Jewish War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity in the Middle East
Horrible as the events described in the preceding sections above (communism, ww2) are, in one sense we are insulated from them – by time. The events are not happening now. They are history. Today, it is too late to hunt down the perpetrators, or almost too late. The victims are largely in their graves, their tormentors have largely joined them, the suffering is long ended, and even the first-hand memory of the suffering has almost been snuffed out. Although much work remains for historians to complete, the rest of us can go on with our lives.
However, this is not the case for the horrors described below. They are contemporary. Blood flows today. The screams of the tortured echo today. These horrors are within our power to stop, and within our power to punish. We cannot read about them and then simply go on with our lives.
Most relevant to the topic of Canadian prosecution of war criminals – the Israeli war criminals described below are still young and hale, nothing stops them from immigrating to Canada, and it is likely that some are living among us today. That aging Ukrainians are prosecuted for nothing worse than – under threat of death – reluctantly donning some German uniform and perfunctorily carrying out some conjectured duties, while young murderers and torturers with blood still fresh on their hands walk free and unpunished among us, is an incongruity that my present letter asks your Justice Department to explain.
The quotations below are all from Norman G. Finkelstein, mainly from his The Rise and Fall of Palestine: A Personal Account of the Intifada Years, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis and London, 1996; and one from his Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, Verso, London and New York, 1995.
Norman Finkelstein teaches international relations and political theory at City University of New York and New York University. The glowing reviews appearing on the backs of his two books are too numerous to reproduce here. Perhaps, however, the dedication in his Image and Reality provides valuable insight into his background:
To my beloved parents,
Maryla Husyt Finkelstein,
May I never forget or forgive
Let us begin by noting a few statistics that Finkelstein provides concerning the birth of Israel:
|Between 1947 and 1949, some 750,000 Palestinians were expelled as Israel declared its independence, and in June 1967 some 300,000 more Palestinians fled or were driven into exile as Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza. Hundreds of villages were systematically razed and erased from the map. In the course of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza after June 1967, over 1,000 Palestinians – including women and children – were deported without charges or trial. Fully 50 percent of the land and 80 percent of the precious water reserves were confiscated by the Israeli government. And as deported Palestinians languished in exile, some 100,000 Jews settled in the West Bank and Gaza. All these measures – and many more routinely taken by Israel in the occupied territories – were, as one Israeli periodical euphemistically put it, “very far from the norms of international law” (Hotam, 4 August 1989).|
|(Norman G. Finkelstein, The Rise and Fall of Palestine: A Personal Account of the Intifada Years, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis and London, 1996, p. 52)|
And also a few examples of the sorts of events that constituted Israel’s War of Independence:
|Atrocities escalated, “no doubt precipitat[ing] the flight of communities on the path of the IDF advance” (Birth, p. 230). Consider the massacre at Ad Dawayima in late October. A soldier eyewitness described how the IDF, capturing the village “without a fight,” first “killed about 80-100 [male] Arabs, women and children. The children were killed by breaking their heads with sticks. There was not a house without dead.” The remaining Arabs were then closed off in houses “without food and water,” as the village was systematically razed.One commander ordered a sapper to put two old women in a certain house … and to blow up the house with them. The sapper refused. … The commander then ordered his men to put in the old women and the evil deed was done. One soldier boasted that he had raped a woman and then shot her. One woman, with a newborn baby in her arms, was employed to clear the courtyard where the soldiers ate. She worked a day or two. In the end they shot her and her baby.
The soldier eyewitness concluded that “cultured officers … had turned into base murderers and this not in the heat of battle … but out of a system of expulsion and destruction. The less Arabs remained — the better. …
Morris reports the following (very partial) inventory of IDF atrocities committed in the October fighting, as presented to the Political Committee of Mapam:
SAFSAF — “52 men tied with a rope and dropped into a well and shot. 10 were killed. Women pleaded for mercy. [There were] 3 cases of rape. … A girl aged 14 was raped. Another 4 were killed.”
