“No one is happy with 60 people killed. Even six is six too many if they are not involved in terror activities. Some of them probably were but most of them probably not,” said former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in a lengthy interview in the Guardian last week.
That seems to be quite an admission concerning Israel’s killing of more than 60 Palestinian protesters in Gaza on May 14th. Let’s look at that paragraph with great scrutiny, it contains various crucial elements that require a fuller understanding:
“No one is happy”
Really? If I found people who are or could be happy, that would basically defy the claim, right? So let’s start with the snipers who celebrated their shooting at the Gaza fence, and filmed it (the shooting and the celebration). In his analysis of this case, Gideon Levy wrote in Haaretz, that “we should thank the soldiers in that video for sharing their genuine emotions and rejoicing at the sight of an unarmed Arab flying in the air after being shot”. Levy explains the logic:
“Let’s say the sharpshooters were value-driven soldiers, who had to carry out their duty while suffering wrenching pangs of guilt. Would that make them better human beings? More humane? More moral? They would tug at our heartstrings much more than those lowlifes in the video. No scandal would erupt and the beautiful soldiers would continue aiming at and shooting protesters.”
That’s essentially what Barak is trying to damage-control. He’s providing the “wrenching pangs of guilt”, and he ignores the fact that people celebrate their turkey-shootings. In his rendering, these celebrations don’t exist.
And would people like, for example, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked not “be happy”? It was she who posted a genocidal Facebook post claiming that Palestinians “are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads.” She wouldn’t necessarily be celebrating it outright, but she would certainly not be upset.
And what about Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman who said that there are no innocent people in Gaza? I mean, he even suggested that the soldiers who celebrated in the video should get a medal! He just didn’t think it should have been filmed.
And what about Education Minister Naftali Bennett? He’s boasted in the past about having “killed many Arabs” – why would he not be happy, at least in quiet?
Bennett was explicitly happy about the homecoming of the medic-killer Elor Azarya who was released recently after a mere 9 months in prison for shooting an incapacitated Palestinian in the head at point blank range. And Azarya himself – would he not be happy about the killing of 60 Palestinians? Here he is celebrating with his father on Facebook in 2014, calling Netanyahu a “transvestite” (weakling) for accepting a ceasefire:
Elor: Bibi you transvestite what ceasefire? Penetrate their mother!!!
(23 likes including Adir Azarya, Victor Azarya).
Charlie Azarya (Elor’s father): All strength we need to penetrate the mother of their mother.
Elor: Yes kill them all.
Don’t tell me that’s not a genocidal celebration. Azarya would be happy to kill them all.
And what about the genocidal celebration at the Elor Azarya ‘murder rally’ just after he was filmed in 2016? There, Elor was praised as “king of Israel” and people carried signs saying “kill them all”. Are all those people “not happy”?
Ah, but these are ‘right-wing’ people, you may say. Alright, so what about the ‘liberal’ General (res.) Amiram Levin who said about Palestinians that “most of these people are born to die anyway, we just need to help them to it”? He’s ideologically very near to Barak. Maybe he wouldn’t celebrate openly, but for what reason would he not be happy? PR? Barak is also ideologically very close to historian Benny Morris, also a self-proclaimed ‘leftist’ from kibbutz background. Morris opined about Palestinians: “Something like a cage has to be built for them. I know that sounds terrible. It is really cruel. But there is no choice. There is a wild animal there that has to be locked up in one way or another.” So is Morris necessarily “not happy”? How much does he really care about those “wild animals” (Palestinians), and why would he care?
And of course, there is Barak himself, who regularly boasts about his own assassinations of Palestinian leaders. He does so in the interview with The Guardian’s Aida Edemariam:
Barak describes the moment in Beirut when, disguised as a woman, he came face to face with one of the PLO commanders. “I saw the eyes of this guy – I saw the shock in them – when a young lady opened her jacket and took out a submachine gun.” He laughs a little.
For him, this is funny. But it’s not because he hates Palestinians:
“I never hated. I was never angry. Totally cold. Totally detached. In a way, psychological detachment helped me to stand the battlefield”, he says.
But sometimes Barak’s hate, a deep-rooted racist hate for Palestinians (as opposed to Jews and Christians), is more openly revealed. In an interview published in The New York Review of Books (June 13, 2002), he said:
“They (the Palestinians, and especially Arafat) are the products of a culture in which to tell a lie… creates no dissonance. They don’t suffer from the problem of telling lies that exists in Judeo-Christian culture. Truth is seen as an irrelevant category… The deputy director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation told me that there are societies in which lie detector tests don’t work, societies in which lies do not create cognitive dissonance [on which the tests are based].”
Remember, this is the same person who lied about his “generous offer” to Arafat in 2000 (which amounted to Bantustans) saying that since it was not accepted, there was “no one to talk to”. This was the big lie that much of mainstream left in Israel subscribed to, a lie that had a decisive effect of pushing the left further right.
