What follows is an excerpt from Noam Chomsky’s vast research shattering the myth of an independent media in ‘developed’ countries, Necessary Illusions: Though Control in Democratic Societies. He reveals in this section invaluable insights into what is currently happening in Palestine; the violently racist ideology of Zionism that had well succeeded in dehumanising Palestinian men, women and children, and the western mainstream media’s traditional ‘obligation of silence’ when it comes to such pogroms and ethnic cleansing commit by friendly states.
It is both fascinating and encouraging to see the influence that the Internet has made since the book was written (1989), despite clear instances of propaganda, state and corporate power has had to think of new ways of ‘protecting’ people from information that poses a threat to their hegemony.
The Obligation of Silence
As discussed earlier, a doctrine commonly held is that “we tend to flagellate ourselves as Americans about various aspects of our own policies and actions we disapprove of.” The reality is rather different.
The prevailing pattern is one of indignant outrage over enemy crimes with much self-congratulatory appeal to high principle, combined with a remarkable ability “not to see” in the case of crimes for which we bear responsibility. In the West, there is an ample literature — much of it fraudulent — scornfully denouncing apologists or alleged apologists for the Soviet Union and Third World victims of U.S. intervention, but little about the behavior that is the norm: silence and apologetics about the crimes of one’s own state and its clients, when a willingness simply to face the facts might make a substantial difference in limiting or terminating these abuses. This is standard procedure elsewhere as well. In the Soviet sphere, dissidents are condemned as apologists for Western crimes that are bitterly denounced by right-thinking commissars, exactly the pattern mimicked here.
A number of examples have been mentioned, and many have been discussed elsewhere. For evaluating U.S. political culture and the media, the cases to which a serious analyst will immediately turn, apart from the crimes of the United States itself, are those of its major clients; in recent years, El Salvador and Israel. The latter case has been a particularly illuminating one ever since Israel’s display of power in 1967 elicited the adulation and awe that has persisted among American intellectuals. The apologetic literature is often little more than a parody of the Stalinist period.
The elaborate campaigns of defamation launched against those who do not satisfy the requirements of the faithful also strike a familiar chord. The effect, as elsewhere, has been to intimidate critics and to facilitate the exercise of violence; and also to erect barriers in the way of a political settlement that has long been feasible.
Israel can be secure that as long as it is perceived as a “strategic asset,” it will remain “the symbol of human decency,” as the New York Times described it while Israeli atrocities in the occupied territories reached such a level that the media briefly took serious notice. Israel can rely upon the American labor movement bureaucracy to justify whatever it does, to explain that although “in their effort to maintain order, Israeli Defense Forces have on occasion resorted to unnecessary force,…no doubt such incidents can be attributed to the inexperience of the Israeli army in riot control and other police functions, and to the frustrations of Israeli soldiers as they confront young Palestinians hurling stones and petrol bombs.” To fully appreciate this statement and what it means, one must bear in mind that it followed one of the rare periods when the media actually gave some picture of atrocities of the kind that had been taking place for many years in the occupied territories, at a lesser but still scandalous level. John Kifner’s reports in the New York Times were particularly good examples of professional journalism, consistent with his outstanding record over many years.
Apologetics of the AFL-CIO variety have served for twenty years to authorize harsh repression and endless humiliation, finally reaching the level of regular pogroms in which soldiers break into houses, smash furniture, break bones, and beat teenagers to death after dragging them from their homes; settler violence conducted with virtual impunity; and collective punishments, deportation, and systematic terror on orders of the Defense Ministry. As fashions change, leading figures in the campaign to protect state violence from scrutiny will doubtless create for themselves a different past, but the record is there for those who choose to see.
