By Jeremy Salt
Sometimes it must be such fun to be an Israeli undercover agent especially if you like amateur theatricals and perhaps thought of an acting career but were not quite good enough and had to settle for something less. You get drama and excitement without the element of danger to yourself. You can dress up as an ‘Arab’ and storm into ‘Arab’ homes on the West Bank to terrorize families and shoot dead teenagers. You have to put up with sobbing mothers and screaming children, but so what, they are all terrorists or will grow up to be one. You can storm into a hospital to kidnap and kill. Not a gun in sight except yours: nothing but wards, patients, bandages, cupboards full of medical equipment and a few orderlies wandering around in a green smock. You could actually walk into the hospital in uniform in the middle of the day and no-one could stop you, but at the Ahli hospital in Hebron you do it at 3am, wearing kuffiyas, false beards glued to your chin and a Muslim skullcap stuck on your head. Your act is an unconvincing as a poor quality high school play.
One of you plays the role of a woman being pushed along in a wheelchair. Once inside ‘she’ jumps out and throws off her robes. Surprise – a man! (the invisible audience laughs and applauds). You point a gun at the orderly on duty. You find the young man you want, Azzam al Shelaldeh, in hospital for surgery after being shot by a settler, and you pull him out of his bed. You shoot his unarmed cousin Abndullah dead as he comes out of the bathroom. Nowhere else in the world could an armed gang, 20 or 30 men, storm into a hospital in the middle of the night but Israel is nowhere else. It gives itself the right to do whatever it wants. You leave the dead man on the floor of the ward in a pool of his own blood. You don’t care that the CCTV cameras are filming everything. Like your murder of Mahmud al Mabhuh in a Dubai hotel in 2010, you want people to see that you are capable of doing anything, anywhere and any time. The thugs who carried out this attack belong to Yamas (Yehidat HaMista’aravim), or musta’arabim (pretend Arabs), a branch of the border police, which has carried out some of the most atrocious actions against civilians in Israel’s history, including the massacre of 48 people at Kafr Qasim in 1956. The day after the hospital raid Mahmud Shelaldeh, 18, another cousin, dies after being shot by soldiers. Two cousins dead and one taken away in the space of two days: this is the story of every Palestinian family except that many stories are much worse.
This is not just today’s Israel but yesterday’s Israel and Israel going all the way back to 1948 and beyond. The murder and abduction inside the Ahli hospital in Hebron simply adds another twist to Israeli attacks on hospitals, ambulances and medical personnel in Gaza and the West Bank and in Lebanon. It has never taken the slightest notice of condemnation for any of these actions. It does not care, and the more the world does not care, the more it does not care and is emboldened to go to even greater extremes.
Israel’s abuse of international law dealing with the sanctity of hospitals, ambulances and medical personnel was already shocking when in 2006 Magen David Adom, Israel’s national health organization, was accepted as a member of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the umbrella group for the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Magen David Adom is one of the federation’s 189 national members. Founded in 1930 it is a national society whose status was defined by legislation passed in 1950, its responsibilities including the provision of auxiliary services to the IDF. Doctors Without Borders condemned the Hebron attack: by comparison, in statements on its web site, the ICRC condemned the shelling of Yemeni health facilities during Saudi Arabia’s air war (‘Yemen: Attacks on Health Care Facilities Must Stop’), and drew attention to the application of humanitarian law in Syria (‘Syria: Vienna Talks Must Focus on Respect for International Humanitarian Law’) but had nothing to say about the attack on the Hebron hospital by Israeli undercover agents. Clearly as an arm of the state of Israel, Magen David Adom cannot be allowed to remain a member of the IFRC unless this body is to be seen as overlooking or condoning Israel’s actions. It jeopardises public support for its work by remaining silent in the face of flagrant violations of international law protecting hospitals, patients and medical staff.
These deeds are intrinsic to Zionism. Zionists deny their ideology is racist. Of course they do but of course it is. The state of Israel needs racism as much as it needs guns and bullets. Israel could not be what it is without racism, not just incidental or occasional racism but racism deeply engrained in its ideology and expressed from the beginning in its laws, its judicial decisions and its occupation. The enemy remains what it was since the founding of the Zionist movement in the late 19th century, the entire Palestinian people, sitting on the land the Zionists claimed God had given them before the British and Americans did. Even in the territory handed over to the Zionists under the 1947 partition plan there could not have been a ‘Jewish state’ because there were as many Muslim and Christian Palestinians on that territory as Jews. Only through war could the problem be temporarily alleviated. Although the majority of Palestinians were driven out of their homeland, those who remained had to be kept down so they would not dare raise their heads. They had to be crushed until nothing was left of the will to resist. Only when this point had been reached would the Zionists know peace, but as we are seeing on the West Bank, nearly 70 years later the strategy has failed.
