Chapter 1: Who Are Gog and Magog? (38:1-2)
Chapter 2: Preparation for Invasion of Israel and the Mid East (38:3-6)
Chapter 3: Israel’s Role in Bringing about Her Own Downfall (38:7)
Chapter 4: Prophecy Pinpoints Our Present Historical Situation (38:8-12)
Chapter 5: Role of America and Britain (38:13)
Chapter 6: How God is Honored in this Mess (38:14-16)
Chapter 7: God Fights Against Gog – Armageddon! (38:17-39:8)
Chapter 8: Clean-Up Campaign (39:9-20)
Chapter 9: Israel’s Purging Results in Final Blessing (39:21-29)
Chapter 3: Israel’s Role in Bringing about Her Own Downfall (38:7)
Verse 7 Prepare yourself and be ready, you and all your companies that are gathered about you; and be a guard for them.
Strangely, just as happened in verse 4 (“I will turn you around, put hooks into your jaws, and lead you out.”), it sounds as if the Lord is telling Gog what to do. That is because the Antichrist, in the initial stages of his rule, will actually be fulfilling God’s will and, without realizing it, working for Him. At this point Gog the Antichrist is acting as a “guard” to these nations, protecting them, it would seem, from the belligerent actions of certain other powers.
In particular, Israeli and American forces have been waging aggressive campaigns to subdue the nations in the Middle East that are aligned against Israel (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Hezbollah in Lebanon). Most of these campaigns have been justified under flimsy pretexts: to protect the world against “weapons of mass destruction”, “terrorism” and/or “oppressive governments”. These excuses have worn pretty thin now, and one wonders, what is the real reason for these war campaigns? Is it really to protect the world against these evils, or does it have more to do with gaining control in this oil-rich region of the world? Or perhaps it has something to do with protecting Israel’s security against her hostile neighbors?
Anyway, regardless of whether or not there is justification for intervention in the Mid East, it is obvious now that America’s intrusions into Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya have backfired, destabilizing the region and alienating these peoples instead of winning their favor. These misguided military maneuvers have, in fact, created the conditions that enabled the rise of ISIS in northern Syria and Iraq. Instead of containing the terrorism threat, America’s blundering Mid East policy has only managed to increase it.
Now, regarding Gog’s role as a “guard”, a specific example of this came up in November-December, 2007. At that time America was threatening to invade Iran, and it looked as if another American/Israeli-inspired war would break out in the Mideast. But then, at a crucial moment the Russian leader Putin paid a timely visit to Iran. It was a diplomatic way of warning that Russia would not be happy if Iran, a nation right on Russia’s doorstep, were invaded. Russia would not stand by as she had done in Iraq and Afghanistan but would be willing to protect her. This action forced the U.S. into a standoff for the time being while Russia played the very role described here in verse 7 of being a “guard unto them”. It was a sort of glimpse into the future, a mini-version of what Russia is going to do in the Mid East more and more as time goes on.
(This does not mean to suggest that Putin is the Antichrist, by the way. To some extent he is playing the same role, in this case at least, but in other ways he is very different. He does not seem to fit the role of the eloquent, anti-religious world leader that is portrayed in the Scriptures.)
In more recent history, Russia has played the same “guard” role in the Syrian conflict. Because of Russia’s support and intervention, Syria was protected from invasion by American forces in the year 2013. And in October, 2015, Russia again entered the Mid East arena more directly by sending arms and equipment to its longtime ally, Syria, even sending in its air force to empower the Syrian army.
It may seem unusual that God would use a nation like Russia as a sort of check against those who claim themselves to be God-fearing nations. But this is not without precedent. In the Old Testament there are examples of this very thing: whenever ancient Israel fell away from the worship of God and forgot His precepts, or became a poor example to surrounding nations and carried out all sorts of oppression against the poor of her own land, almost always the Lord allowed Israel’s enemies to rise up against her. In Isaiah 7:20 the Lord referred to the Assyrians as “a hired razor” that He would use to chastise His wayward people of that era.
Then about 100 years later, the Lord again withdrew His protection, this time from Judah, and allowed the Babylonians to invade. “Because you have not heard My words, behold, I will send and take all the families of the north and Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land.” (Jeremiah 25:8-9) In that passage the Lord even referred to Nebuchadnezzar as His “servant”. In the same way this “Gog” figure is also God’s “servant”, at least in the initial stage of his rule when God will use him to chastise the Israeli regime for their failure to give heed to God’s ways, manifested especially in their oppression of the Palestinian people.
