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December 30, 2008

Pacifying Gaza


by Ran HaCohen

Defense Minister Ehud Barak (the Hebrew surname means "lightning," German "Blitz") did it again: a historic record of over 200 Palestinians killed in a single Sabbath's blitz (Dec. 27). Polls now predict five additional Knesset seats for his Labor Party in the coming February general election. That's 40 Palestinian corpses per seat. No wonder he promises it's just the beginning: at this pace, it will take Labor just about two thousand additional corpses to go from rags to riches, from a dead political party to an absolute majority in parliament like in the good old days. For Barak, then, the Gaza obituaries are a matter of political survival: they are pasted up on his party's obituary. A similar sickening logic sent former Prime Minister Shimon Peres (Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, etc., etc.) back in 1996 to devastate southern Lebanon and solve the problem of Hezbollah once-and-for-all in Operation Grapes of Wrath, just weeks before the general election in which he was defeated by Netanyahu. When the so-called doves behave like hawks, the voters prefer the real hawks, following the Talmudic saying "Whatever looks like an egg, a true egg is always better." But warriors like Barak never learn.

And they are not alone in that: just two days before the pounding of Gaza started, it was the allegedly "left-liberal" party Meretz that officially called for military action against Hamas. You know Meretz: the party of (Frankfurt Peace Prize Laureate, etc., etc.) Amos Oz and his ilk, those pseudo-intellectuals who always claim to have been against the previous war. No exception this time: they're all there, right behind the bombers, or even ahead of them.


Over 200 corpses lying in open air behind Gaza's hospital, which after more than a year of Israel's blockade cannot offer patients anything but painkillers anyway. Guess what was the headline of Israel's most popular daily, Yediot Ahronoth, the next day. "One and a Half Million Gazans Under Fire"? Close, but no cigar. The actual headline (Dec. 28) read: "Half a Million Israelis Under Fire." Indeed, a single Israeli civilian had been killed that day by a Hamas rocket. Similarly, journalist Avirama Golan in her Ha'aretz blog devoted a whole post to the agonies of her hysterical pussycat in Sderot. Some journalists, especially those who consider themselves critical, are excellent prioritizers.

Yediot Ahronoth had six columnists on its front page and several more inside. The war's cheerleaders. Nahum Barnea, an over-appreciated "critical" journalist, expressed his view about the bloodbath rather succinctly: "better late than never." Dov Weissglass, "closely linked to the peace process" as Wikipedia puts it, was similarly outspoken: his column was called "Do Not Stop," with an exclamation mark to make things clear. "It should be just the beginning," he advises to the very government that has just vowed "it's just the beginning." Mirror, mirror on the wall. Eitan Haber, senior aide to late former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, etc., etc.), recycled the usual war propaganda of every Israeli government for home consumption: as always, the right-wing opposition is extremist and crazy, but we, the government, launch a moderate, responsible, and restrained war. "The political argument that we could have and should have acted long ago is neither true nor justified," Haber opens his Pavlovian service for the government.

Gadi Taub, an ultra-conservative young mainstreamer, wrote a column titled "Demagoguery, Anti-Semitism, Ignorance," with content too trivial to repeat, though fairly summarized by its first and last title-words. But Taub's demagoguery fades compared to Ben-Dror Yemini's (an Israeli Daniel Pipes) in Ma'ariv. In a column titled "The Most Justified Offensive Ever" (miraculously, the very words used by his Ha'aretz twin Ari Shavit for the Lebanon War just two years ago), Yemini draws a straight line from Hitler to Hamas (no coincidence they both start with an H, just like Hezbollah, Saddam Hussein, and Hemorrhoids), and explains that "Since the Nazi ideology [], no movement has been as dangerous to world peace as political Islam." My apologies for quoting this trash; we need an Israeli demagogue to instrumentalize the Holocaust, and Yemini was born for such dirty jobs.


At the same time, excellent columnist B. Michael does raise a critical voice in Yediot:

"Here it is again, the periodical 'déjà vu' war. The ritual bleeding poured once again into the boiling basin which has for decades been leading the entire region to hell. To be honest, our soul is weary of dividing the seventh-day's war of the Six-Day War into 'operations,' 'wars,' 'battles,' 'actions,' and 'offensives.' They are all just one ongoing war. They are all one big slaughterhouse. An occupier's war against the occupied, and the occupied's war against their occupier."

B. Michael knows what most Israelis were trained to forget: that despite the Israeli withdrawal, Gaza is still occupied. Even before the Hamas takeover, Israel retained all the measures to ensure its effective control of the Strip: from direct control of all the border crossings to Gaza, both for goods and for persons, to Israeli control of Gaza's population registry. The only apparent exception the Rafah checkpoint is restricted to entry into Gaza of Gaza inhabitants only, as defined by the Israeli registry, and even this is under Israeli supervision. But for most Israelis, Gaza is an independent, sovereign empire, which was occupied by Israel ages ago, and now, for no reason at all, poses an existential threat to its benevolent Jewish neighbor.


In the evening television news, careful listening especially to serious reporters like Shlomi Eldar could reveal the tip of the war-crimes iceberg yet to emerge: a Gazan prison was intentionally bombarded, a clear war crime. Gaza's hospital suffered damages too. All this in an overcrowded Strip in which life has already been strangled by an embargo on anything from cement and gasoline to medical equipment. A couple of months ago, journalist Amos Harel quoted an article of a leading military figure regarding Israel's next war policy, be it in Lebanon, Syria, or Gaza: "Using power without any proportion to the enemy's threat and actions, in order to damage and punish to an extent that would require long and expensive rehabilitation processes." Another Israeli general explained that villages from which shots are fired will be devastated; "we consider them as military bases" (Ha'aretz, Oct. 5; the names of the two generals for The Hague's ICC are Gaby Siboni and Gadi Eisenkot). Once the war started, Maj.-Gen. (Reserve) Giora Island former head of the National Security Council spelled it all out on television, without a shade of shame: Israel should not confine its attacks to military facilities, he said, but must hit civilian targets as well. The damage to the civil population should be maximized, because the worse the humanitarian crisis is, the better and the sooner the operation would end. It's the same major-general, by the way, who just a year ago caused outrage by urging the Israeli government to negotiate directly with Hamas. Do not to look for consistency, integrity, or intelligence where war criminals are involved.

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Dr. Ran HaCohen was born in the Netherlands in 1964 and grew up in Israel. He has a B.A. in Computer Science, an M.A. in Comparative Literature, and his PhD is in Jewish Studies. He is a university teacher in Israel. He also works as a literary translator (from German, English and Dutch), and as a literary critic for the Israeli daily Yedioth Achronoth. Mr. HaCohen's work has been published widely in Israel. "Letter from Israel" appears occasionally at Antiwar.com.

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