Saturday, 21 August 2010

Emily Henochowicz

At the end of an excellent lecture Amy Goodman, the host of Democracy Now! and a great American, was asked about Henry Kissinger. She described a talk he gave, where afterwards he was questioned about his role in the Indonesian conquest of East Timor. To the first questioner, a Timorese exile, he said, after a long silence, and after turning very red, its great you haven’t smashed this place to pieces! To the next questioner, the extraordinary journalist Allan Nairn, who referred to the official cables that showed Kissinger not only knew of the slaughter (this could be established by looking at the public record), but his anger because his staff had created a paper trail, he shouted, it’s people like you who make diplomacy impossible!

Indonesian troops had bashed in Nairn’s head when he and Amy Goodman were covering a funeral in Dili, which turned into a massacre when troops fired on the mourners. Both reporters, in a place were reporting was illegal, had put on their recording gear and ran out in front of the possession, to put themselves between the mourners and the troops, in the hope that they would not fire on western journalists. The troops rushed passed them, throwing them to the ground. To protect Amy Allan Nairn threw himself on top of her; it was then he was beaten over the head. The soldiers, pointing their rifles at them both, then asked if they were Australian – many years before five Australian journalists were murdered by Indonesian troops on the first day of the East Timor invasion. Australia had protested hardly at all; oil was more important than Australian life. Amy shouted out Americans! We are Americans! This is what saved them – the cost of an American life was too high a price to pay.

But this is not always so.

Recently an American student, Emily Henochowicz, lost an eye after she was shot in the face by an Israeli tear gas canister.

Last week, Israel refused to pay her medical bills of $3,700 for the treatment she received at the hospital in Jerusalem. The government claims she was not intentionally shot and said she had endangered herself by participating in the demonstration.

When invited onto Democracy Now! to talk about this with Emily Henochowicz, the Israeli embassy refused, saying they were investigating the case. The New York Times has just one article (although another article on the flotilla also mentions the incident), that begins…

A macabre legal wrangle is under way over who should pay the hospital bill for an American art student who lost an eye after being struck by a tear-gas canister fired by an Israeli border police officer at a Palestinian-led protest in the West Bank.

Only a macabre wrangle? Imagine if an American-Iranian had been shot in a street protest in Teheran. Would there only be one article? Would there no indignation?

Israel is a very favoured state indeed, and has privileges that gone beyond even important allies like Suharto’s Indonesia. How to explain this? There’s the Israel lobby of course. But this is hardly the reason, in this particular case. The article suggests a certain mindset: an unthinking, culturally conditioned response; part of a worldview that you grow up with, rather than a mechanical instruction from above. It is something that happens to us all, in our different ways – what is your response to England or Wales, or to the Papua New Guinea where you were born? The affinity between the American establishment and Israel is such that the latter is viewed as almost part of the United States – ideologically and culturally they are almost one. This gives Israel’s government the same rights and impunities as the White House and the Pentagon – our country cannot commit evil deeds. So take the New York Times piece above: it is axiomatic that it is some legal battle, rather than a moral issue.

But more than the cost of the treatment in Israel, which amounted to about $10,000, there are clearly legal principles and interests at stake.

Although this has happened before doesn’t appear to raise any issues at all:

On Tuesday, the ministry stated that according to preliminary checks, the border police dealt lawfully with the “violent protest at Qalandiya,” and that the firing of tear gas was justified. While expressing sorrow over Ms. Henochowicz’s injury, the ministry added that it did not cover hospitalization expenses in circumstances such as these.

The ministry said it had acted similarly in the case of Tristan Anderson, an American severely wounded by a tear-gas projectile in 2009. The ministry said that Mr. Anderson had filed a suit in the Tel Aviv District Court, where the issue of hospital expenses would be settled.

