How the settlers win, how the peace camp loses: Lessons from Amona

Settlers vs. Israeli security forces, Amona 2006.
Female settler goes up against Israeli security forces in West Bank settlement outpost of Amona, February 1, 2006. Photo: AP/Oded Balilty

That mob of teenage settlers in Amona throwing rocks and bleach at the police on Wednesday was another illustration, another reminder of why tyranny has triumphed in Israel and liberalism is powerless: because the tyrants – the settlers and their supporters – are willing to fight, and we liberals aren’t.

That’s the story of the settler movement from the beginning – they gather their forces to break the law, to raise hell, to scream and cry and curse, to physically assault Israeli police and soldiers, to make their removal so arduous and to use their “agony” as emotional blackmail against Israeli Jews and their leaders, until they get their way. Amona, built illegally on private Palestinian-owned land according to one Israeli High Court of Justice ruling after another, took a decade to evacuate. And in return for their so-called pain and sacrifices, the settlers will get reimbursed by the Netanyahu government many, many, many times over.

They make me sick, these brainwashed fascists who’ve taken over the country – but I can’t help but envy them. If the peace camp had shown a fraction of their daring, of their commitment, maybe we could have given the occupation a fight. If we had mobilized crowds to physically block settlement construction, if we’d been willing to go to jail, to fight the cops and soldiers, to fight the settlers, maybe the Right wouldn’t have rolled over this country like it has. Even if we would have lost – and who knows if we would have? – at least we would have put up a struggle.

But we haven’t. With no more than a handful of exceptions, the Jewish Left in Israel doesn’t fight, doesn’t go to jail, doesn’t break the law, doesn’t disturb the peace in any way. Even if we could get hundreds of thousands of people into the street today (which is a joke), it wouldn’t make any impression on Netanyahu and the Right – we’ll go home peacefully and orderly, and the occupation regime will go on with its work without missing a beat. They face no resistance.

I don’t mean to preach – I’m no braver than anyone else. I’ve never been to jail, never gotten dragged away by cops, never been in a scuffle with soldiers or settlers, and the thought of doing it doesn’t thrill me at all. But I don’t believe that we of the peace camp are going to be able to overthrow this 50-year-long tyranny with opeds in Haaretz alone, or even in the New York Times as well, or even opeds plus petitions and peace rallies. The occupation is a vast, powerful, violent, poisonous force, and for us in the opposition to think we can bring it down without making any personal sacrifice, without paying any personal price, is a lie we tell ourselves to ease our consciences, so we don’t have to face the truth that as dissident movements in history go, the Israeli Jewish Left has been notable for its gentility and timidity.

As long as that doesn’t change, Israel isn’t going to, either.

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Further reading: 

Amona evacuation (Haaretz)

 

Israel’s most brutal combat unit is now No. 1 choice among draftees

Israeli Border Policeman facing Palestinian boy.
Israeli Border Policeman, backed by Israeli soldiers, facing Palestinian boy, September 28, 2012. Photo: Palestinian Solidarity Project

A sign of the times: The most preferred combat unit among Israeli draftees is now the Border Police, the security forces’ most notoriously brutal unit, the lead enforcer of the occupation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The announcement comes from the Israel Defense Forces and Israel Police, and was reported this week by Haaretz.

Why has the Border Police jumped ahead of previously most favored, legendary brigades like Golani, Givati and Paratroops? After all, the Border Police has long had the reputation as a dumping ground for the poorest, worst educated, most violent and racist Israelis, mainly Mizrahim but also some Druze and Bedouin Arabs who’ve gone over to the Israeli side with a vengeance.

What’s happened is that the only “action” left for a gung-ho 18-year-old Israeli boy anymore is in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The wars that the army’s prestigious brigades used to fight with Lebanon and Syria, and before that with Egypt, Jordan and others, seem a thing of the past; the neighboring Arab states don’t want any part of the IDF anymore. Gaza flares up every couple of years or so, but if you want sustained action for your three years’ military service, it’s in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and that means, first and foremost, the Border Police.

I had the pleasure of serving alongside them during a month of reserve duty in Gaza City in 1990, and guarding their base in the Strip for a month in 1991. They were scary; cranked on adrenaline and itching to lay into Arab flesh. I’d wake up to them revving their engines and screaming as they drove off to the refugee camps.

The question of motivation

It’s tempting to say that the upsurge in the Border Police’s popularity shows that more and more Israeli youth are attracted by the unit’s reputation for violence and cruelty toward Arabs; that would fit with the general shift to the Right in Israeli society, especially among young people. But such a conclusion would be premature: Not every 18-year-old Israeli boy or girl who wants action in uniform is a racist or sadist, by any means.

