[News] Israeli Myths - Deception as a Way of Life

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Thu Aug 31 11:50:08 EDT 2006


http://www.counterpunch.org/

August 31, 2006


Deception as a Way of Life


Israeli Myths

By JONATHAN COOK

Nazareth.

In a state established on a founding myth -- that the native 
Palestinian population left of their own accord rather than that they 
were ethnically cleansed -- and in one that seeks its legitimacy 
through a host of other lies, such as that the occupation of the West 
Bank is benign and that Gaza's has ended, deception becomes a 
political way of life.

And so it is in the "relative calm" that has followed Israel's 
month-long pounding of Lebanon, a calm in which Israelis may no 
longer be dying but the Lebanese most assuredly are as explosions of 
US-made cluster bombs greet the south's returning refugees and the 
anonymous residents of Gaza perish by the dozens each and every week 
under the relentless and indiscriminate strikes of the Israeli air 
force while the rest slowly starve in their open-air prison.

Israeli leaders deceive as much in "peace" as they do in war, which 
is why it is worth examining the slow trickle of disinformation 
coming from Tel Aviv and reflecting on where it is leading.

Many of Israel's war lies have already been deeply implanted in 
Western consciousness by the media:

* that Hizbullah "started" the war by capturing two Israeli soldiers 
rather than that Israel maintained a hostile and provocative posture 
for the previous six years by daily sending its warplanes and spy 
drones into Lebanese airspace;

* that Hizbullah's launching of rockets into Israel was an act of 
aggression, even though they were fired after, and in response to, 
Israel's massive bombing of civilian areas in Lebanon;

* that Hizbullah, unlike Israel, used the local civilian populaton as 
human shields, even though Israel's continual and comprehensive 
aerial spying on south Lebanon produced almost no evidence of this;

* that Hizbullah, not Israel, targeted civilians, despite a death 
toll that suggests the exact opposite;

* and that Hizbullah's arming by Iran is entirely illegitimate, even 
though the weapons were used to defend Lebanon from a long-prepared 
Israeli attack, while Israel has an absolute and unchallengeable 
right to receive its arsenal from the US, even though those armaments 
have been used offensively, mostly against Lebanese and Palestinian 
civilian populations.

Similar deceptions are now being sown after the fighting.

For example, it now appears to be accepted wisdom that Hizbullah's 
rocket attacks on Israel led to one million Israelis being made 
refugees. The most senior commentator with Israel's Haaretz 
newspaper, Yoel Marcus, made exactly this point the other day in an 
op-ed in Britain's Guardian newspaper, when he observed that "about a 
million Israeli refugees" had been forced to leave the north. Marcus 
appears to take an extremely liberal view of the meaning of the word "about".

In fact, it is impossible that one million Israelis could have been 
made refugees, as a quick calculation proves. There are approximately 
1.2 million Israelis living in the north, with the population divided 
equally between Jewish and Arab citizens. Hardly any Arabs left the 
north during the Hizbullah rocket attacks, either through a residual 
fear that their homes might be taken by the state, as were those of 
Palestinians who fled or were terrorised away during the 1948 war, or 
because they had nowhere else to go. Most assumed, probably rightly, 
that the Jewish population in the country's centre would not welcome 
them as refugees.

It is also reported that 300,000 Israelis sought sanctuary in bomb 
shelters. Such shelters were open only in the north, and do not exist 
in the country's Arab areas, so those using the shelters must have 
been <http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0745325556/counterpunchmaga>
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the north's Jewish citizens. Which means that if 300,000 of the 
600,000 Jews in northern Israel were in shelters, there can have been 
at most -- assuming all other Israeli Jews fled -- 300,000 refugees.

Why does Marcus want us to believe that one million Israelis were 
turned out their homes? Because it helps Israel portray the threat 
posed by Hizbullah in a more terrifying light and because it makes 
more convincing the claim that Israelis suffered as much as the 
Lebanese, one million of whom really did end up as refugees.

