US officials recently announced the somewhat jarring news that Israeli security forces will be training American soldiers in the techniques of urban warfare. Apparently Israel’s illegal thirty-five year occupation of Palestine has enabled it to perfect tactics that our troops will need in a ‘possible’ war on Iraq.
Most informed Americans will receive this news with a sense of both foreboding and dislocation. The brutal tactics of the Israeli ‘Defense’ Forces have been denounced for decades by human rights groups, the United Nations, and scores of foreign governments. Is this how we want our own troops to fight? Our sense of dislocation (even ‘topsy-turvy’) in greeting this news traces to something else; the fact that Israel has always been our client, not the other way around. Why are the Israelis now teaching us?
Is this really something new, or is it merely an unusually explicit lesson in the continuing education of American power by the Israeli vanguard? Who has been learning from whom in this “special relationship”?
From Covert Crimes to Points of Pride
Over the past half century, Israel’s organized terror against Palestinian civilians has moved from the relatively secret operations of special Israeli army and paramilitary units to globally televised depredations wrought with helicopter gunships, state-of-the-art tanks, and F-16 fighters. In the process, massacres like those perpetrated in the old days by Israeli army units at Deir Yassin and Qibya have been dwarfed, in terms of casualties, scope, and property damage, by today’s daily and indiscriminate destruction in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Crimes that Israel once felt compelled to hide from the world are now on full display, vigorously defended by the Israeli government.
Fifty years ago, America also felt the need to conduct most of its international crimes far from public view. Interventions in the affairs of uncooperative nations (invariably conducted to “fight communism”) were mostly secretive, CIA-led actions that made surreptitious use of special military units, typically called “American advisors” (Honduras, Guatemala, Iran, and Cuba provide a few relevant examples).
Now, emboldened by the demise of its only global counterweight, the Soviet Union, and encouraged by Israel’s success in using conventional military forces in a public and illegal campaign against civilians, the US is increasingly eschewing the old “secret war” model in favor of direct and open military intervention with American troops. Witness Somalia, Haiti, Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan during the past ten years.
Israel has long been criticized for taking pre-emptive military action against its perceived enemies. Two well-known examples are its surprise attack against a nearly-completed Iraqi nuclear power plant and its protracted, illegal and bloody occupation of southern Lebanon. Despite worldwide criticism of these and many other blatant violations of international law, Israel continued, and continues, undaunted.
The Clinton administration was noted for its fawning support of Israel’s occupation, and for abandoning a long-standing US commitment (on paper only, of course) to return Palestine to its pre-1967 borders. Clinton also took a big page out Israel’s book on international relations, when he insisted, against strenuous objections from the United Nations, that the US has the right to launch pre-emptive strikes, and that NATO had the right to wage war on Yugoslavia without UN approval. This year, the Bush administration dropped all pretense of maintaining security with deterrence and adopted the illegal Israeli standard of pre-emptive strikes as official US policy.
Militarization of Politics
Our politicians have also learned much by example from our close and “special” relationship with the government of Israel. For decades, our pols have used cant, dissimulation and fraud to excuse Israel’s most egregious crimes. In the process, much has been learned about how to turn acts of wanton destruction into a noble defense of freedom. Israel’s willingness to keep ‘pushing the envelope’ of state terror has been invaluable in this process, training both American polls and media in the arts of propaganda required to justify ever-larger crimes.
Meanwhile, the American populace has been steadily learning to accept Israel’s gross violations of human rights, international law, and common decency as ‘necessary for peace and security’, justified by ‘Israel’s right to defend herself’. This lesson in moral decay and desensitization is proving handy indeed, as the current US administration seeks to extend American hegemony in the Middle East by a new war of occupation.
The Terror Card
Following the tragedy of 9/11, Israel immediately recast its thirty-five-year occupation of Palestine as an essential front in the “war on terror”. To extract maximum political advantage from our loss and grief, Israeli politicians like Ariel Sharon suggested, with typical touches of arrogance and self-satisfaction, that, finally, Americans know how Israelis have felt for years. We face a common and implacable enemy, they lectured us, leaving unspoken the message that we Americans had better develop some backbone and put our shoulder to the anti-terror wheel.
Of course, our politicians did not really require Israel’s instruction to convert our tragedy into their political windfall. However, they quickly employed several rhetorical devices that, before 9/11, were most often found in Israel’s political toolbox (domestic and foreign). Suddenly, all kinds of international and domestic issues were redefined as being part of the “war on terror”, requiring new and drastic solutions that were, of course, necessary for “security”, and often highly profitable for favored corporate interests.
