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How to confront a genocidal war

Friday 23 January 2009

Interview with Sergio Yahni, Program Director of the Alternative Information Center (AIC) and member of Alternatives International Governance Board.

In your opinion, which role is Israel’s long-term “strategy of deterrence” playing nowadays? And what are the long-term objectives of Israeli policies?

The Israeli military attack on Gaza is a bit more complicated than it may appear. The state of Israel was created in 1948, in the middle of the war that started in November 1947; since then its policy entails that Israel cannot have a definitive victory over the Arab countries and armies. Therefore, its political objective is to deter the Arab armies from attacking the Israeli state. Israel estimates that as a consequence, when these countries will understand that they cannot achieve a victory against Israel, that understanding will make the difference and they will make peace. This strategy of deterrence has two major elements: one is Israel’s conventional military capacities, the second one is its nuclear weapons.

This strategy is problematic when we are talking about an asymmetrical war. In such a war, the guerrilla organizations (as the PLO until 1992 before the peace process started, Hamas, Hezbollah) know that they are the weaker side. They don’t need to be, though. On the contrary, knowing that they are weaker, they all still try to attack Israel regardless of their weakness. Therefore, Israel’s strategy of deterrence enters into a situation of crisis: you cannot deter the ones that are already deterred. You cannot kill the dead.

In this strategy of deterrence, the other element is the long-term popular strike: that is what we can see concerning the cases of Hamas and Hezbollah, or the PLO in the past. Hezbollah in the beginning and Hamas in these days, are trying to achieve their objectives by copying Israel’s strategy of deterrence, bringing missiles into the battlefield. Rockets are the tools that Hamas and Hezbollah have in order to deter Israel from going on into military action.

In one of your latest article you wrote about an “embargo on information”. Can you explain this concept? And in addition to that, do you think this is connected with the lack of criticism within the Israeli society?

No, I don’t think there is a lack of criticism. After this war we will enter into a new era in Israeli democracy: since we are dealing with an asymmetrical war, Israel is adopting some very specific tactics. Given that you cannot deter in the battlefield a guerrilla group that you already assumed as weaker, your political objective in this confrontation is to exterminate the guerrilla organization. This practice is not new, it has been carried on by the Nazis in WWII. In Germany the objective was not to deter the partisans, but to exterminate the military resistance. After WWII this tactic was adopted by the French army in Algeria, by the Contra forces in Latin America, and now is being adopted by Israel. This war of extermination can be easily described as a genocidal war: it is not a clash with a guerrilla organization aimed at achieving a conventional victory, but to carry on a genocide that exterminate the political framework of the resistance. That kind of war will include all the different political formations which stand behind them, not only the fighters. This modus operandi is very similar to the war of the French army in Algeria, that resulted in one million dead,, or similar to the wars in Argentina and Chile.

…and the propaganda system works to allow these actions to be taken…

The embargo on information is not part of a propaganda system, but is part of a military strategy. States including Germany in the 1940’s, France in the 1950’s, Argentina in the 1970’s and Israel today, did not embargo the media in order to provide their own information, but in order to carry out a genocide. In addition to the embargo on information, we have the propaganda system that tries to find justifications to the genocide at all costs.

…justifications such as the “right to defense”...

Exactly, the right to defend yourself, prevent terrorists from attacking your territory, etc.; the embargo on the media belongs to the military strategy. It is important to underline that the international media does not often give voice to the wide range of criticism inside Israel. This criticism is mostly carried on by Palestinian citizens of Israel, but by the numerous Israeli citizens who have attended demonstrations in these days: more than 100.000 people attended a single demonstration in Tel Aviv. These people are all citizens of Israel, subjects of its political life. The lack of responsibility of the international media consists in not presenting the complexity of the conflict, by describing it in a simplistic manner: from one side the Palestinians and from the other the Israelis, killing each other. Within Israeli society there is criticism against the war, even in Sderot there is an association called another voice in Sderot, which opposes this one-dimensional logic of the war. The international media, hiding the complexity of positions inside Israeli society regarding the conflict, keep proposing their simplistic vision of the war.

We should also notice that the Israeli regime is changing because of this war. It is adopting stronger measures against the opposition inside the country: more than 500 people have been arrested because of their participation in the demonstrations or have been taken from their houses because they are opponents of the regime. Two political parties (Balad and United Arab List-Ta’al, that represent the Arab minority – n.d.r.), which together have six members in the Knesset, were banned yesterday. We notice a change in the political approach, which goes beyond the democratic framework.

