Shows the archive for juni, 2015

Uri Avnery: War Crimes? Us???

Uri Avnery
June 27, 2015

WAR IS HELL!” the US general George Patton famously exclaimed.

War is the business of killing the “enemy”, in order to impose your will on them.

Therefore, “humane war” is an oxymoron.

War itself is a crime. There are few exceptions. I would exempt the war against Nazi Germany, since it was conducted against a regime of mass murderers, led by a psychopathic dictator, who could not be brought to heel by any other means.

This being so, the concept of “war crimes” is dubious. The biggest crime is starting the war in the first place. This is not the business of soldiers, but of political leaders. Yet they are rarely indicted.

THESE PHILOSOPHICAL musings came to me in the wake of the recent UN report on the last Gaza war.

The investigation committee bent over backwards to be “balanced”, and accused both the Israeli army and Hamas in almost equal terms. That, in itself, is problematic.

This was not a war between equals. On one side, the State of Israel, with one of the mightiest armies in the world. On the other side, a stateless population of 1.8 million people, led by a guerrilla organization devoid of any modern arms.

Any equating of such two entities is by definition contrived. Even if both sides committed grievous war crimes, they are not the same. Each must be judged on its own (de)merits.

THE IDEA of “war crimes” is relatively new. It arose during the 30 Years War, which devastated a large part of Central Europe. Many armies took part, and all of them destroyed towns and villages without the slightest compunction. As a result, two thirds of Germany were devastated and a third of the German people was killed.

Hugo de Groot, a Dutchman, argued that even in war, civilized nations are bound by certain limitations. He was not a starry-eyed idealist, divorced from reality. His main principle, as I understand it, was that it makes no sense to forbid actions that help a warring country [or “party”] to pursue the war, but that any cruelty not necessary for the efficient conduct of the war is illegitimate.

This idea took hold. During the 18th century, endless wars were conducted by professional armies, without hurting civilian populations unnecessarily. Wars became “humane”.

Not for long. With the French revolution, war became a matter of mass armies, the protection of civilians slowly eroded, until it disappeared entirely in World War II, when whole cities were destroyed by unlimited aerial bombardment (Dresden and Hamburg) and the atom bomb (Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

Even so, a number of international conventions prohibit war crimes that target civilian populations or hurt the population in occupied territories.

That was the mandate of this committee of investigation.

THE COMMITTEE castigates Hamas for committing war crimes against the Israeli population.

Israelis didn’t need the committee to know that. A large share of Israeli citizens spent hours in shelters during the Gaza war, under the threat of Hamas rockets.

Hamas launched thousands of rockets towards towns and villages in Israel. These were primitive rockets, which could not be aimed at specific targets – like the Dimona nuclear installation or the Ministry of Defense which is located in the center of Tel Aviv. They were meant to terrorize the civilian population into demanding a stop to the attack on the Gaza strip.

They did not achieve this goal because Israel had installed a number of “Iron Dome” counter-rocket batteries, that intercepted almost all rockets heading for civilian targets. Success was almost complete.

If they are brought before the International Court in The Hague, the Hamas leaders will argue that they had no choice: they had no other weapons to oppose the Israeli invasion. As a Palestinian commander once told me: “Give us cannons and fighter planes, and we will not use terrorism.”

The International Court will then have to decide whether a people that is practically under an endless occupation is allowed to use indiscriminate rockets. Considering the principles laid down by de Groot, I wonder what the decision will be.

That goes for terrorism in general, if used by an oppressed people that has no other means of fighting. The black South Africans used terrorism in their fight against the oppressive apartheid regime, and Nelson Mandela spent 28 years in prison for taking part in such acts und refusing to condemn them.

THE CASE against the Israeli government and army is quite different. They have a plentitude of arms, from drones to warplanes to artillery to tanks.

If there was a cardinal war crime in this war, it was the cabinet decision to start it. Because an Israeli arrack on the Gaza Strip makes war crimes unavoidable.

Anyone who has ever been a combat soldier in war knows that war crimes, whether in the most moral or the most base army in the world, do occur in war. No army can avoid recruiting psychologically defective people. In every company there is at least one pathological specimen. If there are not very strict rules, exercised by very strict commanders, crimes will occur.

War brings out the inner man (or woman, nowadays). A well-behaved, educated man will suddenly turn into a ferocious beast. A simple, lowly laborer will reveal himself as a decent, generous human being. Even in the “Most Moral Army in the World” – an oxymoron if there ever was one.

