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John Pilger on the Dagan Plan and Gaza under fire

Every war Israel has waged since 1948 has had the same objective: expulsion of the native people. 

"When the truth is replaced by silence," the Soviet dissident Yevgeny Yevtushenko said, "the silence is a lie." It may appear that the silence on Gaza is broken. The small cocoons of murdered children, wrapped in green, together with boxes containing their dismembered parents, and the cries of grief and rage of everyone in that death camp by the sea can be witnessed on al-Jazeera and YouTube, even glimpsed on the BBC. But Russia's incorrigible poet was not referring to the ephemera we call news; he was asking why those who knew the why never spoke it, and so denied it. Among the Anglo-American intelligentsia, this is especially striking. It is they who hold the keys to the great storehouses of knowledge: the historiographies and archives that lead us to the why.

They know that the horror now raining on Gaza has little to do with Hamas or, absurdly, "Israel's right to exist". They know the opposite to be true: that Palestine's right to exist was cancelled 61 years ago and that the expulsion and, if necessary, extinction of the indigenous people was planned and executed by the founders of Israel. They know, for example, that the infamous "Plan D" of 1947-48 resulted in the murderous depopulation of 369 Palestinian towns and villages by the Haganah (Israeli army) and that massacre upon massacre of Palestinian civilians in such places as Deir Yassin, al-Dawayima, Eilaboun, Jish, Ramle and Lydda are referred to in official records as "ethnic cleansing". Arriving at a scene of this carnage, David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, was asked by a general, Yigal Allon: "What shall we do with the Arabs?" Ben-Gurion, reported the Israeli historian Benny Morris, "made a dismissive, energetic gesture with his hand and said, 'Expel them'".

The order to expel an entire population "without attention to age" was signed by Yitzhak Rabin, a future prime minister promoted by the world's most efficient propaganda as a peacemaker. The terrible irony of this was addressed only in passing, such as when the Mapam party co-leader Meir Ya'ari noted "how easily" Israel's leaders spoke of how it was "possible and permissible to take women, children and old men and to fill the road with them because such is the imperative of strategy. And this we say . . . who remember who used this means against our people during the [Second World] War . . . I am appalled."

Every subsequent "war" Israel has waged has had the same objective: the expulsion of the native people and the theft of more and more land. The lie of David and Goliath, of perennial victim, reached its apogee in 1967 when the propaganda became a righteous fury that claimed the Arab states had struck first against Israel. Since then, mostly Jewish truth-tellers such as Avi Shlaim, Noam Chomsky, Tanya Reinhart, Neve Gordon, Tom Segev, Uri Avnery, Ilan Pappé and Norman Finkelstein have undermined this and other myths and revealed a state shorn of the humane traditions of Judaism, whose unrelenting militarism is the sum of an expansionist, lawless and racist ideology called Zionism. "It seems," wrote the Israeli historian Pappé on 2 January, "that even the most horrendous crimes, such as the genocide in Gaza, are treated as discrete events, unconnected to anything that happened in the past and not associated with any ideology or system . . . Very much as the apartheid ideology explained the oppressive policies of the South African government, this ideology - in its most consensual and simplistic variety - allowed all the Israeli governments in the past and the present to dehumanise the Palestinians wherever they are and strive to destroy them. The means altered from period to period, from location to location, as did the narrative covering up these atrocities. But there is a clear pattern [of genocide]."

In Gaza, the enforced starvation and denial of humanitarian aid, the piracy of life-giving resources such as fuel and water, the denial of medicines, the systematic destruction of infrastructure and killing and maiming of the civilian population, 50 per cent of whom are children, fall within the international standard of the Genocide Convention. "Is it an irresponsible overstatement," asked Richard Falk, UN special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories and international law authority at Princeton University, "to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalised Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not."

In describing a “holocaust-in-the making”, Falk was alluding to the Nazis’ establishment of Jewish ghettos in Poland. For one month in 1943, the captive Polish Jews, led by Mordechaj Anielewicz, fought off the German army and the SS, but their resistance was finally crushed and the Nazis exacted their final revenge. Falk is also a Jew. Today’s holocaust-in-the-making, which began with Ben-Gurion’s Plan D, is in its final stages. The difference today is that it is a joint US-Israeli project. The F-16 jet fighters, the 250lb “smart” GBU-39 bombs supplied on the eve of the attack on Gaza, having been approved by a Congress dominated by the Democratic Party, plus the annual $2.4bn in warmaking “aid”, give Washington de facto control. It beggars belief that President-elect Obama was not informed. Outspoken about Russia’s war in Georgia and the terrorism in Mumbai, Obama has maintained a silence on Palestine that marks his approval, which is to be expected, given his obsequiousness to the Tel Aviv regime and its lobbyists during the presidential campaign and his appointment of Zionists as his secretary of state and principal Middle East advisers. When Aretha Franklin sings “Think”, her wonderful 1960s anthem to freedom, at Obama’s inauguration on 20 January, I trust someone with the brave heart of Muntader al-Zaidi, the shoe-thrower, will shout: “Gaza!”