The following news article will shed some light on what is going on within the borders of Israel and Palestine nowadays:
The silent destruction of Palestine
By Rev. Sandra Olewine, CounterPunch (May 31, 2002)
So much of the destruction against Palestinians which happens here is silent destruction. News cameras seldom catch the stories of land confiscation, crop destruction, or barrier construction that happens day in and day out across the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Such stories don’t seem to make “exciting” or compelling video segments.
Yet, on and on it goes. More olive trees uprooted, more farmland confiscated, more areas declared “fit for only settler or Israeli military use.” The prison called Palestine gets smaller and smaller each day. The pressure builds and builds.
And with the new system being put in place by the Israeli government, the prison is about to get even smaller. Palestinians will soon need permits to travel between Palestinian areas. If someone from Bethlehem wants to travel to Ramallah, already a journey that takes a couple of hours on a good day, they will have to apply to the Israeli Civil Authority for a permit. The permits will be valid from 6 am to 6 pm only. No traveling at night, no emergency trips, no evening meetings, no weddings or funerals to go to. And in many instances the road will be blocked—one will not be able to take a private car—but will have to walk through barriers on the road, getting into taxi after taxi trying to get to one’s destination. As one of my colleagues said, “This will end our life completely. No one will tolerate this.”
There will be no direct delivery of goods either—whether food, medicine, building material—all of it will have to be moved “back-to-back,” meaning a truck has to back up to the roadblock and unload to the back of a truck on the other side. This is already the case in most Palestinian areas, increasing the cost of items due to the increased cost of delivery.
Electric gates are being constructed across Palestinian roads. Barbed-wire fences are being put up around Palestinian cities, along with patrol roads for the Israeli military. While the answer to a query about these fences will be that they are in response to suicide attacks inside Israel, they have slowly been constructed throughout the last 20 months. They didn’t just appear overnight.
During the Israeli invasion into Bethlehem in early March, a trench was already being dug across the northern edge of Bethlehem from the road into Bethlehem across to the settler bypass road. During the 40-day siege of the city in April and May, work went on 24 hours a day. On one of the instances when I snuck back home during the siege, the family I live with asked me exactly where the trench was being dug. I knew instantly why they were worried. Many of the olive trees between Bethlehem and Tantur Ecumenical Institute are theirs. “They’re gone. I’m sorry. The trench and road has cut you off from the trees,” was all I could say.
This silent destruction is the creeping hand of occupation. It is what has everyone here held in a death grip. Without removing its stranglehold from the lives of Palestinians, Palestinians and Israelis here will tragically and brutally continue to die.
(Rev. Sandra Olewine is with the United Methodist Liaison in Jerusalem.)
The above news article is referring to events that happened back in 2002. Since then, the situation has only gotten worse. The “silent destruction” of the last several years has erupted occasionally into some shocking outbreaks of oppression: the massacre of 1,300 Palestinians in Operation Cast Lead in December, 2008, and the killing in May, 2010, of 10 humanitarian aid workers who were trying to cross Israel’s blockade and bring much-needed supplies to the war-ravaged Palestinians in the Gaza strip; in the summer of 2014, Operation Protective Edge caused the massacre of 2,000-plus Palestinians, mostly civilians, along with much destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure. The following statement, made all the way back in 1985, could be applied to these recent events:
The whole world has been horrified at some of the things Israel has been doing lately to little defenceless countries like Lebanon and other countries around her, and a poor little handful of Palestinians from whom they stole not only their homes, but their whole country away from them and are still going on arrogantly. . . the Jews came in and ran the poor Arabs largely out of their land. So the Lord says, “The heathen are going to know that I’m just when I come down & afflict you, Gog, on My people Israel. They’re going to know that was the right thing to do.” [Ezekiel 39:7,21-24] They are going to know Israel deserves it when she gets it!. . . (from David Berg lecture, Feb–1985, www.davidberg.org)
The above statement came after the 1982 Lebanon War during which, as a result of the policies of Ariel Sharon the Israeli Defence Minister at the time, a brutal massacre of occupants in two Palestinian refugee camps was carried out. How much more does that statement ring true nowadays when the world has again been horrified to witness such cold-blooded atrocities, even worse than the Sabra and Shatila massacres of 1982.