I was a combat soldier in the 1948 war. I have seen an eyeful of crimes, and I have described them in my 1950 book “The Other Side of the Coin”.

THIS GOES for every army. In our army during the last Gaza war, the situation was even worse.

The reasons for the attack on the Gaza Strip were murky. Three Israeli kids were captured by Arab men, obviously for the sake of achieving a prisoner exchange. The Arabs panicked and killed the boys. The Israelis responded, the Palestinians responded, and lo – the cabinet decided on a full-fledged attack.

Our cabinet includes nincompoops, most of whom have no idea what war is. They decided to attack the Gaza Strip.

This decision was the real war crime.

The Gaza Strip is a tiny territory, overcrowded by a bloated population of 1.8 million human beings, about half of them descendents of refugees from areas that became Israel in the 1948 war.

In any circumstances, such an attack was bound to result in a large number of civilian casualties. But another fact made this even worse.

ISRAEL IS a democratic state. Leaders have to be elected by the people. The voters consist of the parents and grandparents of the soldiers, members of both regular and reserve units.

This means that Israel is inordinately sensitive to casualties. If a large number of soldiers are killed in action, the government will fall.

Therefore it is the maxim of the Israeli army to avoid casualties at any cost – any cost to the enemy, that is. To save one soldier, it is permissible to kill ten, twenty, a hundred civilians on the other side.

This rule, unwritten and self-understood, is symbolized by the “Hannibal Procedure” – the code-word for preventing at any cost the taking of an Israeli soldier prisoner. Here, too, a “democratic” principle is at work: no Israeli government can withstand public pressure to release many dozens of Palestinian prisoners in return for the release of one Israeli one. Ergo: prevent a soldier from being taken prisoner, even if the soldier himself is killed in the process.

Hannibal allows – indeed, commands – the wreaking of untold destruction and killing, in order to prevent a captured soldier from being spirited away. This procedure is itself a war crime.

A responsible cabinet, with a minimum of combat experience, would know all this at the moment it was called upon to decide on a military operation. If they don’t know, it is the duty of the army [or “military”] commanders – who are present at such cabinet meetings – to explain it to them. I wonder if they did.

ALL THIS means that, once started, the results were almost unavoidable. To make an attack without serious Israeli casualties possible, entire neighborhoods had to be flattened by drones, planes and artillery. And that obviously happened.

Inhabitants were often warned to flee, and many did. Others did not, being loath to leave behind everything precious to them. Some people flee in the moment of danger, others hope against hope and stay.

I would ask the reader to imagine himself for a moment in such a situation.

Add to this the human element – the mixture of humane and sadistic men, good and bad, you find in any combat unit all over the world, and you get the picture.

Once you start a war, “stuff happens”, as the man said. There may be more war crimes or less, but there will be a lot.

ALL THIS could have been told to the UN committee of inquiry, headed by an American judge, by the chiefs of the Israeli army, had they been allowed to testify. The government did not allow them.

The convenient way out is to proclaim that all UN officials are by nature anti-Semites and Israel-haters, so that answering their questions is counterproductive.

We are moral. We are right. By nature. We can’t help it. Those who accuse us must be anti-Semites. Simple logic.

To hell with them all!

Uri Avnery: Isratin og Palestrael?

Uri Avnery
June 20, 2015

THERE WAS this guy who had an earth-shaking invention: an airplane that flies on water.

No more gas. No more pollution. No more astronomical prices. Just fill it up with water, and it will fly to the end of the world.

“Wonderful!” people cried out. “Show us the plans!”

“Plans?” the man said. “I have had the great idea. I leave it to the engineers to work out the technical details.”

The inventors of the “One-State Solution” remind me of this genius. They have a wonderful idea. But there are a few questions left open.

FIRST QUESTION: how can it be achieved?

The obvious answer is: by war.

The Arab world will mobilize its armies. Israel will be conquered. The victors will impose their will.

This may be possible within a few generations. I rather doubt it. In a world of nuclear arms, wars may end with mutual annihilation.

Well, if not war, then “outside pressure”.

