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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 5/18/21

Chris Hedges: Israel, the Big Lie

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From Scheer Post

Israel is not exercising "the right to defend itself" in the occupied Palestinian territories. It is carrying out mass murder, aided and abetted by the U.S.

Israeli bombing of civilian neighborhoods in the Gaza Strip
Israeli bombing of civilian neighborhoods in the Gaza Strip
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Nearly all the words and phrases used by the Democrats, Republicans and the talking heads on the media to describe the unrest inside Israel and the heaviest Israeli assault against the Palestinians since the 2014 attacks on Gaza, which lasted 51 days and killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, including 551 children, are a lie. Israel, by employing its military machine against an occupied population that does not have mechanized units, an air force, navy, missiles, heavy artillery and command-and-control, not to mention a U.S. commitment to provide a $38 billion defense aid package for Israel over the next decade, is not exercising "the right to defend itself." It is carrying out mass murder. It is a war crime.

Israel has made it clear it is ready to destroy and kill as wantonly now as it was in 2014. Israel's defense minister Benny Gantz, who was the chief of staff during the murderous assault on Gaza in 2014, has vowed that if Hamas "does not stop the violence, the strike of 2021 will be harder and more painful than that of 2014." The current attacks have already targeted several residential high rises including buildings that housed over a dozen local and international press agencies, government buildings, roads, public facilities, agricultural lands, two schools and a mosque.

I spent seven years in the Middle East as a correspondent, four of them as The New York Times Middle East Bureau Chief. I am an Arabic speaker. I lived for weeks at a time in Gaza, the world's largest open-air prison where over two million Palestinians exist on the edge of starvation, struggle to find clean water and endure constant Israeli terror. I have been in Gaza when it was pounded with Israeli artillery and air strikes. I have watched mothers and fathers, wailing in grief, cradling the bloodied bodies of their sons and daughters. I know the crimes of the occupation -- the food shortages caused by the Israeli blockade, the stifling overcrowding, the contaminated water, the lack of health services, the near constant electrical outages due to the Israeli targeting of power plants, the crippling poverty, the endemic unemployment, the fear and the despair. I have witnessed the carnage.

I also have listened from Gaza to the lies emanating from Jerusalem and Washington. Israel's indiscriminate use of modern, industrial weapons to kill thousands of innocents, wound thousands more and make tens of thousands of families homeless is not a war: It is state-sponsored terror. And, while I oppose the indiscriminate firing of rockets by Palestinians into Israel, as I oppose suicide bombings, seeing them also as war crimes, I am acutely aware of a huge disparity between the industrial violence carried out by Israel against innocent Palestinians and the minimal acts of violence capable of being waged by groups such as Hamas.

The false equivalency between Israeli and Palestinian violence was echoed during the war I covered in Bosnia. Those of us in the besieged city of Sarajevo were pounded daily with hundreds of heavy shells and rockets from the surrounding Serbs. We were targeted by sniper fire. The city suffered a few dozen dead and wounded each day. The government forces inside the city fired back with light mortars and small arms fire. Supporters of the Serbs seized on any casualties caused by Bosnian government forces to play the same dirty game, although well over 90 percent of the killings in Bosnia were the fault of the Serbs, as is also true regarding Israel.

The second and perhaps most important parallel is that the Serbs, like the Israelis, were the principal violators of international law. Israel is in breach of more than 30 U.N. Security Council resolutions. It is in breach of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention that defines collective punishment of a civilian population as a war crime. It is in violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention for settling over half a million Jewish Israelis on occupied Palestinian land and for the ethnic cleansing of at least 750,000 Palestinians when the Israeli state was founded and another 300,000 after Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank were occupied following the 1967 war. Its annexation of East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights violates international law, as does its building of a security barrier in the West Bank that annexes Palestinian land into Israel. It is in violation of U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 that states that Palestinian "refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date."

This is the truth. Any other starting point for the discussion of what is taking place between Israel and the Palestinians is a lie.

Israel's once vibrant peace movement and political left, which condemned and protested against the Israeli occupation when I lived in Jerusalem, is moribund. The right-wing Netanyahu government, despite its rhetoric about fighting terrorism, has built an alliance with the repressive regime in Saudi Arabia, which also views Iran as an enemy. Saudi Arabia, a country that produced 15 of the 19 hijackers in the September 11 attacks, is reputed to be the most prolific sponsor of international Islamist terrorism, allegedly supporting Salafist jihadism, the basis of al-Qaeda, and groups such as the Afghanistan Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Al-Nusra Front.

Saudi Arabia and Israel worked closely together to back the 2013 military coup in Egypt, led by General Adbul Fattah el Sisi. Sisi overthrew a democratically elected government. He has imprisoned tens of thousands of government critics, including journalists and human rights defenders, on politically motivated charges. The Sisi regime collaborates with Israel by keeping its common border with Gaza closed to Palestinians, trapping them in the Gaza strip, one of the most densely populated places on earth. Israel's cynicism and hypocrisy, especially when it wraps itself in the mantle of protecting democracy and fighting terrorism, is of epic proportions.

Those who are not Jewish in Israel are either second-class citizens or live under brutal military occupation. Israel is not, and never has been, the exclusive homeland of the Jewish people. From the 7th century until 1948, when Jewish colonial settlers used violence and ethnic cleansing to create the state of Israel, Palestine was overwhelmingly Muslim. It was never empty land. The Jews in Palestine were traditionally a tiny minority. The United States is not an honest broker for peace but has funded, enabled and defended Israel's crimes against the Palestinian people. Israel is not defending the rule of law. Israel is not a democracy. It is an apartheid state.

That the lie of Israel continues to be embraced by the ruling elites-there is no daylight between statements in defense of Israeli war crimes by Nancy Pelosi and Ted Cruz -- and used as a foundation for any discussion of Israel is a testament to the corrupting power of money, in this case that of the Israel lobby, and the bankruptcy of a political system of legalized bribery that has surrendered its autonomy and its principles to its major donors. It is also a stunning example of how colonial settler projects, and this is true in the United States, always carry out cultural genocide so they can exist in a suspended state of myth and historical amnesia to legitimize themselves.

The Israel lobby has shamelessly used its immense political clout to demand that Americans take de facto loyalty oaths to Israel. The passage by 35 state legislatures of Israel lobby-backed legislation requiring their workers and contractors, under threat of dismissal, to sign a pro-Israel oath and promise not to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is a mockery of our Constitutional right of free speech. Israel has lobbied the U.S. State Department to redefine anti-Semitism under a three-point test known as the Three Ds: the making of statements that "demonize" Israel; statements that apply "double standards" for Israel; statements that "delegitimize" the state of Israel. This definition of anti-Semitism is being pushed by the Israel lobby in state legislatures and on college campuses. The Israel lobby spies in the United States, often at the direction of Israel's Ministry of Strategic Affairs, on those who speak up for the rights of Palestinians. It wages public smear campaigns and blacklists defenders of Palestinian rights -- including the Jewish historian Norman Finkelstein; U.N. Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Territories, Richard Falk, also Jewish; and university students, many of them Jewish, in organizations such as Students for Justice in Palestine.

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Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

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