There has always been an Elie Wiesel to assure the reader that there are only some “regrettable exceptions — immediately corrected by Israeli authorities,” while he fulminates about the real crime: the condemnation of Israeli atrocities by public opinion. He tells us of the “dreamlike eyes” of the Israeli soldiers, perhaps those who had been described a few weeks earlier by reservists returning from service in the territories. They reported the “acts of humiliation and violence against Palestinian inhabitants that have become the norm, that almost no one seeks to prevent,” including “shameful acts” that they personally witnessed, while the military authorities look the other way. Or perhaps Wiesel has in mind the soldiers who caught a ten-year-old boy, and, when he did not respond to their demand that he identify children who had thrown stones, proceeded “to mash his head in,” leaving him “looking like a steak,” as soldiers put it, also beating the boy’s mother when she tried to protect him, only then discovering that the child was deaf, dumb, and mentally retarded. It “didn’t bother” the soldiers, one participant in the beating said, and the platoon commander ordered them on to the next chore because “we don’t have time for games.” Or perhaps Wiesel’s point is that “a picture of an Israeli soldier kicking an old Arab woman is no longer news,” as the Hebrew press bitterly comments, speaking of those who accept atrocities as readily as the author of Against Silence, whose words could actually mitigate suffering and abuse if he were not committed to silence as the proper course. The fact that such consistent behavior over many years is treated with respect, even regarded as saintly, speaks volumes about Western culture.
Given these dispensations, Israel is free to use its phenomenal U.S. aid to send its military forces to conduct the regular operations described in the Israeli press (but rarely here) at the time when Wiesel’s thoughts on “regrettable exceptions” appeared: To bar supplies from refugee camps where there is “a serious lack of food.” To beat young prisoners so severely that a military doctor in the Ansar 2 detention camp refuses to admit them, one lying “battered and motionless for an hour and a half, surrounded by soldiers, without receiving any medical treatment,” then “dumped” from a jeep on the way to the hospital and “brutally beaten” again “in front of dozens of soldiers” (one was allegedly censured). To break into a home and drag out a seven-year-old boy who had been hiding under his bed, then “beat him up savagely in front of his parents and the family,” then to beat his father and brother too because they did not reveal the hiding place of the child, while the other children scream hysterically and “the mother cannot calm them because she is told not to move”; and to mercilessly beat children of age five and up, sometimes three or four soldiers with sticks “until his hands and legs are broken,” or to spray gas directly into their eyes; these are among the horror stories that soldiers report from the miserable Jabaliya refugee camp, where the army has “succeeded in breaking them” so that “they are totally crushed, weak and tired.” To rake a boy twelve to fifteen years old over barbed wire “in order to injure him” as prisoners arrive at the Dahariya prison, with no reaction by the officer observing, after vicious beatings of prisoners en route with clubs, plastic pipes, and handcuffs while their commanding officer looked on (“Israeli buses have become torture chambers,” Knesset member Dedi Zucker reports, citing these and other atrocities). To rampage freely through Jericho, breaking into houses, brutally beating and humiliating residents. To “run amok” through the Amari refugee camp, “knocking down doors, breaking into houses, smashing furniture, and beating residents, including children,” then beating an ambulance driver who arrived on the scene after dragging him by his hair — an elite paratroop unit in this case, marauding with no provocation according to witnesses. To jail a prisoner “in perfect health,” leaving him “paralysed and dumb,” “apparently the result of severe beatings and torture…he suffered while in detention” at the Jenin interrogation center. To acquit a young Arab imprisoned for setting fire to the car of a suspected police informant when it is discovered that someone else was responsible and that his confession was extracted by torture, but without any reference by the district attorney or the court to the false “confession extracted through severe beating,” or what that implies. And on, and on.
There are other variants. The commander of an elite unit, Willy Shlap, described his first week in the El Burj refugee camp near Jabaliya. An eleven-year-old boy was found throwing a stone and taken to his house, where his father was ordered to beat him. The father slapped him but the officer screamed “Is this a beating? Beat him! Beat him!” The tension mounted and the father “became hysterical,” starting to beat the child brutally, knocking him on the floor and kicking him in the ribs as hard as he could. The soldiers were apparently satisfied. When atrocities became even more severe in the summer of 1988, as Wiesel published his reflections, the Jerusalem Post reported that, according to UNRWA relief workers and doctors at clinics, the victims of the sharp increase in brutal beatings were mostly “men [sic] aged 15 to 30,” but the clinics had “also treated 24 boys and five girls aged five and younger” in the past weeks, as well as many older children, such as a seven-year-old boy brought to a clinic “with a bleeding kidney, and bearing club marks.” Soldiers routinely beat, kick, and club children, according to doctors and relief officials.