Cast Lead was an unrestrained assault on a besieged, totally unprotected civilian population which showed almost no signs of resistance during this operation. It should have raised an immediate furor in Israel. It was a Sabra and Chatila, this time carried out by us. But there was a storm of protest in this country following Sabra and Chatila, whereas after Cast Lead mere citations were dished out.
It should have been enough just to look at the horrendous disparity in casualties–100 Palestinians killed for every Israeli–to shake the whole of Israeli society.
(See full article “Disgrace in the Hague” by Gideon Levy, Haaretz.)
Back in 1982 Israeli citizens were horrified at these massacres and came out to protest en masse about it. But today? The voices of protest are feeble and unnoticed; Israeli society seems to be hardening itself to the voice of conscience and growing ever more insular and incapable of living peaceably with its neighbors. (See news articles for some further insight into these present day trends in Israeli society.)
One may wonder, what is it that makes Israelis, supposedly a God-fearing people, feel justified in committing such crimes? There are perhaps two main assumptions on which Israelis base their thinking and policies along these lines:
First of all, they will always say it is in retaliation for militant attacks that the Palestinians make against them. Ideally, yes, the non-violent, passive-resistance approach would be the better reaction from the Palestinians. But what the Israeli and international media ignore and fail to mention is the long history of “silent destruction” (as outlined in the above article) that has already transpired. Inevitably, the accumulation of a long string of provocative acts like this will result in the militants finally taking some kind of action, such as suicide bombings or other types of raids. Then whenever the Israelis are met with any of this kind of violent resistance, they latch on to and publicize it, point the finger at the Palestinians, and use it as their excuse to mete out ten times worse punishment on them.
A second justification used by Israelis is their belief that it is God’s plan or God’s will for them to expand the borders of their nation. The basis for this belief may be found in Ezekiel 47:13-20. Here, certain borders are outlined that would appear to include parts of Syria, Lebanon, the east bank of the Jordan (not to mention the West Bank), and the Mediterranean coast (including the Gaza Strip). To understand these few verses well, it will help to see them in context as an excerpt from a longer passage, chapters 40-48 in the Book of Ezekiel. This passage comes directly after the ones we are now studying about the destruction of Israel at the hands of the Antichrist in the End Time.
Chronologically, this passage would appear to dwell on the era known as the Millenium that follows the return of Christ, not this present era prior to His return. For example, in chapter 47, just prior to this mention of the new borders of Israel, there is also mention of a river leaving the newly-built temple in Jerusalem. Along its banks grow trees whose “leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail. They will bear fruit every month, because their water flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for medicine.” (47:12) Clearly, the setting is not our present day but some future time – namely, the era following the Lord’s return when He will re-establish such Eden-like conditions in the earth.
Another clue along this line appears immediately after the passage about Israel’s new borders and outlines how the land is to be governed:
“It shall be that you will divide it (the land) by lot as an inheritance for yourselves, and for the strangers who dwell among you and who bear children among you. They shall be to you as native-born among the tribes of Israel. And it shall be that in whatever tribe the stranger dwells, there you shall give him his inheritance, says the Lord God.” (47:22-23)
Judging by their mistreatment of the Palestinians, there seems not to be the slightest hint that the present day Israelis are obeying this admonishment to show consideration to the “strangers who dwell among you”. It seems like that won’t happen until the heavy hand of Antichrist persecution has humbled and brought the Israeli nation back into God’s favor. Only then will she learn to adopt her proper role as a wise and benevolent ruler over the territory that apparently God intends to give to her in the future.
Regarding this issue of just and fair dealings with her neighbors, even back in 1929 Israeli policies were heading for trouble. As eminent Jewish physicist and Zionist, Albert Einstein, noted when he caught an ominous glimpse of what could happen in the future,
“Should we be unable to find a way to honest cooperation and honest pacts with the Arabs, then we have learned absolutely nothing during our two thousand years of suffering and deserve all that will come to us.”
The stumblingblock for Israelis, at least in this present era, was that they could not bring themselves to move beyond the moral code of the Old Testament – “an eye for an eye”. They have not adopted the moral code introduced by the greatest Israeli of all, Jesus Christ, who taught the principle of loving one’s neighbor as oneself. The Israelis will eventually adopt this code of conduct – in the future after the Battle of Armageddon – at which time they will re-claim their nation from the Antichrist’s occupation. (Well, we’re getting a little ahead of the story here, but more will be explained further ahead on these matters.)
