I have become weary of the dancing around by politicians and denial by Jewish organizations over what Israel has been doing to the Palestinians. That anyone can with a straight face deny that there is anything wrong with a nearly fifty year occupation and strangling of the Palestinians because they have been demonized as “terrorists” or possibly only because they are not Jews is abhorrent. A new United Nations report states that Gaza will be completely uninhabitable in five years. Palestinians get imprisoned by Israel and gassed or shot if they look sideways at their occupiers. Fanatical settlers tear up olive trees that have fed the locals for hundreds of years, steal their land, vandalize and burn their houses churches and mosques, even kill them and are only rarely pursued or punished. Israel is the ugly face of a fascist state and calling it apartheid is to minimize its criminality as it does not even necessarily seek to set up a parallel state for the Arabs it controls. A number of leading Israeli politicians and journalists seek to remove them completely.
All of that said, as a committed anti-interventionist, I have to believe both that what goes on between Israel and the Palestinians should pretty much be none of our business but for the fact that a powerful domestic lobby has forced us to be involved. Jews and Arabs probably would have resolved their differences by now if Washington had not coddled corrupt Palestinian leaders while simultaneously empowering Israel to make a lot of bad choices. To be sure our government should feel free to speak up whenever foreign governments behave badly, but the tendency to impose sanctions, which don’t work, intervene directly, or even invade to deal with regimes that do not conform to our standards has brought nothing but grief, most particularly over the past fifteen years. One might even reasonably argue that it is Washington’s lame brained interventions have themselves destabilized the Middle East and caused the terrorism and refugee problems emanating from that region to metastasize.
Which is not to say that Israeli politicians have not become adept at shooting themselves in their own feet before the court of world opinion, which is becoming increasingly engaged in what is going on. Just when one thinks that Benjamin Netanyahu cannot possibly morph into something more horrible he astounds the observer by doing just that.
Netanyahu’s most recent foray grew out of a late August incident on the West Bank. A series of photographs plus video footage from a protest in the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh appeared in the media. They showed a masked IDF soldier trying to arrest a young boy accused of throwing stones, followed by scenes of his mother and teenage sister trying to rescue him. The pictures and video reveal a crying and struggling 11 year old Mohammed Tamimi, with his broken arm in a cast, being held in a headlock and sat upon by the soldier, armed with an assault rifle. The boy’s mother then intervened, pulling on the mask while Mohammed’s 15 year old sister joined in to bite the soldier’s wrist, compelling him to free the boy. The soldier released him, backed off and then threw a grenade at the family.
Predictably, Israel’s apologists complained that the Palestinians had attacked the soldier who was only defending himself and they quickly flooded the social media with claims that it was all a set-up, which they even dubbed “Pallywood.” And inevitably Benjamin Netanyahu joined in the debate, blaming the Arabs for what transpired, calling them “terrorists.” He stated that he would recommend that Israeli soldiers be authorized to fire live rounds to protect themselves in similar situations where children are throwing rocks. Netanyahu was reportedly responding to demands from settlers for more aggressive action against Palestinians, completely ignoring the reality that the Arabs have been defending themselves from settler harassment and worse and the soldiers represent an occupying army. Some in the Israeli media and government also advised that as the soldier had been “humiliated” by the Palestinian women he should have shot them, but Bibi did not go quite that far. At least not yet.
In the United States the hasbara jumped on both stories, notably in comments sections on Yahoo and on other sites using constant repetition of the same arguments, often to include repeated misspellings and poor syntax suggesting that their “information” came from a common source in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The names the hasbara commenters use to post are characteristically American sounding, similar to the Anglo names used by employees of the obnoxious call centers in India and the Philippines when they interrupt you at dinner time. In the hasbara comments rocks thrown by the Palestinian children were repeatedly and improbably described as “football sized.” In other pushback, a Reuters account of the Netanyahu hard line, possibly acting under pressure from Jewish groups, changed the key word in its headline from “shoot” young Palestinians to “target” them.
But in this case, Benjamin Netanyahu’s horse has already left the stable. His new orders to shoot Palestinian children have been de facto operational for some time with punishments rarer than hens’ teeth for those Israeli Defense Forces commandoes who pull their triggers on six year olds. That kind of killing has been almost routine, exhibited dramatically during last July’s execution of four young boys playing soccer on a beach in Gaza. The boys were killed by Israeli rockets in full sight of a number of international and media observers. The Israeli government subsequently conducted an “extensive investigation” that nevertheless did not interview many eye witnesses, to include a Guardian journalist. Not surprisingly it absolved itself from blame for the deaths.
And beyond that singular bit of barbarity, numerous other Palestinian children have also been abducted, imprisoned and murdered by the Israeli Army and border police. International monitors reckon that 2,061 Palestinian children have been killed by Israel since September 2000 versus 133 Israeli children murdered in the same time frame by Palestinians. The body count is deplorable on either side but at some point Netanyahu has to come to recognize that the constant barrage of videos, photos and eyewitness testimony recording the mindless brutality of the occupation of the West Bank will influence public opinion to such an extent that Israel will become everyone’s pariah state.
Recently more than 100,000 Britons signed a petititon demanding that Benjamin Netanyahu be arrested for war crimes on an upcoming visit to the UK while Israel’s resistance to the Iranian nuclear deal, when subjected to a United Nations vote, resulted in Tel Aviv lining up against the entire rest of the world including the United States. Pictures of children being manhandled by two hundred pound soldiers create a lasting impression, one that inevitably influences how people react when the subject of Israel comes up. Netanyahu may think that he can maintain course forever with the uncritical backing of the United States but forever is a long time and even in the U.S. things can change.