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West Bank shooting: why it pays to read Hebrew

Webdiarist Sol Salbe was born in Israel, lives in Melbourne and runs a small Middle East news service relying predominately on Israeli sources which he often translates himself from the Hebrew. Info: ssalbe@westnet.com.au

West Bank shooting: why it pays to read Hebrew

by Sol Salbe

It's the headline I dread to read on turning my PC on but, there it was on Tuesday morning on ABC Online: Two killed, five wounded in West Bank ambush. It got worse-the number rose to three and a careful check indicated that all three killed were civilians. In the interest of accuracy: Yes, they were settlers who had no business being there but I have been on record enough times in the past endorsing the view of B'Tselem on the subject. For the umpteenth time all civilians, not just the innocent ones, should be off limit in war.

There are lots of reasons to hate getting this sort of news. Quite apart from hating the bloodshed I know that every such attack undermines the forces of peace in Israel. And the Pavlovian counter attack undermines the forces of peace in Palestine.

Nobody likes the Cassandras who have been warning about such attacks being proven right. Such attacks were inevitable given Israel's behaviour but I would have preferred to have been proven wrong.

Nevertheless, this attack was fortunately "too small to destroy process of calm" and with other material to post not a high priority to comment on. It is a fundamental tenet of Middle East politics that you are what you read. If you read the right-wing Jerusalem Post your view will be different than if your major source is Haaretz. And generally speaking, almost every Hebrew source will be more open as to what really goes than an English-language one.

I had considered translating Rami Yitzhar, the editor of the Israeli News Web site Einyan Merkazi (sorry Hebrew only).

Yitzhar is no friend of the Palestinians. As you can see he'd be happy to see the perpetrators "terminated." But he does value the truth. Criticising the settlers who blame Sharon and the disengagement for the attack he wrote:

"The Palestinian murderers will be arrested or terminated. Don't worry: they deserve it. But it's absolute claptrap to blame the disengagement. The West Bank hypocrites are screeching that it's all the result of the disengagement. Oh no it isn't.

"There is only one aspect which they are right about: it is Arik Sharon's fault. But it's a different reason than the one they provide. Sharon is guilty because he lets the security forces push the Palestinians into the corner in such away that their only way out is through despicable acts of murder.

"In the weeks since the disengagement Israel has arrested hundreds of Palestinians. We don't have the exact number but it is around 700. Did the Army , the General Security Service, [Defence Minister Shaul] Mofaz or Sharon think that that there will be no response to such a wave of arrests especially when there is no sign that Israeli operation are coming to an end? And we haven't mentioned the wave of terminations of which we apparently have only seen the beginning. [Yitzhar is using the colloquial 'khisul' rather than the official 'targeted assassination'.-translator]

"I am not trying to dispute the wisdom of the security forces attack on the Hamas and Islamic Jihad on the West bank. But it is the height of stupidity not to expect a response from the Palestinian sideā€¦"

But shortly afterwards I saw something similar in Amos Harel's commentary in Haaretz in Hebrew. A quick check - the same piece of analysis is in English. No need to translate anything. But in retrospect I should have checked more carefully.

Quite a few hours later I receive the news summary from my friends in a Jewish Voice for Peace in San Francisco.

This was Mitchell Plitnick's introduction: (direct e-mail, no link available yet)

A shooting attack near a major Israeli settlement on the West Bank drew a harsh response from Israel, which closed major roads in the southern West Bank. Indications at the time of this writing are that Israel will soon reopen those roads after some slight rebuke from the United States. Absurdly, the US hinted that Israel should back off while also saying that Israel had the right to 'defend itself'. While that is obviously true, we are never going to get anywhere until the international community states firmly that collective punishment like this is not self-defence.

In a way, Yossi Beilin of Meretz makes a similar point in the article below from today's Ha'aretz. Beilin points out the self-defeating nature of such draconian measures, as they only increase the numbers of Palestinians willing, even eager in their hopeless ness and rage, to engage in murderous acts. Further, the big show of the Gaza withdrawal amounts to little gain when Israel is simultaneously undermining Mahmoud Abbas' efforts to create a unified and accountable Palestinian government (albeit one firmly controlled by Fatah, a major Abbas goal, but also one which recent West Bank elections confirm is consistent with the will of the Palestinian majority) which can control the attacks. Abbas can only do this if the people believe that his program has some hope of success. As long as the Sharon government continues to undermine those efforts with unilateral actions extrajudicial executions and sharp crackdowns in the OccupiedTerritories, Abbas is doomed to failure.

