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Uri Avnery

Uri Avnery on the Beit Hanoun Massacre--11/11/06

Uri Avnery

In One Word: MASSACRE!

"THANK GOD for the American elections," our ministers and generals
sighed with relief.

They were not rejoicing at the kick that the American people delivered
to George W. Bush's ass this week. They love Bush, after all.

But more important than the humbling of Bush is the fact that the news
from America pushed aside the terrible reports from Beit Hanoun. Instead
of making the headlines, they were relegated to the bottom of the page.

THE FIRST revolutionary act is to call things by their true names, Rosa
Luxemburg said. So how to call what happened in Beit Hanoun?

"Accident" said a pretty anchorwoman on one of the TV news programs.
"Tragedy", said her lovely colleague on another channel. A third one, no
less attractive, wavered between "event", "mistake" and "incident".

It was indeed an accident, a tragedy, an event and an incident. But most
of all it was a massacre. M-a-s-s-a-c-r-e.

The word "accident" suggests something for which no one is to blame -
like being struck by lightning. A tragedy is a sad event or situation,
like that of the New Orleans inhabitants after the disaster. The event
in Beit Hanoun was sad indeed, but not an act of God - it was an act
decided upon and carried out by human beings.

IMMEDIATELY AFTER the facts became known, the entire choir of
professional apologists, explainers-away, sorrow-expressers and
pretext-inventors, a choir that is in perpetual readiness for such
cases, sprang into feverish action.

"An unfortunate mistake… It can happen in the best families… The
mechanism of a cannon can misfunction, people can make mistakes… Errare
humanum est… We have launched tens of thousands of artillery shells, and
there have only been three such accidents. (No. 1 in the
Olmert-Peretz-Halutz era was in Qana, in the Second Lebanon War. No. 2
was on the Gaza sea shore, where a whole family was wiped out.) But we
apologized, didn't we? What more can they demand from us?"

There were also arguments like "They can only blame themselves." As
usual, it was the fault of the victims. The most creative solution came
from the Deputy Minister of Defense, Ephraim Sneh: "The practical
responsibility is ours, but the moral responsibility is theirs." If they
launch Qassam rockets at us, what else can we do but answer with shells?

Ephraim Sneh was raised to the position of Deputy Minister just now. The
appointment was a payment for agreeing to the inclusion of Avigdor
Liberman in the government (in biblical Hebrew, the payment would have
been called "the hire of a whore", Deut. 23,19). Now, after only a few
days in office, Sneh was given the opportunity to express his thanks.

(In the Sneh family, there is a tradition of justifying despicable acts.
Ephraim's brilliant father, Moshe Sneh, was the leader of the Israeli
Communist Party, and defended all the massacres committed by Stalin, not
only the gulag system, but also the murder of the Jewish Communists in
the Soviet Union and its satellites and the Jewish "doctors plot").

Any suggestion of equivalence between Qassams and artillery shells, an
idea which has been adopted even by some of the Peaceniks, is completely
false. And not only because there is no symmetry between occupier and
occupied. Hundreds of Qassams launched during more than a year have
killed one single Israeli. The shells, missiles and bombs have already
killed many hundreds of Palestinians.

DID THE shells hit the homes of people intentionally? There are only two
possible answers to that.

The extreme version says: Yes. The sequence of events points in that
direction. The Israeli army, one of the most modern in the world, has no
answer to the Qassam, one of the most primitive of weapons. This
short-range unguided rocket (named after Izz-ad-Din al-Qassam, the first
Palestinian fighter, who was killed in 1935 in a battle against the
British authorities of Palestine) is little more than a pipe filled with
home-made explosives.

In a futile attempt to prevent the launching of Qassams, the Israeli
forces invade the towns and villages of the Gaza Strip at regular
intervals and institute a reign of terror. A week ago, they invaded
Beit-Hanoun and killed more than 50 people, many of them women and
children. The moment they left, the Palestinians started to launch as
many Qassams as possible against Ashkelon, in order to prove that these
incursions do not deter them.

