After a year of stalemate among Israeli political parties seeking to dole out a plum patronage job as chairman of the Jewish Agency (JA), the Party bosses have settled on former Maj. Gen. Doron Almog as their choice.
Almog served as chief of the IDF’s Southern Command from 2000-2002, which includes Gaza. He was accused of war crimes, including depopulating a Gaza “buffer zone“:
Most notable was the systematic demolition of over 1,100 Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip and the widespread razing of agricultural land, turning neighborhoods and fields into desolate moonscapes. Over ten thousand people lost their homes, many of them refugees displaced for a second or third time in their lives.
He rendered thousands homeless in the name of creating a No Man’s Land which would deny Palestinian militants “cover” from which to attack Israeli forces. This was Israel’s response to the second Intifada and multiple terror attacks by Palestinians, which ended in 2000.
Doron changed Israel’s relatively open former policy of issuing work permits to tens of thousands of Gazans offering menial jobs (usually in construction) inside Israel. The new policy of separation was a precursor to the policy of siege and blockade implemented after Hamas won a legisltative victoy in the 2006 Palestinian elections.
So in a strange, macabre way you could call him a pioneeer of Israeli military strategy. An innovator in pauperizing and suffocating Gaza. His depopulation strategy in response to Palestinian acts of resistance (aka “terrorism”) is a form of collective punishment and a cornerstone of Israeli policy. It is also a war crime.
Almog presented his strategy as a huge success to a Washington Institute for Near East Peace audience. WINEP is Aipac’s think tank. Israeli intelligence and military officers often spend sabbaticals there. For some who had hoped for advancement but been disappointed, this is a parting gift for services rendered. Almog was later passed over for promotion and retired from the army:
“Almog, who is regarded as a leading candidate for the army’s deputy chief of staff post, emphasized the importance of creating a buffer zone on the Palestinian side of the fence. On the Palestinian side of the Gaza fence, Israel created a strip three-fifths of a mile wide, which was bulldozed and declared a no-go area for Palestinians. Those who enter have been arrested or shot, often fatally.”
Cover-Up: Rachel Corrie’s Murder
Another crime with Almog’s fingerprints is the murder of Rachel Corrie, the American ISM volunteer who was killed by an IDF bulldozer in Gaza. She was putting her body between the vehicle and the Gazan homes the army intended to raze (per Almog’s eradication policy). Despite then-PM Ariel Sharon’s firm pledge to then-US Pres. George Bush that Israel would conduct a thorough investigation, Almog made sure that never happened. A military advocate investigator taking a statement from a solider who’d been next to the driver in the bulldozer, was interrupted by a Colonel dispatched by Almog:
…According to a military police investigator’s report…the “commander” of the D-9 bulldozer was giving testimony, when an army colonel dispatched by Major-General Almog interrupted proceedings and cut short his evidence. The military police investigator wrote: “At 18:12 reserve Colonel Baruch Kirhatu entered the room and informed the witness that he should not convey anything and should not write anything and this at the order of the general of southern command.”
…Another army document strongly suggests that Major-General Almog opposed the military police investigation. Dated 18 March 2003, a military police investigator petitioning a judge for permission to conduct an autopsy on Ms Corrie’s body said that “we arrived only today because there was an argument between the general of southern command [Almog] and the military advocate general about whether to open an investigation and under what circumstances.” The judge granted the request provided the autopsy would be done in the presence of a US diplomat as the Corrie family requested. But the inquest was carried out by Israel’s chief pathologist without any US official being there, in apparent violation of the judge’s ruling.
That’s how things are done in Israel. When the general tells you to do something, you do it regardless of whether it is legal, moral or anything else. He’s protecting the army. He’s protecting his job, rank, and you (the bulldozer commander) from being held accountable for your crimes, the ones he ordered. And if you committed a crime, then he did. And by God, that will never happen. But now here, we can say he did.
Almog’s response to The Independent story is classic surly, pompous, self-serving military braggadocio:
Major-General Almog denied halting Mr Valermov’s testimony. “I never gave such an order, I don’t know such a document. I conducted my own investigation, I don’t remember what I found. There were 12,000 terrorist incidents when I was general in charge of southern command. I finished seven years ago, if they want to invite me [to testify] they know the address. I certainly didn’t disrupt an investigation, this is nonsense. In all of my service I never told anyone not to testify.”
