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

 

 


 

 

No sense anymore to talk about ending the occupation ‘for Israel’s sake’

Caricature of Benjamin Netanyahu
Caricature by DonkeyHotey.

Netanyahu has destroyed that liberal Zionist argument. There’s only one case against the occupation still standing.

Centrists and center-leftists in Israel and abroad, liberals who think of themselves as practical, as realistic, as “muscular,” have been saying for decades that they want to end the occupation not for the Palestinians’ sake, God forbid – no, they want to end it for Israel’s sake. These are tough-minded people, after all, nothing naïve or effete about them.

Well, gang, well, Zionist Unionists and Yesh Atidniks, liberal Zionists all, you don’t have a case anymore. Netanyahu has destroyed it.

Look around. The occupation is going strong – and Israel’s doing great, just like Bibi says. We’re as safe as we’ve ever been. The “lone-wolf intifada” is basically over; we beat the Palestinians again. Mahmoud Abbas squawks, but he makes sure his troops are hard at work in the West Bank every day, protecting us. And Hamas? Pretty soon we’ll have an Iron Dome beneath the ground to stop their tunnels along with the one above ground that stops their rockets. What are they going to do?

The economy’s doing fine, about as good as that of any Western country, and better than many. BDS? It’s become a fundraising pitch for AIPAC, a new “project” for the machers. It makes a lot of Jewish students uncomfortable at American colleges; for Israel it’s a useful punching bag.

Oh, but we’re becoming isolated abroad, right? Here’s how isolated we are: Netanyahu figuratively pissed in Obama’s face in front of Congress last year, and since then he’s gone on building up settlements as much as he pleases – and all that’s left to decide is whether the U.S. will give Israel an additional billion dollars a year on top of the annual $3 billion, or sweeten the arrangement even more.

Europe? The French peace initiative? It’s all Netanyahu can do to keep a straight face.

But here’s the real beauty part – making peace with our Arab neighbors, the big prize waiting for us if we agree to a Palestinian state? We’re making peace with our Arab neighbors now! The Saudis love us! The Egyptians love us! Not the people, of course, but who cares? The Arab dictators, the Arab armies that are fighting these Islamic radicals, that hate Hamas, Iran and ISIS – we’re their enemies’ enemy, so they’re our friends! They couldn’t care less about the Palestinians, they want our intelligence, our technology, our leverage in Washington. The “New Middle East”? It’s finally starting to happen, thanks to the government of Bibi Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett!

This is the sort of thing Netanyahu’s been telling the media in these briefings lately, and he’s not lying. He is steering Israel’s ship goddamn well.

So, muscular liberals, you really want to try to take down the occupation – now? You want to tell 100,000 settlers – at least – to leave their homes, you want to uproot Hebron, Yitzhar and all those other fanatical armed camps – when everything’s going so smoothly and there’s nothing but blue skies on the Israeli horizon? Why?

For Israel’s sake? Are you that crazy?

No. No, this just isn’t rational, not anymore. You don’t mess up Israel’s good thing and pitch the country into chaos, into extreme civil strife and maybe civil war because you want to do what’s best for Israel. No, that argument is finished.

If you want to be tough-minded and realistic, if you want to look out for Israel’s practical self-interest, then give up this idea of ending the occupation – and get behind Bibi. Look around the country, see how good the Jews have got it here, see how pitiful the Palestinians are, how impotent our Western critics are, and admit that you were wrong and Bibi was right all along. You want to do what’s best for Israel, then look into those cold eyes of his and start seeing the world his way.

Nope, there is no practical, realpolitik case for ending the occupation anymore. There is no more ending the occupation for Israel’s sake. There is only one reason left to end it: for the Palestinians’ sake. Because what we’ve been doing to them for the last half-century is immoral, forbidden. And in so doing, Israel has become an immoral country.

If you don’t believe that, muscular liberals, then have the guts to admit that for Israel’s sake – its material sake, anyway – Bibi is the man. But if you do believe that Israel has indeed become an immoral country, then have the guts to stop speaking the language of practical self-interest and start speaking the language of conscience. Speak up for an end to the occupation – for the Palestinians’ sake, for the sake of restoring Israel’s lost morality; it’s the same thing. There is no other honest case against the occupation left to be made.

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Originally published September 1 on Haaretz.com as “All You Centrist, Liberal Zionists: Netanyahu’s Destroyed Your Case for Ending the Occupation.” 

