Reviewed by Jim Miles
(The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival. Hirsh Goodman. Signal/McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 2011.)
The “Anatomy of Israel’s Survival” rests on a single backbone: military strength. I have always said that Israel will survive regardless of the situations it may find itself embroiled in because of its obvious overwhelming military strength and its historical record of using disproportionate force while doing so. Hirsh Goodman’s presentation, as much as it discusses other problems for Israel, is essentially the same. Israel has the military strength, is “known to possess an arsenal of several hundred nuclear weapons of various kinds,” has one of the most technologically advanced militaries, and is linked directly to the largest military state in the world with which it shares its technology and ideologies, the U.S. Survival is virtually guaranteed, what remains is the question of what kind of state it will be.
While the work is a recommendable read for understanding the mind set of a dedicated Israelite, it presents some familiar problems. Hirsh does deal reasonably critically with the politicians and politics within Israel (and the U.S.), yet as with most pro-Israeli writers there are problems with the work – context, definitions, lack of references, and the narrow mindedness of an accepted narrative.
The first chapter of the work starts with all the fear and paranoia that one might expect from a sensationalist tabloid magazine. Whether this is an attention getting mechanism, or perhaps Israelis really do feel this fear as instilled into them by their system, Hirsh’s writing carries far too much along the line of fear mongering to be acceptable for critical analysis. After many pages of declaring how irrational and violent Iran can be, he finally sums it all up stating “The cost to both countries of such an attack would be vast and enduring. It is strategically nonsensical.”
His attitude towards Iran continues throughout the work. It is blamed for troubles with Hezbollah, Hamas, and Syria in particular, while not fully acknowledging Israel’s role in the creation of these problems. Iran is a “sinister regime that works in sinister ways. It uses terror, surrogates, and subterfuge with impunity around the world.” Given a broader context, that also describes the U.S. and Israel with many of their actions around the world. The 2006 war in Lebanon was “provoked” by Hezbollah, later it was described as being “started” by Hezbollah. There is no context given to the contentious border and the ongoing series of raids and incursions by both sides, nor that Israel always had plans to re-invade Lebanon (later saying that Israel had new plans with the intent to attack with disproportionate force).
The leaders of all these groups are seen as irrational, yet except for Nasrallah’s acceptance that he had not considered the extent of Israel’s retaliation for a cross border raid, all the groups have acted quite rationally and pragmatically. Iran has not attacked anyone for centuries, aided the U.S. at first in its fight with the Taliban and al-Qaeda, has generally worked within the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty unlike India, Pakistan, and yes, Israel, the latter having “danced around UN bureaucrats…defied the great powers and thumbed their nose at successive American administrations, weaving and dodging and playing one side against the other.” Okay, I misquoted Hirsh on the last phrase, but its validity carries both ways.
Hezbollah is also a pragmatic and rational actor. It demonstrates no intention of initiating a war with Israel, works positively for the development of the people of southern Lebanon if not all Lebanon, and now that it is in power, has taken a very pragmatic role in the country’s politics. Others may not like it, but it is not an aggressor nation, certainly one that is very prickly for the defensive. Hezbollah has proven reasonably pragmatic once in governance, as the ANC performed in South Africa, and as the Sinn Fein performed in Ireland.
The same misrepresentation goes for Hamas. All the blame for Gaza’s problems are aligned with Hamas and Iran. Hirsh’s narrative has it that Hamas forcibly took control of Gaza in order to hide its fighters among the citizens and women and children of the small enclave – no misquotes here, just the Reader’s Digest condensed version of Hirsh’s version. The full context is not even hinted at.
Hamas won what at the time was considered the most democratic elections held in any country in the Middle East (save Israel of course). Not wanting to allow this democratic representation to stand, the U.S. and Israel – preceded by Canada – denounced the electoral results, not for the vote itself, but for the fact that a ‘terrorist’ organization won the vote. Funding was immediately cut off, and in Gaza, Fatah was encouraged to attack Hamas (as in the West Bank) in order to subdue it and completely overthrow the ability of the group to act as a political representative of the people of Palestine. Fatah lost the internecine battle, Hamas was confined to the Gaza strip, and now Hirsh complains about inaccurate errant rockets fired from Gaza, wondering why Hamas does not just get on with building a society in Gaza.
But that is another miss with Hirsh’s context on Gaza. He proudly reiterates the history of the 2005 withdrawal of the settlers from Gaza, describing only the closing of the borders of Gaza to Israel. No mention is made of the complete embargo of trade, the absolute control of the air space and foreshore space, and the control of water and electricity, all of which are intended to starve the Palestinians of Gaza into submission and to try and get them to throw off the yoke of Hamas or simply move away.
The largest problem with Hirsh’s description is its almost complete lack of historical context. The deepest he goes is with some superficial criticism of some of the decisions pertaining to the nakba, and the politics and military decisions from that time forward. There is no discussion of the historical narrative of Zionism which carries with it extensive commentaries on the Palestinians living in the region and how the Israeli’s need to have a clear majority in order to rule the country, achieved by some form of ethnic cleansing. These commentaries extend back to the father’s of Zionism, Herzl and Jabotinsky, extending through Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir to today’s Lieberman and Netanyahu.
For Hirsh, Palestine becomes an inconvenience to Israel’s survival, not absolutely, but as to whether it can be “democratic and Jewish” or become a “unitary state.” Hirsh does present some reasoned solutions to the problem of Jerusalem, but for the Palestinians as a whole he stops at questioning conjectures, the big “if.”
