Guardian Gaza War blog cites ‘expert’ on…platitudes and distortions

In the early hours of Tuesday, Israel launched a military operation against Hamas, Operation Protective Edge, in response to incessant Hamas rocket fire and the terror group’s refusal to agree to a ceasefire.  Though the Guardian was relatively slow to respond to the story, at 13:45 Israeli time they finally launched a Live Blog on the war, titled ‘Israel steps up offensive against Gaza – live updates‘, edited by Matthew Weaver. 

One of the first blog entries highlighted the analysis of Chris Doyle, Director of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU).  (As BBC Watch has noted, CAABU is a pro-Palestinian advocacy group, and a well-established part of the Arab lobby in the UK “with no fewer than three MPs and two former MPs sitting on its executive committee“.)

Here’s a snapshot of the Guardian blog post:


First, note Doyle’s odd understanding of Israeli history. We’re evidently supposed to believe that the Suez Crisis of 1956, the Six Day War in 1967, and Yom Kippur War in 1973 – and even the 2006 Lebanon War! - all can be fairly characterized as examples of “invading and smashing Gaza“?

Further, concerning the actual recent wars in Gaza (2008-09 and 2012), and despite Doyle’s skepticism on the efficacy of military actions, it’s quite clear that both major IDF operations resulted in a dramatic and sustained decrease in Hamas rocket attacks.

Also of note is Doyle’s strategy for solving the conflict – ‘opening up Gaza’, presumably by easing Israel’s blockade of illegal weapons – which conveniently overlaps with the demands set by Hamas, whose spokesperson earlier today said the group would not agree to a ceasefire until Israel’s blockade of Gaza ends

Though Doyle does acknowledge that Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli civilians represent a war crime, he of course fails to factor in to the political equation Hamas’s refusal to accept Israel’s existence within any borders, their antisemitic ideology, and the explicitly genocidal threats of their leaders.

The words ‘War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing’ are of course iconic song lyrics, but the sentiments they represent don’t provide Guardian readers with anything resembling a serious prescription for solving the myriad of problems caused by Islamist extremism in the Middle East.

Disputed legal territory: Guardian assails Australia’s right to dissent on Jerusalem

h/t to international law expert, Eugene Kontorovich 

Though Guardian contributors often complain that pro-Israel forces instill a ‘enforced orthodoxy‘ over the debate about Israel in the media and in Western capitals, they suddenly lose their passion for dissent when encountering views at odds with the Palestinian narrative on the disputed territories in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Thus, shortly after the Australian Attorney General issued a statement declaring that the government would no longer refer to east Jerusalem as “occupied” – arguing that the term is “freighted with pejorative implications” – the Guardian published their predictable denunciation in the form of an op-ed by a lawyer (and anti-Israel campaigner) named Ben Saul.

Saul begins by complaining that “Australia’s new view” on Jerusalem “corrodes the international rule of law and violates Australia’s international law obligations”. He then cites international legal conclusions which purportedly back up the claim that east Jerusalem is “occupied” – including the 2004 opinion of International Court of Justice (ICJ), which he even acknowledges was only an ‘advisory’ opinion – and therefore is not binding on Israel, let alone Australia.

Further, despite their position on east Jerusalem, Australia’s policy vis-à-vis the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict has not undergone a substantive change.  They merely decided to avoid using a term they believe is unhelpful in the context of efforts to reach a two state solution. As Australia’s Ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, explained (per an article by Yair Rosenberg at Tablet) in response to questions about the Attorney General’s decision, “the government’s policy hasn’t changed at all”. Sharma also noted that the Australian position is still that “final status issues as identified by Oslo—and that includes the status of Jerusalem, borders, right of return—are all amenable only to political negotiations and a political solution”.    

Rosenberg summed it up thusly: In other words, Australia’s policy is not intended to endorse one side over the other, but rather to maintain neutrality and avoid prejudging the outcome of negotiations.

Later in his Guardian op-ed, Saul misrepresents a key element of the history of the city.

In the 1967 war, Israel displaced prior Jordanian control over east Jerusalem. Jordan’s claim was contested by Israel. Jordan’s claim was contested by Israel. Jordan later renounced its claim in favour of the Palestinian right of self-determination.

However, his claim that Jordan’s legal claim on east Jerusalem “was contested by Israel” is extraordinarily misleading.  In fact, their annexation of east Jerusalem was universally rejected by the international community, with the lone exception of Pakistan (Great Britain accepted the annexation of the West Bank, but not east Jerusalem).  Also of interest, though almost every country in the world refused to recognize Jordanian sovereignty over Jerusalem, we could find no evidence than any country officially referred to it – between 1949 and 1967 – as “occupied”.

Further, it is not true, as Saul claims, that Jordan renounced claims to east Jerusalem “in favour of the Palestinian right of self-determination“.  In fact, Article III of the 1994 Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty states the following:

The boundary, as set out in Annex I (a), is the permanent, secure and recognised international boundary between Israel and Jordan, without prejudice to the status of any territories that came under Israeli military government control in 1967.

Saul then proceeds to an even more egregious distortion:

Australia’s position therefore dangerously signals that Palestinians living in east Jerusalem no longer enjoy the protection of humanitarian law, but are subject only to Israel’s wishes.

Naturally, he fails to note that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians in east Jerusalem are permanent residents of Israel, and are thus entitled to all the rights provided to Israeli citizens – including legal and judicial protections – with the exception of the right to vote in general elections. (They do vote, however, in municipal elections.)  Saul’s claim that Australia’s position “signals to Palestinians” in east Jerusalem that they don’t enjoy humanitarian protections is just absurd, and not at all supported by the facts.

Saul continues with the familiar refrain that “most of the settlements violate article 49 of the Geneva conventions“, a claim contradicted by hundreds of jurists and ambassadors, including International lawyer Prof. Eugene V. Rostow and Ambassador Morris Abram, a member of the U.S. staff at the Nuremberg Tribunal who was later involved in the drafting of the Fourth Geneva Convention.  

Abram stated:

[The Convention] was not designed to cover situations like Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, but rather the forcible transfer, deportation or resettlement of large numbers of people.

Later in his op-ed, Saul makes a bizarre logical leap:

Australia’s refusal to call the occupation for what it is necessarily endorses Israeli’s illegal acquisition of territory by force.

As we noted earlier, Australia’s position on the future status of the disputed territories “has not changed at all”. They certainly have not – in fact or in effect – ‘endorsed’ Israel’s “acquisition” of territory in Judea and Samaria, and east Jerusalem.

Finally, the mere fact that Saul and others might claim that calling Jerusalem “occupied” represents the “near-universal legal status quo” does not make it so. First, the term itself is generally “used in international law to denote the presence of one country in sovereign territory that belongs to another”.  

Additionally, Israel is the only recognized nation with a legitimate claim to the West Bank (including Jerusalem) – territory which was, for hundreds of years, until the end of World War I, the equivalent of a province in the Ottoman Empire. The territory never had any unique national standing other than as the future Jewish national homeland as stipulated by the League of Nations.

As Roslyn Pine argued on these pages:

Israel’s sovereignty and legitimacy in international law derives from the San Remo Resolution of 25 April 1920 (recognising the Balfour Declaration), as does that of Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, following the WWI settlement. It was supplemented by the Mandate for Palestine of July 1922, and the Franco British Boundary Convention of December 1920.

Jewish national rights accorded by these agreements have never been abrogated and are indeed binding to the present day.

Thus, while the status of east Jerusalem (which, let’s recall, includes the ancient Jewish quarter of the Old City and the Western Wall, the holiest site at which Jews are permitted to pray) is disputed, it is not accurate to affirm – as if there is no legal debate on the matter – that is “occupied”. 

Guardian culture critic characterizes Six Day War as the ‘Israeli invasion of the West Bank’

nbNicholas Blincoe is an author, critic, screenwriter and former advisor to Nick Clegg who now devotes much of his time to various forms of anti-Israel activism.  Indeed, Blincoe is an enthusiastic supporter of BDS, and has written a book sympathetic to the terrorist-abetting International Solidarity Movement.  

He also has a troubled relationship with the truth, having once opined that the mission of Israeli archeology is “to erase the traces of non-Jewish civilizations” and, as we revealed in a recent post, falsely claimed in a Guardian op-ed that Binyamin Netanyahu argued (in his book A Place Among the Nations) that Israel shouldn’t have to abide by international legal norms.

Blincoe has even praised the writings of a neo-Nazi style racist named Gilad Atzmon. 

So, we obviously weren’t expecting much – by way of adherence to journalistic and professional norms – when we came across his recent Guardian review of a new film by “Palestinian” film-maker Annemarie Jacir (Annemarie Jacir: an auteur in exile, June 5).

Sure enough, the second paragraph of his review included this ‘historical’ howler.

