Israel is worried about its image these days. With scenes of Israeli soldiers in full battle regalia beating young boys at checkpoints, shooting at stone-throwing children and bulldozing homes and orchards, the Israeli army is looking as though it just stepped out of an old black-and white World War II movie.
Images of bleeding and maimed civilians in Gaza, who happened to get in the way of Israeli missiles, isn’t helping Israel’s image worldwide either, even though Ariel Sharon calls this recent carnage ‘a great success’.
In an attempt to soften the brutal reality for the gradually awakening American public, two U.S. Jewish groups–the American Jewish Committee and Israel 21C–have paid for an ad campaign set to air on 100 American cable television networks.
The ads are on the theme of “we are a democracy like you” and focus on Israel’s supposed freedom of speech, unfettered media, and respect for human rights. One of the advertisements emphasises that Israel is America’s ally in the region, while another stresses “common values and common visions”.
If Americans had the chance–or were determined enough–to see beyond such glaringly untruthful propaganda and the Israel bias of their media, they would find such misrepresentation laughable.
Such truth-seekers might begin by learning about Mordechai Vananu, who has been languishing in an Israeli prison for years all because he exercised his freedom of speech and talked about Israel’s nuclear weapons programme to The Sunday Times.
Vananu was lured to Italy and then kidnapped by the Mossad where he was drugged before being shipped out to Israel. There, he was given a secret trial and sentenced to 18 years in Ashkelon Prison, he is kept in isolation. Few believe that he will ever be allowed to go free.
Perhaps this whistle-blower has been lucky. There is a worldwide campaign highlighting his case. Many others on Israel’s list of undesirables have been assassinated, including several Egyptian nuclear scientists.
One of the most prominent such Israeli assassinations was that of Dr. Yahya Meshad, a nuclear physicist who worked for Iraq’s Atomic Energy Commission. He was mysteriously murdered in his hotel room in Paris in 1980. Mossad defector Victor Ostrovsky confirmed that agents of his former employer were responsible for Meshad’s death.
At a time when Saddam Hussein is being “ordered” to open up his palaces to not only UN weapons inspectors but a posse of armed men, it is difficult to imagine Ariel Sharon rendering his farm open house for inspections.
Israel, as we all know, boasts more weapons of mass destruction than the entire Middle East put together, but this doesn’t bother the American government, which shares “common visions” according to the ads. Today, Israel is estimated to possess between 200 and 300 nuclear warheads.
Instead, the White House spokesman Ari Fleischer has the audacity to encourage Iraqis to assassinate their leader. Again, what would the international reaction be if Saddam Hussein suggested that Americans should get rid of theirs or that Palestinians should hunt down Ariel Sharon?
Alternatively, those Americans who refuse to be indoctrinated, could fly to Israel for the purpose of speaking to Israelis who dare to challenge their government policies such as Uri Avnery.
That is if they are prepared to risk being mistaken for international pro-Palestinian activists, who are often turned back at Ben Gurion Airport, or arrested Avnery, who in his youth was a member of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), is today a writer, activist for peace and the founder of the Israeli peace organisation Gush Shalom.
The bearded and passionate Avnery would, no doubt, tell his American guests that he has been hounded by the Israeli government, which is threatening him with legal action for writing letters to IDF officers, urging them to refrain from committing crimes against humanity.
He warns members of the IDF that one day they could find themselves in an international court being charged with war crimes, and gives the example of former President of Serbia Slobadan Milosovich, now on trial in The Hague.
Perhaps Avnery would show such American visitors the letters of encouragement he has received from around the world, including one from 36 French academics and peace activists. Or, perhaps, the missive received from the respected American writer and academic Naom Chomsky, who supports Avnery all the way.
Gush Shalom is also campaigning to free the popular former member of the Palestinian Council Marwan Barghouti from Israeli custody, as well as protesting the crippling curfews, which have been ongoing for around 180 days.
The movement is also pushing to get CNN back into Israeli homes. So much for the new propaganda advertisements’ claims of ‘an unfettered media’!
If Americans with enquiring minds can get past the military checkpoints on the West Bank and evade the curfews, they could see Palestinian children sleeping in Internet cafes, desperate for education, currently being denied them.
Early this month Unicef condemned the IDF for preventing 170,000 Palestinian children from attending school in breach of the Geneva Conventions and the Rights of the Child.
Effect on children
Those same Americans could visit homes where the cupboards and the refrigerators are bare because their occupants haven’t been allowed to go to their places of work for months. Those who truly want to know could talk to psychologists about the harm, which Israeli bombs, tanks and bulldozers are doing to the minds of Palestinian children.
Then again, all they have to do is look at the fear mirrored in those children’s eyes, children who close their lids every night wondering whether they will wake up amid rubble or lose their parents to a stray bullet–or a bullet in the back.
If they can get near enough to the compound of President Yasser Arafat, where he still sits in his battered shell of an office, they might wonder why this elder statesman, while being labeled irrelevant by both the Bush administration and the Likudists, is at the same time being held personally responsible for every attack on Israelis.
If Ariel Sharon had his way, however, Arafat would be far away by now as the Israeli daily Maariv reported. At the request of Sharon and his defence minister Benjamin Eliezer Israeli troops recently carried out a practice run for the deportation of Arafat, using helicopters.
Arafat might well be waking up in an undisclosed country by now if Washington had not opposed Arafat’s exile ‘until further notice or until the American operation in Iraq is completed, whichever comes first’.
Why is it essential for Americans, in particular, to dig for some semblance of truth? The sad and irrefutable fact is that without U.S. aid, written-off loans and American-manufactured weapons, Israel would not be allowed to carry on its merry way.
Without the moral backing of America, Israel would be held accountable; would have to comply with the almost 70 UN resolutions it has thus far chosen to ignore and would, itself, be obliged to open its doors to international weapons inspectors.
The dollars of every working American are going directly to finance Israeli aggression to the tune of some $4.5 billion each year, while American companies, such as the tobacco giant Philip Morris, the coffee house chain Starbucks, and numerous others donate a proportion of their profits to the Israeli government.
The real surprise is that the American people seem not to mind, even in these belt-tightening times when unemployment is up, stock markets are erratic and poverty is on the increase.
At the same time American politicians are being financed by Jewish lobbies such as AIPAC or intimidated if they refuse to toe the line. As The Cleveland Jewish News reported on October 2, “It’s anyone’s guess which party will hold the majority in Congress come November, but one thing is for sure: several leading anti-Israel voices will no longer be heard in the Capitol’s halls”.
An official from AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) commented: “That is a reflection of the strong support Israel enjoys throughout the country now.”
Legislators Earl Hilliard and Cynthia McKinney, discovered to their cost that criticising Israeli policies wasn’t the way to gain votes when their opponents received not only Jewish votes but financial support from American Jewry.
Americans should ask just why Congress bends over backwards trying to please Israel and the five million plus Jewish voters in the U.S. They might also ponder upon just why Congress has just voted to designate Jerusalem as the capital of Israel at the very moment when tensions are running higher than ever in Palestine.
Such a resolution has done little except to inflame the understandable anger and frustration, which most Palestinians understandably feel.
If the American President George W. Bush succeeds in leading the U.S. into a bloody war with Iraq, then Americans might just discover to their horror that their government has more in common with Sharon and his crew than they might ever have knows!
It may soon be the turn of the U.S. to produce its own ads portraying that it, too, is a democratic country with free speech, a free press and an excellent human rights record. It is up to the Americans themselves to ensure that in such an eventuality we won’t all be incredulous at those too.
Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be reached at: She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org