“Israel’s relations with the world could be very different if and when the country gets the Palestinian issue off the table.”
“If Israel can resolve the Palestinian issue, it will become even healthier…”
“If Israel realizes that settlements are harmful to its own broader interests…”
Lots of ifs, no solutions are offered.
Hirsh’s narrative quite naturally views Israel as being a democracy, with a vibrant economy and a world leader in cutting edge technology, most of it with military applications (whose achievement is assisted with large government subsidies for research and development, see “Start-up Nation”, Senor and Singer, McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 2009).
It should be quite obvious, even to Hirsh, that a country that militarily occupies territory gained in a unilateral pre-emptive war (as the war of 1967 was) and is signatory to the UN and Geneva conventions can hardly declare itself a democracy when it uses imprisonment, torture, land confiscation, illegal construction (either the Wall, or the many settlements that are illegal under international law), and a variety of restrictive social and economic measures to keep the Palestinian population completely under its control. Similarly, the Arab/Palestinian population in Israel itself, while theoretically equal politically, is subject to restrictive and racist legislation that limits the social and economic mobility of the Arab residents.
Certainly Israel has the institutions of a democracy, but then so do most autocratic rulers around the world from Myanmar to Zimbabwe. Hirsh complains about the various factions in the Knesset and how some of the more radical ones hold the more central parties hostage to their racist legislation. That can only be accomplished with the compliance of the more powerful parties. To blame the ultra-orthodox community for problems created in the Knesset is avoiding the real issue of ethnocracy versus democracy. A Jewish Israel, with racist legislation that can be applied against the Arab population cannot be a democracy. To have a set of civic laws apply to one segment of the population, and to have military rule imposed on an almost equally large ‘other’ segment is quite simply non-democratic.
One of the underlying fears of all Israeli arguments concerning Palestine is that of demographics. As indicated above, this well precedes the creation of the state of Israel. Hirsh’s arguments for Jerusalem contain this element, as the expansion of the territory of Jerusalem has incorporated a large number of Palestinians, creating a situation in which percentage wise, the Arab population is increasing as the Jewish population declines, with birth rates for both groups supporting this tendency.
Gaza re-enters the picture here. For all the arguments about Gaza, Israel’s main intention is to remove that segment of the population from Israel’s demographics, eliminating theoretically 1.5 million Palestinians from the Israeli books. That puts the siege of Gaza in a rather strange light: if that population were to be removed from Israel effectively, would not that best be achieved by making the area an economically successful and viable community, with open borders, free airspace and rights to the foreshore as all other littoral countries have? Or is the real agenda the old ethnic cleansing idea, hoping that the Gazans will give up and move away?
All the more reason to make Hamas into the ultimate bad guy and keep the pressure on Gaza, ultimately a not very democratic format for removing the population from the demographic equation that bothers Israel.
I mentioned in my introduction that I had a problem with Hirsh’s lack of references. He argues that “those who have a desire to get deeper information on any given point can do so in a matter of seconds, just as I did,” with a quick thank you to the people at the CIA for creating the World Factbook, “which I used throughout the book.”
Okay, the CIA used as the main source of information. Considering all its other ineptitudes in reading world situations, one has to wonder about the validity of its statistics and commentaries. Of course, anyone wishing to “dig deeper” has many alternatives to the CIA statistics. Also, it is easy to receive good statistics, as most governments will release that kind of information voluntarily or through one of many organizations they may belong to. It is the application of that information and its wise usage where the CIA has clear limits and lacks.
Hirsh’s arguments tend to support the Israeli narrative – as expected – of a country up against a hostile neighbourhood. As for “digging deeper” into why this may be so and what the historical contexts are for the Middle East, it is almost fully missing. Hirsh’s narrative indicates his support for a Jewish ethnocracy supported by the ultimate military establishment. Most people tend to have their beliefs first, then search to rationalize those beliefs, rather than formulate beliefs based on a rational research into the information available.
For those wanting to dig deeper, start here, at Palestine Chronicle. There are many other informative Palestinian websites that reveal the true nature of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. For different views on foreign affairs, in particular countering the U.S. view of the world, there are a vast number of sites. Anyone interested in “digging deeper” can try Znet, Counterpunch, Countercurrents, Axis of Logic, al-Jazeera English, Foreign Policy Journal, Uncommon Thought Journal among the many, many associated and linked websites.
Hirsh does worry about Israel’s image abroad in the world, rightly so. From the literature that I have been reviewing over that past decade concerning U.S. foreign policy and the Palestinian problem, there have been distinct trends. First off were the many ‘revisionist’ writers, Pappe, Gordon, Rinehart, et al who elucidated the historical context of Palestine, Zionism, and Israel. More recently, I have been in receipt of several volumes that indicate a turn in the world’s perspective on Israel, wherein the Jewish people themselves are beginning to question the validity of Jewish actions in Israel as representative of Judaism. Further, there are many indications that the BDS movement is gaining publicity for Israeli occupation atrocities, if not having a true economic effect on Israel (not likely with its global military trade, global security trade, and billions of dollars in annual U.S. support).
Read It Anyway
For all my criticisms of the work, it is engagingly written and may be fairly indicative of the general Israeli academic mindset at this point in time. If one is to understand all aspects of this arena of conflict, “The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival” represents a perspective that requires deeper digging. I cannot argue with or against someone if I do not understand their perspective, and while a true understanding may not always be possible, the author is obviously attempting to make his viewpoint understood. Books can do that.
– Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. Miles’ work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.