When I Saw You is the tale of a 12-year-old boy and his mother – though comparisons to About a Boy stop there. Set in the aftermath of the 1967 Israeli invasion of the West Bank, the film follows Tarek, a refugee living in a UN camp within sight of the land he and his mother have lost

As anyone even vaguely familiar with the war would surely know, to characterize the Six Day War in June 1967 as an “invasion of the West Bank” is supremely dishonest.  First, there is no historical debate about the fact that Israeli leaders, in the weeks leading up to the outbreak of hostilities on June 5, tried desperately to avoid a military confrontation with Arab nations which, in addition to blocking the Straits of Tiran, amassed massive quantities of troops and heavy weaponry along its borders while issuing bellicose statements predicting Israel’s imminent destruction.

More relevant to the passage at hand, even when the war began, Israeli officials – trying desperately to avoid having to fight on another front – appealed to Jordan’s King Hussein to not enter the war. It was only when – buoyed by erroneous reports of Egyptian success on the first day of the war – Jordan initiated offensive actions against Israel from east Jerusalem and the West Bank (Jordanian artillery began shelling Israeli targets from Jerusalem to Tel-Aviv) that Israeli forces counter-attacked.

Of course, Nicholas Blincoe knew exactly what he was doing in obfuscating the real sequence of events in the Six Day War.  Indeed, the Palestinian narrative – especially regarding the fate of the “refugees” – requires that such activists mislead readers into believing that the occupation was the result of an Israeli war of aggression, rather than a desperate Jewish fight for survival against multiple Arab nations openly calling for Israel’s “eradication”.  

The ‘occupation’ of the West Bank and east Jerusalem was the direct result Israel’s defensive war fought during six days in June, and based on the sober determination that, absent a real peace treaty with its Arab neighbors, the state would never again allow itself to be at such a strategic disadvantage as was the case with its indefensible pre-June boundaries.

Characterizing the Six Day War as the “Israeli invasion of the West Bank” is ahistorical and dishonest, and represents the style of pro-Palestinian propaganda we’ve come to expect in almost any Guardian report, op-ed or literary criticism which so much as touches upon the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

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Israelis celebrate 47th anniversary of Jerusalem reunification (Photos from Judy Lash Balint)

Judy Lash Balint (photo journalist, blogger and author of Jerusalem Diaries: In Tense Times and Jerusalem Diaries II: What’s Really Happening in Israel) observed the following yesterday while covering events to commemorate Yom Yerushalayim:

Thousands of Israelis dressed in blue and white and carrying Israeli flags took to the streets of Jerusalem on May 28, 2014 to celebrate the reunification of the city in the 1967 Six Day War. Parades and prayer services marked the day, while many took the opportunity to take part in walking tours of historic parts of the city.

Here are some of the photos taken by Lash Balint of the day’s festivities, published here with permission.













You can see additional Jerusalem Day photos by Lash Balint here.

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Jewish Empire? The Guardian refers to communities in Jerusalem as “colonies”.

Whilst we’re all too used to Guardian reports which demonize Israeli communities on the ‘wrong’ side of the 1949 armistice lines, we occasionally notice that their reporters at times adopt language about the ‘settlements’ in Judea and Samaria which parrots that of the most extreme anti-Zionist activists.  

A perfect example of this rhetorical expression of pro-Palestinian sympathy was Harriet Sherwood’s use of the term “political prisoners” in a Guardian story in May to characterize the pre-Oslo prisoners, all of whom were convicted of (mostly terrorist related) murder, accessory to murder or attempted murder.  Though we were able to influence the Guardian to remove that grossly inaccurate term from the article in question, we recently came across another example of the propagandistic manipulation of language in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

In “Middle East peace talks: prisoner release and new settlement push raises temperature, August 11th, Harriet Sherwood writes the following: [emphasis added]

“Eight hundred of the new homes will be built in colonies across the pre-1967 Green Line in Jerusalem – the part of the city the Palestinians want as the capital of their future state. Construction could take two years. All settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal under international law.”

Similarly, a month earlier in “EU takes tougher stance on Israeli settlements“, Sherwood wrote this: 

“The European Union has dealt a harsh blow to the Israeli settlement enterprise in a directive that insists all future agreements between the EU and Israel must explicitly exclude Jewish colonies in the West Bank or East Jerusalem.”

Of course, the word “colonies”, as it is normally understood, typically refers to a group of people from one country who settle in a foreign country distant from their homeland – an accurate characterization of the former British Empire, for instance.  Indeed, by the early 20th century Britain had ‘acquired’ foreign colonies representing over one-quarter of the world’s land mass, including territories in Africa and Asia thousands of miles from the British mainland, with large indigenous populations.

The neighborhoods in “East” Jerusalem to which Sherwood refers – areas such as Pisgat Ze’ev and Gilo which non-Jews, including Israeli Arabs, will also live – are currently uninhabited and are adjacent to existing Israeli neighborhoods.

map of jerusalem borders 67 before and after

To refer even to Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”) as “colonies” is ahistorical, given the historical Jewish connection to these ancient lands, but to impute such a pejorative status to such neighborhoods in Jerusalem is nothing more than extremist agitprop – denying Jews’ religious and historical connection to the city (literally the epicenter of the faith), as well as Jews’ continuous presence there for thousands of years.

The only time of course that “Arab East Jerusalem” was indeed completely Arab (without any Jews) was after the Arab-Israeli War in 1948-49 during which they were forcefully expelled by the Jordanians – a Judenfrei status which only ended in 1967. 

To refer to neighborhoods in Jerusalem where Israelis live as “colonies” not only grotesquely distorts history and ordinary language, but also echoes the hateful anti-Zionist rhetoric of Mondoweiss, Electronic Intifada and Ben White – those who continually attempt to undermine not only the legitimacy of the “settlements” but the very right of the Jewish state to exist within any borders. 

Fisking a Guardian terror apologist’s rhetoric

Cross posted by A. Jay Adler at the Algemeiner


Glenn Greenwald

Apologia in the rhetorical tradition is not a common apology, in the simple sense of “sorry,” though it may fulfill that purpose. It may decidedly not. Apologia is a defense against accusation. Plato gave us Socrates’s Apology, which was not. In the religious tradition, apologia is known as apologetics. Apologetics are a defense of doctrine, certainly not an apology for it. One of the features of apologia as a rhetorical form is its variety of type, from outright apology to outright rejection of any need for one.

In between we may see explanation or justification, evasion of responsibility, minimization of the offense, and more. One tactic of the apologia seeks to draw convoluting distinctions, or conversely, to eliminate clarifying distinctions, in order to redefine the terms of the offense so as to rationalize it away.

The post 9/11 era has been a veritable golden age of terrorist apologia. Of course, we have always had it. “Let them eat cake,” in the context in which it was purportedly said, even before the French Revolution, is a form of terrorist apologia: it seeks, as one type, to reduce the offense. And today’s golden age stands on the shoulders of the classical age of Marxist-Leninist apologia. Got a problem with dictatorship as a form of terror? How about bourgeois dictatorship to justify the supposed proletarian replacement for it?

“The most democratic bourgeois republic is no more than a machine for the suppression of the working class,” said Lenin at the First Communist International.

It is the “no more” that is really rich. One tactic of terror apologia, the muddying of distinctions, attempts to turn the solid ground of complexity into the swamp of confusion. Terror apologia does this in order to erase the useful meanings of the words that can be used against the source of the terror. So Marxists attacked the meaning of democracy. They defanged the threat of dictatorship. Slavoj Zizek authors a book entitled Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? in defense of – guess. Now, whereas Marxists in their revolutionary ascendance championed revolutionary terror, terror apologists frequently argue that the word, used these days against the interests they defend, has no meaning.

Events of recent weeks – the Boston bombings and the savage murder of British soldier Lee Rigby in London – have delivered a new round of rank and ill-reasoned apologias for terrorism, offered in the same low and recognizable style that took shape immediately after 9/11. They provide a source for some rough notes toward a rhetoric of terror apologia. As it happens one source readily serves to provide much of these early notes. England’s Guardian, apparently intent on establishing not only that it has hit the bottom of the barrel in its political commentary, but is determinedly scraping it, hired away from Salon Glenn Greenwald. Greenwald is that terror apologist who has yet to encounter the hackneyed thought he will not think or the trite articulation he will not utter. A former civil liberties attorney, he refers to himself these days as a writer, but surely that is only in the mechanical sense.

Any nascent rhetoric of terrorist apologia has to begin with the key term itself.

“Terrorism” is a meaningless term

Greenwald and his confreres assert this regularly. Last year, in his final column for Salon, Greenwald wrote,

That is what Terrorism is: a term of propaganda, a means of justifying one’s own state violence — not some objective field of discipline in which one develops “expertise.”

He concluded by affirming,

It is a telling paradox indeed that this central, all-justifying word is simultaneously the most meaningless and therefore the most manipulated.

