Israel and its victims Ruthless Criticism

Translation of Ch.1, Part 1 of Abweichende Meinungen zu Israel: Die politische Emanzipation der Juden durch eine Militärdemokratie mit imperialistischem Auftrag, H.L. Fertl, Resultate Verlag 1982


Israel and its victims:
The campaign of elimination in Lebanon – Summer ‘82


For the Israeli government, it was clear from the outset that its brutal invasion of Lebanon was the step towards peace: “Peace for Galilee!” seemed to the people in charge to be the appropriate motto for the military invasion that led straight to Beirut. Thanks to Israeli artillery fire and air force bombs, the western part of the city became a death trap for all the disobedient Palestinians. And for anyone else who was there. In Israel’s view, their fate, like the entire war, was on the account of the Palestinian “terrorists”: These enemies of Israel are its reason for war – because their existence disturbs the peace.

This self-righteous declaration by a state that, in keeping with Western custom, wants its interest to be understood as an incontestable legitimization of its use of violence hardly bothers the world public, which is accustomed to diplomatic hypocrisy. This kind of legitimization is accepted, and it doesn’t even require belief in an unconditional Israeli will to peace which has unfortunately been shattered by its evil neighbors. The partisan experts on the “Middle East problem” do not want to strain this belief any further, even when the country’s armed forces are 100 km deep into the neighboring country, reducing a city of half a million inhabitants to rubble, and sacrificing more of its own “citizens in uniform” than was ever taken by the “strife” on Israel’s northern border, which was supposed to be ended by this. However, the theoretical soundness of Israel’s assessment of the situation matters least of all; and it is not hurt by the fact that nobody is really convinced by the hypocrisy it contains. Because everyone knows that this is Israel’s declaration of intent to finally finish off the organized Palestinians once and for all – to “eliminate” them and “cleanse” Lebanon of them, as Prime Minister Begin made clear in his own unmistakable fascist diction right at the beginning of the fighting. And declarations of war are not explanations of the reasons for wars, but rather disclosures therefore documenting the decision to define the existence of a foreign enemy as a no loner acceptable danger and to execute this judgment by virtue of its own rights and power. The success of the military force used for this purpose does not make the condemnation of the enemy true in theory, but rather objective in practice – and that is ultimately what matters when it comes to a state’s “declarations”!

The Israeli high command, its government and its diplomats therefore had no intellectual or moral problem explaining and, above all, implementing the intended “Peace for Galilee” according to an imperialist logic that did not exactly contribute to bolstering the pious belief that their fine state would seriously measure its decisions and actions according to the moral standards set for it. Judged from the perspective of the security interest that Israel considers its “legitimate right,” the protection of the country’s northern province required control over a strip of Lebanese territory at least 40 km deep; the security of the troops needed for this required “cleansing” the adjacent area of real and potential enemies; this once again exposed Israeli “citizens in uniform” to the threat of enemy fighters stationed even further north . . . the 100 km to Beirut quickly added up, and not only that. Ever since the Israeli government decided to make its definition of any organized Palestinians as “terrorists” virtually objective, it has a responsible interest in its national self-defense to round up and crush these people. A campaign of elimination against the politically and militarily organized Palestinians was therefore the unmistakable and clearly declared purpose of the “Peace for Galilee” campaign from the very beginning; and nothing is sillier than wanting to claim, contrary to this uncompromisingly bellicose substance of Israel’s interest in self-defense, that the actual, morally acceptable purpose of the war was the misunderstood pretense of a purely defensive liberation strike which was supposed to end 40 km beyond Israel’s northern border. Like every war, the most recent Israeli war against the organized Palestinians in Lebanon disproves the lovely idea that a state’s decision to use military force can never “reasonably” be meant seriously, i.e. as a decision to radically and uncompromisingly eliminate an enemy by force, but at best as a “means of pressure” calculated to achieve a compromise and restore agreement in the near future. The most recent Israeli war, like every war, only deserves the trivializing title of “military conflict resolution” in the brutal sense that a state power takes the liberty of declaring its conflict of interest with a foreign power to be a threat to its vital interests, an attack on its sovereignty, i.e. a fundamental, antagonistic conflict in the first place, and fighting it out accordingly. The only “appropriate” goal is then to knock the means of power out of the enemy’s hands and thus remove any possibility of practically maintaining its opposing interests – in case of doubt, by destroying the “human material” on whose availability all political power is ultimately based. Once the step to war has been made, the belligerent sovereign is no longer concerned with “amicable agreement,” i.e. with enforcing the consent of a foreign power to its own opposing interests: its independent will, its freedom to set autonomous purposes, is to be fundamentally broken.


