23 thoughts on “Israel and ‘Criminals’ Who Run the Asylum – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم
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  1. “[My words] come from a many-years long, close relationship with the lad-fighter-Magavnik arrested in the name of the State of Israel, the same State he defended bodily, along with the people who dwell in Zion.  A fighter who dedicated his soul with endless love and devotion in defense of his homeland.”

    I cannot think of any other semi-military situation in which there has been such a ludicrous discrepancy between the actual risks these murderous armed servants of the state are exposed to and the depiction of these in the adulatory comments by those worshipping them. It is laughable. Guys with the whole force of the armed oppressor behind them faced by stone throwing youths for chrissake.

    The only risk they run is that of a camera being in the wrong (= right) place and even then … It is unlikely that their wrists will be smashed by that slap on them.

  2. “There are soldiers who might defend one of their own who went on a rampage and killed 15 Iraqi civilians. But I doubt they would organize a Facebook page in his defense with the equivalent of 1-million Likes (our population is approximately fifty times that of Israel).”

    I disagree about that–Lt. Calley had quite a lot of support (you can read about this in a book I read on that subject, but I don’t recall the title offhand), and a great many Americans defended the use of torture under Bush, saying that it was no worse than fraternity pranks.

    My point is not to defend Israel, but to point out that some of the same sickness you find there is also found here–in fact, that’s part of why Israel has such strong support. Some Americans like them precisely because they approve of their violence towards Palestinians.

  3. I don’t agree with Donald’s comparison. The My Lai case, for instance, was a war crime committed under combat circumstances (that do not provide justification but at any case a “humanly understandable” context). What we are talking about in the case of the border police is excessive and gratuitous police brutality. Would that be equally applauded in the US? Perhaps indoors but certainly not openly. It seems to me that by continuous indoctrination and the callousness that comes from crimes committed with impunity over many years some segments of the Israeli public have reached a level of moral coarseness rarely seen elsewhere. A telling example is that given by David Sheen of that female who asked on Facebook for the identity of the fellows who burned that Palestinian boy alive. She would like to marry one of them.

    However now we are on the subject of war crimes some useful comparisons can be made and I would like to quote from a letter I published elsewhere on the subject of Dutch war crimes:

    “Let me start with a syllogism. Any army engaged in military activity over a longer period commits war crimes. The Dutch army in Indonesia was engaged in military activity over a longer period. This Dutch army has committed war crimes. Period.

    There have been questions of terminology. Were they war crimes or merely “excesses”? This question alternated with another one: were these practices “structural” or merely a matter of “isolated incidents”?

    But I think that there is by now among the better informed a general consensus that things have happened there that couldn’t see the light of day. War crimes in short.
    Didn’t the responsible authorities know of it ? Yes, they did and at a fairly early stage. Why then were there no criminal prosecutions ?

    The best answer I can come up with has to do with these two points: 1.Dutch legal formalism which, as Fasseur said in another context, could drive friend and foe to despair and 2. The development of the conflict with President Soekarno’s Indonesia about Papua.

    About the legal formalism: the Dutch could have done the same thing as the Americans did in the My Lai case and similar ones. Pick on a guy who had the responsibility on the spot and clap him in jail. But the two man committee (Van Rij and Stam) that looked at the end of 1949 at the atrocities committed in South Sulawesi under Captain Raymond Westerling (and drew in its work on an earlier report by Enthoven) recommended criminal prosecution which, in the Dutch view, would imply going right to the top where the real responsibility had to be found: that meant ultimately even the ministerial level. The then Dutch cabinet had no great appetite for that. The second point is that post 1950 relations with Indonesia were rapidly deteriorating. The Republic demolished the federal structure it had agreed to a short time before and when, after the “Republik Moluku Selatan” declared independence, Ambon was attacked by Soekarno’s forces and subdued in five weeks of heavy fighting the Dutch were appalled. Also it became rapidly clear that Indonesia and the Netherlands would not come to an agreement about Papua any time soon. In that situation
an open prosecution of war crimes would have meant providing President Soekarno (who was very unpopular in Holland) with extra ammunition in the propaganda war about the matter (see for my take on the conflict about Papua http://webdiary.com.au/cms/?q=blog/417 ).”

    There have been, in the course of time, various governmental and academic investigations which led to an acknowledgment that war crimes have been committed. A definitive judgment of sorts was given by the Dutch Institute for War Documentation:

    “The official historian of the realm, Dr.Lou de Jong, who devoted the sharply critical twelfth volume of his history of the Netherlands during the Second World War to Indonesia, finally did come up with a judgment of sorts. He stated that the Dutch government had reacted inadequately when confronted with the information about these excesses.
    So there has been acknowledgement on various levels that war crimes (or “excesses”) have happened, which doesn’t mean of course that there was and is a general consensus about it. Many veterans (170.000 Dutchmen served in Indonesia in those years), of which there were quite a few still alive then, felt embittered. Fasseur has called the whole matter nothing less than a national trauma.”