Greenwald was writing there about what he and others refer to as a “terrorism expert industry.” He was drawing on the work of his favorite scholar on the subject, Remi Brulin, who has studied the use of the word terrorism post World War II and particularly beginning with U.S. counter-insurgency efforts in Central America in the 1980s under Reagan. Brulin also ties this development to Israeli adoption of the term after the Six-Day War to refer to Arab – well, excuse me, but I cannot find a more accurate word – terrorism against it.

As recently as last week, as part of a back and forth with Andrew Sullivan over the murder of Rigby, Greenwald claimed that

it is difficult to devise a definition of “terrorism” that encompasses this attack while excluding large numbers of recent acts by the US, the UK and many of their allies and partners.

Later in the same piece, Greenwald referred to the work of another scholar, Harvard’s Lisa Stampnitzky, whose book

makes the argument indicated by its title: “Disciplining Terror: How Experts Invented ‘Terrorism’”. The functional meaninglessness of the term “terrorism” and its highly manipulative exploitation are vital to several political agendas.

We see in these quotations, two of the primary tactics of terror apologia. The first is to muddy the waters so as to render the term terrorism ineffective in designating the barbarisms of contemporary Islamists and of other movements, such as the Iraqi and Taliban insurgencies and the Second Palestinian Intifada, that utilized for instance, the tactic of suicide bombing and, in some cases, beheading. By asserting that the term is misapplied, even purposely misused, and by repeating programmatically that it is thus meaningless, the intent is to render it just that.

At the same time, a covert counter effort is being pursued. When Greenwald says that “it is difficult to devise a definition of ‘terrorism’ that encompasses this attack while excluding large numbers of recent acts by the US, the UK and many of their allies and partners,” such a declaration aims at multiple effects. One is that terrorism is effectively disempowered as a meaningful designation of the automobile, hacking and beheading attack on Rigby. A contrary effect is that the referenced U.S., U.K. and allied war activities now become stuck with the term.

What are they talking about? the not unsympathetic reader of Greenwald thinks – look at those invaded countries, those dead children from Western air attacks. They’re the terrorists.

(Greenwald accompanied this commentary with, of course, a photograph of dead Afghan children. A whole other, visual rhetoric is developing around the use of dead children images.)

A third possible effect, no less possible because self-contradictory, is that the pure sense of the terrorizing nature of such acts as those by Islamists is diminished, the force of moral censure lessened – aided, additionally, by that claim that Islamist acts are “blowback” – even as the conviction grows that Western acts are themselves terroristic, and original, in nature. The definitional challenge, then, is actually quite a clever stratagem: to employ a chess metaphor, it is a move that sacrifices a rook (any claim to meaning for the word terrorism) with the prospect not only of capturing the Queen (loosening the connection to Islamist acts) but of checkmating the King as well (strengthening the connection to Western actions).

These are rhetorical strategies. Can we sight a true field of contest behind the screen of maneuvers? Yes, we can. Despite the efforts to obfuscate understanding of a concept and the distinctions among actual events to which a concept might apply, we can distinguish a clear concept – a meaningful definition – from faulty application.

Note, for instance this curious self-refutation. Greenwald’s go-to scholarly sources on the corrupted nature of terrorism as a concept aim their critiques specifically at expert “invention” and maintenance of the idea. Stampnitzky’s book is subtitled “How Experts Invented ‘Terrorism.’” Brulin, too, has focused his research on the role of experts in the modern development and promulgation of the idea. Greenwald titled that last post at Salon, “The sham ‘terrorism expert’ industry.

Now, what has Greenwald done in response? He has called in his own “experts” to offer a counter history and narrative.  Well, fine, that is what intellectual discourse involves, in addition to the quality of the arguments and the raw evidence – the testimony, and its quality, of experts in a field. The deciding factors in any intellectual debate will not be derisory quotation marks around a word or the sham character of the experts, but the sham character – if that it be – of the arguments.

Experts that Greenwald and his sources disapprove make one set of arguments. Greenwald and his own experts make theirs. What we want to consider, particularly with respect to argument over a word and its meaning, is the coherence of the concept being considered. One of Brulin’s particular areas of focus, and his very special objection, is to the disqualification, as part of the meaning of terror, of  state terror in application by those he believes manipulate its use today. He pays pointed attention to that U.S. support in the 80s for the regime in El Salvador, with its death squads, to which I add the U.S.’s material support for the Guatemalan government’s genocidal program against Mayan peasants during a similar period. Brulin argues that the one-sided application of the concept of terrorism only to non-state actors, in favor of the state institutions of power, diminishes the credibility of those who work with so slanted an application.

I agree. To the degree that anyone’s definition or application has been so slanted, it does diminish – fatally, I aver – that person’s credibility on the issue. Terror is terror, whoever inflicts it. “Terrorism is terrorism,” Brulin himself declared in Foreign Policy.

Ah, but according to Greenwald, that word “is simultaneously the most meaningless and therefore the most manipulated.” Notice, too, that Greenwald, crawling very far out on the phantom limb to which he is regularly drawn, does not say that the word is meaningless because it is manipulated – the common critique from his quarters – but manipulated because it is meaningless. The word, according to Greenwald, simply has no meaning. Yet even Brulin does not claim that.

In a 2010 interview with Greenwald, Brulin commented on the historical significance, in developing the contemporary understanding of terrorism as a concept, of the Israeli Jonathan Institute, named after Jonathan Netanyahu. In response to a question from Greenwald, Brulin offered,

Actually, it’s interesting, because they did come up with a definition which is more or less similar to one that you mentioned earlier in one of your pieces, meaning the one from the State Department, and it’s a very basic definition – I’m trying to find it here, yeah, it’s right here – “terrorism is the deliberate systematic murder, maiming and menacing of innocents to inspire fear in order to gain political ends.” So there is nothing that is controversial about that definition; it is very broad. It is nonspecific.

What Brulin means – what he should be meaning – when he says this definition is not controversial is that it is not political. It is not at all, as he claims, broad and nonspecific: it is clearly distinguishing of behavior and purpose, without ideological tendency, a characteristic of the definition with which both he and Greenwald should be pleased. Somehow, they are not. The distinguishing terms “deliberate,” “systematic,” and “innocents” are nonetheless vital to this definition.

Brulin then goes on to speak about how the term was politicized at the 1979 conference of which he speaks, and at a second in 1984. However, this raises the distinction once again, which Greenwald is always at pains to smear, between definition and application. It is not a distinction that, Noam Chomsky, for instance, in so many respects in sympathy with Greenwald and Brulin, fails to recognize. Well before 9/11, in 1991, Chomsky contributed to a collection, Western State Terrorism, the essay “International Terrorism: Image and Reality,” in which he began by observing, in different words, this distinction.

There are two ways to approach the study of terrorism. One may adopt a literal approach, taking the topic seriously, or a propagandistic approach, construing the concept of terrorism as a weapon to be exploited in the service of some system of power.

The “literal” approach is toward a clear, accurate, and unbiased elucidation of a concept.  The “propagandistic” approach is political, in the determination to corrupt the definition by restricted application. Chomsky’s further, explanatory “exploited in the service of some system of power” is entirely gratuitous. Exploitation of a concept in service of a biased end requires no system of power, merely an exploitative actor of any kind, like a columnist for a British daily. That addition is Chomsky’s own ideological bias irresistibly distorting his pretense of explanatory clarity. Still, the  point is made again: misapplication of a concept, distortion or manipulation of a concept, is distinct from the absence of a meaningful concept. To misuse a word by restricted application is not to rob the word of meaning, unless, that is, some people will grasp at the opportunity to achieve that end, for their own purposes.

Brulin’s purpose, in part, joined by Greenwald, was well summed by the latter in that final Salon post.

From the start, the central challenge was how to define the term so as to include the violence used by the enemies of the U.S. and Israel, while excluding the violence the U.S., Israel and their allies used, both historically and presently. That still has not been figured out, which is why there is no fixed, accepted definition of the term, and certainly no consistent application.

This description serves several ends. Again, though the distinguishing language of “definition” and “application” appear, Greenwald is incapable of holding them in his mind in clear and distinct relation to each other. More, since the purpose of this exposition is to establish the role of Israel and of “neocons,” in creating the current ideologized understanding of terrorism, there is also the subtle contribution of asserting of this role that it “still has not been figured out” – a clear call to those inclined to nefarious conspiracy mongering, which, of course, inevitably leads to this

Most importantly for this consideration, the description returns us yet once more to that apparent effort to render the word and the notion of terrorism meaningless. There is, Greenwald will repeatedly declare in differing formulations, “no fixed, accepted definition of the term.”

Is there, then, one wonders – just to choose a comparative example – a fixed and accepted definition of so profoundly important a word as “justice,” which is not yet to address any “consistent application of the concept? Just try attaching the word “social” to the notion of justice and see the arguments that ensue.

