Very informative

September 2, 2006

In News

Israeli Myths


In a state established on a founding myth — that the native
Palestinian population left of their own accord rather than that they
were ethnically cleansed — and in one that seeks its legitimacy
through a host of other lies, such as that the occupation of the West
Bank is benign and that Gaza’s has ended, deception becomes a
political way of life.

And so it is in the “relative calm” that has followed Israel’s
month-long pounding of Lebanon, a calm in which Israelis may no
longer be dying but the Lebanese most assuredly are as explosions of
US-made cluster bombs greet the south’s returning refugees and the
anonymous residents of Gaza perish by the dozens each and every week
under the relentless and indiscriminate strikes of the Israeli air
force while the rest slowly starve in their open-air prison.

Israeli leaders deceive as much in “peace” as they do in war, which
is why it is worth examining the slow trickle of disinformation
coming from Tel Aviv and reflecting on where it is leading.

Many of Israel’s war lies have already been deeply implanted in
Western consciousness by the media:

* that Hizbullah “started” the war by capturing two Israeli soldiers
rather than that Israel maintained a hostile and provocative posture
for the previous six years by daily sending its warplanes and spy
drones into Lebanese airspace;

* that Hizbullah’s launching of rockets into Israel was an act of
aggression, even though they were fired after, and in response to,
Israel’s massive bombing of civilian areas in Lebanon;

* that Hizbullah, unlike Israel, used the local civilian populaton as
human shields, even though Israel’s continual and comprehensive aerial
spying on south Lebanon produced almost no evidence of this;

* that Hizbullah, not Israel, targeted civilians, despite a death
toll that suggests the exact opposite;

* and that Hizbullah’s arming by Iran is entirely illegitimate, even
though the weapons were used to defend Lebanon from a long-prepared
Israeli attack, while Israel has an absolute and unchallengeable
right to receive its arsenal from the US, even though those armaments
have been used offensively, mostly against Lebanese and Palestinian
civilian populations.

Similar deceptions are now being sown after the fighting.

For example, it now appears to be accepted wisdom that Hizbullah’s
rocket attacks on Israel led to one million Israelis being made
refugees. The most senior commentator with Israel’s Haaretz
newspaper, Yoel Marcus, made exactly this point the other day in an
op-ed in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, when he observed that “about a
million Israeli refugees” had been forced to leave the north. Marcus
appears to take an extremely liberal view of the meaning of the word

In fact, it is impossible that one million Israelis could have been
made refugees, as a quick calculation proves. There are approximately
1.2 million Israelis living in the north, with the population divided
equally between Jewish and Arab citizens. Hardly any Arabs left the
north during the Hizbullah rocket attacks, either through a residual
fear that their homes might be taken by the state, as were those of
Palestinians who fled or were terrorised away during the 1948 war, or
because they had nowhere else to go. Most assumed, probably rightly,
that the Jewish population in the country’s centre would not welcome
them as refugees.

It is also reported that 300,000 Israelis sought sanctuary in bomb
shelters. Such shelters were open only in the north, and do not exist
in the country’s Arab areas, so those using the shelters must have
been the north’s Jewish citizens. Which means that if 300,000 of the
600,000 Jews in northern Israel were in shelters, there can have been
at most — assuming all other Israeli Jews fled — 300,000 refugees.

Why does Marcus want us to believe that one million Israelis were
turned out their homes? Because it helps Israel portray the threat
posed by Hizbullah in a more terrifying light and because it makes
more convincing the claim that Israelis suffered as much as the
Lebanese, one million of whom really did end up as refugees.

It also conveniently glosses over the fact that most of the 300,000
(or fewer) Israeli “refugees” were staying with relatives or friends
100km or so further south in spare rooms and out of harm’s way. They
were not, as were the Lebanese, fleeing for their lives — their
convoys under fire from warplanes — and living in the open air
without shelter, food or water and still within range of missile

Outside of Kiryat Shmona, close to the border with Lebanon, almost
all of Israel’s “refugees” returned to untouched homes, whereas tens
of thousands of Lebanon’s refugees have found their houses turned to
rubble, and amid that rubble cluster bombs that threaten to kill and
maim them.

But again, that is not what the Israeli government wants us to
believe, which is why it published a report this week claiming that
12,000 buildings had been damaged by Hizbullah rocket attacks. That
seems a strangely large figure given that the Israeli army says only
4,000 rockets were fired into Israel and that a substantial
proportion supposedly landed in open ground. The same report also
says more than 400 bush fires were started by the rockets.

So how and why did the government reach the figure of 12,000
buildings? That would mean that each rocket that hit a structure
damaged at least another three buildings. Anyone who has seen the
destruction inflicted by a Katyusha rocket (Hizbullah’s main weapon)
will known that it does little more than punch a hole in whatever
surface it hits. The spray of shrapnel, however, does minor damage to
neighbouring structures (though much worse harm to human beings), such
as piercing the rendering on homes or breaking windows. In other
words, most of those 12,000 “structures” — and of course none of us
can know what Israeli officials are including as a structure
(individual apartments, garages, dog kennels?) — suffered minor
damage that can be fixed in an afternoon.