“Even six is six too many if they are not involved in terror activities”
What is Barak saying here? He’s saying a few things. He’s not being unequivocal. He’s saying “if”. And the continuance of the sentence confirms the “if”: “Some of them probably were but most of them probably not”. So now we also have “probably”. “If” and “probably”.
Remember, this is “Mr. Security”. This man has connections everywhere in the security establishment. He should know. But he doesn’t. He doesn’t know “who was involved in terror activities”. And what exactly are these “terror activities”?
After the massacre of May 14th, Israel claimed that “at least 24 of the dead were members of terror groups”. In the wake of the first massacre of the Great March of Return (Friday the 30th of March), Israel did the same – claiming that 10 of the 17 killed were “terrorists”, mostly because they were somehow affiliated with Hamas.
The logic of this doesn’t require an actual examination of these people’s activities in the field. Merely their association with an organization that Israel deems “terrorist” is enough.
But Barak is not sure.
Netanyahu on the other hand is very happy to endorse Hamas propaganda in this respect. Thus he used a claim by a Hamas official citing “50 Hamas members” among the dead to boast that he agrees for once with Hamas, and accepts the claim that 50 of the killed were Hamas members (hence “terrorists”).
Current Affairs editor Nathan J. Robinson addressed this widely-circulated Hamas-Netanyahu propaganda in his lengthy and clinical dissection of the Shmuel Rosner massacre apologia that appeared on New York Times. In “Propaganda 101: How to Defend a Massacre,” Robinson writes:
[T]he widely-repeated claim that 50 of the 62 dead were “Hamas” should be examined critically. Israel points to statements by Hamas itself boasting of the number of its members among the dead—the original quote from a Hamas official was “if 62 people were martyred, Fifty of the martyrs were Hamas and 12 from the people. How can Hamas reap the fruits if it pays such an expensive price?” The number appears to be speculative—“if”—and the official suggests that Hamas is not acting for self-interested reasons because it is sacrificing so much. It should be immediately obvious that both Israel and Hamas have an interest in insisting the dead were Hamas. Hamas wants to prove to the Palestinian people that it is making sacrifices on their behalf, and Israel wants to prove that the dead were terrorists. But the fact that neither is interested in finding out the truth does not make the convenient story the true one, and given its obvious self-interest, Hamas claiming the dead as its own is insufficient evidence.
So actually, it’s hard to even be sure about the number of Hamas-affiliated people, but that doesn’t even matter, because you can’t execute a Palestinian unarmed protester on the assumption that they may have ties to Hamas. There needs to be an operational basis for shooting people with live ammunition: they need to be endangering your life as a soldier. And in almost all cases, no soldier was fatally threatened. The Rules of Engagement didn’t even require that the soldiers be threatened as such. That’s why the orders to shoot were patently illegal to begin with.
Barak’s words “if” and “probably” show that there is a whole lot of assumption here. And the Israeli policy is not an assumption, or presumption, of innocence, it is precisely the opposite. The protesters are presumed to have “terrorist intentions”, or “terrorist background”.
Barak the savior
Barak’s point is not to make an actual analysis of numbers here. His bigger point appears to be that Netanyahu needs to go, and that someone needs to replace him. “Ya, ya – he has to resign because of the situation”, he tells Edemariam, who adds her own paraphrase that the “situation” is “political and legal, given the fact that he is being investigated for corruption”.
But “who would replace him?”, Edemariam asks. “Oh, whoever the public elect”, Barak answers. He rules himself out, but not that convincingly. “I hope I won’t have to, but you can never say never in politics.” That’s a pretty classic line of someone who intends to vie for the post.
And yet Barak is clear that the alternative may well end up being a government that is further to the right. “Probably in the short term,” Barak says. “But I think it’s like a pendulum.”
Oh, it sure is like a pendulum. Barak was ecstatic when a new leader for the Israeli Labor was elected last year – Avi Gabbay. Barak called it a “revolution”. But nothing happened there. Nothing. Just more of the same. In the meanwhile Gabbay has quoted Netanyahu approvingly in saying that the “left has forgotten what it means to be Jewish” and has sold out African Refugees as “infiltrators”.
It can truly be hard to distinguish the Israeli right from the left when people like Barak boast about having “liberated” occupied territories and bemoan that it took the US 65 years to finally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Barak’s words about “no one is happy” are essentially what is known in Israel as “shooting and crying”, and it is a very old and typical ‘liberal-Zionist’ strategy. It makes Israel look a bit better, because these Israelis don’t just shoot and celebrate; oh no, they shoot and then they cry. And only the “most moral army in the world” can do that.
To be sure, this “pendulum” of left and right is a pendulum belonging to the old clock called Zionism, which counts the hours, the days and the years of the incremental destruction of Palestine. The pendulum moves right and left, but the clock stays put, as times runs out on Palestinians. Those who really care about Palestinians have simply no time for these games.