Yet the 1979 conference organized by the Jonathan Institute did arrive at a clear definition – a definition, I assert, that is the one most people, encountering or using the term, more or less have in mind. Has such a definition not been fairly applied in some quarters, and by institutions of power, to all the various manifestations of terrorism in the world? Fair and trenchant criticism. But, then, what is the goal of this criticism? To perform a balanced corrective or to, in actual effect, reverse the charge?

If we review that answer Brulin gave Greenwald on the definition of terrorism devised at the ’79 Jontahan Institute conference, we see that Brulin claimed that it “is more or less similar to … the one from the State Department.” However, this is the U.S. State Department definition:

premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.

Note that the State Department definition does, in the manner objected to by Brulin, Greenwald, and many others, restrict the understanding of terrorism to violence perpetrated by non-state actors. By this definition, the Stalinist purges (“The Great ‘Terror’”), China’s Cultural Revolution, the Argentine and Chilean disappearance campaigns of the 1970s and 80s under the Generals and Pinochet, the Killing Fields campaign of slaughter by the Cambodian Khmer Rouge, the wide array of genocidal campaigns against the world’s indigenous populations could none of them be labeled terrorism. The State Department’s definition is clearly formulated to focus attention on one kind of terrorism and away from state terror. Noam Chomsky’s description, we saw, was pointedly directed in an opposing manner, toward (“systems of power”) state terror only. The Jonathan Institute conference definition erred in neither of these directions. Yet Brulin and Greenwald quickly dismissed it.

Recall that Glenn Greenwald, in sympathy with many like him, wrote just days ago that

it is difficult to devise a definition of “terrorism” that encompasses this attack while excluding large numbers of recent acts by the US, the UK and many of their allies and partners.

How little Greenwald pays attention, even to himself. The Jonathan Institute definition referred to “the deliberate systematic murder, maiming and menacing of innocents.” However much some may think the U.S. and others screwed the pooch in Iraq or misapplied themselves at some point or other in Afghanistan, do they truly wish to argue that just as Al Qeada and its varied Islamist affiliates and sympathizers, and just as the Iraqi insurgency and the Taliban today, these Western nations engaged or are engaging in “deliberate,” in “systematic” attack on innocents? (Does Glenn Greenwald wish to claim that the images of dead children he exploits for the purpose of ideological contest in a daily newspaper were the victims of “deliberate, systematic murder”?) Well actually, some people do. We know that. Some people do argue that.

In which case, well and clear. We can argue that instead and for real, or, in some cases not – standing, we recognize, at uncorrectably cross purposes to one another. But let us not pretend, then, that the difference is over the meaning of the word terrorism. Let us not pretend that the disagreement is fundamentally definitional, linguistic, or rhetorical. There is, indeed, a rhetorical war in progress. But to reverse Clausewitz, as politics can be the continuation of war by other means, rhetoric is a continuation of politics by other means. Among its varied uses, it can smoke the battlefield and screen our movements. Some people blow a lot of smoke.

Let us be clear, instead, about where we stand, who we stand with, or against, and what we stand for.

(Next time: more notes, more rhetoric, more nonsense.)

Guardian/AP story on Tunisia’s Jews omits history of antisemitic persecution

An AP story written by Bouzza Ben Bouzza, and published by the Guardian on April 27, entitled ‘Jews ease back into Tunisia for famed pilgrimage‘, reports on a three-day Jewish pilgrimage (which took place over the weekend) to the Ghriba synagogue.  Ghriba is the oldest synagogue in N. Africa, and traces its origins to Jewish exiles who fled the destruction of the first Temple  in 586 BCE.

Rabbis at the entrance of El Ghriba synagogue Djerba, Tunisia, 1940's

Rabbis at the entrance of El Ghriba synagogue
Djerba, Tunisia, 1940’s

The pilgrimage to the Tunisian island of Djerba – where the ancient synagogue is located – is linked to the Jewish holiday of Lag Ba’Omer, and, in past years, has attracted thousands of Jews from Europe, Israel and the US.

The AP/Guardian story aptly describes some of the more interesting details of the synagogue, such as the following:

The site is rich with legend. The first Jews who arrived were said to have brought a stone from the ancient temple of Jerusalem that was destroyed by the Babylonians. The stone is kept in a grotto at the synagogue. Women and children descend into the grotto to place eggs scrawled with wishful messages on them.

The report also provides some proper historical context – such as the deadly Islamist attack on the synagogue in 2002 which significantly deterred Jewish participation in the pilgrimage for several years.  

At its peak in 2000, about 8,000 Jews came — many from Israel, Italy and France, where they or their forebears had moved over the years. Such crowds haven’t returned since an al-Qaida-linked militant detonated a truck bomb at the synagogue in 2002, killing 21 people, mostly German tourists — and badly jolting the now-tiny Jewish community.

And, the report also includes the following passage accurately citing events during the “Arab Spring” which affected the pilgrimage:

The pilgrimage was called off in 2011 in the wake of Tunisia’s revolution, when major street protests ousted longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia, and some ultra conservative Muslims called Salafis chanted anti-Semitic slogans at their rallies. Last year, the pilgrimage resumed on a tiny scale: Only 100 or so foreigners came. This year, community leaders hope 300 to 500 will have come.

However, the report then provides the following highly selective history of Tunisia’s Jews. 

Jews have been living in Djerba since 500 B.C. The Jewish population has shrunk to 1,500, down from 100,000 in the 1960s. Most left following the 1967 war between Israel and Arab countries, and Socialist economic policies adopted by the government in the late 1960s also drove away many Jewish business owners.

First, this truncated history entirely leaves out the oppression of Tunisia’s Jews during the Nazi period.

Jewish Virtual Library (JVL) explains:

In 1940, as Tunisia was subjected Vichy policy discriminatory, anti-Jewish legislation was implemented. By 1942, the Nazi’s were occupying Tunisia arresting Jewish leaders and sending many Jews to North African Nazi camps. According to Robert Satloff, “From November 1942 to May 1943, the Germans and their local collaborators implemented a forced-labor regime, confiscations of property, hostage-takings, mass extortion, deportations, and executions.” At least 160 Tunisian Jews were deported to European death camps.

Moreover, there is much about the roughly 99% decrease in Tunisia’s Jewish population during the latter half of the 20th century that the writer left out.

For instance, per JVL, even before the Six Day War antisemitic policies enacted by the Arab government caused many Jews to flee.

When Tunisia gained independence in 1956, the new government passed a series of discriminatory anti-Jewish decrees. In 1957, the rabbinical tribunal was abolished and a year later the Jewish community councils were dissolved.  The government also destroyed ancient synagogues, cemeteries, and even Tunis’ Jewish quarter for “urban renewal” projects.

Additionally, as JVL further explains, it wasn’t Tunisia’s economic policy which drove away Jews but, rather, antisemitic persecution and violence by local Arabs.

During the Six-Day War, Jews were attacked by rioting Arab mobs, while businesses were burned and the Great Synagogue of Tunis was destroyed. The government actually denounced the violence and appealed to the Jewish population to stay, but did not bar them from leaving.

The increasingly unstable situation caused more than 40,000 Tunisian Jews to immigrate to Israel and at least 7,000 more to France. By 1968, the country’s Jewish population had shrunk to around 10,000.

Whilst the Tunisian government may have historically treated their Jewish citizens a bit better than other Arab governments, the antisemitic persecution which largely served as a catalyst for the Jewish exodus certainly mirrors what occurred in the rest of the Middle East – a regional ethnic cleansing of Jews from Arab lands which continues to represent one of the most underreported crimes in recent history.

‘Comment is Free’ contributor claims 1967 Six Day War was act of Israeli aggression

Raja Shehadeh is a Palestinian Arab who’s the former director of the Palestinian NGO Al-Haq, a radical group which has characterized Palestinian terror attacks as legitimate “resistance” and is currently being led by Shawan Jabarin, a Palestinian with alleged ties to the PFLP terrorist group.


The Guardian posted a video on Oct. 9, 2012 of an interview with Shehadeh in which he casually suggested that Israel’s goal was to ethnically cleans Palestinians, so his latest “analysis” on Palestinians’ views about yesterday’s Israeli election, ‘Israel’s elections mean little to most Palestinians – with good reason‘, ‘Comment is Free’, Jan. 23, should come as no surprise.

Shehadeh didn’t waste any time contextualizing what he characterized as Palestinian indifference to the particular results of the Israeli election by evoking the political parallel of disenfranchised blacks under South African apartheid, and soon pivoted to the following additional fiction:

“Since the beginning of the occupation more than 44 years ago, no Israeli government has indicated willingness to accept that its status is that of an occupier of territory acquired through a belligerent war, and consequently been willing to withdraw from these areas and hand them over either to the surrounding Arab states or to a newly created sovereign, independent Palestinian state.”

