Beyond Images Challenging myths and presenting facts about Israel 
London - Republished February 2007
Beyond Images Ref: 64

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Israel as cruel and evil …

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, to “demonise” is to depict someone as being “persistently cruel or evil”.

This is how Israel has been depicted for its policies following the outbreak of Palestinian violence in September 2000.

The demonic image of Israel has been promoted by Western reporters and critics who routinely attribute cruel and inhumane motives to Israel. This depiction is reinforced by selective and often outright misleading reporting of events on the ground. The method of those who demonise Israel has various components:-

  • when in doubt about what Israel did – condemn it nonetheless

  • when the facts are hazy – assume the worst about Israel

  • when Israeli spokesmen deny allegations – don’t believe them

  • when the Palestinians claim appalling things about Israel – accept their claims at face value (and rebroadcast them)

  • when Israel’s actions have a context – describe the action without the context

  • when Israel carries out humanitarian projects to benefit Palestinians – ignore the projects.

In this Briefing we highlight several of the most commonly mentioned “demonic” accusations against Israel.

Underlying each accusation is a common theme – that Israel is cruel, evil and inhumane. Each accusation is sustained by incomplete facts, a disregard for the context in which these events occurred, and a refusal to acknowledge Israel’s point of view.

In this Briefing we present concise facts to dispel the demonic accusations, and conclude with suggestions as to why these demonic accusations are so dangerous.

Israel has been deliberately killing Palestinian civilians since September 2000

Israel and the Palestinians have been engaged in a cycle of violence. Palestinian terrorists attack Israeli civilians, and Israeli armed forces attack Palestinian civilians. Each party is aiming to inflict harm on the civilians of the other side, and Israel has killed thousands of Palestinians in this cycle of revenge.

The terrorism originating from the Palestinian territories against Israel presents Israel with near-impossible ethical dilemmas. How is it to defend Israeli citizens (the responsibility of any Government) while at the same time avoiding harm to non-combatant Palestinians? Hundreds of suicide attacks and other acts of violence have been foiled by Israeli security forces in the last two years, but there has been high loss of life among Palestinian civilians caught in the cross-fire.

Israel has repeatedly emphasised that its conflict is only with the violent, rejectionist groups who are organised and seek shelter in the midst of Palestinian villages and towns, and not with the Palestinian population as a whole.

Where Israeli forces act with needless indifference to human life, this warrants investigation and prosecution by the Israeli authorities (and indeed such investigations have taken place).

But there is a difference between Israeli actions which cause unintended loss of life, and the deliberate and intentional killing of innocent people. Israel has been responsible for causing the first, but it is not guilty of the second. For more detail see:-

Briefing 7: Israel Deliberately Targets Palestinian Civilians;

Briefing 11: Why Are There More Palestinian Than Israeli Victims?

Israeli checkpoints and “closures” of the territories are collective punishment of Palestinian society

It is alleged that Israel maintains checkpoints throughout the West Bank, and imposes “closures” of the territories, in order to bring Palestinian society and its economy to its knees, to force Palestinians to “surrender”, and to humiliate the Palestinians. This is termed “collective punishment”.

Suicide bombers and other terrorists have been operating from the West Bank and Gaza against Israel since 1994, and there have been a total of over 17,000 violent incidents since September 2000. The groups masterminding such attacks have repeatedly declared their intention to carry out more such attacks.

Israel’s checkpoints are part of the response of Israeli governments to this onslaught against its citizens.

Many terrorist operations have been foiled by these checkpoints and closures, which also give Israeli citizens at least some hope that they can live relatively “normal” lives free of constant fear.

Israel has a long-term interest in a stable and self-sufficient Palestinian society. If the violence would end there would be no possible justification for the checkpoints and closures.

Seen in this light, the checkpoints are not Israeli “collective punishment”, but Palestinian collective self-punishment.