    The official acknowledgement that war crimes have happened have in some cases led to substantial indemnity-payments to relatives or descendants of the victims (though there has been some uneasiness about the way these monies were disbursed).

    That the IDF has committed war crimes doesn’t make it exceptional. What is exceptional is (a) that to my knowledge there never has been any acknowledgment of that on the governmental level and that any attempt from outside to bring clarity in this matter has been reacted to with denials, resentment and accusations of anti-semitism and (b) that these warcrimes have led to the permanent displacement of millions of people who have, in addition, been robbed of their civil and political rights, and in many cases of their property as well – another evil that not only has never been officially acknowledged but that is almost daily added to. I cannot think of any parallel among “enlightened nations” (the right frame of comparison as Profeessor Leibovits indicated) of the complacency, self righteousness and moral obtuseness about these matters that have been displayed for decades by the Israeli government.

    1. The comparison is not between the Betunia shootings and the My Lai Massacre. They comparison is between the reactions by the homefront. Calley had tremendous support at home. Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter instructed to his fellow Georgians to drive with their headlights on in support of Lt. Calley. Speeches were made in the halls of government in support of Calley.

      No diff, really

      1. @ Pet: Of course there’s a difference. Calley’s crime was 50 yrs ago and Betunia was five months ago. No American has put up a Facebook page to support the killers who’ve murdered Iraqi civilians in bulk. Not many have gotten the justice they deserve, but no one has lionized them.

          1. @ Pet: Her alleged crime occurred many decades ago in a foreign country. She has not violated any American law since her arrival here. There are thousands of foreign nationals living in this country unmolested who murdered people in their native lands. We call them ex-presidents, generals, death squad leaders, ordinary criminals.

            This is off-topic. Please read the comment rules & remain on-topic.

        1. ” but no one has lionized them.”

          Don’t the Palestinians lionize militants as ‘martyrs’ after the militants kill innocent Jews?

        2. Remember how the American right reacted to Abu Ghraib? Rather than react with horror,many on the right said that it was no worse than fraternity pranks. Americans as a whole do not face up to the crimes committed by our own soldiers–we sweep them under the rug for the most part. Some get upset, there is some coverage, but Americans on the whole are intensely uncomfortable with criticism of “the troops” and in practice what that often means is that people clam up about the issue of American atrocities. I recently read NYT reporter Carlotta Gall’s book on Afghanistan–she herself supports the war, but was shocked at some of the American behavior she encountered, and she had a hair-raising chapter on American atrocities there, something you hear very little about in the US. She passed on a story that a friend of hers witnessed, where American troops stormed into a home and shot civilians. Americans on the whole seem to have no more desire to hear about such things than Israelis do about their troops.

          Pet is right that I meant to compare the home reactions to My Lai with those in Israel to their atrocities. That said, the claim upthread that My Lai isn’t like the border police shooting because it was war is absolute nonsense. My Lai was as inexcusable as any massacre in history– the troops went in and methodically slaughtered hundreds of civilians. They weren’t under fire. One should also read Nick Turse’s recent book about American war crimes in Vietnam. There was criticism of this at home, and also people who lionized Calley. And as for the notion that this was 50 years ago and we’ve changed, nonsense. The country was split then like it is now on such things and if anything, there might be even less interest in digging into the ugliness of our recent wars.

          Again,none of this is meant to excuse Israel. To repeat my earlier point, much of the support for Israel that one sees online comes from the same sort of Americans who also dismissed concern about Abu Ghraib. There’s a lot of hatred of the Other in American society. Many seem to need a group to hate. Muslims and Arabs are the current favorite, and that feeds directly into support for Israel when they kill Palestinians.

          1. Donald, I too meant to compare the initial American home reaction to My Lai with the Israeli reaction to that border police shooting. Didn’t I make that clear? I thought however that the My Lai story was initially understood as a combat related incident. I didn’t say it WAS that type of incident. You don’t have to convince me on that point. Wikipedia is enough.

            If however you can show that My Lai was immediately seen as the massacre it was, in all its stark horror, then you must be correct. I don’t have Carter’s memoirs here. I would like to see what he says about it. If he immediately knew what was really going on there and nevertheless tried to mobilise public opinion in his home state in favour of Calley I would be very surprised indeed.

            As soon as I can find the time I will listen to Seymour Hersh’s account of the publicity timeline. He stood at the source of it.

          2. @ Donald: Your comparison of My Lai with Israeli jingoism in support of criminal acts and war crimes committed by its troops is a non-starter. Of course, Americans support the troops and are uncomfortable with criticism. But that doesn’t mean Americans would open a FB page in support of a mass killer of Iraqi civilians.

            Vietnam was an entirely different era, many decades ago. Yes, there were patriots waving the flag, jingoists. Perhaps in the south and among Republicans there was support for Calley. But in vast swaths of the rest of the country, there was revulsion. And the disillusionment that set in after Vietnam has cautioned Americans and made them realize we are capable of war crimes. Which is why almost no Americans would do what these Israelis have done in homage to the Border Police murderer.

