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Date: Fri, 4 Jun 2004 19:10:44 +0200
Subject: (Fwd) LRB  Yitzhak Laor  "Before Rafah" on Israeli militarism

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From:                   "Yitzhak Laor" <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>
To:                     <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>
Subject:                LRB  Yitzhak Laor  Before Rafah
Date sent:              Thu, 3 Jun 2004 15:27:31 +0200

Before Rafah

Yitzhak Laor on Israeli militarism
London Review of Books 
June 3, 2004


On Sunday 16 May, a day before the IDF launched its long-awaited, well-
planned attack on the civilian population of Rafah, the Israeli chief of 
staff, Major-General Moshe (Boogey) Ya'alon said it was 'almost the last 
chance' for such an operation and that 'special conditions were in place'

for an imminent attack. By 'special conditions', of course, he meant the 
public desire for revenge following the deaths of 13 soldiers in Gaza in 
the space of 48 hours. It was a convenient opportunity to start a war. 
But he also meant that sooner or later the Jewish settlements blocking 
Rafah's access to its beach would be evacuated, so there was no choice 
but to destroy as much of Rafah as possible, and as soon as possible.
Josť Saramago, visiting Israel in March 2002, before the invasion in 
which Israel reoccupied the territories, said that Israel had two 
problems. The first, he said, is that the settlements need the army. 
Everyone agreed. The second is that the army needs the settlements. 
Nobody agreed. Nobody even listened. Yet Ya'alon knows that without the 
settlements he would have no excuse for patrolling the Gaza strip. Do 
Israelis understand the military's motives? No. Many Israelis, probably 
the majority, would gladly turn their backs on the settlers. Not on the 
military, though. Therefore, the whole political campaign against the 
extreme right is futile. Behind the extreme right lurks the 'moderate 
army', and the army is the one player in Israeli society whose motives 
are never questioned.
Israeli militarism is about Israel's faith in this huge benevolent 
apparatus. The army is always described in terms of 'our boys out there',

sons, lads, children, a poor, beleaguered David. That's us, the eternal 
victims. And the enemy is always Goliath, even the children who defied 
the IDF in Rafah three days ago and therefore had to die while 
demonstrating, empty-handed, in solidarity with the thousands whom the 
benevolent military had thrown out of their shacks and houses.
That same Sunday, 16 May, before the lethal convoy left on its way to 
Rafah, was almost a euphoric day among more moderate Israelis. On 
Saturday night, 150,000 people rallied in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv to 
call for peace, more or less. It was the largest rally Israel had seen 
for many years. The main speaker at the demonstration was Shimon Peres, 
foreign minister in Sharon's former government, a man for all seasons and

suits. His excellent speech was broadcast live on Israeli TV, even on the

state-owned channel, which has become almost a Likud station. Yet we 
shouldn't be surprised at the favourable TV coverage, just as we 
shouldn't be surprised that all three Israeli newspapers were very 
excited about the rally the following day, even Ma'ariv. 'We are not the 
Left, we are the majority of the people,' Peres declared. But that wasn't

what the rally was about. And it wasn't about the IDF policy of daily 
killings: the strategy that ensures our war will never end. It was about 
the Gaza settlers and everyone's opposition to them.
It was only when soldiers were killed for no purpose other than to defend

the settlers that public outrage brought Israelis to say: 'Something must

be done.' This is a mode Israelis adopt from time to time. But this 
'something must be done' always goes in two directions. The first leads 
to the demonstration square (and then back home). The second leads to the

military operation that has just won ecstatic support. People in the West

don't know that the demonstrators are people who love the army, that the 
peace movement in Israel is still deeply involved in the military love 
affair, that no peace demonstration in Israel has ever dared say that the

military might be participants in atrocities or warmongering. The phrase 
'war crimes' is not allowed at these demonstrations, because such words 
bring the army, not only Sharon, into the frame of 'evil'.
The rally's organisers - Peace Now, Labour and Meretz - invited General 
Yom-Tov Samya to speak. And he did. Military men at a peace 
demonstration: how nice. Only he hadn't come to say that he was tired of 
war, or that he'd once been wrong; he hadn't come to call for more 
moderate behaviour by the army. Samya had been the head of the IDF's 
Southern Command; for years he was in charge of the war against the Gaza 
strip. It was under his command that dozens of houses were demolished in 
Rafah and their poorest inhabitants thrown into the mud during the very 
cold winter of 2001. It was in his glorious day that 'war crimes' started

to be part of the discourse. It was under his command that some officers 
formed the refusenik movement Courage to Refuse and went to prison. Of 
course they weren't allowed to speak on the podium at Saturday night's 
rally. In fact, the organisers had issued a press release in which they 
promised not to invite any refuseniks to speak.
The rally in effect constituted a licence for the military to complete 
their dirty war: not because it was so friendly to the army but because 
it made it possible for nothing to be said about the imminent attack. 
Everybody knew there was a major attack on the way. Experts had argued on

TV talkshows about whether the army would be given the green light. But 
not a word was said about it on the podium in front of the 150,000 
moderate Israelis. The entire demonstration was about supporting Sharon 
against the settlers. The biggest banner in the rally read: 'Arik, the 
people are with you.' The Zionist Left had, yet again, produced an 
imaginary battlefield in order not to fight the real battle. Why are we 
for Sharon? Because he was supposed to be against the settlers. Where was

the voice warning about the coming war in densely populated areas? 
And so it began, as always, by frightening the civilian population: poor,

isolated refugees in a world that doesn't know what Palestinians want, or

how they live. So they took their children and their mattresses and left,

again, and the army continued to spread its stories about the tunnels of 
munitions running under the houses, and finally - with the Supreme Court 
authorising them to destroy more houses, because we're in a state of war,

which the army declared, created, produced - the forces went in.
Since that attack, which turned into a blood-bath, there have been 
demonstrations in Tel Aviv every day. Not massive, but larger than 
before. Some are being led by Courage to Refuse activists. There were 
clashes with police, there were arrests, yet the majority of Israelis 
went silent again. The Supreme Court justices, the professors of ethics, 
the chiefs of staff: they might meet at a university seminar on 'Morality

and War' or 'International Law and Terrorism'. But right now the army is 
According to the Israeli sociologist Alina Korn, there has been a 
ghettoisation of the Palestinians since the early 1990s. It's not 
bantustans that the authorities have in mind, but ghettos, detached from 
each other, dependent on Israeli military authority. The ghettos, which 
are already numerous, multiply, and the conditions differ from place to 
place. Ramallah is visible to the West, so life there is more bearable. 
Hebron is hidden. Rafah is entirely cut off. The Israeli army didn't kill

the children in Rafah intentionally, it will be said. Who will remind us 
that for three months now, the army has been killing unarmed Palestinians

demonstrating peacefully along the Wall that's going up in the West Bank?
Israeli families of dead soldiers or dead civilians get a follow-up, even

on foreign TV, for they had a future ahead of them before they died. Did 
the Palestinian children who died in Rafah have any future? No. So they 
are dead, and it will be over in a few days. Palestinians don't get a 
follow-up, not even on foreign TV. Maybe there'll be a documentary movie,

followed by some public discussion about whether to allow the movie to be

publicly screened, or whether it's another sign of 'the new anti-
semitism'. Nothing will be followed up. The Israeli army is secure. It 
calls itself the Israel Defence Force.

20 May
Yitzhak Laor is a novelist and poet who lives in Tel Aviv.
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