Individual Palestinians can be killed but the silent enemy of numbers remains. All the exhortations of Zionist settler leaders to women to have more children are not going to reverse the irreversible. Within two decades or so there will be more Muslim or Christian Palestinians between the Mediterranean and Jordan River than there are Jews. This was Golda Meir’s nightmare. She used to go to sleep wondering how many more Palestinians would have been born by the next day. The irreducible problem generates even greater hatred, as we are seeing from the vigilante attacks in which Jewish settlers are joining soldiers and police in cursing, abusing and killing their victims even as they are wounded and clearly incapacitated.
A recent survey showed that 53 per cent of Jewish Israelis thought that wounded or captured Palestinians should be shot dead on the spot: ‘extra judicial’ killings as they are called. As Israeli soldiers or intelligence agents have always killed Palestinians on the spot, all that is really new about this survey is the survey. The state encourages civilians to arm themselves and guns are being used more openly on the streets than ever before. Naftali Bennett, most likely Israel’s next Prime Minister, boasts of how many ‘Arabs’ he has killed. ‘I’ve killed lots of Arabs in my time and there’s no problem with that … if you catch terrorists you just have to kill them.’
In Jerusalem and on the West Bank the vigilantes are out, just waiting for their opportunity to set themselves up as heroes by killing an ‘Arab.’ Of the more than 90 Palestinians killed in the past month many have been killed by civilians. The pretext is usually that they are armed or in the process of launching an attack or threatening one in the eyes of a soldier, a border policeman or a civilian settler. No questions are asked and no prosecutions follow. The Palestinian who kills or attacks or is alleged to have attacked a Jewish settler is a ‘terrorist’ while the Jewish civilian who kills a Palestinian does so from nationalist motives and therefore has to be understood.
In Jerusalem two girls of 14 and 16, cousins, were shot after wounding an elderly man in the back with a pair of scissors. A video clip shows one of the girls prancing around in front of an armed policeman while a bystander rushes in and smashes the other girl to the ground with a chair. The policeman is a burly man who could surely have disarmed both girls but instead he shoots one before running over to shoot the other as she lies on the ground stunned or unconscious after being hit with the chair and clearly no threat to anyone. While he is running along the footpath to shoot her, a civilian runs up waving a gun and appears to fire more bullets into the girl who has already been shot even though she is either wounded or dead.
Outside Nablus the former head of the West Bank settlers’ council, Gershon Mesika, deliberately ran over a young Palestinian woman he suspected of being involved in a knife attack. In fact, she was a girl of 16, who could have been have been arrested or taken to hospital after Mesika hit her with his car but was instead shot dead where she lay. A resident of the nearby Itamar settlement said: ‘I got out of my car. Gershon had already run over her. I shot her twice. Then a soldier shot her twice.’ According to the current head of the settlers’ council, ‘It is a shame that we in Israel [sic.] have to deal with scenes like this on a daily basis. We regret that this is our routine but we can do nothing but praise that there are civilians like these’, referring to Gershon Mesika. This person was born in Ashdod, built on lands belonging to the village of Isdud, located about 35 kilometres northeast of the Gaza strip. The village itself was destroyed by Zionist soldiers of the Givati brigade. After a salutary massacre the 5000 inhabitants were scattered to the four winds, most of them ending up in the Gaza Strip where they and their descendants are still being killed by the people who destroyed their village and drove them away. Born on stolen land in 1952, Mesika moved to the West Bank in 1982 so he could continue living on stolen land, in the settlement of Elon Moreh, close to Nablus. Now he has helped to kill someone whose land he has stolen.
The killing of Palestinians is justified by the state even when the pretext is flimsy. Israel’s onslaughts on Gaza have involved the killing of thousands of civilians but according to the rabbis and the generals alike they are fair game. According to former chief Sephardi rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, ‘Jewish war ethics’ raise ‘no moral prohibitions against the indiscriminate killing of civilians’ during Israel’s wars. Retired general Giora Eiland goes further, writing that there is ‘no such thing’ as an innocent civilian in Gaza. Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira has written a guidebook (Torat Ha’Melech – The King’s Torah) on when it is permissible to kill non-Jews and when it is even justifiable to kill babies. When he was chief rabbi of the IDF, Dov Lior, of the Kiyat Arba settlement near Hebron remarked that ‘a thousand non-Jewish lives are not worth a Jew’s fingernail.’ He praises the massacre of 29 Muslims in the Ibrahimi Mosque by Baruch Goldstein in 1994 as sanctifying the name of God. Others talk of killing a million Palestinians if that is what it takes to give Israel peace. Such genocidal sentiments are also expressed by Yochanan Gordon, in an article headed ‘When Genocide is Permissible,’ and published in the Times of Israel before being withdrawn. Nowhere is there any examination of why young people, some of them children, are going into the streets to do whatever damage they can to anyone associated with the theft and occupation of their land. If the issue comes up the answer is escapist and delusional: ‘They want to kill us because we are Jews.’ The occupying state cannot admit the truth.
