According to Hamas officials, on Monday 14 May 2018 Israel Defence Forces have killed 62 Palestinians – all of them during peaceful protests at the border with Gaza Strip.
Most Western media outlets attributed the flare-up (either expressly or implicitly) to that pair of right-wing extremists: Trump and Netanyahu. Who, we are led to believe, had engineered that dastardly act of moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. For instance, under the inspired title ‘What happened in Gaza on Tuesday [sic!’, the BBC writes:
“Monday also marked the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, a move that has incensed Palestinians.”
It is not clear to me whether the distinguished BBC journalists are affected by superficiality, by amnesia or by sheer stupidity. Leaving aside the fact that ‘The Great March of Return’ has been going on for weeks, those of us who are not BBC journalists may wonder why is it that the Palestinians in Gaza were so much more “incensed” than those in the West Bank? And – if we are to impute the 62 fatalities to Trump’s arsonism, then are we also to blame the circa 2,000 Palestinian deaths of the 2014 conflagration to… Obama’s pacifism?
It wasn’t just the media; Israel’s brave Western European allies queued up to deliver kicks in the Jewish state’s shin. The severity of those “diplomatic” rebukes varied – but in my view the record of silliness was broken by Theresa May: the British Prime Minister chose to chastise Israel while standing alongside President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The Turkish dictator has a less-than-brilliant record of dealing with popular protests: during the 2013 demonstrations in Istanbul, 22 unarmed Turks were killed under his enlightened leadership. More recently (January-March 2018), Erdoğan has ordered the Turkish army to ‘exercise legitimate defence of the country’s borders by… first bombing and ultimately conquering the Afrin province in Syria; at the cost, one should add, of between 290 and 500 Syrian civilians (since they were mostly Syrian Kurds, rather than Palestinians, people didn’t seem to count so precisely).
Meanwhile, a Hamas official has admitted (it is, after all, a matter of pride and Iranian subsidies for them) that 50 out of the 62 ‘peaceful protesters’ were members of his ‘illustrious’ organisation; we are still waiting for Islamic Jihad and the other, smaller ‘factions’ in Gaza to claim their own share of ‘martyrs’.
Naïves may argue that quite a few journalists, diplomats and politicians owe Israel some very humble apologies; but I’m not holding my breath…
What annoyed me more was the reaction of some Diaspora Jews. And I’m not talking about the usual suspects like J-Street, New Israel Fund and Yachad UK; I’ve long written them off, along with their ‘pro-Israel’ pretences. No, I am talking about the likes of Daniel Sugarman, a staff reporter with Jewish Chronicle. Daniel unequivocally declares himself a Zionist – and I believe him. (I also thank the Almighty that not all Zionists are as timid as good ol’ Dan; otherwise the State of Israel would probably encompass three tables in Golders Green’s Delisserie Restaurant. The ones closest to the toilets, I think).
On Tuesday morning, the IDF troops perched on the berm facing Gaza were grabbing their rifles; Mr. Sugarman also reached for the tool of his trade: no, not the pen – the hatchet!
Israel, declared Daniel off the pages of the venerable Jewish newspaper, “should be ashamed today”.
True, he adds
“the protests have been violent. Non-violent protestors do not throw rocks and Molotov cocktails. They do not launch flaming kites aimed at Israel with swastikas painted on them. The Hamas Prime Minister, Yahya Sinwar, described the stated aim of the attempts to breach the border as follows: ‘We will take down the border and we will tear out their hearts from their bodies.’”
But Daniel’s problem is not so much with Palestinian violence; or, indeed, with Palestinian violence masquerading as ‘peaceful protest’. No, his problem is Israel’s counter-violence. As he so poetically puts it:
“… the response from Israel has been death. Death and mutilation. A cloud of tear gas and a hail of bullets. Over fifty Palestinians were killed at the border yesterday, and well over a thousand wounded. Today, those numbers will likely be surpassed.”
Err… no, they were not. In fact, Tuesday was a relatively calm day. And so was Wednesday.
But while Daniel might not be very good at predicting the future, he seems to be knowledgeable about the past. And understanding, too:
“I know that Hamas has orchestrated these attempts to breach the barrier. I know that Hamas has offered stipends to the families of those killed or wounded in these protests, in the same way that it gives stipends to the families of those who have died while carrying out terror attacks against Israelis. I understand why Israel cannot allow these protestors to cross the border.”
All those facts don’t matter much, though. Because
“But every bullet Israel fires, every life Israel takes, makes this situation worse. There are ways to disperse crowds which do not include live fire. But the IDF has made an active choice to fire live rounds and kill scores of people.”
Now, I am rather familiar with “ways to disperse crowds”, from my days as an IDF soldier in the time of the intifada. And if you don’t want to rely on my memory (admittedly, it isn’t that good anymore!), Wikipedia lists them as
“tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and electric tasers”.
On Monday, IDF has used copious amounts of tear gas, including in rather innovative ways – for instance sprayed from drones.
Thousands of non-lethal (but also not very effective) rubber bullets have been fired.
To the best of my knowledge, just the two other means (pepper spray and tasers) have not been used – and only because they only work at very short distance and are certainly not effective against large numbers of “protesters”.
