Almost a week after the UN General Assembly speeches by various heads of state, where one statement after another was dissected and laid bare by the thousands of reporters and analysts covering the annual plenary session, one speech has almost universally been ignored. And something rankles.
“Have you no shame,” thundered Benjamin Netanyahu to the throngs of senior diplomats, heads of state and assorted dignitaries watching the Israeli prime minister admonish those who remained in the room when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered his speech a day earlier.
Shame, indeed. This, from the leader of a nation that has a pitiful human rights record, standing accused by a United Nations body for War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity. A country that has an illicit stash of weapons of mass destruction which it refuses to subject to international scrutiny of any sort. A state whose very existence seems possible only through the systemic persecution of the non-Jewish population under its protection.
Break down Netanyahu’s speech and you have more fiction than fact, albeit fiction that has very adeptly been spun by successive Israeli governments into the lexicon of our political language.
“For eight long years, Hamas fired from Gaza thousands of missiles, mortars and rockets on nearby Israeli cities. Year after year, as these missiles were deliberately hurled at our civilians, not a single UN resolution was passed condemning those criminal attacks,” accused Netanyahu, before the very audience he scorned in his speech.
Fact: Between 2005 and 2007, Palestinian groups in Gaza fired about 2,700 rockets into Israel. Israel fired more than 14,600 artillery shells into Gaza during this same period, a statistic Israeli government officials always seem to omit.
But the essence of Netanyahu’s fiction remains that Palestinians, and specifically the resistance group Hamas, are the ones who initiate armed conflict.
In a far-reaching and exhaustive study of the issue, MIT Scientist Nancy Kanwisher tracked the entire timeline of killings of Palestinians and Israelis by the other between September 2000 and October 2008. In an article right here on the Huffington Post, she draws some telling conclusions about ceasefires, lulls in conflict, and resumption of hostilities between the two sides:
“It is overwhelmingly Israel that kills first after a pause in the conflict: 79% of all conflict pauses were interrupted when Israel killed a Palestinian, while only 8% were interrupted by Palestinian attacks (the remaining 13% were interrupted by both sides on the same day). In addition, we found that this pattern — in which Israel is more likely than Palestine to kill first after a conflict pause — becomes more pronounced for longer conflict pauses. Indeed, of the 25 periods of nonviolence lasting longer than a week, Israel unilaterally interrupted 24, or 96%, and it unilaterally interrupted 100% of the 14 periods of nonviolence lasting longer than 9 days.”
Kanwisher’s data goes on to contest the assumption popular with American and Israeli politicians that Hamas broke the ceasefire leading up to Israel’s brutal December 2008 Gaza onslaught:
“The ceasefire was remarkably effective: after it began in June 2008, the rate of rocket and mortar fire from Gaza dropped to almost zero, and stayed there for four straight months…what happened to end this striking period of peace? On November 4th, Israel killed a Palestinian, an event that was followed by a volley of mortars fired from Gaza. Immediately after that, an Israeli air strike killed six more Palestinians. Then a massive barrage of rockets was unleashed, leading to the end of the ceasefire.”
But Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu was just getting started, and with all the righteous indignation he could muster, proclaimed: “In 2005, hoping to advance peace, Israel unilaterally withdrew from every inch of Gaza.”
Oh. The withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that the Gaza Strip, one of the most densely populated territories in the world, had become an impoverished hell-hole that nobody wanted to deal with – or that daily confrontations with Palestinian resistance groups and, well, school kids hurling rocks, had taken a toll on the battered Israeli Defense Forces. “Disengagement” from Gaza achieved several other objectives too. It reduced the growing non-Jewish demographic problem for Israel, and freed up resources to focus on carving up the West Bank and significantly increasing the population of Jewish settlers there.
But again, the devil is in the details. Lost in the media euphoria over Israeli troops rolling out of occupied Palestinian territory, a vital fact was overlooked: the occupation of Gaza never actually ended. According to the United Nations, the US State Department, Amnesty International and a whole slew of other NGOs, Israel is the occupying power in the Gaza Strip. It “retains sole control of Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters and does not allow any movement of people or goods in or out of Gaza via air or sea,” says Amnesty International. And we have seen how often and easily the IDF tanks roll in and out at will.
