Creating people's geographies
Selves and Others Monday 14 August 2006
In the face of a major Israeli war of aggression against Lebanon many politicians and pundits have sought to justify the Israeli actions, throwing in an occasional lame rebuke. It is instructive to dissect some of the commonly heard mantras that have been repeated ad nauseam, before being replaced by others.
When defense is offensive
“Israel has the right to defend herself” has certainly been one of the most often repeated insufferable mantras. In recent weeks, nearly all US Congressmen and Senators are on record stating this, and none did so in a more craven fashion than US Senator Hillary Clinton . A bit of context may be useful to interpret this mantra. What these Congressmen and Senators are justifying is not the “defense” of Israel, but an obscene Israeli war of aggression that may actually destroy an entire country. When General Dan Halutz, the Israeli military supremo, states that Israeli bombing is going to turn back the clock twenty years on Lebanon, then it is very clear what this war is about: terrorizing the civilian population (a.k.a, “draining the swamp”), destroying villages, creating hundreds of thousands of refugees, demolishing the infrastructure (electricity generators, telephone exchanges, water filtration and pumps), demolishing key industrial plants (milk factories, pharmaceutical plants), bombing refugee camps, dropping 24 tons of explosives on a populated area … this constitutes war crimes (or worse), and the generals and politicians responsible for this belong in a war crimes tribunal. The United States politicians who proffered the “green light” and expedited the delivery of more bombs also belong in the same dock, because they are abetting Israeli war crimes. The leaders of the Jewish-American organizations lobbying to stretch out Israel’s carte blanche period also deserve to be indicted for serious crimes .
It is important to note that aggressors don’t have a right to “self-defense” . Israel is not entitled to “defense” when it has invaded Palestinian, Lebanese or Syrian land and has dispossessed the native Palestinian population. Any violence used to perpetuate Israeli conquests is at best illegitimate, but most likely a serious crime.
The corollary to Israel’s “right to defend herself” (which really means that Israel is allowed to attack others) is that Israel’s victims are not granted the right to defend themselves (this is portrayed as attacking Israel). Using the pervasive racist language, there are calls to “defang” Hezbollah since it is intolerable for ziocons and their media surrogates to consider any Lebanese or Palestinian groups having any weapons, let alone missiles that can land on the other side of the border. And to boot, any act of resistance is labeled “terrorism”, and an entire people are branded likewise. The ziocon/Israeli insistence on labeling Hezbollah or Hamas “terrorist” organizations is massively hypocritical, yet both the United States and Europe have played along with this charade.
The shallow dip
The only US or European official admonishment against Israeli depredations is that they aren’t “proportionate”. Politicians and some of the principal human rights organizations prefer this type of language because it enables them to support the main transgression, yet appear to utter some criticism . However, a simple analogy may elucidate Western (“our”) hypocrisy. The calls for proportionality are akin to cautioning a rapist not to penetrate too deep. The rape as such isn’t denounced, but a suggestion is made that maybe the rapist should engage in a shallow f***. If the rapist does transgress, then there will be polite calls to pull it out a bit; this is known in the parlance as “calls for restraint”. Again, the “proportionate” admonishment grants the right for the principal crimes to be perpetrated; it just urges Israel to be more circumspect about its depredations in order not to embarrass its American and zionist cheerleaders.
The calls for proportionality are actually even more hypocritical because they are often paired with calls for the resistance forces to stop fighting back . In terms of the rape analogy, the victim is told to shut up and cooperate.
Did anyone say “war crimes”?
It is almost impossible to find any US or European official commentator willing to suggest that the Israeli actions amount to war crimes. When Jan Egeland, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, toured Southern Beirut he could only state that what he witnessed suggested that Israeli actions had “violated humanitarian law”. This is a common euphemism to avoid the use of the term “war crimes”. The contrast with how Serbian transgressions were dealt with is instructive; here without an investigation or confirmation, the “war crimes” accusation was readily used. A different standard applies when it comes to Israel.
Not only did Egeland use euphemisms to describe the destruction he saw, but he then stated that an investigation was necessary to determine if there were military targets under the rubble. Rows of apartment buildings were flattened but Egeland still manages to utter this type of nonsense. Again, this is a simple ruse used to avoid issuing a clear accusation against Israel. One explanation for Egeland’s unwillingness to be more categorical may be that if he manages to avert any serious criticism of Israel, then maybe he will be in contention for the UN Secretary General position .