Today is the 18th day of Israeli attacks on Gaza, Israeli troops are using a “psychological warfare tactic” as well: can you explain more about this? Do you think this tactic is helping the Israeli army in weakening the Gaza resistance or is resulting in the opposite effect, that is to say fostering the popular support of Hamas and other militant groups?

This kind of war was first developed in the post WWII period by the French Army in Algeria and later repeatedly copied by other countries’ armies. This tactic (that includes dropping of leaflets, phone calls telling people to flee their homes before shelling them) is aimed at promoting the displacement of the population, but it is interesting to note that it never succeeded. In France the army thought that they could manage to almost exterminate the Algerian FLN, but just a few years later Algeria was liberated. In Argentina there was a massacre very similar to that one: from 1976 to 1983 the Vidal dictatorship managed to exterminate the political framework of the guerrillas group Montoneros, whose followers are now ruling the country. In order to win this war, Israel has to exterminate every single Palestinian who supports Hamas: this is the only alternative. Hamas’ victory will be achieved just by staying alive. After the ceasefire will be imposed on Israel, the Hamas people who survived will raise the Hamas flags, proclaiming their victory. This is the type of war that Israel will lose, because it has no other alternative but to lose.

Abroad the media are saying that Hamas is using humans shields: they are hiding in hospitals, schools, …

Israeli soldiers don’t know where Hamas fighters are hiding, and what the Hebrew press is mostly showing is their lack of knowledge. Israel carried out a huge massacre, they don’t know how many people from Hamas they killed, they cannot define the damage inflicted on Hamas’ military capacity. Right now the so called military experts are trying to hold on to insignificant parameters, such as the 50% drop in missile launches. But they don’t know…If Israeli soldiers are controlling an area, Hamas obviously cannot use it to shoot missiles but if they move, the militants will start shooting again. We can only claim that we are facing a sort of genocide war.

What are the strategies for an effective advocacy action to be taken abroad?

The most immediate thing right now is to promote a boycott of Israel. We saw the Turkish example, perhaps the most effective way of advocacy: they have forbidden Israeli sports teams to play in their country, and they have boycotted Dead Sea products. We need a popular boycott: several thousand people who don’t buy any Israeli products, who prevent any Israeli football player from playing abroad. In order to boycott, even in Italy, you don’t have to let Israeli singers sing or players play. Israel does what it does not in vain, we are in the throes of neoconservative ideology: although they use democratic tools, their beliefs are antidemocratic. Italy is a strong example of antidemocratic policies, it still looks like a democracy but is not. It’s not only the case of Italy or Israel, but a global process. Popular supporters are rising, the governments generally support Israel unless people force them to stop supporting it. The popular movement in this moment has the role to mobilize, to boycott, to file legal complaints, to not allow their governments to continue being an accomplice to Israel.

Should we work to create an international understanding amongst people in order to boycott Israel on a large scale?

We should move forward to promote boycott, we have a huge international understanding, huge demonstrations took place, more than a million people in Europe have mobilized to support the Palestinian people. We should move forward to promote boycott.

Is there a list of products to boycott?

There is a website that is going to be launched ( which lists the companies (from Israel or abroad), their activities, how they work and how they profit from the occupation of Palestinian Territories.

Are demonstrations an effective way to convince political institutions or sports associations to take this important actions of boycott?

Popular mobilization is always the best tool. The leftist politicians in Europe say one thing and do another. They express solidarity with the Palestinians but actually support Israel. I’m not saying that we don’t need politicians at all, but we need the popular mobilization to set limits. “Do you want to be leftist?” People should say “We are the left, you are our workers, you work for us, not the opposite”. The so called left wing politicians in Europe have become mere bureaucrats. People should say “we are the voters, if you do what you want we won’t vote for you”. This should be the game: no more voting in order to avoid the right wing ruling the Parliament, but voting for those who represent you both in speeches and in actions.

I believe the role that Palestine has today for international civil society is very similar to the one Vietnam had in the 1960’s. Palestine has a symbolic status, it is a nation resisting a terrible offensive by imperialism, and Palestinians are not surrendering. This is not a question of having the most intelligent political leaderships or being the nicest people in the world: the Palestinian struggle also symbolizes our own right to resist against globalization or any kind of oppression.

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