Back at the General Assembly podium, Netanyahu’s fiction-spinning tirade was reaching a fevered pitch – the crux of his message, the thing that Israel most fears. Understand now, that the Jewish state’s raison d’etre has always been based on the mass persecution and genocide of Jews by Nazi Germany – the nation was a gift, so to speak, to the victims who deserved a break. So what would happen if, even for an instant, the entire international community catches a view of Israel outside the parameters of victimhood, an image, if shattered, that could undermine its very premise as a safe haven for the persecuted?
Never say. Netanyahu’s two-fold mission at the UN last Thursday was firstly to whip up animosity against Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his alleged nuclear weaponization program, and secondly, to neutralize the damaging effects of the Goldstone Report on Israel’s three-week military adventure into the Gaza Strip earlier this year.
Selected by the UN High Commission for Human Rights to conduct an investigation into “Operation Cast Lead,” Israel’s code name for the Gaza War, Richard Goldstone was ideal for the role in part because he is a Jew, an acknowledged Zionist, and importantly, the well-respected former chief prosecutor of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. In other words, beyond reproach.
In a September 15 press release introducing his 574-page report, Justice Goldstone concluded that “Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity.”
Netanyahu at the UN: “Faced with such a clear case of aggressor and victim, who did the UN Human Rights Council decide to condemn? Israel.”
He fails to mention that given ample opportunity to participate in the investigation, his government not only refused, but also denied the Mission access to both Israel and the West Bank for interviews related to the inquiry. Palestinian authorities in both the West Bank and Gaza cooperated.
The damning parts of the report undermine entirely Israel’s assertions to the international community about its conflict with Gaza, Palestinians and Hamas. It states that “in the lead up to Israel’s assault on Gaza, Israel imposed a blockade amounting to collective punishment and carried out a systematic policy of progressive isolation and deprivation of the Gaza Strip.” So much for disengagement.
“Never has a country gone to such extraordinary lengths to remove the enemy’s civilian population from harm’s way,” claims Netanyahu.
But Goldstone’s Mission found instead “that the following grave breaches of the
Fourth Geneva Convention were committed by Israeli forces in Gaza: willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, and extensive destruction of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.”
The Report continues: “The repeated failure to distinguish between combatants and civilians appears to the Mission to have been the result of deliberate guidance issued to soldiers, as described by some of them, and not the result of occasional lapses.” Furthermore, “There were almost no mistakes made according to the Government of Israel. It is in these circumstances that the Mission concludes that what occurred in just over three weeks at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 was a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population.”
Yet with no hint of embarrassment whatsoever, Netanyahu insisted, “”Faced with an enemy committing a double war crime of firing on civilians while hiding behind civilians – Israel sought to conduct surgical strikes against the rocket launchers.”
Ah, yes. Human shields. During the carnage, our media and our politicians belted out the Israeli propaganda line that “barbaric” Hamas was using its own population as human shields. Instead, it turns out “the Mission investigated several incidents in which Israeli armed forces used local Palestinian residents to enter houses which might be booby trapped or harbour enemy combatants (this practice, known in the West Bank as “neighbour procedure”, was called “Johnnie procedure” during the military operations in Gaza).”
And so on and so forth.
Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel once before – from 1996 to 1999 – has had a history of scandal plague him in office, even an indictment for which he was later acquitted. Former Clinton White House Spokesman Joe Lockhart, in his book “The Truth About Camp David” calls the Israeli prime minister, “one of the most obnoxious individuals you’re going to come into – just a liar and a cheat. He could open his mouth and you could have no confidence that anything that came out of it was the truth.”
Netanyahu replaced former PM Ehud Olmert, who was brought down by corruption allegations, and indicted on three charges this past August. And that, just a month before former Israeli President Moshe Katsav’s trial for rape and other sex crimes got underway.
The apple is rotten at its core. The international community must turn the cries of “shame” back on Israel and its human rights record. And the US administration, which stands so staunchly behind Israel at every turn, must play fair with the Goldstone Report if it is to maintain any credibility in the Middle East as it attempts to launch yet another round of peace talks.
First published: October 1, 2009