Drunk with Power and Out of Shame

Commenting on the Israeli government’s enthusiastic calls for the US to attack Iraq [1], Knesset member Zehava Gal’on of Meretz, a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense committee, said “It is hard to understand the government’s fervor. This is an American matter and not one we should be involving ourselves in. The Europeans are making it clear there is no coalition, while we are pushing for war. Beyond that, Israel is going to get hit if there is a war.” [2] Iraqi foreign minister Tareq Aziz, however, thinks that “What Bush the father did in 1991 was in the interest of America, what his son is planning to do now is in the interests of Israel and the Zionists.” [3]

If Aziz doesn’t offer Gal’on the missing link towards understanding her government and the danger it is putting her in, perhaps she found the clue in the interview with Israeli chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon in Ha’aretz last week:

“Q: There is something surprising in the fact that you see the Palestinian threat as an existential threat.

“A: The characteristics of that threat are invisible, like cancer. When you are attacked externally, you see the attack, you are wounded. Cancer, on the other hand, is something internal. Therefore, I find it more disturbing, because here the diagnosis is critical. If the diagnosis is wrong and people say it’s not cancer but a headache, then the response is irrelevant. But I maintain that it is cancer. My professional diagnosis is that there is a phenomenon here that constitutes an existential threat.

“Q: Does that mean that what you are doing now, as chief of staff, in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, is applying chemotherapy?

A: There are all kinds of solutions to cancerous manifestations. Some will say it is necessary to amputate organs. But at the moment, I am applying chemotherapy, yes.” [4]

Later in the interview he explains: “they believe that time is on their side and that, with a combination of terrorism and demography, they will tire us out and wear us down.”

The “demography” part of the threat can only mean that each and every Palestinian, in his mind, is a cancerous cell to be eliminated. To be a demographic threat, you don’t need to do anything. You only need to be Palestinian. [5] Prime minister Sharon backed his words [6], thus placing them in line with government policy. It is irrelevant, therefore, to speak of the Israeli actions against the Palestinians as “collective punishment.” They are not a population which is collectively punished for the crimes of a few. Each and every Palestinian is a target in the Sharon-Ya’alon “war against cancer”.

Uri Avnery described everything that Ya’alon said in the interview as “myths that are taught in Israeli elementary schools instead of history.” [7] This is not true. Children learn terrible things in school, but three years ago a teacher would probably be fired for saying that the Palestinians are a demographic cancer that should be dealt with by chemotherapy and possibly amputation of organs. I have no doubts about the Avnery’s good intentions, but see his reaction as yet another example of the power of monotonous escalation. What shocked us yesterday, seems today like something that was always there. What would have sounded like a Nazi statement three years ago is accepted today as a standard and familiar rightwing line, eliciting the standard and familiar response.

In November 2000, when the “war against cancer” had just begun, then deputy chief of staff Ya’alon already made it clear what this war is about when he said “this is the second half of ’48.” [8] The Jerusalem Post reported last week about an organization that helps Palestinians emigrate. The president of this organization, who said that its “aim is to empty the state of Arabs,” claims that 380,000 Palestinians have emigrated already since October 2000. [9]

During the first Intifada, in 1989, I attended a political gathering of the rightwing Moledet party in a Haifa suburb. The crowd consisted of about 20 people, half of whom were teenagers in leftist T-shirts like myself, who came to listen. Rehav’am Ze’evi, who was then the leader of Moledet, spoke of his “voluntary transfer” plan: cut electricity and water, shut down universities and deny jobs, and they will leave. At the time, this was the lunatic fringe. In the second Intifada, Moledet became a member of the coalition and Ze’evi became tourism minister (he was later assassinated by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine). Moledet hired billboards in Tel Aviv and put up signs saying “only transfer will bring peace.” The “voluntary transfer” is already happening, and the rightwing is now talking about the next stage, transfer without “voluntary.” In weekly rightwing vigils in Haifa and elsewhere, their banners read “The Land of Israel for the People of Israel – ‘Palestinians’ to Jordan!” A glimpse into the soul of a transfer advocate can be found online. [10] He makes three main points: 1. Transfer is the way to create a healthy relationship between Israelis and Palestinians. 2. If you don’t agree with this, it proves that you are anti-Jewish. 3. Transfer will be achieved by extreme measures of state terror.