There are other references in the Old Testament to some enlarged borders of Israel – promises given to Abraham, Moses, and Joshua – but these were fulfilled during the reigns of King David and King Solomon around 1000 B.C. During that era, Israel was a powerful nation and held sway over the territory stretching from the Euphrates River to the “river of Egypt” (the river Sihor on the border between Sinai and Israel).
“And he [King Solomon] reigned over all the kings from the river [Euphrates] even unto the land of the Philistines, and to the border of Egypt.” (2 Chronicles 9:26)
To conclude, the idea that Israel is destined to occupy this enlarged territory in our modern times is based on a misinterpretation of certain Biblical passages, a misapplication of them to the wrong historical epoch. Modern day Israelis have usurped these passages and made them a handy excuse for much land-grabbing and oppression against their Palestinian neighbors.
Certainly, it would not be the first time in history that the “will of God” has been invoked as justification for all sorts of murderous schemes and oppression. A nation, for a time, may presume to use its own version of “God’s will” as veneer for its schemes, but in the end God Himself will have the final say, weigh up the balances, and mete out His judgments accordingly.
It is a sad testimony against the Christian world nowadays to observe how the majority of it, who ought to be standing up against the injustices going on in the Mid East, are instead cheering things on, convinced that all is covered under the umbrella of “God’s will”. They are convinced that Israel has special rights as “God’s chosen people” and is allowed to do whatever it wants.
Well, in the days of the Old Testament they were God’s chosen people. Even then however, God didn’t let them get away for too long with disobedience to his rules of conduct. Anyway, we are not living in those days anymore. All nations and peoples are now equal in God’s sight, and no one particular group can claim special priority or think it can be an exception to the New Testament principles of love and fairness.
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, September 17, 2009
There’s a name on every bullet, and there’s someone responsible for every crime. The Teflon cloak Israel has wrapped around itself since Operation Cast Lead has been ripped off, once and for all, and now the difficult questions must be faced. It has become superfluous to ask whether war crimes were committed in Gaza, because authoritative and clear-cut answers have already been given. So the follow-up question has to be addressed: Who’s to blame? If war crimes were committed in Gaza, it follows that there are war criminals at large among us. They must be held accountable and punished. This is the harsh conclusion to be drawn from the detailed United Nations report.
For almost a year, Israel has been trying to argue that the blood spilled in Gaza was merely water. One report followed the other, with horrifyingly identical results: siege, white phosphorous, harm of innocent civilians, infrastructure destroyed–war crimes in each and every report. Now, after the publication of the most important and damning report of all, compiled by the commission led by Judge Richard Goldstone, Israel’s attempts to discredit them look ludicrous, and the empty bluster of its spokespersons sound pathetic.
So far they have focused on the messengers, not their messages: the researcher for Human Rights Watch collects Nazi memorabilia, Breaking the Silence is a business and Amnesty International is anti-Semitic. All cheap propaganda. This time, though, the messenger is propaganda-proof. No one can seriously claim that Goldstone, an active and ardent Zionist, with deep links to Israel, is an anti-Semite. It would be ridiculous.
Although there were some propagandists who actually tried to use the anti-Semitism weapon against him, even they knew this was farcical. One had to hear the moving interview that Goldstone’s daughter Nicole gave to Razi Barkai on Army Radio Wednesday, to understand that he is in fact a lover of Israel and its true friend. She spoke, in Hebrew, of the mental anguish her father experienced and of his conviction that, had he not been there, the report would have been much worse. All he wants is an Israel that is more just, she explained.
Neither can anyone doubt his legal credentials, as a top-level international jurist with an impeccable reputation. The man who found out the truth about Rwanda and Yugoslavia has now done the same regarding Gaza. The former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague is not only a legal authority, he is also a moral authority; therefore complaints about the judge won’t hold water. Instead, it is time to look closer at the accused. Those responsible are first and foremost Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak and Gabi Ashkenazi. So far, incredibly, none of them has paid any price for their misdeeds.
Cast Lead was an unrestrained assault on a besieged, totally unprotected civilian population which showed almost no signs of resistance during this operation. It should have raised an immediate furor in Israel. It was a Sabra and Chatila, this time carried out by us. But there was a storm of protest in this country following Sabra and Chatila, whereas after Cast Lead mere citations were dished out.
It should have been enough just to look at the horrendous disparity in casualties–100 Palestinians killed for every Israeli–to shake the whole of Israeli society. There was no need to wait for Goldstone to understand that a terrible thing had occurred between the Palestinian David and the Israeli Goliath. But the Israelis preferred to look away, or stand with their children on the hills around Gaza and cheer on the carnage-causing bombs.
