Is Israel a Normal Country?

Ian Buruma’s article, with the same title in Toronto’s Globe and Mail, starts with a brave question, and I think for most people the answer is apparent with the asking of the question.

But like the famous line of T.S. Elliot, the piece ends, not with a bang, but a whimper.

After asking a question which would never pass the lips of Israel’s establishment, the article makes the very claims and assertions the Israeli government would make.

Israel has never done anything comparable to the late Syrian leader Hafez al-Assad’s 1982 massacre of more than 20,000 members of the Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Hama.”

While I’m the last to defend dictators, this is a completely unsubstantiated claim of what happened in Syria. Perhaps worse, the assertion about Israel is just false. Israel’s first invasion of Lebanon was just about that bloody.

And what of the achievements of the Six Day War, a war deliberately calculated by Israel’s establishment to win the land of the self-defined Greater Israel — all the Palestinian territories plus slices of Syria and Lebanon — it had failed to grab at its founding?

Israel went so far as to attack ruthlessly an American intelligence ship to suppress information of General Dayan’s movements of armor, the general’s purpose being the quick seizure of all the lands Israel desired and then presenting the world with a fait accompli.  

And how do you reckon the toll of misery of decade after decade of hundreds of thousands of refugees plus the forty-plus years of truly abusive occupation?

I could continue, for unquestionably the invasion of Iraq was about, and for, Israel’s benefit. That’s a million people killed and a couple of million refugees, refugees taken, in large part, by poor Syria.

So is it true, as many defenders of Israel claim, that the Jewish state is judged by different standards from other countries? I believe it is.”

This completely ignores the fact of Israel’s establishment is constantly claiming that is the only democracy and representative of human rights in its part of the world.

If you claim one standard but behave by another – truly indistinguishable from the region’s dictators – I do think the world is entitled to comment. Israel holds ten thousand illegal prisoners, imposes a ghastly blockade for over three years, imposes countless checkpoints on people’s ordinary lives in the West Bank, regularly assassinates those with whom it disagrees, and uses every underhanded technical gimmick it can think of to keep stealing other people’s land.

Indeed, it could be well argued that the kind of Israel we see has effectively retarded the development of democracy in the Arab world. Israel’s cooperative friend, Mubarak, a dictator of thirty years, is supported by everything the United States can think of, suppressing all genuine democratic movements. For a long time, it was the same with Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Opposing Israel’s excesses has provided a rallying cry for every dictator in the region. At the same time, the United States and Israel would prefer these populations suppressed by dictators who in private mind their own business or are even rather cooperative, a la Mubarak.

That all Jews, including Israeli Jews, should remain haunted by a horrible past is understandable. But it must never be used to justify aggression against others.”

But that is precisely what Israel’s establishment and its army of apologists abroad do, day and night. It is, if you will, a ghastly form of special pleading.  

“There are other reasons, however, for the double standard directed at Israel. One is what the liberal Israeli philosopher and peace activist Avishai Margalit has called ‘moral racism.’ The bloodlust of an African or Asian people is not taken as seriously that of a European — or other white — people.”

But isn’t that exactly what happens inside Israel? Day in and out in countless ways, Sephardic Jews are not treated with the same respect and regard as Ashkenazi Jews. And the poor small lot of dark-skinned African Jews are treated with palpable contempt. The world should have higher standards than Israel, itself, in these matters?

…the legacy of colonialism works against Israel in another way, too.”

Oh please! This is a tiresome old idea to trot out. Besides, in the eyes of most Arabs, Israel is, itself, an example of colonialism. Here is a tiny enclave — truly a garrison state — living in the midst of many tens of millions of people for whose cultures and aspirations it has absolutely no understanding or sympathy. You could draw a parallel to Israel’s position today with that of European Crusaders who built massive forts in the Middle East at places like Acre.

In the end, if Israel expects to be treated as a normal country, it must behave like one.

Surely, most people, including likely most Jews, know Israel has yet to behave as anything resembling a normal country.

