Wright from Washington City

November 15, 2000


Israel and the lessons of empire



Long ago, in a lifetime far, far away, I was a member of a pro-Israeli organization. How I became such, and how I changed my mind on Israel, is a story for another day. Suffice it to say that I traveled to Israel as a guest of the Labor government, and was treated to the whole dog-and-pony show; in return, I was expected to help propagandize for the Israeli cause in the good old U.S. of A.

I learned many things on that trip, not the least of which is that the shock induced by breathing on an empty stomach the fumes of an Israeli-style breakfast — including pickled fish, peppers, and olives — can be enough to put you off your feed for the rest of the day. Haven't they heard of chickens over there?

Besides the obligatory solemn excursion to Masada, the propaganda show included a trip to the West Bank and places now in the news as sites at which the Israeli army regularly shoots teenagers in the head. The inhabitants of Nablus and Bethlehem and other Arab towns were polite, but, except for the merchants, very stand-offish. By and large they pointedly ignored us. It was obvious to me at the time that there was some tension between them and our Israeli guides, all of whom carried Uzis or M-16s.

Actually, however, the people living in Nablus and the other towns had it pretty good — at least compared to those living in the refugee camps. The camps were inhabited by the Arabs who had been forced out of their homes in what is now Israel proper during the 1948 war of conquest. The Israelis told us that the Arabs had left because the Arab countries had urged them to do so in radio broadcasts. (They never explained why the Arab countries would do that.)

I learned the truth much later: it was the Israelis who urged the Arabs to leave their homes, telling them they could return when the conflict was over. When the time came to go back, the Israelis refused to let them in, and confiscated their land and houses. They wound up in squalid — and I do mean squalid — camps made up of shacks, because the Jordanians and Egyptians and Lebanese didn't know where to put them and didn't care. There they lived from hand to mouth, on what assistance international organizations could provide and whatever work they could get in Israel — insofar as they were allowed in.

Squalor, however, was not the most striking feature of the camps. Through every one at least two huge, straight gashes had been literally bulldozed from one end of the camp to the other, each one the width of a two lane highway. Our guides told us the Israeli Army had done that after occupying the West Bank in 1967 to make it easier to patrol the camps.


Although it certainly wasn't meant to, that trip planted the seeds of my current anti-Zionist, or at least, anti-Israeli-state, attitude. Our Israeli guides tried to portray themselves as kind, tolerant, and progressive. But every now and then the mask slipped, and a glimmer of their contemptuous attitudes toward the Arabs could be seen.

Nowadays, of course, that mask is becoming pretty tattered. Not too long ago the Israelis admitted that they had official death squads, after a failed assassination attempt in Jordan on a Palestinian politican. Here's an excerpt from a news story in Britain's Web news site "The Independent" on the current ongoing violence in the West Bank:

An analysis of the injuries of the [Arab] dead by Palestinian doctors — working with American Physicians for Human Rights — has found that almost half of the dead were shot in the head or neck, several from the back, while the other half were shot in the chest or stomach.

"This is a very clear indicator that the Israeli army is shooting to kill. They decide which of the demonstrators they want to kill and then they act as assassins," said Dr Mustafa Barghouthi, the president of the Union of Palestinian Medicial Relief Committees, which has been collecting data on the victims. It also found that nine out of 10 were killed by live ammunition — including "dum-dum" style exploding bullets, used by Israeli army marksmen.

"Dum-dums," by the way, are illegal under the Geneva convention. They were invented by the British at the turn of the century, for use on the frontiers of their Empire against recalcitrant Afghan tribesmen who did not appreciate British attempts to rule them. To the chagrin of the Brits, the Afghans often refused to fall down and die like respectable Englishmen when shot by the standard Enfield .303 bullet. In response, the original dum-dums were made — at the British arsenal in India called, naturally, Dum Dum — by taking a bullet and cutting a deep "x" in its nose with a knife. That made the bullet split into fragments when it struck a human body, increasing the damage immensely.