I doubt this, too. The international boycott movement is quite effective, in its way. But it is far, far from being able to compel Israelis to do something that is opposed by every fiber of their being: to give up their sovereignty. The same goes for political pressure. It may hurt Israel, it may isolate it – though I don’t believe this is possible in this or the next generation – but this, too, won’t be enough to bring Israel to its knees.

Convince the majority in Israel? One has to be very remote from Israeli reality to believe that this can happen in the foreseeable future. For more than 130 years, now, the core of the Zionist and Israeli raison d’etre has been Israeli (or “Jewish”) statehood. Many people have died for it. Every child in Israel is indoctrinated from kindergarten on, through school and the army, to see the state as the highest of all ideals. Give it up voluntarily? Not likely.

But for argument’s sake, let’s assume that one way or another, the One-State Solution becomes possible. Perhaps by divine intervention.

How would it function?

In all my dozens of debates with One-Staters of all kinds, I have never, not even once, received an answer to this simple question. Not once. Like the inventor of the water-fueled plane, they leave that to the engineers.

Let’s try.

HOW WILL the state be named? Not an easy question.

The late Muammar Gadddafi proposed “Isratin” (why not Palesrael"?) I can think of “Holyland”, “State of Jerusalem” and other names. Perhaps just “The United State of Israel and Palestine” (let’s call it USIP).

Various flags and national anthems have been proposed., some of them really inventive. Will anyone sacrifice their blood for them?

But that, too, is not the real problem. It’s when we approach the realities of the state the questions multiply.

How will the state function on a day-to-day basis?

How difficult that may be is illustrated by a simple historical fact: since World War II, there is not a single instance of two states or two peoples voluntarily coming together in one state. But there are ample instances of multinational states breaking apart.

Let’s start with the Soviet Union, a mighty world power. Then Yugoslavia. Then Serbia. Czechoslovakia. Sudan.

Other countries are threatened with breakup. Who would have thought that the venerable United Kingdom might become Disunited? Scots, Catalans, Basques, Quebecois, East Ukrainians are waiting in line. Only the Swiss, united by centuries of history, seem immune. And also Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Be that as it may, let’s look more closely at the thing itself.

THE STATE must have a united army. How will it function?

Will Jews and Arabs serve in the same squad? Or will there be separate battalions or separate brigades? If there is trouble in Jewish neighborhoods, will Jewish units follow orders against their brethren? In a war against an Arab state, how will Arab units act?

Will the Chief of Staff be a Jew or an Arab? Perhaps by rotation? And the General Staff – half and half?

That’s easy, compared to the police. Will Jews and Arabs serve side by side, as they did during the British Mandate, when practically all local policemen belonged to secret nationalist organizations?

How will this police force investigate nationalist crimes? Who will be the Inspector General?

Then there is the question of taxes. As of now, the average income of Jews in Israel is 25 times higher than that of Arabs in occupied Palestine. No, that is not a typo. Not 25% higher. 25 times higher!

Will they pay the same taxes? Very soon, Jewish citizens would complain that they pay for nearly all the welfare and education of the Palestinian citizens. Trouble.

THEN THERE are the problems of the political structure.

Of course, there will be universal and free elections. How will citizens vote – according to their class interests or along ethnic lines?

Experience in many countries indicates that the ethnic identity will take precedence. In today’s Israel, that is the rule. During the British Mandate, there was only one joint party: the Moscow-line Communist one. On the eve of the 1948 war, it split between Jews and Arabs. In the new State of Israel, they reunited (as ordered by Moscow) but then split again. Now it is in practice an Arab party, with a few Jewish followers.

In 1984 I took part in the foundation of a new party, the Progressive List for Peace, based on strict parity: our Knesset list was Arab, Jew, Arab, Jew, up to 120.

In two successive election campaigns we entered the Knesset. But a curious thing happened: almost all our voters were Arabs. Soon after, the party disappeared.

I strongly suspect that in USIP the same will happen. In Parliament, two blocs will face each other in a climate of perpetual mutual animosity. It will be extremely difficult to form a working government coalition composed of elements of both sides. Look at Belgium, another problematic bi-national state.

Some One-Staters admit that the project is only feasible if both peoples change their basic attitudes completely, and a spirit of mutual love and respect displaces the present nationalistic hatred and contempt.

Some 50 years ago I had a conversation with the then Indian ambassador in Paris, Kavalam Madhava Panikkar, a very respected statesman and scholar. We talked, of course, about Israeli-Palestinian peace, and he said: “It will take 51 years!”