Just a technical issue. The idea that this is part of a systematic and brutal occupation, where the violence is reflexive (this is noted in the article – an Israeli journalist is quoted), is not explored or even given much comment. There is just one article in the Times. For Israel, like America, is a force for moral good – it cannot be a brutal oppressor, because it is one of us, and we, by definition, cannot oppress another people. That said, the fact that an Israeli journalist is quoted, an old routine to stop any criticism, does suggest a certain distance between the American reporter and Israel (and this may create a certain self-consciousness, which limits, to an even greater extent than usual, comment on this subject). Thus they may recognise the cruel realities but have less freedom to express them than a journalist born and raised in Israel.

There is a certain callousness about the response. The Israeli government appears to care neither about American public opinion, and we can see why, or, and more importantly, the life of a person. This can be related to many things, not least the brutalisation of colonial conquest. Many years ago these trends were identified:

An unidentified settler in a Moshav – a well-established farmer, educated, of western origin, apparently a person of some distinction who speaks with a sense of authority – [believes] Israel should become a “mad state,” so that people “will understand that we are a wild country, dangerous to our surroundings, not normal,” quite capable of “burning the oil fields” or opening World War III just like that… He is pleased with the designation “Judeo-Nazi used by Professor Yeshayahu Leibovitz in a despairing indictment of what he fears Israel is becoming. This man’s goal is “to kill as many Arabs as necessary, to deport them, to expel, to burn them, to make us hated by all, to make the ground unstable beneath the feet of the Jews of the Diaspora so that they shall be forced to rush here crying.” He wants to imitate the Australians who exterminated the natives of Tasmania, or Truman who destroyed hundreds of thousands with two bombs…

What’s particularly telling about this passage is the hatred of the settler, who is almost certainly American, for the Diaspora; and, I assume, for Jewish liberalism in general. Is this purely a psychological reaction, based on an individual’s experience of living in a secularised Jewish world? Or is it linked to the religious nationalism, that Zionism has become for many on the Right; and where the success of the Diaspora could be seen as undermining the necessity of a Jewish state? These are, of course, highly speculative questions, but we must not lose sight of this hatred. It may actually propel some group’s political strategy – that some of the fanaticism and intolerance, and the extreme brutality, might directed at the Diaspora, its success and influence (eg in Germany there are now more Jews than before World War II; a trend that is worrying Israel’s government). That is, part of its strategy might be to try and make life uncomfortable for those that live outside the country. We hear a lot about the New Anti-Semitism (most of it manufactured), but what if the extreme right in Israel, and in the religious communities in America, want to make Israel an outlaw state in order create anti-semitism abroad; to force people to emigrate, both for ideological and demographic reasons?

Increasingly this kind of intolerant and fanatical thinking has infiltrated the Israeli government, as the settlers rise in the political, military and security establishments. While the extreme religious right continues to increase its influence within the wider society; witness its outrageous views (transfer is now a public option), and its antics: a recent example being the attack on the only Arab woman Knesset member, Haneen Zoabi, inside the parliament building.

This has a long history. Israel Shahak and Norton Mezvinsky writing about the background to the Rabin assassination shows how Halachic (Jewish religious) law was used to justify it:

The first law commands every Jew to kill or to wound severely any Jew who is perceived as intending to kill another Jew…. The second law commands every Jew to kill or wound severely any Jew who, without the decision of a competent rabbinical authority, has informed non-Jews, especially non-Jewish authorities, about Jewish affairs or who has delivered Jewish persons or property to their rule or authority….

The land of Israel has been and still is considered by all religious Jews as being the exclusive property of the Jews. Granting Palestinians authority over any part of this land could be interpreted as informing. Some religious Jews interpreted the relations that developed between Rabin and the Palestinian Authority as causing harm to the Jewish settlers. In this sense, Rabin had informed. Influential rabbis, such as Gush Emunin leader Rabbi Moshe Levinger, publicly denounced as informers Rabin, some Labor and Meretz ministers and some Knesset members.

Is Emily Henochowicz seen as an informer?

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