I started to wonder why Plitnick didn't refer to Harel's commentary. I took another check and then the penny dropped. For some reason some of the background information wasn't deemed worthy of translation.

Here is the relevant part in English:

"And while most of the Palestinian public now has reservations about suicide attacks inside the Green Line, the settlers are considered legitimate targets. Settlements are still spread throughout the West Bank, expansion is continuing and a peaceful solution seems a long way off."

This is more or less the same as the Hebrew but the crucial next sentence had been dropped:

"There is another factor that the Israelis tend to forget. As far as the Palestinians are concerned the ledger remains open. It is a weekly occurrence for some of those on Israel's wanted list or ordinary civilians to be killed in Israeli operations designed to arrest them. The terror organisations see themselves as having the right to respond to what they regard as Israeli aggression especially as the Palestinian Authority doesn't go out of its way to stop them."

Israel responded with the usual way: it cut off discussion with the PA, reintroduced restriction on Palestinian travel on roads etc. Even the state department didn't think it was particularly wise as the Associated Press reported:

"While affirming an Israeli right to self-defence, the State Department on Monday chided Israel for imposing travel restrictions on West Bank Palestinians in response to a terror attack.

In a message also delivered privately by Lt Gen William Ward, the US security envoy in the region, the State Department said it continued to ask the Israeli government 'to take steps to ease the daily plight of the Palestinian people."

The same view was taken by the leader of Meretz-Yachad, the country's major left-wing opposition party, Yossi Beilin who "lambasted on Monday the government's reaction to the shooting attack in Gush Etzion that killed three and wounded another seven on Sunday, saying it was playing into the hands of the Palestinian terrorists.

"The government's reaction is the Pavlovian reaction, the much expected reaction which plays exactly to the tune of the Palestinian terror groups," Beilin told Israel Radio.

Both the Israeli left and the right warned that "the disengagement would be interpreted as an escape from terror, and that the terrorism would pass from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank," he said. But the left insisted that "without immediate tight cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, what will happen would be worse than before the pullout from Gaza."

Instead of tightening cooperation, Beilin said, "[Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon cancels meeting with [PA Chairman] Mahmoud Abbas, [Defence Minister Shaul] Mofaz ends all defence cooperation with the Palestinians, we're bringing back the curfews and the roadblocks."

This in turn, Beilin said, increases hatred and will for revenge among Palestinians. "The Hamas and Islamic Jihad are rubbing their hands with delight - this is exactly what they wanted to happen as a result of yesterday's attack.

We are returning to 2002- 2003 with eyes open wide before the mistake," he said, referring to the height of the second Palestinian Intifada."

Beilin's views need to be heeded. But you are unlikely to come across them. A check of Google News for his name suggests that apart from Haaretz and two South African sites your best chance is in Hebrew. The only exceptions are publications of the extreme right in Israel who regard his views as self-evidently wrong and therefore publicise them widely as the way to attack people like him. As I said you are what you read.

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re: West Bank shooting: why it pays to read Hebrew

Thank you, Sol Salbe... [and, by the way, Michael Coleman], for bringing us the true state of affairs, however sadly it may read. No 'anti-semitism' here... and the perpetrators (on both sides) appear horribly shortsighted. And the blood is on all our hands - given the lack of any real international pressure for a viable two-state solution for nearly forty years, now!

Read it and weep...

re: West Bank shooting: why it pays to read Hebrew

An interesting article Sol.

Well done!

re: West Bank shooting: why it pays to read Hebrew

See Israel redraws the roadmap, building quietly and quickly:

"It's a trade off: the Gaza Strip for the settlement blocks; the Gaza Strip for Palestinian land; the Gaza Strip for unilaterally imposing borders," said Dror Etkes, director of the Israeli organisation Settlement Watch. "They don't know how long they've got. That's why they're building like maniacs."

At the core of the strategy is the 420-mile West Bank barrier which many Israeli politicians regard as marking out a future border. Its route carves out large areas for expansion of the main Jewish settlements of Ariel, Maale Adumim and Gush Etzion, and expropriates swaths of Palestinian land by separating it from its owners.