The thing is, though, you can’t rule out attraction to anti-Arab violence and cruelty as a reason for the Border Police’s new popularity, because everybody knows where they work and whom they police, and everybody knows their reputation. It’s kind of hard to imagine an 18-year-old choosing that unit if he or she and their family had a serious problem with “aggressive tactics” against the Palestinians, or with the occupation at all.

No doubt many of them would say, “I don’t hate Arabs, I just want to fight terror, and the Border Police are on the front line.” Yes, the Border Police are on the front line against terror, but they’re also Israel’s front-line goon squad against Palestinians who aren’t terrorists, and so it’s impossible to argue that they don’t create terrorists, too. The unit is saturated with Arab-hatred and brutality; these are at the core of its unofficial “battle heritage.” A given Border Police recruit may simply want to fight terror, but he or she has to know that they will be fighting very, very dirty.

Another thing that can be deduced from the unit’s new status is that the stigma which once attached to it is gone.

Also gone is the once-common notion that the proper role of Israeli soldiers is to defend their country against attack by enemy armies, not to police a foreign, subject population.

Like I said, it’s a sign of the times.

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Further reading:

“Border Police is now Israel’s most popular combat unit among new recruits,” Haaretz.com, September 8, 2016

“Israel allocated the work of the occupation unfairly, but that’s changing,” Haaretz.com, September 9, 2016

“Israelis’ heartwarming response to shocking police brutality,” +972, May 25, 2016

“Israel police documented savagely beating Arab in central Tel Aviv,” Haaretz.com, May 22, 2016

“When a police officer is actually a soldier,” Mondoweiss.net, June 23, 2015

 

 


 

 

Israeli soldiers’ Shabbat host: Hebron’s monster-in-chief

Kach leader Baruch Marzel in Hebron
Kach leader Baruch Marzel in Hebron, March 23, 2007. Wikipedia Commons

In Hebron, the evil of the occupation is most plainly visible. Shuhada Street, once a busy commercial row, has been off limits to Palestinians for over 20 years, the homes and shops welded shut, the turquoise awnings marked by Stars of David and anti-Arab graffiti. Above the nearby souk hangs a chain-link and cloth netting that catches at least some of the rocks, dirty diapers, bleach and urine poured down frequently on vendors and shoppers by residents of the Avraham Avinu and Beit Hadassah buildings, in clear view of two IDF lookout posts. The 1,000 or so settlers, protected by the army, go around like masters over their Palestinian subjects. There is no more radical, racist, violent Jewish community in the West Bank.

The most infamous of Hebron’s settlers is Baruch Marzel, who for the last quarter-century has been the leader of Kach, which is outlawed in this country for racism and incitement to terrorism and in America for just plain terrorism. On Sunday it was revealed that many soldiers stationed in Hebron spend their Shabbat lunch as guests at Marzel’s home in the settlement’s Tel Rumeida enclave.

This tidbit came out in the testimony of Sgt. Elor Azaria, who is on trial for shooting to death a Palestinian assailant in Hebron after the latter had already been shot several times and was lying all but motionless on the ground.

Asked by his attorney about video footage showing him shaking hands with Marzel after the shooting, Azaria told the Jaffa military court:   

“Tel Rumeida is a family-like post, civilians can go into the post. Baruch Marzel would invite us, the whole company, to eat lunch with him every week at Shabbat lunchtime. The company commander and the battalion commander would eat with him. It never raised a problem. … We used to eat at Baruch’s every Shabbat, he’d treat us and give us the best.”

Azaria went on to describe Marzel as “a good man. He would also treat us with chocolates and drinks when we were doing guard duty.”

Anti-Arab graffiti on Palestinian home in Hebron.
“Gas the Arabs” graffiti on gate of Palestinian home in Tel Rumeida, an enclave of the Jewish settlement in Hebron and home to Marzel. The graffiti is signed “JDL” – Jewish Defense League, the forerunner to Kach. Photo: Magne Hagesaeter, June 29, 2008.

It’s always bothered me that 19-year-old Israeli boys and girls are sent to guard a community where there may be some debate over Yigal Amir, who murdered a Jew, but there’s doubtless none over Kach alumnus Baruch Goldstein, who murdered Muslims. Now it turns out the soldiers are not only guarding the settlers, they’re being adopted by the worst of them.

I remember one Friday in the early 1990s, two Palestinian laborers were murdered in the West Bank and eyewitnesses said the killers were settlers. Marzel, whose movement naturally came under suspicion, said on the radio, “We had nothing to do with this, but when I heard the news it really enhanced my oneg (celebration of) Shabbat.” I asked him later if he stood by those words. “Of course,” he said, describing the double murder as “holy work.”

Marzel is the leader of a movement that produces and glorifies Arab-killers. He himself has a record of criminal violence that includes assaults on Palestinians, a peace activist and an Israeli policeman. He has organized Purim parties in tribute to Goldstein’s Purim massacre of 29 Muslims. He has called publicly for Uri Avnery’s assassination.