            I don’t want to get bogged down in this historical debate. So I’ve had my say & I’d rather not continue this. If others want to do so, they may & you may with them.

          3. I’ll just finish with this, Richard–we must live in different countries. Abu Ghraib was just ten years ago–a huge fraction of Americans excused it. I could go on about this, but if you don’t want to, that’s fine.

    2. Bedankt Arie, dat was heel interessant. Mijn ouders zijn nog lid van een vrienden/studiegroepje geweest dat het onderzoek naar de “excessen” bestudeerde.

      1. Sorry Richard for this communication in our mother tongue. It is not about Israel but about the Netherlands Inidies/Indonesia.

        Hallo Elisabeth, ik zat aan de Erasmus Universiteit in de zelfde vakgroep als Jacques van Doorn die toen, tezamen met Wim Hendrix, net zijn boek over de “excessen” had gepubliceerd (“Ontsporing van Geweld”). Van Doorn en Hendrix waren nog oude “sobats” sinds hun diensttijd in Indonesie, waren beiden gefascineerd door ons koloniale verleden en bleven, ook na de publicatie van dat boek, hun archiefonderzoek voortzetten – hoewel niet alleen maar naar die excessen. Ik ben nog korte tijd daar zelf bij betrokken geweest (het “koloniaal archief” was toen nog in de Haagse Leeghwaterstraat). Van Doorn was vooral gefascineerd door de koloniale bureaucratie en dit aspect van zijn onderzoek resulteerde tenslotte in zijn boek “De laatste Eeuw van Indie – Ontwikkeling en Ondergang van een Koloniaal Project”. Ik heb het laatste staartje van dat project “van binnenuit” gezien als een van de laatst benoemde Controleurs Binnenlands Bestuur in het voormalige Nederlands Nieuw Guinea.

  4. I hardly have to add that on the Indonesian side war crimes were committed as well. in the first place towards its own population. I don’t think that there has been an official acknowledgment of these but neither has there been an attempt by a multitude of helpful foreign apologists to whitewash these or gloss them over (as is the case with Israel). A recent proposal by the Leiden based Royal Institute of Linguistics and Anthropology to investigate these matters together was rejected on the Dutch side because of the cost and by the Indonesians because of an apparent reluctance to open this particular can of worms (while there still are so many others on the shelf: the massacre of 1965, East Timor, Papua etc.)

  5. Richard,
    It is not uncommon for rear-echelon soldiers (jobniks) to be seconded to the Magav, especially when the army feels stretched or wants to train large numbers of infantry for an operation. This is how I ended up with the Magav for a couple of weeks during the Second Intifada. If nothing has changed since then there was no strict chain of command or procedure, or at least everyone acted that way. I remember asking the Magavnik who was in charge whether my weapon should be cocked and he said that he wasn’t my commander and that I should do what I want but he wasn’t going to take responsibility for my actions. That was in 2002. It’s probably still the same way now.

  6. It seems to me clear that what happened at My Lai was originally seen, however erroneously, as a regular combat operation. Many Americans then probably shared Jimmy Carter’s conviction that Lt. Calley was scapegoated for this.

    There is no way that the recent unprovoked police shootings outside Ofer Prison could be seen in that way. It was cold blooded murder – nevertheless it was apparently still applauded by a large segment of the Israeli public.

    I want to get another thing off my chest in relation to Israeli war crimes. In the last two operations against Gaza these were not merely excesses (as, to stick to the Dutch example, Cpt.Raymond Westerling’s operations in South Sulawesi) but the whole modus operandi. The IDF’s operations there constituted one uninterrupted war crime not incidental derailments of violence.

    1. “It seems to me clear that what happened at My Lai was originally seen, however erroneously, as a regular combat operation.”

      You’re saying this like it’s a defense. It’s not. People say exactly the same things to justify what Israel does. Their behavior in Gaza, for instance, was supposed to be excusable on the grounds that war is hell and Israel supposedly took care not to hurt civilians and so it was the fault of Hamas that Israel killed hundreds of children. I’ve heard the same reasoning used to justify what the US did in Vietnam, sometimes by the same people I’ve encountered defending Israel. And the reason is simple–it’s part of Western culture to claim that we’re civilized, our enemies are barbaric, and everything we do is justified because of this. Americans have been arguing this way for as long as America has existed.

  7. “You’re saying this like it’s a defines”

    A defence of what? It was meant more as an implicit accusation. It was, and is, my impression that segments of the Israeli public have descended to a very low level indeed. Listen to David Sheen’s testimony at the Russell tribunal. If, however, you are correct and most Americans are dwelling there as well I have to tear out my last remaining hairs.

    But the figures Frank Luntz recently provided suggest that the picture is not as gloomy as that. Especially many of the young seem to perceive Israel for what it is .

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