Monday, October 14, 2013

Israel's Occupation of Palestinian Territory - a critique of a liberal soldier

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I don’t profess to have a complete knowledge of the Israeli Occupation of Palestinian Territories, but it does not strike me as ‘rocket science’ to give some moral appraisal of the issues at hand. I have just listened to a video interview by Yehuda Shaul, a former soldier who performed military service with the Israeli Defence Forces for a little less than 3 years in Israel & Occupied Palestine. He has since the end of his service come out to strongly oppose 'The Occupation' of Palestine. He has set up a Facebook page to ‘Break the Silence’. He has also written a book “Our Harsh Logic”, which includes testimonials from some 950 Israeli soldiers who are against the nature of the govt’s military campaign.
It is an appealing interview because he is an articulate man and he has first-hand experience of the conflict. However upon listening, based on my ‘peripheral knowledge’ and his argument, I find myself less than supportive of his campaign for several reasons. He makes a number of moral failings:
1. Empiricism – He argues that “the facts are not in disputed” – The fact is that they don’t have to be.
2. Democratic ‘conservatism’ – He seems indifferent to the nature and disposition of the political regime in Palestine, and the fact that Palestinians choose to live in the Occupied Territories rather than "unoccupied" Palestine. Why? Because they are in effect, economic refugees, who settled in 'Occupied' Palestine.
3. Moral ignorance – Yehuda honestly concedes that he was ‘righteous’ whilst in the military. He thought he was a ‘good person’. He thought this way for over 2 years. So are we to believe that he has passed from morally ‘lost’ to moral crusader in a few months; or might we instead expect that there is no reason to expect ‘moral certainty’ since he has had no ‘new education’. He only left the military. That’s not an education in ethics. I have already argued that he conveys a very ‘empiricistic view’ citing ‘undisputed facts’. I will explore the issue further.

He argues that the military ‘has its own logic’; but might he be construed as ‘having his own as well’, and that his logic changes as ‘rapidly as the seasons’. I have always argued that ideologically liberals and conservatives are 'one and the same' people; since they merely approach a problem from two different perspectives:
1. Conservatives from a repressed sense of optimism
2. Liberals from an indulgent sense of tragedy

Perhaps coming out of the ‘safe’ military life he was at a loss of what to do. Military men often feel lost coming out of the military, partially because military life (i.e. In his case "searching houses") does not prepare them for career life. His ‘apprehensions’ about his future might be construed as a foundation for a ‘flip’ to the tragic path of a liberal. There does not need to be any deeper moral appraisal of the issues in the Occupied Territories. “The facts are not in disputed”. Indeed they are not; and nor are they new. So what otherwise would account for his change in thinking. This strikes me as a plausible rationale for the ‘flip’, which he does not really elucidate. I would however like to get his perspective. Many retired Israeli soldiers become ‘hire mercenaries’ in other countries, working for other governments, or even private corporations. Was he simply facing a ‘career crisis’? Anyway, this might explain, apart from the Western liberal media’s penchant for attacking conservative governments, why he has launched this ‘new career’ attacking conservative governments; whilst has culminated in tours to Western countries and 'a book'. The fact that there is a ‘conflict of interest’ here, is not in itself an issue, and yet this does not stop liberals from constantly attacking ‘Big Oil’ or ‘corporate lobbyists’ for having a ‘conflict of interest’. There is that false conservative-liberal dichotomy rearing its ugly head again. A bit of pot-kettle I’d say; although this criticism applies to most liberals - not necessarily all of them. Nor does it need to end the debate because there is plenty of material upon which to build a case.
Of course it is easy to criticise people as traitors. Smear is par for the course of ‘conservative-liberal’ politics. I’ve been smeared as ‘anti-American’ by Conservatives because I think constitutions are a bad thing. No deeper argument, and so I have at least some appreciation for his attempt to make a case. It just strikes me as hopeless at best given the selectivity of his case. Yes, we might well expect more of 'civilised Israelis'; but he would have us believe that Palestinians are of equal standing. Well, it must be conceded that Palestinians do not exactly 'show their traitors' do they? How often have Palestinians surrendered information about their colleagues and family members who have 'conspired to injure Israelis'. Now, in fairness, they might well fear reprisals, or even unempathetic treatment by Israel, but I suspect the very few. Yet in contrast, Yehuda is free to criticise Israeli's role without adverse consequences.