It also conveniently glosses over the fact that most of the 300,000 
(or fewer) Israeli "refugees" were staying with relatives or friends 
100km or so further south in spare rooms and out of harm's way. They 
were not, as were the Lebanese, fleeing for their lives -- their 
convoys under fire from warplanes -- and living in the open air 
without shelter, food or water and still within range of missile attacks.

Outside of Kiryat Shmona, close to the border with Lebanon, almost 
all of Israel's "refugees" returned to untouched homes, whereas tens 
of thousands of Lebanon's refugees have found their houses turned to 
rubble, and amid that rubble cluster bombs that threaten to kill and maim them.

But again, that is not what the Israeli government wants us to 
believe, which is why it published a report this week claiming that 
12,000 buildings had been damaged by Hizbullah rocket attacks. That 
seems a strangely large figure given that the Israeli army says only 
4,000 rockets were fired into Israel and that a substantial 
proportion supposedly landed in open ground. The same report also 
says more than 400 bush fires were started by the rockets.

So how and why did the government reach the figure of 12,000 
buildings? That would mean that each rocket that hit a structure 
damaged at least another three buildings. Anyone who has seen the 
destruction inflicted by a Katyusha rocket (Hizbullah's main weapon) 
will known that it does little more than punch a hole in whatever 
surface it hits. The spray of shrapnel, however, does minor damage to 
neighbouring structures (though much worse harm to human beings), 
such as piercing the rendering on homes or breaking windows. In other 
words, most of those 12,000 "structures" -- and of course none of us 
can know what Israeli officials are including as a structure 
(individual apartments, garages, dog kennels?) -- suffered minor 
damage that can be fixed in an afternoon.

So why the need to promote that inflated number? Because Hizbullah is 
reporting that 15,000 buildings were destroyed: that is, wrecked 
beyond repair by Israel's missile attacks. As is the tradition in 
Arab society, many of those several-storey buildings were home to 
multiple families, meaning that probably many more "homes" than 
15,000 have been destroyed. Some Lebanese sources estimate that more 
than 100,000 homes have been ruined. But for Israel the goal is to 
make it look as though its own people's suffering is the same as that 
of the Lebanese.

Interestingly, the estimates of economic damage inflicted on Lebanon 
by Israel's onslaught stand at about $5 billion, a figure which again 
Israel says neatly fits with its own assessments of its losses. It 
seems that each time one of those American-supplied munitions was 
dropped it did as much harm to Israel's defence budget as it did to 
the place where it exploded. The point presumably is that, if and 
when the reparations account is being settled, Israel will claim its 
own losses cancel out those of Lebanon's.

Many of Israel's deceptions are also being used domestically to 
determine who will benefit -- and who will be excluded -- from the 
government's largesse as it plans the north's "reconstruction". No 
suprises about which way the wind is blowing.

Government ministers, for example, have been claiming in the war's 
aftermath that Arab -- not Jewish -- municipal leaders fled from 
their communities to avoid the rocket fire. For example, after a tour 
of the north, the interior minister, Ronnie Bar-On, argued that the 
failings in some towns and villages to cope with the war stemmed from 
the fact that local leaders "ran away, at the highest levels". Asked 
to name the mayors and local councillors who had fled, Bar-On would 
only say: "Those people I am referring to I can say that in their 
towns I saw no synagogues."

Why make this claim, even though all the evidence suggests that the 
Arab populations of the north stayed put during the fighting while, 
as we have seen, a large number of Jewish citizens did flee? There 
are two reasons.

First, the government has been embarrassed by reports that nearly 
half of the civilians killed by rockets were Arab, and by suggestions 
that the reasons for this were the state's long-standing failure to 
protect Arab communities by building public bomb shelters, providing 
air raid sirens and disseminating advice from the civil defence 
authorities in Arabic. Better to shift the blame on to their elected leaders.

