When I read this week that Knesset member Tzipi Livni had been summoned by Scotland Yard for questioning on suspicion of war crimes (the summons was canceled after Israel complained to the British Foreign Office), I felt uncomfortable. I immediately tried to think of reasons why she shouldn’t be treated this way. After awhile, I decided there were no good reasons, and I was just afraid of thinking what seemed a disloyal thought, a traitorous thought, and when I considered it logically, without fear, I conceded that justice would have been served had Livni been questioned over her role as foreign minister during Operation Cast Lead, the onslaught in Gaza at the turn of 2009. Indeed, justice would have been served even better if she’d also been indicted, convicted and imprisoned.
You won’t agree with this, of course, if you don’t also agree that 1) the occupation is a historic injustice and 2) nothing is being done to stop it. But if you do go along with those two points – and any number of liberals worldwide, notably Jewish ones, do – then why shouldn’t Livni be held accountable for one of the occupation’s worst excesses? (About 1,400 Palestinians dead compared to 13 Israelis dead, awesome devastation in Gaza, all in the name of punishing Gazans for fighting back against Israel’s suffocating blockade of the Strip and military rule over the West Bank. Here’s the Goldstone report on Operation Cast Lead, the Amnesty International report on it, the Human Rights Watch report, the B’Tselem report and Breaking the Silence’s report.)
Livni, by the way, wasn’t just some apparatchik during the war; she was its enlightened, charismatic saleswoman in the West. When the French proposed a “humanitarian cease-fire” a few days after the bombing began, Livni said in Paris, “There is no humanitarian crisis [in Gaza] and therefore there is no need for a humanitarian truce.”
The only arguable point to be made against imprisoning Livni for war crimes is that it would be unfair because so many worse war criminals are walking around free. That’s true – but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve punishment. And the thing that legitimately makes her a prime candidate to be held culpable is that she is Israeli – because Israel gets away with abuses of other people like no other country in the world except maybe Saudi Arabia – and nobody in the West defends the Saudis like they do Israel.
The West imposes harsh economic sanctions on Russia because of its conquest of Crimea – which most Crimeans welcomed – but gives billions upon billions of dollars in aid along with free trade agreements to Israel, whose occupation is welcomed by no Palestinian. There are 146 countries under various sanctions – including sanctions against individual government officials in many of those countries – imposed by the U.S., EU, individual European countries and/or the UN Security Council. On that list of 146, Israel does not appear.
So hauling in Tzipi Livni in London would have made a modest start to leveling the playing field. And it would have had a powerful effect on Israelis, top to bottom, showing them that the West might finally be ready to start treating Israel like it does the world’s other malefactor countries, many of which are guilty of far lesser crimes than the occupation. If Scotland Yard had questioned Livni on the matter of war crimes, it would have been some teachable moment.
But of course it was missed; all it took was probably one well-placed phone call from Jerusalem. The point, though, is for people who lament the occupation and its durability to ask themselves: What is so terrible about holding Israel’s leaders accountable for it? What is so terrible about “radical” actions like that, or like BDS, or like fighting Israel in the UN? Is it better to stick with the current methods and tone of the “opposition,” or the “peace camp,” or the “international community,” which don’t lay a glove on the status quo? For the Palestinians’ sake, for Israel’s sake, is it better to watch this shit go on forever?