In a case that actually went to trial, and therefore received considerable attention (in Israel, that is), four soldiers of an elite unit of the Givati Brigade were arrested and charged with beating an inhabitant of the Jabaliya camp to death on August 22. The case was first reported in Ha’aretz a month later. After children had thrown stones, twenty soldiers broke into a home and began to beat the father of one of the suspected stonethrowers, Hani al-Shami. He was kicked and beaten with clubs and weapons. Soldiers jumped on him from the bed while he was lying on the floor, his head bleeding from blows with clubs. His wife was also beaten up by soldiers. An officer arrived, found the severely wounded man bleeding heavily, and ordered him taken to the Military Administration offices, not to a hospital; that is routine procedure. Later, the family was informed that al-Shami was dead. Two soldiers from the same unit said “it is true that we beat them up and very strongly too, but it is better to break bones than to shoot people,” echoing the Minister of Defense. “We have lost our human image,” they said.
After the arrests were announced, other atrocities of the Brigade became public: for example, the story of a journalist from the El Bureij refugee camp, hospitalized after soldiers broke into his home, forced him to kneel on hands and knees and bray like a donkey while they beat him on the testicles, stomach, and back with clubs and electric wires for half an hour and smashed his glasses, shouting “now you will be a blind donkey.” Soldiers described Givati as “a brigade without law,” blaming the commander and the “right-wing orientation,” with many units from the Hesder Yeshivot, military-religious training schools known for their ultra-right fanaticism.
The courts released the four soldiers charged with the murder while the trial proceeded, as briefly noted without comment in the Jerusalem Post. The Hebrew press told the story that had been omitted from the version offered to the foreign reading public. A soldier testified at the trial that “the humiliation and the beatings were because of the need to pass the time.” Another added that al-Shami’s protruding belly particularly amused the soldiers and was “a target for the beatings.” An officer testified that he had threatened to kill al-Shami because “his groans disturbed me”; “I shouted at him that he should shut up, or I will kill him.” He testified further that in the military compound to which al-Shami had been brought after the beatings, he had asked a doctor to treat al-Shami, but the doctor had refused, only giving an order to wipe the blood from his face. On that day, the witness continued, many Arabs arrived at the command post with their hands tied and eyes covered, and were brutally beaten by officers and soldiers. Asked why he had not cared for al-Shami, the witness replied that “the wounded Arab did not interest me, because they are Arabs and want to kill us.” Soldiers testified that “the moment you catch a rioter you beat him…even if he doesn’t resist. It is to deter him.” Troops are ordered “to break their legs so they won’t be able to walk and break their hands so they won’t throw stones.” A company commander reported “unequivocal orders to beat any suspect” so as “to put him out of action for a month or two”; it is “necessary,” he testified, because jailing suspects is “like taking them to a PLO training seminar.” Beatings inside houses are “a daily matter” in Gaza.
The military court accepted the defense plea, ruling that “there is a basis to the claim that the deceased was beaten up in the military stronghold by soldiers whom to our sorrow the investigation did not succeed in identifying.” Furthermore, the fact that the soldiers were detained for eighty-three days brings “a correct balance between the needs of the army and the nature of their innocence and the nature of justice.” We are dealing with soldiers who “did their military duty and not with criminals,” the court ruled. “Nobody had denied that they had brutally beaten an unarmed Arab inside his own home, that they had broken a club or two over his head in front of his children or jumped on him in their boots,” Ziva Yariv commented; but there is no legal liability because these beatings might not have been the actual cause of death, “as if there were no law banning the brutal beating of civilians, or the breaking of a club over the body of an innocent man, as if there were no law against vicious attacks or grievous bodily harm.”
The military correspondent of Ha’aretz observed that there had been a decline in the number of “exceptions” brought to trial, the reason being that “exceptions have become the norm.” The Givati soldiers, like the members of an elite paratrooper unit tried for rampaging in the Kalandia refugee camp, “did not understand what the fuss is about.” They had behaved no differently from soldiers in other units and had been following orders, doing exactly what is expected of them. Brutal beating of prisoners or Arab civilians in their homes or on the streets is simply part of daily life, so they were unjustly tried. Evidently, the Court agreed. The Hebrew word “harig,” literally “exception,” by now seems to be used to mean little other than “atrocity.”