The asymmetry of conquest and terror is clear. Plan D is now "Operation Cast Lead", which is the unfinished "Operation Justified Vengeance". This was launched by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2001 when, with George W Bush's approval, he used F-16s against Palestinian towns and villages for the first time.

 

Why are the academics and teachers silent? Are British universities now no more than “intellectual Tescos”?

 

In that same year, the authoritative Jane's Foreign Report disclosed that the Blair government had given Israel the "green light" to attack the West Bank after it was shown Israel's secret designs for a bloodbath. It was typical of new Labour's enduring complicity in Palestine's agony. However, the Israeli plan, reported Jane's, needed the "trigger" of a suicide bombing which would cause "numerous deaths and injuries [because] the 'revenge' factor is crucial". This would "motivate Israeli soldiers to demolish the Palestinians". What alarmed Sharon and the author of the plan, General Shaul Mofaz, then Israeli chief of staff, was a secret agreement between Yasser Arafat and Hamas to ban suicide attacks. On 23 November 2001 Israeli agents assassinated the Hamas leader Mahmoud Abu Hanoud and got their "trigger": the suicide attacks resumed in response to his killing.

Something uncannily similar happened on 4 November last year when Israeli special forces attacked Gaza, killing six people. Once again, they got their propaganda "trigger": a ceasefire sustained by the Hamas government - which had imprisoned its violators - was shattered as a result of the Israeli attacks, and home-made rockets were fired into what used to be called Palestine before its Arab occupants were "cleansed". On 23 December, Hamas offered to renew the ceasefire, but Israel's charade was such that its all-out assault on Gaza had been planned six months earlier, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz.

Behind this sordid game is the "Dagan Plan", named after General Meir Dagan, who served with Sharon during his bloody invasion of Leba non in 1982. Now head of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence organisation, Dagan is the author of a "solution" that has brought about the imprisonment of Palestinians behind a ghetto wall snaking across the West Bank and in Gaza, now effectively a concentration camp. The establishment of a quisling government in Ramallah, under Mahmoud Abbas, is Dagan's achievement, together with a hasbara (propaganda) campaign, relayed through mostly supine, if intimidated western media, notably in the US, which say Hamas is a terrorist organisation devoted to Israel's destruction and is to "blame" for the massacres and siege of its own people over two generations, since long before its creation. "We have never had it so good," said the Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Gideon Meir in 2006. "The hasbara effort is a well-oiled machine."

In fact, Hamas's real threat is its example as the Arab world's only democratically elected government, drawing its popularity from its resistance to the Palestinians' oppressor and tormentor. This was demonstrated when Hamas foiled a CIA coup in 2007, an event ordained in the western media as "Hamas's seizure of power". Likewise, Hamas is never described as a government, let alone democratic. Neither is its proposal of a ten-year truce reported as a historic recognition of the "reality" of Israel and support for a two-state solution with just one condition: that the Israelis obey international law and end their illegal occupation beyond the 1967 borders. As every annual vote in the UN General Assembly demonstrates, most states agree. On 4 January, the president of the General Assembly, Miguel d'Escoto, described the Israeli attack on Gaza as a "monstrosity".

When the monstrosity is done and the people of Gaza are even more stricken, the Dagan Plan foresees what Sharon called a "1948-style solution" - the destruction of all Palestinian leadership and authority, followed by mass expulsions into smaller and smaller "cantonments", and perhaps, finally, into Jordan. This demolition of institutional and educational life in Gaza is designed to produce, wrote Karma Nabulsi, a Palestinian exile in Britain, "a Hobbesian vision of an anarchic society: truncated, violent, powerless, destroyed, cowed . . . Look to the Iraq of today: that is what [Sharon] had in store for us, and he has nearly achieved it."

Dr Dahlia Wasfi is an American writer on Iraq and Palestine. She has a Jewish mother and an Iraqi Muslim father. "Holocaust denial is anti-Semitic," she wrote on 31 December. "But I'm not talking about the World War II, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [the president of Iran] or Ashkenazi Jews. What I'm referring to is the holocaust we are all witnessing and responsible for in Gaza today and in Palestine over the past 60 years . . . Since Arabs are Semites, US-Israeli policy doesn't get more anti-Semitic than this." She quoted Rachel Corrie, the young American who went to Palestine to defend Palestinians and was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer. "I am in the midst of a genocide," wrote Corrie, "which I am also indirectly supporting, and for which my government is largely responsible."

