Brad Burston, Haaretz’s columnist can be a helluva fine writer. I’ve written at least one laudatory post about him. After doing so, I read pieces by Burston which seemed almost to be written by a different person. They were churlish pieces attacking Israel’s Jewish critics. I chalked it up to a journalist feeling that it was his duty to show he could criticize both the right and left. I thought I would never find a reason to write about his work again, till tonight.
Burston has written one of the most powerful, cogent and hard-hitting critiques–not only of the Gaza war, but of the current mess in which Israel finds itself in–I’ve ever read. Seemingly every Israeli NGO or peace activist is under savage attack. At the present moment, Israel faces a civil liberties crisis as dire as the U.S. faced during the McCarthy era. The New Israel Fund, a classical Zionist NGO if there ever was one, is under mortal threat. Its leader, Naomi Hazan has been publicly and graphically attacked in terms that would’ve made Goebbels proud. Richard Goldstone has been called a traitor to his people. Alan Dershowitz as much as put a price on his head. Jewish women have been arrested for trying to leyn Torah at the Wall.
So it is like a balm in Gilead to read such graceful, soaring language from Burston:
This is about fear of the dark. Of the monstrous. In this case, the terror of finally uncovering what we ourselves are really made of.
This is about the lengths we will go, and the depths, in order to protect what we so desperately need to believe about ourselves. This is about how many others we will need to blame, vilify, assault, scapegoat and smear, before we actually take one wholly honest long look in the mirror.
This is about the war we made in Gaza, and what it did to Israel. This is about how Israel’s conduct of the war has done more damage to the Jewish state than all the thousands and thousands of Palestinian rockets and mortar shells put together. It has been a year and more since a truce was called in Gaza, and – thanks in no small part to Israel’s freely admitted policy of hamstringing and stonewalling UN investigators – the world is still at war with Israel.
The result is only now becoming felt. In a thousand ways, in new ways every single day, we have brought the war home.
Israel’s battle plan, which effectively called for bludgeoning Hamas and the whole of Gaza into a state of shock, had the further effect, intentional or not, of inducing shock in Israel itself.
Here Burston presents a daring thesis for an Israeli audience–that Goldstone was right:
In some cases, shock expresses itself in combativeness. A lashing out even at those who are trying to help.
In our state of shock, we were unable to see that Richard Goldstone was trying to save us. And that the Goldstone Report is exactly what Israel needs. We fought him every step of the way, convincing ourselves – just as in Gaza – that the unfolding catastrophe was the best of the available scenarios.
Had Israel cooperated with the panel, it might have begun to learn how to prevent another war like this one, and how to fight future wars entirely differently. Only now, with the shock beginning to subside, have Israeli military and legal officials begun publicly to concede that battling the Goldstone panel was a colossal blunder.
Burston here also propounds an unpopular idea in Israeli circles, that the Gaza siege is as much a blunder as the war itself was. And this argument segues into the most important point of his column–that the war has led inexorably to the current attack on Israeli democracy and the peace movement:
And it is this Israeli government, in continuing its siege of Gaza, in denying Gazans access to concrete and other materials needed to rebuild homes destroyed by Israeli fire during Cast Lead, that lends further credence to the Goldstone Report’s suspicions that Israel’s policy has been and continues to be one of collective punishment of a civilian population.
Despite the nightmarish numbers of civilians killed in Gaza, the right has argued again and again that the problem with the war was that it was not pursued aggressively enough. Now, at home, they are getting their way. Finally, the war is being pressed to the full – with peace activists and human rights workers as the primary targets.
The Dahiya Doctrine of overkill and unimaginable, unremitting force, is being applied against the elements of Israeli society most strongly defending democracy and elemental rights. Finally, the war at home is being run the way the right wants. No holds barred. A fresh new onslaught on democracy every single day.
And if his thundering column had ended with the following passage I would’ve called it a masterwork of decency and humanity:
The Goldstone Report is, indeed, deeply flawed. But it is exactly what Israel needs. A deeply flawed report for a deeply flawed country. A country which will not, and cannot, begin to heal itself, repair itself, right itself, unless it faces with honesty and courage the issues and allegations raised by the report.
As long as Israel ducks the report, and keeps buried the whole truth about Cast Lead, it will not recover from this state of shock. Israel will be more vulnerable than ever to destruction from within.
But alas, he didn’t. And this goes to my criticism of Burston, where he seems to lose the courage of his convictions and lapses into standard anti-Palestinian rhetoric:
Gaza, ruled by a Hamas which wants to see Israel exterminated – and which has only grown richer, better armed, and more popular as a result of the Israeli embargo – will continue to hold the whole of Israel in a crippling, withering, ultimately destructive state of siege.
The notion that Hamas wants Israel exterminated is a beloved trope of the very Israeli right Burston has spent this entire column deriding. I have no problem with criticizing Hamas. But if you want to do that you have a responsibility to do it accurately and precisely. And this anti-Hamas slur is neither accurate nor fair. But I do very much like Burston’s closing image of a Hamas which, by the very nature of Israel’s siege of Gaza, holds Israel under siege as well.
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- Bradley Burston: Besieged by Gaza, Dreading the Truth, Israel Needs Goldstone (huffingtonpost.com)