Asked if he gave an order to harm foreign activists interfering with the army’s work, Major-General Almog responded: “What are you talking about? You don’t know what a general in charge of command is. The general in charge of command has 100,000 soldiers. What are you talking about?”
Note that in response to a direct question whether or not he ordered his soldiers to run over Corrie, he doesn’t deny it. He merely deflects by saying he’s not responsible for one IDF bulldozer which murders a foreign peace activist. That is a near admission Almog was responsible for her murder. Of course, as commander he was never held accountable.
His new job adds insult to this injury. Give him one of the plumiest jobs in Israel after committing war crimes. It’s the Israeli way.
By the way, we have no way of knowing whether he’s invented the terrorist incident figure or not. And he knows we don’t. So he will blow it like smoke in your face to confuse the issue. My educated guess is that he’s inflated the actual figure by a factor of ten or more.
This is the way of the general in Israel. If he says “sun” you say “sun.” Even if it’s the moon. If he says something never happened, it never did-even if it did. And if you can follow that twisted logic, then you are a master at understanding the structure of Israel’s garrison state mentality.
Almog is not a particularly unusual example of the species of homo IDF horribilis. He’s no worse than the average IDF general and certainly no better. They have a job to do–that’s controlling Palestinians by any means possible. Treating them, as Gen Raful EItan once said, like drugged cockroaches in a bottle. If an American gets in the way of doing that job, she’ll be mowed down without hesitation. Let the prime ministers worry about the political fallout, while the military men do a dirty job, so every other Israeli can sleep at night.
Almog, and every Israeli general, plays the Jack Nicolson role in A Few Good Men. Change a few words and you have Almog and all the rest:
Col Jessup: Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Rachel Corrie, and you curse the IDF. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know — that Corrie’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives; and my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives.
You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall — you need me on that wall.
I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it.
…I don’t give a damn what you think!
The only difference between Jessup’s US army and Israel’s is that there is no accountability in Israel’s system. There is no military prosecutor holding him accountable. Because it is the military justice system’s responsibility not to hold him accountable. There certainly are Israeli Jessup’s. But they are given medials and promoted for defending the nation from “terrorists.”
Almog’s Near War Crimes Arrest
In 2005, Almog was invited by a UK NGO to speak on the status of “Arab citizens of Israel.” If that isn’t a bitter irony, I don’t what is. The man responsible for mass devastation in Gaza is going to tell Britain how well Israel treats its “Arabs.”
As his plane was en route to Heathrow, human rights lawyers petitioned an English court and obtained a warrant for his arrest for war crimes. However, diplomats (either the Foreign Office or Israeli embassy) alerted Almog, and while UK police refused to enter the plane to serve the warrant, the plane refueled, turned around, and flew back to safety and impunity in Israel.
This is the man who the Times of Israel boasts has “impeccable credentials.” While they’re referring in part to his military service, they’re more likely pointing to his charitable work since leaving the army. He had a severely autistic son, Eran, who died in 2007. As a result, he built a rehabilitation center for children with physical and mental disabilities. Perhaps as a way to assuage his guilt at the crimes he committed as a general. But that would be giving him too much credit.
His conscience is no doubt untroubled by what he did. He is like former IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz, who was asked if he had any pangs of conscience when he dropped a bomb that would kill civilians:
… If you… want to know what I feel when I release a bomb, I will tell you: I feel a light bump to the plane as a result of the bomb’s release. A second later it’s gone, and that’s all. That is what I feel.” -Dan Halutz, interview with Ha’aretz, 21 August 2002
No word on whether Almog devotes a simlar (or any) amount of attention to the thousands of amputees, children and men, disabled by IDF snipers during the March of Return.
This is the man the State of Israel and world Jewry has entrusted with the Jewish Agency leadership. They think they are appointing a righteous warrior with the heart of a saint. But they are appointing a killer with no conscience, who decided after he stopped killing to make some sort of amends by serving the needs of the disabled. Does that cancel his prior acts? Not if you ask me.
Year-Long Leadership Stalemate Confirms Jewish Agency’s Irrelevance and Dysfunction
After a year deadlock in which the clique of Israeli political parties sought to resolve an impasse which left what is essentially a patronage job unfilled, they finally agreed on Almog. For his charitable work, the far right Israeli government had earlier awarded him the Israeli Prize, the country’s highest award. That, in turn, helped him win the JA job.
