Saturday, January 17, 2009

Avnery: The Boss Has Gone Mad

There are 3 days until Jan. 20, 2009.


The Boss Has Gone Mad


Uri Avnery



169 YEARS before the Gaza War, Heinrich Heine wrote a

premonitory poem of 12 lines, under the title "To

Edom". The German-Jewish poet was talking about

Germany, or perhaps all the nations of Christian

Europe. This is what he wrote (in my rough



   For a thousand years and more

   We have had an understanding

   You allow me to breathe

   I accept your crazy raging


   Sometimes, when the days get darker

   Strange moods come upon you

   Till you decorate your claws

   With the lifeblood from my veins


   Now our friendship is firmer

   Getting stronger by the day

   Since the raging started in me

   Daily more and more like you.


Zionism, which arose some 50 years after this was

written, is fully realizing this prophesy. We Israelis

have become a nation like all nations, and the memory

of the Holocaust causes us, from time to time, to

behave like the worst of them. Only a few of us know

this poem, but Israel as a whole lives it out.


In this war, politicians and generals have repeatedly

quoted the words: "The boss has gone mad!" originally

shouted by vegetable vendors in the market, in the

sense of "The boss has gone crazy and is selling the

tomatoes at a loss!" But in the course of time the jest

has turned into a deadly doctrine that often appears in

Israeli public discourse: in order to deter our

enemies, we must behave like madmen, go on the rampage,

kill and destroy mercilessly.


In this war, this has become political and military

dogma: only if we kill "them" disproportionately,

killing a thousand of "them" for ten of "ours", will

they understand that it's not worth it to mess with us.

It will be "seared into their consciousness" (a

favorite Israeli phrase these days). After this, they

will think twice before launching another Qassam rocket

against us, even in response to what we do, whatever that may be.


It is impossible to understand the viciousness of this

war without taking into account the historical

background: the feeling of victimhood after all that

has been done to the Jews throughout the ages, and the

conviction that after the Holocaust, we have the right

to do anything, absolutely anything, to defend

ourselves, without any inhibitions due to law or morality.


WHEN THE killing and destruction in Gaza were at their

height, something happened in faraway America that was

not connected with the war, but was very much connected

with it. The Israeli film "Waltz with Bashir" was

awarded a prestigious prize. The media reported it with

much joy and pride, but somehow carefully managed not

to mention the subject of the film. That by itself was

an interesting phenomenon: saluting the success of a

film while ignoring its contents.


The subject of this outstanding film is one of the

darkest chapters in our history: the Sabra and Shatila

massacre. In the course of Lebanon War I, a Christian

Lebanese militia carried out, under the auspices of the

Israeli army, a heinous massacre of hundreds of

helpless Palestinian refugees who were trapped in their

camp, men, women, children and old people. The film

describes this atrocity with meticulous accuracy,

including our part in it.


All this was not even mentioned in the news about the

award. At the festive ceremony, the director of the

film did not avail himself of the opportunity to

protest against the events in Gaza. It is hard to say

how many women and children were killed while this

ceremony was going on - but it is clear that the

massacre in Gaza is much worse than that 1982 event,

which moved 400 thousand Israelis to leave their homes

and hold a spontaneous mass protest in Tel-Aviv. This

time, only 10 thousand stood up to be counted.


The official Israeli Board of Inquiry that investigated

the Sabra massacre found that the Israeli government

bore "indirect responsibility" for the atrocity.

Several senior officials and officers were suspended.

One of them was the division commander, Amos Yaron. Not

one of the other accused, from the Minister of Defense,

Ariel Sharon, to the Chief of Staff, Rafael Eitan,

spoke a word of regret, but Yaron did express remorse

in a speech to his officers, and admitted: "Our

sensitivities have been blunted".


BLUNTED SENSITIVITIES are very evident in the Gaza War.


Lebanon War I lasted for 18 years and more than 500 of

our soldiers died. The planners of Lebanon War II

decided to avoid such a long war and such heavy Israeli

casualties. They invented the "mad boss" principle:

demolishing whole neighborhoods, devastating areas,

destroying infrastructures. In 33 days of war, some

1000 Lebanese, almost all of them civilians, were

killed - a record already broken in this war by the

17th day. Yet in that war our army suffered casualties

on the ground, and public opinion, which in the

beginning supported the war with the same enthusiasm as

this time, changed rapidly.


The smoke from Lebanon War II is hanging over the Gaza

war. Everybody in Israel swore to learn its lessons.

And the main lesson was: not to risk the life of even

one single soldier. A war without casualties (on our

side). The method: to use the overwhelming firepower of

our army to pulverize everything standing in its way

and to kill everybody moving in the area. To kill not

only the fighters on the other side, but every human

being who might possibly turn out to harbor hostile

intentions, even if they are obviously an ambulance

attendant, a driver in a food convoy or a doctor saving

lives. To destroy every building from which our troops

could conceivably be shot at - even a school full of

refugees, the sick and the wounded. To bomb and shell

whole neighborhoods, buildings, mosques, schools, UN

food convoys, even ruins under which the injured are buried.