On this last point, Israel demonstrated remarkable political radicalism in its war in Lebanon. In their campaign of elimination against the Palestinian organizations, the leaders of the state of Israel insisted on defining and treating enemy combatants not as soldiers of an opposing sovereign, but as an association of homicidally dangerous private individuals: a bunch of criminals. For all the rules of diplomacy, the official dealings of recognized sovereigns with each other, war is certainly nothing out of the ordinary in the world; on the contrary. From declarations of war through detailed rules for war on land, all the way rules for surrendering and peace agreements, every phase of a decent war operation is laid down diplomatically and decided with forms of etiquette that are as hallowed as they are a hindrance. Even in war, according to the custom of international law, the formal recognition of the enemy’s sovereignty, the basis of all diplomacy, should by no means be ended – in the interests of the purpose of the war itself. This always means first and foremost: the surrender of the enemy; and this does not simply consist of a military defeat, but the declared will of the enemy sovereign to recognize its defeat and act and negotiate as a loser. For the sake of the sovereign acknowledgment of the defeat suffered, but only for the sake of this, even in a regular war under international law, the basic respect of the hostile “highest powers” for each other is formally maintained.

This is precisely what Israel did not want to commit itself to from the outset in its campaign against the Palestinian organizations in Lebanon. It acted with the claim that it was not confronting any regular sovereign there: neither a Lebanese one, because the official state authority had been overtaken and disabled by the PLO as a “state within a state,” and especially not, on the other hand, a Palestinian one. As if it had to wage a civil war in Lebanon, the Israeli government declared the Palestinian “state within a state” a criminal organization which it was not actually waging a war against, but executing a collective death sentence on it that it had imposed. To make clear that the legitimacy of this cause was unquestionable, Prime Minister Begin came up with the comparison to Dresden and Coventry, two great deeds of modern warfare that had also, after all, not provoked the blows of global public criticism. In dismissing concerns about his decision to wage “total war,” it was by no means suspicious of him to bring to mind the freedom that Hitler’s Wehrmacht had taken for itself!

This difference has nothing to do with the battles. With or without diplomatic deference to the Hague Convention, the Geneva Convention and the privileges of the Red Cross: in war, the destruction of the enemy power is the all-important purpose that cannot be relativized by any considerations; and nothing is more silly than hypocritical or indignant complaints about particularly vile weapons – especially when they come from the country that manufactures and supplies them, as in the case of the American cluster bomb, which is so effective for the purpose of war. A “clean” war is and remains the absurd ideal of a violent business in which mass death is carried out according to plan as a recognized means to the desired end, and therefore also with the help of the latest large-scale technological achievements.

However, the fact that Israel insists so emphatically that in Palestinians it is not killing regular combatants, but “terrorists,” makes a crucial political difference. As a political war aim, it is thereby made clear that it is not about the violent rejection of a specific interest of the enemy side that is defined as an intolerable threat, so that after surrendering, peaceful relations could be restored on the victor’s terms. The Palestinian organizations’ claim to be recognized as subjects of international law, as a diplomatically respectable quasi-sovereign, i.e. an autonomous negotiating partner, is to be eliminated in principle by the Israeli campaign – precisely through the uncompromising elimination of those who raise it in the first place. Even a regular surrender by the enemy, which has been declared a bunch of terrorists, would be a contradiction to the political purpose of the undertaking; because it would formally grant it a degree of equality and a moment of sovereignty, even if at the price of a defeat that it recognizes.