Admonishing “both sides”
Amnesty International, the Mother Theresa of human rights, issued a few press releases about the Israeli attacks on Gaza and Lebanon. With ample evidence of Israeli crimes, any meaningful criticism of Israel should include clear references to specific war crimes. However, true to form, AI avoids accusing Israel by issuing a legalistic paper on the laws of war, and then stating that a prohibition for a given act applies to “both sides”! Even though Israelis have virtually destroyed Lebanon and caused massive damage to the entire infrastructure on which civilian life depends, AI issues a generic list of possible war crimes without direct references to actual deeds . AI is not an anti-war organization, and in these press releases it doesn’t oppose the war per se or condemn the Israeli acts of aggression, instead it pontificates on how the belligerents should conduct war. AI’s statements are not much different from those urging proportionality.
Amnesty International is a lame organization with a curious propensity for remaining virtually silent when confronted with crimes perpetrated by the United States, Britain or Israel. Despite occasional posturing, AI has virtually ignored the crimes perpetrated against the Palestinians . Furthermore, AI’s stance pertaining to Lebanon or Iraq is also muddled: it doesn’t condemn and oppose the acts of aggression against these countries; instead it simply seeks to circumscribe the means of war.
Pinpoint vs. indiscriminate hypocrisy
Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have condemned Hezbollah’s use of Katyusha missiles. These are considered “indiscriminate” in effect due to the nature of the weapon and the fact that it can’t be aimed accurately; AI has gone so far as to state that the use of Katyushas constitutes a war crime . On the other hand, Israel demonstrates that its weaponry is very precise, to the extent that two ambulances were hit with missiles through the center of the Red Cross symbol . It is clear that even with accurate weapons one can commit indiscriminate destruction – and certainly this has been on display in Lebanon. However, because Israelis use precision weapons some observers aren’t willing to condemn Israeli bombing attacks and hide behind suggestions that military targets may have been in the vicinity – the victims are portrayed as “collateral damage”. Thus the massacre in Qana was not immediately condemned because the various pundits appearing on CNN or BBC suggested that Hezbollah targets may have been nearby. In other words, one can easily find categorical denunciations of “indiscriminate” weaponry (i.e., Hezbollah’s Katyushas) while one will only hear very cautious statements about Israeli “precision” weapons.
They are hiding! Now blame the victim
An often-heard absolution of the Israeli bombing of civilians is that Hezbollah or Hamas “hide among civilians”. It is very easy to determine what would happen to Palestinian or Lebanese resistance groups if they were exposed, and thus suggestions that any group should fight the Israelis while standing in an open field are hypocritical. The mantra “hiding among civilians” is all about justifying Israeli bombing of civilians. It also blames the victim – because they should never have allowed the “militants” to stand next to them, etc. We have witnessed this type of justification for the murder of civilians before: during the intifada when Israeli soldiers started to kill many Palestinian children there were similar suggestions that “militants” were using children as shields, or that the children had been ordered to confront the soldiers. Presto! In Israeli eyes and those of their apologists it was now justified to murder children.
Amnesty International weighs in by categorically stating that Hezbollah military presence in civilian areas amounts to a war crime . Yet AI’s pontificating ignores the fact that current Israeli (and US) military tactics require the widespread use of terror against the population. This was certainly confirmed when Gen. Dan Halutz stated that “no one will be safe in Lebanon” . While AI considers the presence of resistance fighters in Lebanese, Palestinian or Iraqi cities a war crime, it has yet to issue a pixel of criticism of the overall Israeli policy of terrorizing the Lebanese or Palestinian population. AI “understands” war; it only seeks the aggressors to comply with its silly list of restrictions.
Juicy ironies: where was the weasel?
