Saturday, March 08, 2008

The roots of Israeli barbarism

We have heard from people like UN Special Rapporteur John Dugard, who says that the Zionist regime is worse than apartheid. The Israeli historian Ilan Pappe now argues that Israel is pursuing a genocidal policy in Gaza. The Israeli government's open threats of ethnic cleansing and mass violence in civilian areas alongside the repeated sieges, the imposed starvation, the mass imprisonment and the killings, coupled with a deep-rooted perception of Palestinians as a 'demographic threat' and, well, everything else, could be seen as adding weight to this view. But if the Israeli strategy is genocidal, this is the latest degenerate stage in an ongoing counterinsurgency war, the character of which is not well understood even by our own gluttonously free press. Well, this is what can be said about the ordinary run of the mill war, when there isn't a major theatre attack, a mass crackdown, a re-invasion, an annexation or another country to bomb: Israeli troops repeatedly use indiscriminate violence, deliberate violence against civilians including against minors, they use civilians as human shields, they detain tens of thousands illegally, and they torture and rape prisoners. If you're a B'Tselem, Amnesty, or even Human Rights Watch worker concerned with Israel/Palestine, you encounter daily, grinding brutality that is rarely if ever reported. Let me give you only a few examples. Here are some excerpts from the latest B'Tselem report on human rights in the 'Occupied Territories':

Of those killed in 2007, at least 132 were civilians who were taking no part in the hostilities at the time they were killed. As for another 50, we were unable to determine the relevant circumstances. According to these figures, approximately 35 percent of the Palestinians killed in 2007 in circumstances known to B'Tselem were civilians not involved in the fighting. In 2006, 348 civilians uninvolved in the fighting were killed (54 percent). Illegal behavior of an individual soldier and his commander is not the only cause for the high number of Palestinians killed who were not taking part in hostilities and posed no danger to security forces. The primary reason for these deaths is Israeli policy, set by the army’s top echelon: illegal easing of the military's rules of engagement, approval of operations that constitute disproportionate attacks, and failure to carry out independent investigations in cases in which innocent Palestinian civilians are killed.


Another example of illegal expansion of the rules of engagement is the establishment of “death zones” in areas close to the Gaza perimeter fence. According to testimonies given to B'Tselem, certain units are ordered to open fire automatically at any person approaching the fence, without giving prior warning and regardless of the circumstances or the identity of the person. This practice is particularly grave because of the lack of demarcation, by signs or otherwise, of the area in which entry is prohibited. In 2007, security forces killed 55 Palestinians who tried to cross the Gaza perimeter fence or were near the fence, in some cases even at a distance greater than 100 meters. Of these, at least 16 were unarmed and not engaged in hostilities, including four minors.


In 2007, B'Tselem documented in detail 74 cases in which security forces beat (by punching, kicking, clubbing, or hitting with rifle butts), humiliated, or threatened Palestinians. The perpetrators were soldiers (in 41 cases), Border Police officers (27 cases), and members of the regular police (6 cases) ... B'Tselem’s monitoring of demonstrations against the Separation Barrier since 2004 indicates that about 1,000 demonstrators have required medical treatment due to injury from rubbercoated metal bullets, beatings, or tear gas inhalation. Over 320 of these people were injured in 2007.


More than 6,000 Palestinians from the West Bank were detained in 2007 by Israel’s security forces. A significant majority of them were subsequently interrogated by the Israel Security Agency on suspicion of involvement in "hostile terror activity". In these interrogations, the ISA, together with the Prison Service and Israel Police, routinely use prison conditions and interrogation methods that individually constitute forbidden ill-treatment.


The phenomenon of soldiers using Palestinians to perform dangerous military tasks or to protect soldiers from gunfire (in other words, using them as human shields) continued in 2007. Until mid-December, B'Tselem documented 10 such cases, although it is likely that this represents a minority of the cases that occurred.