Under the cover of the committed media, and criminally-biased analysts and experts–all of whom kept information from coming out–and with brainwashed and complacent public opinion, Israel behaved as if nothing had happened. Goldstone has put an end to that, for which we should thank him. After his job is done, the obvious practical steps will be taken.
It would be better for Israel to summon up the courage to change course while there is still time, investigating the matter genuinely and not by means of the Israel Defense Forces’ grotesque inquiries, without waiting for Goldstone. Olmert and Tzipi Livni must be brought to pay for their scandalous decision not to cooperate with Goldstone, although at this point that is spilled milk. Now that the report is on its way to the ICC and arrest warrants could soon be issued, all that remains to be done is to immediately set up a state inquiry commission in order to avert disgrace in The Hague.
Perhaps next time we set out to wage another vain and miserable war, we will take into account not only the number of fatalities we are likely to sustain, but also the heavy political damage such wars cause.
On the eve of the Jewish New Year, Israel, deservedly, is becoming an outcast and detested country. We must not forget it for a minute.
Present day trends in Israeli Society: New Articles
WHEN an American presidential candidate visits Israel and his key message is to encourage us to pursue a misguided war with Iran, declaring it “a solemn duty and a moral imperative” for America to stand with our warmongering prime minister, we know that something profound and basic has changed in the relationship between Israel and the United States.
My generation, born in the ’50s, grew up with the deep, almost religious belief that the two countries shared basic values and principles. Back then, Americans and Israelis talked about democracy, human rights, respect for other nations and human solidarity. It was an age of dreamers and builders who sought to create a new world, one without prejudice, racism or discrimination.
Listening to today’s political discourse, one can’t help but notice the radical change in tone. My children have watched their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, kowtow to a fundamentalist coalition in Israel. They are convinced that what ties Israel and America today is not a covenant of humanistic values but rather a new set of mutual interests: war, bombs, threats, fear and trauma. How did this happen? Where is that righteous America? Whatever happened to the good old Israel?
Mr. Netanyahu’s great political “achievement” has been to make Israel a partisan issue and push American Jews into a corner. He has forced them to make political decisions based on calculations that go against what they perceive to be American interests. The emotional extortion compels Jews to pressure the Obama administration, a government with which they actually share values and worldviews, when those who love Israel should be doing the opposite: helping the American government to intervene and save Israel from itself.
Israel arose as a secular, social democratic country inspired by Western European democracies. With time, however, its core values have become entirely different. Israel today is a religious, capitalist state. Its religiosity is defined by the most extreme Orthodox interpretations. Its capitalism has erased much of the social solidarity of the past, with the exception of a few remaining vestiges of a welfare state. Israel defines itself as a “Jewish and democratic state.” However, because Israel has never created a system of checks and balances between these two sources of authority, they are closer than ever to a terrible clash.
In the early years of statehood, the meaning of the term “Jewish” was national and secular. In the eyes of Israel’s founding fathers, to be a Jew was exactly like being an Italian, Frenchman or American. Over the years, this elusive concept has changed; today, the meaning of “Jewish” in Israel is mainly ethnic and religious. With the elevation of religious solidarity over and above democratic authority, Israel has become more fundamentalist and less modern, more separatist and less open to the outside world. I see the transformation in my own family. My father, one of the founders of the state of Israel and of the National Religious Party, was an enlightened rabbi and philosopher. Many of the younger generation are far less open, however; some are ultra-Orthodox or ultranationalist settlers.
This extremism was not the purpose of creating a Jewish state. Immigrants from all over the world dreamed of a government that would be humane and safe for Jews. The founders believed that democracy was the only way to regulate the interests of many contradictory voices. Jewish culture, consolidated through Halakha, the religious Jewish legal tradition, created a civilization that has devoted itself to an unending conversation among different viewpoints and the coexistence of contradictory attitudes toward the fulfillment of the good.
The modern combination between democracy and Judaism was supposed to give birth to a spectacular, pluralistic kaleidoscope. The state would be a great, robust democracy that would protect Jews against persecution and victimhood. Jewish culture, on the other hand, with its uncompromising moral standards, would guard against our becoming persecutors and victimizers of others.
BUT something went wrong in the operating system of Jewish democracy. We never gave much thought to the Palestinian Israeli citizens within the Jewish-democratic equation. We also never tried to separate the synagogue and the state. If anything, we did the opposite. Moreover, we never predicted the evil effects of brutally controlling another people against their will. Today, all the things that we neglected have returned and are chasing us like evil spirits.
