Friday, September 10, 2004

The Israeli government gets an awful lot of flak from Europeans for the actions it takes in dealing with the Palestinians. They say stuff like this, stuff which would never pass muster in American politics:

The item was just another routine report: an update from the war of attrition Israel and the Palestinians are conducting in the occupied territories. Haaretz correspondent Nir Hason reported on Sunday that the IDF demolished a packing house in Beit Hanun in northern Gaza. Worse things have happened during the four year war: last week, as happens almost every week, Palestinians, including children, were killed in IDF operations. On Sunday night, Border Police killed six Palestinians in Tul Karm. Apparently, only three of them were armed. In Beit Hanun, at least, nobody was killed. ...

While in Jerusalem, in a decision about the route of the separation fence, the High Court of Justice is emphasizing the importance of proportionality of the harm done to Palestinian human rights as a basic principle for consideration of military actions, the IDF repeatedly violates the principle over and over in Gaza. There is no proportion between the limited military purpose of demolitions to the damage done to the farmers, who had nothing to do with the rocket launches. By destroying the packing plant, the IDF also violated another, far more ancient principle. Apparently, the army commanders forgot the Biblical principle from Deuteronomy 20, verse 19: "When thou shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war against it, thou shalt not destroy the trees ... for the tree of the field is man's life."

A few months before the beginning of the implementation of the disengagement plan, it is difficult to shake the impression that the IDF has undertaken a "scorched earth" policy in the Strip. The army is supposed to defend Israeli citizenry under difficult circumstances and in light of a growing threat. But when it is swept into actions such as these, the danger is not merely the loss of trees, homes or livelihood. The IDF is also uprooting the last shreds of hope that the withdrawal will also be the beginning of repairing relations between the two peoples.

Any American politician who said things like this would be quickly attacked for his anti-Semitic ravings, no matter how acceptable this sort of thing might be in Europe. Sentiments like these just won't pass muster as civilized discourse here -- even though what I quoted wasn't actually a European politician at all -- it was a recent editorial in a major Israel daily newspaper in Israel, where major political figures routinely describe the government's policies in very harsh terms -- describing Sharon's planned withdrawal from Gaza, for instance, as a part of a complete package which is cynically designed to prevent a diplomatic resolution to the crisis.

As with our policy towards Cuba, dominated by a blockade which has proven for decades to be totally ineffectual at changing anything on the island, honest debate is impossible; anyone who challenges the policy is accused of being soft on Communism, or terrorism, or something -- or maybe just a bigot. A Congressman who just read that editorial into the Congressional Record without saying where it came from might well wind up being called an anti-Semite, and would almost certainly be accused of gross indifference to Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism. Would anyone care to say the same of the actual author?

Juan Cole is feeling the heat...


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