JISH — “a woman and her baby were killed. Another 11 [were killed?].” …
|(Norman G. Finkelstein, Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, Verso, London and New York, 1995, p. 76)|
Here is mention of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982:
|Some two hundred Kuwaitis reportedly perished in the course of the Iraqi invasion. Approximately twenty thousand Palestinians and Lebanese perished in the course of the Israeli invasion [of Lebanon]. There was fully a hundredfold difference between the two invasions. And as the media waxed indignant over Iraq’s use of horrific chemical weapons against Iran and the Kurds, they should have remembered as well Israel’s use, probably illegal, of cluster bombs and phosphorus shells during the Lebanon War. In his epic memoir, Pity the Nation, veteran British correspondent Robert Fisk described two Lebanese infant victims of the phosphorus shells:Dr. Shamaa’s story was a dreadful one and her voice broke as she told it. “I had to take the babies and put them in buckets of water to put out the flames,” she said. “When I took them out half an hour later, they were still burning. Even in the mortuary, they smouldered for hours.” Next morning, Amal Shamaa took the tiny corpses out of the mortuary for burial. To her horror, they again burst into flames.|
|(Norman G. Finkelstein, The Rise and Fall of Palestine: A Personal Account of the Intifada Years, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis and London, 1996, pp. 45-46)|
The remaining quotations concern themselves with the intifada, to which I allocate more space because it is truly contemporary:
|In fact, every expression of Palestinian “violence” I witnessed during my stay in the occupied territories was little more than symbolic, though the same could not be said for the force used to suppress it. Once, at Jalazoun refugee camp, children were burning a tire off the main road inside the camp when a car … pulled up next to it. The doors swung open, and four men (either settlers or the army in plainclothes) jumped out, shooting with abandon in every direction. The boy beside me was shot in the back, the bullet exiting from his navel. … Next day the Jerusalem Post reported that the army had fired in self-defense.|
|(Norman G. Finkelstein, The Rise and Fall of Palestine: A Personal Account of the Intifada Years, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis and London, 1996, p. 2)|
|In the afternoon, news arrived of a massacre in Bethlehem. Infiltrating a crowd of protestors, an Israeli undercover squad disguised as tourists shot five Palestinians youths point-blank. One lay dead; the four wounded were pulled by their hair along the pavement to the army depot. As the terrified crowd dispersed, the civilian-clad assassins laughed and joked with the assassins in uniform.|
|(Norman G. Finkelstein, The Rise and Fall of Palestine: A Personal Account of the Intifada Years, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis and London, 1996, pp. 42-43)|
|A thousand-page Save the Children study, The Status of Palestinian Children during the Uprising, exhaustively documented the “indiscriminate beating, teargassing, and shooting of children.” More than 150 Palestinian children have been killed since the beginning of the intifada, including at least 37 below the age of six. The average age was ten. A majority, the study found, were not even participating in a stone-throwing demonstration when shot dead, and four-fifths of the gunshot victims were “obstructed or delayed by the army” as they sought emergency medical treatment. Funerals were “violently disrupted or interfered with” by the army. More than fifty thousand Palestinian children required medical attention for tear-gas inhalation, multiple fractures, and so on, during the first two years of the intifada; nearly half were ten years old or younger. The study also found that “the vast majority of soldiers responsible for the child casualties have been neither censured nor punished.” Indeed, only the few cases that received press coverage were even being investigated.
A B’Tselem (Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) study, Violence against Minors in Police Detention, found that “illegal violence against minors, … many [of whom] are innocent of any crime, … occurs on a large scale.” Severe beatings, including “slapping, punching, kicking, hair pulling, beatings with clubs or with iron rods, pushing into walls and onto floors,” were said to be “very common.” The study also highlighted more novel methods for interrogating minors:Beating the detainee as he is suspended in a closed sack covering the head and tied around the knees; tying the detainee in a twisted position to an outdoor pipe with hands behind the back for hours and, sometimes, in the rain, at night, and during the hot daytime hours; confining the detainee, sometimes for a few days, in the “lock-up” — a dark, smelly and suffocating cell one and a half by one and a half meters [five by five feet]; placing the detainee, sometimes for many hours, in the “closet” — a narrow cell the height of a person in which one can stand but not move; and depositing the tied-up detainee for many hours in the “grave” — a kind of box, closed by a door from the top, with only enough room to crouch and no toilet.