Atrocities are regarded as quite routine by the authorities. Dr. Marcus Levin, who was called for military service in the reserves at the Ansar 2 detention camp Medical Center, reports that he was assigned to check the prisoners “before and after interrogation.” Asking why they had to be checked “after interrogation,” Levin was informed by the doctors in charge that “It is nothing special, sometimes there are some broken limbs. For example, yesterday they brought in a twelve-year-old boy with two broken legs” — after interrogation. Levin, a sixteen-year army veteran, then went to the commander to tell him that “my name is Marcus Levin and not Joseph Mengele and for reasons of conscience I refuse to serve in a place that reminds me of South American dictatorships.” Most, however, find their conscience untroubled, or look the other way. One doctor informed him that “in the beginning you feel like Mengele, but a few days later you become accustomed.”
The Israeli writer Dan Almagor recalled a TV film he had seen in England on the thirtieth anniversary of the outbreak of the second World War, in which several German officers who had been released from prison after serving their sentences as war criminals were asked why they had taken such care in filming the atrocities in which they participated. “We didn’t film many of them for history,” one officer said, but “so that there would be something to play for the children when we went home on weekends. It was very amusing for the children,” who were deprived of Mickey Mouse films because of the war. Almagor was reminded of this film when he read the testimony of the Givati soldiers who described the amusement they felt over the “attractive” protruding stomach of Hani al-Shami, which provided such a fine “target for beatings.” Almagor went on to describe a visit to the West Bank with a brigade educational officer, a Major, who described with pride how he beats people with a club and joined a group of other officers and enlisted men and women who were convulsed with laughter over stories told by one man from the religious ultra-right with a knitted skull cap about how he had bulldozed homes designated by the secret police, including one that was not marked but was between two that were, and had destroyed a store that was in his way when he wanted to turn the bulldozer. Almagor’s bitter words brought back memories to me too, among them, an unforgettable incident forty years ago, when a horrifying Japanese documentary of the Hiroshima bombing was being shown, to much amusement, in the “combat zone” in downtown Boston, as a pornographic film. And a story in the New York Times in March 1968, right after the Tet offensive, describing with some annoyance how demonstrators had disrupted an exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Science where children could “enter a helicopter for simulated firing of a machine gun at targets in a diorama of the Vietnam Central Highlands,” including a peasant hut, which particularly disturbed the obnoxious peaceniks.
“It is already impossible, it seems, to relate these stories, to ask for an explanation, to seek those responsible. Every other day there is a new story.” These are the despairing words of Zvi Gilat, who has been recording the atrocities in the territories with care and dedication as the armed forces resort to ever more savage measures to suppress the Palestinian uprising. He is describing the village of Beita, which gained its notoriety because a Jewish girl was killed there in early April 1988. She was killed by a crazed Israeli guard accompanying hikers, after he had killed two villagers. The sister of one of the murdered men, three-months pregnant, was jailed for throwing a rock at the killer of her brother and kept in prison until days before her child was due to be born; the Israeli guard who had killed three people was not charged because, army spokesman Col. Raanan Gissen said, “I believe the tragic incident and its result are already a penalty.” Other Beita residents have remained in prison for eight months, with no sentence, and only one family member permitted to attend the sessions of the military court. The sentencing of four villagers to three years imprisonment for allegedly throwing stones before the Jewish girl was killed by her guard merited a few words in paragraph eleven of an AP report in the Times; ten days earlier, the Times reported the sentencing of a Jewish settler to 2 ½ years, the minimum sentence under law, for killing an Arab shepherd he found grazing sheep on land near his settlement. Beita residents were expelled from the country, houses were demolished including many not specifically marked for destruction, property was destroyed, the village was not permitted to export olive oil, its main source of income, to Europe; Israel refuses to purchase it. Two weeks before Gilat visited the village once again, a 12-year-old boy was shot in the back of his head at close range by Israeli soldiers, killed while fleeing from soldiers whom he saw when leaving his house, left to bleed on the ground for at least five hours according to witnesses. But though he has “no more strength, no more will,” Gilat goes on with more and more tales of horror, cruelty, and humiliation, while senses become dulled even among those who read them, including very few of those who pay the bills.
