Friday, November 10, 2006

A country lost in its own region

By Antony Loewenstein

The Age
10 November 2006

On October 30, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told
the Knesset's
Security and Foreign Affairs Committee that the
Israeli military had killed
300 "terrorists" in the Gaza Strip in the past three

According to the Israeli human rights organisation
B'Tselem, the Israel
Defence Force has killed 294 Palestinians in Gaza
since the abduction of
Corporal Gilad Shalit on June 27, but more than half
of those killed - 155
people, including 61 children - had no involvement in
hostilities. The group
sent a letter to Olmert, demanding to know whether
Israel considered "all
those who were killed to be terrorists who deserved to
die". The Prime
Minister's statement contained "within it a twisted
logic whereby the fact
that someone was killed by a military proves that he
or she is a terrorist".

The latest Israeli massacre in Gaza - the killing of
19 Palestinian
civilians while they slept in their beds in Beit Hanun
- occurred precisely
because the IDF regularly fires shells into heavily
populated areas. Under
international humanitarian law, a state is prohibited
from such activity if
the attack is likely to cause undue harm to civilians
and will not gain any
military advantage. Israel claims that its actions,
while regrettable, were
designed to eliminate Qassam rockets being fired into
Israel from Gaza. The
result is the exact opposite, with Hamas already
calling for revenge and an
ever-growing and justified militancy against Israel's
continuing occupation
of Gaza and the West Bank.

It didn't need to be this way. After Israel's
military, political and
bureaucratic loss during the recent Lebanon war,
calmer heads would have
welcomed a more measured path. Alas, Israel refuses to
negotiate with Syria
- despite Bashir Assad's recent conciliatory
statements - and continues to
build more illegal settlements on occupied West Bank

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz's Arab affairs
commentator, Danny Rubinstein,
commented during a speech in Tel Aviv that Israel's
"real aim (in Gaza) is
the collective punishment of the Palestinian
population. The military
operation is designed to prevent the Palestinians
rejoicing (when prisoners
are released in exchange for Gilad Shalit). This is a
media-driven operation which lacks any military
justification." US-made
weapons are killing hundreds of innocent civilians and
the world remains

But this may all be about to change. The elevation of
far-right and openly
racist Avigdor Lieberman to the position of deputy
leader and a new
portfolio, the Strategic Affairs Ministry, gives the
world a unique
opportunity to hear the ambitions of an extremist in
the heart of "the
Middle East's only democracy".

Lieberman has called for Arab MPs who had contact with
Hamas to be executed.
Last week he demanded the separation between Arabs and
Jews, and the
establishment of a purely Jewish nation. On one
occasion he even demanded
that Egypt's Aswan Dam be bombed. Despite the
elevation of this
fundamentalist Zionist, Diaspora Jewry has remained
mute, lest they be
accused of disloyalty to their beloved homeland. What
will it take for the
Jewish establishment to openly and unequivocally
condemn the utterances of
Lieberman, who, according to Haaretz, is "liable to
bring disaster down upon
the entire region"?

The international community's hypocrisy is worth
noting. When the
Palestinians democratically elected Hamas this year,
much of the world
boycotted them. Yet when the world accepts Lieberman's
appointment without
comment, the double standard is galling. So who is
really serious about

Israel is a nation in serious decline. Its President
may face indictment on
charges of rape, the "peace movement" is virtually
non-existent, corruption
is rampant (a 2005 World Bank report found that the
Jewish state's economic
corruption was one of the worst in the developed
world) and the military
establishment is addicted to military solutions that
have failed.

It is time for some uncomfortable truths to be stated.
Israel's long-term
future lies not with a superpower thousands of
kilometres away, but in the
Arab world. Washington's standing in the region has
never been worse, and
just last week Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah,
said that America's
plans in the Middle East faced "failure, frustration
and a state of
collapse". He predicted the US would be forced to
leave the region in the

As a strong supporter of both the Israelis and
Palestinians, I believe that
only international pressure on Israel can bring a
nation addicted to
violence to heel and leadership on both sides mature
enough to negotiate
with honesty.

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