“The rule of repression will fail. The tsars did not succeed in repressing the Russian people’s aspiration for freedom by exiling thousands of its fighting sons to Siberia; the Nazis did not succeed in breaking the enslaved peoples’ spirit of resistance by exiling and destroying the best of their youth. Tyranny based on brute force, however massive, cannot stand before the moral force of a historic freedom movement. The tyrannical rulers of the country will not break the spirit of the owners of this land who are rising up…. The masses…from all political camps and communities must rally to the struggle against this barbarism.”
So declared a leaflet issued in October 1944 by the right-wing Zionist “National Military Organization in the Land of Israel,” better known as the Irgun. The British authorities in Palestine had just deported 251 Jews to Eritrea on suspicion of membership in what they deemed an illegal terrorist organization that had perpetrated numerous acts of violence against British installations and personnel. Among those deported was a young Irgun activist named Meir Sternberg-Shamgar. While in detention in Eritrea, Sternberg-Shamgar studied law by correspondence course, and so his Irgun superiors called on him to help draft memoranda and statements denouncing deportation as incompatible with international law and the most fundamental principles of justice and morality. It was only after the establishment of the State of Israel in May 1948 that Sternberg-Shamgar and his fellow deportees were released from detention and allowed to return to their homes.
Today Meir Shamgar is president of Israel’s Supreme Court which, despite consensus among legal experts that deportations from occupied territories are prohibited by international law, has consistently upheld the Israeli military authorities’ right to expel Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Shamgar and his distinguished colleagues came through once again in the wake of last December’s unprecedented mass deportation to Lebanon of more than 415 alleged Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists. The esteemed court ruled that although mass deportations were improper, the expulsion of a large number of individual activists at the same time was just fine.
The liberal Zionist Meretz Party’s representatives in the Israeli cabinet all voted in favor of the deportations. Later, facing severe criticism for their craven capitulation to the logic of repression, Meretz leaders claimed that they had believed that the mass deportation would weaken Hamas and open the way for direct Israeli-PLO talks. Their apparently genuine surprise that the PLO (and virtually all Palestinians regardless of political affiliation) rallied to support the deportees speaks volumes about the limitations and contradictions of liberal Zionism. They might have remembered how the mainstream leadership of the Jewish community in Palestine responded to the 1944 deportation of the Irgun members. “The 251 Jews who were deported from the country,’ declared Davar, “were subjected to the one punishment which Jewish opinion in Palestine in all its currents cannot accept. Our position regarding terrorist acts and their perpetrators is well known, but we have never accepted and we will never accept two forms of punishment which are in essence one: capital punishment and the expulsion of a Jew from his land. Our opposition to these punishments has a single root and goes deeper than any momentary consideration: recognition of the sanctity of life and of the inalienable and undeniable right of a Jew to live in his land, even if behind prison bars. Is the government of Palestine no longer able to provide for detention and guard within the borders of the country?”
Repression of Palestinians can be profitable, too. The Israeli press reports that China recently signed a deal with a factory owned by Kibbutz Beit Alfa (which is affiliated with a left Zionist party now part of Meretz) to purchase four vehicles specially designed for use in dispersing demonstrations. These vehicles, tested in the streets of the West Bank and Gaza, have also been bought by the governments of Singapore, Thailand, South Korea and Sri Lanka.
Illustrating just what the Israeli government thinks a Palestinian is worth, a report issued by the Israeli state comptroller’s office allows for an interesting comparison between two classes of Israeli citizens: the 7,000 Palestinian residents of Iksal, near Nazareth, and the 1,000 Jewish residents of Beni, near Gedera. Funding for local government in Israel comes almost exclusively from the central government’s budget allocations. In 1989, in Iksal — where income levels and social conditions put residents solidly in the bottom tenth of Israel’s population — the per capita allocation was about 250 shekels (today worth about $91). By contrast, Beni got over 2,100 shekels (about $756) per resident. The comptroller’s report criticizes Iksal for running budget deficits to fund local services.
While we’re on the subject of mendacity: In a recent mass mailing to prospective subscribers, New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan boasts of his magazine’s “supersensitive antennae”: “It’s positively uncanny the way we consistently reveal what tomorrow’s most talked-about stories will be.” His sole example: “Our prediction that Iraq would assault its neighbors was keeping us and our readers awake nights at least two years before it happened and long before anyone in Washington lost any sleep.”
At the risk of damaging those delicate antennae, perhaps Sullivan might stretch them just a little further back, to The New Republic’s issue of April 27, 1987. That issue featured an article bluntly titled “Back Iraq,” by Daniel Pipes and Laurie Mylroie — no strangers to readers of this column — who urged Washington to openly support Iraq in its war against Iran. The co-authors downplay “the danger that a victorious Baghdad would itself turn against pro-American states in the region — mainly Israel, but also Kuwait and other weak states in the Persian Gulf region.” No, they insist, “Iraq is now the de facto protector of the regional status quo.” Pipes and Mylroie have earned a well-deserved notoriety for the quality of their “expertise,” but the editor of The New
Republic would do well to display a little more modesty.