“Whoever approaches Zionism from a moral aspect is not a Zionist,” Israel’s first prime minister once lectured colleagues queasy about the Jewish state’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Today, Israel’s leaders require no such admonitions about eschewing moral concerns. But they do recognize a public-relations problem when they see one.
The attack on Lebanon is just such a problem. Time and time again, Israeli airstrikes have furnished the world with images of Arab civilians liberated from life and limb. On highways and under rubble, dead cake-faced men, women, and children lie kissed by the cosmetics of Israeli precision. For Israelis, this should present no real threat to the nation’s claims to self defense — we are after all only speaking of Arabs, one million of whom “do not equal a Jewish fingernail” according to the rabbi who presided over the funeral of Israel’s settler hero Baruch Goldstein.
But the rest of world — America excluded — operates under a different metric. It is well-aware that, while around 35 Israeli civilians have been killed by Hebzollah’s rockets, anywhere between 600 and 900 Lebanese civilians have been felled by Israeli bombardment, and almost a million more have been forced to flee their destroyed neighborhoods under desperate circumstances. Animated by this suffering, people of conscience have come to look at Israel’s paeans to self-defense as increasingly jarring and grotesque.
Enter the pro-Israel propaganda apparatus. In order to preserve the image of Israel’s “moral purity,” Israel’s top officials and leading sycophants have devised a complex — and highly revealing — set of rationalizations for the mounting number of Arab corpses.
Phase one of Operation Israeli Innocence could well be summed up in three words: “Hezbollah did it.”
That was the argument advanced by Israel’s most polished defender in America, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz. After the Qana massacre. Dershowitz argued, “By launching rockets at Israeli civilians within yards of a building filled with refugees, Hezbollah had induced Israel to make a terrible mistake. Its defensive rocket had missed the Hezbollah launchers and hit the civilian building.” He then intoned, “As Israelis wept in grief over the deaths of the Lebanese children, Hezbollah leaders celebrated. . . .” Dershowitz’s assertions continued to pile up almost as quickly as Arab bodies: Hezbollah “prevented” civilians from leaving, it “refused” to build civilians shelters, it “knew” they would die, and so on.
Perhaps Dershowitz was channeling Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, who let loose his theories on the Security Council just a day earlier: “I would not be surprised if Hezbollah made [the victims] stay. We are dealing with a ruthless, cynical, cruel enemy, one of the most monstrous terror organizations that this world has ever known.”
Israel’s outsourcing of blame for its own bombings flowed onto the pages of its most “cosmopolitan” daily, Ha’aretz. Commentator Nadav Shragai opined, “In the tragic events of Qana, Hezbollah intentionally set itself up in the heart of civilians, thereby deliberately creating the conditions that led to the disaster.” The self-righteous conclusion followed predictably: “Hezbollah, like Palestinian terror, harms women and children with malice in a systematic fashion. We do it rarely and by mistake.”
A smart maneuver by Israel’s public-relations machine: feigned concern and compassion for the victims, with blame assigned to those clever and perfidious Arab terrorists.
There is, however, one slight problem with the “Hezbollah did it” line: Hezbollah didn’t. Israel’s military investigation into Qana revealed that — lo and behold — “the military had no information on rockets launched from the site of the building, or the presence there of Hezbollah men at the time.” The bombed site was “included in an IAF plan to strike at several buildings in proximity to a previous launching site,” but “there were no rocket launches from Qana on the day of the strike.” In one swift blow, then, Dershowitz’s assertions about Qana collapsed like a Lebanese apartment bloc: the Israelis didn’t “miss” Hezbollah launchers, they targeted the building; Hezbollah didn’t “induce” the Israelis to fire, it was not even present.
Finally on the Qana question, survivors themselves exploded the cynical conspiracy theories hatched by Israel’s apologists. They unanimously explained to reporters that they were not “forced” to stay in the building by Hezbollah, but rather hemmed in by Israeli airstrikes, which had destroyed key bridges, thereby cutting off all practical exit routes. Furthermore, survivors said, Israeli drones had been visible in the immediate area the past few days. So how was it possible that Israel did not know civilians were here — and that militants were not?
