronger.  The campaign for justice and statehood in the UN strengthens.

Much more blood will be shed on both sides.  But the arch of history points toward justice.  It will happen.

There is a rightist slogan very popular in classical Zionist circles: “Masada must not fall again.” (sheynit Metzada do tipol).  Alas, the current iteration of the Israeli state is a second Masada, especially in the form of the self-destructive policies pursued by the Likudist majority.  This second Masada will fall, in fact must fall.  To be clear, I’m speaking of an ultra-nationalist Masada in which racism and oppression are at the heart of the State.  This Masada, fortified against justice and moral conscience, must fall and will.

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Jerusalem Terror Attack, Chickens Coming Home to Roost

ammunition hill terror

Car that rammed into light rail passengers, killing a baby

In today’s heinous terror attack, a Palestinian from Silwan drove his car into the light rail tracks at Ammunition Hill station, killing a Jewish baby.  The loss of such a tender young life is senseless.  The mourning of the mother who was pushing her child’s baby carriage rends the heart.

But let us also remember the 500 dead Gazan children and their mothers who were bereft at the loss of the precious lives they brought into the world with such hopes and dreams.

The Ammunition Hill attack is an example of the chicken’s of settlerism coming home to roost.  I’ve used this expression made famous by Malcolm X to evoke the fatal inevitability of violence and hate in this unending conflict.  Bibi Netanyahu recently defended the theft of Palestinian homes in Silwan on U.S. TV and expulsion of their residents by settler NGOs like Ateret Cohanim and Elad.  In fact, yesterday the former group, whose chief U.S. fundraiser is Dov Hikind’s wife, Shoshana, stole several homes in Silwan and forcefully evicted residents and replaced them with settlers.

Israel’s settlerist government supports such ethnic cleansing.  Israel’s chief ally, the U.S., tepidly objects to the thievery.  What are Palestinians to think about this?  No one defends their rights to remain in homes they’ve occupied for generations.  If deranged or extremist militants take the law into their own hands in the midst of the vacuum, who’s to blame (aside from the perpetrators)?  Obama is to blame.  Kerry is to blame.  The EU is to blame.  If they take no action, the situation will only get worse.  In fact, today’s Haaretz used the term “Jerusalem Intifada” to denote a mounting wave of resistance and violence sparked by Israeli ultra-nationalism.

Settlers under the leadership of deputy Knesset speaker, Moshe Feiglin, have swarmed the Temple Mount, staking their claim to rebuild the Holy Temple in what they hope will be the near future.  They make no bones about the fact that they seek to destroy the Muslim holy sites there.  Ateret Cohanim is one of the key forces behind this project.  Palestinians reacted with characteristic outrage at this extremist intrusion on their sovereign holy ground.  In the past days, Border Police goons invaded the sacred precincts, showered worshippers with tear gas and the accompanying explosions.  It was a madhouse, and all this on what is for Muslims holy ground.  This was a flagrant provocation by the settlerist police force.

Again, what is a Palestinian Muslim to think of this?  That the Jews have his interests at heart?  That they will accomodate to them in any way?  This is increasingly a zero-sum game for both sides.  Either “we” win or “they” do.  There is less and less chance of a compromise allowing both sides to win.  This is a recipe for acopalyptic conflict.  Religious war with blood flowing freely.  We saw this in the invocations of the divine in the battle cry of the IDF’s Givati commander, Col. Winter.  This should make every reasonable person shiver with foreboding.  Unfortunately, those who should know better are trying benign neglect.  It may’ve worked for Daniel Moynihan in the 1969-era Nixon administration.  But not here, not now.

The Israeli prime minister has loudly proclaimed that he will militarize Palestinian neighborhoods.  He will flood them with Border Police thugs who put the fear of the Jewish God into residents.  They will do their best to pummel and brutalize East Jerusalem, which will incite even greater violence.  More Palestinians will be emboldened to resist and the cycle of terror will only get worse.  This is a festering sore that the world has allowed to become infected.

Ammunition Hill is across the Green Line in occupied East Jerusalem.  It is also the site of the light rail line that was attacked.  With the ever-tightening vise of settlerism squeezing Palestinians out of Jerusalem, the light rail line has become a symbol of oppression.  It has been trashed, vandalized and burned by Palestinian militants.  It is a symbol of their displacement and the official violence accompanying it.  Though Israelis see the line as a positive development integrating the city and its neighborhood, that can only happen when all residents want to be part of the whole.  Palestinians do not accept their marginalization within this scheme.  The line, for them, helps Jews and advances Jewish interests.  That’s a deadly formula as far as Palestinians are concerned.