It's interesting to note that the original version of the Colt Model 1911 pistol — the famous Colt .45 Automatic — was developed by the U.S. Army for a similar purpose. After the U.S. liberation of the Philippines from the evil Spanish in 1898, many of the natives of the islands were unappreciative. They decided that they did not want Benevolent Assimilation (the actual term used) into the United States, any more than they had wanted to be a colony of Spain.

Their attacks on American soldiers were terrifying and effective, because the Filipinos often kept coming after they had been shot at close range by the medium-caliber revolvers the soldiers were using. The .45 automatic addressed that problem by holding seven rounds (or eight with one in the chamber) instead of six, firing and reloading more quickly, and, especially, by throwing a much larger, heavier bullet. Despite that and other technological advantages, the Americans took heavy losses before they were able to persuade the Filipinos to do the right thing and give up their dream of independence. Even then, the fighting didn't end completely until 1914.

Now the Israelis face a similar situation in the West Bank and Gaza, except that they are not being besieged and subjected to human-wave attacks the way the British and Americans were in their colonies. The Israelis have the Palestinians surrounded with crushing firepower, and the Arabs' weapons are pitiful — rocks and a few rifles. They certainly have nothing as sophisticated as the most rudimentary anti-aircraft ability, as demonstrated by the arrogant impunity with which Israeli helicopters hover in the open at a few hundred feet while they fire rockets at apartment complexes, Arab-owned orchards, and other civilian targets. Nor could the Arabs hope to overwhelm even one Israeli West Bank settlement or garrison (they're usually the same thing, really). So the use of illegal exploding bullets, or live bullets at all, is not necessary for the most part.


To justify their atrocities, the Israelis and their American shills have revived the old song-and-dance they used for years: The Arabs want to "drive the Israelis into the sea." Besides, they are engaging in acts of "terrorism" by attacking well-armed soldiers with stones, and they have endangered the Jews, also well-armed, who live in illegal West Bank settlements. And it's all being orchestrated by that Arab version of Fu Manchu, the evil terrorist Yasser Arafat. Obviously, then, despite their total lack of any offensive capability, they must be shown no mercy. So a hundred or so get bumped off, and a few thousand wounded. They're only Arabs, after all.

Leaving aside the possibility of any moral flaws in that policy, and any possible reasons the Arabs might have for their unreasonable attitudes, the truth behind the recent events was let slip by an Israeli official I heard on the National Bolshevik Radio show "Morning Edition." The Palestinians, he said, were engaging in a "guerrilla war of attrition" and a "war of independence." As I pointed out elsewhere on this site, that's the same thing our ungrateful terrorist ancestors perpetrated against their British benefactors — although, admittedly, they were better equipped for the job. They had guns.

"Independence!" Nothing strikes more terror into the heart of the Establishment type, whether he's George the Third, Father Abe, or a New York City politician dealing with disgruntled Staten Islanders. And nothing provokes more vicious reprisals than people's attempts to obtain it. The British, at the time the highest expression of Western civilization, took care of the thousands of Indian soldiers who revolted against them in the great Indian Mutiny of 1857 by tying them over the muzzles of cannons and literally blowing them away. In the Philippines, American troops looted houses and shot dead Filipino prisoners of war and civilians. In a city called Malabon, they murdered every Filipino man, woman, and child. More recently, as the Soviet Empire was collapsing — surely one of the most salubrious events of the twentieth century — Bush the Elder remonstrated against what used to be called the "captive nations" for seeking their independence from the Russians!

And now the Israelis assassinate Arabs.

But the Israelis are learning what the Americans learned in the Philippines and Somalia, what the British learned in India, South Africa, and many other places, and what countless other regimes learned going back to ancient times. Forget Arafat and his supposed machinations. Sometimes, people just get fed up with being treated like animals, and then you've got a devil of a job beating them back into submission.


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