Reading the words of both, I am struck by the use of "responsibility". Breaking the lie of silence is not an esoteric abstraction, but an urgent responsibility that falls to those with the privilege of a platform. With the BBC cowed, so too is much of journalism, merely allowing vigorous debate within unmovable, invisible boundaries, ever fearful of the smear of anti-Semitism. The unreported news, meanwhile, is that the death toll in Gaza is the equivalent of 18,000 dead in Britain. Imagine, if you can.

Then there are the academics, the deans and teachers and researchers. Why are they silent as they watch a university bombed and hear the Association of University Teachers in Gaza plead for help? Are British universities now, as Terry Eagleton believes, no more than “intellectual Tescos, churning out a commodity known as graduates rather than greengroceries”?

Then there are the writers. In the dark year of 1939, the Third American Writers' Congress was held at Carnegie Hall in New York and the likes of Thomas Mann and Albert Einstein sent messages and spoke up to ensure that the lie of silence was broken. By one account, 2,500 jammed the auditorium. Today, this mighty voice of realism and morality is said to be obsolete; the literary review pages affect an ironic hauteur of irrelevance; false symbolism is all. As for the readers, their moral and political imagination is to be pacified, not primed. The anti-Muslim Martin Amis expressed this well in Visiting Mrs Nabo kov: "The dominance of the self is not a flaw, it is an evolutionary characteristic; it is just how things are."

If that is how things are, we are diminished as a civilised people. For what happens in Gaza is the defining moment of our time, which either grants war criminals impunity and immunity through our silence, while we contort our own intellect and morality, or it gives us the power to speak out. For the moment I prefer my own memory of Gaza: of the people's courage and resistance and their "luminous humanity", as Karma Nabulsi put it. On my last trip there, I was rewarded with a spectacle of Palestinian flags fluttering in unlikely places. It was dusk and children had done this. No one had told them to do it. They made flagpoles out of sticks tied together, and a few of them climbed on to a wall and held the flag between them, some silently, others crying out. They do this every day when they know foreigners are leaving, in the belief that the world will not forget them.

John Pilger, renowned investigative journalist and documentary film-maker, is one of only two to have twice won British journalism's top award; his documentaries have won academy awards in both the UK and the US. In a New Statesman survey of the 50 heroes of our time, Pilger came fourth behind Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. "John Pilger," wrote Harold Pinter, "unearths, with steely attention facts, the filthy truth. I salute him."

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The destruction of Gaza

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Does Tony Blair deserve so much of our contempt?

Tom Bower slays the former Labour prime minister in his latest biography – but is it justified?

I doubt that Tony Blair leaped with joy when he learned that he was the next subject of a Tom Bower biography. The writer’s rogues’ gallery had so far included Robert Maxwell, Tiny Rowland, Mohamed Al Fayed, Richard Branson, Simon Cowell and Conrad Black. Bower does not do fair, he does hatchet. Blair was clearly meat for the slaughterhouse.

After almost 600 pages of reputation-shredding, I must admit to a twinge of ­sympathy for Blair. Much of him was rubbish, yes, but this much rubbish? The winner of three elections came to power in 1997 after staging one of the great coups of postwar politics. The “Blair project” stripped Labour of decades of ideological dross and made it electable. It re-engineered the left of British politics and won the admiration of even Margaret Thatcher. Bower largely ignores this achievement.

Instead we meet Blair installed in Downing Street, surrounded by sycophants, but utterly unprepared for office and his ministers even less so. His confidence is total, his programme waffle, little more than a string of abstractions about things “getting better”, with some headline-grabbing targets to prove it. Within months, Blair emerges from Bower’s narrative like Frodo Baggins, wandering across Mordor with little sense of destination. He grapples with one venture after another – the fiends of the
NHS, bogus asylum-seekers, gold-plated academies – with Gordon Brown as Gollum and Cherie Blair as the Black Rider. Our hero has around him only a tiny band of loyalists, Alastair Campbell, Jonathan Powell and Peter Mandelson, on whom he is pathetically dependent.

Bower’s technique is to select five topics – immigration, health, education, energy and war – to exemplify Blair’s style. More than 180 participants are interviewed and published records ransacked. He proceeds through Blair’s term of office chronologically, diving in and out of each subject in turn, much as circumstances forced Blair to do. He recounts little that is new to those who have trod this territory but he well conveys the pandemonium that is any modern British government.

