In the wake of my last article, Dissident Voice received a polite and well written “letter to the editor.” The letter, while not claiming any originality, was an exceptionally well packed string of apologetic “talking points.” Since every writer who strays from the party line probably receives scores of similar letters, I thought it would be of some benefit to the community to unpack it publicly.
Following is a line by line commentary.
To the Editor,
Gabriel Ash ("Israel Terrorism", July 18 did not say that the capture of the two Israeli soldiers and the killing of eight others was effected during a raid that violated an internationally recognized border.
I did say exactly that, adding that, “Israel should not enjoy the defense of principles it doesn’t respect.” Israel, since its inception, has never declared its borders. Its so-called borders are “armistice lines” which reflect the result of military conflict. The only reason, for example, that Israel’s border with Lebanon is where it is, and not on the Litani river, is the dogged resistance of Hizbullah, which forced Israel to retreat to that border. Nevertheless, Israel has repeatedly, since 1948 till today, sent its soldiers and agents to act behind international borders, and has never accepted any legal limitation on its forces. The list is too long to cover here, but we can mention a few major signposts: the Qibya massacre (1953), the Suez War (1956), the attack on Samua (1966), the 1967 War, the Litani operation (1978), the 1982 war, and of course, the ongoing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza since 1967 to the present. To focus on Lebanon, we know that Israel planned to occupy Southern Lebanon already in the early '50s, but raids on Lebanon started in 1968, and haven’t stopped since. Israel helped plunged Lebanon into the civil war, bombed villages in Lebanon repeatedly since 1968, killing thousands of civilians all the way to the massacre in Qana in 1996, in which 106 Lebanese refugees perished inside a U.N. compound. Israel maintained an oppressive and murderous occupation of Lebanon, in defiance of the U.N. Security Council, for 18 years, in which 20,000 people perished. Since leaving Lebanon, Israeli fighter jets have repeatedly violated Lebanon sovereignty, and Israeli military units have infiltrated Lebanon at will. In February 2006, for example, U.N. investigators confirmed that Israeli soldiers shot and killed a teenage shepherd inside Lebanon.  According to Israeli propaganda logic, Lebanon should have razed Haifa to the ground in retaliation. Borders mean almost as little to Israel as the life of the civilians behind it. So yes, in solidarity with the nine thousand Palestinian political prisoners languishing in Israeli jails, Hizbullah did breach Israel sovereignty. It may have been reckless or shortsighted, but it was in no way unjustified. Jewish religious law applies perfectly: “He who steals from a thief is not liable.”
By any definition Hizbullah committed an act of aggression, which by any standard is an act of war. No country can tolerate such breach of its sovereignty without responding accordingly.
I did not expect Israel to tolerate an act of “aggression” from Hizbullah. After all, Israel doesn’t tolerate even peaceful demonstrations against its crimes. It beats, shoots and kills peace activists and non-violent protesters , Israel doesn’t even tolerate people caught living with their families while not being Jewish. Perhaps if Israel were a less intolerant place, it wouldn’t need to tolerate aggression. As for “responding accordingly” see below.
Israel is no exception. The Beirut airport and the Beirut-Damascus highway were hit so that Iran and Syria could not send any help to Hisbullah, as they have been doing for a long time, supplying it with some 12,000 rockets of different kinds.
How many rockets, shells and deadly aircrafts does Israel possess, most courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer? Why shouldn’t the Lebanese own the military means necessary for deterring an Israeli attack, especially since Israel attacks Lebanon with the regularity an addict injects heroin?
And as usual with terrorist groups, the Hizbullah always hides among civilians. The rockets are hidden in houses in which civilian families live.
First, Hizbullah is a Lebanese political party, a militarized resistance movement and an effective and appreciated provider of social services. There is some speculation that Hizbullah may have been involved is some terrorist operations. But on the other hand, to be called a “terrorist group” by the U.S. and Israel, the two leading providers of global terror, is a badge of honor. As a reminder, Israelis had elected as prime ministers Shamir and Begin, both leaders in the pre-state terrorist groups that murdered Palestinian civilians, foreign diplomats, and anti-Zionist religious Jews. They also elected Rabin, the ethnic cleanser of Lydda and Ramle, and Sharon, the commander of the Qibia massacre and the ogre responsible for the Sabra and Shatila massacre. Terrorism credentials are a qualification to higher office in Israeli society. 