The idea that Israel acquired territory in June 1967 though a “belligerent war” is a gross historical lie.

The Six Day War was instigated by Arab leaders who explicitly stated that their aim was nothing less than the annihilation of Israel, while Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol did everything possible to avoid a military confrontation with the much larger Arab forces.

In the weeks leading up to the war, Egypt’s President Nasser had ejected UN peace keeping forces from Sinai and Gaza, closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, and contributed the bulk of forces to a combined Arab army – much of which was amassed along Israel’s porous borders – consisting of 500,000 troops, more than 5,000 tanks, and almost 1,000 fighter planes.  Threatening rhetoric coming from Cairo, Damascus and Baghdad included the following by Nasser on May 27 and 28, 1967:

“Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight . . . The mining of Sharm el Sheikh is a confrontation with Israel. Adopting this measure obligates us to be ready to embark on a general war with Israel.”

“We will not accept any … coexistence with Israel. … Today the issue is not the establishment of peace between the Arab states and Israel …. The war with Israel is in effect since 1948.”

Additionally, while the Soviets had begun supplying the Arabs with arms in the build-up to the war, France, Israel’s major arms supplier, had issued a complete ban on weapons sales to the Jewish state.

Israel – which, in 1967, wasn’t in control of one inch of Arab territory – was facing total isolation, and the realistic prospect of complete annihilation, when the IDF launched a successful strike on the Egyptian Air Force on the morning of  June 5, ‘officially’ beginning a war which would result in a swift Israeli victory and the acquisition of Gaza and the Sinai, from Egypt, and the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem from Jordan.

Further, contrary to the duplicitous claims made by Shehadeh, in the immediate aftermath of Israel’s victory, Arab leaders, much to the surprise of Israeli leaders, maintained their belligerence and refused to enter into direct peace talks with the Jewish state.  Instead, at a meeting of the Arab League in Khartoum in September, they pledged to continue their struggle against Israel, and insisted on no peace, no negotiations, and no recognition.

Israel would subsequently withdraw from the Sinai, in the context of a peace treaty with Egypt, and leave Gaza unilaterally.  

However, Israeli offers to withdraw from nearly all of the remaining territory held since ’67, and offer statehood (within geographically contiguous boundaries) to Palestinian Arabs – who were never offered sovereignty under Egyptian and Jordanian rule – would be rebuffed by Yasser Arafat in 2000.  The Palestinian President responded to the peace offer by initiating a bloody terror war which would last over four years and claim over a thousand Israeli lives.  (Interestingly, in 2002 Shehadeh characterized Arafat as “admirable” for not having “betrayed” his people by accepting the Israeli peace offer.)

Another offer of Palestinian statehood, which included the equivalent (with land swaps) of 100% of the West Bank, all of Gaza, and eastern Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, was rejected by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2008.

Palestinians, like Arab leaders in ’67, have continued to say no to peace and recognition of the Jewish state.

While Guardian reporters and ‘CiF’ contributors are free to be as hostile to Israel’s existence as they wish, allowing such pro-Palestinian activists the right to engage in such polemical malice, and egregious misrepresentations of history, by characterizing the Six Day War as a Zionist ‘war of aggression’ more befits a Palestine Solidarity Campaign propaganda flyer than the virtual pages of a “serious” newspaper.

Related articles

Real ‘impediments to peace’ vs those imagined by the Guardian: Maps, facts & figures

Conventional wisdom – as advanced by the mainstream media (MSM) including the Guardian – regarding the factors representing the main obstacles to ending the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict rarely faces much critical scrutiny. Indeed, assumptions regarding the primacy of issues such as “settlements” and “the occupation” are often impervious to contradictory evidence. 

The Guardian’s coverage of the region is constantly colored by such assumptions.

Here are a few facts which, if more widely disseminated, would at least allow for a more honest debate about the conflict.


Percentage of West Bank land inhabited by Israeli “settlers”, per even Palestinian sources: 1.1 %.


Percentage of Palestinians in West Bank under Palestinian civilian rule: Between 96 and 98%.

Palestinian’s want peace?

Percentage of Palestinians who accept Israel’s right to exist: 23%.

Palestinian support for terrorism

Percentage of Palestinians who support suicide bombing: 68% (Highest percentage of any nation/polity in the Arab world).

Palestinian antisemitism

Percentage of Palestinians who openly express an unfavorable view of Jews (and not merely Israelis): 97%.

“Expansionist” Israel 

Percentage of land from which Israel withdrew in the 45 years since the Six Day War: More than two-thirds. (Sinai, Gaza, South Lebanon and much of the West Bank)

Logic of land for peace:

Israel withdrew from 100% of South Lebanon in 2000, 100% of Gaza in 2005 and 40% of the West Bank under the Oslo Accords.  

Contrary to expectations, Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon dramatically strengthened the political influence and military capacity of Hezbollah and arguably led to the Second Lebanon War.  

Similarly, Israeli withdrawal from Gaza resulted in the territory being taken over by Hamas, more than 8,000 rockets fired at Israeli communities and, ultimately, the Gaza War.  

Israel’s military pullout from much of the West Bank created a vacuum which was filled by Palestinian terrorists, thus creating the dynamics which prepared the ground for the 2nd Intifada. 

Lessons learned:

Finally, whilst none of these facts should necessarily preclude negotiations between the two parties, it is vital that the clichés, distortions and outright lies about what truly prevents a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian (and Israeli-Arab) Conflict be abandoned and a more sober, and factual, understanding of the moral and political dynamics embraced.

It’s the Settlements, Stupid: Alon Liel’s Fantastic Vision for Peace in our Time

A guest post by Gidon Ben-Zvi, who blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind

The road to peace? A Jewish child sits in front of the rubble of a structure demolished by Israeli police in a settlement outside Ramallah, on Sept. 5, 2011.

A frenzy of sorts has broken out surrounding a former Israeli ambassador to South Africa’s recent backing of international efforts to prevent produce originating in Jewish settlements in the West Bank from being labeled “Made in Israel”.

The goal of such a policy, according to former ambassador Alon Liel, would be to protect and reinforce the pre-1967 border. Liel goes on to commend the decision of South African and Danish governments to delineate between products originating in Israel and those coming out of “settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories…” since such settlements “…are not [in] Israel [but] are built on occupied land outside Israel’s internationally recognised borders and are illegal under international law.”                                                                                                     

While Liel’s piece is loaded down with references to “international law”, the esteemed former diplomat fails to communicate a most basic fact: international law makes a clear distinction between land occupied during a war of aggression and land taken as a result of a defensive war.

Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip in a war of survival. In fact, Israel’s seizing of land in 1967 was, arguably, the ONLY legal acquisition of this territory in the 20th century. In contrast, Jordan’s occupation of the West Bank from 1947 to 1967 had been the result of an offensive war launched against the fledgling Jewish state in 1948. With the exception of Great Britain and Pakistan, this particular occupation was never recognized by the international community, including the Arab states.

Having delegitimized Israel’s claim to the territory it acquired during the Six Day War, Liel then takes aim at that pesky, perpetual enemy of peace in the Middle East: the settlements. According to the former ambassador: “[t]he continuing settlement expansion threatens to make a two-state solution to the conflict impossible.”

Indeed, concern over Israeli settlement construction is not a new issue. Yet, despite the “the expansionist policy of Israel’s rightwing government led by Binyamin Netanyahu”, serious, concerted efforts have been made to determine and cement the legal status of the outposts in the “occupied territories”.

On July 3rd, 2012, a committee tasked with examining the legality of Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria, headed by a retired Israeli Supreme Court justice, concluded that international law does not preclude Israeli construction on land owned by the state. The committee also declared that communities built with government assistance were implicitly authorized.

However, the report that the committee, established by Prime Minister Netanyahu, issued went far beyond merely asserting Israeli sovereignty over the disputed territories. It also made a concerted effort to address lingering legal issues regarding communities which were not built on privately owned Palestinian land, but whose status was still in doubt due to legal bureaucracy.

The report also criticized Israeli government action in the territories, stating that “dozens of new neighborhoods have been erected, without government authorization and at times without a contiguous link to the mother community… several were built outside the legal jurisdiction allotted to the community.”

Having whitewashed the existential threat faced by Israel that precipitated its military response in June, 1967 – against Arab nations openly committed to the destruction of the Jewish State - Liel then proceeds to demonize the Jewish inhabitants of homes that were subsequently built in these territories.

Liel aims to shock with his presentation of the old and intellectually fuzzy demographic time bomb argument: 550,000 Jewish settlers now squatting in the “occupied” lands. Truth be told, over two-thirds of the Jews in the West Bank live in five settlement “blocs” that are all near the 1967 border.

Most Israelis believe these blocs should become part of Israel when final borders are drawn.