For more see - Briefing 5: Roadblocks, Checkpoints and The Security Fence

Israelis humiliate Palestinians at checkpoints

Israeli soldiers routinely humiliate innocent Palestinians who have to pass through a checkpoint.

Any Palestinian passing through a checkpoint could potentially be a suicide bomber – this is the modus operandi of the terrorist groups. Israeli soldiers manning such checkpoints have themselves been attacked on many occasions.

It is hardly surprising that young, frequently inexperienced Israeli soldiers and border police treat Palestinians warily and sometimes roughly or even violently.

It is the Palestinian threat to Israel which causes Israel to act in this way – Israel’s policy needs to be seen in context, not in a vacuum.

Israel has aggressively launched a “crushing” occupation of Palestinian cities

In April 2002 Israel carried out Operation Defensive Shield extensively re-entering the West Bank. In June 2002 Israel launched Operation Determined Path, under which its forces occupied the major Palestinian cities, and surrounding country. These actions, say Israel’s accusers, are acts of aggression motivated by Israel’s desire permanently to hold on to the West Bank and Gaza and to crush the aspirations of Palestinian people.

These operations are Israel’s reaction to unrelenting terrorism against its citizens, and Israel has repeatedly stated that it has no intention permanently to reoccupy (see Briefing 32: Ariel Sharon: Unwilling to Compromise…?)

For 18 months from September 2000 Israel called upon the Palestinian Authority to curb the terrorism originating from the territories, and it was only their continued failure to do so which prompted Israel’s operations (See Briefing 14: The Palestinians’ Failure to Curb Terror: Three Examples).

March 2002 was the worst month of terrorism in Israel’s 54 year history, with 130 civilian fatalities, culminating in the bombing of the Passover celebration at Netanya’s Park Hotel. These events were the trigger for Operation Defensive Shield.

June 2002 witnessed particularly gruesome suicide attacks in various parts of Israel, resulting in the death of over 60 students, schoolchildren and others. It was this further sequence of attacks which prompted Israel’s Operation Determined Path.

Israel is not an eager occupier of Palestinian cities, but a reluctant re-occupier. (see Briefing 15: Israel’s Reluctant Reoccupation of Palestinian towns).

Israel massacred Palestinians in Jenin

Israel massacred Palestinians in Jenin when it entered its refugee camp in April 2002, in the course of its military operations.

Jenin operated as a nerve centre, and key training and recruitment ground, for Palestinian suicide bombers and other terrorists. 23 suicide attacks in the months preceding the attack had been launched from Jenin, and terrorist spokesmen based in Jenin, operating with impunity, promised more.

The terrorists’ centre of operations was located in a heavily fortified area of a Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Jenin, and Israeli confined its military operation to that area. The terrorists were given the opportunity to surrender, but they chose to fight, booby-trapping civilian homes and (according to subsequent reports appearing in Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram, among other places) deliberately involved civilians in the clash with Israeli forces.

Israel required its soldiers to enter homes from door to door, and through walls, rather than bombard the centre from the air, in an effort to minimise innocent civilian casualties. 23 Israeli soldiers died as a result of this tactic. A UN report in August 2002 found no evidence to support Palestinian and some western claims of an Israeli “massacre” of Palestinians. Most of the 52 Palestinians who died were armed fighters.

Israel endangered The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

Israel ignored Christian sensitivies and religious freedoms by besieging Palestinians taking refuge in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

Hundreds of thousands of Christians freely visit Bethlehem and other holy sites in Israel, protected by the Israeli authorities. This contrasts with the situation in many Muslim countries where Christian minorities are seriously and routinely persecuted.

In their effort to escape approaching Israeli forces, Palestinian gunmen broke into the Church of the Nativity in April 2002, in flagrant violation of the sanctity of the holy site. This act triggered the siege. The ringleaders of the besieged Palestinians were hardened terrorists with proven involvement in attacks on Israeli civilians.