The media devoted several hours to the fall of a Qassam

missile on a home in Ashkelon, in which three residents

suffered from shock, and did not waste many words on

the forty women and children killed in a UN school,

from which "we were shot at" - an assertion that was

quickly exposed as a blatant lie.


The firepower was also used to sow terror - shelling

everything from a hospital to a vast UN food depot,

from a press vantage point to the mosques. The standard

pretext: "we were shot at from there".


This would have been impossible, had not the whole

country been infected with blunted sensitivities.

People are no longer shocked by the sight of a

mutilated baby, nor by children left for days with the

corpse of their mother, because the army did not let

them leave their ruined home. It seems that almost

nobody cares anymore: not the soldiers, not the pilots,

not the media people, not the politicians, not the

generals. A moral insanity, whose primary exponent is

Ehud Barak. Though even he may be upstaged by Tzipi

Livni, who smiled while talking about the ghastly events.


Even Heinrich Heine could not have imagined that.


THE LAST DAYS were dominated by the "Obama effect".


We are on board an airplane, and suddenly a huge black

mountain appears out of the clouds. In the cockpit,

panic breaks out: How to avoid a collision?


The planners of the war chose the timing with care:

during the holidays, when everybody was on vacation,

and while President Bush was still around. But they

somehow forgot to take into consideration a fateful

date: next Tuesday Barack Obama will enter the White House.


This date is now casting a huge shadow on events. The

Israeli Barak understands that if the American Barack

gets angry, that would mean disaster. Conclusion: the

horrors of Gaza must stop before the inauguration. This

week that determined all political and military

decisions. Not "the number of rockets", not "victory",

not "breaking Hamas".


WHEN THERE is a ceasefire, the first question will be: Who won?


In Israel, all the talk is about the "picture of

victory" - not victory itself, but the "picture". That

is essential, in order to convince the Israeli public

that the whole business has been worthwhile. At this

moment, all the thousands of media people, to the very

last one, have been mobilized to paint such a

"picture". The other side, of course, will paint a different one.


The Israeli leaders will boast of two "achievements":

the end of the rockets and the sealing of the Gaza-

Egypt border (the co-called "Philadelphi route".

Dubious achievements: the launching of the Qassams

could have been prevented without a murderous war, if

our government had been ready to negotiate with Hamas

after they won the Palestinian elections. The tunnels

under the Egyptian border would not have been dug in

the first place, if our government had not imposed the

deadly blockade on the Strip.


But the main achievement of the war planners lies in

the very barbarity of their plan: the atrocities will

have, in their view, a deterrent effect that will hold

for a long time.


Hamas, on the other side, will assert that their

survival in the face of the mighty Israeli war machine,

a tiny David against a giant Goliath, is by itself a

huge victory. According to the classic military

definition, the winner in a battle is the army that

remains on the battlefield when it's over. Hamas

remains. The Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip still

stands, in spite of all the efforts to eliminate it.

That is a significant achievement.


Hamas will also point out that the Israeli army was not

eager to enter the Palestinian towns, in which their

fighters were entrenched. And indeed: the army told the

government that the conquest of Gaza city could cost

the lives of about 200 soldiers, and no politician was

ready for that on the eve of elections.


The very fact that a guerrilla force of a few thousand

lightly armed fighters held out for long weeks against

one of the world's mightiest armies with enormous

firepower, will look to millions of Palestinians and

other Arabs and Muslims, and not only to them, like an

unqualified victory.


In the end, an agreement will be concluded that will

include the obvious terms. No country can tolerate its

inhabitants being exposed to rocket fire from beyond

the border, and no population can tolerate a choking

blockade. Therefore (1) Hamas will have to give up the

launching of missiles, (2) Israel will have to open

wide the crossings between the Gaza Strip and the

outside world, and (3) the entry of arms into the Strip

will be stopped (as far as possible), as demanded by

Israel. All this could have happened without war, if

our government had not boycotted Hamas.


HOWEVER, THE worst results of this war are still

invisible and will make themselves felt only in years

to come: Israel has imprinted on world consciousness a

terrible image of itself. Billions of people have seen

us as a blood-dripping monster. They will never again

see Israel as a state that seeks justice, progress and

peace. The American Declaration of Independence speaks

with approval of "a decent respect to the opinions of

mankind". That is a wise principle.


Even worse is the impact on hundreds of millions of

Arabs around us: not only will they see the Hamas

fighters as the heroes of the Arab nation, but they

will also see their own regimes in their nakedness:

cringing, ignominious, corrupt and treacherous.


The Arab defeat in the 1948 war brought in its wake the

fall of almost all the existing Arab regimes and the

ascent of a new generation of nationalist leaders,

exemplified by Gamal Abd-al-Nasser. The 2009 war may

bring about the fall of the current crop of Arab

regimes and the ascent of a new generation of leaders -

Islamic fundamentalists who hate Israel and all the West..


In coming years it will become apparent that this war

was sheer madness. The boss has indeed gone mad - in

the original sense of the word.




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