A Time for Self-Criticism
An Immoral Occupation's Corrosive Effects
by David Newman
The Jerusalem Post (conservative, English-language),
April 10, 2002
World Press Review, June 2002
Reading the usually critical Israeli newspapers and listening
to television and radio broadcasts during the past l() days was
a bit like listening to a watered-down version of George Orwell'.s
newspeak-a government sponsored version of events which paints
everything in simple black and white.
Everything we (Israel) do is justified and right, everything
the Palestinians do or say is wrong and biased, and everything
that the international community says-including our best friend
in the White House-that goes beyond condemnation of terrorism
and suicide bombings is out of place.
If President George W. Bush condemns Palestinian Authority
Chairman Yasser Arafat and terrorism, that is fine. But if he
also reminds us that we must withdraw from the territories and
accept the fact that the internationally accepted solution to
the conflict is the establishment of a Palestinian state, that
is intervention in our sovereign affairs.
Continue to give us aid without which our economy would falter
even further, but don't tell us how to handle our affairs-even
if this conflicts with your relations with just about every other
country in the world.
And if Europe is critical of our policies, well, that is just
another example of deeply rooted anti-Semitism. Israel's anti-European
xenophobia was clear for all to see in former Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu's bitter attack on [Europeans] earlier this week, coming
as it did (so conveniently) during the week in which we commemorate
the Holocaust. What better occasion to remind ourselves, and the
world, that Jewish life is no longer cheap? Our exploitation of
the Holocaust to justify every military action is starting to
backfire, as the world begins to use the same metaphors to accuse
us of inhuman behavior toward innocent Palestinian civilians.
The fact that what is happening in the occupied territories
is in no way comparable to what happened during the Holocaust
is becoming irrelevant in terms of international opinion. A country
which continually uses, and all too often manipulates, Holocaust
imagery to justify its policies of self-defense and "never
again" cannot complain when the rest of the world uses those
same standards to make judgments concerning its own policies.
We used to play a game of make-believe and convince ourselves
that our occupation of the West Bank and Gaza was a "benign
occupation" and that our army was only a "defense force,"
taking offensive and punitive action where necessary, but never
acting against civilian populations.
There is no such thing as a "benign" occupation,
and the purpose of armies is to fight wars, during which- unfortunately-civilians
are injured and killed.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon can try to convince the world
that the reason we have to remain in the West Bank is that we
are taking care not to harm civilians, and therefore the military
campaign will continue longer than the Americans or Europeans
want it to.
A war is a war is a war, and there is no clean way of fighting
wars. Many innocent people suffer in wars, and we shouldn't make
ourselves look foolish by trying to convince the world that our
war is different-whether or not the initial cause, namely the
eradication of terrorist cells, was justified.
And we only harm our image even further by banning the international
press from entering the West Bank.
Firing tear-gas grenades at pro-peace demonstrators, or at
journalists who desire nothing more than to report on the Zinni-Arafat
meeting, is truly reminiscent of Third World dictatorships. In
Israel, one of the most advanced communication societies in the
world, policy-makers must surely be aware that there are no borders
which can prevent the dissemination of such information or images,
and that any country which attempts to create such borders immediately
paints itself in a negative light as it obviously has something
We can scream as loudly as we want that reports concerning
army brutality to civilians, the cutting off of water and food
supplies, not allowing the local population to bury their dead
(even those who have simply died of natural causes), and stealing
from houses are all untrue.
But, through our own misguided policies, we have cut off any
means which will enable an alternative story to emerge. And the
sad truth is that the reports are so many-only the Israeli press
chooses to avoid them or even investigate their authenticity-that
it is hard to believe that some of them are not true.
In times of crisis, such as that facing us right now, it is
more important than ever before to be self-critical. That the
other side is not critical of its own society is no reason for
us to try to impose a single uncritical explanation for our actions.
Indeed, doing so brings us down to their level, and this is not
what we want.
We are becoming the pariah of the world community, just as
South Africa was during the apartheid era. And if we simplistically
attribute it to good old-fashioned anti-Semitism, we are missing
Neither [U.S. President George W.] Bush nor [British] Prime
Minister Tony Blair can be accused of being anti-Semitic. Neither
of them opposes our attempt to prevent further terrorism. But
they do oppose our continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza
Strip, and they do favor the establishment of a Palestinian state
alongside the state of Israel. No amount of newspeak or closure
of the territories can change these basic facts, and any attempt
to argue otherwise only blackens our image throughout the world.
David Newman is chairman of the Department of Politics and
Government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the editor
of the International Journal of Geopolitics. He is a veteran Israeli