By Jeremy Salt – Ankara
I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness and will hold your hand and keep you, and I will establish you as a covenant of the people for a light unto the nations. — Isaiah 42:6
If our dreams of Zionism are to end in the smoke of assassins’ pistols and our labours for its future to produce only a new set of gangsters worthy of Nazi Germany, many like myself will have to reconsider the position we have maintained so consistently and so long in the past. — Winston Churchill, speaking in the House of Commons, November 17, 1944.
Well, Winston, you were right, except the gangsters are armed now not just with pistols but nuclear weapons. Admittedly Lord Moyne, the British Minister of State to Egypt, assassinated in Cairo on November 6, 1944, only six days before you made these remarks about Zionism in the House of Commons, was your friend, so there was a very personal element in your anger. But, as you feared, Zionism did give birth to gangsters, generation after generation of them. Their ranks begin with David Ben-Gurion, who in 1948 superintended the ‘flight’ of the Palestinians, the destruction of their villages and the theft of their property; Yitzhak Rabin, who obeyed his orders and ‘cleaned’ large areas of Palestine of their inhabitants; Menahim Begin, who oversaw the bombing of the King David Hotel in 1946 and the massacre of villagers at Deir Yassin in 1948; Ariel Sharon, a thug and criminal throughout his whole life; and Shimon Peres, associated with every crime committed since Israel’s foundation. In later life Begin and Peres went to win the Nobel Peace Prize. A few years after being honored by the Nobel committee, Begin orchestrated the 1982 onslaught on Lebanon which ended in the killing of close to 20,000 civilians. A years after receiving his Nobel Prize, Peres was the Prime Minister of Israel during another election campaign war, the ‘Grapes of Wrath’ onslaught on Lebanon in 1996, during which 106 Lebanese civilians were massacred when Israeli gunners shelled the UN compound at Qana in which they were sheltering. Peres’ enlightened view of the present slaughter in Gaza is that Hamas needed to be taught a lesson ‘and we are teaching them that lesson’. So much for the Nobel Peace Prize. One has to dig deep in history to find a leading Israeli politician or senior general not guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, yet their ‘defence’ forces still pride themselves on their ‘purity of arms’ and higher moral purpose.
Israel’s political and military leaders are now dancing in exultation around the golden calf of their military success against Gaza, where 85 per cent of the more than 1000 people they had killed and 5000 they had wounded by day 20 were civilians, and more than 300 of the dead children; where they had destroyed 38 mosques, and bombed schools, apartments, markets, factories and government offices, in what is a replay of the total war waged on Lebanon in 2006 and in Iraq by the United States in 1992; where they had bombed media offices so their crimes cannot be reported; where they had bombed a UN school as well as the main UNRWA compound with white phosphorus bombs, destroying hundreds of tons of aid for those in need of food and medical care; where they had bombed hospitals, so that in the middle of a winter’s night the patients, old people in wheelchairs and babies in incubators, had to be evacuated into the streets with nowhere to go; where they had bombed a cemetery, killing the dead twice over, scattering their flesh everywhere; where they had assassinated the Interior Minister of the only elected Palestinian government; where they will murder other ministers if they can get to them; where, behind an advancing iron wall of tanks and bulldozers, protected overhead by fighter aircraft and helicopters, protected by bombardment from warships at sea, Israeli troops are advancing through the urban ruins their planes, tanks and artillery have created on men armed with small arms. This is a victory? This is a war? The revulsion and hatred bred by this latest rampage is ‘success’?