So why the need to promote that inflated number? Because Hizbullah is
reporting that 15,000 buildings were destroyed: that is, wrecked
beyond repair by Israel’s missile attacks. As is the tradition in
Arab society, many of those several-storey buildings were home to
multiple families, meaning that probably many more “homes” than
15,000 have been destroyed. Some Lebanese sources estimate that more
than 100,000 homes have been ruined. But for Israel the goal is to
make it look as though its own people’s suffering is the same as that
of the Lebanese.

Interestingly, the estimates of economic damage inflicted on Lebanon
by Israel’s onslaught stand at about $5 billion, a figure which again
Israel says neatly fits with its own assessments of its losses. It
seems that each time one of those American-supplied munitions was
dropped it did as much harm to Israel’s defence budget as it did to
the place where it exploded. The point presumably is that, if and
when the reparations account is being settled, Israel will claim its
own losses cancel out those of Lebanon’s.

Many of Israel’s deceptions are also being used domestically to
determine who will benefit — and who will be excluded — from the
government’s largesse as it plans the north’s “reconstruction”. No
suprises about which way the wind is blowing.

Government ministers, for example, have been claiming in the war’s
aftermath that Arab — not Jewish — municipal leaders fled from
their communities to avoid the rocket fire. For example, after a tour
of the north, the interior minister, Ronnie Bar-On, argued that the
failings in some towns and villages to cope with the war stemmed from
the fact that local leaders “ran away, at the highest levels”. Asked
to name the mayors and local councillors who had fled, Bar-On would
only say: “Those people I am referring to I can say that in their
towns I saw no synagogues.”

Why make this claim, even though all the evidence suggests that the
Arab populations of the north stayed put during the fighting while,
as we have seen, a large number of Jewish citizens did flee? There
are two reasons.

First, the government has been embarrassed by reports that nearly
half of the civilians killed by rockets were Arab, and by suggestions
that the reasons for this were the state’s long-standing failure to
protect Arab communities by building public bomb shelters, providing
air raid sirens and disseminating advice from the civil defence
authorities in Arabic. Better to shift the blame on to their elected

And second, the government is amassing huge sums of money for the
reconstruction effort from Jewish groups in America and Europe and is
looking for an excuse not to fund work in Arab communities. Another
senior politician, Effi Eitam, leader of the National Religious
Party, has accused Arab authorities of “pretending to be deprived”.
The north’s Arabs will most likely be cut out of tasting the
reconstruction pie. Certainly there is no discussion of building
public bomb shelters for Arab towns, even though few in Israel appear
to believe the ceasefire with Hizbullah will hold long.

Similarly, the environment minister Gideon Ezra has stated that Arab
communities in the north should not receive money to rehabilitate
their separate and grossly deprived education system, on the grounds
that during the war “the residents there behaved as per usual, as if
nothing had happened” — a reference that sounds like they are being
penalised because they did not flee. His reasoning appears popular,
among the public and in the cabinet, because Arab citizens generally
opposed Israel’s war.

A related deception being promoted by the government is that it is
committed to compensating workers and businesses in the north who
lost income during the war. But the list drawn up by the finance
ministry of areas eligible for compensation reveals that all Arab
communities have been excluded, apart from four Druze villages (the
Druze serve in the army and are treated by Israel as a national group
separate from the rest of the Arab population). Most of the money,
millions of dollars, is being made available only to Jewish citizens,
even though Arab citizens comprise half the population of the north.
What a contrast to Hizbullah’s non-discriminatory policy of
compensating all Lebanese harmed by the fighting, whether from its
own Shia community or Christian, Druze and Sunni Muslims.

(Incidentally, according to Haaretz, in one court case being brought
by an Arab engineer from the village of Fassouta who, unlike his
Jewish colleagues, is being denied compensation for loss of income
during the war, it is noted that he could not leave his home because
the Israeli army was firing artillery batteries stationed on the edge
of the village. So much for Israel’s argument, adopted by the United
Nation’s representative Jan Egeland, that only Hizbullah was using
civilians as human shields!)

Israel’s post-war deceptions, of course, embrace the Palestinians
living under occupation too. Yuval Diskin, head of the Shin Bet
secret service, is claiming that, inspired by the success of
Hizbullah, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are turning Rafah into “the
garden of Eden of weapons smuggling”. Apparently Israel knows about
15,000 guns, 4 million bullets, 38 rockets, 10-15 Katyusha rockets,
and dozens of anti-tank missiles that have entered Gaza through the
Rafah crossing in the past year. Israel believes that just about
everything bar tanks and planes is coming across the short border
with Egypt it still controls. In a few years, says Diskin, Israel
will face the same situation in Gaza as in south Lebanon. We will
just have to take his word for that.