Second, Hizbullah doesn’t “hide among civilians.” As an organic Shiite organization, it is based in Shiite areas, just as the Israeli military is based often in Jewish areas. The Israeli Chief of Staff “hides” in a bunker at the center of Tel Aviv. Does that make Tel-Aviv a legitimate military target? According to Israel’s logic, the answer is yes. Israel’s nuclear facilities “hide” in Dimona. Are the residents of Dimona a legitimate military target? Moshav Meron, which was hit by Hizbullah, sits atop a military installation. Why does the Israeli military hide among civilians? (For good measures, the Israeli military is also hiding behind Palestinians.) And as for the rockets hidden in families houses, that has all the credibility of an Israeli army say-so.
When a Katyusha rocket is fired at an Israeli city, it is aimed only at civilians.
First, that is certainly not true. Hizbullah has also targeted military installations in or near Israeli towns.  Second, Hizbullah, let us remember, responded to Israeli bombardment and killing of civilians by firing on Israeli cities. Is that morally justified? No. But if one thinks Israel has the right to bomb civilians, it follows that Hizbullah has the same right, indeed a greater right, since it is responding to Israel’s attacks. Israeli Foreign Minister Livne justifies Israeli murder of Lebanese people because “Terrorists use the population and live among them.”  Everyone who ever visited Israel knows that Israeli soldiers are present in large numbers in almost every town. They live among the population, and according to Livne, that makes Israeli towns legitimate Katyusha targets.
Now, I don’t think Livne believes that. Apologists and “friends” of Israel cannot perform the mental operation of abstracting the terms, “Israelis,” “Arabs,” “Israeli army,” “Hizbullah,” from the formal structure of their argument. They don’t see that a sentence such as “X has/doesn’t have a right to kill Y under condition Z” would be either true or false regardless of whether X=Israeli and Y=Arab or the other way around. That is because, for them, “Arabs” and “Israelis” are simple not interchangeable terms. The word that describes this habit of the mind is racism.
Israel does its best to spare as many civilians as possible.
Of all Israeli “Hasbara’s” (propaganda) talking points, this is the most obscene. Let’s begin with the current war. There are over 300 Lebanese civilians killed already (the body count is probably obsolete by the time you read this), including whole families, and a large percentage of children. There is no evidence that even a handful of Hizbullah fighters were among the killed. Israel bombed scores of villages and densely inhabited neighborhoods in Beirut and Tyre. Among the important military targets Israel bombed were a Greek Orthodox church, a milk factory and food and medical supplies convoys. Nor are Israeli leaders trying to hide that they are targeting civilians who have no connection to Hizbullah. Israel’s Chief of Staff explained Israel’s careful vetting of targets, for example, with the statement that “nothing is safe.” Indeed, Israel even bombed Christian neighborhoods.
“Trying to spare as many civilians as possible” is a pretty meaningless incantation. What does it practically imply? Let’s assume fighters and civilians are present in the same area. How many civilians does Israel consider acceptable to kill in order to get a fighter? 10, 100, 1000? Is there any example of a target that was spared because of the presence of civilians? Since Israel bombs dense residential neighborhoods (not to mention Gaza, the densest human habitat on earth), the answer is clearly no. “as possible” means, “we bomb whatever we want.” There is no difference between indiscriminate bombing and “targeting” civilians.
“To spare as many civilians as possible” not only fails as a meaningful expression of respect for civilian life, but is also a lie. Israel kills civilians as a strategy, not only as a by-product of military operations. The strategy of attacking civilians is not new. It was first enunciated in the fifties by Moshe Dayan, as the policy of “retaliation” against civilians. Dayan, (unlike the moral friends of Israel today) honestly admitted that Israel’s retaliation policy was “neither moral, nor justified.” But said that “the method of collective punishment has proven itself as of now as effective.”  After fifty years there should be some doubt as to how effective collective punishment really is. But it is clearly as unjustifiable and immoral today as it was when Dayan first adopted the Nazi doctrine of fighting the resistance with retaliation against civilians. I don’t make that comparison lightly and it should not be taken to mean that there is a complete equation between Israel and Nazi Germany; but when Israel is (again and again and again) in wholesale breach of the laws of war and the Geneva convention, it is important to remember and remind that many of these laws came about as a direct response to Nazi occupation practices.