In parallel, new building on Jewish settlements during the first quarter of this year rose by 83% on the same period in 2004. About 4,000 homes are under construction in Israel's West Bank colonies, with thousands more homes approved in the Ariel and Maale Adumim blocks that penetrate deep into the occupied territories. The total number of settlers has risen again this year with an estimated 14,000 moving to the West Bank, compared with 8,500 forced to leave Gaza.

Israel is also continuing to expand the amount of territory it intends to retain. In July alone, it seized more land in the West Bank than it surrendered in Gaza: it withdrew from about 19 square miles of territory while sealing off 23 sq miles of the West Bank around Maale Adumim.

re: West Bank shooting: why it pays to read Hebrew

Editors, given the heat (and the all-too little light) that has frequently surrounded debates re Israel/Palestine and "anti-semitism", might I suggest that you edit/repost Ari Brand's comment (esp. the substantial David Goldberg quote) of 19/10/2005 1:45:10 PM (on "The UN at 60: past imperfect, future tense?" thread) here...rather than just cross-linking, as many may well have given up on the UN thread (due to excessive cross-talk) - and, this would be a VERY simple way of making the requisite point.

ed Hamish: ok:

Geoff, it seems to me that you are denying the obvious when you claim that there are no examples around of critique of Israel being branded as anti-Semitism.

David Goldberg, Senior Rabbi of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London (and author of To the Promised Land - A History of Zionist Thought) traces the use of this particular argument back to Menachem Begin. I add a few paragraphs of the column in which he stated this (it was first published in The Guardian of 26th January 2002):

"...one can overplay the anti-semitism-masquerading-as-anti-Zionism card. We should not forget that it was first used by a former Likud prime minister, Menachem Begin, who was finally told by outraged survivors not to demean the memory of the Holocaust by citing it to justify his every action, including the ludicrous comparison of Arafat in besieged Beirut to Hitler in his bunker.

We Jews do ourselves a disservice if we cry "anti-semite!" with the same stridency at a liberal commentator who criticises the Israeli army's disproportionate response to terrorist outrages, and at a National Front lout who asserts that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a genuine document; if we try equally vehemently to silence a Holocaust denier and proven liar like David Irving, and the ideologically leftwing Tom Paulin, who last year wrote an angry and not very good poem (great poetry is emotion recollected in tranquillity, said Wordsworth) that compared Israeli soldiers to Nazis.
I suppose that what I am forlornly calling for is a sense of proportion. It is hard to retain any perspective when Jewish critics of Israeli policy - never mind the gentiles - are routinely categorised as "self-hating", "Arab lovers", "bleeding heart liberals", and "unwittingly giving succour to Israel's enemies". Or when Jews in Edgware have gone in to newsagents to rip out the offending pages from the New Statesman - one hopes in outrage at Sewell's admission that the so-called "Zionist lobby" is in fact a tin-pot organisation that owes more to Woody Allen than Alastair Campbell..."

Edward Teasdale wrote about Germany: '...there is no legislation against Lutheranism which is the dominant religion in that state. Luther's last book was entitled "the Jews and their Lies". This is part of the German psyche. No legislation will change that."

Luther's last book (written in 1545, a year before his death) was in fact entitled Wider das Papsttum zu Rom, vom Teufel gestiftet (Against the papacy in Rom, founded by the devil). Should we, on the basis of this slender fact, now talk of hatred of Roman Catholics as part of the German 'psyche'?

Daniel Goldhagen's book Hitler's Willing Executioners, a publishing success but deemed to be scholarly worthless by perhaps the greatest historian of the holocaust, Raul Hilberg, maintained a similar thesis about the German 'psyche'. During his lecture tour through Germany, a veritable triumph, he absolved the present generation from this. The compliment was returned with some 'democracy prize'. Habermas came up with the laudatio. But the old fox significantly refrained from praising the scholarly qualities of G's book. Goldhagen had deserved the prize, he thought, for having incited a long overdue debate in Germany.