A distinction has to be made between Palestinian violence and Zionist violence. Israel breaches the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights at various points, apart from which numerous General Assembly resolutions have upheld ‘the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, particularly armed struggle.’ In the context of law and human rights it is the Palestinians whose position is upheld and the Zionists who breach human rights and the law at every turn. Every Jewish Israeli who has died in the past month either lives in Jerusalem or West Bank settlements or was visiting those settlements (these deaths include the young American Zionist who was delivering food aid to soldiers in the army of occupation). Under international law Jerusalem is an occupied city and the West Bank is occupied land and in attacking the occupier and those who are part of the occupation as soldiers or settlers or who support it, the Palestinians are resisting as people under occupation always have done. Israel cannot allow itself to understand that because it has no intention of handing back to the Palestinians what is rightfully theirs.
Israeli racism has been reinforced decade after decade in the dehumanization of Palestinians, not on the fringe but at the center, by politicians, generals and rabbis, who have compared them to cockroaches, snakes, tumors, and two-legged beasts, all something to be stamped on, cut out or destroyed. Surveys show that Jewish Israelis do not want to live in the same building as ‘Arabs’, do not want even to live in the same suburb as ‘Arabs’. Hatred or contempt comes even from schoolchildren as well as being expressed in slogans scrawled on West Bank walls – ‘gas the Arabs’ – and by the soldiers who defecate in the living rooms of Palestinian houses they have taken over.
Until the present day Mahmud Abbas and Saeb Erekat have talked endlessly of a two-state solution which Netanyahu has never wanted and has always worked against. Settlement continues unabated. In his latest brazen demonstration Netanyahu is asking the US to give its backing to new settlement blocs in return for the measures he says he has taken to alleviate tension with the Palestinians. These measures boil down to a bit of money thrown in their direction even as the killings continue. Netanyahu announces that the IDF is to be given free rein in the West Bank (as if it has never had it): ‘There are no restrictions on the activities of the IDF …. We’re going into every site … we’re entering Palestinian villages, we’re entering towns, we’re entering homes and conducting widespread arrests.’ As in the past, this is how Israel continues to deal with ‘the Arabs’: more killings, more arrests, more oppression, more curfews and closures, more checkpoints, more humiliation and bullying, more night raids on Palestinian homes and more settlements. Again it is open season on ‘Arabs’ but then it is always open season on ‘Arabs’ in occupied Palestine.
Netanyahu still speaks deceitfully of a peace settlement. Naftali Bennett, on the other hand, does not hide his intentions, saying that ‘I will do everything in my power to make sure they never get a state.’ He wants the 60 per cent of West Bank land occupied in 1967 to be formally annexed and says the ‘era of the Palestinian state’ is coming to an end. The green line ‘has no meaning’ for him any more than it had for Menahim Begin thirty years ago. Palestinians should take their cue and respond that the green line has no meaning for them either, that all of Palestine is as much occupied as it was in 1948 and that sooner or later it is the ‘era of the state of Israel’ that will come to an end.
For many Jewish Israelis ‘Palestine’ is over, relegated to the pages of history. There will be no Palestine and in time they will do their best to show that there never was. Palestine has been defeated. Zionism has won and the Palestinians have lost and it is time to move on. In the view of Haviv Rettig Gur, writing in the Times of Israel, the ‘intifada of the knives’ was not an intifada at all but the last gasp of a defeated people, a ‘howl against the sense that resistance has failed.’ The Palestinian movement ‘has no answers, no narrative or political vision that offers a way forward to better days.’ These statements cannot be dismissed merely as Zionist triumphalism because the Palestinians certainly have reached the bleakest point in their history, the culmination of a ‘peace process’ which led them into the greatest trap in their history. Now that nothing is left of the peace option and the two-state solution option the Palestinians are going to have to frame new strategies, which are unlikely to include any more bogus ‘negotiations’ with the state of Israel.
It was not armed resistance which failed but the possibility of a peaceful negotiated settlement for the sake of which Palestinians took the diplomatic path. It was not the Palestinians who failed but Israel which failed. It is not Israel that gave everything to the ‘peace process’ but the Palestinians. Israel sucked everything out of it. It is not Israel that put down the gun and picked up the olive branch but the Palestinians. They have tried the narrative of peace and it is Israel that has stuck to the narrative of war. It is not the Palestinians who failed to meet Israel half way but Israel that refused to meet the Palestinians any way at all and if the Palestinians are not to know any peace it is unlikely that the Israelis will ever know it either.
As within 20 years the Christian and Muslim population in the lands taken by Zionism will exceed the Jewish population, what answers, narrative and political vision does Hativ Rettig Gur think Israel has for the future? We know the answer because we are already seeing it every day: force and more force. Has Zionism won, or is every settlement built, every Palestinian murdered by a settler and every child killed in Gaza yet another nail in its coffin? History plays tricks and never more often than on those who think, in the arrogance of their power, that they have ‘won.’
– Jeremy Salt taught at the University of Melbourne, at Bosporus University in Istanbul and Bilkent University in Ankara for many years, specializing in the modern history of the Middle East. Among his recent publications is his 2008 book, The Unmaking of the Middle East. A History of Western Disorder in Arab Lands (University of California Press). He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.