Israel's violence at home and abroad
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., ignited a heated political controversy by criticizing Israel’s policies toward Palestinians — including its illegal and violent occupation now in the 51st year, the longest such occupation in modern history. She was attacked by Israeli apologists in both parties.
Israel’s violence, however, does not stop with Palestinians. Prominent scholar-activist Noam Chomsky states that Israel’s greatest assistance to the U.S. was in Central and South America, “where it maintained close contacts with the neo-Nazi regimes [and] lent valued support to the terrorist rulers of El Salvador in the 1970s, until the United States took over the task of organizing the massacre directly.” Israel’s “finest hour,” however, occurred in Guatemala, where it helped that regime continue “near-genocidal slaughters and repression ... (It) also joined other clients in the training and support of the (Contra) terrorist forces attacking Nicaragua ... .” Israel also allied itself with racist South Africa, helping it to develop its first nuclear weapon and maintain apartheid; in turn, South Africa helped Israel’s nuclear program.
The documented record of Israel’s assistance to death squad regimes in Latin America is beyond dispute. It was not the major criminal, however; that goes to the U.S. during the Reagan administration, building upon an earlier foundation set by John F. Kennedy. As historian Greg Grandin writes, “It was during this (Kennedy) period that national intelligence agencies, fortified and, in some cases, created by the United States ... began to transform themselves into ... the region’s death squad system, which throughout the 1970s and 1980s executed hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans and tortured tens of thousands more ... Millions were driven into exile,” and we know their destination.
During the Reagan era, the greatest massacre in all of Latin America occurred when a U.S.-trained Salvadoran battalion executed more than 800 civilians in El Mozote, including hundreds of children under the age of 12. There was one survivor. The ammunition was made in Lake City, Missouri.
Israel has also engaged in multiple aggressions in the Middle East. These include the June 1967 “pre-emptive” strike against its Arab neighbors that captured and conquered areas of Gaza and the West Bank; it then refused to allow Palestinians to exercise their right to self-determination and an independent sovereign state. Israel then set up a military occupation in violation of international law and, years later, stole Palestinian-owned land and began building Jewish-only communities, also illegal. These actions clearly qualify as crimes against humanity as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
Then there is the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980s. Washington had Israel ship weapons to Iran; Israel then paid the U.S. with the money it received from Iran; and the U.S. then resupplied weapons to Israel, using the funds from these arms sales to fund the Contras in Nicaragua. A number of Reagan officials were indicted for their illegal involvement; they were then pardoned by President George H.W. Bush, who was part of the crime and the massive cover-up that followed.
Given the brutal and genocidal history that Jews have faced, it is quite natural that they have a fear of some Palestinians and surrounding Arabs who have proclaimed their desire to destroy Israel. This reasonable concern, however, cannot justify Israel’s occupation of Palestine and its military aid to neo-Nazi, death-squad regimes in Latin America.
Given its history of violence, therefore, supporters of Israel need to critically assess its violent suppression of Palestinian self-determination in Gaza — where four young people were killed last week during a march by some 40,000 Palestinians urging Israel to ease its blockade on the territory — and the West Bank. Like other nations, it faces popular forces that resist this violence, such as the Israeli-Palestinian group, Combatants for Peace. Along with this group, Americans should not feel coerced into giving uncritical support to Israeli actions that violate international law.
Representative Omar has performed a vital public service by opening such a controversial subject. It now remains whether we will inform ourselves about Israel’s actual — as opposed to imagined — history, and then engage in political action on the basis of this documented evidence.
John Marciano lives in Talent.