I cite only a tiny sample of the “regrettable exceptions” that are “no doubt” attributable to “inexperience” and “frustration,” atrocities that mounted through mid-1988 as the U.S. media reduced their coverage under a barrage of criticism for their unfair treatment of defenseless Israel, if not their latent anti-Semitism. Meanwhile there were interspersed with quiet laments over Israel’s tribulations, and occasional excesses, by some of those who helped create the basis for what they now fear. The atrocities go on, while the press looks the other way and those who might help mitigate them observe their vow of silence, assure us that nothing serious is happening, or warn of the problems Israel will face unless it takes some steps to recognize the human rights of Palestinians, not heretofore a matter of concern.
The horror stories in the Israeli (mainly Hebrew) press barely skim the surface. An official of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, returning from reserve service, reported that “the overwhelming majority of the severe and violent events in the territories do not reach the public at all.” He estimated that about one in ten events reached the public during the escalation of violence that was becoming “a real war” — one largely kept from the eyes of the American taxpayer who funds it, a further contribution to state terror.
Also largely kept from those who pay the bill are the current proposals that the solution may after all lie in simply “transferring” the recalcitrant population of the occupied territories, a venerable idea now again entering center stage, with opponents often objecting, in mainstream commentary and debate, on grounds that it is unfeasible. By mid-1988, some 40 percent of Israeli Jews favored expulsion of the Arab population, while 45 percent regarded Israel as too democratic and 55 percent opposed granting equal rights to Israeli Arab citizens (contrary to much propaganda, deprivation of equal rights, such as access to most of the country’s land, has always been severe). Much Zionist literature has long regarded the Palestinians as temporary visitors in the Land of Israel, perhaps recent immigrants drawn by Jewish rebuilding efforts; this has been a popular tale among American intellectuals as well. The rising ultra-orthodox religious groups, with a strong base in the United States, are hardly likely to object to the removal of people who are inferior to Jews in their essential nature; thus, in the words of the revered Rav Kook, Chief Ashkenazic Rabbi from 1921 to 1935, “the difference between the Israelite soul…and the soul of all non-Jews, at any level, is greater and deeper than the difference between the soul of a human and the soul of an animal, for between the latter [two categories] there is only a quantitative difference but between the former two there is a qualitative one.”
Those who believe that even the transfer solution would not find acceptance in some North American quarters are seriously in error. Respected figures of the social democratic left in the U.S. have long ago explained that the indigenous inhabitants of the former Palestine are “marginal to the nation” so that their problems might be “smoothed” by “helping people to leave who have to leave.” Not a whisper was heard, Alexander Cockburn noted, when the Republican Party platform of 1988 “went so far as demurely to encourage the notion of transfer” with the words: “More jobs and more opportunities in adjoining countries might draw the energies of more young people into building a world for themselves rather than destroying someone else’s” — by struggling for their rights against a harsh military regime endorsed and funded by the United States.