The winds of isolation and narrowness are blowing through Israel. Rude and arrogant power brokers, some of whom hold senior positions in government, exclude non-Jews from Israeli public spaces. Graffiti in the streets demonstrates their hidden dreams: a pure Israel with “no Arabs” and “no gentiles.” They do not notice what their exclusionary ideas are doing to Israel, to Judaism and to Jews in the diaspora. In the absence of a binding constitution, Israel has no real protection for its minorities or for their freedom of worship and expression.
If this trend continues, all vestiges of democracy will one day disappear, and Israel will become just another Middle Eastern theocracy. It will not be possible to define Israel as a democracy when a Jewish minority rules over a Palestinian majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea—controlling millions of people without political rights or basic legal standing.
This Israel would be much more Jewish in the narrowest sense of the word, but such a nondemocratic Israel, hostile to its neighbors and isolated from the free world, wouldn’t be able to survive for long.
But there is another option: an iconic conflict could also present an iconic solution. As in Northern Ireland or South Africa, where citizens no longer spill one another’s blood, it will eventually become clear that many Israelis are not willing to live in an ethnic democracy, not willing to give up on the chance to live in peace, not willing to be passive patriots of a country that expels or purifies itself of its minorities, who are the original inhabitants of the land.
Only on that day, after much anguish, boycotts and perhaps even bloodshed, will we understand that the only way for us to agree when we disagree is a true, vigorous democracy. A democracy based on a progressive, civil constitution; a democracy that enforces the distinction between ethnicity and citizenship, between synagogue and state; a democracy that upholds the values of freedom and equality, on the basis of which every single person living under Israel’s legitimate and internationally recognized sovereignty will receive the same rights and protections.
A long-overdue constitution could create a state that belongs to all her citizens and in which the government behaves with fairness and equality toward all persons without prejudice based on religion, race or gender. Those are the principles on which Israel was founded and the values that bound Israel and America together in the past. I believe that creating two neighboring states for two peoples that respect one another would be the best solution. However, if our shortsighted leaders miss this opportunity, the same fair and equal principles should be applied to one state for both peoples.
When a true Israeli democracy is established, our prime minister will go to Capitol Hill and win applause from both sides of the aisle. Every time the prime minister says “peace” the world will actually believe him, and when he talks about justice and equality people will feel that these are synonyms for Judaism and Israelis.
And for all the cynics who are smiling sarcastically as they read these lines, I can only say to Americans, “Yes, we still can,” and to Israelis, “If you will it, it is no dream.”
Avraham Burg, a former speaker of the Knesset, is the author of “The Holocaust Is Over: We Must Rise From Its Ashes” and the chairman of Molad, the Center for Renewal of Democracy.
The Real Reason Israel “Mows the Lawn” in Gaza
By Noam Chomsky, TomDispatch, September 9, 2014
On August 26th, Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) both accepted a ceasefire agreement after a 50-day Israeli assault on Gaza that left 2,100 Palestinians dead and vast landscapes of destruction behind. The agreement calls for an end to military action by both Israel and Hamas, as well as an easing of the Israeli siege that has strangled Gaza for many years.
This is, however, just the most recent of a series of ceasefire agreements reached after each of Israel’s periodic escalations of its unremitting assault on Gaza. Throughout this period, the terms of these agreements remain essentially the same. The regular pattern is for Israel, then, to disregard whatever agreement is in place, while Hamas observes it—as Israel has officially recognized—until a sharp increase in Israeli violence elicits a Hamas response, followed by even fiercer brutality. These escalations, which amount to shooting fish in a pond, are called “mowing the lawn” in Israeli parlance. The most recent was more accurately described as “removing the topsoil” by a senior U.S. military officer, appalled by the practices of the self-described “most moral army in the world.”
The first of this series was the Agreement on Movement and Access Between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in November 2005. It called for “a crossing between Gaza and Egypt at Rafah for the export of goods and the transit of people, continuous operation of crossings between Israel and Gaza for the import/export of goods, and the transit of people, reduction of obstacles to movement within the West Bank, bus and truck convoys between the West Bank and Gaza, the building of a seaport in Gaza, [and the] re-opening of the airport in Gaza” that Israeli bombing had demolished.