The current war against Lebanon has given rise to a series of amusing ironies. When Elie Wiesel, the professional holocaust survivor, discusses the holocaust, he often admonishes Europeans’ failure to intervene when it became evident that the holocaust was taking place. There is a collective responsibility for preventing crimes – fine, point well taken. However, in late June 2006 the Israeli military attacked Gaza, killing many, demolishing the infrastructure, imposing a siege, etc. Here in plain view were crimes perpetrated against 1.5 million Palestinians, and yet “we” didn’t move to do something about it. At the same time, it is highly likely that the Hezbollah action against some Israeli soldiers was a response to the Israeli crimes against Palestinians. While the Wiesel-stripe moralizers didn’t have anything to say about Israeli crimes, it was Hezbollah that responded – they acted against the crimes perpetrated against their Palestinian brothers . Applying the weasel logic about the holocaust, maybe we should be applauding the Hezbollah actions; instead, Wiesel and his ilk’s response have been mostly silent about Israeli crimes. A perusal of statements issued by various Holocaust Studies centers reveals virtually no statements about Israeli crimes; the only statements in evidence are about the crimes in Darfur. If one were to shut down all the Holocaust Studies centers, one wouldn’t notice the difference – they are irrelevant.
Cruel irony: no more prisoners
Israelis justify their attacks against Gaza and Lebanon on the basis of a few soldiers who were captured. It quickly became apparent that this was a propaganda ruse used to justify its attacks, and soon afterwards mention of the captured soldiers was dropped. However, one of the ironies of the Israeli reaction to the capture of its soldiers is that it encourages others to kill Israeli soldiers instead of taking them prisoner. From now on the best course of action for resistance fighters is to simply shoot the soldiers they manage to vanquish. But, then, Hezbollah or Hamas will be demonized for “not taking any prisoners”…
It is the premises, stupid!
Western media and political discourse have demonstrated an avoidance of responsibility for crimes by hiding behind euphemisms, false mantras, or naked hypocrisy; there is ample evidence of this during the recent Israeli attacks against Gaza and Lebanon. In order to stop the war of aggression against the Palestinians and the Lebanese, it is important to highlight the hypocrisy, replace euphemisms with clear words and to debunk the false mantras. The demolition of the latter requires overturning the premises of the commentary about the war and about Israel itself.
One often finds American or British politicians reciting false mantras, and this is a major part of the problem; they operate on the basis of illegitimate premises. Possibly the most pernicious false mantra – recited almost as in a trance-inducing ritual – is that “Israel has a right to exist”. American, British and other Western politicians have rubbed Palestinian noses in the dirt because their politicians haven’t swallowed the pernicious demand that they also accept “Israel’s right to exist”. However, it is curious that Israel is the only country for which “a right to exist” is an issue and it reveals a well founded sense of insecurity. Israel has simultaneously ethnically cleansed the native population (the Palestinians) and threatened or attacked its neighbors. What Israeli depredations make evident is that it is a colonial state that doesn’t belong to the area; Israel is a cruel historical aberration in the 21st century. It is high time that the key false mantra, “Israel has a right to exist”, be replaced with “Israel has a right to exist only if it addresses the injustices it has perpetrated and stops attacking its neighbors”. If Israel fails to do this and continues on its present path, then the only decent solution is to dissolve that state. Pariah states don’t deserve to exist.
Paul de Rooij can be reached at [email protected] (NB: all emails with attachments will be automatically deleted.)
Paul de Rooij © 2006
 Hillary Clinton’s support for Israel knows no bounds – it must be interpreted by her as a requirement to stand for office and “become presidential material”.
 The initial report about major blasts in South Beirut stated that 25 tons of explosives had been dropped… subsequent reports reduced this number, and one can now find accounts of 24, 23, and 22 tons of explosives.
 Ori Nir, “Bush Urged To Give Israel More Time for Attacks”, Forward, 21 July 2006. What the Jewish leaders are lobbying for is for the period of unrestrained terror against the Lebanese population to be extended. And then they worry that someone might hate them, but this is then called “anti-semitism”.
 Michael Mandel, How America gets away with Murder: Illegal wars, collateral damage, and Crimes against humanity, Pluto Press 2004.
