By Jeremy Salt
We have watched this for seven decades. Seven decades of unremitting, remorseless, violence. A poisonous ideology gives rise to a state, poisonous at its roots, the people poisoned by the state, indoctrinated, taught to hate and taught to kill without compunction, without conscience.
Israel is by far the worst settler-colonial experience in history, infinitely worse than Algeria at its worst and far worse than South Africa. Its violence extends from the market bombings of the 1930s to the massacres and destruction of close to 500 Palestinian villages and hamlets in the late 1940s.
Onwards to massacres in Gaza, Lebanon and Jordan in every single decade that has followed, along with ‘targeted’ killings and individual assassinations, many of them far from Israel’s non-declared borders. There are no exceptions. Almost all of Israel’s victims, ultimately the victims of a twisted ideology, are civilian. Apartment buildings, ambulances, and hospitals have been destroyed, paramedics killed, refugee camps bombed and leaders of Palestinian opinion murdered.
The record is atrocious. The killing is deliberate, remorseless, and justified on every occasion by the politicians and the Jewish citizenry.
In the recent killings along the Gaza fence during ‘the great march of return’ the Israeli snipers were committing war crimes, first by shooting unarmed people and second by using ammunition banned under international law, including the ‘butterfly bullet’, which has flanges opening up inside the body and designed to cause maximum damage to bone and tissue.
The injury that killed Yasser Abu Naja, 13, recently was horrifying. An exploding bullet fired by an Israeli sniper opened up an enormous hole in the side of this poor child’s head. This shocking murder of a boy rated scarcely a mention in the media, and let us not hesitate to call it murder. He was not killed in a ‘clash’ because there were no clashes along the Gaza fence. He had no weapon and was no conceivable danger to anyone, yet he was lined up and killed.
Razan al-Najjar was wearing a white smock bearing medical insignia when she attended to a wounded man. She and her family thought this would protect her but it did not. At a short distance, especially with telescopic sights, the sniper might as well have been shooting her at point-blank range. He could see his target was a woman, that she was unarmed and that she was a medic yet he still shot her.
What kind of person could do such a thing and what kind of state and ideology is producing young people who could do such a thing? What kind of state could produce Elor Azaria, who walked up to a comatose young Palestinian as he lay on the ground in Hebron and shot him in the head? What kind of state and ideology can produce a citizenry which treats this murderer as a hero?
We know the answer. A sick state. A state based not on morality, justice, and law but brute force. A state based on an ideology which Moshe Menuhin, the father of the great violinist Yehudi, described as the ‘decadence’ of Judaism in our time. A state which has brought nothing but violence to the Middle East, a state whose human cost includes the destruction of ancient Jewish communities from Yemen to North Africa. A state which is one of the greatest dangers to Jewish life in history.
Increasingly, the alarm bells are ringing for many Jews, who are horrified at what Israel has become, what, in fact, it always was even if they could not see it previously, and are separating themselves from the state and its ideology, in the name of name of Palestinian rights, common human rights and the Judaism whose symbols Israel has hijacked.
Until the First World War Zionism was regarded as a heresy by Jewish communities around the world and this is how it needs to be defined again.
In the name of Palestinian rights, in the name of human rights, in the name of law and morality and in the name of their religion, whose symbols have been hijacked by a brutal occupying state, the onus is on Jews to distance themselves from Israel. They need to say that the settlers’ Judaism is not their Judaism and that the hatred inscribed in holy books written thousands of years ago has no place in the modern world. This is a fight for the soul of their religion, as well as a struggle for Palestinian and human rights.
Looking at this record of ceaseless violence, is it possible to maintain any hope that Israel can change for the better? Being abandoned by the US, being stripped of US diplomatic support and billions of dollars in economic and military aid, might do the job but this is not on the horizon, despite the growing disenchantment of many Americans, including many Jews, with Israel.
In the Trump era, Israel is riding high. Finally, the US embassy is in Jerusalem. Nikki Haley pumps out the most obnoxious lies in support of Israel. Jared Kushner, the boy wonder, is ready with a new peace deal from which even Mahmud Abbas is being excluded. His shelf life has expired. Israel does not need or want any more Palestinian intermediaries. They have served their purpose. The Palestinians will be told what they are going to get, almost nothing, take it or leave it.
Israel has never felt more confident and able to impose its peace of the grave on the Palestinians, not a peace of the brave, the meaningless rhetorical flourish that covered up the racket called the ‘peace process.’ The BDS campaign is having an effect, but not enough to force Israel to switch tracks.
Israel thinks it is close to the end of the story. Netanyahu will go, Naftali Bennett will probably take over as Prime Minister and most of the West Bank will be annexed, with the remnants, unviable in any social, economic or political form, to be annexed later.
Is this how it is going to end? Or are we seeing delusions typical of the ‘arrogance of power’, the phrase used by J. William Fulbright, the chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, when criticizing the war on Vietnam?
History throws up endless examples of such delusions, in the minds of those who have power and are incapable of imagining a time coming when they will have it no longer.
Israel’s vulnerabilities begin with its dependence on outside support. It has ‘peace’ agreements with Jordan and Egypt and has been currying favor with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states but it does not have one regional ally. It would not have come into existence without British support.
When Britain was finished as an imperial power it moved on to the US, which its leaders have treated with the same disrespect and even contempt as they treat everyone else in their private moments.