Dayan is long dead, but the record proves that Israel never gave up the use of collective punishment against civilians, which consists in both targeting civilians directly and recklessly endangering civilians, as a means of pressure (again, the definition of terrorism). Dozens of books, articles and reports have been written on the subject, by academics, journalists and human rights organizations. Few of them unfortunately ever get reported or quoted in the mainstream media. The latest summary comes from Norman Finkelstein’s book, Beyond Chutzpa, from which I quote at random the following Amnesty International report referring to the year 2002: “The Majority of people killed where taking part in demonstrations where stones were the only weapons used…A large proportion of those injured and killed included children. Bystanders, people within their homes and ambulance personnel were also killed.” 
And closer to Lebanon, here is what Human Rights Watch said about Israel’s “Operation Accountability” in 1993, another massive Israeli assault on Lebanon in which 118 Lebanese civilians were killed: “It is apparent from public statements that… civilians were seen as a crucial strategic element of the operation….Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin declared: "We want Lebanese villagers to flee and we want to damage all those who were parties to Hizballah's activities." For both these goals of Operation Accountability, Lebanese civilians were the focus. Israel planned to drive Lebanese civilians north to Beirut in order to force the Lebanese government to crack down on Hizballah, and to punish the villagers for allowing Hizballah to operate in their midst. On both counts, Israel was in grave violation of international humanitarian law which prohibits the targeting of civilians.” According to HRW the great majority of the victims where civilians.
There are dozens of such quotes for any given year in Israel’s history. Anyone with minimal reading skills can collect enough data to shock their conscience, provided that they have one.
Getting back to current events, Olmert announced that he will not stop pounding Lebanon until Israel achieved its goals: these include the removal of Hizbullah’s rockets from South Lebanon, return of the captive soldiers, and international pressure on Lebanon to implement Security Council resolution 1559. The last two of Olmert’s three stated conditions for a cease-fire are political and cannot conceivably be achieved by the destruction of any number of military targets. Hence, according to the Prime Minister’s own formulation of Israel’s official reasons for bombing Lebanon, the mass murder of civilians is taking place for the purpose of putting pressure on Hizbullah’s leaders, the Lebanese government, and the “international community.” By his own words Olmert is an international terrorist.
Israel left Gaza, to the last inch, more than 10 months ago. Since then more than 800 Qassam rockets have been fired at Israeli towns from there. In the month of June alone, 89 rockets were fired at the town of Sderot. Again, like any other country, Israel had to respond. It should have acted as soon as the first rocket landed. But better late than never
These 800 “rockets” are crude steel tubes that caused less than a dozen casualties. That’s a dozen too much. But during the same period, Israel fired ten times as many real, sophisticated, U.S. made heavy artillery shells into Gaza, killing at least eighty people, including a whole family doing a barbecue on the beach.  How should Palestinians respond?
Now, why is Gaza still fighting? Contrary to the talking points, Israel did not end its occupation of Gaza. It redeployed its soldiers to the perimeter, without ever ending its full control over the life of Gaza’s inhabitants, their infrastructure, airspace, borders and economy. Furthermore, Israel’s leaders have openly stated that the purpose of their redeployment in Gaza is to secure the Israel’s extensive land robbery and settlement policies in the West Bank. David Bloom wrote a finely combed analysis of Israel’s real “convergence” plan and why it presages no ending of the occupation.
Hamas’s leaders have repeatedly and publicly committed to end the violent resistance and accept Israel within a two states division of Palestine. The elected Palestinian leader, Ismail Haniyeh, stated the conditions:
“[R]ecognition of the core dispute over the land of historical Palestine and the rights of all its people….reclaiming all lands occupied in 1967; and stopping Israeli attacks, assassinations and military expansion…..Statehood for the West Bank and Gaza, a capital in Arab East Jerusalem, and resolving the 1948 Palestinian refugee issue fairly, on the basis of international legitimacy and established law.”
Hamas does not demand anything beyond the international legal consensus expressed in countless UN resolution. Israel is now bombing and starving the civilian population of Gaza because it does not want to end the occupation and resolve the conflict in good faith. It wants to continue to deny Palestinians their internationally recognized rights, and is ready to kill any number of them until they submit.
Ash, apparently does not like Israel.
Having lived a big chunk of my life in Israel, I dare say that’s an understatement. But we are not debating personal taste, are we? (I also don’t like Brussel Sprouts, but I don’t criticize them.) We are discussing crimes against humanity. What annoys Israel’s “friends” is that some refuse to bow to the golden calf of eternal Jewish victimhood and dare point the finger at the real thug in the Middle East.
That of course is his privilege, but Israel will continue to defend itself, if Ash likes it or not.
