15 July 2006

Middle East Crisis in Context

I won't comment in detail, yet, on the extremely disturbing events in the Middle East. The mainstream media's analysis of the escalating conflict has been, as usual, simplistic and overwhelmingly sympathetic to Israel. But the real dynamic of what is happening now cannot be understood without knowing its roots, and for that we must remind ourselves of recent history. Hence, I thought it would be useful to post a few excerpts of a lengthy briefing I wrote around the same time 4 years ago, The Impending Abyss.



Despite the historical and documentary record, the myth of Israel’s victim-hood is consistently propagated by the regime to justify its illegal and increasingly brutal occupation of Palestine. This myth is achieved by the constant repetition, and distortion, of the following concept: that the State of Israel is under siege from Palestinian terrorists embarking on incessant suicide missions, resulting in the mass terrorisation of Israeli civilians. This concept is without doubt to some extent correct – however, devoid of qualification it becomes misleading.

The picture of Israel as a victim, rather than a perpetrator of terrorism, can only emerge from a presupposed pro-Israeli agenda, which focuses principally on the killing of Israelis by Palestinian suicide bombers, while completely blocking out all consciousness of the killing of Palestinians by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). As a consequence, the historical record, along with the factual context of contemporary developments, is almost entirely erased from public consciousness.

To understand the reality of the Middle East conflict as objectively as possible, it is essential to inspect and compare the entire spectrum of violence committed by all actors within the conflict. Only in this way can the reality and scale of terrorism on both sides be clarified, and responsibility for the violence be thus proportionally assigned. This should be done comprehensively by drawing together the historical and contemporary record of conflict between Israeli and Palestinian forces.

We may begin with the current crisis. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem based in Jerusalem reports that:

“Since Israel began its invasions into Palestinian refugee camps on February 27, dozens of unarmed Palestinian civilians have been killed, including children and medical personnel…

“In every city and refugee camp that they have entered, IDF soldiers have repeated the same pattern: indiscriminate firing and the killing of innocent civilians, intentional harm to water, electricity and telephone infrastructure, taking over civilian houses, extensive damage to civilian property, shooting at ambulances and prevention of medical care to the injured.

“The grave results have not caused the IDF to change its course of action. Israeli policymakers knew the grave price to the civilian population after the incursion into the first refugee camp. Yet they continue to engage in actions that constitute grave breaches of international humanitarian law.”[1]

According to authoritative statistical data on the number of fatalities for both Israelis and Palestinians published and endorsed by B’Tselem, between the beginning of the Intifada (9th December 1987) and the end of January 2002, a total of 2,166 Palestinian civilians were killed by Israeli security forces and settlers. In the same period, a total of 454 Israeli civilians were killed by Palestinians.[2]

Thus, the approximate ratio of fatalities between Palestinians and Israelis for this period is 5:1. In other words, Israeli violence resulting in death against Palestinians is approximately 5 times that of Palestinian violence resulting in death against Israelis.

Statistical data on the number of injuries on both sides is an even more damning indictment of the Israeli role. According to data produced by the Palestine Red Crescent Society for the period between 29th September 2002 and 6th April 2002 – and endorsed as reliable by B’Tselem – the total number of Palestinians (mostly civilians) seriously injured by Israeli use of live ammunition, rubber/plastic bullets, tear gas, shrapnel and bomb fragments amounts to 18,761.[3] In the same period, the total number of Israeli casualties (again, mostly civilians) amounts to 427. Thus, the ratio of casualties between Palestinians and Israelis is a shocking 44:1. In other words, Israeli violence against Palestinians resulting in civilian casualties is 44 times that of Palestinian violence against Israelis.[4]

The only logical conclusion one can draw from this analysis is that the statistical data proves very clearly that Israel bears overwhelming responsibility for violence and terrorism in this conflict, as a matter of record. The implications have been duly noted by respected observers, such as the Israeli political sociologist Dr. Lev Grinberg, Director of the Humphrey Institute for Social Research at Ben Gurion University in Beersheva. He describes how Israeli State terrorism in the Occupied Territories is tolerated by the international community, and repackaged through the media as “self-defence”:

“What is the difference between State terrorism and individual terrorist acts? If we understand this difference we’ll understand also the evilness of the U.S. policies in the Middle East and the forthcoming disasters. When Yassir Arafat was put under siege in his offices and kept hostage by the Israeli occupation forces, he was constantly pressed into condemning terror and combatting terrorism. Israel’s State-terrorism is defined by U.S. officials as ‘self-defense’, while individual suicide bombers are called terrorists.