Furthermore, built-up settlement area is less than two percent of the disputed territories. An estimated 70 percent of the settlers live in what are in effect suburbs of major Israeli cities such as Jerusalem. These are areas that virtually the entire Jewish population believes Israel must retain to ensure its security.

In short, the main obstacle to peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors has never been the territories, or the settlements, or the settlers – it has been the very existence of Israel. From 1949–67, when Jews were forbidden to live in the West Bank and “East” Jerusalem, the Arabs nonetheless refused to make peace with the “Zionist Entity”.

It is worth considering that the growth in the Jewish population in the territories may actually serve as a catalyst for peace since the Palestinians now realize that time is on the side of Israel, which can build settlements and create facts on the ground. Realizing this, Israel’s peace partners may finally acknowledge that the only way out of its dilemma is face-to-face negotiations, without preconditions. 

Ultimately, the disposition of settlements is a matter for final status negotiations. While one may legitimately support or challenge Israeli settlements in the disputed territories, they are not illegal. Furthermore, Alon Liel’s favorite obstacles to peace have neither the size, population, nor placement to have a serious impact on sincere efforts to reach a comprehensive agreement with the Palestinians on issues of disputed territories.

Guardian obit on Yitzhak Shamir reduces sum of former PM’s moral life to Palestinian litmus test

Since June 1967 Israel has relinquished the overwhelming majority of land captured during the defensive Six Day War, including the Sinai and Gaza.  In fact, as early as June 19, 1967 (8 days after the war) the Israeli government agreed in principle to giving up the Sinai and the Golan Heights (to Egypt and Syria respectively) in exchange for peace, with separate negotiations to be conducted regarding the future of Gaza and the West Bank.

Indeed, Palestinian identity was almost exclusively a product of the Six Day War.

But, while Israelis indeed never saw their post-Six Day War boundaries as permanent, neither, until relatively recently, was the idea of a Palestinian state a serious consideration, especially before 1988 when the PLO had not even begun to mouth vacuous platitudes about “peace and recognition. Even in 1996 – the height of Oslo and the year Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated - a majority of Israelis still opposed the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

So when Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir agreed to participate in the Madrid Conference in 1991, the conference’s goals of Palestinian autonomy and self-rule were consistent with the expectations of the time.

Though Ehud Barak’s peace offer to the Palestinians in 2000 (which Yasser Arafat turned down) included the creation of an independent, and territorially contiguous Palestinian state, in 2001 Ariel Sharon was the first Prime Minister to officially proclaim that a Palestinian state was the goal of his administration. The governments headed by Ehud Olmert and Binyamin Netanyahu repeated the same objectives.

So, as Sharon was the first PM to officially proclaim support for the creation of a Palestinian state in 2001 (and Barak’s de facto recognition occurred in 2000), how are we to understand the strap line and opening sentence of the Guardian’s report by Cass Jones, June 30th 2012, on the death of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir?

How can Shamir, who last served as Prime Minister in 1992 – 8 to 9 years before the idea of a Palestinian state was a serious consideration within the Israeli political milieu – be defined by his “reputation” as an uncompromising opponent of Palestinian statehood?

Shamir lived 96 years.

Members of his immediate family were murdered during the Holocaust.

Yet his long and complex life is callously, though quite characteristically, reduced by Jones to his performance within perennial litmus test which continues to frame the good Jew – bad Jew moral framework of the Guardian left.

Of course, the fact that – 64 years after its birth – even the most “moderate” Palestinian leaders refuse to recognize Israel as the Jewish state (and often reject Israel’s “right” to exist entirely) would never be the narrative focus of a future Guardian obituary for Saeb Erekat or Mahmoud Abbas.   

The Six-Day War: Day Six

Jewish Ideas Daily commemorates the forty-fifth anniversary of the Six-Day War with a day-by-day synopsis, for which we are indebted to Michael Oren’s comprehensive Six Days of War.

After five days spent battling Arab forces, Israel now faced a new opponent: time. With the Egyptians and Jordanians out of the war on day four, and the Syrians having agreed to a ceasefire, the Security Council was becoming restless.

General David Elazar’s forces would have only a few hours to take the strategically important Golan Heights.

Fighting through the night, Elazar aimed to reach Quneitra junction in the north and Butmiya junction in the south. But the Syrians held their lines.

By dawn, Elazar had made little progress, and thinking that a ceasefire was imminent, despaired of reaching his objectives. But then he received a telephone call from Rabin: the government had not yet committed to a ceasefire; he would have more time.

Granted this reprieve, Elazar rallied his men and redoubled the assault. But now—to his astonishment—the Syrian resistance evaporated. At the village of Mansura, they found empty tanks; at Banias, the trenches were deserted. While Quneitra remained in Syrian hands, Radio Damascus was nonetheless broadcasting its capture.

Mistrusting their Arab allies, the UN, and, most of all, the Soviets, the Syrian government had given up on a ceasefire and ordered a full scale retreat. By announcing the fall of Quneitra, they had their pretext for consolidating their troops around Damascus. Indeed, the leadership did not feel safe even there: first the general staff, then the ministers fled the capital for Aleppo.  

But the Soviets had not yet given up on their Arab protégés. The Kremlin formally broke diplomatic relations with Israel and gave the White House an ultimatum: “We propose that you demand from Israel that it unconditionally cease military action . . . We propose to warn Israel that if this is not fulfilled, necessary actions will be taken, including military.” The White House issued a verbal response that the USSR should place similar pressure on Syria; but to make sure the message got through, President Johnson ordered the Sixth Fleet, sailing west of Cyprus, to turn back east to within a hundred miles of Israel’s coast.  

Having dealt with the Soviets, Johnson set about following their advice. At the UN, the the American Ambassador, Arthur Goldberg, met with the Israeli Ambassador, Gideon Rafael, telling him that “the United States government does not want the war to end as the result of a Soviet ultimatum. This would be disastrous for the future not only of Israel, but of us all. It is your responsibility to act now.”

The message from Washington came back to Jerusalem and on to Elazar at the front: Eshkol and Dayan would give him until 2 p.m. to finish the job, before agreeing to a ceasefire. Quneitra, completely deserted, fell at 12:30 p.m. But the advance was still too slow; the retreating Syrian army had littered the roads with heavy equipment, hindering the Israeli offensive. Moreover, Elazar coveted Mount Hermon, with its panoramic views of Damascus.

Yet Dayan was not out of tricks yet. He had arranged ceasefire talks with the chief UN Observer, Norwegian General Odd Bull, in Tiberias; but when Bull arrived, he found that the meeting had been moved to Tel Aviv. The two finally met at 3, and set the ceasefire for 6 p.m. But Dayan issued Bull a condition: no UN observers were allowed near the ceasefire line. Thus the war was already over when, the following morning, an Israeli helicopter crew made it to the summit of Mount Hermon and planted its flag.

The fighting was over, and the Great Powers were appeased; but between Israel and her Arab neighbors, the tension was hardly defused. Egypt, Jordan, and Syria had all lost territory, military hardware, and men—in Egypt’s case, between ten and fifteen thousand. Despite her stunning victory, Israel had also suffered casualties, with some eight hundred dead, and two and a half thousand wounded. With no desire to fight again, on June 19th, Eshkol’s cabinet decided—albeit by only one vote—to surrender the Sinai and the Golan in exchange for peace.

But the Arabs were hardly amenable to reconciliation. Meeting on September 1st at Khartoum, the Arab League summit issued a resolution affirming that peace with Israel was too high a price to pay:

“The Arab Heads of State have agreed to unite their political efforts at the international and diplomatic level to eliminate the effects of the aggression and to ensure the withdrawal of the aggressive Israeli forces from the Arab lands which have been occupied since the aggression of June 5. This will be done within the framework of the main principles by which the Arab States abide, namely, no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it, and insistence on the rights of the Palestinian people in their own country.”

The Arab League’s commitment to the rights of native peoples did not extend to Jews born in Muslim lands. The World Islamic Congress, meeting in Amman later that month, declared:

“Jews of Arab Countries: the Congress is convinced that Jews living in Arab countries do not appreciate the kindness and protection that Muslims have granted them over the centuries. The Congress proclaims that the Jews who live in the Arab states and who have contact with Zionist circles or the state of Israel do not deserve the protection and kindness that Islam grants to non-Muslim citizens living freely in Islamic countries. Islamic governments must treat them as enemy combatants. In the same way, Islamic peoples must individually and collectively boycott them and treat them as mortal enemies.”     

Pogroms followed in Tripoli, Tunis, and Baghdad; across the Islamic world, Jews abandoned their ancient communities—many fleeing to Israel. In Egypt, the persecution began during the war. A Jew in Cairo, Benjamin Melameth, recalls being arrested on the first day of the war and systematically beaten:

“All this time officers were walking up and down whipping us with their branches of palm trees,and some of them ran and jumped on our shoulders. Anyone who lost their balance or who flinched received a rain of blows . . . . When the turn of the Rabbi of Alexandria arrived, they crucified him to the bars of the front door of the prison. Then they beat him until he lost consciousness.”