And second, the government is amassing huge sums of money for the 
reconstruction effort from Jewish groups in America and Europe and is 
looking for an excuse not to fund work in Arab communities. Another 
senior politician, Effi Eitam, leader of the National Religious 
Party, has accused Arab authorities of "pretending to be deprived". 
The north's Arabs will most likely be cut out of tasting the 
reconstruction pie. Certainly there is no discussion of building 
public bomb shelters for Arab towns, even though few in Israel appear 
to believe the ceasefire with Hizbullah will hold long.

Similarly, the environment minister Gideon Ezra has stated that Arab 
communities in the north should not receive money to rehabilitate 
their separate and grossly deprived education system, on the grounds 
that during the war "the residents there behaved as per usual, as if 
nothing had happened" -- a reference that sounds like they are being 
penalised because they did not flee. His reasoning appears popular, 
among the public and in the cabinet, because Arab citizens generally 
opposed Israel's war.

A related deception being promoted by the government is that it is 
committed to compensating workers and businesses in the north who 
lost income during the war. But the list drawn up by the finance 
ministry of areas eligible for compensation reveals that all Arab 
communities have been excluded, apart from four Druze villages (the 
Druze serve in the army and are treated by Israel as a national group 
separate from the rest of the Arab population). Most of the money, 
millions of dollars, is being made available only to Jewish citizens, 
even though Arab citizens comprise half the population of the north. 
What a contrast to Hizbullah's non-discriminatory policy of 
compensating all Lebanese harmed by the fighting, whether from its 
own Shia community or Christian, Druze and Sunni Muslims.

(Incidentally, according to Haaretz, in one court case being brought 
by an Arab engineer from the village of Fassouta who, unlike his 
Jewish colleagues, is being denied compensation for loss of income 
during the war, it is noted that he could not leave his home because 
the Israeli army was firing artillery batteries stationed on the edge 
of the village. So much for Israel's argument, adopted by the United 
Nation's representative Jan Egeland, that only Hizbullah was using 
civilians as human shields!)

Israel's post-war deceptions, of course, embrace the Palestinians 
living under occupation too. Yuval Diskin, head of the Shin Bet 
secret service, is claiming that, inspired by the success of 
Hizbullah, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are turning Rafah into "the 
garden of Eden of weapons smuggling". Apparently Israel knows about 
15,000 guns, 4 million bullets, 38 rockets, 10-15 Katyusha rockets, 
and dozens of anti-tank missiles that have entered Gaza through the 
Rafah crossing in the past year. Israel believes that just about 
everything bar tanks and planes is coming across the short border 
with Egypt it still controls. In a few years, says Diskin, Israel 
will face the same situation in Gaza as in south Lebanon. We will 
just have to take his word for that.

But there is a problem. Since November 2005, say human rights groups, 
the Rafah crossing has been almost continuously shut. Those weapons 
must have been smuggled in a stampede on the day or two when the 
crossing was open.

Further doubt is cast on Diskin's claims by a report in Haaretz this 
week that the blanket closure of Rafah crossing has continued since 
one of Israel's soldiers was captured by Palestinian fighters two 
months ago. The reason for the crossing's closure, recommended by 
Shin Bet, is also noted by Haaretz -- and it has nothing to do with 
weapons smuggling. The blockade was imposed as a way to put pressure 
on the Palestinians to release the Israeli soldier, a form of 
collective punishment illegal under international law.

Diskin's comparisons between developments in Gaza and south Lebanon 
are at best fanciful. How Gaza's resistance fighters will be able to 
build hundreds of underground bunkers in the Strip's flat, sandy 
terrain unknown to Israel as its planes and tanks freely roam the 
area, and as Military Intelligence operates its network of 
collaborators, is not explained. But Diskin's conclusions presumably 
will be used to justify Israel's continuing assaults on Gaza's 
civilian population. Better, the argument will go, not to wait to be 
caught out as in Lebanon.

