Israel: Manufacturing Right

For years, Israel dismissed the legal applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the West Bank and Gaza, claiming that they were and are not under occupation but rather “liberated” or at least “disputed” territories. For the most part, this verbal/legal sleight-of-hand did not and has not convinced world civil society. But it joined other strategies, such as the active erasure of the 1949 armistice “green” line by Jewish settlement and infrastructure projects, in obfuscating reality for a sufficient number of Israelis to uphold a sense of public indignation at accusations of illegality.

Almost as old as the occupation itself, the basic strategy of word-washing and mind-tricks has been reused repeatedly by Israel, also assisting its evasion of International Humanitarian Law as well as other international standards and conventions.

The opinion piece below is a vehement, pointed accusation leveled by journalist Gideon Levy against the extensive group of Israeli philosophers, thinkers, lawyers, jurists and leading academics who have, over many years now, readily and faithfully provided the language and concepts for these strategies of evasion. First and foremost among the conscience-clearers, he writes, is Prof. Asa Kasher who is “the one responsible for that toxic ‘IDF spirit’ – which holds that when … protecting soldiers, anything goes”.

As Levy intimates, despite his seminal importance, Kasher, who “glossed over every transgression during this war” [i.e. Israel’s last major assault against Gaza] is just a single, though prominent, instance of the complicity and collaboration of a vast community of intellectuals in maintaining Israel’s freedom and capacity to go on enforcing a criminal, horrific occupation and committing war crimes with impunity.

Rela Mazali

Lincoln Shlensky adds:

Eliot Weinberger, the American translator and political critic, turns a sardonic eye on the use of white phosphorus by US forces in his widely disseminated anti-war essay “What I Heard about Iraq in 2005,” published in The London Review of Books (an excellent article by Scott Saul on Weinberger’s three decades-long role as a cultural critic appears in the September 30 issue of The Nation):

“I heard that, in Fallujah and elsewhere, the US had employed white phosphorus munitions, an incendiary device, known among soldiers as ‘Willie Pete’ or ‘shake and bake’, which is banned as a weapon by the Convention on Conventional Weapons. Similar to napalm, it leaves the victim horribly burned, often right through to the bone. I heard a State Department spokesman say: ‘US forces have used them very sparingly in Fallujah, for illumination purposes. They were fired into the air to illuminate enemy positions at night, not at enemy fighters.’ Then I heard him say that ‘US forces used white phosphorus rounds to flush out enemy fighters so that they could then be killed with high explosive rounds.’ Then I heard a Pentagon spokesman say that the previous statements were based on ‘poor information’, and that ‘it was used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants.’ Then I heard the Pentagon say that white phosphorus was not an illegal weapon, because the US had never signed that provision of the Convention on Conventional Weapons.”

As Weinberger’s commentary on the US-led war in Iraq emphasizes, Israel is not the only country recently to have used white phosphorus in violation of international humanitarian law — signed or, as in this case, unconscionably unsigned.

Haaretz, Sunday October 4, 2009

It’s all kosher for Kasher by Gideon Levy

Whoever said that intellectuals are keeping silent? Who claimed that academia is ensconced in an ivory tower? And who dared to think that Israel lacks a moral voice? One day, when historians take the time to examine Israel’s brutal offensive in Gaza, otherwise known as “Cast Lead,” they will settle a score with political leaders and officers who were responsible for committing war crimes. They will delve deep and denounce the enablers of this nation, the whitewashers and apologists, those who let the Israel Defense Forces win at any cost, even if it was the heaviest moral cost possible.

The main target on their list will be Mr. Ethics, Prof. Asa Kasher, the Israel Prize-winning philosopher and author of the IDF’s Code of Conduct. Kasher glossed over every transgression during this war. He’s the one responsible for that toxic “IDF spirit” – which holds that when it comes to protecting soldiers, anything goes for the IDF.

This flimsy fig leaf of a man bears as much moral responsibility as the political leaders who made the decisions and the soldiers who carried out their orders. He’s the philosopher who removed the reins, the intellectual who whitewashed everything. It is thanks to him and those of his ilk that Israelis can feel so self-righteous. When the world said in near unison, “War crimes,” Kasher said, “We are the most moral army in the world, no one is better than us.” If this is how a philosopher of ethics speaks, who needs propagandists?

He wasn’t always like this. He now says in every possible forum, “If it comes down to a choice between a neighbor and an IDF soldier, the preference is the soldier,” and “The lives of our soldiers is of more interest to me than the dignity and well-being of the Palestinians.” He has also said that there is no justification for endangering the lives of soldiers in order to prevent the killing of civilians living “next to a terrorist.” But he once thought and wrote differently.

As a radical activist at the height of the first Lebanon war, Kasher, who is also one of the founders of the soldiers’ refusal movement Yesh Gvul, courageously appeared at a news conference with Nathan Zach, Dan Miron and Yeshayahu Leibowitz. Kasher, who for some reason sees Leibowitz as his patron and mentor, wrote in a letter to Haaretz: “Against the backdrop of news reports on thousands of noncombatant Lebanese and Palestinians who were harmed during Israel’s military operations, and given the complete justification of these instances given by the prime minister, it is every decent man’s duty to express unreserved opposition to the prime minister’s treatment of innocent civilians who are caught in the middle of a war he initiated.”

What has changed since then? Kasher has changed. Every decent man continues to believe that unnecessary killing of civilians is a criminal act. The war in Gaza was no less cruel than the war in Lebanon. Universal ethics remain today what they were then. Only Kasher’s ethics have radically changed. If only his statements hadn’t been so damaging, we could ignore the bewildering change in his positions. Yet for years he has been co-opted by the defense establishment and the IDF as their rubber stamp, solely because of the profound change he underwent. Now he serves as their flack and rationalizer, the philosopher lackey.

In recent days, the United Nations’ Goldstone report has been denounced as “anti-Semitic propaganda,” and white phosphorus bombs have become “legitimate weapons.” Why? Kasher heard from an IDF colonel that when a phosphorus bomb fell near him, nothing happened to him. And what about the 200 children who were killed? They were of “legal adult age – 15 to 18 years – and they took an active part in the war.” What about the killing of Dr. Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish’s daughters? He is responsible for their deaths. The bombing of hospitals? This, too, is permitted. Kasher knows that terrorists were hiding in their basements.

The IDF Spokesman’s Office could not have phrased it any better. The Foreign Ministry’s spin doctors could not have deceived any better. This is how Kasher has whitewashed the assassinations and resultant killing of innocent civilians. He also thought that the IDF did not do enough killing in Jenin. The army, Kasher thought, should have warned the civilians beforehand, and “whoever stayed, let the blood be on his head.” This is how generals who try to justify their criminal actions speak. But an intellectual? An expert on ethics?

What is the world coming to? Listen to Kasher and look at us. This is the man who symbolizes our morality and this is how we behave. Why should we complain about Defense Minister Ehud Barak? Why should we excoriate Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi? What is so objectionable about a general who planned and a soldier who carried out the order, when above them hovers this toxic spirit that emanates directly from the halls of humanism, philosophy and ethics, and which through mere words provides cover for this awful abyss?

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Z. Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman

Jewish Peace News archive and blog:

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