Israeli press and human rights reports put flesh and blood on the data. The 1 April 1988 issue of Hotam reported the case of a ten-year-old beaten so black and blue during an army interrogation that he was left “looking like a steak.” The soldiers “weren’t bothered” even when they later learned that the boy was deaf, mute, and mentally retarded. The 13 July 1988 issue of Koteret Rashit reported the “disappearance of 25 children” and jail threats to their parents for “annoying” the army about the children’s whereabouts. The 19 August 1988 issue of Hadashot featured three photos of a blindfolded six-year-old in an army jeep. The caption reported that many children his age would be held in detention until “ransoms” of several hundred dollars were paid, and that, as they were carted away, the children often urinated in their pants “from fear.” Under the heading “Deliberate Murder,” the August 1989 bulletin for the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights reported that the Israeli army (apparently sharpshooters from “special units”) had targeted an “increasing” number of Palestinian children in leadership roles. “Carefully chosen,” the victim was usually shot in the head or heart and died almost instantaneously. Dr. Haim Gordon of the Israeli Association for Human Rights reported the case of an eight-year-old tortured by soldiers after refusing to reveal which of his friends had thrown stones. Stripped naked, hung by his legs and brutally beaten, the boy was then pushed to the edge of a rooftop before being released (cited in the January 1990 bulletin of the Israeli League). The 15 January 1990 issue of Hadashot reported the case of a thirteen-year-old who was thrown into detention after his fingers were deliberately broken and who was then left without any medical treatment or food because his father was unable to pay the ransom of 750 dollars. The 26 January 1990 issue of Davar reported the case of a sixteen-year-old girl who was beaten by a club-wielding policeman (“He even tried to push the club between my legs”) and then thrashed in prison for refusing to sign a confession. The 29 June 1990 issue of Hotam reported the case of a thirteen-year-old detainee who, refusing to supply incriminating evidence against his brother, was “smashed” in the face, had “bruise marks on his entire body,” was not allowed to drink or eat “for hours,” and was forced to “urinate and defecate in his pants.”
What happened there … was plain horror: they would break their clubs on the prisoners’ bodies, hit them in the genitals, tie a prisoner up on the cold floor and play soccer with him — literally kick and roll him around. Then they’d give him electric shocks, using the generator of a field telephone, and then push him out to stand for hours in the cold and rain…. They would crush the prisoners, … turning them into lumps of meat.
Another source inside the center was quoted to the effect that the “tortures recall what is being inflicted in the cellars of Damascus’s prisons.”
|(Norman G. Finkelstein, The Rise and Fall of Palestine: A Personal Account of the Intifada Years, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis and London, 1996, pp. 47-49)|
|Israel’s High Court proved to be a willing accomplice of the conquest regime in the West Bank and Gaza. The Fourth Geneva Convention explicitly prohibited the destruction of private property except “where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations” and also explicitly forbade collective punishment. Yet the High Court ruled that house demolitions in the occupied territories were permissible, even claiming that “there is no basis to the claim that house demolition is a collective punishment.” The Fourth Geneva Convention explicitly prohibited an occupying power from resettling its “own civilian population in territory it occupies.” Yet the High Court either ruled that Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza were legal or refused to hear challenges to their legality. International law stipulated that an occupier could not institute new taxes in the territory under its control. Yet the High Court ruled that the arbitrary value-added tax imposed on the occupied territories in 1976 was permissible. …
Israeli military courts had jurisdiction over all “security-related” (and most significant civil) cases involving Palestinians in the occupied territories. Suspects could be detained without trial for a period of eighteen days. The decision to renew detention was typically based on information supplied by the military prosecutor. Applications for release on bail were “almost never accepted.” Suspects had “absolutely no right of legal representation.” When representation was allowed, the lawyer was not permitted to visit his client until the interrogation had been completed. Trial proceedings barely rose to the level of farce. The “overwhelming majority” of convictions were decided on the basis of confessions “usually obtained under duress” and “almost invariably written in Hebrew,” a language “few Palestinians could speak or read.” Administrative detention allowed for imprisonment without charge, evidence, or trial for as much as a year.
Official Israeli rules of engagement allowed for the killing of a Palestinian simply for wearing a mask, hoisting a flag, erecting a barricade (which often consisted of no more than a few rocks and overturned garbage bins), or ignoring an order to halt. They also allowed for the virtually unrestricted use of lethal plastic bullets and the summary execution of “wanted” Palestinians. All these orders were in contravention of international law that sanctioned the use of lethal force only in life-threatening situations and then only if there was no recourse except to lethal force. As Middle East Watch concluded, official Israeli policies and practices “effectively condone  the unjustified killing of Palestinians.”
