Picture, if you will, what the front pages of the British newspapers would look like if Russia threatened to target the civilian infrastructure of a neighbouring country and send it “back to the Middle Ages.”
The uproar is not too hard to imagine.
Indeed, the condemnations would flow thick and fast. The government and the opposition would condemn Russian belligerence, and there would be calls to discuss the matter at the UN Security Council; plans for new sanctions would be drawn up.
In fact, such a threat was made only last month but we heard not a peep from any of the pillars of the British establishment. That’s because it wasn’t Russia making the genocidal threats, but Israel, the West’s favourite — and much favoured — colonial regime.
Liberal Zionist newspaper Haaretz published an interview with Naftali Bennett, Israel’s education minister and member of the security cabinet, in which he threatened to make Lebanon a free-fire zone: “Lebanese institutions, its infrastructure, airport, power stations, traffic junctions, Lebanese Army bases; they should all be legitimate targets if a war breaks out,” he claimed. If Lebanese missiles were then fired “at the Israeli home front, this will mean sending Lebanon back to the Middle Ages.”
Bennett contrasted this with what he said was Israeli behaviour in Lebanon. During the 2006 Israeli war of aggression against its northern neighbour, he was a reservist commander in an “elite” unit. The unit was charged with trying to track down the rocket launchers of Hezbollah, the powerful militia which defends Lebanon from Israeli attacks.
You can’t fight rockets with tweezers,
Bennett grumbled in the interview.
However, as the newspaper pointed out, Bennett’s belligerence in openly threatening genocidal war crimes against Lebanon and its people, is nothing new for Israel, even if it did ratchet-up the rhetoric.
In 2008, Israel’s then head of the Northern Command, Gadi Eizenkot — he is now chief of staff — proclaimed the “Dahya Doctrine” in which entire villages were threatened with destruction. “In every village from which Israel is fired on… We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases… This is not a recommendation. This is a plan. And it has been approved.”
During the 2006 war, Israel killed 1,200 Lebanese citizens. The flimsy justification for bombing civilian targets promoted in the western media was the lie that Hezbollah was using the population as human shields. In last month’s Haaretz interview, Bennett attempted this propaganda line again, claiming that Hezbollah weapons have been placed near civilians homes. In doing so, he inadvertently exposed Israeli propaganda as the fiction it is by admitting that, in 2006, Hezbollah rocket launchers were actually located away from population centres: “They moved their launchers from the nature reserves, outposts in open areas, to dense urban areas.” (Emphasis added.)
While Bennett half-heartedly claims that “we have no intention of attacking Lebanon,” the message is still clear: Israel is making no secret that it will target Lebanese civilians and civilian infrastructure during the next war. This threat to commit war crimes is in itself a violation of international law; it is an act of terror, intended to intimidate and bully a civilian population.
Moreover, in threatening to send Lebanon “back to the Middle Ages” the genocidal intent is clear. It is reminiscent of previous Israeli threats to conduct war against the entire Palestinian civilian population, including women and children, as expounded online by Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. Bennett is the leader of the extreme right-wing, anti-Palestinian, pro-settler Jewish Home party. As well as forming part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, he is Netanyahu’s political rival. Hence, his posturing is an attempt to appeal to the increasingly pro-war and increasingly right-wing Israeli population, a large proportion of which supports each succeeding Israeli offensive against Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
Israel’s education minister has murderous form in Lebanon. As well as playing a part in the 2006 war, he had a role in the 1996 Israeli massacre of more than 100 civilians and peacekeepers at a UN base in the village of Qana during an Israeli invasion. More than half of those incinerated by Israeli missiles were children.
Does this bother Naftali Bennett? Not at all; in fact, he seems rather proud of it. In 2013, he declared notoriously,
I have killed lots of Arabs in my life – and there is no problem with that.
In 2015, his role in the Qana massacre was brought to light after some criticism in the Israeli media. The question was not about him killing Arabs, but whether or not he was a fit political leader because he had sounded “panicky” on the radio as he called in the fatal artillery barrage. He dismissed this and defended his leadership credentials: “I am proud of how I functioned during Operation Grapes of Wrath [Israel’s 1996 invasion of Lebanon]; leave the warriors alone.”
Despite its alleged liberal credentials, Ha’aretz seems to have little problem with Bennett’s genocidal threats. Its headline writers appear to encourage him by summarising his interview with his promise to “Hit Civilians Where It Hurts”.
This is another reminder that liberal Zionism is as much an enemy of the entire Arab world as right-wing Zionism. After all, the worst Israeli crimes were carried out under “socialist” governments led by the Labour Party, including the 1948 Nakba as well as the illegal occupations which began in 1967. Both crimes are ongoing: the occupations are even more entrenched and the refugees of 1948 and their descendants still languish in exile.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.