Thus, on immigration, we see Blair trapped between his belief that newcomers are good for the economy and a slow realisation that this is electorally disastrous. As the inflow soars past half a million, with chaos at border controls, Blair’s ignorance of government process becomes stark. He blames officials, judges, the then home secretary, David Blunkett, and even his beloved Delivery Unit. Eventually he goes on television
and simply pledges that the number of asylum-seekers will fall “by half within six months”. Blunkett is aghast at the naivety.

The same is true of the NHS and education. Blair’s initial approach is to rid the public services of Thatcher’s markets and hurl vast sums at them. As this fails to deliver swift results, Blair thrashes about, turns turtle, sacks ministers and appoints advisers, demanding ever more money from a truculent Brown. He seems quite unable to master the intricacies of government. When he complains that Jack Straw has been “captured by [his] department”, the retort is that Blair has been “captured by the fairies” – in this case the former BBC man John Birt, his useless aide.

A third of a million new NHS staff are hired even as productivity plummets. Doctors get a 30 per cent pay rise for shorter hours, yet the nation is still near the bottom of some health league tables. To Blair, promising is delivering. As one colleague observes, “It’s government by assertion, and hope that the facts will catch up.” In 2006 he promises to build 200 academies, at double the cost of normal schools, and then suddenly promises 400. Figures are snatched out of the air.

Blair and Brown indulge in competitive initiative-itis. Brown’s health action zones, New Deal for Communities and individual learning accounts (later dropped because they were too open to fraud) are countered by Blair’s strategy reports, delivery units and offices of government reform. Around the time of the gloomy 2005 ­election, Blair launches “five-year plans [for] each government department”, 20 targets for delivery and six “people’s promises”.

Blair is terrible at debate or criticism. He doesn’t like civil servants – whom Thatcher cleverly manipulated – and excludes them from his “sofa” meetings. As a result, minutes are not taken and little is done. Blair’s response to any crisis (meaning a poor headline) is to reshuffle the minister. Straw, Blunkett, John Reid, Charles Clarke and Ruth Kelly seem to be in perpetual motion, their initiatives scuppered by Brown’s opposition and Blair’s failure to confront him.

At the centre of the web are Campbell and Powell, in charge respectively of presentation and executive decision. Campbell loathes the media and Powell loathes civil servants, so relations are fraught. They shut Blair off from Britain’s constitutional checks and balances – collective cabinet and an independent civil service. The prime minister is left with no levers to pull in his undoubted desire to make his country a better place.

The Downing Street madhouse also contains Cherie Blair (who hates Brown), Campbell (who hates Cherie), Anji Hunter, Blair’s director of government relations (whom Cherie hates), and Campbell’s wife (who seems to hate everyone). As for the black cloud next door, no prime minister has cursed himself with such a nightmare colleague as Gordon Brown. This bundle of envy and ambition – grossly overrated as chancellor – seems to end every conversation by slamming down the phone with the refrain, “And when are you f***ing resigning?” It is no wonder that Blair prefers to tangle with the Taliban.

All this is grippingly readable and Blair’s inability to assert sovereignty over Downing Street is the source for much black humour. Twice Blair summons up the courage to sack Brown and twice his courage fails. But Bower unbalances his criticism of Blair by disregarding the scale of the task that the prime minister set himself, especially against the history of Britain in the 1990s.

Detoxifying Labour was never going to end with the election victory in 1997. Blair understood that a new Labour approach to government needed to build on Thatcherism, not turn back the clock. Bower largely ignores Blairism’s debt to Thatcherism even where, in his selected topics, the continuities – privatisation and internal markets – emerged through the fog of war. Blair was obsessed with Thatcher, even making her his first VIP guest in Downing Street.

Labour’s old guard was never going to take this lying down. The public-service unions resisted, Labour councils resisted, Blair’s colleagues resisted. Brown may have been infatuated with City bankers and recklessly used private finance for hospitals, schools and the London Tube, but he cynically revived Old Labour as a weapon against the prime minister. It is to Blair’s credit that he never surrendered as David Cameron has done to George Osborne. Bower convincingly argues that he stayed in office so long in part to save the country from his “psychologically flawed” rival.

Where Bower is most convincing is on Blair’s wars. The brief conflict in Kosovo in 1998-99 was a success, with Blair stiffening Washington to sign up for bombing and forcing the Serbs to retreat. Thus emboldened, he appointed himself envoy to capture Osama Bin Laden in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, again a worthy venture that Bower largely ignores. But from then on his obsequiousness towards George Bush, dismaying even the one general he trusted, Charles Guthrie, drove him to disaster.

