Monday, February 01, 2010

Israel and Haiti- Helping Haitians in order to better torture Palestinians

Following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, which may have wiped out up to 3% of the population, one of the most publicised national aid and rescue efforts was provided by Israel. The day following the quake, a delegation including Ministry of Foreign Affairs, IDF Home Front Command and IDF Medical Corp Personnel left immediately to see how they could assist, and between then and the 27th January, the 218 IDF soldiers and officers, and 18 civilians treated more than 1,110 patients, conducted 319 successful surgeries, and delivered 16 births. The IDF Search and Rescue force also rescued or assisted in the rescue of 4 individuals.

During that same time period, the same army shot 11 Palestinian civilians, including 2 children, overwhelming during peaceful demonstrations; conducted 41 military raids into Palestinian communities, arrested 63 Palestinian civilians, including 5 children, as well as continuing the annexation of Palestinian land and destruction of homes in the West Bank, and the suffocation of Gaza.

“The Goldstone threat”

The goal behind the rapid and enthusiastic Israeli response is clearly therefore not a concern for human life, but rather the logical alternative, namely a conscious and well-planned PR operation. This much was indeed admitted by the IDF Home Front Command Chief, Major General Yair Golan, who stated that “we had three missions: Saving lives, providing medical services, and representing the State of Israel honorably”. Given that the latter element overarches the first two, it follows that the prime motivation behind Israel’s activities in Haiti was to clean up the nation’s tarnished image on the world stage. This is a need that is seen as being so urgent following the Goldstone Report into the Gaza massacre (note, not the massacre itself), as to be almost existential. Benyamin Netanyahu, addressing the Knesset in December, stated that there is a triple threat facing the state: “the Iranian [nuclear] threat, the missile threat and a threat I call the Goldstone threat”. The nature of the “Goldstone threat” is clearly one solely of image, and so Israel needs to do what it can to ensure that this threat, namely that of negative perception in the West, is neutered. Israel’s leaders largely felt that the mission to Haiti had been a major step towards achieving this. As Netanyahu stated gleefully to the returning soldiers, “You have raised human spirits and elevated the name of the State of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces. As many plot against us, distort and muddy our names, you have shown the real IDF.” IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi said that “Many have tried recently to tarnish our image. With your deeds, you have proven that the opposite is true.” Ashkenazi was taking a break from his own efforts to prevent such “tarnishing”, namely by stymieing any attempts at the remote possibility of a moderately serious internal probe into Israeli conduct during Operation Cast Lead; it is thus only natural that he should praise the soldiers for sharing some of his burden.

Chief of Staff for the IDF, Gabi Ashkenazi

Closer inspection of the Israeli relief effort tells the same story. Professor Yoel Donchin, director of the Patient Safety Unit at the Hadassah Medical Centre in Jerusalem, and veteran of Israeli relief efforts, states that Israel’s priorities were not non-showy staples such as chemical toilets and water purification systems- “If we went down that track we would miss out on seeing that child who was born with the assistance of our physicians”- but rather a 2 week field hospital that Donchin states will have little significant effect, since “(t)o be truly effective a field hospital needs to remain for two or three months, but that’s a condition that Israel cannot meet…It is much more media savvy to show an Israeli hospital, replete with stars of David and of course the dedicated doctors and nurses, dressed in their snazzy uniforms with an Israeli flag on the lapel…It is only in the Israeli aid compound in Haiti that large signs carrying the donor country’s name hang for all to see.”

An IDF soldier in Haiti

From a more general perspective, despite Netanyahu’s statement that the mission was “in accordance with the best Jewish tradition of aiding one’s fellow men”, the most telling proof of such a contention, namely donations to third world countries, tells precisely the opposite story. Israel donates only 0.042% of its GDP in aid to developing countries, which is 1/5 the average amount donated by countries of the OECD, the organization which Israel is seeking to join. Hence Israeli arguments about deep concern for human life, already impossible to take seriously during the regular Palestinian assaults, apparently extend to the rest of the developing world as well- ironic, given the degree to which Israel is itself dependent on aid from a paternal benefactor, namely the US.

