Saturday, March 01, 2008

Never mind the language, the threat is real

DIFFERENT PICTURE. Gaza border rally as
people's peace convoy arrived, January 26.
Latest poll says Israeli majority favour talks
with Hamas and cease fire. (photo Dani Grinblatt)

NOT for the first time, an Israeli military leader has broken the taboo on comparisons with Nazism, this time by threatening Palestinians in the Gaza Strip with a Holocaust.

Speaking on Israeli army radio, on a day after Israeli forces killed more than 30 Palestinians, nine of them children, in a series of air raids, deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai warned "the more Qassam [rocket] fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, [the Palestinians] will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves."

One Israeli person had been killed on Wednesday by a Qassam rocket fired at Sderot. Hamas said it was a reprisal for the Israelis killing five of its people that morning.

The Hebrew word shoah, literally disaster, is usually reserved for the Nazi World War II genocide of Jews. Israel, and following it,many Jewish Diaspora communities, adopted the 27th of the Hebrew month Nissan as Yom HaShoah, a Holocaust Memorial Day.

Any comparison between Israeli actions and those of the Nazis usually causes umbrage, even uproar, though the Jewish settlers who protested their removal from Gaza appear to have got away with calling Israeli soldiers "Nazis" and even dressing up in mock concentration camp uniforms to absurdly exaggerate their supposed ill-treatment, thereby reducing the Holocaust to a children's Purim fancy-dress show. Indeed the cheapening of Holocaust analogies is obnoxious.

But it was an Israeli army officer, explaining the destruction of buildings in Jenin , who said the Army had learned from German experience of the danger of fighting through narrow streets, as in the Warsaw ghetto.

This time it was reported that Vilnai's colleagues were rushing to distance themselves from his remarks, or play them down. An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, Arye Mekel, claimed that Vilnai used the word "in the sense of a disaster or a catastrophe, and not in the sense
of a holocaust." The UK-based pro-Zionist Engage site said Vilnai should resign for undermining the insistence that Nazi comparisons were antisemitic.

But as my fellow blogger Mark Elf noted, help was at hand for the maladroit minister. "Here's Melanie Phillips in the Spectator complaining that to render "shoah" as "holocaust" represents the "Mother of all mistranslations
Reuters translated the Hebrew word ‘shoah’ as ‘holocaust’. But ‘shoah’ merely means disaster. In Hebrew, the word ‘shoah’ is never used to mean ‘holocaust’ or ‘genocide’ because of the acute historical resonance. The word ‘Hashoah’ alone means ‘the Holocaust’ and ‘retzach am’ means ‘genocide’. The well-known Hebrew construction used by Vilnai used merely means ‘bringing disaster on themselves’.
But of course, "ha" is simply "the". "Ha-shoah" no matter how it is rendered in Hebrew, is "the holocaust" whereas "shoah" is simply "holocaust". Needless to say, Melanie Phillips didn't give any examples of this more casual, less definite, use of shoah".'

I had not realised before that Melanie Philips was such an authority on modern Hebrew usage, on top of her other accomplishments.

We recently heard how Israeli major-general Almog, accused of the illegal mass demolition of Palestinian homes, escaped a prosecution in London because he was tipped off, and the anti-terrorist squad feared a fire fight if they tried to take him from an El Al plane at Heathrow.

Incitement to genocide is a punishable crime under the international Genocide Convention, adopted in 1948 after the Nazi holocaust. But from Dachau to Darfur, mass killing is seldom announced as such.

"The 8 Stages of Genocide," written by Greg Stanton, President of Genocide Watch, sets out a number of warning signs of an impending genocide, which include "dehumanization" of potential victim groups and preparation, whereby potential victims "are often segregated into ghettoes, deported into concentration camps, or confined to a famine-struck region and starved."

As Ali Abumineh has pointed out on the Electronic Intifada site, Vilnai's holocaust threat fits a pattern. "Israel has attempted to isolate the population of Gaza, deliberately restricting essential supplies, such as food, medicines and energy, a policy endorsed by the Israeli high court but condemned by international officials as illegal collective punishment".

On 28 February, Cabinet minister Meir Sheetrit stated that Israel should "hit everything that moves" in Gaza "with weapons and ammunition," adding, "I don't think we have to show pity for anyone who wants to kill us." Tzachi Hanegbi, a senior member of Prime Minister Olmert's Kadima party said Israel should invade Gaza again and be prepared to remain there "for years."