The guidelines just cited on the use of lethal force were the official ones. The unofficial or de facto rules of engagement were yet more lax, as was evident from the record on investigations and convictions of Israelis accused of killings. More than seven hundred Palestinians had been, in the course of the intifada through December 1989, shot dead by Israeli security forces. Yet not one Israeli soldier was indicted on a murder charge, and only two were indicted on manslaughter charges. A tiny handful were indicted on lesser charges such as illegal use of weapons. The fewer than ten soldiers convicted in connection with killings of Palestinians received punishments ranging from an official reprimand to eighteen months’ imprisonment. … By way of contrast, Amnesty International reported that Palestinians received sentences of up to five years’ imprisonment for simply throwing a stone.
Reviewing the notorious case of a Gazan brutally beaten to death by Israeli soldiers (none of the accused was indicted on a major criminal charge or served more than five months in prison), the prominent Israeli advocate Avigdor Feldman concluded: “The illegality in the Territories is total. Everyone – regardless of echelon, regardless of disagreement on every other conceivable topic – is of a mind on one matter: the value of an Arab’s life is equal to zero.”
|(Norman G. Finkelstein, The Rise and Fall of Palestine: A Personal Account of the Intifada Years, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis and London, 1996, pp. 51-52)|
|Recalling his stint as a guard in Gaza Beach, “one of the best” Israeli internment camps for Palestinians, Israeli journalist Ari Shavit expatiated on [his experiences] with rare candor and insight:Most [Palestinians] are awaiting trial; most were arrested because they were throwing stones or were said to be members of illegal organizations. Many are in their teens. Among them, here and there, are some boys who are small and appear to be very young…. The prison has twelve guard towers. Some Israeli soldiers are struck – and deeply shaken – by the similarity between these and certain other towers, about which they have learned at school …. Maybe the Shin Bet [secret police] is to blame for this – for the arrests it makes and what it does to those arrested. For almost every night, after it has managed, in its interrogations, to “break” a certain number of young men, the Shin Bet delivers to the [soldiers] a list with the names of friends of the young men…. [Then] the soldiers … go out almost every night to the city and … come back with children of fifteen or sixteen years of age. The children grit their teeth. Their eyes bulge from their sockets. In not a few cases they have already been beaten … And soldiers crowd together in the “reception room” to look at them when they undress. To look at them in their underwear, to look at them as they tremble with fear. And sometimes they kick them – one kick more, before they put on their new prison clothes … Or maybe the doctor is to blame. You wake him up in the middle of the night to treat one of those just brought in – a young man, barefoot, wounded, who looks as if he’s having an epileptic fit, who tells you that they beat him just now on the back and stomach and over the heart. There are ugly red marks all over his body. The doctor turns to the young man and shouts at him. In a loud, raging voice he says: May you die! And then he turns to me with a laugh: May they all die! Or maybe the screams are to blame. At the end of the watch, … you sometimes hear terrible screams … from the other side of the … fence of the interrogation section, … hair-raising human screams. Literally hair-raising …. In Gaza our General Security Services therefore amount to a Secret Police, our internment facilities are cleanly run Gulags. Our soldiers are jailers, our interrogators torturers. … Thus in the forty months of the intifada, more than ten thousand Israeli citizens in uniform have walked between the fences, have heard the screams, have seen the young being led in and out. … And the country has been quiet. Has flourished … Ten thousand (if not fifteen thousand, if not twenty thousand) Israelis have done their work faithfully – have opened the heavy iron doors of the isolation cell and then closed it. Have led the man from the interrogation chamber to the clinic, from the clinic back to the interrogation chamber. They have looked close up at people shitting in terror, pissing in fear. And not one among them has begun a hunger strike in front of the house of the prime minister. Not one among them that I know of has said, This will not happen. Not in a Jewish state.|
|(Norman G. Finkelstein, The Rise and Fall of Palestine: A Personal Account of the Intifada Years, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis and London, 1996, pp. 71-73)|
|Just as Germans for generations to come would have to bear the burden of Nazism, so Jews for many generations to come would have to bear the burden of Israel’s merciless assault against the Palestinian people. Just as Germany’s name was now inextricably linked, not just with Beethoven and Brecht, but with Hitler and Himmler, so the Jewish people’s name would now be inextricably linked, not just with Marx and Menuhin, but with Sharon and Shamir. Israel’s terroristic war against the Palestinians had also besmirched the memory of the six million Jewish martyrs.|
|(Norman G. Finkelstein, The Rise and Fall of Palestine: A Personal Account of the Intifada Years, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis and London, 1996, p. 16)|