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Source: Necessary Illusions: Though Control in Democratic Societies
Notes: Addendum to p. 81.  For discussion of one example, see my review of Saul Bellow’s To Jerusalem and Back, reprinted in Towards a New Cold War, a review that aroused such anger that it caused the suspension of the journal in which it originally appeared, so I was informed. For many more examples, see other chapters in the same book, my Peace in the Middle East? (Pantheon, 1974, chapter 5), and Fateful Triangle.  See appendix V, section 4.  “Statement by the AFL-CIO Executive Council on Israel, Feb. 16, 1988.  Wiesel, Op-Ed, NYT, June 23; Reuven Padhatzur, Ha’aretz, May 16, 1988. On Wiesel’s long-held doctrine that it is obligatory to maintain silence in the face of atrocities of the state one loves, and that only those in power are in a position to know so that he must refrain from comment on atrocities, see Fateful Triangle and Turning the Tide. For his reiteration of the obligation of silence at the peak of the recent repression, see his article in Yediot Ahronot, Jan. 22, 1988, where he explains: “I refuse to criticize Israel, I have always refused to do this,” among other similar sentiments, familiar from apologists for other states in earlier days. It would be unfair, however, to note Wiesel’s practice without reference to those who now condemn him for his silence while effacing their own much worse record over many years. On the unacceptable facts, see the references of note 21. Wiesel, at least, had the integrity to adhere to his long-held position when it became unpopular.  Ze’ev Sachor, “Getting Accustomed to Atrocities,” April 1, 1988, Hotam, one of many items translated from the Israeli press in the 1988 Report of the Israeli League for Human Rights, Tel Aviv, which give the flavor of the pogroms organized by the Defense Ministry to teach the beasts of burden a lesson. This highly informative material is next to unknown in the United States, though it is arguably of some relevance to those who are expected to pay the bills.  Ha’aretz, July 15, 4; Jerusalem Post, July 6; Ya’akov Lazar, Hotam, July 15, reporting from Jabaliya; William Montalbano, Los Angeles Times, May 31, 1988, AP, May 30, on Dahariya, one of the atrocities reported by Dedi Zucker based on testimony by reservists, Yediot Ahronot, June 10; Yerushalayim, June 17, on Jericho; JP, June 24, 22, citing charges by Knesset member Ran Cohen; JP, Aug. 3, 1988, on the release of Mohammed Dari after three months in prison. For extensive documentation, see Punishing a Nation: Human Rights Violations During the Palestinian Uprising, December 1987 December 1988 (Al Haq — Law in the Service of Man, Ramallah, December 1988).  Yizhar Be’er, Kol Ha’ir, Aug. 26, 1988; Joshua Brilliant, JP, Aug. 26, 1988.  Eitan Rabin, Ha’aretz, Sept. 23, 1988.  Shimon Elkavetz, Hadashot, Sept. 28; Tali Zelinger, Jerusalem Post, Sept. 29, 1988.  JP, Nov. 17; Ha’aretz, Dec. 2, Nov. 15, 16; Yariv, Yediot Ahronot, Nov. 18, 1988. Michal Sela, JP, Jan. 26, Feb. 3; JP, Feb. 10, 1989. See also Glenn Frankel, WP, Feb. 12; George Moffett, CSM, Feb. 15, 1989.  Reuven Padhatzur, Ha’aretz, Nov. 30, 1988. See also Eitan Rabin, Ha’aretz Supplement, Dec. 2, 1988, making the same points.  Hadaf Hayarok, supplement to Al Hamishmar, Aug. 23, 1988.  Almagor, Ha’ir, Dec. 16, 1988; NYT, March 18, 1968.  Gilat, Hadashot, Dec. 16; Gissen, Joel Brinkley, NYT, April 28; AP, NYT, Dec. 15; special, NYT, Dec. 5, 1988. Eiran Taus, Al-Hamishmar, Nov. 19; Judith Green, News from Within, Dec. 14, 1988. Green, a Jerusalem architect working with the “Beita Committee” that hopes to reconstruct the houses destroyed by the army, visited the village with a member of the U.S. consulate on the day when the child was killed, and reported this story as well as the destruction caused by rampaging soldiers in a village that was quiet, with almost no villagers on the streets when the soldiers entered with riot control equipment. See my article in Z Magazine, July 1988, for more on the background, based in part on a personal visit a week after the incident with the hikers in April, while the village was still under military siege.  Gad Lior, Yediot Ahronot, July 10, 1988.  For a few references to current discussion on transfer, see my article in Z Magazine, May 1988. Poll, Ha’aretz, June 8, 1988; the poll, excluding settlers and kibbutz members, found 41 percent in favor. A poll taken shortly after found 49 percent favoring “transfer” of Arabs from the occupied territories; JP, Aug. 12, 1988. Rav Kook, quoted by Eyal Kafkafi, Davar, Sept. 26, 1988. See Yehoshafat Harkabi, Israel’s Fateful Hour (Harper & Row, 1988), the first readily available source to deal with these important matters.  Michael Walzer, “Nationalism, internationalism, and the Jews,” in Irving Howe and Carl Gershman, eds., Israel, the Arabs and the Middle East (Bantam, 1972); Cockburn, Nation, Nov. 21, 1988.
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