Yet it was the plight of the Arabs of Gaza and the West Bank which captured international attention. Forty-five years on, with the Palestinian question still unresolved, the received wisdom holds that the Six Day War was, in hindsight, a defeat for Israel.  The Economist called it “one of history’s Pyrrhic victories,” stating that “in the long run, the war turned into a calamity for the Jewish state no less than for its neighbors.”

Der Spiegel was even more explicit, with a hint of guilty pleasure:

“But Israel still pays the highest price today in the Palestinian territories. The state that has its roots in the bitter experiences of 2,000 years of persecution had, in fact, subjugated another people itself. An army that had been established for the purpose of defense suddenly found itself in the role of an occupier.”

But to see victory as a worse outcome for Israel than defeat is to forget that Israel fought the war just to survive; victory was the only option. As Moshe Dayan’s daughter, Yael, wrote in the Daily Telegraph just a year after the war:

“A year ago I was in uniform with a division on the Egyptian border. We, in the front, had no doubt as to the inevitability of war. We also knew we were going to win it. We were not going to win because we were more numerous, more battle-happy, or more ambitious. We were going to win, at whatever cost, because losing meant extermination . . . . These obvious facts should be remembered, simply because we were victorious. When a David wins, he stops being David in a way, and his motives become suspect. On June 5, 1967, we risked all we had.”

If Israel exchanged the sympathy of a beleaguered minority for the moral dilemmas of a majority in 1967, it is only because peace with her Arab neighbors was impossible. To quote Yael Dayan again: “If our face is changed, it is only because security and peace did not prove to be synonymous and we have chosen the first, are not offered the second, and have to live with the results.”

The Six-Day War: Day Five

Jewish Ideas Daily has been commemorating the forty-fifth anniversary of the Six-Day War with a day-by-day synopsis, for which we are indebted to Michael Oren’s comprehensive book ‘Six Days of War

Once Dayan decided against a limited attack in the Golan and opted instead to take the entire Heights, Israel’s air force pounded the Syrians. The Syrians had supposed the Israelis to be tired and intimidated by their incessant shelling; unprepared for the ferocity of the barrage, their morale suffered, and some officers and soldiers deserted. But the bulk of Syria’s forces remained in place, ready to give fight, while hoping for UN intervention.

Traffic jams delayed Israeli reinforcements from other fronts, retarding an assault from the south; the attack proceeded in the center, but involved exhausted Israeli tank crews climbing the rocky terrain of steep (2000 ft) hills in broad daylight, totally exposed to Syrian fire from the enemy’s most formidable forces. Upon hearing of the plan, some commanders described it as “suicide.” But they proceeded unafraid.

Israeli tanks climbing a steep hill in the Golan Heights

With tank maneuverability reduced by the terrain, the Israelis found themselves at the mercy of dug-in Syrian tanks. Pressing on, the fighting was intense and confused as tanks fired at extremely close range.  Maps were lost, bulldozers were destroyed as they tried to clear away barbed wire, and the threat of landmines was everywhere. The Israelis also underestimated the ability of the Syrian bunkers to withstand massive bombing.

“The Syrians fought well and bloodied us,” recalled one Israeli commander, but after a whole afternoon in battle, the IDF had made important advances. The successes were not without cost, however, in men and arms. The Syrians did manage to stop the IDF’s movement, but they too had taken a beating, and were left fearful and chaotic.

Even without reinforcements, the IDF in the south moved ahead with an attack reminiscent of the bloody battle for Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem: fighting at close quarters, often hand-to-hand. As troops advanced, the first soldiers to reach the Syrian perimeter laid down on the barbed wire, enabling the rest of the squad to vault over it. Reaching the trenches, the fighting remained intense: “Whenever a helmet popped up, we couldn’t tell if it was one of ours or not,” related an Israeli battalion commander. The seven-hour struggle left many dead.

Israeli forces managed to accomplish most objectives well ahead of schedule, but were still only eight miles into Syrian territory. The conquest of the entire Golan, Rabin estimated, would take another two days of fighting at least. Beyond its front lines, Syria’s forces remained intact, though some were recalled to defend Damascus. Defense Minister Assad swore in a speech to continue to battle “Zionist imperialist aggression,” Arab ambassadors were summoned to determine what military assistance their countries could provide, and a special appeal was made to Egypt, Syria’s ally by treaty.

The Syrian-Israeli front

But Egypt was reeling from Israel’s coup de grace in the Sinai and could offer no help.  The Israelis took the Suez Canal, but—whether out of overconfidence or fatigue—did not occupy its northern terminus, thus neglecting a port critical to the massive Soviet rearmament of Egypt. No new arms, however, could compensate for the impression of thousands of Egyptian soldiers limping in humiliation back to Cairo.  Nasser later remarked that the IDF could have also entered the capital. 

The Egyptians rioted against Nasser, who took the blame.  When it seemed like the people might demand a firing squad, he tendered his resignation in a live broadcast:

But then, in a bizarre turnaround, the people flocked to the streets in a display of public mourning, demanding that he stay in power. Westerners were incredulous about this course of events, but whether impromptu or planned, the demonstrations of support convinced Nasser to accept the resignations of his military commanders while remaining in office himself.

Meanwhile, the Israeli agenda at the UN was to stall, so that Israeli forces could create conditions on the ground for a real and stable ceasefire.  But while demands to end the fighting waned in New York, they waxed in Washington, where the State Department was truly fearful of Soviet intervention.

Back in Israel, Prime Minister Eshkol supported Dayan’s turnaround and granted approval to continue the campaign through the night.  Dayan was skeptical as to how much farther the IDF could advance, but with the arrival of the delayed reinforcements, the commanders on the ground were preparing to move. The Syrians braced themselves for the Israeli onslaught. “Pave the roads with the skulls of Jews,” Assad ordered. “Strike them without mercy.” The fight, Damascus held, was not over.

The Six-Day War: Day Three

Cross posted at Jewish Ideas Daily

This week, Jewish Ideas Daily commemorates the forty-fifth anniversary of the Six-Day War with a day-by-day synopsis, for which we are indebted to Michael Oren’s comprehensive Six Days of War.

As Nasser was ordering his army to flee the Sinai, King Hussein commanded his to stay put. But within the Old City, only a hundred soldiers remained, the rest having already retreated toward the East Bank. Doubting that he could retain the city by force, Hussein opted to negotiate an immediate ceasefire. The Jordanian Prime Minister, Sad Juma, petitioned both the UN and the U.S. Ambassador, Findley Burns, Jr., to convince Israel not to seize the Old City or Nablus. If Israel did, he warned, the Hashemite monarchy could collapse.  Relaying the message to President Johnson, Burns perceived a much more dangerous threat: The Soviets could intervene.

Wary of Nasser’s wholly unsubstantiated allegations of direct American support for Israel, Johnson neglected to recommend any course of action to Eshkol—short of informing him of the offer, and warning, from Hussein. More problematic was an impending Security Council decision, coupled with the gradual return of Jordanian troops to the Old City. If they couldn’t win the battle, they could at least delay the Israelis until the Security Council stepped in. Eshkol, Dayan, and Rabin agreed: for Israel to retake the Old City, she had to act now.

As the sun rose on June 7th, 1967, artillery started shelling the area around the Augusta Victoria hospital east of the Old City, swiftly followed by air raids, clearing the way for paratroopers. The soldiers proceeded southwest, taking the Mount of Olives, and then descending the hillside until they stood outside Lions’ Gate. They were soon joined by tanks, which opened fire, cleaving the gate.  The troops charged into the square, through a hail of gunfire from Legionnaires on the walls and rooftops, and onwards into the city’s narrow, medieval streets. As soldiers spread out, heading for the Via Dolorosa, the Damascus, Jaffa, and Zion Gates, Lt. Gen. Mordechai Gur led his men up to the Temple Mount. After another exchange of fire, Gur relayed back the words that the country was waiting to hear, now immortalized: “Har ha-Bayit b’Yadenu”—”The Temple Mount is in our hands.”

But the Temple Mount was still not the biggest prize: Gur had yet to take the Kotel.  But neither he nor any of his men knew the way down. At a loss, Gur asked directions from an old Arab man. But this time, Gur was beaten to the punch. Men from the Jerusalem Brigade and the 71st Paratroopers Battalion were already there—celebrating, in spite of the continuing sniper fire.

