It might have been a moment that jolted Israelis to their senses. Instead the video of an Israeli soldier shooting dead a young Palestinian man as he lay wounded and barely able to move has only intensified the tribal war dance of the Israeli public. This was not a killing in the fog of war; it was a cold-blooded execution – a war crime. And yet, for most Israelis the soldier is the victim of this story.
Abuses by Armed Forces
Details of the biggest massacre committed by Israeli soldiers during the 1948 war have finally surfaced, decades after the documentation was locked away. Israel is still trying to silence its army’s new generation of whistleblowers, even in an age of 24-hour news and social media. But Israel must face facts: the days when such systematic brutality could be kept under wraps are now over.
In an atmosphere of inculcated ignorance and prejudice, it is easy for Netanyahu to persuade public opinion that the recent wave of Palestinian protests and attacks is solely the result of “incitement” from Palestinian officials and media. The Israeli right suggests that Palestinians who stab or drive cars at their oppressors are easily inflamed into action by words that appeal to ancient prejudice. As the Israeli public discourse grows ever more detached from reality, Israel’s military commanders sound like an oasis of sanity – at least, by comparison.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has described his security forces’ cooperation with the Israeli military as “sacred”. But an armed attack on an Israeli checkpoint this week by a Palestinian security official, which left three Israeli soldiers injured, suggests that Abbas’ view may not be widely shared among Palestinians.
Israel is pursuing a dual policy towards Hamas. On the the hand, it hopes diplomatic gains will bolster Hamas’ political wing against more threatening newcomers like ISIS. On the other, it wishes to weaken Hamas’ military wing to prevent it from developing the capacity to threaten Israel’s control over the enclave. As ever, Israel is keen to sow divisions where possible.
There are few clues today at the site of the single worst massacre committed by the Israeli army during the 1948 war that established a Jewish state on the ruins of the Palestinians’ homeland. For Israelis, the area is known as Dor, a popular beach resort south of Haifa. But in May, some 300 activists met in the resort’s car park in an attempt to end the long-enforced silence about Tantura in Israelis’ collective memory.
Palestinian solidarity groups have taken to social media to step up the pressure on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to include Israel for the first time on a “shame list” of serious violators of children’s rights. Although indications are that Israel is exerting enormous pressure to avoid being named, a senior UN source said Ban’s chief advisers had recommended that the Israeli army be identified alongside the Islamic State and Taliban.
Palestinians suffer under four types of occupation, according to the Freedom Theatre. Three, including Israel’s military occupation, are external. The deepest of all, however, is the internalization by the oppressed of the culture and narrative of the oppressor. Freedom Theatre artistic director Nabil al-Raee says: “We are trying to build a generation that can first free themselves, then fight for the freedom of others.”
Mahmoud Abbas’s use of the term “genocide” to describe Israel’s attack on Gaza made him an easy target for critics. But not only do international law experts like Richard Falk and John Dugard view Israel’s actions in genocide-like terms, notable Israeli scholars have done so too. Despite that, Israel has successfully ring-fenced itself from the critical lexicon applied to comparable situations around the globe.
A letter signed by 43 veterans of an elite Israeli military intelligence unit declaring their refusal to continue serving the occupation has sent shockwaves through Israeli society. The implication of their revelations is that the success of Israel’s near half-century of occupation depends on a vast machinery of surveillance and intimidation, while large numbers of Israelis benefit directly or indirectly from industrial-scale oppression.
Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups are agreed that the Israeli army is incapable of investigating itself fairly, and that, based on past form, it will at best convict a few individuals for relatively minor offences. They accuse Israel of “going through the motions” to fend off efforts by outside bodies, especially the International Criminal Court in the Hague, to probe events in Gaza.
Sakher Daragmeh was killed as he tended goats close to the remote village of al-Aqaba in the northern Jordan Valley. For decades shepherds and farmers have been paying the price in the West Bank of an aggressive Israeli policy to create military firing zones on their land, said Dror Etkes, an expert on settlements. He has accused Israel of using the firing zones as a way to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from large areas of the West Bank.
A single incident at the weekend – the reported capture by Hamas of an Israeli soldier through a tunnel – illustrated in stark fashion the layers of deception Israel has successfully cast over its attack on Gaza. Israeli officials and media did not view the Hamas operation dispassionately. Hadar Goldin was not “captured” but “kidnapped” – as though he was an innocent seized by opportunistic criminals.
Israelis have been lulled into a false sense of security by the promise of endless and simple technical solutions. Palestinians are confined to ever smaller spaces: the prison of Gaza, the city under lockdown, the torture cell, or the doctor’s surgery where a feeding tube can be inserted. But the craving for self-determination and dignity are more than technical problems. You cannot force-feed a people to still their hunger for freedom.
Benjamin Netanyahu used a press conference to deplore young Israelis’ obsession with their phones and the “selfie”, arguing that they were “slaves” to technology. Israeli soldiers, like teenagers around the world, love to boast online about their exploits. The difference is that some Israelis posing for a selfie may be committing a war crime as they do so.
For the first time Israel’s Supreme Court is set to consider evidence that senior Israeli political and military officials committed war crimes in relation to major military operations in Gaza and Lebanon. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Minister Tzipi Livni, the current justice minister, are among the high-level figures accused of breaking the laws.
A new report “Trigger-happy”, by Amnesty International identifies a pattern of behaviour by Israeli soldiers of shooting live ammunition at unarmed Palestinians, sometimes as they are fleeing. Over the past three years, dozens of Palestinians have been shot dead in the West Bank and hundreds seriously wounded. Thousands more have sustained injuries from rubber-coated bullets and tear gas.
It is easy to forget, with eulogies casting him as the unexpected “peace-maker”, that for most of his long military and political career Ariel Sharon was known simply as The Bulldozer. He explicitly refused to accept that the 1948 war that established Israel was over. In practice, his philosophy of creating change through bold action meant taking as much as land from the Palestinians as possible – an approach one Israeli analyst termed ‘politicide’.
Israel’s secretive arms trade is booming as never before, according to the latest export figures. A new documentary, which has led the way in turning the spotlight on Israel’s arms industry, claims that four million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have become little more than guinea pigs in military experiments designed to enrich a new elite of Israeli arms dealers and former generals.
Israel has been intensifying a campaign to evict Palestinian farming communities from their ancestral lands to replace them with Jewish newcomers. Israeli human rights lawyers, tired of the international community’s formulaic criticisms, say it is time to be more forthright. They call these “ethnic cleansing” zones – intended to drive off Palestinians irrespective of the provisions of international law and whether or not the Palestinians in question hold Israeli citizenship.