Monday, October 1, 2007

Israel is Wrong. Period.

Friday's edition of Haaretz had a fascinating reportage by Gideon Levy, in his "Twilight Zone" series, from Nablus. Unfortunately, it's not available in English. (The original Hebrew travesty is here - and maybe, given it's viciousness, it's better for the world that it hasn't been translated).

However, his editors were so pleased with Levy's reportage that they gave him a spot to republish his story, admittedly in an abridged version, on the top of page 1 of the op-ed section - very choice publishing real estate. You can read the English version here.

A recap of the event: Levy is reporting from the so-called refugee camp near Nablus where an entire brigade of IDF infantry, hundreds of fighters, spent almost a week carefully identifying, fighting, and eventually arresting a very active cell of Hamas terrorists who had already smuggled a belt of explosives into Tev Aviv, had already designated the murderer who was to set it off, and were about to dispatch him; the soldiers also found and destroyed a weapons laboratory. All this took place during a battle: Palestinians were shooting at the Israelis, Israelis were shooting at the Palestinian fighters. The neighborhood was hostile to the Israelis. At the end of it all there were three dead Palestinians, and one dead Israeli (Benzion Hanemann, see my post about him here).

There is no other army on the planet capable of such a surgical operation, with such full operational success with such minimal loss of life. No, not the Americans nor the British in Iraq or Afghanistan. Nor is there any other army with such a determination to get its job done without collateral damage. And there never has been such an army in the past either - feel free to correct me in the comments and I'll retract my statement if needed, but I won't have to.

So, what does Levy do with this? He tells us about the physical damage. A building was destroyed. Was it the building with the weapons workshop? We don't know, because he forgets to mention that particular aspect of the operation. He tells about the pain in the faces of two children whose bicycles were destroyed in the battle, without telling us if the father or brother of the children had perhaps put the bicycles in the way of damage, say, by building a weapons lab in the same building, or perhaps shooting from its windows. The IDF didn't go to all the effort, and demolish one sole building in the entire area, just because it had bicycles parked in it. Finally, Levy warns us that by destroying the bicycles we have planted the seed of hate in the minds of two children, and this may one day come to haunt us, as happened also to the children of all the other 11 families whose apartments were in the same building. You see, if the IDF hadn't come by to stop those murderers, it would never have occurred to the children to hate Israel. Never.

I really am sorry Haaretz didn't put up the longer version of the report, which was far more damning, but you get the general picture.


Lydia McGrew said...

I can't bring myself to read it. That kind of thing makes me almost physically ill with fury.

I swear, there is _nothing_ the Israelis can do that is right. I realize that you had legitimate criticisms of last year's Lebanon war, but what upset me during that, among other things, was all the wailing about damage to infrastructure. Now, to me, the attitude behind that was just the bicycles in this article writ large. Basically, if Israel does anything to defend itself and any object--not a human being but any physical object that anyone at all values--gets knocked down or damaged, it's Oh So Horrible. How _dare_ you guys ever destroy a wall, a building, a bicycle, an airport runway? Even if there isn't a *single innocent human life* lost in the attempt to respond to explicitly civilian-targeting attacks from your enemies, it's gonna be, "Oooh, those horrid Israelis. They knocked down somebody's white picket fence!"

It makes me almost too angry to speak, it's so bizarre.

That being said, what I'd very much like to hear your take on is this weird story:

Somebody directed me to this Btselem site. Now, I'm able to figure out that these people are _way_ to the left and are calling for all manner of nonsense. The one that really got me going was the headline where they called on Israel to open the Gaza crossings to "all passenger traffic, regardless of political affiliations to Hamas." Y'know, belonging to Hamas is just a "political affiliation," like being a Republican or a Democrat in the U.S.! And so I don't consider them a credible source. I can imagine that they would accept uncritically any atrocity stories of police brutality and what-not from Palestinians without checking their credibility.

But this particular one is a pretty disturbing story. Do you think it's just manufactured out of whole cloth and handed to credulous human rights activists, or true, or what?

Yaacov said...

The link didnt work, for some reason, but I know B'Tselem, and I read some of their testimonies.
Past experience with them would indicate any of the following possibilities:
1. They're right. There have been precedents for this, and they do Israel a good service when they're a reliable watchdog. Which reminds me that I once wrote something about one of their sister organizations. Perhaps I'll dig around and post it here someday soon.
2. The facts are accurate but only part of the story, and the full story, were it to be told, would sound very different. And see Gideons Levy's report at the top of this post.
3. The facts are accurate but not really so bad. Some of these testimonies tell about the humiliation of forcing men to undress for searching, while women are checked only with metal detectors. Seems to me the humiliation is worth it if it works, and the calculated risk of not checking the women likewise. And it works: suicide attacks are drastically down, not becasue the Palestinians stopped hating us but because we learned how to thwart them (and so fewer Palestinians are getting killed, not only Israelis).
4. Someone is lying. I can tell from personal experience of cases where self-appointed Israeli wathdogs have done some creative directing of their own so as to tell a more compellng story; if so, what's the chance that they efficiently shoot down every tallish tale or elaboration that comes their way? Remember Jenin 2002, where this was going on on a massive level.
5. B'Tselem's record, by the way, has been a bit patchy over the years, meaning all of the above scenarios have happened to them. Which is too bad, because had they stuck to the first option they would have done a better job on the ground. But I suppose they'd have had a harder job, because there aren't all that many true cases to tell about, and undoubtedly they'd have had a greater challange with fundraising, not to mention with their ideology.

Lydia McGrew said...

I'm sorry about the link. I've had trouble getting back to their site, too. I appreciate the word on their patchy record. The story was a claim that seven Palestinians working without permits in the Beer Sheva area were arrested by Israeli police as they slept in the middle of the night, taken to the police station, and beaten horribly for hours, then forced to sign a confession to theft, for which they got three months in jail. That's the short version.

Now, I wouldn't think Israeli police would act this way. I would think they'd get in plenty of trouble for doing so. And (maybe this is naive) but if the men could support their claims with testimony from doctors who had treated them and so forth, wouldn't they have a court case? The story was detailed and disturbing, but I noticed that it said nothing about following up and checking with independent sources on whether this had happened. It bore a striking resemblance to stories one reads about police behavior in Arab countries, which could be an argument that it was a made-up story.

I think the headline is on the second page of their list of items.

It was interesting to me to note how many of their other stories were things that got a shrug from me. For example, "Man dies of a heart attack while soldiers hold up ambulance at a checkpoint." My feeling is, whose fault is that? The people who try to blow people up and make checkpoints necessary.

Yaacov said...

Palestinians working illegally in Israel being arrested at night is actually quite plausible. Systematic beatings are not, but a certain degree of roughness that could be interpreted differently by eacy side, is not impossible - especially if it's mutual or percieved as such. Three hour beatings and forced confessions sound pretty strange to me. What's the purpose? Once it's determined they're illegally in Israel, they get deported back to the West Bank. No additional confession are required.

Not having been there, I can't say anything more precise than that.