In 1967 Israel murdered 34 American sailors aboard the USS Liberty. It has spied on the US, stolen its secrets and the material it needed to build its nuclear weapons, even as it makes more demands for American weapons and money. This is the country the US administration regards as an ally.
Yes, the relationship is ‘special’ but for none of the reasons given. It is an unhealthy, unbalanced relationship that has cost the US heavily, in terms of economic aid, the wars into which it has been pushed by Israel and by the loss of prestige around the world every time it seeks to justify Israeli atrocities.
Disenchantment with Israel in the US, partly born of the enormous cost to the US taxpayer of supporting a state that lives in permanent violation of international law, is growing despite long-term stifling of the truth by the print media and the major domestic TV channels.
The first media breakthrough came in 1982 when cable television provided live coverage of Israel’s destruction of Beirut and its murder by tank, plane and artillery fire of thousands of Lebanese civilians.
Sabra and Shatila, where Israeli mercenaries murdered perhaps thousands of Palestinians, was the culminating point in that particular chapter of horrors.
During the first intifada five years later cable television showed Palestinian boys fighting Israeli soldiers and tanks with stones and slingshots. These breakthrough moments were followed by the 2007 book on the Israeli lobby by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, put out by a prestigious publisher in New York. Israeli hasbara has never succeeded in regaining this lost ground.
Israel has diehard supporters among millennial Christians, but other Christians remain strongly critical. The war on the campuses continues, but with Jewish students, in increasing numbers, taking a stand against Israel in the struggle for peace and justice. Amongst the student body across the US, there is no doubt that majority support now lies with the Palestinians.
The US is now entering into a new phase of its history, characterized by discord at home and ebbing power abroad. Netanyahu’s recent cozying up to Vladimir Putin can be seen as insurance ahead of the possibility that the day will come when the US is no longer willing or able to provide the political, economic and military support that has kept Israel afloat for the past seven decades.
Alongside the factors that need to be considered is Israel’s capacity to defend itself, more accurately ‘defend’ what it has stolen. Its military reached its highest point with the killer punch in 1967 which destroyed the Egyptian air force. There has been no return to that point but only a steady decline.
In the first week of the 1973 war, Israeli forces in the Sinai were routed. If Israel did not lose that war, it was only because Anwar Sadat never intended to win it and because of the massive quantity of US arms airlifted directly to the battlefield.
The attacks on Lebanon in 1978 and 1982 were basically onslaughts on a civilian population, a form of war in which Israel excels. Logistically, the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 was a shambles, with the Israeli juggernaut able to roll forward only because there was little organized military resistance.
In 2006 Israel was driven out of occupied southern Lebanon and in 2006 when it set out to destroy Hizbullah, it was humiliated, its indestructible Merkava tanks destroyed and its soldiers failing to take and hold ground. On many occasions, only air power saved them from destruction.
Bear in mind that the troops who delivered this humiliation were the Hizbullah irregulars, part-timers summoned into action, not the professional waiting on the northern bank of the Litani river should the Israelis dare cross it, which they did not.
What the Israeli military has been doing with great success is kill civilians, on the West Bank, in East Jerusalem and by the thousands during its genocidal onslaughts on the Gaza strip. These occasions are described by an ever-friendly media as ‘wars’ but they are not. A war implies a military between two roughly equivalent enemies, including weaponry, whereas, in Gaza, Israel faces civilians or lightly armed resistance fighters.
Predictably, in such a compressed urban environment, the vast bulk of Israel’s victims, thousands of dead and thousands of wounded, have been civilians, many of them children, as they had been in Lebanon. The craven weakness of the ‘international community’, refusing to recognize these war crimes and punish Israel accordingly, have only encouraged it to continue with these tactics.
Israel is a garrison state. It has fenced itself in all around its (non-declared) borders. It has nuclear weapons if the worst comes to the worst. It is a measure of its extremism that it is willing to risk coming to this point rather than agree to a reasonable peace, but for Israel, nothing is reasonable except everything for itself.
This really dries up the space between surrender and war. Israel knows that but is confident it can continue to win wars against any or all enemies. As always, it is preparing for war, but so are its principal enemies.
Given the level of conventional armaments on both sides, the notion of ‘victory’ has to be qualified. There is not the slightest doubt that in a future war, with Hizbullah or Iran, or with both them, as this is what most likely will develop, Israel will suffer casualties unprecedented in its history. Even if it ‘wins’ this will be the nature of its ‘victory.’
Hasan Nasrallah has frequently warned that the next war will be fought inside occupied Palestine, whatever Israel is able to do outside it. There is every reason to take him at his word. He does not engage in empty rhetoric. Hizbullah has acquired enough missiles to wreak havoc on the Zionists across occupied Palestine. Constantly threatened with military attack by the US and Israel, Iran has been rapidly developing its own offensive and defensive missile base.
Israel’s missile defense system is not foolproof. It will stop some missiles but not all. If there is a storm of missiles, many if not most will get through. Israel will be looking for a quick victory and thus will be waging a war of total destruction from the beginning. Insofar as they are capable, its enemies will do the same.
The Israeli Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, South-African born Aubrey Eban, moving from one white-settler community to another, used to say that the Palestinians never lose an opportunity to lose an opportunity when in fact it Israel that has thrown away every opportunity and wasted every chance. Inexorably, it moves forward to its next confrontation with its enemies.
– 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.