Placing Qana aside and surveying the more general scene in Lebanon, the elegies Israel sings to itself about “rarely” and “accidentally” killing civilians still do not square with the facts. Peter Bouckaert, a veteran observer with the well-known Human Rights Watch stationed in Lebanon, recently wrote, “Time after time, Israel has hit civilian homes and cars in the southern border zone, killing dozens of people with no evidence of any military objective.” Citing an “overflowing” list of Israeli attacks on civilians with no militants nearby, Bouckaert stated, “Israel is prefabricating excuses to justify killing civilians. . . . The unacceptably high death toll is the natural result of Israel’s failure to distinguish between civilian and military targets, and Israel is responsible for the deaths.”
In the formal Human Rights Watch report just released, observers found no evidence of Hezbollah activity in the 24 examples of Israeli killing documented by the organization: “[T]he location of Hezbollah troops and arms had nothing to do with the [civilian] deaths because there was no Hezbollah around.” These findings would not surprise Lebanese Red Cross drivers, the top of whose trucks, emblazoned with the cross symbol, have literally been used as targeting reticules by the world’s “most moral army.” Nor would the findings surprise the relatives of the increasing number of Arab dead –such as the 33 farm workers recently slaughtered while carrying fruit near a bridge. And they would certainly come as no shock to the residents of Christian sections of Beirut, where Israeli bombs now fall and where Hezbollah does not even dream of operating.
Even as a hypothetical, the mere presence of this or that Hezbollah figure can never justify Israel’s wholesale killing of civilians: Since it is perfectly clear that Israel kills civilians on purpose, it is equally clear that it will use the presence of fighters anywhere as an excuse to kill civilians it would have murdered anyway.
Let us sum up the result: Phase One of Operation Israeli Innocence is a transparent lie. Haaretz’s moral midget, Nadav “We do it rarely and by mistake” Shragai, cannot escape the ineluctable conclusion: Israel kills civilians — “with malice and in a systematic fashion.” Alan Dershowitz, favorite lawyer of guilty parties everywhere — Israel included — can narrate his fairytales about imaginary Israelis “weeping” over Lebanese deaths, but the record shows the only tears Israel produces are the ones seared into the flesh of its innocent victims.
No matter. Israel’s advocates are not impeded by road bumps like contradictory evidence, so Operation Israeli Innocence continues into its more sinister stage, Phase Two. If the first phase was an argument that Hezbollah use civilians as human shields, the second phase posits that civilians use Hezbollah as human shields. In Phase Two, the Arab civilians no longer appear as mere pitiful creatures abused by evil terrorists; they are an active and complicit component of the terror, hiding behind a false civilian label. This phase can be whittled down to two words: “what civilians?”
Such was the position adopted by Israel’s “justice” minister Haim Ramon, who said on July 28, “All those now in south Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hezbollah.” Thus was any Arab too old, too sick, too poor — or anyone else simply unable to hitch a magic carpet ride over bridges and roads destroyed by Israel — declared a target. Thus was the groundwork for Qana and dozens of mini-Qanas deliberately prepared all across the South.
Ramon’s pining for pulverizing all the Arabs — civilians be damned — is shared by other Israeli leaders. The same Dan Gillerman who tried to scapegoat Hezbollah for Qana told a pro-Israel rally on July 17 that Israel was “damn right” to use disproportionate force. The reason for his enthusiasm was clear: at an AIPAC conference this March, he told his fawning audience of bigoted and powerful right-wing Jews and Christians that while it was “probably” or really only “maybe true” that “not all Muslims are terrorists,” it was clear that “nearly all terrorists are Muslim.” Therefore the only people who would be subject to Israel’s overwhelming brutality would “probably” be “terrorists” — Muslims.
Of course, racism and hatred against Arabs is not merely an Israeli affair. On July 25, prominent Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen applauded the idea of “punching out the lights” of the Lebanese in his newspaper. In a crucial sentence, he wrote, “The only way to ensure that babies don’t die in their cribs and old people in the streets is to make the Lebanese or the Palestinians understand that if they, no matter how reluctantly, host those rockets, they will pay a very, very steep price.”
