Dogs of War

Uri Avnery

Such terrifying dogs have not been seen since the Hound of the Baskervilles. They have been bred by an ardent admirer of the late ‘Rabbi’ Meir Kahane, who was branded a fascist by the Israeli Supreme Court. Their task is to protect the settlements and attack Palestinians. Our TV stations have reported on them at length. All in preparation for ‘September’.

Later this month, the Palestinians will ask the UN to recognise the State of Palestine. They have already mustered a large majority in the General Assembly. After that, according to our army’s official assessment, all hell will break loose. Multitudes of Palestinians will rise, attack the Separation Wall, storm the settlements, confront the army, create chaos. ‘The Palestinian Authority is planning a bloodbath,’ Avigdor Lieberman said. And when Lieberman predicts violence, it would be unwise to ignore him.

Last week the army announced that it is training the settlers and telling them when they are allowed to shoot to kill. The army is also preparing for Palestinians shooting at soldiers and settlers ‘from inside the mass demonstrations’. I have been at hundreds of demonstrations and never witnessed anyone shooting ‘from inside’ them. But it is a handy pretext. During the second intifada, Israeli army snipers picked out and killed ‘ringleaders’ in crowds of demonstrators. It was highly effective: the non-violent demonstrations soon gave way to violence and the army was back on familiar ground.

I am afraid that the preparations for the third intifada, which is expected to start this month, are proceeding on the same lines. But the circumstances would be quite different. After the events in Egypt and Syria, Palestinian protesters may react differently this time, and the ‘bloodbath’ may be much more severe. So will international and Arab reactions.

But most Israelis are not worried. They believe that the entire scenario has been invented by Netanyahu as a trick to end the huge social protest movement that is rocking Israel. ‘The young protesters demand social justice and a welfare state, like children demanding ice cream while disaster is lurking around the corner,’ as one retired colonel put it.

The settlers and their allies dominate the Israeli government. They object to giving up even one square inch of occupied territory of the country God has promised us. (Even settlers who do not believe in God believe that God has promised us the land.) Because of this, there are no peace negotiations, no freeze on building activities in the settlements, no move of any kind towards peace. Their presence in the West Bank means a viable Palestinian state is impossible.

It is now the fashion in certain circles to embrace the settlers in the name of national unity. Prominent among those who say so is Shelly Yachimovitch, a member of the Knesset and one of six candidates for the chair of the moribund Labor Party. For years she has done a good job as an advocate of social justice, never wasting a word on peace, occupation, settlements, Palestine and such trifles. Now she has come all out for loving the settlers. ‘I certainly do not see the settlement enterprise as a sin and crime. At the time, it was completely consensual. It was the Labor Party which promoted the settlement in the territories. That is a fact, a historical fact.’

Some believe that Yachimovitch is only pretending to feel this way, in order to garner mainstream votes for a takeover of the party. Perhaps. But I have a lurking suspicion that she really believes what she is saying – and that is an awful thing to say about any politician.

But seriously, there is no way to embrace the settlers and fight for social justice at the same time, even though some of the leaders of the social protest movement advocate it on tactical grounds. There can be no Israeli welfare state while the war goes on. The border incidents of the last two weeks show how easy it is to divert public opinion and silence the protests when the banner of security is unfurled. Sowing fear of ‘September’ is yet another example.

More than that, though, serious social reforms need money, lots of money. Even after reforming the tax system and breaking the cartels of the ‘tycoons’, tens of billions of dollars will be needed to rescue our schools, hospitals and social services. These billions can only come from the military budget and the settlements. Huge sums of public money are invested in the settlements: not only in heavily subsidised housing, government salaries and infrastructure, but in the large number of troops needed to defend them.

And beyond all these facts there is the main reason for the deformation of Israel: the conflict itself. We pay for the armed forces, per capita, far more than the citizens of any Western country. Israel, a country of only 7.5 million people, maintains the fourth or fifth largest military establishment in the world. US military aid pays for only a small part of this. Putting an end to the war is a necessary precondition for any real effort to bring social justice and a welfare state to Israel. The conflict is not just one item among many that must be considered. It is the main item.


  • 7 September 2011 at 8:47am
    Geoff Roberts says:
    It sounds very much as if the Intifada is inevitable, either because the Palestinians will rise up or because the Israeli government will crush demonstrations and provoke more violence. The Israeli government's tactic of offering talks without any pre-conditions and then posing inacceptable conditions themselves has not changed since the last Intifada. The whole "settlement" campaign is riddled with inconsistencies and the Israeli army has to pick up the pieces. Criticism of Israeli policies is immendiately branded as "anti-semitism" and the US government seems to have lost interest. Why doesn't the Israeli government realise that there is a huge opportunity for talks with the Arab nations, for discussions on borders, security, trade agreements? Now is the time to send out the message that Israel is willing to negotiate with all Arab countries that are establishing democratic governments. But the talks must be on an open basis, clear of any chauvinistic rhetoric. Israel has a chance to work for a lasting peace and I'm afraid that it might be the last one.