Why exactly 51, I asked, surprised. “Because we need a new generation of teachers,” he said. “That will take 25 years. These new teachers will educate a new generation of pupils, who will be able to make peace, That will take another 25 years. Making peace will take one more year.”

Well, 51 years have passed, and peace is further off than ever.

Matchmakers tend to say: “They don’t love yet, but once married and having children, they will come to love each other.”

Perhaps. How long will it take? A hundred years? Two hundred years? Long before that, we shall all be dead.

The main argument against the One-State vision is that it will soon become the battlefield of a perpetual conflict, like Lebanon. There will not be a day of internal peace.

The greatest danger is that in such a state, with a growing Arab majority, affluent and highly educated Jewish citizens will slowly leave (as some are already doing now). In the end, only the poor and ill-educated will be left –a small Jewish community in another Arab state.

I have a lurking suspicion that some of the Arab One-Staters embrace the idea for this reason alone: to put an end to Israel.

Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs are two of the most nationalist nations in the world. One has to be an extreme optimist – even more extreme than I – to believe that it will work.

Honest disclosure: I did once believe in the “One-State solution”, long before the term was invented. In 1945, when I was just 22 years old, I founded a group that was devoted to the idea that the new Hebrew nation in Palestine and the Arab nation in Palestine, bound by common love for the country, could become one joint nation and live in one common state.

Our ideology caused an uproar in the Zionist community in the country. We were universally condemned. But during the 1948 war, when I came into immediate contact with the Palestinian reality, I gave up this beautiful idea forever and from 1949 on was one of the creators of the concept of the Two-State Solution.

I have a great respect for the adherents of the One-State Solution. Their motives are admirable. Their vision lofty. But it is disconnected from reality.

I WOULD like to make one point quite clear: for me, the Two-State Solution is not a recipe for separation and divorce, but on the contrary, a kind of wedding.

From the first day on, 66 years ago, when we, a tiny group, raised the banner of the Two-State Solution, it was clear to us that the two states, living close together in one small country, must live in close cooperation. Borders must be open for the movement of people and goods, the economies closely intertwined. Some kind of federation is inevitable. Attitudes will slowly change on both sides.

Connections will be formed. Friendships will be established. Business interests will convince people. People will work together and come to like each other. As the Arabs say: Inshallah.

When I am asked whether this is the best solution, my answer is: “It is the only solution.”

Uri Avnery: -Why boycott of Israel is wrong!

Uri Avnery
June 13, 2015

BDS, the New Enemy

BINYAMIN NETANYAHU was racking his brain. His whole career is based on fear mongering. Since Jews have lived in fear for millennia, it is easy to invoke it. They are addicts.

For years now, Netanyahu has built his career on fear of the Iranian Nuclear Bomb. The Iranians are crazy people. Once they have the Bomb, they will drop it on Israel, even if Israel’s nuclear second strike will certainly annihilate Iran with its thousands of years of civilization.

But Netanyahu saw with growing anxiety that the Iranian threat was losing its edge. The US, so it seems, is about to reach an agreement with Iran, which will prevent it from achieving the Bomb. Even Sheldon the Great cannot prevent the agreement. What to do?

Looking around, three letters popped up: BDS. They denote Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, a worldwide campaign to boycott Israel because of its 48 year-old subjugation of the Palestinian people.

Ah, here we have a real threat, worse than the Bomb. A second Holocaust is looming. Brave little Israel facing the entire evil, anti-Semitic world.

True, until now Israel has suffered no real damage. BDS is more about gestures than about real economic weapons. But who is counting? The legions of anti-Semites are on the march.

Who will save us? Bibi the Great, of course!

HONEST DISCLOSURE: my friends and I initiated the first boycott, which was directed at the products of the settlements.

Our peace movement, Gush Shalom, was deliberating how to stop the spread of the settlements, each of which is a land mine on the road to peace. The main reason for setting up settlements is to prevent the two-state solution – the only peace solution there is.

Our investigators made a Grand Tour of the settlements and registered the enterprises which were lured by government enticements to set up shop beyond the Green Line. We published the list and encouraged customers to abstain from buying these products.

A boycott is a democratic instrument of protest. It is non-violent. Every person can exercise it privately, without joining any group or exhibiting himself or herself in public.

Our main aim was to get the Israeli public to distinguish clearly between Israel proper and the settlements in the occupied territories.