These are conservative estimates based on documented cases, but they clearly describe the systematic use of indiscriminate killing, beatings, mass imprisonment, torture and the use of Palestinians as human shields. I quoted some other examples of Israel's regular brutalisation of civilians here. I want also to comment specifically on the treatment of Palestinian children before moving on, because the deliberate harming of children in any war is indicative of its degeneracy - and is used as an indicator of such in most other wars. The arrest and long-term detention of children is typical. For example, in the months of February to May 2002, 8,500 Palestinians were arrested in the West Bank, 10% of whom were children. The circumstances were characteristic of an Israeli crackdown: door to door house searches, with the rounding up of anyone who the soldiers deemed a threat. The children, like their relatives, were frequently beaten before being arrested, handcuffed, blindfolded for long periods of time, denied access to medical treatment which they needed, and subject to physical and psychological torture. One fifteen year old boy described being beaten for an hour, his legs trampled on, then thrown from one corner of the room to another for fifteen minutes, then sprayed with cold water, then tied to iron steps which caused him to fall and injure himself, then punched in the face. He also had cigarettes stubbed out on his body and was struck with a steel ruler. That's just one example. (See Catherine Cook et al, Stolen Youth: The Politics of Israel's Detention of Palestinian Children, Pluto Press, 2004). The deliberate baiting and shooting of children has also been reported. Chris Hedges wrote in 2001 of this practise by Israeli soldiers at an Israeli colony ('settlement') near the Palestinian refugee camp Faqah:

It is still. The camp waits, as if holding its breath. And then, out of the dry furnace air, a disembodied voice crackles over a loudspeaker.

"Come on, dogs," the voice booms in Arabic. "Where are all the dogs of Khan Younis? Come! Come!"

I stand up. I walk outside the hut. The invective continues to spew: "Son of a bitch!" "Son of a whore!" "Your mother's cunt!"

The boys dart in small packs up the sloping dunes to the electric fence that separates the camp from the Jewish settlement. They lob rocks toward two armored jeeps parked on top of the dune and mounted with loudspeakers. Three ambulances line the road below the dunes in anticipation of what is to come.

A percussion grenade explodes. The boys, most no more than ten or eleven years old, scatter, running clumsily across the heavy sand. They descend out of sight behind a sandbank in front of me. There are no sounds of gunfire. The soldiers shoot with silencers. The bullets from the M-16 rifles tumble end over end through the children's slight bodies. Later, in the hospital, I will see the destruction: the stomachs ripped out, the gaping holes in limbs and torsos.

Yesterday at this spot the Israelis shot eight young men, six of whom were under the age of eighteen. One was twelve. This afternoon they kill an eleven-year-old boy, Ali Murad, and seriously wound four more, three of whom are under eighteen. Children have been shot in other conflicts I have covered - death squads gunned them down in El Salvador and Guatemala, mothers with infants were lined up and massacred in Algeria, and Serb snipers put children in their sights and watched them crumple onto the pavement in Sarajevo - but I have never before watched soldiers entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport. (Chris Hedges, 'A Gaza Diary', Harper's Magazine, 1 October 2001).

El Salvador, Guatemala, Sarajevo, and Algeria - those are instructive comparisons. At any rate, this is just to indicate some of the dimensions of Israel's barbarism that are usually unnoticed or, more accurately, suppressed. It is a routine grind of racially aggravated terror and humilitation, increasingly accompanied by various systems of explicit segregation, including 300 kilometres of roads exclusively for Israeli colonists in the West Bank. To it can be various forms of economic blockade, with predictably devastating effects. As to its roots, I have already argued that the reason for Israel's resemblance to apartheid South Africa is because of their emergence from a very similar historical complex of causes - colonialism and race ideology in particular. The attachment to race theory, for example, was presumably why it didn't seem odd for Zionist leaders to be inviting Adolf Eichmann to visit Palestine in 1937; why Vladimir Jabotinsky, the founder of Likudism, so admired Mussolini (who was himself pro-Zionist); why Mossad was working with the Gestapo to arrange Jewish deportation from Germany at the behest of Reinhard Heydrich in 1939, later a chief architect of the Nazi holocaust (he gave his name to one of its chief components, Operation Reinhard); and why the Haganah (the Zionist paramilitary which formed the core of the IDF) was receiving arms from the SS. It was, all of it, part of the same murky world of colonial domination, racist mysticism (the blood and soil kind) and volkish nationalism.