Sharon and Ya’alon are drunk with power (“Israel is a regional superpower. It is a military superpower, an economic superpower, a cultural-spiritual superpower,” Ya’alon told a Rabbis’ conference last week [11]). They are selling stories about being prepared for conventional and non-conventional attacks, while it is obvious that they are willing to sacrifice many Israelis to achieve their goals (is this what Ya’alon calls “amputating organs”? It reminds me of Moussolini’s view of the nation as a body that sometimes needs to sacrifice some of its cells for the sake of the body as a whole). Maybe this is why Israeli radio reported last week that 30,000 coffins were ordered by the state. (Only soldiers are buried in coffins in Israel. Civilians are buried according to Jewish law in shroud).

Meron Benvenisti, former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, has warned of a possible “transfer” scenario: “an American assault on Iraq against Arab and world opposition, and an Israeli involvement, even if only symbolic, leads to the collapse of the Hashemite regime in Jordan. Israel then executes the old ‘Jordanian option’ – expelling hundreds of thousands of Palestinians across the Jordan River … Anyone who regards such ethnic cleansing as a horrible crime must raise their voice now, without any of the ‘ifs, ands or buts’ so typical of the response to the punishment already being meted out in ever more strict steps.” [12] There are also other transfer scenarios in the air — with a war with Syria as the cover or an exceptionally murderous terror attack as the pretext.

The Israeli liberals are perhaps in a habit of disregarding Moledet and their like as a lunatic fringe, and are still hesitant to acknowledge that they have taken control. There is also the reluctance to speak about “transfer”, in order not to belittle the current horrors of curfews and starvation, and not to help raise “transfer” to the status of the “thinkable.” But when the chief of staff talks of a cancerous demographic threat and the prime minister backs his words, it is time to realize that the rules of the game have changed. The opposition, so much as it still exists, cannot stop Sharon and Ya’alon by ridiculing them or by “not understanding their logic.” It has to turn outside for help. Diplomatic isolation and boycotts are by far better than the consequences of the “war against cancer”.

Chancellor Shroeder, when asked if Germany will come to Israel’s aid if it will be attacked by Iraq, replied “when friends are attacked, it’s clear, we help.” [13] A real friend will not only call an ambulance after you crash, but will tell you not to drive when you’re drunk.

Irit Katriel is an Israeli activist, currently living in Germany. This article originally appeared in Dissident Voice. Email: iritka@zahav.net.il


[1] Ha’aretz, Aug 16 2002, “PM urging U.S. not to delay strike against Iraq.”

[2] Christian Science Monitor, August 30, 2002, “Israel sees opportunity in possible US strike on Iraq”.

[3] Albawaba.com, August 21 2002, (quoting CBS evening news), “Aziz: Bush plans towards Iraq serve interests of Israel.”

[4] Ha’aretz, August 30 2002, “The enemy within.”

[5] On the “demographic problem,” see my article “Deep Ideological Crisis”, July 8 2002,

[6] Ha’aretz, August 31 2002, “Sharon backs Ya’alon remarks on ‘cancerous Palestinian threat’.”

[7] Uri Avnery, August 30 2002, “The return of the dinosaurs.”

[8] Ha’aretz, Nov 17 2000, “Truth or consequences.”

10, “‘The second half of ’48’ – The Sharon-Ya’alon plan,” http://www.zmag.org/reinsyplan.htm

[9] Jerusalem Post, Aug 26 2002, “New organization aims ‘to empty the state of Arabs’.” The website of this organization is at http://www.emigrations.net .