The first quote is a nice sentiment even if there is no God, no prophet, no chosen people, no angels, no miracles and no land that was promised to anyone. No matter from whom it comes, the injunction to be a light unto the nations, to be a good example, is praiseworthy but Israel is not a light. It is a blight. It is not a Jewish state but a Zionist state and has to be recognized as such. Growing into a remorseless engine of death and destruction, it has fulfilled almost all the worst fears of its Jewish and non-Jewish critics (‘almost’ because of the possibility that one day Israel will start a war it cannot win and use nuclear weapons against its enemies). The attempted obliteration of Palestine is one side of the coin. The other is the permanent, irreparable damage done to Jewish life across the Middle East and the damage done to Judaism. The Star of David flutters from the pennants of Israeli tanks, is embossed on the wings of the F-16 warplanes killing men, women and children in Gaza, is scrawled on the walls of Hebron by racist settlers. This symbol of a religion has been hijacked and turned into a symbol of occupation and oppression. Jews who put universal values and their religion first surely have an obligation to distance themselves from this state and this ideology and indeed to raise their voices against both. Around the world many already are. For Arab Jews living across the Middle East until 1948, speaking the same language and living in the same space as real neighbors with Muslims and Christians, the rise of Israel has been catastrophic. The collision between Zionism and Arab nationalism ended in the destruction of Jewish life across the region and the disappearance of communities which had prospered for more than two thousand years. In Damascus, Baghdad, Sana’a and the cities and towns of North Africa only the remnants are left.
Israel’s destructive path shows no signs of coming to end. The crimes committed by Israel in Gaza are incredibly gross and brazen. The killing of young children, babies, young girls and boys, often with their parents or grandchildren, is the most terrible aspect of the current slaughter but no-one and nothing seems exempt. On January 15 it was the bombing of the cemetery. Then it was the bombing of the UNRWA main compound with phosphorus bombs (used by Israel in its onslaught on Lebanon in 1982) and the destruction of hundreds of tons of aid desperately needed by the Palestinians. Then it was the discovery of 20 rotting bodies of one family in the ruins of a house bombed several days ago, followed by the killing of an 80-year-old woman and her four grandchildren, followed in turn by the assassination by bunker bomb of the Interior Minister and his relatives. Across the Gaza Strip entire families are being obliterated to the background of calls from the Israeli press to ‘finish the job’ and indignation at a world that dares to condemn a war on civilians officially registered as a ‘war’ on ‘Hamas’ (i.e the elected Palestinian government).
All of this is openly approved by the UN Congress in the name of allowing Israel to ‘defend’ itself and is tacitly approved by European governments. Not even the killing of hundreds of children has been sufficient to prod them into action. There is no real surprise here because an open attack on Gaza was all that was left following the failure of the blockade, orchestrated by Israel with the support of the EU and even the UN Secretary-General, to bring the Palestinian government to its knees. In their immorality, hypocrisy and cowardice, however, the European governments have been outdone by Arab governments.
Three weeks into this onslaught and they had taken not one concrete measure to end the onslaught on Gaza. Where they have not been simply weak they have been complicit from the start. In this respect the names of Mahmud Abbas and Husni Mubarak will forever be linked with the slaughter of Gazans. It would be hard to find parallels for such shameful behavior in the modern history of the Middle East even by the low standards already set by the Arab state system. The corrupt, suborned and rented governments cooperating with Israel and the US in this venture are beyond shame and beyond reform. If the Arab world is to have a present and a future they must go. It is no wonder that Israel feels encouraged to do just as it likes.
In recent history only Hizbullah and Hamas have dared to defy it and that is why they must be destroyed. In Arab and Muslim hearts there can scarcely be a flicker of hope left that Israel or ‘the west’ will change their ways. The governments of the ‘west’ refuse to act humanely, refuse to act compassionately, refuse to take responsibility for their part in the creation of Israel, refuse to act on principle, refuse to stop selling arms that are being used to kill Palestinian civilians and refuse to live by their own laws insofar as the Middle East is concerned. Palestinian lives are apparently endlessly disposable. It is scarcely conceivable, except in the minds of racists, that this state of affairs can continue forever, but Israel and the United States seem to see ‘success’ in Gaza as the prelude to other battles they can win, i.e., with Iran and Hizbullah. In all likelihood Gaza is just a way station on the road to much worse to come.
– Jeremy Salt is associate professor in Middle Eastern History and Politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey. Previously, he taught at Bosporus University in Istanbul and the University of Melbourne in the Departments of Middle Eastern Studies and Political Science. Professor Salt has written many articles on Middle East issues, particularly Palestine, and was a journalist for The Age newspaper when he lived in Melbourne. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.