No doubt our leaders saw major advantages to this radical simplification of world affairs. First, they could dispense with even the pretense of negotiation, because “you cannot negotiate with terrorists”. They could neatly sidestep, or simply dispose of, human rights limitations imposed by law and the Constitution, because “terrorists have no respect for the rule of law”. The “terror card” also enabled them to bulldoze public opposition to new and highly intrusive government surveillance, and so on.
Just as Israel depends on billions of dollars annually from a compliant US government to maintain its military occupation and indifference to UN resolutions and international law, America’s power axis also thrives on a steady flow of wealth from a similarly remote and supine source – the American people. And just as Israel makes it a point to occasionally disobey the orders of its US sponsors, so American politicians at the pinnacle of power pointedly disregard the many voices of the people that call for justice and peace. During consideration of the recent Congressional resolution supporting war on Iraq, Democracy Now reported that citizen messages to Congressional offices of both chambers and both sides of the aisle were running 10 to 1 against the resolution. Naturally, both the House and Senate passed the measure by overwhelming margins. The reply to the American public was clear; “We watch our push-polls. Pay your taxes and shut up.”
Injustice at Home
Even within its own pre-1967 borders, Israel’s human rights record is abysmal. Twenty percent of Israel’s population is now comprised of non-Jewish Arabs who, by law, are systematically rendered second-class citizens in their own homeland. Special hells in Israel’s complex legal and social caste system are reserved for Bedouins and African Jews. Israel’s stubborn insistence on the primacy of the “Jewish state” and its institutionalized discrimination against non-Jews have set poor examples for America, where Israel is routinely hailed as a shining example of “Western democracy”. We cannot quantify the debasing effects of this mass fantasy, but we can see that while America’s own system of minority repression becomes increasingly severe, the public is told that pride in America’s “liberty and equality for all” is at an all-time high.
Something like Israel’s state-heavy and racist system of state capitalism could plausibly be the goal of a nation that resegregates its cities and public schools, enforces draconian drug laws sentencing statutes, dramatically increases its prison population, systematically profiles people of color at all levels of law enforcement, institutes military tribunals and denies due process to those it declares ‘enemies of the state’, and corrupts its legal system so thoroughly that the poor and colored have little hope of obtaining justice. Meanwhile, both countries continue to set new records in the gap between rich and poor, and in both nations the proportion of the poor and lower middle class has been steadily growing for over twenty years. An Israeli might argue, however, that in the classroom of social inequality, Israel is the student and America the teacher. A committee of the Israeli Knesset has just reported that Israel is now “rated second in the Western world.. in terms of social gaps in income, property, capital, education and spending, as well as in the extent of poverty”.(1) The United States was number one.
Israel’s long war of attrition against the Palestinians has proven to America’s power elite that it is possible to indefinitely occupy the land of another people, even in the face of nearly global opposition–if you’re backed by enough raw power. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip constitute a kind of open-air laboratory and lecture hall, in which Israel demonstrates the advantages of occupation to its dutiful American pupil. These advantages include a dirt-cheap labor pool that can be turned on and off at will, the ability to emasculate and/or decapitate any effort at self-rule within the occupied lands, the utility of occupation as an object lesson and divisive thorn-in-the-side of neighboring enemies, and so on. Israel has also demonstrated the usefulness of sustained occupation for increasing a nation’s overall military might. The constant war-footing, and the need for violent repression of a restive and disenfranchised people, create never-ending opportunities for the purchase and use of the latest military equipment, and for the containment of domestic politics.
One Lesson Not Learned?
While American power has in general been a very attentive student of Israeli policy and practice, there is one crucial lesson at the back of Israel’s textbook that remains unlearned: Israel’s approach will never create peace or achieve a just solution. Of course, that suits its purposes. The point of Israeli strategy is to grind the Palestinians into dust until they just blow away, and the last shreds of Palestine can be swept up into Eretz (Greater) Israel, always the goal of the military Zionists and their Laborite alter egos.
Unless forced to do otherwise, Israel, driven by a tragic and fundamentally racist ideology, will fight on for a hundred years to dispose of the “Palestinian problem”. But American attempts to apply the localized Israeli model (designed to acquire land the size of Rhode Island) to a “global war on terror” are rewriting the definition of “over-reach”. By following Israel’s lead (which is constitutionally averse to just solutions) in the “war on terror”, we ensure that the war will never be won and will never end. Increasingly, we suspect that our leaders may understand this lesson, too. And they’re getting ready to send another 14 billion dollars in shiny red apples (disguised as new loan guarantees and military aid) to their beloved teachers in Jerusalem.
James Brooks of Worcester, Vermont is former marketing director of Vita-Flex Nutrition and was founding vice-president of the National Association of Equine Supplement Manufacturers. Currently Mr. Brooks serves as webmaster for Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel (www.vtjp.org) and publishes News Links, a daily e-mail digest of Middle East news and commentary. Brooks is also a member of the national Al-Awda coordinating Committee.