What the military and political leaders have to say is mild compared to the men of the cloth. Former Sefardi Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu declared last year that there was "no moral prohibition against the mass killing of civilians during a potential massive military offensive on Gaza aimed at stopping the rocket launchings" ("Eliyahu advocates carpet bombing Gaza," The Jerusalem Post, 30 May, 2007).

Eliayahu's son, Shmuel Eliayhu, chief rabbi of Safad, said: "If they don't stop after we kill 100, then we must kill a thousand." He added, "And if they do not stop after 1,000 then we must kill 10,000. If they still don't stop we must kill 100,000, even a million. Whatever it takes to make them stop." Last month the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi came up with his own benevolent remedy. Let the Palestinians of Gaza be sent to a new 'home' in the Sinai desert, he proposed.

That most of them were originally driven from Jaffa and Majdal (Ashkelon) to become refugees was not considered. Maybe the rabbi thought if we moved them once we can do it again? Nor did he specify whether they would be sent on a forced march or if special trains would be laid on.

Ironically, as Electronic Intifada points out, the latest bellicose threats came as a majority of the Israeli public, including some top officials, were saying they would support direct talks with Hamas to achieve a mutual ceasefire, something Hamas has repeatedly offered for months.

"Sixty-four percent of Israelis say the government must hold direct talks with the Hamas government in Gaza toward a cease-fire and the release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit," the Israeli daily Haaretz reported on 27 February citing a Tel Aviv University poll. The report noted that half of Likud supporters and large majorities of Kadima and Labor party voters support such talks and only 28 percent of Israelis still oppose them.

"Knesset Member Yossi Beilin, leader of the left-Zionist Meretz-Yahad party, called for an agreed ceasefire with Hamas, noting that "there have been at least two requests from Hamas, via a third party, to accept a cease-fire," Haaretz reported on 29 February. Israel's public security minister, Avi Dichter, visiting Sderot the previous day,
criticized Israel's military escalation, saying, "Whoever talks about entering and occupying the Gaza Strip, these are populist ideas which I don't connect to, and in my opinion, no intelligent person does either."

This reminds me of the poll carried out in the Occupied Palestinian Territories shortly after Hamas was elected, which showed that despite their disappointment with the "peace process" and Palestinian Authority, a majority of Palestinians wanted their leaders to enter peace talks with Israel.

Interviewed in the American magazine Mother Jones (February 19), former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy, said Israel and the US should negotiate a ceasefire with Hamas. "Hamas is not al-Qaida," the intelligence man said, "and is not subservient to Tehran."

So why isn't there a ceasefire, why are people still suffering and being killed, why have neither Gideon Shalit nor the many Palestinian captives been freed, and why, on the 60th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe) are they being threatened with a bigger shoah?

Surely because US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has blamed the bloodshed entirely on Hamas, and failed to call for a ceasefire, just as she and her British counterpart vetoed UN calls for a ceasefire in Lebanon, and - as Olmert blurted out - the Secretary of State told Israel not to respond to overtures for talks from the Syrian government.

When some of us, whom the Jewish Chronicle habitually refers to as "anti-Israel" , point to Israeli groups like Gush Shalom or those on the Left, we're told they are insignificant, or worse, traitors.
I don't know what we will be told about the near two-thirds who favour talks with Hamas. Politicians who like to claim authority from the "silent majority" tend to ignore it when it speaks up and confounds their assumptions and stereotypes. I've no doubt neo-con groupie Mel P. (well-scary spice) will scorn that former Mossad chief for his naivety.

But we should do everything to ensure voices for peace are heard; and besides stepping up our demand to lift the siege of Gaza, insist the British government stops supporting aggressive US and Israeli policies. That's the best way to help the majority of Israelis and Palestinians.

1 - 8stagesofgenocide.html

To see another aspect of Mad Mel's crusade, and its venture into fresh fields, see
Marko Attila Hoare's blog at

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At 4:09 PM, Anonymous Asa said...

An excellent and perceptive analysis.

I can't believe apologists for Israel now have the cheek to try and downplay the significance of the word shoah, after so many years of trying (rightly in my opinion) to make it an almost sacred word, a unique word to refer to the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews.

I usually have little but contempt for Engage, but you have to give them some credit here:

"How could anybody object to Hamas comparing the Israeli government to Nazis when the Israeli government itself threatens, prophecies or predicts a Palestinian Shoah?"


Also, I actually didn't realise Vilnai was Labor. I just sort of automatically assumed he was some Kadima nutter. Sigh... At least I was half right...


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