Johann Hari: Dupes? No, we were telling the truth

Friday 20 March 2009 01:00 GMT

For months, the opponents of Operation Cast Lead – the assault on Gaza that killed 1,434 Palestinians – have been told we are "dupes for Islamic fundamentalists", or even anti-Semitic. The defenders of Israel's war claimed you could only believe the reports that Israeli troops were deliberately firing on civilians, scrawling "death to Arabs" on the walls, and trashing olive groves, or using the chemical weapon white phosphorus that burns to the bone, if you were infected with the old European virus of Jew-hatred.

Now the very people who fought that war have confirmed we were simply describing reality. One Israeli Defence Force squad leader says of the orders he was given to target civilians: "I call it murder." As he put it: "In the end the directive was to go into a house, switch on loudspeakers and tell them 'you have five minutes to run away and whoever doesn't will be killed'." In a crowded civilian city, there are all sorts of people who cannot run away: the elderly, the disabled, the pregnant, the terrified. This soldier was told to kill them.

He is not alone. Anybody who has reported from the Occupied Territories has witnessed a culture of racist contempt for ordinary Palestinian civilians. They are treated as suspects simply for walking around their own home towns, or trying to sell their own produce. This is not a few bad apples: it is endemic to the nature of occupation, blockade and repeated assault.

Yet there is a swelling movement of young Israelis who are speaking out – and refusing to kill on occupied land. It's a strikingly brave move in a country that is drifting to the right. Ehud Olmert, Israel's out-going Prime Minister, has publicly bragged that Israel's response to attack "will naturally be disproportionate", just as he boasted about the 2007 war in Lebanon: "Half of Lebanon was destroyed – is that a loss?"

None of this had to happen. On the eve of the attack, Ephraim Halevy, the former head of Mossad, said that the way to stop rocket attacks on Israel was to draw Hamas, the elected Palestinian government, into negotiation and compromise – but "Israel, for reasons of its own, did not want to turn the ceasefire into the start of a diplomatic process with Hamas".

Instead, Israel launched an attack on civilians of which her own soldiers are ashamed. It can only increase hatred – and make the fair division of the land between Palestinians and Israelis recede even further on to the horizon.

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