The following article, co-written with Peter Slezak, was published today on ABC Unleashed:
Vic Alhadeff is a senior Zionist organisation official. His Unleashed article provides an opportunity for analysis that is instructive about our media and intellectual culture. The very persuasiveness of Alhadeff’s case for Israel is the reason it deserves attention. It misrepresents the uncontroversial facts and the moral issues at stake.
Alhadeff rehearses official lies of the Israeli government that are, moreover, uncritically repeated by our politicians and “free press”.
Alhadeff portrays Israel as a victim of implacable, irrational foes who are bent on gratuitously “killing, maiming and terrorising as many civilians as possible”. At a time when Israel is committing unprecedented violence, such reversal of the facts requires contempt for an audience who is expected not to know better. Israel’s actions are comparable to their killing of stone-throwing children with rifles and tanks.
Israeli victim-hood is the premise on which the public relations machine relies to warrant their military actions. On this picture, a well-meaning, peace-loving Israel offers generous treaties and truces that are rejected by fanatical, fundamentalist terrorists in favour of murdering Jews. The story line is that, finally, Israel had no choice but to invade the terrorist infrastructure of Hamas.
This story can only convince an audience that does not know the facts and these are either falsified or left out altogether by Alhadeff.
First, the central factual claim on which the entire campaign rests concerns the relentless rocket fire against Israeli citizens that finally became intolerable and the justification for large-scale air-force strikes. As Israel’s own newspaper Haaretz reminds us: “Six months ago Israel asked and received a cease-fire from Hamas. It unilaterally violated it when it blew up a tunnel, while still asking Egypt to get the Islamic group to hold its fire.”
Haaretz reports Israeli ministry of defence sources who reveal that plans for the operation were made over six months ago, at the same time as Israel was beginning to negotiate the truce agreement with Hamas. Nevertheless, the media and politicians have consistently reported the official Israeli lies, re-writing history effectively as it happens.
However, even if the Palestinian violation of the cease-fire were true, it would not justify the current intense military assault on Gaza which is the most destructive since 1967. Israel has declared Gaza to be a “special military zone”, a classification that is one degree below a declaration of total war against an enemy state.
While the rocket fire is illegal under international law, it does not give Israel the right to respond against the population of Gaza since collective punishment is unequivocally prohibited by the Geneva conventions. This comes after the collective punishment of Israel’s devastating blockade for which it was condemned by the UN and human rights groups around the world. The blockade had already created a severe humanitarian crisis with shortages of bread, fuel, ink, paper, electricity, medications and hospital equipment among other elementary necessities of life.
A separate violation by Israel concerns the targeting of civilians. Since Hamas is a legitimate, democratically elected political party that controls the government, security-related institutions are civilian targets including police departments and uniformed officers. Other targets are incontestably civilian such as factories, mosques, a television broadcasting centre, university and other sites that have been demolished with loss of innocent life.
The excuse that Hamas is to blame for placing military sites among the population would not justify killing civilians even if it were true.
Another clear violation of international law is the grossly disproportionate scale of the military attack. Alhadeff’s rehearsing of official Israeli excuses for a massive military over-reaction to the supposed provocation is an attempt to excuse the inexcusable.
The rocket fire has claimed altogether a handful of Israeli lives despite Israel’s unprecedented military assault – clear evidence of how little threat Hamas rockets pose for Israel. To put Israel’s aggression into perspective, we must juxtapose the claims of urgency and “no choice” with the entire history of harm caused by home-made rockets: altogether around 20 fatalities in the past two years.
Alhadeff is certainly correct in noting that Hamas is listed as a “terrorist” organisation – but this just reflects the Orwellian terminology used by Western commentators to exclude Western crimes by definition, regardless of their scale. By any meaningful definition, Israel is responsible for large-scale terrorism, if the facts make any difference.
In 1982 during the first Lebanon war, Israel killed around 17,000 civilians – by far the largest act of terrorism in the Middle East, but conveniently forgotten by Alhadeff and media commentators. The 2006 Lebanon war cost around 1,000 lives and involved cluster bombs against civilians and other forms of terrorism including gross violations of international law.
Another revealing omission from Alhadeff’s version of history is the 40-year military occupation and its toll on Palestinian lives. However, perhaps most glaring is Alhadeff’s failure to even hint at the crushing blockade of Gaza. Contrary to the picture retailed by Alhadeff, Hamas showed remarkable restraint under the most desperate conditions and extreme provocation.
The exaggeration of the danger posed by home-made missiles leaves no doubt that the Israeli attack on Gaza was driven by political and not security motives. The posturing before forthcoming Israeli elections is widely cited as motivation for this military adventure.
The mainstream understanding of what goes on in the world is often the reverse of the truth. In light of the facts, it is regrettable that the Australian government has uncritically echoed Israeli-American talking points.
Contrary to standard perceptions, since its election in 2006 Hamas has consistently offered negotiation with Israel and expressed a willingness to accept a two-state solution based on 1967 borders. As Harvard Middle East expert, Sara Roy, has pointed out, Israel pretends that they have no partner for peace precisely because they know that the reality is quite the opposite.
Even the Australian Jewish News (AJN) recently expressed the need for friends of Israel to be critical of the Jewish state. This view was widely shared by around 500 signatories of a statement published by Independent Australian Jewish Voices (IAJV) in 2007 who urged a wider and more honest debate over Israel and Palestine.
Alhadeff’s article has interest as an example of apologetics in the service of power and state crimes. He does not contribute to the well-being and security of Israelis or Palestinians.
Israeli peace group Gush Shalom published a statement in Haaretz on December 30 calling for an immediate cease-fire, arguing that the war is “inhuman, superfluous” and that “nothing good for Israel will come out of it”. They further point out that the attack will deepen hatred for Israel, “arouse the whole civilized world against us” and “undermine even more the status of peace-seeking Palestinians”.