The silencing of dissent in Israel part II

Apart from the normal national propaganda barrage that accompanies any military campaign, the Israeli Gaza assault included the added wrinkle of strong governmental efforts to limit protest. In the Palestinian majority areas of Israel, governmental forces have attempted to suppress protest through direct threats and intimidation. This from the NY Times, in which the paper of record almost off-handedly talks about the mass detention of Israeli citizens.

“Local Arab leaders organized protests of the war in the northern towns of Sakhnin and Baka al-Gharbiya in coordination with the police. At the same time, hundreds of Israeli Arabs were detained; some were “preventative arrests” based on intelligence, a police spokesman said.”

Further, Israel was literally stewed in 24/7 pro-governmental/war coverage to the point, as Neve Gordon discusses below, polls reported that Israeli Jewish support increased to almost 100 percent near the end of the Gaza attack. The unanimity of opinion was easy to discern and in no substantial way different from what we might see, for example, in the US during the run-up and prosecution of a war.

. As Gideon Levy states the Gaza war ended in utter failure for Israel” no matter the triumphalist claims to the contrary, the suppression of dissent, nor the behavior of a lame press. The depressing notion implied is that such terrible violence will come again, sooner, rather than later, in service to the cynical demands of one politician or another.

In the following article by Neve Gordon after detailing the suppression of protest and the reasons for Israeli popular support, he matter-of-factly states that the occupation is the root cause of the Gaza campaign/violence.

How to sell ‘ethical warfare

Claim moral superiority, intimidate enemies and crush dissent –
Israel’s media management is not just impressive, it’s terrifying

Neve Gordon

Friday 16 January 2009 20.30 GMT

One of my students was arrested yesterday and spent the night in a
prison cell. R’s offence was protesting the Israeli assault on Gaza.
He joins over 700 other Israelis who have been detained since the
beginning of Israel’s ruthless war on Gaza: an estimated 230 of whom
are still behind bars. Within the Israeli context, this strategy of
quelling protest and stifling resistance is unprecedented, and it is
quite disturbing that the international media has failed to comment on
it.

Simultaneously, the Israeli media has been towing the government line
to such a degree that no criticism of the war has been voiced on any
of the three local television stations. Indeed, the situation has
become so absurd that reporters and anchors are currently less
critical of the war than the military spokespeople. In the absence of
any critical analysis, it is not so surprising that 78% of Israelis,
or about 98% of all Jewish Israelis, support the war.

But eliding critical voices is not the only way that public support
has been secured. Support has also been manufactured through
ostensibly logical argumentation. One of the ways the media, military
and government have been convincing Israelis to rally behind the
assault is by claiming that Israel is carrying out a moral military
campaign against Hamas. The logic, as Eyal Weizman has cogently
observed in his groundbreaking book Hollow Land, is one of restraint.

The Israeli media continuously emphasizes Israel’s restraint by
underscoring the gap between what the military forces could do to the
Palestinians and what they actually do. Here are a few examples of the
refrains Israelis hear daily while listening to the news:

• Israel could bomb houses from the air without warning, but it has
military personnel contact – by phone no less – the residents 10
minutes in advance of an attack to alert them that their house is
about to be destroyed. The military, so the subtext goes, could
demolish houses without such forewarnings, but it does not do so
because it values human life.

• Israel deploys teaser bombs – ones that do not actually ruin houses
– a few minutes before it fires lethal missiles; again, to show that
it could kill more Palestinians but chooses not to do so.

• Israel knows that Hamas leaders are hiding in al-Shifa hospital. The
intimation is that it does not raze the medical centre to the ground
even though it has the capacity to do so.

• Due to the humanitarian crisis the Israeli military stops its
attacks for a few hours each day and allows humanitarian convoys to
enter the Gaza Strip. Again, the unspoken claim is that it could have
barred these convoys from entering.

The message Israel conveys through these refrains has two different
meanings depending on the target audience.

To the Palestinians, the message is one that carries a clear threat:
Israel’s restraint could end and there is always the possibility of
further escalation. Regardless of how lethal Israel’s military attacks
are now, the idea is to intimidate the Palestinian population by
underscoring that the violence can always become more deadly and
brutal. This guarantees that violence, both when it is and when it is
not deployed, remains an ever-looming threat.

The message to the Israelis is a moral one. The subtext is that the
Israeli military could indiscriminately unleash its vast arsenal of
violence, but chooses not to, because its forces, unlike Hamas,
respect human life.

This latter claim appears to have considerable resonance among
Israelis, and, yet, it is based on a moral fallacy. The fact that one
could be more brutal but chooses to use restraint does not in any way
entail that one is moral. The fact that the Israeli military could
have razed the entire Gaza Strip, but instead destroyed only 15% of
the buildings does not make its actions moral. The fact that the
Israeli military could have killed thousands of Palestinian children
during this campaign, and, due to restraint, killed “only” 300, does
not make Operation Cast Lead ethical.

Ultimately, the moral claims the Israeli government uses to support
its actions during this war are empty. They actually reveal Israel’s
unwillingness to confront the original source of the current violence,
which is not Hamas, but rather the occupation of the Gaza Strip, West
Bank and East Jerusalem. My student, R, and the other Israeli
protesters seem to have understood this truism; in order to stop them
from voicing it, Israel has stomped on their civil liberties by
arresting them

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