Saturday, January 24, 2009
In Israel, detachment from reality is now the norm
Patrick Cockburn, The Independent: On returning to Jerusalem 10 years after I was stationed there as The Independent's correspondent between 1995 and 1999 I find that Israel has changed significantly for the worse. There is far less dissent than there used to be and such dissent is more often treated as disloyalty. Israeli society was always introverted but these days it reminds me more than ever of the Unionists in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s or the Lebanese Christians in the 1970s. Like Israel, both were communities with a highly developed siege mentality which led them always to see themselves as victims even when they were killing other people. There were no regrets or even knowledge of what they inflicted on others and therefore any retaliation by the other side appeared as unprovoked aggression inspired by unreasoning hate.
The Independent: The sight that greeted Mahmoud, 20, is one which will presumably haunt him for the rest of his life. The rest of his family had been eating lunch in one of the rooms but when they first heard shooting had moved -- fatally -- into the hallway for safety. The corpse of his 45 year old tenant farmer father Sadallah, directly hit from a shell -- one of three all the family say arrived in quick succession -- was, Mahmoud said, 'stuck together' with the bodies of his three still smouldering sons, Abed, 14, Zaid, 10 and Hamza, 8 seemingly having hugged them to him in his last seconds. His 15 month old sister Shahed was lying separately after, in the words of her severely burned mother Sabah, also 45, she 'melted away' as the missiles struck while she was being breast-fed...
About a mile from the Abu Halima house, two donkeys still lay dead beside the road, just as the decomposing body of Shahed Abu Halima did for four days and those of her father and three brothers for nine until the Red Cross could reach them. The family say that while relatives got Sabah Abu Halima through to hospital in the first truck the second two vehicles were fired on from tanks a few hundred metres down the road, killing two members and leaving the rest of the passengers to flee and abandon the bodies...
The family insists that no gunmen were operating round the home when it was shelled as the Israeli forces occupied their commanding position here overlooking Beit Lahiya. In Shifa, the wounded and bereaved Sabah, who voted Hamas in 2006, threatens to become a suicide bomber and says she wants Tzipi Livni to 'burn as my children burned.' But her cousin Ibrahim, 58, says none of that. 'We are all farmers. We have no connection to the factions. Why are the Israelis doing this to us?'
IPS: In the 1967 movie classic 'The Battle of Algiers,' which recreated Algeria's war of independence against France, a handcuffed and shackled insurgent leader, Ban M'Hidi, is brought before a group of highly-partisan French journalists for intense interrogation. One of the journalists asks M'Hidi: 'Don't you think it is a bit cowardly to use women's handbags and baskets to carry explosive devices that kill so many innocent people [in cafes and night clubs]?' Responding with equal bluntness, the Algerian insurgent retorts: 'And doesn't it seem to you even more cowardly to drop napalm bombs on unarmed villages on a thousand times more innocent victims? Of course, if we had your fighter planes, it would be a lot easier for us. Give us your bombers, and you can have our handbags and baskets.' ...
'Perhaps it would be interesting to see the roles reversed: the Palestinians with American fighter planes and battle tanks and the Israelis with homemade rockets,' says one Arab diplomat, striking a parallel with the Algerian insurgency. Besides F-16 fighter planes, the Israelis also used a wide array of US weaponry, including Apache helicopters, M60 battle tanks, armoured personnel carriers and heavy artillery.
Image: burning white phosphorus at UNRWA warehouse; source here.