That increased the frustration of the generals even more. Ashkelon is
not a remote poverty-stricken little town like Sderot, most of whose
inhabitants are of Moroccan origin. In Ashkelon there lives also an
elitist population of European descent. The army chiefs, having lost
their honor in Lebanon, were eager - according to this version - to
teach the Palestinians a lesson, once and for all. According to the
Israeli saying: If force doesn't work, use more force.

The other version holds that it was a real mistake, an unfortunate
technical hitch. But the commander of an army knows very well that a
certain incidence of "hitches" is unavoidable. So-and-so many percent
are killed in training, so-and-so many percent die from "friendly fire",
so-and-so many percent of shells fall some distance from the target. The
ammunition used by the gunners against Beit-Hanoun - the very same 155mm
ammunition that was used in Kana - is known for its inaccuracy. Several
factors can cause the shells to stray from their course by hundreds of

He who decided to use this ammunition against a target right next to
civilians knowingly exposed them to mortal danger. Therefore, there is
no essential difference between the two versions.

Who is to blame? First of all, the spirit that has gained ground in the
army. Recently, Gideon Levy disclosed that a battalion commander praised
his soldiers for killing 12 Palestinians with the words: "We have won by

Guilty are, of course, the gunners and their commanders, including the
battery chief. And the General in charge of the Southern Command, Yoav
Gallant (sic), who radiates indifference spiked with sanctimonious
platitudes. And the Deputy Chief-of-Staff. And the Chief-of-Staff, Dan
Halutz, the Air-Force general who said after another such incident that
he sleeps well at night after dropping a one-ton super-bomb on a
residential area. And, of course, the Minister of Defense, Amir Peretz,
who approved the use of artillery after forbidding it in the past -
which means that he was aware of the foreseeable consequences.

The guiltiest one is the Great Apologizer: Ehud Olmert, the Prime Minister.

Olmert boasted recently that because of the clever behavior of his
government "we were able to kill hundreds of terrorists, and the world
has not reacted." According to Olmert, a "terrorist" is any armed
Palestinian, including the tens of thousands of Palestinian policemen
who carry arms by agreement with Israel. They may now be shot freely.
"Terrorists" are also the women and children, who are killed in the
street and in their homes. (Some say so openly: the children grow up to
be terrorists, the women give birth to children who grow up to be

Olmert can go on with this, as he says, because the world keeps silent.
Today the US even vetoed a very mild Security Council resolution against
the event. Does this mean that the governments throughout the world -
America, Europe, the Arab world - are accessories to the crime at Beit
Hanoun? That can best be answered by the citizens of those countries.

THE WORLD did not pay much attention to the massacre, because it
happened on US election day. The results of the election may sadden our
leaders more than the blood and tears of mothers and children in the
Gaza strip, but they were glad that the election diverted attention.

A cynic might say: Democracy is wonderful, it enables the voter to kick
out the moron they elected last time and replace them with a new moron.

But let's not be too cynical. The fact is that the American people has
accepted, after a delay of three years and tens of thousands of dead,
what the advocates of peace around the word - including us here in
Israel - were saying already on the first day: that the war will cause a
disaster. That it will not solve any problem, but have the opposite effect.

The change will not be quick and dramatic. The US is a huge ship. When
it turns around, it makes a very big circle and needs a lot of time -
unlike Israel, a small speed-boat that can turn almost on the spot. But
the direction is clear.

Of course, in both new houses of Congress, the pro-Israeli lobby
(meaning: the supporters of the Israeli Right) has a huge influence,
perhaps even more than in the last ones. But the American army will have
to start leaving Iraq. The danger of another military adventure in Iran
and/or Syria is much diminished. The crazy neo-conservatives, most of
them Jews who support the extreme Right in Israel, are gradually losing
power, together with their allies, the crazy Christian fundamentalists.

As former Prime Minister Levy Eshkol once said: when America sneezes,
Israel catches cold. When America starts to recover, perhaps there is
hope for us, too.
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