He preaches violence against gays, too. After the stabbing of three marchers in the 2005 Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade (by Yishai Schissel in a prelude to his murder of Shira Banki 10 years later), Marzel said, “The stabbing incident during last year’s parade will seem minor in comparison with what is anticipated this year. We have to declare a holy war [to] stop crimes in Jerusalem and acts of sodomy.” He also was on hand to help stir up racist, at times violent protests in South Tel Aviv against African refugees.

The Boston-born Marzel is Israel’s answer to the imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. This is the man who hosts Sgt. Elor Azaria’s “whole company to eat lunch with him every week at Shabbat lunchtime.”

How long has this been going on? How does the army allow this? Now that it’s been reported, I wonder if Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman will put a stop to it; after all, it was Marzel and a couple of other Kach elder statesmen who ratted him out some years ago for having been a Kach activist at Hebrew University, something Lieberman naturally denies.

But the defense minister may well have missed the news about the hospitality being laid on for the troops by the grand dragon of Tel Rumeida; several major news outlets didn’t mention it at all. Which shouldn’t be too surprising. We’re talking about Hebron, the occupation’s heart of darkness. We send our children there to serve their country. If that’s unremarkable, so is oneg Shabbat with Baruch Marzel.

Originally published in Haaretz.com on July 26 under title “Why Are Israeli Soldiers Fraternizing With Hebron’s Most Racist, Terrorist-inciting Settlers?” 

How Israel educated its citizens for peace on Wednesday

Destruction in Gaza
Destruction in Gaza, March 10, 2009, from Operation Cast Lead. Photo: Wikipedia Commons

On Wednesday, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said* that another war with Hamas in Gaza (there have been three in the last 7½ years) is “inevitable,” and that it will be Hamas’ “last” because next time Israel will destroy it for good. Also on Wednesday, Military Intelligence chief Herzl Halevi said the “next war” with Hezbollah will turn Lebanon “into a country of refugees that will have difficulty recovering …” Israel, Halevi noted, will recover, but for the homefront, facing Hezbollah’s 100,000 rockets and missiles, “it will be a whole different situation” than it’s been in previous wars.

This was in one day. One day, two wars. Inevitable.

This is the way our warmakers think and talk. And they’re not surprising anyone. The next war with Hamas, the next war with Hezbollah, right, whatever, hope it doesn’t screw up our plans for Italy.

Halevi said a couple of interesting things. One, that Syria was sending more and better weapons to Hezbollah, which were meant “not for the fighting in Syria, it is weaponry meant for combat against Israel … To a certain extent this could move up the outbreak of another round of conflict.”

This is how Israel can attack foreign countries, like Lebanon, and believe  it’s self-defense: All an enemy has to do is arm itself for there to be proof of their intent to attack, thus any Israeli attack is by definition “pre-emptive” – self-defense.

Halevi said another interesting thing:

Maybe because of the Holocaust we still carry this feeling of persecution … but in the region we are perceived as very, very strong, as aggressive and unpredictable and very powerful. It’s very important to preserve this asset.

The first part of the statement is a crucial fact about the Middle East that  Israelis don’t know, or don’t want to know, because it gets in the way of their Holocaust feeling of persecution – that Israel’s enemies know how strong it is and are, reasonably enough, scared to death of it. The second part, that Israel has to keep its enemies thinking that it’s powerful, aggressive and unpredictable – well, how do you do that without attacking them every now and then? Aggression – it’s the key to our survival.

Lieberman also said another interesting thing: that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is “the No. 1 problem for Israel.” Abbas has been arresting militants in the West Bank at the behest of the Israeli army and Shin Bet for 12 years, ever since he took over, but his “diplomatic” posture is a threat without equal, Lieberman said.

Inevitable? Another couple of wars? Please. That’s just for starters.

* The quotes about Hamas were attributed in the media to a “senior source in the Defense Ministry,” or variations of that, but they’re obviously from Lieberman himself. He’s been talking that way about Hamas for years. Yediot Ahronot put the quotes on the front page, attributing them to a “senior defense official,” then stuck Lieberman’s photo just to the left of it. On the other side of the photo they ran a headline about “Lieberman flying to Washington.” The “Washington” headline justified the photo, while the photo connected Lieberman’s mug to the quote on the other side, which read, “In the coming confrontation, Hamas will be destroyed.” Very clever.

Gaza destruction
Destruction in Gaza, March 10, 2009, after Operation Cast Lead. Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Have the Palestinians given up?

Palestinian with flag
A Palestinian youth waves the national flag as the Israeli military digs in search of smuggling tunnels at the border east of Gaza city on May 15, 2016, on the 68th anniversary of the “Nakba.” Photo: Mahmud Hams, AFP

They may not admit it to themselves, but facts on the ground look as though Palestinians are conceding to the occupation, with no change in sight.