Yehuda makes the point that these practices were a deliberate ‘campaign strategy’, not the actions of rogue soldiers. Typical measures included random raids on Palestinian houses, though he also argues that inspections at checkpoints were dehumanising or degrading to Palestinians. If I reflect on these policies, I would conclude that:
1. The borders of Palestine are ‘porous’ so there is a need to patrol.
2. The military cannot allow Palestinians to develop ‘safe houses’ from which to launch offensives against the Israelis
3. These policies are similar in intensity to the screening of passengers who board flights in any city around the world.

Perhaps the biggest failing of the interview, and perhaps this question is addressed in the book, is the question of what alternate policy Yehuda would suggest. Surrendering the Occupied Territories strikes me as ridiculous because:
1. Giving sovereignty to Palestinians would allow Hezbollah to mount rocket launchers on the borders of Israel.
2. Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are probably thankful for Israeli security; as much as they might resent the intrusion into their homes at ‘inconvenient’ hours….just as most of us would hate getting out of bed at 4AM each morning, if that was our life. We might even curse the world for it.
3.     Concessions to Hezbollah would only fuel Palestinian nationalism, and embolden them to the point of precipitating more violence.

It raises in my mind what alternatives the Israelis have. I would think that:
1. Israel relies on US support for the actions it takes because the withdrawal of a US sanction could prove harmful
2. Israel is challenged by the need to balance offensives against Hezbollah with the threat of injury to ‘innocent civilians’.

One of the failings of Western observers, and perhaps also Israelis, is to forget that Palestine is already (in a sense) an Occupied State, in the sense that it is a ‘tyranny under the authority of Hezbollah and other militants. Now, “modern” liberals will support them because:
1. They are the legal or legitimatised authority of Palestine
2. They are weaker; so in their minds ‘powerful interests’ are the oppressors

This is the type of thinking that underpins liberal disdain for ‘dictators’ like Pinochet in Chile; whilst welcoming or sanctioning the extortionary demands of socialists, who in fact pushed Pinochet to a brutal crackdown. Socialists will castigate Pinochet for killing thousands; but rather than describing these 'innocent victims' as hostile, socialistic revolutionaries intent on overthrowing the government, they are simply 'honored indifferent victims'. That is of course the same selective 'collectivist' lie you get from liberals.
The issue is that, in the absence of an all-powerful Israel in the Middle East; the liberals would be supporting the oppressed people of Palestine against Hezbollah. But in the current context, they consider Israel the aggressor simply because ‘they are more powerful’ and able to defend themselves. i.e. Israelis are 'unethical' simply because they have a life-affirming value system, i.e. Western democracy. The modern liberal will romanticise the ‘hapless Palestinian’ because they are ‘exploited’ or ‘have nothing’, or plausibly because they ‘have lost everything’; but the reality is that they are poor and destitute because their philosophical values are a repudiation of life. i.e. They have always been poor. If you look beyond Palestine, the entire region is poor; except where Western technology has made possible, with a little good fortune from the earth, the ‘blessings’ of rich oil discoveries. The region should thank those ‘Big Oil’ companies; but instead they invest the proceeds in the subjugation of their people (rather than education) and hateful propaganda of the West, who made it all possible. Understandably the West is only too happy to see Arabs 'disempowered' under Arab autocracies if they take that view. Critics might say I am engaging in 'Arab hate'. No. I don’t hate these people; I just think that they are ‘spoilt’, ‘entitled’ unthinking ‘savages’ who are victims of their religious values and sabotaged education. There is a good reason why Hezbollah has not raised the education of their people. They want them indolent, vengeful serfs who take the war to the West. The expectation that ‘surrendering the Occupied Territories’ will result in a peace is naïve. I hope they can learn to understand the nature of their geopolitical destitution. Until that day approaches I will be sure to keep this entire region at 'arms length'. I am pleased to say that I've met charming Arabs, including Palestinians, and I'm sure they all have their moments, as all people do. But on points of conviction, there is simply a great deal of moral treachery in this reason, and Israel is right to 'contain the problem'. Of course they should not thwart the chances of their development; only their illegitimate power. By no means do I think Israel should subsidise the development of the Palestinian people. That would only betray their own value. Palestinians have to become self-reliant and recognise their own potential. Foremost is getting out from under the oppressive 'tyranny' of Hezbollah, in the same way that Syrians are challenging President Assad.