***

We now enter the maelstrom of dodgy dossiers, suborned intelligence and the death of David Kelly. The sole defence of Blair’s blindness to reality through the sorry saga is that he appears genuinely to have been deceived about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction through Alastair Campbell’s desire that the spymasters Richard Dearlove and John Scarlett “sex up” the threat. Blair’s reliance on Campbell, like his cowardice towards Brown, is a lethal thread through Bower’s narrative.

By the time of the orchestrating of the Hutton and Butler reports to whitewash Blair, the No 10 bunker has taken on the air of Nixon’s last days. There is the same contempt for process, the frantic survival instinct, the loathing of enemies. What is most remarkable is that Blair’s gift for presentation never leaves him. I recall being (almost) persuaded by his parliamentary speech on Saddam’s WMDs. Could a prime minister really deceive his country on this scale?

Bower correctly analyses Blair’s confused justifications for his warmongering. The invasion of Afghanistan was to teach terrorist regimes a lesson but it got sucked into soggy “nation-building”, with Helmand to become “a mini-Belgium”. Blair invaded Iraq to eradicate weapons of mass destruction but wrote in his memoirs that it was to topple Saddam, as “the whole future of Islam” was at stake. He wanted to crush “the forces opposed to modernisation”. War was a sort of New Labour project.

Blair’s final months were typical of the man. He halted a corruption inquiry into BAE in Saudi Arabia. He sacked the head of the committee on standards in public life, for too assiduously pursuing sleaze. He showered peerages on dodgy financiers. Twenty-five of Blair’s 292 peers gave a total of £25m to Labour. Blair seemed to see little wrong in rewarding donors with seats in parliament and was the first serving prime minister to be interviewed by the police, on three occasions. He was exonerated only at the moment of his departure in 2007.

Before he went, Blair passed into the future tense. He had saved and transformed his country. Now he would save the world. His diminished team planned his relaunch as a world statesman. An aide, Benjamin Wegg-Prosser, decided he must reconnect “with the public . . . go with crowds wanting more . . . He should be the star who won’t even play the last encore.” He appeared on Blue Peter and Songs of Praise. Irritatingly, the Queen refused a farewell banquet. Instead, his final visitor was Arnold Schwarzenegger, of Hollywood and California.

Having failed in his attempt to become president of the EU, Blair gets Bush to appoint him to the diplomatic “Quartet”, supposedly to bring peace to the Middle East. The day after leaving Downing Street, he flies to Tel Aviv to get down to serious business. Ostensibly he is to be a diplomat but he combines that with making money.

The final chapters of Tom Bower’s book make for sad reading. Blair and Cherie set up a miasma of charities and companies, enveloped in offshore secrecy and security, while the taxpayer pays millions for Quartet civil servants and police protection. Bower shows how Blair uses his celebrity access for personal enrichment. He consorts with Colonel Gaddafi, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, anyone who will see him and accept a deal for a “consultancy”. He would tell all comers, “We do business and philanthropy,” adding the tired Blairism: “The purpose is not to make money; it is to make a difference.”

Bower recounts one visit after another to dodgy regimes and middlemen, borrowing jets left, right and centre. Blair still enjoys access to David Cameron, inducing him to pay a humiliating visit to Nazarbayev in 2013 as part of some unmentionable deal. By then his stock in the Middle East had plunged because of his ties to Israel’s Ehud Barak and Binyamin Netanyahu. He loses first his expenses, then his job, then seemingly his contact with morality: invited to speak for 20 minutes to a famine charity in Stockholm, Blair demands £250,000. The charity desperately suggests £125,000. Blair refuses.

Britain did not go off the rails under Tony Blair. Even if he sowed the seeds of economic woe, many grew rich and many more became less poor. Blair made Labour safe for Thatcherism, which, like it or not, was an achievement. He introduced a minimum wage, advanced gays, half settled Northern Ireland and created a mayor for London. Against his own judgement – and thanks to Brown – Britain stayed out of the euro. But there was no lasting reform of public services, which became the most centralised in Europe. Not one major power station was built. The overall legacy was a mess.

In the final analysis Blair must take responsibility for plunging his country into “wars of choice” that were unnecessary, immoral and hugely expensive, some £40bn in lives and treasure. This was the real hanging offence. Bower interviewed his first three cabinet secretaries, Robin Butler, Richard Wilson and Andrew Turnbull. Each of them broke the customary silence of his office and said he did not regard Blair as “a laudable guardian of the public’s trust”. Bower is surely right to reach the same conclusion.

Tom Bower’s “Broken Vows: Tony Blair – the Tragedy of Power” is published by Faber & Faber

This article first appeared in the 17 March 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Spring double issue