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The following is my latest piece for Al Jazeera.
Lima, Peru – Last week, Israel’s High Court voted to uphold a law denying Israeli citizenship or residency not only to Palestinians married to Israeli Arabs, but also to spouses of similarly distasteful nationality (Lebanese, Iraqi, etc).
I read the news of the court verdict on the Haaretz website, where it was offset by another breaking headline of a more compassionate nature: “Serbian vulture set free after treatment at Israeli veterinary hospital”.
According to the article:
The vulture was found injured at Kibbutz Lehavot Habashan in northern Israel, and was rushed to an Israeli veterinary hospital specializing in wild animals. There, the bird was diagnosed with multiple gunshot wounds.
Following two months of treatment, the vulture was set free. The Serbian embassy in Tel Aviv was reportedly “delighted to hear about the bird’s recovery, and Serbian diplomats attended the release of the Serbian ‘patient’ back into the wild”. Haaretz offered the following assessment:
Flying in the Middle East can be perilous for the scavenger birds, as they are sometime [sic] shot by people ignoring the international treaties protecting these birds.
As for other creatures imperiled by ignorance of international treaties, these might include Palestinian populations regularly subjected to collective punishment in violation of the Geneva Conventions. The inferior urgency of Palestinian medical conditions vis-a-vis avian ones is additionally underscored by the Israeli tradition of firing missiles at Palestinian ambulances, as well as by Haaretz headlines such as “IDF investigating death of diabetic Palestinian delayed at checkpoint” and “Palestinians: Ailing woman dies after IDF denies her ambulance”.
From the point of view of the rational world, today is the one-year anniversary of the IDF commando massacre of 9 Turkish humanitarian activists on board the Mavi Marmara, part of the aid flotilla endeavoring to peacefully break the siege of Gaza.
From the point of view of the Israeli regime, by contrast, today is the one-year anniversary of the violent attack by humanitarian activists on board the Mavi Marmara against IDF commandos endeavoring to peacefully descend upon the aid ship while firing bullets. The activists died because they wanted to accrue headlines for their cause, not because the commandos killed them.
In support of the latter version of events, the Israeli Foreign Ministry dutifully uploaded a photo series entitled “Weapons found on Mavi Marmara” to its Flickr account in the aftermath of the attack, featuring snapshots of marbles, keffiyehs, binoculars, and a metal pail. An image of slingshots colorfully decorated with stars and the label “Hizbullah” is specified as having been taken on February 7, 2006—i.e. over four years prior to being discovered on the Mavi Marmara.
With the release of the first part of the report from its investigation into the May 2010 attack on the humanitarian aid flotilla en route to Gaza—in which nine Turkish activists were murdered by IDF commandos—the Israeli Turkel Commission has underscored Israel’s capacity for democratic introspection.
The commission’s findings include that the commandos in question acted in self-defense and that the Israeli blockade of Gaza is not in contravention of international law. According to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the report proves that Israel is “a law-abiding country”.
I’ve made a short list of ideas for possible commissions in other countries interested in attaining a similar status:
1. The United States.
Commission to investigate inordinate number of civilian casualties of U.S. drone attacks on Pakistan.
Possible conclusion: Drones were acting in self-defense.
Two years have passed since Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s 22-day war on Gaza that began on 27 December 2008 and resulted in over 1400 Palestinian deaths. At the time, Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy noted the ironic application of the term “war”—defined by the Even-Shoshan dictionary as “an armed clash between armies, a conflict between state bodies (nations, states) in battle operations with the use of weapons and by force of arms”—to a situation in which only one of the sides possesses a state, an army, and a senior military officer who describes the conflict as “a superb call-up and training exercise”.
Reviewing the various advantages of invoking the lexicon of war, Levy wrote:
War makes it possible to mobilize, call to the flag and unite the ranks of the [Israeli] people, which most of the time are more interested in the seacoast of [the Turkish resort city of] Antalya than in any West Bank outpost. Only in war are we permitted to have media that sound more like the briefing room of the IDF Spokesman. In war, propaganda is all right. Using the word ‘war’ also validates war crimes, which might be prohibited in just a plain operation. If it’s war, then let’s go all the way: white phosphorus shells in the streets and artillery against population shelters; hundreds of women and children killed; strikes against rescue units and supply services. Hey, this is war, right?”
Today marks the two-year anniversary of the start of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, a 22-day onslaught in which Palestinian civilians perished at a rate of approximately 400: 1 vis-à-vis their Israeli counterparts.
I happened to be in Argentina during this particular conflict and was thus able to monitor how well the Israeli embassy and Jewish organizations in Buenos Aires complied with the orders from acting Israeli Prime Minister Tzipi Livni, who had called for an intensified global public relations campaign in order to counteract the fact that “[u]nfortunately, some of the world’s decision makers are swayed by public opinion and the media”. In response to a march in Buenos Aires in support of the Palestinians being slaughtered in Gaza, a pro-Israel “counter-march” was promptly organized. Defying the traditional definition of “march”, it consisted of a closed-to-the-public meeting at the AMIA Jewish cultural association—site of a deadly bombing in 1994, the alleged Iranian perpetration of which Israel insists on passing off as fact, presumably in order to justify a disproportionate response at some point in the future. Parts of the meeting were televised, such as the speech by Israeli ambassador to Argentina Daniel Gazit in which he claimed that, had the IDF done even one-fourth or one-eighth of what the world had accused it of doing in Gaza, the war would have been won in a day.
As we approach the two-year anniversary of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, I have been thinking about potential names for a strike on Iran.
But first a word on the naming process from Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev, who was quoted in Haaretz last year registering his distaste for “Cast Lead”. Apparently the loveliness of the operation’s Hebrew name—adapted from a poem about Hanukkah dreidels—gets lost in translation:
The Israel Defense Forces chooses its names by some computer or by some system which I don’t understand. And the truth is that the Hebrew name Oferet Yetzuka sounds lovely. It’s the translation into English which sounds inappropriate”.
Traveling in south Lebanon in the wake of the July War of 2006, I often acquired water bottles with labels depicting the variety of unexploded cluster munitions that one should keep an eye out for when walking in certain areas, such as in one’s yard.
Thanks to the state of Israel, it was thus possible to engage in the fundamental life process of hydration while simultaneously contemplating the sudden termination of all such processes. As for other regional water-related Israeli operations, these have enabled affected populations to not hydrate themselves.
It is the recent visit to south Lebanon by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, however, that has been classified as intentionally provocative by the United States and Israel, despite the fact that the visit included the United Nations compound in the village of Qana where 106 Lebanese civilians were massacred by the Israeli military in 1996.