Sunday, April 25, 2004

April 26, 2004

After spending 18 years in prison - 12 in solitary confinement - Mordechai Vanunu walked out a free man. He is warned by those who imprisoned him that he has been given his freedom and that he must be thankful he has been freed. That even though he has been freed he is not allowed to leave Israel. That he is forbidden to talk to any foreigners, is not allowed to talk to the press, is not allowed to talk about his past work in Dimona, a deadly nuclear facility that his conscience caused him 18 years ago to expose as Israel's dirty deadly secret.

Vanunu's first act - after he takes his first step out of prison - causes people the world over to cry. Vanunu is a new man. The same new man who decided to follow his conscience 18 years ago. Vanunu approaches the local press; he approaches the foreign press. He makes the victory sign with his fingers and speaks directly to microphones and cameras. "You have not broken me," Vanunu tells the Israeli government. Call me a traitor, he taunts his abductors; "I have a greater responsibility."

"I am proud, I am happy, you have not made me crazy. I still believe Israel is wrong to develop nuclear weapons, and I still believe the abolition of nuclear weapons is possible in our lifetime," Vanunu tells the media. "I call on Mohammed ElBaradei, on the international nuclear inspectors of the UN. Come to Israel. Inspect Dimona. Dimona must be shut down."

Outside, a gang of Israelis chant "Kill Vanunu!" Israeli Justice minister - a misplaced term - Joseph Lapid advises the media: "Since Vanunu is surrounded by a throng of activists who worship him, they can very well take care of him. We are not providing him security." Israeli newspapers publish with malice Vanunu's home address. Another paper called Maariv International publishes a poll where readers are asked to choose whether Vanunu should be kept in jail or allowed to leave Israel. Or killed. A day later, after receiving howls of protest, Maariv backs down, takes out its poll, and explains the word kill was improper and should have been replaced instead with the more "appropriate" word "executed."

Israeli officials take turns lambasting Vanunu, accusing Vanunu that he is a traitor, that he wants Israel defenseless. Noone is supposed to question Israel's intentions, duty and obligation to "protect" Israel.

"I visited Auschwitz this morning!" Lapid hectors the host of BBC's program Hard Talk, Tim Sebastian, who merely asked the Israeli minister (who kept insisting that Vanunu caused serious damage to Israel) to give examples of the damage Israel suffered because of Vanunu's revelations. Lapid wields the horror suffered by the Jewish peoples like a bludgeon: anytime the Israeli government is pressed to account for its duplicity, for its malevolent intentions, for its singular racism, the Holocaust is waved around to shut up its critics; Israel has suffered; Israel can do no wrong. Sebastian does the right thing. He tells Lapid to his face: "Excuse me, how can Auschwitz be relevant? I am asking about Vanunu."

Maybe Sebastian should have also asked whether Israel's nuclear weapons are supposed to stop suicide bombers.

"What exactly is a country surrounded by hundreds of millions of people each one of whom have sworn to destroy her supposed to do?" some Israelis ask, as if the mere question is supposed to still the opposition demanding the dismantling of Israel's nuclear facilities.

The question ignores the fact that Arab governments have recognized Israel's right to exist for over 20 years. That polls taken among Arab nations confirms what most people already know - the outrage over the brutal treatment of Palestinians under Israel's occupation is increasing not diminishing - and yet at the same time acknowledges what is all too often ignored - the continued legitimacy among most Arabs of a solution to the Middle East peace problem that includes Israel.

Those who bring up the matter of Israel's supposed "impending annihilation" by its "sworn enemies" do not always realize that the reasoning used to justify Israel's possession of nuclear weapons is in reality a way of thinking framed by a familiar narrative - the small civilized community in a wasteland versus the hundreds of millions of murderous savages intent on annihilating their way of life. Racist.

To prevent "another Holocaust" from being inflicted on them, Israel threatens everyone - in particular the non-Jew - that it will unleash its own Holocaust on them, for reasons that are not entirely as benign as "defending Israel."

Such as to increase Israel's dominance in the region. To legitimize the continuation of its inhumane occupation. To sustain the reign of a regime in the Middle East that favors Jews and Jews alone. A regime that continues to provoke a torrent of hatred - and terrorist acts - against innocent Israelis.

Anti-Semitic statements? Clumsily crafted words, probably, but anti-Semitic? Probably not:

"The wish for peace, so often assumed as the Israeli aim, is not in my view a principle of Israeli policy, while the wish to extend Israeli domination and influence is," said the late Dr. Israel Shahak, a Warsaw-born concentration camp survivor, who was a professor of chemistry at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Internationally acclaimed for research that contributed to cancer treatment, Dr. Shahak had lived in Israel since its creation in 1948 till the time of his death in 2001. Shahak, who spent most of his childhood trying to stay alive in Nazi-occupied ghettos and death camps, often compared the experience of Palestinians under Israeli rule to his own experience living under the Nazis. "Israel is preparing for a war, nuclear if need be, for the sake of averting domestic change not to its liking, if it occurs in some or any Middle Eastern states ... Israel clearly prepares itself to seek overt hegemony over the entire Middle East ... without any hesitation to use for the purpose all means available, including nuclear ones."