Note: Response to the comment of a reader:

Islam is the problem behind virtually all the problems that Israel faces.”

What a preposterous statement!

Does the author realize that there are more than a billion Muslims in the world?

How can any thinking person speak this way, condemning with one glib sentence about a fifth of the world’s population?

There is no history, also, of Muslims being especially hostile to Jews. Indeed, Islam adopted many of Judaism’s prophets and customs as its own.

Further still, until the creation of modern Israel, most Muslims in the Middle East treated Jews decently.

Israel, since its inception, has practiced a behavior towards its neighbors summed up by the Zionist slogan, “the iron wall.”

“The iron wall” means ignoring neighbors as legitimate residents of the region, treating neighbors with contempt and violence — in effect, a very hostile form of shunning.

Who can defend such treatment instead of living in peace and respect?

Yes, there were always bound to be some hostilities — after all, Israel proper is on land taken from people who lived there for countless generations — but I think a different approach would have achieved different results.

Israel could easily have made it worth the Palestinians’ while with assistance and compensation instead of spending vast sums on armaments in a mini-Cold War.

John Chuckman lives in Canada and is former chief economist for a large Canadian oil company. Copyright © by John Chuckman. Read other articles by John, or visit John's website.

9 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Rehmat said on July 13th, 2010 at 10:17am #

    Ian Buruma’s adoration of Ayaan Hirsi Ali in “Against Submission”, published on March 4, 2007 in the New York Times – showed his ‘Islamophobe’ nature.

    In this article, Ian Buruma, in order to cover the over sixty years of European Jew occupation of an Arab country, the on-going genocide of the natives and the neigboring Arab people since 1948, Israel’s wars on all its neighboring countries and occupation for the creation of the Eretz Israel (Greater Israel), a demographic Jewish entity – he calls Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s, reaction to Israeli commandos attack on the unarmed Gaza Freedom Flotilla, killing nine Turkish aid workers, on May 31 – as “hysterical”.

    Ian Buruma also defends Israeli leaders, most of whom are likely to be arrested as war-criminals in several Western countries, by comparing them to the Syrian dictator, Hafez al-Assad (1930-2000) for carrying out the massacre of 20,000 people in the city of Hama, a stronghold of Muslim Brotherhood, in 1982. However, the con-man ignored to mention that in the same year – it was Hafez al-Assad’s truce with Israel, which paved the way for Israeli siege of Beirut, during which an estimated 18,000 people were killed and 30,000 injured. The Zionist regime demanded the expulsion of the PLO from Lebanon as price for lifting the siege, and then stood by while their trained and funded Christian Phalangist allies massacred 3000-3500 Palestinian Muslim and christian refugees in Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.

    In the defence of mass-killers

  2. Ismail Zayid said on July 13th, 2010 at 11:13am #

    Thank you John Chuckman for telling it as it is. Israel expelled a large proportion of the indigenous people of Palestine from their homeland, destroyed hundreds of their towns and villages and proceeded, in 1967, to commit a planned aggression to occupy the remaining 22% of Palestine, besides other parts of Egypt and Syria. Today this illegal occupation displays a brutality that defies description and stands in violation of virtually every article of the Fourth Geneva Convention. And, yet, we are asked to accept Israel as a normal country. If this is normalcy, I suggest that the English dictionary needs revision….

  3. BartFargo said on July 13th, 2010 at 2:01pm #

    Buruma’s article was just plain nauseating, and the comments induced projectile vomiting. But what can you expect from the Globe and Mail. Thank you Mr. Chuckman, for cutting through the BS. I do hope you sent an abridged version of this article as a letter to the editor of the Globe and Mail- not that they’d print it, but it would at least remind the editorial staff of the cognitive dissonances they must bear to support Israel.

  4. teafoe2 said on July 13th, 2010 at 2:13pm #

    Writers who foster the illusion that “isreal” is a normal country similar to other industrialized countries, such as N Gordon, N Klein, N Chomsky, N Finkelstein, are, regardless of their other virtues, engaging in criminal activity by acting as accomplices to isreali criminality.