But there is a problem. Since November 2005, say human rights groups,
the Rafah crossing has been almost continuously shut. Those weapons
must have been smuggled in a stampede on the day or two when the
crossing was open.

Further doubt is cast on Diskin’s claims by a report in Haaretz this
week that the blanket closure of Rafah crossing has continued since
one of Israel’s soldiers was captured by Palestinian fighters two
months ago. The reason for the crossing’s closure, recommended by
Shin Bet, is also noted by Haaretz — and it has nothing to do with
weapons smuggling. The blockade was imposed as a way to put pressure
on the Palestinians to release the Israeli soldier, a form of
collective punishment illegal under international law.

Diskin’s comparisons between developments in Gaza and south Lebanon
are at best fanciful. How Gaza’s resistance fighters will be able to
build hundreds of underground bunkers in the Strip’s flat, sandy
terrain unknown to Israel as its planes and tanks freely roam the
area, and as Military Intelligence operates its network of
collaborators, is not explained. But Diskin’s conclusions presumably
will be used to justify Israel’s continuing assaults on Gaza’s
civilian population. Better, the argument will go, not to wait to be
caught out as in Lebanon.

The biggest deception of all, however, relates to the reasons for
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s decision this week to reject the
establishment of an independent commission of inquiry, headed by a
judge, that would have been free to investigate all aspects of the
war. Instead Olmert has set up two separate internal committees of
investigation, one to examine government decision-making and the
other the army’s conduct. (A third watchdog body, under the
government’s state comptroller, is supposed to look at failings in
civil defence.)

Most Israelis are deeply unhappy about what one commentator has
called Olmert’s “committee of non-inquiry”. Separate investigations
mean that the remit of each committee will be very narrow, focusing
on technical issues and failings, and unable to look at the wider

The members of the committee who will be investigating Olmert have
been handpicked by him. All the judges approached to head the
committee turned down the offer, as did the country’s foremost
constitutional law expert, Amnon Rubinstein, apparently aware that
being party to a whitewash would permanently tarnish his reputation.

It will now be led by a former head of Mossad, Israel’s international
spy agency. Observers have speculated that 77-year-old Nahum Admoni’s
room for criticising the government will be extremely limited, given
that he himself was admonished by the Kahan Commission of Inquiry
that in 1982 investigated Israel’s role in the massacre of
Palestinian civilians in the Lebanese refugee camps of Sabra and
Shatilla. Admoni failed to give “an unequivocal warning about the
danger entailed in the Phalangists’ entry into the camps” that
resulted in the slaughter of more than 1,000 Palestinians. Mossad was
keenly involved with the Christian Phalangists, attempting to install
them in power as a puppet regime.

Kahan took no action against Admoni, however, because he — like
Olmert now — had only recently taken up his job. It will be hard for
Admoni to treat Olmert more harshly than Kahan treated him two decades

Why would Olmert want a discredited committee rather than a proper
commission of inquiry, especially if, as he claims, the reason
against the latter is that it will take years to report? By then, he
may be out of office and never have to face the fall-out. The
official reason, according to Olmert, is that such a delay would
paralyse the army. But most commissions of inquiry have produced
interim reports, making recommendations for reforms, within a few
months and have then taken their time to produce a final report.

Other factors are at play, relating to the past and the future. The
obvious one is that a powerful commission would almost certainly
investigate the six-year build-up to the war following Israel’s
withdrawal from south Lebanon. There is a real danger that its
investigations might throw an uncomfortable light on Israel’s motives
for continuing provocative overflights by its war planes in Lebanon;
on its refusal to hand over the maps of the minefields it planted in
south Lebanon during its two decades of occupation; on its refusal to
release the last remaining Lebanese prisoners in its jails, thereby
perpetuating a state of hostilities; and its refusal to negotiate
with Lebanon and Syria about an end to its occupation of the Golan
Heights and with it a resolution of the disputed status of the
corridor of land known as the Shebaa Farms, which Lebanon claims.

But there is an even bigger threat posed by the establishment of a
commission. It might unearth evidence that the war against Lebanon
was long planned, that it had nothing to do with the capture of two
soldiers on the border, that it was coordinated with the United
States, and that its ultimate goal was an attack on Iran.

Olmert, and Israel’s political and military leaders, do not need
another Kahan Commission — or another embarrassment like its
findings about Israel’s involvement with the Sabra and Shatilla
massacre. Israel needs a free hand to strike unchallenged when the
next stage of the war on terror takes shape. Olmert admitted as much
in his coded observation that a commission of inquiry would distract
from the central goal: “to focus on the future and the Iranian

A clue where Israel might be heading next emerged this week when
Olmert’s trusted international ambassador, Shimon Peres, “revealed”
that Iran is trying to transfer its nuclear know-how to terrorist
organisations. Peres did not name Hizbullah but it is only time
before the link is made and a new casus belli established.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel.
He is the author of the forthcoming “Blood and Religion: The
Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State” published by Pluto
Press, and available in the United States from the University of
Michigan Press. His website is