I do have some questions which some people can perhaps answer. Is there any evidence to suggest that the Israeli government is preserving its vigilance in order to preserve its administration? The question is: Does Israeli policy serve to:
1. ‘Psychologically pacify’ the enemy? It seems this is not going to be the case; at least psychologically; though it might be argued that their measures are effective at securitising the Palestinian Occupied Territories and Israel to keep the conservative govt in power. The occupation therein could possibly serve as a ‘sore point’ to preserve the fight.
2. Facilitate the permanent annexation of Palestinian lands. I’m not sure if Israel has land pressures’ but certainly the military action could serve as a strategic rationalisation to ‘keep their land’. It might be argued that ‘Palestinian attacks’ need to be compensated, and occupying Palestinian land is a way of recouping some level of financial loss, as well as serving as a security buffer. It is noteworthy that Israel is barely occupying Palestinian lands, i.e. It is really a 'military zone' rather than an 'Israeli housing estate'. This I think is not true for the West Bank.
4. Simply preserve a ‘security buffer’ around Israel, to prevent mortar attacks on Israel.

Just as interesting of course is the US justification for Israeli support. Of course there is an alliance; and Israel is the ‘lighthouse’ of Western democracy in the Middle East. There is a lot of support for Israel in the USA; however liberals are largely unsympathetic. Is the US going to be sympathetic to the annexing of Palestine land? I would think not. You do have to wonder have to wonder where the US is getting value from the relationship. What exactly is the nature of the US ‘support’? Cheap weapons? Certainly satellite intelligence.
Yehuda Shaul, Co-founder of “Breaking the Silence”: “I was trained in the Israeli defence force to defend the country (whether Syria, et al start a war against us), to defend our borders, but what I did at the end of the day was enforce our military rule over the Palestinian people….to make sure they are stripped of dignity and freedom….[so they] don’t live as equals to us. 
Perhaps Yehuda presumes too much. There is no question that Palestinians will not appreciate being woken up in the middle of the night. If the question was ‘wake me up for Israeli security’, they would probably take the security and wonder how waking them up at 2AM in the morning helps to preserve it. That is the luxury of indulgent thinking; you need not be drawn on points of detail. The issue however is; is Yehuda’s disdain, and is the disdain of the ‘oppressed Palestinian’ justified? I don’t think so. I think its very selective thinking. The Palestinian lacks dignity because Israelis identify as enemies of Palestine, and the Hezbollah identify as being Palestinian nationalists. Perhaps if the Israelis identified as ‘Arab nationalists’, seeking a better world for Arabs, then perhaps they might be seen in a different light. I personally believe they will be cursed as ‘heathens’ because of their religious differences and their history.
Yehuda Shaul, Co-founder of “Breaking the Silence”: “At the end of the day, when I served for 14 months in Hebron…, my job was very clear, to protect the Israeli settlers who live in the city of Hebron…Which is very different from defending Israel. When I served on the Lebonese border in the north, my task was very clear….protect/defend the northern border of Israel”. 
I disagree because this ‘buffer zone’ serves as shelter for aggressors to mount attacks. It is the unpredictability of the Israeli occupation that serves to protect Israel. As long as Palestinians in the region are free to leave (to Palestine) I see no moral dilemma; and I’m sure no one would have it any other way. Either you lock people into Palestine or you lock people out Israel. No security is otherwise possible for Israelis. These people identify as Arabs; so you lock them out of Israel, and you deal with them on your terms; which just happen to be ‘commensurate with the security interests of the Palestinians’ in the Occupied Territories…that’s why they stay and settle there.
Yehuda Shaul, Co-founder of “Breaking the Silence”: “In the Occupied territories he saw himself crossing lines he never thought he would be crossing….until the point where every Palestinian in front of him was no longer a human being to him….an enemy, a potential terrorist”. 
Well, given that he professes a moral ambivalence, that’s perhaps not surprising. At the end of the day, his role has to be precautionary because he does not know who the enemy is. We see even in the West that police are intimdatory and disrespectful to ordinary citizens. I’ve often wondered why this mode of engagement; but at the end of the day, it’s likely that it reflects the ‘need for operational discipline’ in military and policing roles. It’s not comforting for those who observe it, because like police & military personnel, we also think we are good people. i.e. We like to be treated as humans. So by no means is this a ‘Israeli problem’. Perhaps the problem is the need for more education in military (as well as police) zones. There is certainly a role for empathy on all sides. We need to empathise with the role of police. Surprisingly, Yehuda seems to have lost sight of this perspective.