“The Palestinians will never resign themselves to Israeli rule.” This is an axiom of the anti-occupation camp, the so-called pragmatic argument against the status quo – that it’ll blow up in our faces sooner or later, like it always has.

But maybe this prediction isn’t accurate. Maybe the Palestinians, after fighting Israel for 100 years, have finally given up. They wouldn’t admit it, of course, probably not even to themselves, but on the ground that’s the way it looks, and has looked for several years.

I’m not declaring this situation as permanent; that would obviously be premature. But I am saying that there’s no sign of change, and that the possibility of ongoing, long-term Palestinian acquiescence to the occupation ought to be recognized, if only for the sake of honesty.

‘Better than ever’

The wave of terror that began last September has died down. It was never more than a streak of hysteria in the air, a collection of lone-wolf attacks; it never gained mass support. Hamas gave it little more than verbal encouragement while every day the Palestinian Authority helped the Shin Bet and Israeli army put it down. Israeli-PA cooperation in fighting terror is “better than ever,” according to top Israeli security officials quoted by Haaretz’s Amos Harel three weeks ago.

In Gaza, Hamas acquiesces to Israel’s blockade of the Strip, as well as to its violent enforcement of the no-go zone on the Gazan side of the border and the arbitrary nautical limits on fishermen. Hamas also restrains jihadist groups from firing rockets at Israel, while its own rocketing has slowed to a trickle since Operation Protective Edge two summers ago. In fact, it wasn’t much more than a trickle for most of the five and a half years before that, having been effectively overpowered by the first of Israel’s Gazan onslaughts, Operation Cast Lead at the turn of 2009.

On the diplomatic front, PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ “UN strategy” continues spinning its wheels. He’d planned to bring an anti-settlement resolution before the UN Security Council, but he backed off last month at the behest of the French, who didn’t want anything to interfere with their new peace initiative, such as it is. In the international halls of power, Abbas is powerless.

On the whole, Palestinians in the West Bank have been fairly docile since Israel put down the second intifada a dozen years ago, while those in Gaza have been largely impotent since Israel first bashed up the Strip seven and a half years ago. There have been flare-ups – two more mini-wars with Gaza, a mini-intifada in East Jerusalem, and this last wave of terror – but in each case Israel gave incomparably more than it got, and when the dust cleared the occupation remained rigidly in place.

Military power can be a very useful thing. So can diplomatic power. And Israel has used its military and diplomatic power over the Palestinians very, very effectively. The Palestinians seem exhausted – and why shouldn’t they be?

Who would close down PA?

Aside from Israel’s military and diplomatic advantages, there are two other important things that have pacified the Palestinians – money and relative security. In a sense, the Palestinian Authority is a business, one that collects about $2 billion a year in foreign contributions and provides jobs to some 200,000 Palestinians and their families. It keeps the peace for Israel in the West Bank’s cities, villages and refugee camps, making the occupation quite tolerable for the occupier, which galls the Palestinians, of course – but on the other hand, who among their leaders and insiders is going to close down a business that gets $2 billion a year in donations and employs 200,000 people?

Abbas has cried wolf so many times about “giving back the keys” to Israel, about letting it resume policing nearly 4 million Palestinians in the West Bank like it did before Oslo, which would turn the status quo upside down and make the occupation acutely uncomfortable for the occupier – but Abbas has never gone through with the threat. Too many Palestinians (especially the leaders and insiders) have too much to lose. The population would be made destitute, and would once again get much, much the worse of it in the inevitable violent confrontation with the IDF. Abbas, at 81, won’t be around much longer, but the PA almost certainly will; the battle for succession is well underway.

As for the “international community,” they’re so weary of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and as long as the Palestinians aren’t making things difficult, why should the EU or UN or anybody else pay more than lip service to saving them?

Cave-in

I get no pleasure charting the Palestinians’ cave-in. As an Israeli I don’t want to see Israelis get hurt, and as a human being I don’t want to see Palestinians get hurt, but as a supporter of freedom, I don’t like seeing the Palestinians go on being subjugated, especially when the one holding them down is my country.

But what’s taking place is a cave-in. That’s what’s been taking place for a long time. The Palestinians as a nation are not mobilized for the cause of freedom, neither violently nor non-violently. And while this may change, there is no sign of it. Israel has overpowered them – and now comes Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Tragically, there are examples in history of weaker nations being crushed permanently by stronger ones. In his last days, humiliated and under house arrest in the Muqata, Arafat said defiantly that the Palestinians “are not red Indians,” meaning American Indians. I really hope he was right, but I wonder.

Originally published in Haaretz.com, May 20, 2016.