Israel Without Illusions

Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images
Protesters against the Israeli separation barrier fleeing a tear gas attack by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank village of Bil’in, July 10, 2009

For most Israelis, the fact that the Hamas government in Gaza was firing missiles deliberately aimed at killing Israeli civilians is enough to justify whatever Israeli soldiers did in Gaza last January. In the public media within Israel, to say nothing of the government’s pronouncements, the ongoing international debate on questions of human rights abuses in Israel and the charges of war crimes put forward by the report of Richard Goldstone for a UN fact-finding mission have produced little more than the usual disingenuous accusations of anti-Semitism. Even Moshe Halbertal, an unusually cogent Israeli participant-observer, takes the Goldstone commission to task for trying to link the Gaza campaign to the wider context of the occupation and Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. “Why,” he asks, “should a committee with a mandate to inquire into the operation in Gaza deal with the Israeli–Palestinian conflict at large?”1

There are, in my view, problems, distortions, and lacunae in the Goldstone report—some of them resulting from the fact that the Israeli government refused to cooperate with the commission. At the very least, Israeli testimony, by both ordinary soldiers and higher-ranking officers, might have modulated the sweeping conclusions in three of the most damning chapters of the report: “Chapter X. Indiscriminate Attacks by Israeli Armed Forces Resulting in the Loss of Life and Injury to Civilians”; “Chapter XI. Deliberate Attacks Against the Civilian Population”; and “Chapter XIII. Attacks on the Foundations of Civilian Life in Gaza.”2 I also agree with Halbertal that Hamas benefits from an almost eerily neutral tone in the report.3

But the report’s attempt to link whatever happened in Gaza with what has been going on in the West Bank for the last forty-two years is wholly justified. The political background to the report is, before all else, a cultural and moral one. I do not believe that a society can disenfranchise, dispossess, and effectively dehumanize large numbers of people living between Jenin and Hebron without this process influencing the way it conducts a war in Gaza. No one who regularly visits the Palestinian territories controlled by Israel has to speculate about whether or not Israel is engaged in the routine abuse of human rights.

Such abuse is the very stuff of the occupation—a daily reality exacerbated above all by the endless hunger for more land and the ever-expanding settlement project. That reality has been amply documented by Israeli human rights organizations such as B’Tselem and, more recently, Yesh Din (which offers legal aid to Palestinians), as well as by a large corpus of writings produced by firsthand witnesses, including those discussed in my bookDark Hope.4

Since the publication ofDark Hope and, in particular, since the formation of the present…

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