Consequently, Israel has not even given the organized Palestinians the “chance” to surrender. At most, to a third party, namely to the American government, Israel has agreed to the dismantling of the Palestinian organizations in Lebanon and the dispersal and internment of their members trapped in Beirut as an alternative to their liquidation. And at the same time, it has taken great care to avoid or destroy the appearance of an honorable surrender that assumes the enemy is an autonomous subject. While US Ambassador Habib was negotiating with the Palestinians the modalities of their removal from Beirut, the Israeli army’s air force and artillery were still carrying out as much of the government’s death sentence on them as possible, thereby documenting the irrevocable diplomatic disregard for their organizations will continue. The removal of the Palestinian fighters themselves was designed as an Israeli act of mercy that could be revoked at any time. The deployers of the surveillance force, the NATO powers USA, France and Italy, for their part responded to Israel’s main political concern by ensuring that the Palestinians would be handed over to the Israeli army in the event of a delay in their deportation, thus declaring themselves to be a kind of international prison guard for the “terrorists left alive.” Israel therefore needed to neither conquer nor completely level West Beirut, yet it did not have to make any compromises on its war aim: the violent invalidation of all the Palestinians’ claims to an internationally respected sovereignty. The government very persistently allowed its American ally to push it toward this success, repeatedly demonstrating its mistrust and its unresolved fundamental aversion to any alternative to the almost completed “military solution” to the “Palestinian problem,” and conducted itself in consultation with its ally like the violent “enfant terrible” of American Middle East policy, thus reaffirming the uncompromising non-recognition of any Palestinian claims to autonomy as an “essential” of its security policy which would be worth a renewed campaign of elimination at any time. And when Arafat had himself photographed on diplomatic sofas in Rome with the Pope and the Italian Prime Minister and achieved too much “success” for the PLO’s “international recognition” for Israeli tastes, the Italian embassy in Beirut summarily came under fire.


Israeli governments have always cited the danger to the existence of their nation posed by these “elements” as the official reason for their unconditional intolerance of any organized Palestinians. The Israeli-Arab wars since the UN decision to divide Palestine into two sovereign states and the declarations of intent by Arab politicians to make the Jewish state disappear are seen as proof of the “mortal danger” which the state and people of Israel are said to be in.

The utter impotence of such threats from the Palestinian side cannot be overlooked; and the Israeli state authorities know this better than anybody: They are so sure of their superiority that they do not take their “mortal enemies” seriously as equal opponents, but rather see and treat them as a bunch of insolent enemies of the state. And that – unlike they think! – is quite right. As far as the Palestinians are concerned, the alleged “existential threat” to Israel does not actually come from a sovereign state power that would act on its own absolute right, let alone power, but from people who find themselves directly harmed by the Israeli state power: from displaced Arab inhabitants of the country who are under Israeli occupation or treated as second-class citizens. They are not even, like the Jewish Israelis, useful maneuverable masses whose disposability and loyalty the Israeli state authority in some way depends on, but mere victims of Israel’s will to assert its sovereignty. And for this reason alone, their resistance to the state power that harms them is a less than promising endeavor. The only means left to them is armed skirmishes, i.e. a comparison in practice with the always operational means of violence of the very power that has made them into victims! The bitterness and rhetorical unconditionality of the Palestinian desire to eliminate the Jewish state from the world is also reflected – in stark contrast to the relentless dogma of their opponent – in the claims that Israel has been trampling underfoot for decades.

The Arab victims of Israeli state power are therefore not the “deadly threat” to its existence that they might have liked to have been in earlier declarations of war. So it is not a real insight, but rather an Israeli state program to declare them a danger against which Israel must uncompromisingly and by all means defend itself. Here the state defines its victims as the enemy and their resistance to the harm they have suffered as a crime against the state.