“The only small difference is that Israeli aggression is the direct responsibility of Ariel Sharon, Benjamin Ben Eliezer, Shimon Peres and Shaul Mofaz, while the individual terrorist acts are done by individuals in despair, usually against Arafat’s will. One hour after Arafat declared his support of a cease-fire and wished the Jews a Happy Passover feast, a suicide bomber exploded himself in an hotel in Netanya, killing 22 innocent Jews celebrating Passover. Arafat was blamed as responsible for this act, and the present IDF offensive has been justified through this accusation.

“At the same time, Sharon’s responsibility for Israeli war crimes is being completely ignored. Who should be arrested for the targeted killing of almost 100 Palestinians? Who will be sent to jail for the killing of more than 120 Palestinian paramedics? Who will be sentenced for the killing of more than 1,200 Palestinians and for the collective punishment of more than 3,000,000 civilians during the last 18 months? And who will face the International Tribunal for the illegal settlement of occupied Palestinian Lands, and the disobedience of UN decisions for more than 35 years?”[5]


Indeed, Israeli military planners fully accounted for the possibility that the militant faction Hamas might rise to power, or at least become far more powerful than it already is. There is evidence to suggest that the Israeli rightwing has, however, not been adverse to this possible consequence, but on the contrary, has even seen the rise of the militant faction as a boon because of its terrorist activities against Israeli civilians. The Israeli Insider continues to note in its July report that:

“MK Michael Kleiner [Chairman of the Herut Party in the Israeli Knesset] called on Israel to either assassinate or topple Arafat… Kleiner suggested replacing Arafat, even if it meant the Hamas would take his place. According to Kleiner, the entire world recognizes the Hamas as a terrorist organization so Israel’s continued efforts against a radical Palestinian leadership would not be condemned.”[70]

Kleiner’s sentiments are not isolated. For instance, senior Ha’aretz commentator Akiva Eldar reports that at a high-level Cabinet meeting, Israeli Minister of Finance Silvan Shalom criticised his colleague Foreign Minister Shimon Peres for advocating “negotiations” with Arafat. “Between Hamas and Arafat, I prefer Hamas,” he declared, explaining that Arafat is a “terrorist in a diplomat’s suit, while Hamas can be hit unmercifully… there won’t be any international protests.”[71]

Indeed, this ruthless line of thought seems to explain why Israel has targeted Arafat while leaving Hamas untouched. As the Russian journal Pravda observes in an insightful article titled ‘Hamas and Israel Unite Against Arafat’:

“What is the power that the Israeli prime minister stakes on? No matter how strange it may seem, he has chosen Hamas... Sharon is leveling Arafat’s influence, at the same time getting rid of a peace plan that is unfavorable for Israel. The Hamas leader assumes command over the Palestinian opposition, while Arafat is isolated to his Ramallah residence. Political and financial support will be automatically switched from the PLO to Hamas. It is not a delirium, which is confirmed by the following: Israel, which has already declared its intention to liquidate centers of terrorism, does not disturb Hamas, which claims responsibility for several recent acts of terrorism. This is rather strange. The previous connection between Israel and Hamas confirms the statement.”[72]


It comes as no surprise then that Hamas was originally financed by Israel to undermine the PLO, during the Israeli occupation of Lebanon in the 1980s.[74] PA President Yassir Arafat has commented in detail on the genesis of Hamas and the Israeli connection in interviews with leading Italian publications:

“We are doing everything possible to stop the violence. But Hamas is a creature of Israel which, at the time of Prime Minister [Yitzhak] Shamir [the late 1980s, when Hamas arose], gave them money and more than 700 institutions, among them schools, universities and mosques. Even [former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin ended up admitting it, when I charged him with it, in the presence of [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak.”[75]

“Hamas was constituted with the support of Israel. The aim was to create an organization antagonistic to the PLO. They [Hamas] received financing and training from Israel. They have continued to benefit from permits and authorizations, while we have been limited, even [for permits] to build a tomato factory. Rabin himself defined it as a fatal error. Some collaborationists of Israel are involved in these [terrorist] attacks. We have the proof, and we are placing it at the disposal of the Italian government.”[76]