Black Lives Matter is basically right about Israel – but very wrong about America

Black Lives Matter protest
Black Lives Matter protest against police shootings, Manhattan, Nov. 28, 2014. Photo: The All-Nite Images

If describing Israel’s actions toward the Palestinians as “genocide” were the only thing wrong with the Black Lives Matter** platform, I would endorse it with a caveat over that one word, which is grossly inaccurate. Otherwise, the platform’s brief take on Israel is harsh but accurate. In fact, it could have gone further and condemned Israel for its periodic acts of military aggression against Lebanon and Syria. And as far as its description of Israel as an “apartheid state” goes, that’s nothing that Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, Ami Ayalon, and Tzipi Livni, for starters, haven’t clearly implied.

No, the problem with the BLM platform, released last week, isn’t the couple of paragraphs on Israel, it’s the 37,000 other words on America. The document describes the United States as an evil country, one that deliberately crushes black people and other “marginalized” groups at home and abroad. It’s a description of apartheid-era South Africa, or of Mississippi in 1956, but not of America in 2016. It reflects the thinking of the truly loony left.

The platform begins with the section on the U.S. criminal justice and school systems, titled “End the war on black people.” Is America really waging war on black people? Some police are, some jurors are, Donald Trump and many of his supporters are, but America as a whole? Bullshit. And the proof goes way, way beyond a black man being in the White House. There are black people throughout the halls of American power, there is a large black middle class, there is institutionalized affirmative action for blacks in colleges and government jobs – and all this has been going on for two generations. “War on black people”? That’s light years from the truth.

You’d never know from this platform that any black person in jail was anything but an innocent victim of the system’s racism. You’d never know there were murderous black gangs and other criminals, or that black people were being killed by them at appalling rates. You’d never know that so many poor black schoolchildren lived in soul-killing homes and neighborhoods, and that this might have something to do with why they were failing in school, instead of it all being down to America’s “school-to-prison pipeline.”

But this is BLM’s view of America at home. And its view of America abroad? From the “Invest-Divest” section, the one that discussed Israel:

America is an empire that uses war to expand territory and power. …

[R]esources and funds needed for reparations and for building a just and equitable society domestically are instead used to wage war against a majority of the world’s communities. …

US arms and military corporations have made billions of dollars in profit off of waging disaster and destabilization in the Middle East, while increasing western control over the land and resources of the region. …

In 2006, AFRICOM was established by the US government to expand US military presence on the continent under the claim of protecting the region against “terror” and “radical Islam”. In reality, this effort was designed to expand western colonial control over the region, its people and their resources. …

The interlinked systems of white supremacy, imperialism, capitalism and patriarchy shape the violence we face. As oppressed people living in the US, the belly of global empire, we are in a critical position to build the necessary connections for a global liberation movement. …

This is a description of an evil empire.  If it’s accurate, then Barack Obama, as leader of the empire, is the No. 1 enemy of blacks in America and everywhere else. I don’t see how it’s possible to endorse Black Lives Matter without loathing Obama and everything he stands for. And not just Obama – the whole Democratic Party.

Black Lives Matter protest
Black Lives Matter protest against police shooting in Minneapolis, Nov. 15, 2015. Photo: Tony Webster

When I first heard about BLM, it was from their protests of the police killings of unarmed blacks that were turning up on videos. Those films shook me up, and I thought BLM was brave and right to protest police racism and violence. I had the exact same reaction to their protests at Trump rallies. While I found their protests at Ivy League colleges ridiculous – America’s elite colleges aren’t racist, they’re anti-racist – I figured BLM was still doing more good than harm, and I saw them, on balance, as a positive force in America, as being on the front lines challenging racism where it really existed.

But the understanding of America expressed in this platform – it’s deranged. Sure, there’s a lot in it that I and many other liberals agree with – like the need to raise taxes on the wealthy, legalize drugs and prostitution, pay reparations to blacks for slavery, put fewer people, especially blacks, in jail, and constantly look for ways to help improve the lives of poor people, especially children. But these things are far outweighed by the platform’s glaring distortions of American reality – the reality of poor black ghettos, of police, of school officials, of the military, of American power at every level.

Black Lives Matter cannot fairly be called an American progressive movement. It is an anti-American, anti-Western, doctrinaire far-left movement. It is the Black Panther Party without the violence. With all due respect to their protests against police racism and Trump, BLM’s worldview is beyond the liberal/progressive pale.

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** The platform wasn’t drawn up by Black Lives Matter alone, but The Movement for Black Lives, which includes over 50 organizations aligned with BLM. I use “Black Lives Matter” as shorthand because of its name recognition.

 

Too bad Tzipi Livni didn’t have to answer to Scotland Yard about war crimes

Tzipi Livni

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.”

Unfair?

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?

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.