Hannah Arendt makes a telling statement about the eternal anti-Semitism theory in The Origins of Totalitarianism: "that this doctrine was adopted by professional anti-Semites", she says, "is a matter of course; it gives the best possible alibi for all horrors. If it is true that mankind has insisted on murdering Jews for more than two thousand years, then Jew-killing is a normal, and even human, occupation and Jew-hatred is justified beyond the need of argument."

re: West Bank shooting: why it pays to read Hebrew

G'day Hamish, OK I'll bite. Seeing that you have complied with the request to re-publish Arie's post here perhaps you can find it within yourself to re-publish my reply as well. Also perhaps link the Bayefsky speech.

Hamish: righto, I'll republish your reply (to be 'even'), and linked to the speech mentioned. But I won't do more and will never do this again for anyone. Can all parties please appreciate the reason is my time and sanity, and nothing to do with partisanship. Use links - the date at the bottom of a comment is an individual link to the comment.

Geoff's reply:

Arie, I am not claiming that there are no examples of a case of someone serious seriously saying that criticism of Israeli policies or a critique of Israel is ipso facto anti-Semitism. On the contrary I'm certain it's out there. After all we keep on hearing about it. That's why I'm on this search.

Thank you for the David Goldberg reference. I'll see if he has any examples. From the quote you provided it certainly seems to sound as if he has. If necessary I'll approach him direct. Also I'll check what Begin had to say. He certainly qualifies as someone serious. And I doubt that he was anything less than serious his whole life.

Mark, I've had another look at your reference to see if it perhaps could qualify on some interpretation. But I still honestly can't see it.

Consider the context. Bayefsky is addressing the UN. She is saying that the UN has a problem. That problem is anti-Semitism which manifests itself as discrimination against Israel. An obsession. To my eye she makes an overwhelmingly powerful case.

In the course of making out this case she makes a brief reference to the "Great Poison" speech. She knows what Brahimi actually said and so does her audience.

But she is talking about the UN. Of course there is a point where the attacks on "Israeli policy" are so one-sided, incessant, contradictory and dishonest and the language used so violent ("Great Poison"), the allegations so extraordinarily concentrated on one member state, that a certain line is crossed.

Her point is that the UN has crossed that line. I agree with her.

re: West Bank shooting: why it pays to read Hebrew

It also pays to read Arabic, or at least have access to reliable
translations of statements made in Arabic.

re: West Bank shooting: why it pays to read Hebrew

You know it's really interesting how Syria can assassinate the former Prime Minister of Lebanon and there is deafening silence from the Left. It is utterly disgraceful that there is such duplicity. Further, where is the Arab outcry over this? Compared with Abu Ghraib, that so many people here were rightly disgusted about, where is the outcry over such human rights abuses?

Thankfully we still have Sol to point out the nuanced conflict in Israeli commentators. This is such an important contribution to the debate. If only there were some Muslim/Arab self reflections about human rights abuse from their own.

re: West Bank shooting: why it pays to read Hebrew

See Israel helped to establish Hamas:

Israel and Hamas may currently be locked in deadly combat, but, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials, beginning in the late 1970s, Tel Aviv gave direct and indirect financial aid to Hamas over a period of years.

Israel "aided Hamas directly - the Israelis wanted to use it as a counterbalance to the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization)," said Tony Cordesman, Middle East analyst for the Center for Strategic Studies.

Israel's support for Hamas "was a direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO by using a competing religious alternative," said a former senior CIA official.


According to former State Department counter-terrorism official Larry Johnson, "the Israelis are their own worst enemies when it comes to fighting terrorism."

"The Israelis are like a guy who sets fire to his hair and then tries to put it out by hitting it with a hammer."

"They do more to incite and sustain terrorism than curb it," he said.

Aid to Hamas may have looked clever, "but it was hardly designed to help smooth the waters," he said. "An operation like that gives weight to President George Bush's remark about there being a crisis in education."

Cordesman said that a similar attempt by Egyptian intelligence to fund Egypt's fundamentalists had also come to grief because of "misreading of the complexities."

An Israeli defense official was asked if Israel had given aid to Hamas said, "I am not able to answer that question. I was in Lebanon commanding a unit at the time, besides it is not my field of interest."

Asked to confirm a report by U.S. officials that Brig. Gen. Yithaq Segev, the military governor of Gaza, had told U.S. officials he had helped fund "Islamic movements as a counterweight to the PLO and communists," the official said he could confirm only that he believed Segev had served back in 1986.

The Israeli Embassy press office referred UPI to its Web site when asked to comment.

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