US aid to Israel

Helping Haitians in order to better torture Palestinians

Of course giving tuppence with the left hand to conceal daylight robbery with the right is an art at which Israel has become expert. In fact the biggest example of such is the entire peace process itself. Certainly since the Taba talks in 2001, it is just inconceivable that even the most sincere sounding blandishments at peace from Israel have been anything but a smokescreen to continue advancing what apologists for Israeli crimes call “the realities on the ground” further and further away from any situation that would allow for any sort of a peace to be established. That this is the case can be easily demonstrated. The only realistic peaceful solution is the 2 state settlement. The greater the annexation of land in the West Bank, the less viable the second state (the Palestinian state) becomes. This is because the aforementioned “realities on the ground”- large Jewish settlements like Ma’ale Adumim, the Separation Wall, Israeli transport networks etc- turn the West Bank into a series of small, cramped bantustans, thus removing the potential for contiguity; a prerequisite for any state. Since Taba, settlement activity, destruction of Palestinian homes, and seizure of Palestinian land, have continued unabated; thus Israeli actions to vitiate any potential peace agreement have carried on at the same time as their continual statements of their desire for peace. They are stating they want peace with words, while vitiating any potential peace with their actions. Given that actions count for more than words, it follows that Israeli comments as to their desire for a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians are merely a public relations veneer for actions which remove the potential for peace in the most drastic way possible.

A further tactic that assists this goal is to attach impossible prerequisites to any peace agreement. The most commonly heard one, is requests that for any peace negotiations to occur, Palestinians must, among other conditions, recognize Israel and renounce violence. Given that Israel does neither of the two, it is obviously impossible to expect that Palestinians would ever agree to do the same. Yet making such statements allows Israel to plead to the world that it is making strong efforts for peace but is being held back by the intractable Palestinians. Anyone who takes the time simply to look and think can see that such demands illustrate that Israel does agree to road maps, on the sole proviso that they start at the end of a cul-de-sac.

Personal responsabilities

Though Israel is guilty in its stunning malevolence of helping Haitians in order that it might better torture Palestinians, there is a grave hypocrisy that casts a blight over what has otherwise been a heart-warming global effort to assist the suffering Haitians. A brief look at the history of Haiti shows that the reason why 200,000 people should have died in a 7.0 earthquake is that the country has been crucified by twin torturers the US and France, ever since being the first country in the world to stage a successful slave-led anti-colonialist revolt in 1804. Due to their impudence at daring to feel that they should not be in bondage to their Caucasian overlords, they were forced, with significant pressure imposed by the US, to pay reparations to the French for the next 70 years, bankrupting the country. Further, there was an embargo placed on the island by France, and the US, who wanted to counter the threat of the good example- the real ‘domino effect’, which is a doctrine that exists to this day as a justification behind some of the US’s most egregious crimes- in order to discourage any idea of slave revolution in the US. The torture continued further with Woodrow Wilson’s invasion in 1915, and then 19-year occupation, in order to secure American corporate interests, and then with Papa and Baby Doc Duvalier, father and son US-backed military dictators, whose economic and brutally oppressive policies further ravaged the country during their reign between 1957 and 1986. Clinton’s neo-liberalism caused further economic destruction in the 1990’s, and then George W. Bush’s support for the coup against the democratically elected president, and one ray of hope, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, nailed the coffin lid shut. Such that when the earthquake hit, so ramshackle was the country and its infrastructure that it collapsed like a house of cards, killing everyone underneath. So though CNN may entitle its coverage “Saving Haiti”, the efforts that would need to be taken in reality to save Haiti- i.e. a liberation from US imperialist and neo-liberal domination- is an effort that CNN, as well as the rest of the mainstream media, would far more likely prevent than contribute to.

Destruction in Haiti

The critical point is that though financial aid may help restore a fractional part of what has been destroyed, financial participation in the policies that lay the groundwork for such destruction is by far the more significant element. And this is what is occurring right now in Gaza. Were there to be an earthquake tomorrow in Israel- and it is predicted that Israel is due for one- Gaza, with its rickety housing and tinpot infrastructure, would most likely suffer a similar torment to the one that Haiti is currently suffering. This torment is one for which our governments- and thus we- are currently sowing the seeds with the support for the utter asphyxiation in every way of a territory of 1.5 million people. It is worth wondering whether the people in the US and the UK, among those who contributed around $300m for Haiti following the celebrity fundraiser, thought about the fact that while they are contributing to the Haitian aid effort out of a desire to help lift people out of suffering, their tax dollars and pounds are being spent by their governments to create the exact same groundwork necessary for an identical destruction to occur elsewhere. Humans are compassionate creatures, and it is hard to imagine that were people fully apprised of this, that they would stand for such abuses of power by their elected officials. It is in this way, that by a cruel twist of circumstance, the people of the West are participating inadvertently in the same aforementioned dynamic as Israel, namely that of giving tuppence with the left hand, while taking massively with the right. With a greater clarity into the PR devices employed by Israel, people will have a greater capacity to take actions that sit comfortably with their conscience, and the injustices of the past that lead to the catastrophes of the present will be more likely avoided.

Destruction in Gaza