What has become of Israel?




[Editor's Note: The author, a professor of philosophy at UMD, has found it increasingly painful to watch television, read the papers, or listen on the radio to reports of Israeli military assaults upon civilian populations.  Israel's moral stature before the world hangs in the balance. This column originally appeared in the READER WEEKLY (23 August 2001), p.11.]




In Thursday, 16 August 2001, the first item of the "News in Brief" of the DULUTH NEWS TRIBUNE, p. 2A, reported as follows:



Israeli tanks ready to attack


            Israel kept tanks poised Wednesday outside Bethlehem and other autonomous Palestinian towns in the West Bank, with Israeli officials warning that they would strike if Palestinian gunmen started shooting again at a Jewish neighborhood on Jerusalem's southern edge.

            Elsewhere in the West Bank, Israeli undercover agents in Hebron gunned down a militia member from Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, a man who had been on an Israeli wanted list as responsible for a string of anti-Israel attacks.


            If this were an isolated situation, perhaps it might have made the front page.  But these events--which have included the use of F-16s and air-to-air missiles to level police stations and kill Palestinian officials--have become all too familiar.  These days, it is almost impossible to read the paper, watch the news, or listen to the radio without hearing similar reports.

            Of course, if events like these were isolated incidents, perhaps they might be excusable.  A story in The New York Times on Thursday, 5 July 2001, p. A6, makes it evident that that is not the situation here:



Israel Reaffirms Its Policy of Assassinating Militants


            Israel’s security cabinet decided today to press ahead with a policy of assassinating suspected Palestinian militants in an effort to stop persistent killings of Israelis, officials said.

            The decision fell short of demands by rightist ministers for a broad military assault on the Palestinian Authority.  Yet the authorization of further assassinations, possibly on a wider scale, raised the prospect of more violence, and ratcheted up tensions.


            Far from being isolated incidents, Israel has publicly adopted the policy of assassinating "suspected Palestinian militants", including, as we have now learned, "a militia member. . . who had been on an Israeli wanted list"!  So the Israeli's are systematically targeting for termination individuals who are SUSPECTED OF MILITANCY or who have appeared on an Israeli WANTED LIST!
            It was of course heartening to read further in the Times that the American ambassador had a few words to say:


            Martin S. Indyk, the American ambassador to Israel, who will be leaving the job soon, bluntly criticized the nation's assassination policy in an interview broadcast tonight on Israeli television.

            "The United States government is very clearly on the record as against targeted assassination", he said.  "They are extrajudicial killings, and we do not support that."


            Nice to know that the American ambassador speaks out against "extrajudicial killings"!  I'll bet that set the Israelis trembling.  They are murdering SUSPECTS who appear on WANTED LISTS!  The United States is supposed to believe in due process and the right to a presumption of innocence!  Our ambassador's response:  "we do not support that”. His remarks were broadcast on the 4th of July.

            I guess that set the record straight.  We might have thought that a decision by Israel's security cabinet of this magnitude would at least be condemned by the United States' Secretary of State or even by the President, rather than by an outgoing ambassador. If the Times regarded this decision as momentous, it cleverly managed to conceal its hand by running the story on p. A6.

            Israelis will insist that these problems are not of their making, because Palestinians are turning themselves into suicide bombers.  But suicide bombing is a tactic that only a downtrodden people, who are receiving little support and no respect, would employ. And the disproportionate response by the Israelis— which may be causing as many as 100 Palestinian deaths for each Israeli— speaks volumes about the desire to subjugate an entire population.

            The use of military weapons such as aircraft and tanks against civilian populations armed with rifles and rocks tends to bring back images from earlier and similarly disturbing times when gypsies, Jews, and communists were deprived of their liberty and property--and ultimately their lives--without the benefit of due process.  I find it almost inconceivable that Israelis cannot comprehend the terrible injustice of their treatment of the Palestinians today.

            And, indeed, there is reason to believe that the government itself realizes that it has crossed the threshold that divides reasonable responses from the commission of war crimes.  Consider, for example, another story from the Times on Saturday, 28 July 2001, which read as follows:



Israel Is Wary Of Long Reach In Rights Cases


            A warning went out this week from Israel's Foreign Ministry to government, army, and security officials.  Be careful in choosing destinations when traveling abroad, it cautioned, because certain nations might be prepared to charge ranking Israelis with violating Palestinian's human rights.

            The advisory was not worded quite that bluntly.  It recommended, as a senior military official put it today, that high-level officials "do their homework" to avoid stumbling into "a legal embarrassment".


            This story, at least, made page A1.  But no doubt this country is not among those where Israeli officials run the risk of "legal embarrassment".  Apart from the broadcast by our outgoing ambassador, I doubt any of us have heard affirmations from this administration about the human rights of Palestinians.  Issues involving human rights are clearly not on its "front burner".  The United States should take a more aggressive stand on behalf of all citizens of the world.

            The situation is tragic.  Nazi atrocities that occurred before and during World War II produced worldwide sympathy for the Jewish people, which led the United Nations to create a Jewish state in Palestine in 1948.  But the ascension of Ariel Sharon as Prime Minister has brought in its wake new atrocities that invite comparison with those of Nazis of the past.  Surely a nation whose people have suffered as have these must rise to a higher standard.

            Like many other Americans, I have admired Israel for virtually my entire life.  Since I was born in 1940, my life has encompassed the entire history of this nation.  It causes me great pain to raise these issues, but I can no longer bear to remain silent.  The times are such that speaking out may add my name to a Israeli wanted list as the author of an anti-Israel attack.  We cannot continue to support a nation that abuses human rights, no matter how noble its cause.



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