And the techniques of repression that I have described are rooted in, specifically, the British colonial rule over Palestine, with which the Zionists periodically collaborated, and in the inheritance by the Zionist leadership of Britain's counterinsurgency war, which continues. Some of the key training for Zionist paramilitaries before 1948 was in supporting British colonial repression of the Palestinian Arab national liberation struggle in 1936-9, just as fascism was ravaging Europe and the Gestapo, Wehrmacht and SS were refining their own techniques of counterinsurgency. The collaboration in the repression had started as the revolt began in 1936 with the formation of the Jewish supernumerary police, which was 1,240-strong, but expanded over the next two years so that by 1939, it numbered 14,500 men. The training they received was usually passed on to thousands of others who were not included in the force. The Special Night Squads were a notoriously brutal manifestation of this collusion. Orde Wingate, a senior British army officer and Zionist, organised these. His role in formulating Israeli military doctrine is still commemorated. He is credited with having inculcated the principles of surprise, offensive daring, deep penetration and high mobility, and one of his most notable pupils was Moshe Dayan. He also taught them torture, on-the-spot executions, mass detention without trial, black flag operations. All of which was perfectly normal for the British. In general, British strategy was that any suspicious-looking "Johnny Arab" who looked suspicious could be shot out of hand, while beatings were given out routinely during raids. And the British were not shy of drawing on their extensive history of counterinsurgency in India. Charles Tegart, who had controlled special branch in the Calcutta police, was requisitioned to Palestine during the revolt, where he provided his expert assistance in the formation of Arab Investigation Centres (forebears of Facility 1391) where Palestinians would be tortured. However, the Special Night Squads acquired a justified reputation for brutality of a kind that would be familiar in today's death squads, including the Special Police Commandos for example. (What does is it say about the world's military and intelligence classes, that 'special' for them always means particularly gruesome murder and torture? For most of us, I suspect, 'special' is a wine-drenched sunset or a kind of fried rice). Aside from this valuable tutelage, at any rate, a further 50,000 Haganah troops were trained by the British army during World War II.

It is useful in that context to consider the Zionists at the height of their success, with the Arab armies easily defeated, and at least 700,000 Palestinians ethnically cleansed through a system of terror, massacres, the destruction of villages, and dispossession based on a detailed plan implemented throughout 1948. It had been in these operations, beginning with Operation Nachson, that the various Zionist paramilitaries had first bonded together in a single effort. From that unity, that brothership of blood, was forged the IDF. By 1949, the plan had been more or less fulfilled. But the techniques which they had learned during the 1936 revolt and after would continue to be invaluable. As Ilan Pappe describes it in The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006), there was little let-up in the humiliation of, and attacks on, Palestinians. Thousands of Palestinian men were held in pens after systematic search-and-arrest operations, before being moved to concentrated prison camps. The category of 'suspicious Arab' was the basis for many of the arrests, as remains the case today: they closed off cities or towns, started searching the houses, and selected their victims. They took them off to be brutalised, subject to forced labour, or summarily executed. Former Irgun, Stern Gang and Haganah troops were employed as camp guards, and they were - despite occasional formal recriminations - allowed to get away with murder, including the Kfar Qassim massacre in which 49 Palestinians lost their lives. In the towns and villages were Palestinians remained, they were frequently subject to on-the-spot murder, as in Jaffa where Red Cross discovered a pile of bodies and were told by Israeli authorities that the people had been shot for not obeying the curfew between 5pm and 6am (during which time Israelis took the opportunity to loot Palestinian property, thus compounding the earlier waves of expropriation). They were forced into ghettos, as in Haifa were the 3-5,000 Palestinians who remained after 70,000 Palestinians were expelled, were driven into tiny living quarters in the city. ID cards were issued to help restrict and control their movement. They were also subject to rape. One case describes how soldiers had wanted to rape a girl, so they killed her father, wounded the mother, and allowed at least one soldier to assault the girl. Another girl, twelve years old, was kidnapped by soldiers in the Negev in mid-1949, had her head shaved, and was raped and tortured for several days by 22 soldiers in the platoon until one of the men killed her. In general, the Palestinians were subject to martial law, based on the British Mandate's emergency regulations imposed in 1945, which limited rights of expression, movement, and organisation, a status that ended only formally in 1966. And all the while, the theft of the land continued, as did the expropriation, vandalism and desecration, while the refugees were prevented from returning.

That was the Zionist movement and state in its moment of triumph, when the 'threat' of Palestinian self-government had been decisively defeated. They required no Hamas to goad them into it. It was the behaviour of self-confident promulgators of the Iron Wall - a doctrine fit for a Duce - schooled in technique by the most vicious bastards to have ever enslaved a quarter of the planet.