The biggest deception of all, however, relates to the reasons for 
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's decision this week to reject the 
establishment of an independent commission of inquiry, headed by a 
judge, that would have been free to investigate all aspects of the 
war. Instead Olmert has set up two separate internal committees of 
investigation, one to examine government decision-making and the 
other the army's conduct. (A third watchdog body, under the 
government's state comptroller, is supposed to look at failings in 
civil defence.)

Most Israelis are deeply unhappy about what one commentator has 
called Olmert's "committee of non-inquiry". Separate investigations 
mean that the remit of each committee will be very narrow, focusing 
on technical issues and failings, and unable to look at the wider picture.

The members of the committee who will be investigating Olmert have 
been handpicked by him. All the judges approached to head the 
committee turned down the offer, as did the country's foremost 
constitutional law expert, Amnon Rubinstein, apparently aware that 
being party to a whitewash would permanently tarnish his reputation.

It will now be led by a former head of Mossad, Israel's international 
spy agency. Observers have speculated that 77-year-old Nahum Admoni's 
room for criticising the government will be extremely limited, given 
that he himself was admonished by the Kahan Commission of Inquiry 
that in 1982 investigated Israel's role in the massacre of 
Palestinian civilians in the Lebanese refugee camps of Sabra and 
Shatilla. Admoni failed to give "an unequivocal warning about the 
danger entailed in the Phalangists' entry into the camps" that 
resulted in the slaughter of more than 1,000 Palestinians. Mossad was 
keenly involved with the Christian Phalangists, attempting to install 
them in power as a puppet regime.

Kahan took no action against Admoni, however, because he -- like 
Olmert now -- had only recently taken up his job. It will be hard for 
Admoni to treat Olmert more harshly than Kahan treated him two decades ago.

Why would Olmert want a discredited committee rather than a proper 
commission of inquiry, especially if, as he claims, the reason 
against the latter is that it will take years to report? By then, he 
may be out of office and never have to face the fall-out. The 
official reason, according to Olmert, is that such a delay would 
paralyse the army. But most commissions of inquiry have produced 
interim reports, making recommendations for reforms, within a few 
months and have then taken their time to produce a final report.

Other factors are at play, relating to the past and the future. The 
obvious one is that a powerful commission would almost certainly 
investigate the six-year build-up to the war following Israel's 
withdrawal from south Lebanon. There is a real danger that its 
investigations might throw an uncomfortable light on Israel's motives 
for continuing provocative overflights by its war planes in Lebanon; 
on its refusal to hand over the maps of the minefields it planted in 
south Lebanon during its two decades of occupation; on its refusal to 
release the last remaining Lebanese prisoners in its jails, thereby 
perpetuating a state of hostilities; and its refusal to negotiate 
with Lebanon and Syria about an end to its occupation of the Golan 
Heights and with it a resolution of the disputed status of the 
corridor of land known as the Shebaa Farms, which Lebanon claims.

But there is an even bigger threat posed by the establishment of a 
commission. It might unearth evidence that the war against Lebanon 
was long planned, that it had nothing to do with the capture of two 
soldiers on the border, that it was coordinated with the United 
States, and that its ultimate goal was an attack on Iran.

Olmert, and Israel's political and military leaders, do not need 
another Kahan Commission -- or another embarrassment like its 
findings about Israel's involvement with the Sabra and Shatilla 
massacre. Israel needs a free hand to strike unchallenged when the 
next stage of the war on terror takes shape. Olmert admitted as much 
in his coded observation that a commission of inquiry would distract 
from the central goal: "to focus on the future and the Iranian threat".

A clue where Israel might be heading next emerged this week when 
Olmert's trusted international ambassador, Shimon Peres, "revealed" 
that Iran is trying to transfer its nuclear know-how to terrorist 
organisations. Peres did not name Hizbullah but it is only time 
before the link is made and a new casus belli established.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. 
He is the author of the forthcoming 
"<http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0745325556/counterpunchmaga>Blood 
and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State" 
published by Pluto Press, and available in the United States from the 
University of Michigan Press. His website is 
<http://www.jkcook.net/>www.jkcook.net


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