"Israel is still a democracy for Jews alone. The problems of Israel, in every walk of life, can be traced to the all-pervasive racism, whether generalized anti-Gentile racism or particularized anti-Arab racism, both of which dominate its society," said Shahak who did not tire reminding Jews who called him "a self-hating Jew" that the slur was originally "a Nazi expression. The Nazis called Germans who defended Jewish rights self-hating Germans."

According to Amira Hass, the distinguished writer and journalist of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, "Every Jew, man or woman, citizen of any country in the world, has potential more rights in Israel than any Arab citizen in the state. The Jew will have more chances to find a job, respectable housing, financial aid for higher education, personal advancement. Every foreign Jew has, de facto, more rights in the West Bank and Gaza than Palestinians."

Israel wants to see itself as "the light unto nations." But until Israel realizes what it has become, there will only be darkness.

The truth of the matter is that, according to Yaakov Perry, former chief of Shin Bet, Israel's domestic security service, "Israel is heading downhill towards near-catastrophe. If Israel goes on living by the sword, Israel will continue to wallow in the mud and destroy itself."

Listen to Avraham Burg, former chairman of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization:

"Israel, having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centers of Israeli escapism. They consign themselves to Allah in our places of recreation, because their own lives are torture. They spill their own blood in our restaurants in order to ruin our appetites, because they have children and parents at home who are hungry and humiliated.

"Israel could kill a thousand ringleaders and engineers a day and nothing will be solved, because the leaders come up from below - from the wells of hatred and anger, from the "infrastructures" of injustice and moral corruption ...

"Israel cannot keep a Palestinian majority under an Israeli boot and at the same time think itself the only democracy in the Middle East. There cannot be democracy without equal rights for all who live in Israel, Arab as well as Jew. Israel cannot keep the territories and preserve a Jewish majority in the world's only Jewish state - not by means that are humane and moral and Jewish."

Here is Major Ishai Menuhin, IDF and chairman of Yesh Gvul, the soldiers movement for selective refusal: "Daily funerals and thoughts of revenge among Israelis tend to blur the fact that we, the Israelis, are the occupiers. And as much as we live in fear of terrorism and war, it is the Palestinians who suffer more deaths hourly and live with greater fear because they are the occupied. Israel's military occupation of Palestine has over the decades made Israel less secure and less humane ... I and others who serve in the [Israeli] defense forces cannot by our actions alone change government policies or make peace negotiations more likely. But we can show our fellow citizens that occupation of the territories is not just a political or strategic matter. It is also a moral matter. We can show them an alternative: they can say no to occupation."

And here is the respected writer and founding member of Gush Shalom (Peace Bloc) Uri Avnery, a three-term member of the Israeli Parliament: "Violence is a symptom; occupation is the disease ... Israel is in the middle of a war in which three and a half million Palestinians are oppressed by Israel's occupation. The world is shocked that yesterday's victims are today's victimizers. A higher moral standard is required from Israel than from other peoples. And rightly so."

Rightly so.

1. "Anniversary of a whistle blower," Renato Redentor Constantino, TODAY, October 6, 2003.
2. There have been numerous polls conducted among Arab states indicating such sentiment. In the Palestinian territories in particular, a small example among many others: the results of a recent poll released in March 28, 2004 conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip between March 14 to 17, 2004 (before the Israeli assassination of Ahmad Yasin). In the poll, 84% support mutual cessation of violence and 70% support a Hudna. "After reaching a peace agreement and the establishment of a Palestinian state, 74% would support reconciliation between the two peoples."
3. "Israeli weapons of mass destruction: a threat to peace," John Steinbach, Center for Research on Globalisation (CRG), March 3, 2002.
4. "The Israeli Myth of Omniscience: Nuclear Deterrence and Intelligence," Israel Shahak, The Middle East Policy Council Journal, Spring 1991, Number 36,
5. "Breaking an iron rule," Amira Hass, Haaretz, April 21, 2004.
6. "Israel on the road to ruin warn former Shin Bet chiefs," Chris McGreal, The Guardian-UK, November 15, 2003.
7. "A failed Israeli society is collapsing," Avraham Burg, International Herald Tribune, September 6, 2003.
8. "Saying no to Israel's Occupation," Ishai Menuhin, March 9, 2002. See
9. Quotes are from a variety of sources: "Violence is a symptom," Jon Elmer interview of Uri Avnery, September 15, 2003 . "The cost of Zionism," Uri Avnery and Jon Elmer, From Occupied Palestine, February 23, 2004. "Anti-Semitism vs. Anti-Zionism: A Practical Manual," Uri Avnery, Counterpunch, January 19, 2004.

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