    Daily the MSM tells the US public “look, the Isrealis are just like us”. And those listed above and their fans provide cover in case anybody questions what Wolf Blitzer et al are handing out.

  5. mary said on July 14th, 2010 at 5:31am #

    The title of the article is a rhetorical question I assume.

    This is what they are doing to another aid boat from Libya with eight of their warships surrounding it. Déjà vu.

    It (the Israeli Zionist state) is both cruel and vile.

  6. ALH said on July 14th, 2010 at 6:33am #

    Israel’s establishment is constantly claiming that is the only democracy and representative of human rights in its part of the world.

    Only dumb Americans who wach Fox News would believe the above statement!

    israel is a terrorist nation, & that’s a fact!

  7. Mulga Mumblebrain said on July 14th, 2010 at 7:44am #

    Of course Israel is judged by a different standard, but in the diametrically opposite manner to Buruma’s oh, so, familiar propaganda sludge. In fact the Right, that supports Israel for racist, xenophobic, imperial and financial reasons, judges Israel by a calculus that exonerates Israel of all crime, no matter how vicious, by denigrating the humanity of Israel’s victims and relentlessly vilifying them and demonising them. In Australia at the moment we are in the foulest phase yet of our ongoing hate campaign against Islam and Moslems, no doubt in order to raise the rabble to a suitable racist and xenophobic fury, to get them mentally prepared for the coming ‘obliteration’ of Iran, This assault, that is centred in Rupert Moloch’s hate disseminating media gulag, is relentless. There are attacks on multiculturalism, by fragrant creatures like Melanie Phillips (the articles come with complementary flecks of foaming spittle)articles asserting a war-time alliance between Nazism and Islam, not, note, Islamofascism, but the entire 1.3 billion tarred as Nazis, hysterical calls to ban burqas and Islamic swimwear and to purge school textbooks considered ‘sympathetic’. Then there is the perennial drivel that Moslems commit all the ‘terrorism’ in the world, with the standard relegation of the millions of Moslem victims of ongoing Western state terrorism to Orwell’s ‘memory-hole’.. In one blog-site, that of Andrew Bolt, also a Rightwing propagandist against climate science and against the recognition of crimes committed against Aboriginals, you can see open calls for the extermination of Moslems. Now, idiot me, I thought that the Genocide Convention contained provisions outlawing incitement to genocide, and that is what got Streicher’s neck stretched,but that apparently doesn’t apply in regard to Moslems.
    Leading this unending tsunami of hate are, always, the Zionists. Whether Rightwing Jews or their Sabbat Goy stooges, they lead from the front. Yet this torrent of racial vilification and its authors religious and tribal background are never even mentioned, let alone (God forbid-the ‘anti-semitism’!!)criticised. This one group, Zionist Jews, is so all-powerful that they can not only lead a campaign of hatred and vilification that is leading us into global religious war, but it can be carried out in broad daylight and none dare even acknowledge it. Go onto any Australian blog and the mere mention of Zionists,let alone their crimes,is likely to have you censored,or removed later after the Zionist thought police have screamed down a few telephone-lines. That’s real, awe-inspiring power, and,of course, absolute moral cowardice and complicity on the part of the captured and controlled societies and their corrupt elites. As for Buruma-good God, the man’s record is an open book. I wouldn’t cross the street to piss on him if he was on fire,let alone waste minutes of precious time on reading his agit-prop.

  8. mary said on July 14th, 2010 at 9:00am #

    Yes right.

    As I said cruel – this just in from Palestinian Centre for Human Rights

    Date: 14 July 2010
    Time: 10:00 GMT

    Israeli Forces +Kill+ One Palestinian Woman and +Wound+ Another Three Civilians, Including Two Women, in Central Gaza

    On Tuesday evening, 13 July 2010, Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) killed a Palestinian woman and wounded another three civilians (an elderly man and two women), all of the same family, after bombarding their home with artillery shells. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) condemns this crime, which constitute the highest degree of disregard for Palestinian civilians’ lives. PCHR stresses that failure to open investigations into the actions of suspected Israeli soldiers officially encourages them to commit further crimes.