U.S. terrorism correspondent Richard Sale has provided detailed discussion of evidence for Israel’s covert support of the militant Hamas faction in a United Press International (UPI) report on the subject, which is worth quoting copiously. Drawing on U.S. and Israeli intelligence sources, Sale finds that “according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials, beginning in the late 1970s, Tel Aviv gave direct and indirect financial aid to Hamas over a period of years.” According to Tony Cordesman, Middle East analyst for the Center for Strategic Studies, Israel “aided Hamas directly - the Israelis wanted to use it as a counterbalance to the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization).” A former senior CIA official told Sale that Israel’s support for Hamas “was a direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO by using a competing religious alternative.” Sale reports that: “According to U.S. administration officials, funds for the movement came from the oil-producing states and directly and indirectly from Israel. The PLO was secular and leftist and promoted Palestinian nationalism. Hamas wanted to set up a transnational state under the rule of Islam, much like Khomeini’s Iran...

“… with the triumph of the Khomeini revolution in Iran, with the birth of Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorism in Lebanon, Hamas began to gain in strength in Gaza and then in the West Bank, relying on terror to resist the Israeli occupation.

“Israel was certainly funding the group at that time. One U.S. intelligence source who asked not to be named said that not only was Hamas being funded as a ‘counterweight’ to the PLO, Israeli aid had another purpose: ‘To help identify and channel towards Israeli agents Hamas members who were dangerous terrorists.’

“In addition, by infiltrating Hamas, Israeli informers could only listen to debates on policy and identify Hamas members who ‘were dangerous hard-liners’, the official said.

“In the end, as Hamas set up a very comprehensive counter-intelligence system, many collaborators with Israel were weeded out and shot. Violent acts of terrorism became the central tenet, and Hamas, unlike the PLO, was unwilling to compromise in any way with Israel, refusing to acquiesce in its very existence.

“But even then, some in Israel saw some benefits to be had in trying to continue to give Hamas support: ‘The thinking on the part of some of the right-wing Israeli establishment was that Hamas and the others, if they gained control, would refuse to have any part of the peace process and would torpedo any agreements put in place,’ said a U.S. government official who asked not to be named. ‘Israel would still be the only democracy in the region for the United States to deal with’, he said…

“According to former State Department counter-terrorism official Larry Johnson, ‘the Israelis are their own worst enemies when it comes to fighting terrorism. The Israelis are like a guy who sets fire to his hair and then tries to put it out by hitting it with a hammer. They do more to incite and sustain terrorism than curb it,’ he said.”[77]


Nuclear scientist John Steinbach, whose previous work includes the mapping of dangerous radiation hazards in the United States, corroborates this assessment in a detailed analysis of Israeli weapons of mass destruction published by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation based in Santa Barbara, California.

“With between 200 and 500 thermonuclear weapons and a sophisticated delivery system, Israel has quietly supplanted Britain as the World’s 5th Largest nuclear power, and may currently rival France and China in the size and sophistication of its nuclear arsenal…

“Although dwarfed by the nuclear arsenals of the U.S. and Russia, each possessing over 10,000 nuclear weapons, Israel nonetheless is a major nuclear power, and should be publically recognized as such. Since the Gulf War in 1991, while much attention has been lavished on the threat posed by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, the major culprit in the region, Israel, has been largely ignored. Possessing chemical and biological weapons, an extremely sophisticated nuclear arsenal, and an aggressive strategy for their actual use, Israel provides the major regional impetus for the development of weapons of mass destruction and represents an acute threat to peace and stability in the Middle East…

“In popular imagination, the Israeli bomb is a ‘weapon of last resort’, to be used only at the last minute to avoid annihilation, and many well intentioned but misled supporters of Israel still believe that to be the case... today the Israeli nuclear arsenal is inextricably linked to and integrated with overall Israeli military and political strategy... Israel has made countless veiled nuclear threats against the Arab nations and against the Soviet Union (and by extension Russia since the end of the Cold War).”[97]

Steinbach cites numerous sources showing that the nuclear option is very much on the table as far as Israel is concerned. For example, according to the late Professor Israel Shahak of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in his highly acclaimed extensive study of Israel’s nuclear capabilities, Open Secrets:

“The wish for peace, so often assumed as the Israeli aim, is not in my view a principle of Israeli policy, while the wish to extend Israeli domination and influence is… Israel is preparing for a war, nuclear if need be, for the sake of averting domestic change not to its liking, if it occurs in some or any Middle Eastern states... Israel clearly prepares itself to seek overtly a hegemony over the entire Middle East..., without hesitating to use for the purpose all means available, including nuclear ones… Israel’s insistence on the independent use of its nuclear weapons can be seen as the foundation on which Israeli grand strategy rests… The prospect of Gush Emunim, or some secular right-wing Israeli fanatics, or some of the delirious Israeli Army generals, seizing control of Israeli nuclear weapons... cannot be precluded... [W]hile Israeli Jewish society undergoes a steady polarization, the Israeli security system increasingly relies on the recruitment of cohorts from the ranks of the extreme right.”[98]

American Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh largely agrees with Shahak’s assessment. He writes in another leading study of the subject that: “… the size and sophistication of Israel’s nuclear arsenal allows men such as Ariel Sharon to dream of redrawing the map of the Middle East aided by the implicit threat of nuclear force… Should war break out in the Middle East again, … or should any Arab nation fire missiles against Israel, as the Iraqis did, a nuclear escalation, once unthinkable except as a last resort, would now be a strong probability.”[99] Ezar Weissman, Israel’s current President has virtually confirmed the same, promising ominously that: “The nuclear issue is gaining momentum [and the] next war will not be conventional.”[100] A past chilling statement by current Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is even more revealing: “Arabs may have the oil, but we have the matches.”[101]

[1] B’Tselem Press Release, ‘The IDF has lost any moral compass’, B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, Jerusalem, 12 March 2002, http://www.btselem.org/English/Press_Releases/2002/020312.asp.

[2] B’Tselem Statistics, ‘Total casualties since Dec. 1987’, B’Tselem, Jerusalem, viewed 7 April 2002, http://www.btselem.org/English/Statistics/Total_Casualties.asp.

[3] PRCS Table of Figures, ‘Total daily number of deaths & injuries – West Bank & Gaza’, Palestine Red Crescent Society, Al-Bireh, viewed 7 April 2002, http://www.palestinercs.org/Crisis%20Tables/table_of_figures.htm. Linked from B’Tselem ‘Statistics’ section, http://www.btselem.org/English/Statistics.

[4] IDF News, ‘Terror casualties during Ebb and Flow’, Israeli Defense Forces Official Website, 5 April 2002, http://www.idf.il/English/news/nifg.stm.

[5] Grinberg, Lev, ‘Israel’s State Terrorism’, Tikkun Magazine, 1 April 2002.


[70] Shuman, Ellis, ‘Is Israel preparing to dismantle the Palestinian Authority?’, op. cit.

[71] Eldar, Akiva, Ha’aretz, 4 December 2001.

[72] Litvinovich, Dmitry, ‘Hamas and Israel Unite Against Arafat’, Pravda, 4 April 2002.


[74] Ha’aretz, 21 December 2001. Also see Sale, Richard, ‘Israel gave major aid to Hamas’, United Press International (UPI), 24 February 2001.

[75] Corriere della Sera, 11 December 2001.

[76] L’'Espresso, 19 December 2001.

[77] Sale, Richard, ‘Analysis: Hamas history tied to Israel’, United Press International, 18 June 2002.

[78] Szamuely, George, ‘Israel’s Hamas’, New York Press, April 2002, Vol. 15, No. 17.


[97] Steinbach, John, ‘Israeli Weapons of Mass Destruction: a Threat to Peace’, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Santa Barbara, CA, March 2002. Also published by the Centre for Research on Globalisation, Montreol. Steinbach’s paper was first published by the DC Iraq Coalition.

[98] Shahak, Israel, Open Secrets: Israeli Nuclear and Foreign Policies, Pluto Press, London, 1997, p. 2, 37-38, 150.

[99] Hersh, Seymour, The Samson Option: Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal and American Foreign Policy, Random House, New York, 1991, p. 319, 19

[100] Cited in Aronson, Geoffrey, ‘Hidden Agenda: U.S.-Israeli Relations and the Nuclear Question’, Middle East Journal, Autumn 1992, p. 619-630.

[101] Gaffney, Mark, The Third Temple: The Story Behind the Vanunu Revelation, Amana Books, Brattleboro, VT, 1989, p. 16.

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