During the weeks of the siege, Israel sought to maintain the sanctity of the church, and seek a peaceful resolution, even when its soldiers were fired upon from within the Church precincts. Israeli offers to bring in food and drink were repeatedly refused by the Palestinians inside.

The siege ended peacefully. But the fact that a gang of armed Palestinians could have holed themselves up there for over 6 weeks demonstrated Palestinian disregard for Christian rights, not Israeli disregard for such rights.

“Israel hinders Palestinian ambulances with expectant mothers inside”

Israel stops Palestinian ambulances at checkpoints, causing expectant mothers to miscarry at birth. This accusation has been levelled against Israel from time to time.

Thousands of Arab women give birth to healthy babies in Israeli hospitals each year. By having access to Israeli healthcare the Palestinians enjoy the highest quality maternity care of any Arab people in the region.

There is no deliberate effort by Israel to harm expectant mothers. But in Israel’s view the checkpoints are necessary to protect its citizens from attack. Responsibility for the delays experienced by ambulance drivers and their patients lays on the shoulders of the Palestinian terrorist groups which force Israel to maintain the checkpoints in the first place.

In any event, Israel has introduced humanitarian procedures at checkpoints to try to “fast-track” cases of genuine emergency.

Incidentally, Palestinians have been caught smuggling suicide weaponry inside Red Crescent ambulances, to the horror of (amongst others) the International Red Cross. Such actions hardly smooth the passage for Palestinian ambulances.

Israel kills international peace activists

Several peace activists from the US and the UK have been injured or killed in recent months, while in the Gaza Strip. Israel cynically attacks these activists who are on humanitarian missions to try to protect Palestinian civilians. This demonstrates clearly that Israel is opposed to peace.

Thousands of Israelis and non-Israelis demonstrate in favour of Palestinian rights inside Israel, without fear and free of state intimidation.

Several of the US and UK activists who have been harmed in recent months have placed themselves in highly dangerous situations, ignoring the appeals of the Israeli authorities not to enter what is effectively a war zone. Each incident has been investigated, and the deaths found to have been accidental, except for the fatal shooting of Briton Tom Hurndall, where an Israeli soldier has been charged with criminal offence (which may be murder or manslaughter).

Israel also considers that the key organisation sponsoring these projects the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) is not a neutral peace agency, but a highly partisan organisation which takes a one-sided view of the conflict and sympathises with the cause and the methods of operation of the terrorist groups.

Israel is ruining the Palestinian economy

Through blockade, closure and economic strangulation, Israel is trying to impoverish the Palestinians and ruin their economy

Israel has a strong vested interest in a stable and prosperous Palestinian economy.

During the Oslo peace process years, Israel’s government and private sector companies invested large amounts in building up the Palestinian economy. Israel supported large financial assistance programmes from the European Union, the World Bank and other agencies.

Israel’s security fence and its closures of the West Bank and Gaza now are entirely caused by the terrorist threat from those territories. In addition, in the previous Palestinian leadership, corruption and financial mismanagement were rampant.

It is these factors which have brought about the collapse of the Palestinian economy, not Israel’s legitimate response to Palestinian violence.

On many occasions, Israel has relaxed security restrictions within the territories in order to assist the local economy, even though this has resulted in a renewal of terrorist operations.

If there were a sustained halt in the terrorism, there is no reason why the Palestinian economy could not begin to revive, with Israeli cooperation.

Israel disrupts Palestinian Universities

Israel is needlessly disrupting Palestinian universities.

Palestinian universities have grown dramatically since 1967, when Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza as a result of the Six Day war. Meanwhile, thousands of Israeli Arabs enjoy some of the best quality higher education in the Middle East, and during the peace process years Israel encouraged academic and student collaboration between Palestinian universities and Israeli ones.