My understanding is that tear gas and rubber bullets were used, however – and used massively; and that live fire was employed because non-lethal means failed to stop attempts to breach the border. But… “There are ways to disperse crowds which do not include live fire.” If Daniel Sugarman has discovered such “ways”, I urge him to call as soon as possible Lieutenant General Gadi Eizenkot, IDF’s Chief of Staff. I’ll be happy to give you his mobile number, Daniel – he is very eager to learn those mysterious “ways”. You might also want to offer your services as a consultant to all the police forces in the free world. Trust me, they will pay top sterling for your “ways”. But before all that, would you mind just updating that obsolete Wikipedia page – to avoid deceiving people like me?
In truth, it may seem that Daniel has achieved a humongous journalistic scoop. After all, did he not reveal that
“IDF has made an active choice to fire live rounds and kill scores of people.” ?
I’d be so very grateful, however, if he could indicate the source of that riveting scoop. (My friend Gadi Eizenkot knows nothing about such IDF decision – I checked). I mean, I hope Daniel has a source – and a credible one at that. Because otherwise, what he did was to libel a whole lot of people, by declaring them – off the pages of the Jewish Chronicle – war criminals.
Unfortunately, this does seem to be a case of libel. Because, in his next sentence, Mr. Sugarman appears to call upon a rather unreliable witness: his own ‘logic’:
“You cannot tell me that Israel, a land of technological miracles which have to be seen to be truly believed, is incapable of coming up with a way of incapacitating protestors that does not include gunning dozens of them down.”
Oh, that sublime mixture of arrogance and ignorance – should we invent a new term for it? How about ‘arrgnorance’?? Don’t you just looove it when a shallow schmuck says “you cannot tell me”?
Well, I can and I shall tell him a thing or two. True, for a tiny country with lots of things on its collective plate, Israel has achieved some very impressive technological successes. But they were not achieved by snapping fingers – not even the fingers that Sugarman stuck at it.
Daniel may have watched too much StarTrek; the amazing crew of the ‘Starship Enterprise’ had, I seem to remember, phasers that could be set on ‘stun’.
But in the real world… It took more than a decade to find a (great, though still not perfect) solution to the threat of rockets launched from Gaza; more than 3 years passed before Israeli scientists devised a way to detect terror tunnels.
Attempting to breach the border fence with thousands of ‘protesters’ is a new Hamas tactic; we can only hope that Israeli wunderkids will soon devise (no doubt at the behest of Daniel Sugarman and using his generous donations) “a way of incapacitating protestors that does not include gunning dozens of them down”. Though that might have to wait until the knowledge contained in those 100,000 pages of Iranian nuclear experiments is read and absorbed.
“You cannot tell me”… Oh, but I can! When they occur, Daniel my boy, “technological miracles” are an achievement to be admired – but not a duty to be demanded. In bashing Israel for not coming up with miracles-on-order, you have just joined a long and very ignoble queue of individuals and organisations who hold the Jewish state to a different standard from that applied to everybody else.
You have entitled your piece, Daniel
“I love Israel – that’s why I’m criticising it today”
This reminds me of an abuser who, when confronted by the police officer, declared – hand on his heart and sanctimonious look in his eyes: ‘I love my wife; I only beat her when she does not live up to my expectations – so she can improve’.
I can and shall tell you, Daniel, that love should not hurt.
As a Jew and an “ardent Zionist”, Daniel Sugarman, you have no doubt often felt pride at Israel’s unusual achievements. But one Tuesday morning you woke up embarrassed: the world was once again kicking the Quintessential Jew in the shin and it seemed to you, Daniel, that Israel’s behaviour reflected poorly on your good self. And for that reason, on that Tuesday morning, you performed a hatchet job on my country, on the army I served in; on our children in khaki drill. You called us all murderers. But hey – I’m sure you felt like a good, moral, superior human being once you wrote that article. And that’s what’s important after all, ‘innit?
Well done, Daniel, you’re the man! May you grow up and become a mensch.
Good news! The man has become a mensch. I wrote the blog above on Wednesday evening, in response to Daniel Sugarman’s article, published by the Jewish Chronicle on Tuesday. But – lo and behold – on Thursday Daniel wrote an apology – also published by the Jewish Chronicle. It is worth reading it in its entirety, but here are some salient parts:
“But the criticism I paid more attention to was from people who pointed out that it was absurd to deal in hypotheticals. I’d said that surely there must be a way the protestors could be stopped without shooting live ammunition at them – that Israel, with its incredible technological capabilities, must be capable of developing a way. That was a cry of anguish, but it was not an argument. If no such technology currently exists, then it was absurd of me to blame the IDF for not magically willing it into existence. The traditional crowd stopping technology would not have worked effectively. Rubber bullets are only short range. The same with water cannons. And with tens of thousands of people rushing the border, this would have been extremely unlikely to work effectively. The border would have been broken through. And then, without much of a doubt, a lot of people in Israel would have died. That was, after all, Hamas’s stated aim.
But what really affected me the most was yesterday, when a Hamas operative went on television and claimed that, of the 62 people killed in the last two days, fifty were Hamas operatives. Islamic Jihad claimed three more, meaning that over 80 percent of the people who were killed while trying to breach the border were members of terrorist organisations whose direct aim is to bring death and suffering into Israel.
And I opened my eyes and saw what I had done.
I said that Israel should be ashamed of its actions. But today I am the one ashamed.”
We all make mistakes. But we are not all equipped with hearts and balls big enough to admit those mistakes.
I forgive you, Daniel Sugarman. And I respect you. Shalom, brother!