In an interview with the Observers Conal Urquhart, Zion Karasenti, who appears in David Rubingers iconic photo, claimed to have been the first to the wall—though at the time he had no idea where he was: 

I was the first paratrooper to get to the Wailing Wall. I didn’t know where I was, but I saw a female Israeli soldier, so I asked “Where am I?” and she said: “The Wailing Wall.” She gave me a postcard and told me to write to my parents before she disappeared. It might have been a dream, but then many years later I met the woman. She had been in the postal corps.     

Paratrooper Moshe Amirav, who left his hospital bed to visit the Kotel after hearing of its capture on the radio, recalls following in Gur’s footsteps down from the Temple Mount through Mughrabi Gate:

We ran there, a group of panting soldiers, lost on the plaza of the Temple Mount, searching for a giant stone wall. We did not stop to look at the Mosque of Omar even though this was the first time we had seen it close up. Forward! Forward! Hurriedly, we pushed our way through the Magreb Gate and suddenly we stopped, thunderstruck. There it was before our eyes! Gray and massive, silent and restrained. The Western Wall!

Among Gur’s party was Shlomo Goren, the IDF’s Chief Rabbi, who said kaddish and then blew the shofar—perhaps heralding the advent of the Messiah. Goren suggested to Dayan, Rabin, and General Uzi Narkiss, who had arrived in a triumphant procession, that the IDF use its remaining ammunition to destroy the mosques in anticipation of the reconstruction of the Temple.

But Eshkol had preempted Goren’s reverie.  Refusing to be caught up in the euphoria, unlike the rest of the country—including his senior officers—Eshkol had placed the holy sites of the Old City under the jurisdiction of their respective religious authorities. Moreover, as his forces continued their conquest of the West Bank, he was already starting to worry about what to do with its inhabitants.

Similarly cut off from the Jerusalem fever were the troops still fighting in the Sinai. In the early hours of the morning, an aerial reconnaissance mission went to scout what were presumed to be redoubtable Egyptian defenses at Sharm el-Sheikh, only to find it deserted. The garrison at Sharm el-Sheikh had received orders directly from Amer to fall back. A similar scene awaited Israeli soldiers in the central Sinai. The second line of the Egyptian defense had dissolved into isolated pockets of resistance, as the troops fled back towards the Suez Canal, burning their own bases as they went. The Israelis gave chase, aiming to circumvent the Egyptians and cut off their escape. But with men and burning vehicles clogging the roads, the Israeli advance was held up by the Egyptian retreat. 

Meanwhile, cognizant of the collapse of the Arab forces, the USSR issued Eshkol an ultimatum: “If Israel does not comply immediately with the Security Council Resolution, the USSR will review its relations with Israel [and] will choose and implement other necessary steps which stem from the aggressive policy of Israel.” The immediate response to this new Soviet belligerence came not from Eshkol, but from Amer. Having ordered a general retreat, Amer now told those battalions which had already crossed the canal to turn around to make one last stand on the western shore.

The war was not over, but the symbolic victory was overwhelming, and the spirit of the people indelibly altered.  While Eshkol and his cabinet were debating strategy, “Hatikvah” was ringing out at the Kotel and “Jerusalem of Gold” was filling the airwaves. 

The Six Day War: Day Two

This week, Jewish Ideas Daily commemorates the forty-fifth anniversary of the Six-Day War with a day-by-day synopsis, for which we are indebted to Michael Oren’s comprehensive book, ‘Six Days of War.  

Abba Eban

In the Sinai, Israeli aircraft commanded the skies and the IDF advanced along roads littered with Egyptian tanks.  Some were in flames, illuminating the darkness; others were simply immobilized by malfunctions in their Soviet-made engines, which had failed in desert conditions.  On June 6th, 1967, by 8:00 a.m. Tel Aviv time, Israeli forces had entered el-Arish.  It initially seemed desolate, but the Israelis were soon under fire from every window.  Israel’s leadership, not expecting the war to move so quickly, had not considered what do to beyond el-Arish.  The IDF’s challenge became keeping up with the retreating Egyptian forces.

Meanwhile, Gaza had been severed from Sinai.  Though Defense Minister Moshe Dayan had predicted that this move would cripple the Strip, fighting was heavy; Gaza would ultimately account for nearly half of all the war’s Israeli casualties.  Still, Dayan’s prediction was correct: Gaza was taken by mid-morning.

Yet even as Egyptian anti-aircraft gun barrels melted from the continuous, unsuccessful efforts against Israeli planes, more than half of Egypt’s forces were intact.  Some important detachments had yet to see action.  Pilots remained available.  Forty-eight Algerian aircraft were en route, along with volunteers from Morocco, Tunisia, and Sudan.  Expressions of support poured in from Arab sympathizers.  By contrast, Israel’s forces were exhausted from over 24 hours of non-stop combat and were low on fuel and ammunition.

Meanwhile, another front was opening in the war—a political front.  In a 1:00 a.m. radio broadcast, IDF Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin had informed Israelis of the previous day’s astounding military successes.  The broadcast boosted morale; but, Rabin knew, carried a risk: The international community might now seek a cease-fire, preventing further Israeli advances and threatening Israel’s gains with pressures for unreciprocated concessions.  The United States and Britain had declared neutrality, while France, then Israel’s primary patron, had embargoed further arms shipments.

Egypt’s leadership now ordered a wholesale retreat: An army assembled in 24 days began trying to draw back in as many hours.  Egyptian leaders may have believed that the more devastating their reversal looked, the more likely it was that the United Nations or Soviet Union would intervene.  They also began propagating the disinformation that America and Britain had intervened on Israel’s behalf.  During the day, this rumor spread across the Middle East.  Mobs attacked American embassies and consulates.  Exports to America and Britain were banned.  Egypt severed its U.S. diplomatic ties; other Arab states followed suit.  Americans were deported from Egypt at virtually a moment’s notice.

In the east, Jordanian forces were losing ground in tense, sometimes hand-to-hand combat as Israeli forces sought to “atone for the sin of ’48,” their failure to take Jerusalem’s Old City in the War of Independence.  By 5:15 a.m., Israel had won East Jerusalem’s Ammunition Hill in one of the bloodiest battles in Arab-Israeli history.  It took more hours of heavy fighting for the Israelis to capture Mount Scopus.  Angering some field commanders, Dayan decided to surround the Old City rather than attack.  Even the efforts at encirclement proved arduous.

Of the promised Arab reinforcements, only Iraqi forces saw combat.  The Saudis sent a contingent, but it did not fight.  An Egyptian doctor attached to Saudi forces on the eastern border remembered: “We hoped”—fruitlessly—”that one Israeli plane would attack us, so that we could say that we participated in the war and we fired our guns.”

Jordan’s military retained significant strength, but King Hussein panicked when his generals warned him before dawn that failing to retreat from the West Bank would decimate his army.  He feared that if he accepted a cease-fire while Egyptians still fought, Egypt would blame him for defeat; he might face mutiny from his military and Jordan’s Palestinian Arabs.  He summoned Western ambassadors in Amman to warn that his kingdom might fall without an internationally imposed cease-fire.  He repeated the rumor that America had intervened to support Israel. President Lyndon Johnson heard and was infuriated.

Hussein also requested orders from Egypt but, for hours, received none.  Meanwhile, the IDF took the West Bank cities of Jenin and Ramallah and advanced toward Nablus and Qalqilya.  Hussein raced to the battlefield in a jeep.  He later recalled what he saw there: “In groups of thirty or two, wounded, exhausted, [soldiers] were trying to clear a path under the monstrouscoup de grace being dealt them by a horde of Israeli Mirages screaming in a cloudless blue sky seared with sun.”

In the north there was an abortive Syrian probe but general disorganization: The bridges across the Jordan River, for instance, were too narrow for Soviet tanks.  Dayan resisted opening a northern front.

Recognition was growing that the war would be decided in New York and Washington.  Sleepless for nearly two days, Foreign Minister Abba Eban flew to the UN; his plane was almost hit by Jordanian shrapnel.  Arriving in New York, he went straight to the Security Council.  With barely time to review his notes, he delivered what became a famous oration on Israel’s behalf.

In the United States, President Johnson, with an election season beginning, was cognizant of the public’s pro-Israel feeling—and angered by the Soviet role in the war and the misinformation about American behavior.  He was inclined to let Israel keep its gains and use them as bargaining chips.  Yet America allowed the UN to move toward a cease-fire.  Eban reluctantly acquiesced, and a resolution was passed.  But Israel was saved from the potential consequences when Egypt rebuffed the resolution, complaining that it did not require full and immediate Israeli withdrawals.

At 11:15 p.m., King Hussein finally received word from Egypt that its air force was obliterated and its army in full retreat.  Now Hussein could, and did, order a withdrawal from the West Bank.  He then heard about the UN resolution; the cease-fire would take effect at dawn.  Hussein accepted the resolution—and rescinded the order to retreat, in hopes that his forces and their Iraqi reinforcements could hold parts of the West Bank and the Old City until morning.