Israel will continue to commit new crimes in the defense of old crimes. I expect nothing less. Shakespeare captured the essential dynamics that leads from illegitimacy to ever expanding criminality in these perceptive lines from the Tragedy of Macbeth:
It is amazing to see a "progressive" left winger support one of the most regressive fundamentalist Islamo-fascist groups around.
Let’s begin with the obvious. Israel can no more justify its crimes by describing Hizbullah as “islamo-fascist” as by complaining about Ghengis Khan’s bad hygiene. Murdering civilians is the issue here, not Nassralah’s political theories. To combat political theories, words, not bombs, should be used.
Nevertheless, calling Hizbullah Islamo-fascist is a classic sand-in-the-eyes defense. Hizbullah is a complex phenomenon, with regressive as well as progressive aspects (and let us not forget that Hizbullah was effectively created by Israel.) I share neither Hizbullah’s vision of Islamic society, nor its cult of martyrdom. On the other hand, Hizbullah is also committed to political pluralism and democracy, and is probably the least corrupt major party in Lebanon, and the one that does most for public welfare and social and political equality. These qualities make Hizbullah among the most progressive political forces in a reactionary Middle East. And last but not least, defeating the Israeli army and forcing it out of Lebanon was certainly a moment of progress -- progress for liberty and for human rights.
No doubt Jewish Israeli women enjoy more freedom than what fundamentalist Islam accords; heck! they even serve in the army. Yet portrayal of Israel as a “progressive” regional force that deserves progressive sympathies is simply bull. Feminism did not advance in Southern Lebanon thanks to Israel’s “enlightened” occupation, just as it did not advance in Iraq thanks to U.S. “boots on the ground.” Armies and wars are not progressive forces; they are the most extreme and regressive expression of human inequality and injustice, and therefore the most urgent target for left-wing and “progressive” resistance.  And Israel, as the third most militarized society in the world after North Korea and Eritrea, and the second most unequal and second most corrupt regime in the developed world, is not a progressive “light unto the nations.”  There are, to be sure, progressive elements in Israeli society, but the state in no way represents them.  We should support progressives elements in Israel, not the state of Israel. Israel is a militaristic, chauvinist and racist society, in which discrimination and abuse of minorities, and not just Palestinians, is rampant, legal, and often state sponsored.  Israel is not a beacon of progress. It is not, as the White European racist wannabe Herzl imagined it, “a rampart of civilization against barbarism.” It is a cautionary example of the way addiction to war and faith in force degrade a society and corrupt every other value it wanted to have. Just read the morning news.
Gabriel Ash is an activist and writer who writes because the pen is sometimes mightier than the sword and sometimes not. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com.
Other Articles by Gabriel Ash
* Israel’s Terrorism
* Dear Ayatollah
* Settlements: A User’s Guide
* A Victory for Israeli Democracy
* Don’t Get Mad, Get Going!
* Pink Delusions
 Please, if you find Israel’s apology for
the incident, e-mail me. Indeed e-mail me if you’ve seen any reference of
the event in the U.S. media. I couldn’t find any. Two weeks later,
Israeli soldiers shot and wounded another shepherd. In December 2005,
Israeli gunboats attacked a Lebanese fishing boat in Lebanese
water. Another shepherd was killed in April 2003 and another was kidnapped
and interrogated by Israeli soldiers in July 2004. In January 2001, Israel
wounded a 13 year old shepherd some three miles inside Lebanon, apparently
in a helicopter attack. In addition, Israel had laid about 130,000 mines
in southern Lebanon according to U.N. estimates, and refuses to hand over
maps of minefields to the Lebanese authorities. (In fact, on one occasion
Israel gave a Ukrainian U.N. unit wrong maps, so much for valuing
* Livia Rokach,
Israel’s Sacred Terrorism.
Some examples of racist attitudes: “The
poll found that more than two-thirds of Jews would refuse to live in
the same building as an Arab. Nearly half would not allow an Arab in their
home and 41% want segregation of entertainment facilities… 40% of Israel's
Jews believe 'the state needs to support the emigration of Arab
citizens'…63% of Jewish Israelis consider their country's Arab citizens a
'security and demographic threat to the state'. Some 18% said they felt
hatred when they heard someone speaking Arabic, and 34% agreed with the
statement that 'Arab culture is inferior to Israeli culture'.” See also
Dan Rabinowitz, Overlooking Nazareth; "Racism
in Israel"; and
Gideon Levy, Haaretz, May 26 2003.