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Zalman’s Story from the Holy Land and a rant against Margaret Wente

I returned a few days ago from a trip to Israel and to a tiny bit of Palestine. The political scene was more hectic than usual: There was the buzz about the second Flotilla and the unexpected cooperation of the Greek Government with the Israeli authorities to prevent the departure of the boats to Gaza; and then there was the Flytilla. Hundreds of peace activists planning to fly into Israel as a protest to its government policies certainly elevated the level of excitement.

I flew Air Canada and on the return trip from Israel to Toronto was offered The Globe and Mail. Since one doesn’t get much news about Canada in the Israeli press, I was pleased at the opportunity to update myself with Canadian news. I could hardly avoid a column by Margaret Wente entitled “Ship of Useful Idiots”, which irritated me to such an extent that I felt compelled to respond to it rather than write about political events in Israel. Wente is one of hordes of right-wing pen pushers who are predictable about their Middle East analysis. By distorting the truth loudly and often they hope many people will believe them. Here and there they drop something credible. Wente is a member of a group that includes Melanie Phillips in the UK, Martin Peretz and Norman Podhoretz in the US, Claude Bernard-Levi in France and many others. They portray Israel as the unconditional victim under constant threat for its existence while the Palestinians are invariably terrorists aiming their home-made rockets at the heart of a peace-loving Israel.

Wente dedicated this column to the “Freedom Flotilla to Gaza”, the courageous attempt to break the blockade Israel has been imposing on Gaza for the more than five years now. The first attempt initiated by Turkish peace activists, ended with the murder of nine passengers and the wounding of several dozens more. When it comes to defending Israel, her version of events would be that the Israelis rappelled down from attack helicopters armed to the teeth opened fire only after the activists attacked them with deck chairs.

Years ago in Israel we used to tease kids who had difficulties in spelling for having seven spelling errors in the word Noah, which is written in Hebrew with only two letters. Wente’s article outdoes this joke.

Wente claims that the latest version of the Freedom Flotilla was a bust. Perhaps, but only if its purpose was to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Was it? Much more likely its real goal was to draw the world’s attention to the plight of the Gazans. As such, it was a great success. During my brief visit to Israel all the media, newspapers, TV, Radio, focused on the Flotilla.

It is true, as Wente claims, that Gaza is controlled by Hamas. What is not true is that Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel, or that it endorses the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Hamas was also elected in highly democratic elections held in all the Occupied Territories and supervised by a team of international observers led by Jimmy Carter. They followed demands by US President Bush the younger who insisted that the only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be to democratize the Palestinian body politic. Such views were previously expressed by Nathan Sharansky, then a senior cabinet minister who wrote a book President Bush claimed to have read from cover to cover. The highly democratic results of the Palestinian elections should have been hailed throughout the Western world for marking a desirable new development in this part of the world. But it appears that the powers that be in the US, Israel and other allies “love” democracy only when the election results conform to their expectations. The election results were dismissed since Hamas is considered a terrorist organization. So the vote of the majority of the people of Gaza is insignificant. The fact that they proposed an armistice agreement extending over one hundred years is never mentioned or that they formally agreed to abide by all previous agreements between the Palestinians and Israel, including the Oslo agreements, or that Hamas was never the first to violate a cease-fire agreement. The only thing that seems to matter to Israeli apologists, is that Hamas refuses to recognize Israel on religious grounds, notwithstanding Israel’s demand that Hamas and all other Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish and Democratic state, which it is not on either count.

The Pro-Israeli lobby describes the Middle East as symmetrical although the military and economic power of the two sides to the conflict is far from symmetrical. Israel does not recognize the Hamas or even the PA. No one issues a demand that Israel recognize the Palestinians as a sovereign independent state. The burden of recognition seems to lie exclusively on the shoulders of the Palestinians, particularly those of Hamas. Hamas must stop arming itself, must stop responding to Israeli provocations and altogether must stop firing rockets into Israeli territory. No such demands are ever presented to Israel, which can arm itself as it wishes. It can violate the airspace, water resources, and shore line of Gaza or any other Arab territory for that matter. It can also shoot as many missiles as it wishes into Palestinian/Hamas territory. Why this blatant asymmetry when symmetry is such a desirable variable, is never explained.

Wente’s narrative claims that Hamas is backed by Iran and their leader, Khaled Mashal, is based in Syria “Where as you may recall the regime of Bashar el Assad is busy killing its own people”. How does the fact that Mashal is based in Syria affect the “Ship of Useful Idiots”? What does the claim that Hamas is backed by Iran have to do with it? And what does the undeniable cruelty of the Assad regime in Syria have to do with the cruelty of the blockade Israel imposed on Gaza? Wente cannot provide evidence of the backing of Hamas by Iran, and omits or ignores the fact that when Mashal lived in Jordan, Israeli agents attempted to poison him. King Hussein of Jordan, a strong opponent of Hamas himself, forced the Israelis to save his life. Mashal settled in Syria, relatively beyond Israeli reach. Wente also fails to mention that the Assad regime was backed by both the US and Israel for years. They long preferred a dictatorship that didn’t challenge Israeli dominance to a more democratic regime that would be less tolerant of Israeli aggression.

At the end of her article Wente states that Israel’s blockade exists to stop rampant weapons smuggling into Gaza, which is precisely what Israel’s propaganda machine is saying. Is it factually true? The blockade was imposed on Gaza to try and break the Hamas by making life for the ordinary Gazans so miserable that they would rise against their leaders. With the help of a renegade Gazan named Mohamad Dahlan, Israel and the US tried to trigger a rebellion hoping to dislodge Hamas from its position of power. This too did not work and Dahlan had to escape to save his life. Dozens of articles by Israeli journalists and others have been written about this issue. Wente possibly knows nothing of this.

The border between Gaza and Egypt has dozens of tunnels through which food, utensils and even weapons are smuggled. The Israeli response to the Flotilla could not and did not stop the passage of weapons into the Gaza Strip. If Israel called for an international agency to inspect the flotilla to ensure no weapons were on board and then allow it to continue to Gaza, the symbolic supplies on board the ships would arrive safely and peacefully on Gaza’s shores. But that is not and never was the purpose of the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

Wente tells us things in Gaza are not all that bad. The Gazans have an abundance of flat screen TV’s, new cars and lavish weddings. Anyone who has ever been to Gaza can report of the hardships imposed by Israel on the inmates of the world’s largest prison. Wente might be better informed by reading the numerous articles written by Amira Hass, an Israeli reporter who lived in Gaza for several years. The picture that emerges from Hass’s descriptions is so far from the one described by Wente that it begs the question: in what political reality does Wente live? But then we know the answer. Almost anything Israel does or wants is good and acceptable. Everything the Palestinians want is bad and those helping the Palestinians to survive are fools.

I for one join the fools.

Zalman Amit is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the Center for Studies in Behavioral Neurobiology in Concordia University, Montreal. He is the author of four books and over 300 articles. He was one of those academics who were brave enough to ask to be added to the list of people who were being targeted by Campus Watch. Amit was born in Palestine and spent the first fourteen years of his adult life as a member of Kibbutz Hakuk.

Edited by Daphna Levit

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