MIRA BAR HILLEL
What makes young people snatch a stranger their own age, beat him up, force petrol down his throat before setting him on fire?
And what makes officers of the law hide their faces, snatch a slight 15-year-old and beat him senseless? And then the police refuse him medical attention until they discover – to their horror - that he is actually an American?
Israel was never an entirely peaceful place to grow up and live in. It was born during the War of Independence in 1948, which reset the 1947 borders agreed by the UN and displaced hundreds of thousands of Arabs who became the Palestinian refugees.
The refusal of neighbouring Arab countries (Jordan, Egypt and Syria) to help assimilate them forced them to become political pawns living in dismal refugee camps.
The Suez campaign of 1956 hardly affected the civilian population, but the Six Day War in June 1967 did, and continues to do so. Its result was the conquest, by Israel, of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights – along with all those refugees.
Back in 1967 we thought the conquest would be temporary and the territories, with their millions of occupants, returned quickly in exchange for, er, a peace deal.
But victory soon turned into a sense of smug invincibility. Shimon Peres, now Israel’s nonagenarian President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was the Daddy of the Settlements in the late sixties.
He enabled, encouraged and funded small groups of zealots to settle in land illegally occupied in that war. The rest is history – until it becomes current affairs.
Major Ahron Bregman of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) was on honeymoon in Nepal in 1988 when he saw a photograph of an Israeli soldier hitting a crouching Palestinian civilian with his rifle butt. He wrote to the Haaretz newspaper declaring that, having been an artillery officer in two of Israel’s military adventures (1978 and 1982) he would, on his return, refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories.
The letter resulted in a political and media storm which caused him to leave Israel for England. Here he acquired a PhD, British nationality and a senior post in the Department of War Studies at Kings College, London.
In early June he published his latest book. Its title, Cursed Victory, says it all. Although only nine years old in 1967, his insight into the tragedy of Israel after the Six Day War is impeccable.
A country created as a refuge for the most oppressed and persecuted nation in history became, in Bregman’s words, “A heavy-handed and brutal occupier”. Within less than a generation of the Jewish Holocaust it began oppressing, persecuting and de-humanising the non-Jewish natives of the occupied territories with predictably bloody results.
Importantly, the book sheds light on the Israeli/USA relationship, portraying a cheeky tail vigorously wagging a massive and powerful dog.
Israel was given an effective veto over US Middle East policy back in November 1998, when Madeleine Albright wrote a classified letter to Benyamin Netanyahu, which was leaked to Bregman. It stated: “Recognising the desirability of avoiding putting forward proposals that Israel would consider unsatisfactory, the US will conduct a thorough consultation process with Israel in advance…”
Putting Israel in the driving seat resulted in the failure of all peace initiatives from Clinton/Albright to Obama/Kerry 15 years later. Israeli intransigence about giving up even an inch of the Occupied Territories caused a frustrated Albright to write, in another intercepted letter: “You have got no better friend than the US and you have no better friend than Clinton and you have played with his credibility”.
Kerry could have written the same letter in April of this year, but was reduced to expressing his frustration with Israel timidly, in the face of an overwhelmingly pro-Israel Congress and Republicans funded by billionaire casino Zionist Sheldon Adelson.
All the woes of the region since 1967 were caused by one thing: the illegal occupation of Palestinian land by Israel, and the USA’s decades-long support for it and its consequences. Hanging on to the territories has become Israel’s be all and end all, and the US has been left impotent even in the face of one of its own citizens being brutalised by its “strongest ally” this weekend.
As death and destruction return to Israel/Palestine in force, what Bregman and I have in common is a fervent wish that his next book is not entitled Fatal Victory.