The “logic” according to which it does this is, on the one hand, that of modern sovereignty in general. A decent state authority does not simply represent conditional interests, but defends its interests as its highest right – as far as it can. It turns every conflict with damaged interests, whether those of its subjects or foreign ones, into a matter of principle, namely a matter of its recognized self-assertion. A bourgeois state power – or one modeled on it – knows and acts as a universal “mediator” and thus as the condition of every interest that wants to have a say within its sphere of rule. It constantly uses its instruments of power to reject interests or help them succeed – and in the certainty that the class society it oversees would neither be internally “viable” nor “capable of action” externally without it and its sovereign set of rules, it emancipates itself from the economic concerns of the classes it manages. It would forsake itself and its servitude to the society it governs as soon as it no longer uncompromisingly insists on the unconditionality and exclusivity of its responsibility for every event within its sphere of power. It subordinates everything to these “principles”: the well-being and even the survival of its own society and even more so that of foreign powers with their “human material.” Sovereignty necessarily includes the “disproportionality” of means; because it wants to be beyond and above any comparison with all the material demands and dangers to which it refers. And the rule of law does not mean that state power would bow to certain higher standards that are beyond its power, but exactly the opposite: both internally and externally, it acts – economically, not at all frugally – as the author of all real rights, and thus sets its power as the highest legal standard in the world according to its means.


In a unique way, the state of Israel is now turning this unconditional claim of the bourgeois constitutional state to decide what is permitted and what is forbidden, to regulate access to and exclusion from wealth, i.e. to distribute “opportunities,” against the expelled and remaining Arab inhabitants of its territory. From the outset, it has declared its sovereignty to be largely incompatible with bourgeois interests and bourgeois illusions, and even with the mass presence of Arab subjects. The Israeli state authority wants to be responsible for its Jewish subjects, and to do so as indiscriminately and equally as befits a democratic class state; at the same time, it wants to assert its exclusive responsibility against the Arab inhabitants of the country, and in particular against all the displaced persons who are still somehow connected to Israel’s sphere of rule, which has been enlarged by several wars, as the sphere of their existence – and in this it is quite different from the other sovereigns of the modern, imperialistically organized world of states. Here a bourgeois-democratically organized state power, supported by the politicized will and national consciousness of its subjects, takes on an ethnic character: it constitutes and operates with the clear and declared intention of expanding its territory and making itself at home there at the expense of the existing Arab inhabitants and thereby creating a political “living space” for the Jews as its actual state people, in which Arabs find “tolerance” at best as a politically irrelevant minority. In this way, it makes the Arab inhabitants of its conquered territory, both those expelled and those who remain, into a “Palestinian problem” and any political ambition on their part, or any state authority that recognizes them as a fully valid state people, into a violation of its sovereignty worthy of persecution.


The accusation of genocide – as stupidly moral as it generally is: as if a war would only be really bad if none of the attacked people are left! – is therefore perfectly in keeping with the reason and intention of the Israeli campaign in Lebanon. Here a sovereign state power wants to be incompatible, firstly, with the political ambitions of an entire Arab people, as articulated by the political organizations of this thwarted nation; in this sense, it wants, secondly, to be incompatible with the immediate survival interests of the affected people who are the basis of the desire for a Palestinian state or a state with equal rights for Arabs – that this desire is a false idealization of those interests and not a way to realize them is the last thing that a state power, especially a deliberately ethnic one, could find fault with. And this incompatibility of Israeli sovereignty with the concerns of an entire people is not a theoretical matter: it is bloodily enforced when the leaders of Israel define every organized Palestinian as a “terrorist,” open season on them and moreover require their army to be heedless of anyone anywhere near such a target who thereby makes the fatal “mistake” of providing a “human shield for terrorists.”