The fact that Yehuda is ‘confronting Israeli beliefs’ and not hearing contrary arguments strikes me as suggestive that there is:
1. A great deal of moral apprehension in Israel and Palestine
2. A great deal of cynicism that precludes intellectual engagement – simply because the political policy or agenda thwarts debate and any hope or motivation for change.
For these reasons, I sense that he is not finding the counter-arguments he needs to hear. I hope he hears them when he travels around the US and Europe. I do however tend to think that due to the nature of such events, that he will end up ‘preaching to the converted’.
Yehuda accepts that others have a different opinion….I guess its easy to do that because he once believed what he is doing is ok. People get angry because militarism has long been apart of the Israeli (as well as Palestinian) identity. It is actually more so for the Palestinians, because at least Israelis lead productive lives and are able to run sophisticated businesses. Palestinians are living in the dark ages; living under propaganda and a degraded education system, with no protection of basic rights, and no expectation of basic services. For this reason, the Palestinian government seems to have an even more pressing ‘vested interest’ in preserving a police state. In fact, far from saying that we should leave Israel alone; or negotiate a peace, the Palestinians seem determined to extinguish Israelis…and preserve ‘the flame of discontent’. How is the Israeli government going to thwart that paradigm without invading the country? Surely, liberals will be up in arms. Personally, its hard to imagine any sense coming from the resulting power vacuum. That would be a huge investment for Israel to make.
“This is a fight over the soul of our country….this is a fight over the moral values which will define whom we are as a people”.  
Agreed; but is it not he who is ambivalent about these questions…insofar as he went almost 3 years through a process of risking his life before he seems to have asked those questions. Yehuda assembled a list of 950 combat soldiers who are against ‘occupation’. But even in a ‘democracy’ this is a minor ‘contingent’ compared to the thousands of others who accept it. If this is so ‘oppressive’, how come the Palestinians are still able to kill so many Israelis? If this is ‘ineffectual’, what does he suggest will kill fewer Palestinians, insofar as Hezbollah’s soldiers are not going to be any less determined? Is not the reality that the Palestinian enemies are not the ‘general populous’ but those ‘militia’ hiding among them? In this case, does not their fear of their privacy invasion by Israelis stand in small contrast to the fears of death from betraying Hezbollah? There is no freedom of speech in Palestine.
Yehuda does not think it’s possible for an Israeli soldier to serve in the Occupied Territories with a clear conscience….”because there is no way of treating Palestinians as equal humans to you”.  
During Yehuda’s 14 months serving in Hebron, they would randomly enter the homes of Palestinians to ‘make their presence felt’. They do this ‘so they will be afraid to attack’. These random attacks entail separation and searching of the houses. That is only a little more ‘violating’ than the body searches done at all Western airports; albeit a lot more ‘inconvenient’, and the first time, ultimately a little scary, particularly if you had not heard third-party accounts. The intent is ‘to create the feeling of being persecuted”. Is that really the intent of government policy? Or just a ‘liberal’ former-soldier’s interpretation? If not, what in the intent? Might it simply be to thwart planned attacks?
Yehuda Shaul: “If this is your mission, there is no way of doing it nice”.  
The issue is not whether its ‘nice’; the issue is whether it’s justifiable intrusion. From my research, I note that the Israeli authorities have actually reduced the inconvenience over time by reducing the number of checkpoints substantially.  These changes would surely have allowed them to develop a database to determine the effectiveness of their measures; and they have probably used this to reduce administrative costs, as well as inconvenience to all concerned.