 Kim Howell, a British diplomat, was featured for his emotional outburst and disgust at the Israeli demolition of Lebanon. However, in the same passage he stated that “Israel has a right to defend herself”. Howell may express his disgust, but then he should be consistent – he should be against Israeli aggression, and then not justify any level of aggression by suggesting it is “defense”. A few days later Jack Straw, the former British Foreign Secretary, made similar remarks. NB: the man who was co-responsible to launch the war of aggression against Iraq in 2003 was now adding his lame protestations against Tony Blair. What makes Straw special is that he doesn’t seem to notice his own hypocrisy.
 See for example MDE 15/064/2006, where AI states: “… Israel must also respect the principle of proportionality when targeting any military objectives or civilian objectives that may be used for military purposes,” said Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East Programme. “Hizbullah must stop launching attacks against Israeli civilians and it must treat humanely the two Israeli soldiers it captured on 12 July and grant them immediate access to the International Committee of the Red Cross.”
 NB: The leading contender is Terje Roed-Larsen who is known for his outspoken pro-Israeli stance. See: Azmi Bishara, Blackmail by Bombs, Al Ahram, 20 July 2006.
“Roed-Larsen’s visit was not a fact-finding mission. Sending Roed-Larsen was in itself a political statement. He is not only the Israeli Labour Party’s man on the conflict with the Palestinians, he is also the spokesman of the Israeli position with respect to the Lebanese resistance. He is the one who is after blood-money to compensate for Barak’s loss of honour after withdrawing from Lebanon and the one who was called in to supervise the implementation of Resolution 1559. Larsen has not only drawn a red line at crossing the blue line, he regards the Lebanese resistance as a local militia. He is also a foremost exponent of that now old term, ’the New Middle East’, by which is meant, at best, the normalisation of Arab relations, ie according inter-Arab relations no more priority than bilateral relations between individual Arab states and Israel.”
And then Roed-Larsen is the principal UN operator to arrive in Beirut for shuttle diplomacy with the Israelis. While meeting the Israelis Roed-Larsen was in a jovial all-smiles mood – just the attitude needed to stop a war of aggression.
 AI, Israel and Hezbollah must spare civilians, MDE 15/070/2006, 26 July 2006. There is also a summary issued by Irene Khan, the AI supremo.
 To verify this statement one can read these articles:
Dennis Bernstein and Francis Boyle, Amnesty on Jenin: an interview, CoverAction Quarterly, Summer 2002, pp. 9 – 12, 27. (important article).
Paul de Rooij, Amnesty International & Israel: Say it isn’t so!, CounterPunch, 31 Oct. 2002.
Paul de Rooij, Amnesty International: The Case of a Rape Foretold, CounterPunch, 26 Nov. 2006.
Paul de Rooij, Amnesty International: A False Beacon?, CounterPunch, 13 Oct. 2004.
 Amnesty is utilizing a wrong description for the Katyushas; they are not very accurate – but that is very different from “indiscriminate”. Precision weapons can also be “indiscriminate”. Thus areas can be blanketed with cluster bombs, yet these could have been delivered with pinpoint accuracy. Unfortunately, AI and HRW’s use of the word “indiscriminate” is meant to convey an emotive reaction to the use of Hezbollah weapons; Israeli weapons are seldom described in this fashion. For example, many Lebanese were killed by landmines planted by Israel in Southern Lebanon – it is estimated that there are 300,000 of them. However, one seldom finds reports on the landmine fields, and the language used to describe them is factual, not emotive.
 The reason the ICRC (Red Cross) had for many years rejected the Israeli application for the membership of its Magen David Adom (MDA) society was the frequent destruction and obstruction of the Palestinian ambulances, and general interference with the delivery of emergency medical attention. Although in Lebanon Israel has demonstrated that it is still willing to target ambulances and demolish hospitals, the ICRC has yet to issue a peep about this – there is nothing about reviewing or reconsidering the MDA’s ICRC membership.
 AI, Israel and Hezbollah must spare civilians, MDE 15/070/2006, 26 July 2006. See section under “Human shields”.
 NB: this is the same terminology used at the beginning of the “Shock and Awe” campaign against Iraq in 2003.
 Note that Hezbollah has in the past responded to Israeli depredations against Palestinians. For example, Sharon’s provocation at the Al Aqsa mosque also elicited a response from Hezbollah. See here: George Monbiot, Israel responded to an unprovoked attack by Hizbullah, right? Wrong, The Guardian, 8 August 2006.