Here are several layers of transparently fascist thinking to peel away. First, even though Cohen was obviously referring to Israeli babies and old people, he did not even bother to insert the term “Israeli” in his sentence. In Cohen’s world, there are no Arab babies or old people, or humans at all — only “terrorists.” Second, since Cohen uses only the broadest terms — “the Lebanese” and “the Palestinians” — what Cohen means by “hosting” rockets is nothing more than this: those firing rockets are Arabs, everyone else around them is Arab, therefore, they are “hosts” and subject to liquidation. Third, Cohen’s concern about rockets, combined with his utter disregard for Israel’s much more murderous missiles, exposes his self-absorbed, racist mindset. And fourth, the “very, very steep price” which Cohen demands the Lebanese and Palestinian people should pay is the Israeli brutality he openly endorses in all his columns — the murder of hundreds of Palestinians and Lebanese, their displacement, and the annihilation of their neighborhoods.
The purpose of this kind of formulation, widely shared among Jewish and Christian Zionists in America along with their Israeli counterparts, is perfectly clear. While Phase One was about passing off blame for atrocities, Phase Two represents a seamless transition meant to justify the ethnic cleansing of Lebanon — the end goal to be achieved by means of the very atrocities Phase One was designed to explain away. The deliberate targeting of civilians, combined with the quasi-halt to aerial bombardment following Qana, expedited the Shiite exodus. Since 900,000 Shiite Lebanese have fled the South in response to the continuous murders from above, Israeli forces are now contemplating an advance to the Litani — though they are currently caught worrying and wondering whether the surprising level of Hezbollah resistance will hand them a 2006 version of 1982-2000.
The final confirmation of this analysis comes in the form of an open — we will not say shocking — boast from Israel’s prime minister on August 2: “All of the population, which is the power base of the Hezbollah in Lebanon was displaced. They lost their property, they lost their positions, they are bitter, they are angry at the Hezbollah.” Quite apart from Olmert’s surreal miscalculation about support for Hezbollah, which registers at about 87% in polls across all lines, he has openly admitted to striking at civilians in order to obtain political results. That is the very definition of terrorism and a war crime under international law.
The most noteworthy aspect of Phase Two logic is that it can stand in front of a mirror and stare at Osama bin Laden. The Islamic fundamentalism supposedly abhorred by the present lot of “Judeo-Christian” war hawks rationalizes the killing of civilians by arguing that said civilians pay tax dollars and vote for the leaders who order atrocities against Muslims. According to the logic of those who back the Lebanon campaign, all Shiites, if not all Lebanese, are responsible for the actions of one militia, Hezbollah, and must therefore “pay a very, very steep price.” The Richard Cohens and Ehud Olmerts of the world, who like to blow up bridges and buildings of civilians supposedly because of possible militiamen, can locate their ideological counterparts in Al-Qaeda, who argue 9-11 was justified because the towers housed military intelligence offices.
Despite this ideological barbarism, and despite the brazen arrogance with which Israel’s campaign of murder, lies, cover-up, and occupation is being conducted, it is unlikely to rouse much protest in America, even though the entire game is supported and perhaps directed by the United States. Emotional extortion conflating criticism of Israeli barbarity with anti-Semitism, a shared fear and hatred of all things Arab and Muslim, a similar heritage of colonizing the land and killing off the natives, a feeling of white superiority, Christian and Jewish — all these elements bind Israel and America in the minds of many, consciously and subconsciously.
However, as recent events have shown all too vividly, the Muslim world is not made up of mice. In fits and starts, it is awakening from a state of paralysis, submission, and somnolence dating back 300 years. That realization must have certainly passed through the mind of Hezbollah’s leader when he issued a warning in a recent speech — one validated by his organization’s ability to throw up fierce resistance in the face of impossible odds, though ignored by nervous men in Tel Aviv and even more nervous eunuchs in puppet Arab capitals who are now fretting over all their missteps:
Not only we will be paying a price. Not only our houses will be destroyed. Not only our children will be killed. Not only our people will be displaced. Those days are past. . . .
You don’t know today whom you’re fighting. You are fighting the children of Muhammad, of Ali, of al-Hasan, of al-Husayn, of the Prophet’s family, the Prophet’s Companions. You are fighting a people who have faith such as no one else on the face of the earth possesses. And you have chosen open warfare with a people who take pride in their history, their civilization, and their culture, and who also possess material power, ability, expertise, knowledge, calm, imagination, determination, steadfastness, and courage. In the coming days it will be between us and you, God willing.
M. Junaid Alam is a senior journalism student at Northeastern University, who co-founded and co-edited the left-wing youth journal Left Hook (www.lefthook.org) which ran from November 2003 to March 2006. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.