    According to investigations conducted by PCHR and statements given by a member of the victims’ family, at approximately 20:45 on Tuesday, 13 July 2010, a number of women from the Abu Sa’id family from the Gaza Valley village, in the central Gaza Strip, were sitting near their house, which is approximately 400 meters from the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel. At this time, Israeli troops positioned at the border fired two artillery shells at the house; the troops were unprovoked and the witnesses could not suggest any reason for the attack. As a result, Amira Jaber Abu Sa’id, 30, was wounded by shrapnel to the shoulder and her sister-in-law, Sana’a Ahmed Abu Sa’id, 26, was wounded by shrapnel to the feet. Members of the Abu Sa’id family phoned the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) to send ambulances to the area. Ambulances arrived at the area fifteen minutes later, but were unable to reach the targeted house because IOF continued to fire on the area. The ambulances were forced to drive back to Deir al-Balah. At this time, Ne’ma Yousef Abu Sa’id, 33, remembered that her three-year-old child was still outside the house. She went to find her child, but IOF fired a third shell at her. Ne’ma was killed instantly by shrapnel to the head and the abdomen. Her father-in-law, Jaber Abu Sa’id, 65, was also wounded by shrapnel wounds to the right thigh. The family continued to call the PRCS. Approximately one and a half hours later, a PRCS ambulance arrived at the scene after coordination with the Israeli authorities through the Palestinian Liaison Office. The ambulance transferred the dead woman and the wounded to al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al- Balah. Medical sources at the hospital affirmed that Ne’ma Abu Sa’id died of shrapnel wounds from an artillery shell. The wounds of the other persons were described as moderate.

    PCHR condemns this crime, and:

    Stresses that this crime is a part of a series of continuous crimes committed by IOF in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) with total disregard for the lives of Palestinian civilians.
    Calls upon the international community to immediately intervene to stop such crimes, and calls upon the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War to fulfill their obligation under Article 1 of the Convention to ensure respect for the Convention in all circumstances, as well as their obligation under Article 146 to search for and prosecute those who are responsible for perpetrating grave breaches of the Convention as such breaches constitute war crimes according to Article 147 of the Convention and the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I).

  9. Mulga Mumblebrain said on July 14th, 2010 at 10:33am #

    mary,we know that the Judaic religious Right,a fundamentalist cadre of Nazi-like zealots, who now dominate Israeli politics and the military,regards killing civilians as a religious duty. Indeed, we know from IDF soldiers who testified to IDF atrocities in Gaza, that the troops were exhorted by Rabbis, before their gutless onslaught against defenceless victims, trapped in the concentration camp so that they could not even flee,that they were the ‘sons of light’ and their victims ‘the sons of darkness’. Further we know that fundamentalist Judaic psychos reported being visited by the matriarch Rachel while in Gaza carrying out their Holy Terror, and that equally deranged fundamentalist Rabbis claimed to have sent her there.So we must face facts.Israel is a terror state led by demented religious psychopaths, armed to the teeth and, through the Fifth Columns of the Jewish Lobbies in Western countries, totally in charge of Western and finance. Has any such state ever afflicted humanity before-I can think of none. Here,not only is Islamophobic hatemongering growing truly unhinged,led by Zionist Jews who seem entirely electrified by hatred and the lust to see yet more blood shed, but also the space to criticise Israel or Zionism is rapidly shrinking.On many blogs,particularly those run by those creepy hypocrites who here call themselves’Leftists’ or, even more ghastly, ‘progressives’, any criticism of Zionism is either censored,or disappears along with a pompous lecture on ‘anti-semitism’ and ‘slander’.In a country where open calls to exterminate Moslems go uncensored, you realise that your society has gone stark, staring mad and is descending into the pit of moral evil and insanity.It’s not a nice feeling.