That agreement was reached shortly after Israel withdrew its settlers and military forces from Gaza. The motive for the disengagement was explained by Dov Weissglass, a confidant of then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was in charge of negotiating and implementing it. “The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process,” Weissglass informed the Israeli press. “And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders, and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission. All with a [U.S.] presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress.” True enough.
“The disengagement is actually formaldehyde,” Weissglass added. “It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.” Israeli hawks also recognized that instead of investing substantial resources in maintaining a few thousand settlers in illegal communities in devastated Gaza, it made more sense to transfer them to illegal subsidized communities in areas of the West Bank that Israel intended to keep.
The disengagement was depicted as a noble effort to pursue peace, but the reality was quite different. Israel never relinquished control of Gaza and is, accordingly, recognized as the occupying power by the United Nations, the U.S., and other states (Israel apart, of course). In their comprehensive history of Israeli settlement in the occupied territories, Israeli scholars Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar describe what actually happened when that country disengaged: the ruined territory was not released “for even a single day from Israel’s military grip or from the price of the occupation that the inhabitants pay every day.” After the disengagement, “Israel left behind scorched earth, devastated services, and people with neither a present nor a future. The settlements were destroyed in an ungenerous move by an unenlightened occupier, which in fact continues to control the territory and kill and harass its inhabitants by means of its formidable military might.”
Operations Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense. Israel soon had a pretext for violating the November Agreement more severely. In January 2006, the Palestinians committed a serious crime. They voted “the wrong way” in carefully monitored free elections, placing the parliament in the hands of Hamas. Israel and the United States immediately imposed harsh sanctions, telling the world very clearly what they mean by “democracy promotion.” Europe, to its shame, went along as well.
The U.S. and Israel soon began planning a military coup to overthrow the unacceptable elected government, a familiar procedure. When Hamas pre-empted the coup in 2007, the siege of Gaza became far more severe, along with regular Israeli military attacks. Voting the wrong way in a free election was bad enough, but preempting a U.S.-planned military coup proved to be an unpardonable offense.
A new ceasefire agreement was reached in June 2008. It again called for opening the border crossings to “allow the transfer of all goods that were banned and restricted to go into Gaza.” Israel formally agreed to this, but immediately announced that it would not abide by the agreement and open the borders until Hamas released Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held by Hamas.
Israel itself has a long history of kidnapping civilians in Lebanon and on the high seas and holding them for lengthy periods without credible charge, sometimes as hostages. Of course, imprisoning civilians on dubious charges, or none, is a regular practice in the territories Israel controls. But the standard western distinction between people and “unpeople” (in Orwell’s useful phrase) renders all this insignificant.
Israel not only maintained the siege in violation of the June 2008 ceasefire agreement but did so with extreme rigor, even preventing the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which cares for the huge number of official refugees in Gaza, from replenishing its stocks.
On November 4th, while the media were focused on the U.S. presidential election, Israeli troops entered Gaza and killed half a dozen Hamas militants. That elicited a Hamas missile response and an exchange of fire. (All the deaths were Palestinian.) In late December, Hamas offered to renew the ceasefire. Israel considered the offer, but rejected it, preferring instead to launch Operation Cast Lead, a three-week incursion of the full power of the Israeli military into the Gaza strip, resulting in shocking atrocities well documented by international and Israeli human rights organizations.
On January 8, 2009, while Cast Lead was in full fury, the U.N. Security Council passed a unanimous resolution (with the U.S. abstaining) calling for “an immediate ceasefire leading to a full Israeli withdrawal, unimpeded provision through Gaza of food, fuel, and medical treatment, and intensified international arrangements to prevent arms and ammunition smuggling.”
A new ceasefire agreement was indeed reached, but the terms, similar to the previous ones, were again never observed and broke down completely with the next major mowing-the-lawn episode in November 2012, Operation Pillar of Defense. What happened in the interim can be illustrated by the casualty figures from January 2012 to the launching of that operation: one Israeli was killed by fire from Gaza while 78 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire.
The first act of Operation Pillar of Defense was the murder of Ahmed Jabari, a high official of the military wing of Hamas. Aluf Benn, editor-in-chief of Israel’s leading newspaper Haaretz, described Jabari as Israel’s “subcontractor” in Gaza, who enforced relative quiet there for more than five years. As always, there was a pretext for the assassination, but the likely reason was provided by Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin. He had been involved in direct negotiations with Jabari for years and reported that, hours before he was assassinated, Jabari “received the draft of a permanent truce agreement with Israel, which included mechanisms for maintaining the ceasefire in the case of a flare-up between Israel and the factions in the Gaza Strip.”