Israel is not just acting with its armed forced directly against any Palestinian resistance. Following all the rules of professional terrorism, it makes every state in the region – and sometimes even states further away – feel its discontent when, in Israel’s judgment, their sovereigns either prove incapable or unwilling to do justice to Israel’s verdict on the Palestinian refugees and their political associations by keeping them small and powerless. In any case, the inhabitants of Lebanon have bitterly faced the consequences of the Israeli government having noticed the absence of a powerful state power to suppress the PLO and therefore making it its global political duty to restore a “sovereign” Lebanese central power against the alleged Palestinian “state within a state.” After constant air raids, short-term invasions and a small “state within a state” belonging to Israel being established in the south of the country under the Christian-fascist militia leader Haddad provided “proof” of how intolerable a shattered Lebanon is for Israel, bombers and tanks “had” to deliver this selfless gift directly to Beirut – costing several thousand subjects their lives and several tens of thousands whatever remained of their economic existence.

Israel has always attacked any state whose leadership does not want to lend itself to depriving “its” refugees of any freedom of movement. With military actions that are sometimes passed off as “retaliatory,” sometimes as “preventive” strikes and are in fact medium-scale campaigns of elimination against the Palestinians and the means of power of their “protectors,” Israel “punishes” its neighboring states for every – real or only alleged – Palestinian commando action coming from their territory, and always deliberately “disproportionately” compared to the alleged occasion (for a while, even the assassination on an Israeli diplomat in London was considered a justification for Israel’s Lebanon campaign!). The desired success has not failed to materialize. In Jordan, Israeli army terror squads used attacks by Palestinians from Jordanian camps as an opportunity to incinerate entire villages; and King Hussein, who was in charge, reacted as desired: with stricter control of the camps and harsher repression of their inhabitants. The defensive struggle of the Palestinians, who for their part wanted to use Jordanian state authority for more protection against Israeli attacks, ended in the infamous “Black September” of 1970 with a victory for the Bedouin troops loyal to Hussein which was no less brutal than the Israeli attacks and left nothing to be desired by Israel. The Israeli government supported this success by at least actively threatening Syria to refrain from providing any assistance to the Palestinians. For his part, Syrian President Assad never let it get that far and always kept “his” organized refugees strictly “under control.” And not only that. The Syrian government’s fear of an Israeli intervention – even then at least as far as Beirut – was, as well known, at least one reason for its intervention in the Lebanese civil war of 1976: in favor of the Christian militias which were not very friendly to Syria and were militarily built up and supported by Israel, and against the Palestinians and the Muslim organizations allied with them, who were on the verge of conquering power in Lebanon and thus a sovereign basis for their politics. Justly, President Assad is once again seen as a reliable camp guard for the Palestinian fighters deported to Syria from Beirut. The deportation of the Palestinians from Beirut to various Arab countries under NATO supervision is, incidentally, Israel’s greatest success for the time being in its “solution” to the Palestinian “question” it has raised: not only because their organizations have been practically destroyed and their members scattered in all directions, but above all because practically all of Israel’s important Arab adversaries made themselves accomplices to precisely this. This is nothing new, but at least it is a decisive step forward in the lousy tradition of the Arab “protecting powers” of the Palestinians treating their “protégés” almost more harshly out of fear and calculation than Israel could possibly wish for, and thus taking the dirty work of oppression off the shoulders of the misery’s perpetrator.

The fact that the liquidation of Palestinians is always on the agenda as the most effective form of oppression was showed to the world in September ‘82 by the infamous Beirut massacre. No sooner had the armed and organized Palestinians left Beirut under UN supervision – which today is the same as NATO supervision – than friends of the state of Israel, with the benevolent participation of its “protection forces,” demonstrated how to deal with disarmed enemies. Not even this calculation by the Palestinians – that they would leave for the sake of their survival and the existence of their families – was granted, so that during the recovery of the bodies the Western public had the opportunity to distance itself with professional disgust and at the same time to warn against awarding the victims too much moral credit, which could then lead to a “political success” for the PLO despite the militarily perfect defeat . . .