Another issue is whether Palestinians have a choice about it. I would of course hope that the Israeli government is sensitive to the needs of the Palestinians; as it serves the Israelis to keep the Palestinians ‘onside’. But there is perhaps another reason why the Israel administration might want the military to ‘treat them all the same’ (i.e. subhumane). It strikes me as likely that the military command does not want its solidiers to get ‘careless’ by diminishing the risk posed by Palestinians who ‘appear nice’. If they start treating them ‘differently’, or as ‘humans’, then they become vulnerable to manipulation, and then vulnerable to the threat of Israelis turning against their government. This is the price any government pays for preserving a morally ambivalent fighting force. Rather than offer a moral education; contemporary military wisdom is that you ‘ensure your military command remains ‘repressively’ servile and obedient. i.e. That they follow orders withour question. The video interview by Yehuda alludes that ‘culture’ and value system. He is repressed until he is placed in an unfamiliar challenging environment, where he along with other Israelis is compelled to make an income outside of the military. So it’s understandable that Yehuda only started to question the policy once he left the military. That might be a reason to change the ‘military culture’; but actually the problem is the greater moral ambivalence even among civilians. And in this regard, I’m afraid Yehuda is not helping his country or the Western countries, where he is sharing a deluded Western interpretation of his nation’s military affairs.

It’s worthwhile considering exactly what Palestinians could do. Let’s consider their options:
1. They can move to Palestine to be under ‘Palestine authority’ – which I suspect is not so good because its oppressive.
2. They are not permitted to move to Israel; so the best they can do is work for Israeli-Palestinian enterprises in the West Bank. That’s far more than they can get than in ‘peaceful’ Palestine.
3. Living in the Occupied Territories gives them work and relative security from the Palestinians; albeit at a highest cost than would otherwise be necessary if Palestinian authorities did not preserve with their ‘power games’.

The point I think is that they are settling in the ‘Occupied Territories’ themselves; for work, and that by necessity means, ‘living on Israeli terms’. If the Israeli terms were worse that Palestine’s, then Palestine would be a beourgeoning democracy, not Israel. Like Yehuda himself argues ‘he is not persecuted as a traitor’ for defying Israeli policy, despite this being a question of ‘identity’ for their respective people. What does that say?
“This is our national project for 46 years…all our resources are put into controlling another people”.
Would he prefer a more ‘decisive’ acquiescence or belligerent attack upon the Palestinian hard-liners? It is possible that this has been ruled out by the US government, which provides support to Israel.
Yehuda argues that they are raised with an ‘instinct for violence for which you answer everything…in ruling others, and used to not see others as equal to you”.  
Well, this is perhaps a good thing if it keeps the nation safe. After all; Israel is still a free country.
Yehuda Shaul believes his analysis is in the minority; but he argues that “the facts are not in dispute”.  
The political idea is not the problem…it’s the political mission…When we send our military to preserve a prolonged occupation, that’s how it looks [i.e. occupation].
Israelis are prohibited from entering the Occupied [Palestinian] Territories, except if they are soldiers, diplomat or journalists. The implication is that:
1. There is no concealment
2. There is no attempt to occupy these lands by Jews
I am not sure why he calls his book ‘Breaking the Silence’ insofar as he argues that the facts are not in dispute. If that is the case, he should have called his book “Israel Occupation: An alternative (liberal) thesis”. From his own account, there is ‘no silence to break’. The implication is that he is a traitor of soughts, even if a self-righteous, well-intended, articulate one. The problem with Yehuda Shaul is that he offers a sanction for the liberals in the West who hate Israel’s conservatives. That is why he is going to find a lot of support from them, including the media. He already has 24,000 likes on Facebook, as any good populist is destined to attract, given his media support.

If you are interested in connecting with Yehuda’s cause, you can find him on Facebook. I hope he takes the time to read my blog and address the shortcomings I have with respect to his campaign, because at this time, I was not convinced by his attack on Israeli policy. The best thing that he could do would be to articulate a realistic alternate mode of engaging with Palestine. His well-articulated interview seemed to skirt any mention of Palestine, or the nature of its government. Palestine lies under an oppressive regime. Syria is in a civil war. Palestine is under an even more repressive regime.

1. “Israeli Soldiers Speak Out About War Crimes Committed On Palestinian Civilians”,, website, October 13, 2013.
2. “Palestinian freedom of movement”, Wikipedia, website, retrieved 12th Oct 2013; “Easing of Restrictions in Judea and Samaria in 2009”, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, website, 9th July 2009.

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