By George Polley
Admittedly, I am a relative newcomer to this discussion, which is not the same thing as saying that I am an ignorant one, as one Israeli correspondent has implied, saying that I have ‘a huge anti-Israeli bias.’ If by that he means that I question the honesty and aims of Israel’s government in its reading of history and its dealings with its Palestinian neighbors and citizens, then I stand guilty as charged. I have followed this conflict and discussion about it for years. The difference between ‘then’ and ‘now’ is that I poke around and ask questions, such as:
What compelled Netanyahu to quash the recent peace talks with the Palestinians? In spite of what Mr. Netanyahu says in photo ops, his intentions have been quite consistent from the beginning. His address to the United Nations in September 2009 illustrates my point, and illustrates it, as the saying goes, “in spades.”
He began his address by reminding the delegates of Israel’s founding and of the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust, and mentioned Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s remark that the Holocaust is a lie. “Nothing has undermined” the “central mission” of the UN “more than the systematic assault on the truth.”
He then spoke of his recent visit to a villa in Wannsee where, on January 20, 1942 a group of senior Nazi officials met and, “after a hearty meal”, discussed how to exterminate the Jewish people. He then shows the assembled delegates a copy of the minutes in which the Nazis issued precise instructions on how to carry out the extermination of the Jews” and asks “Is this a lie?” He holds up a copy of the plans for Auschwitz-Birkenau, where one million Jews were murdered and asks “Is this too a lie?” He then mentioned President Obama’s recent visit to Buchenwald and asked “Did President Obama pay tribute to a lie?”
Then he shifts his focus to the present day: “The most urgent challenge facing this body is to prevent the tyrants of Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons”, asking his hearers four pointed questions: Are the member states of the United Nations up to that challenge? Will the international community confront a despotism that terrorizes its own people as they bravely stand up for freedom? Will it take action against the dictators who stole an election in broad daylight and gunned down Iranian protesters who died in the streets choking in their own blood? Will the international community thwart the world’s most pernicious sponsors and practitioners of terrorism?”
He then moves to what is really on his mind – the UN Human Rights Commission’s report on Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” attack on Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009. His remarks are scathing:
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the jury is still out on the United Nations, and recent signs are not encouraging. Rather than condemning the terrorists and their Iranian patrons, some here have condemned their victims. That is exactly what a recent UN report on Gaza did, falsely equating the terrorists with those they targeted… For eight long years Hamas fired from Gaza thousands of missiles, mortars and rockets on nearby Israeli cities,” while the UN and its Human Rights Commission, “a misnamed institution if there ever was one,” faced with a clear case of aggressor and victim, condemned … Israel. “A democracy legitimately defending itself against terror is morally hanged, drawn and quartered, and given an unfair trial to boot.”
Amazing. He contemptuously dismisses all 575 pages of scrupulously documented evidence as “lies” and “distortions” and everyone involved in the investigations as liars and distorters-of-the-truth. But he is not finished. “The same UN that cheered Israel as it left Gaza and promised to back our right of self-defense,” he continues working himself up, “now accuses us – my people, my country – of war crimes? And for what? For acting responsibly in self-defense. What a travesty!”
He looks around the room at each person there and asks this solemn question: “Will you stand with Israel or will you stand with the terrorists?” He then adds what must have seemed irresistible words: “In the spirit of the timeless words spoken to Joshua over 3,000 years ago, let us be strong and of good courage. Let us confront this peril, secure our future and, God willing, forge an enduring peace for generations to come.” Reading them, I nearly gagged. (For the record, Joshua was a brutal leader who engaged in acts of terror, genocide and ethic cleansing, all of which were justified as directed by God. See Joshua 10:40 for a graphic example.)
It is wonderfully morbid theater. The problem with it is that it bears no relationship to the reality experienced by Richard Goldstone and his investigative teams. The Report’s Executive Summary states their experience this way: “8. The Mission repeatedly sought to obtain the cooperation of the Government of Israel. After numerous attempts had failed, the Mission sought and obtained the assistance of the Government of Egypt to enable it to enter the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing.” One has to wonder just what it was that the Israeli’s feared. In a criminal investigation, wouldn’t this be called obstructing justice? It certainly wasn’t very effective one, as once inside Gaza, the investigators were able to interview Palestinian authorities, who “extended their full cooperation and support to the Mission”.
Israeli authorities also intimidated a witness, Muhammad Srour who “was detained by Israeli security forces when returning to the West Bank and became concerned that his detention may have been a consequence of his appearance before the Mission” (Executive Summary, #10).
Further evidence of Israel’s obstructionism is found in paragraph #20 of the Executive Summary, as follows: “the Government of Israel prevented [Commission members] from meeting Israeli government officials, but also from traveling to Israel to meet with Israeli victims and to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian Authority representatives and Palestinian victims.”
Paragraph 19 of the Executive Summary is a summary the Mission’s work. It conducted 188 individual interviews, reviewed “more than 300 reports, submissions and other documentation either researched of its own motion, received in reply to its call for submissions and notes verbales or provided during meetings or otherwise, amounting to more than 10,000 pages, over 30 videos and 1,200 photographs” (Executive Summary, #19). I’d say that was fairly thorough, especially in view of Israel’s obstructionism, wouldn’t you?
One year after Mr. Netanyahu’s speech, his Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman mounted the podium at the UN and made his own speech, in which he made himself very clear by saying that his job is easier than it was a year earlier “because now we have a stable coalition, stable government and we have the support of a majority of Israel’s citizens,” defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” (effectively declaring that all non-Jewish citizens are second-class citizens.)
Someday, far in the future, there may finally be a “final status agreement” between Israel and the Palestinian people. But this “final status agreement” (“final solution”?) has a sinister ring to it, to wit: “I am not speaking about moving populations, but rather about moving borders to better reflect demographic realities.” As anyone knows “demographic realities” change, and in Israeli-speak, they change rapidly and continuously with each new settlement limited only to Israel’s Jewish citizens. Whether on the West Bank, the Negev, in Gaza, East Jerusalem or Galilee, Palestinians are pushed into tinier and tinier ghettos until there is nothing left for a Palestinian state to occupy. Was Benjamin Netanyahu lying when he said that Mr. Liberman “hadn’t cleared his statements” with the PM’s office? What do you think? I see these two as working toward the same goal. And that is not good for the Palestinians.
And in the end, not good for Israel and the Israelis either.
Why do I say this? Israel has for years excused its behavior toward the Palestinians as related to “security needs,” and there is truth in it. However, if Israel’s leaders had from the beginning treated the Palestinian people as allies and neighbors, would there have been security needs? As it is, Israel’s security needs grow with each abusive act against Palestinians, with each shove aside, each bombardment. Their behavior, in fact, assures that they will always have security needs. What Benjamin Netanyahu and his Zionist predecessors have done is ghettoized the Jews. When I read those words in Lillian Rosengarten’s poem “Israel, I hear you”, I saw it. This is ghetto mentality in its most malignant form that is determined to protect itself and keep everyone else firmly out.
What does this mean for the “peace negotiations?” They’re going nowhere, and won’t until enough pressure is applied on an international scale and from Israel’s Arab neighbors to force Israel to change. It will also mean that my country must abandon its foolish support of their longtime ally or continue to lose its own stature in the world.
– George Polley is a Japan-based writer. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.