Before the comments come in the thread, let me make clear what I always do in such situations: my post is not a justification of terrorism.  It is an admission of reality.  If Israeli Jews weren’t stealing Palestinian land, if Israel accepted a compromise agreement, if the world cared about what happens to Palestinians, then they would not need to resort to terrorism.  As long as Israel can invade frontline neighbors with impunity and kill Palestinians, Lebanese, and even Syrians in the thousands, terrorism will fester.  And let’s not forget that Palestinian terrorism doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  Operation Protective Edge was itself a massive terror attack that killed 500 children.  That’s state-sponsored terror.

If Israel was smart, it would recognize Palestine, accept its sovereignty, and put authorities there and the world on notice that it expected them to provide security.  This would be a situation in which Palestinians would rise to the challenge because they would have something to lose: their reputation and sovereignty.  Now, Palestinians are emasculated and powerless in the face of Israeli power.  Powerlessness does not breed responsibility.  Just the opposite.

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Never missing an opportunity to shill both for Israel and the almighty shekel, two Israeli entrepreneurs determined now was the opportune moment to launch a military-focussed fashion line.  The fact that 2,100 Gazans were killed by the IDF only a few months ago seems not to have entered into their minds.  Or perhaps, being Israeli, they actually believed that Operation Protective Edge had burnished the street cred of the army, making it an opportune “hook” for promoting a racy new clothing line.

mtkl idf fashion

MTKL’s marketing campaign

From the look of the marketing, this seems little more than a Playboy-style fashion shoot.  There’s the requisite video featuring a throbbing Jerry Bruckheimer-style car chase score.  And of course, the sexy models who are, (how’s this for authenticity?), REAL IDF girls!  “Sapir” even features a tantalizing job description: “classified.”  What a honey pot babe, eh?!

We’ve seen Bar Rafaeli as a Mossad agent in Kidon, who persuades the al-Mabouh to bury his head in her ample cleavage, while drinking forbidden alcohol.  So why not this?  No one ever complained about an abundance of good taste among those who market Israel, especially those who do it to make a quick buck (or shekel).

The script of the marketing video is so hoky, it has to be read to be fully appreciated:

Narrator: One of the biggest secrets of the Israeli army is about to be exposed.  A group of elite soldiers, armed and dangerous, fearless and highly trained, facing danger every day…but when the fighting stops that’s when they gear up and assemble to form one of the deadliest forces known to men: MTKL…

Missulawin: We created MTKL with the expectation of launching the sexiest and sharpest military-inspired  street-wear the world has ever seen.

Shenfeld: we are now producing the world’s first Israeli army girl calendar. We recruited a real group of Israeli soldiers as our models, and we tell the stories of their actual military service while sporting the best military-inspired apparel ever designed.

Missulawin: these are not your run-of-the-mill models.  These are real soldiers of an army which sees plenty of combat action.  Contribute a few dollars to help us publish this calendar as a premium printed product and take a stand with us in the name of freedom, life and having fun.

Narrator: Women who handle guns, lead operations, and fight terror; highly-trained army machines by day, super-models by night.  Because when you only have one shot, it has to be a killer one [sic].  Now, MTKL: over and out.

The two founders of MTKL (a play on the Hebrew acronym, Matkal, or “army high command”) are Amnon Shenfeld and Ilan Missulawin.  Their LinkedIn profiles show that Missulawin did his IDF in the paratroopers, considered one of the army’s elite units.  His work background is in marketing.  Shenfeld doesn’t list his army experience and his work background focuses solely on computers and technology, specifically machine vision and gesture recognition.  I don’t see any fashion experience among them.  So how in hell are they going to sell clothes?  Or are they?

Their Facebook page doesn’t appear ready for primetime of anything else.  It’s a pastiche of girlie pics and inspirational sayings.

Given that their Indiegogo campaign seeks to raise $30,000 to fund the campaign, and offers donors a racy girl-of-the-month calendar, perhaps there isn’t really a fashion company here at all.  It may just be someone’s idea of a joke meant to bolster morale after the blood-letting of the past summer.  After killing so many Palestinians, the boys deserve to see something more healthy than dead bodies, don’t they?  Perhaps the IDF is investing in a fashion start-up to keep the boys spirits up, so to speak.

And if you think there’s an element of hasbara involved in the project…well, let’s let Missulawin speak on the subject:

In Israel, there’s an element [among those who see the marketing for the product] of [concern] for running down the army and its “values,” but we don’t see it that way at all.  We believe, on the contrary, that we’re performing a service for the army and the nation.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.  What do you get for your contribution?  The calendar, of course.  For the big daddy donors there are replica IDF dogtags.  Presumably not those of Oron Shaul or Hadar Goldin.  But maybe those belonging to one of the models?  A guy can always hope, can’t he? If you can’t get the girl at least you can get her dogtag.  Sigh.

The message: killing is cool and sexy.  It’s a tough job but some girls just gotta do it.  All for the sake of love, Israel and fun!

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