This has all changed because of the Palestinian intifada. Several Palestinian universities such as An-Najah and Hebron have become conspicuous centres for terrorist activity and incitement, prompting Israel to close them temporarily. These closures are self-inflicted, and the inevitable reaction of Israel to what is perceived to be an intolerable anti-Israeli agitation.

If there were a curbing of the incitement of terrorism, then Israel would have no reason to demand the temporary closure of any of these universities, and academic bridges could once again begin to be built.

Israel has cut off person-to-person exchange with Palestinians

Israeli policies have severed links which had been building up over several years between Israelis and Palestinians. This shows that the Israelis are treating the Palestinians as less than human beings, and are not interested in treating them with human respect and dignity.

This is completely wrong. During the peace process years of Oslo, Israelis initiated many dialogue and cultural-exchange ties: academic, professional, women’s’ groups, and others. Joint business and technology projects were explored, and schools and universities invited counterparts from Palestinian institutions to meet them. Neighbouring Jewish and Arab villages began to build stronger bridges.

Most of this effort has frozen as a result of the violence of the last two years. But this is not because Israelis do not want to pursue such ties – only that the violence has broken the political rapport upon which such links were based, and because many Palestinians are intimidated by the terrorist groups and afraid of maintaining the links.

Even in the midst of the violence, Israelis have continued to initiate many dialogue groups – low-profile, but continuing to operate.

Israel destroys Palestinian olive groves to deprive poor farmers of livelihood

Olive groves are a particularly cherished asset in Palestinian society, and rich with symbolic significance. Israel uproots these in senseless acts of agricultural vandalism.

Many attacks on Israeli armed forces and civilians have been launched from under cover of olive groves. In certain situations, the army has felt compelled to remove, or reduce the size of these groves. But it is absurd to suggest that this is senseless vandalism. Israel has a clear reason for doing so. Equally important, in conditions of peace Israel could share with the Palestinians an increasing amount of agricultural technology, and foster cooperation in their mutual benefit.

The effects of Israel’s demonisation

The allegations against Israel listed above (and many others) have the cumulative impact of “demonising” Israel. This depiction of the country as persistently evil, cruel and inhumane has serious effects:-

  • Demonisation breeds sympathy and active support for Palestinian terrorism. After all, in the face of such dark Israeli conduct, who can fail to feel some sympathy for those seeking to “fight back”…..even if it means repeatedly attacking innocent people?

  • It creates a favourable atmosphere for those who call for a boycott of Israel – politically, culturally, economically and academically. After all, why should anyone want to have anything to do with such a country?

  • Demonisation lays the groundwork for those who deny the legitimacy of Israel. After all, why should anyone “recognise” the “right to exist” of a country whose hallmark is to act with cruelty and inhumanity to another people?

  • Demonisation creates an atmosphere in which outrageous lies about Israel gain credence: for example that it deliberately infects Palestinians with AIDS, or uses poison gas. Insidiously and steadily, extreme vilification of Israel is gaining respectability.

  • Demonisation can even be used to diminish the European sense of guilt over the Holocaust, by casting the victim nation as inhumane and cruel. The reasoning is that because the Jews are now carrying out supposedly Nazi-type actions against the Palestinians, they somehow “deserved” their fate in the war, and that the European societies which did not prevent it have less to feel guilty about

  • Finally, demonisation lays the groundwork for attacks on Jewish and Israeli targets outside Israel. After all, anyone expressing “solidarity” and support for a country engaged in such demonic activities is implicated in them, and a justifiable target for anger and assault.

Of course Israeli has its faults, and when it pursues wrong policies this warrants scrutiny and criticism. Israel does not ask to be whitewashed, but be subject to fair and informed criticism.

But the demonisation of Israel goes far further than fair and informed “criticism”. It is an expression of hatred towards Israel. All the events on the ground are depicted through the distorted perspective of people who are simply unable to see any good, or potential for good, in what Israel does and is.

Needless to say, to portray Israel as consistently evil and demonic distorts the conflict and is an obstacle to future peace and coexistence.