The Jewish Agency top job brings with it a generous salary higher than that of the prime minister. As of 2015, the group’s fundraising chief earned even more, $750,000, which is three times as much as then-chairman, Natan Sharansky. His (and all JA’s leaders have been men) job is to distribute the $365-million (down over $100-million since 2009) provided yearly by Diaspora Jewish communities to Israeli projects and to dole out benefits to political allies.
Many question why a country with a rip-roaring economy and massive technology and arms industry should need or receive such largesse. Why can’t such a country meet its own needs without the charity of others? Thus, JA is a relic of a bygone era, when Israel truly needed such assistance, and it enjoyed a closer and more equal relationship to the Diaspora. With the decline in collaboration and fundraising, the Agency has lost relevance and influence. This damning Haaretz editorial captures this perspective:
There is no need for a parallel mechanism [government ministries] that, like the other “national institutions” such as the Jewish National Fund and Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal, are used mainly as slush funds for conducting political tasks far from the eyes of the state comptroller. Israel has no need for these organizations and Diaspora Jews have no interest in them. They are mainly hotbeds of corruption and nepotism…
It can only be hoped that Almog…will refuse to continue to schnorr from the world’s Jews in order to fund an organization that lost its reason for existing……His mission now must be to shut down the Jewish Agency, once and for all.
An example of JA’s impotence is the long-term battle for gender equity at the Kotel. Women of the Reform movement led a decades long fight to daven with equal status to men. They also demanded the right to convene egaliatarian prayer services, including reading from the Torah. Instead of being shunted to the side like lepers, they wanted full access in a location as visible as that of the men. To the ultra-Orthodox grey-beards who controlled the site, this was a desecration of the sacred order. Male protesters spat on the women and ripped prayer books from their hands and tore them apart.
Into the fray, jumped Sharansky as head of an agency that was supposed to mediate between Diaspora and Israeli interests. He worked out a compromise acceptable to the women’s movement. The Netanyahu government at first accepted the proposal. But the Haredi leadership lobbied against it and the prime minister eventually folded. Sharansky had failed and only proven his own irrelevance and that of the Jewish Agency.
Sharansky originally earned the top job because he had been a hero of the Russian refusenik movemenet, and later a stalwart of Likud Party politics. Issac Herzog, the most recent leader, was a prominent figure in the Labor Party whose father had been Israel’s chief rabbi. The son used the JA position as a springboard to the presidency of Israel. JA offers a cushy job, a reward for service to the Zionist movement, an affirmation of one’s status as a political Mandarin, and a perch from which one can dole out the benefits of political patronage.
American Jews who donate to Jewish federations should know that not only does a substantial portion of their donations go to the Jewish Agency to spend as it sees fit; but the JA supports Israeli settlements beyond the Green Line. This belies the claim that American Jews and our leadership support a two-state solution. You cannot support two states while stealing Palestinian lands, which is what the settlements do. The slogan “Jews are Jews wherever they live” is disingenuous. A Jew who betrays Jewish values by oppressing another people and shouting racist, genocidal slogans on Jerusalem Day, deserves no support from anyone, let alone Diaspora Jews.
It’s no wonder giving through federations to Israel (and JA) has plummeted over the past decade. Many donors understand their funds are supporting a racist, right-wing ideology diametrically opposite to their own. They should, and have taken their money and invested it elsewhere. Unfortunately, some of those donors may be so disappointed they may never give to any Jewish charity, and instead donate to local cultural and educational institutions.
Israel is possibly the only nation in the world with a Diaspora community raising billions of dollars over decades, which are doled out to communities via a process that resembles political patronage. Diaspora Jewish leaders benefit from the status they earn as machers among Israel’s political elite. And Israeli leaders take pride in doling out the dollars to their political allies in various Israeli communities. It’s a win-win for both sides. But a lose-lose for donors.
In a sense, Almog’s new job only confirms the militaristic nature of Israel society. Generals are rewarded not merely for their service to the nation, but for their success in suppressing Palestinian resistance and national rights. In return for mowing the lawn, you are given the keys to the kingdom–the entire (Zionist) estate.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.