In March 1997 we held a press conference to announce the campaign. It was a unique event. I have held press conference which were overflowing with journalists – for example, after my first meeting with Yasser Arafat in besieged West Beirut. I have held press conferences with sparse attendance. But this one was really special: not a single Israeli journalist turned up.

Still, the idea spread. I don’t know how many thousand Israelis are boycotting the products of the settlements right now.

However, we were upset by the attitude of the European Union authorities, which denounced the settlements while in practice subsidizing their products with customs exemptions like real Israeli wares. My colleagues and I went to Brussels to protest, but were told by polite bureaucrats that Germany and others were obstructing any step toward a settlement boycott.

Eventually, the Europeans moved, albeit slowly. They are now demanding that the products of the settlements be clearly marked.

THE BDS movement has a very different agenda. They want to boycott the State of Israel as such.

I always considered this a major strategic error. Instead of isolating the settlements and separating them from mainstream Israelis, a general boycott drives all Israelis into the arms of the settlers. It re-awakens age-old Jewish fears. Facing a common danger, Jews unite.

Netanyahu could not wish for more. He is now riding the wave of Jewish reactions. Every day there are headlines about another success of the boycott movement, and each success is a bonus for Netanyahu.

It is also a bonus for his adversary, Omar al-Barghouti, the Palestinian organizer of BDS.

Palestine is well stocked with Barghoutis. It is an extended family prominent in several villages north of Jerusalem.

The most famous is Marwan al-Barghouti, who has been condemned to several life sentences for leading the Fatah youth organization. He was not indicted for taking part in any “terrorist” acts, but for his role as organizationally responsible. Indeed, he and I were partners in organizing several non-violent protests against the occupation.

When he was brought to trial, we protested in the court building. One of my colleagues lost a toenail in the ensuing battle with the violent court guards. Marwan is still in prison and many Palestinians consider him a prospective heir of Mahmoud Abbas.

Another Barghouti is Mustafa, the very likable leader of a leftist party, who ran against Abbas for the presidency of the Palestinian Authority. We have met while facing the army in several demonstrations against the Wall.

Omar Barghouti, the leader of the BDS movement, is a postgraduate student at Tel Aviv University. He demands the free return of all Palestinian refugees, equality for Israel’s Palestinian citizens and, of course, an end to the occupation.

However, BDS is not a highly organized worldwide organization. It is more of a trade mark. Groups of students, artists and others spring up spontaneously and join the struggle for Palestinian liberation. Here and there, some real anti-Semites try to join. But for Netanyahu, they are all, all anti-Semites.

AS WE feared from the beginning, the boycott of Israel – as distinguished from the boycott of the settlements – has united the general Jewish population with the settlers, under the leadership of Netanyahu.

The fatherland is in danger. National unity is the order of the day. “Opposition Leader” Yitzhak Herzog is rushing forward to support
Netanyahu, as are almost all other parties.

Israel’s Supreme Court, a frightened shadow of its former self, has already decreed that calling for a boycott of Israel is a crime – including calls for boycotting the settlements.

Almost every day, news about the boycott hits the headlines. The boss of “Orange”, the French communications giant, first joined the boycott, then quickly turned around and is coming to Israel for a pilgrimage of repentance. Student organizations and professional groups in America and Europe adopt the boycott. The EU now vigorously demands the marking of settlement products.

Netanyahu is happy. He calls upon world Jewry to take up the fight against this anti-Semitic outrage. The owner of Netanyahu, multi-billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, has convened a war council of rich Jews in Las Vegas. His counterpart, pro-Labor multi-billionaire Haim Saban has joined him. Even the perpetrators of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion would not believe it.

AS COMIC relief, another casino owner is competing for the headlines. He is a much, much smaller operator, who cannot be compared to Adelson.

He is the new Knesset Member Oren Hazan, No 30 on the Likud election list, the last one who got in. A TV expose has alleged that he was the owner of a casino in Bulgaria, who supplied prostitutes to his clients and used hard drugs. He has already been chosen as Deputy Speaker of the Knesset. The Speaker has temporarily suspended him from chairing Knesset plenum sessions.

So the two casino owners, the big and the small, dominate the news. Rather bizarre in a country where casinos are forbidden, and where clandestine casino goers are routinely arrested.

Well, life is a roulette game. Even life in Israel.