There is a long record of Israeli actions designed to deter the threat of a diplomatic settlement. After this exercise of mowing the lawn, a ceasefire agreement was reached yet again. Repeating the now-standard terms, it called for a cessation of military action by both sides and the effective ending of the siege of Gaza with Israel “opening the crossings and facilitating the movements of people and transfer of goods, and refraining from restricting residents’ free movements and targeting residents in border areas.”
What happened next was reviewed by Nathan Thrall, senior Middle East analyst of the International Crisis Group. Israeli intelligence recognized that Hamas was observing the terms of the ceasefire. “Israel,” Thrall wrote, “therefore saw little incentive in upholding its end of the deal. In the three months following the ceasefire, its forces made regular incursions into Gaza, strafed Palestinian farmers and those collecting scrap and rubble across the border, and fired at boats, preventing fishermen from accessing the majority of Gaza’s waters.” In other words, the siege never ended. “Crossings were repeatedly shut. So-called buffer zones inside Gaza [from which Palestinians are barred, and which include a third or more of the strip’s limited arable land] were reinstated. Imports declined, exports were blocked, and fewer Gazans were given exit permits to Israel and the West Bank.”
Operation Protective Edge. So matters continued until April 2014, when an important event took place. The two major Palestinian groupings, Gaza-based Hamas and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority in the West Bank signed a unity agreement. Hamas made major concessions. The unity government contained none of its members or allies. In substantial measure, as Nathan Thrall observes, Hamas turned over governance of Gaza to the PA. Several thousand PA security forces were sent there and the PA placed its guards at borders and crossings, with no reciprocal positions for Hamas in the West Bank security apparatus. Finally, the unity government accepted the three conditions that Washington and the European Union had long demanded: non-violence, adherence to past agreements, and the recognition of Israel.
Israel was infuriated. Its government declared at once that it would refuse to deal with the unity government and cancelled negotiations. Its fury mounted when the U.S., along with most of the world, signaled support for the unity government.
There are good reasons why Israel opposes the unification of Palestinians. One is that the Hamas-Fatah conflict has provided a useful pretext for refusing to engage in serious negotiations. How can one negotiate with a divided entity? More significantly, for more than 20 years, Israel has been committed to separating Gaza from the West Bank in violation of the Oslo Accords it signed in 1993, which declare Gaza and the West Bank to be an inseparable territorial unity.
A look at a map explains the rationale. Separated from Gaza, any West Bank enclaves left to Palestinians have no access to the outside world. They are contained by two hostile powers, Israel and Jordan, both close U.S. allies—and contrary to illusions, the U.S. is very far from a neutral “honest broker.”
Furthermore, Israel has been systematically taking over the Jordan Valley, driving out Palestinians, establishing settlements, sinking wells, and otherwise ensuring that the region—about one-third of the West Bank, with much of its arable land—will ultimately be integrated into Israel along with the other regions that country is taking over. Hence remaining Palestinian cantons will be completely imprisoned. Unification with Gaza would interfere with these plans, which trace back to the early days of the occupation and have had steady support from the major political blocs, including figures usually portrayed as doves like former president Shimon Peres, who was one of the architects of settlement deep in the West Bank.
As usual, a pretext was needed to move on to the next escalation. Such an occasion arose when three Israeli boys from the settler community in the West Bank were brutally murdered. The Israeli government evidently quickly realized that they were dead, but pretended otherwise, which provided the opportunity to launch a “rescue operation”—actually a rampage primarily targeting Hamas. The Netanyahu government has claimed from the start that it knew Hamas was responsible, but has made no effort to present evidence.
One of Israel’s leading authorities on Hamas, Shlomi Eldar, reported almost at once that the killers very likely came from a dissident clan in Hebron that has long been a thorn in the side of the Hamas leadership. He added, “I’m sure they didn’t get any green light from the leadership of Hamas, they just thought it was the right time to act.”
The Israeli police have since been searching for and arresting members of the clan, still claiming, without evidence, that they are “Hamas terrorists.” On September 2nd, Haaretz reported that, after very intensive interrogations, the Israeli security services concluded the abduction of the teenagers “was carried out by an independent cell” with no known direct links to Hamas.
The 18-day rampage by the Israeli Defense Forces succeeded in undermining the feared unity government. According to Israeli military sources, its soldiers arrested 419 Palestinians, including 335 affiliated with Hamas, and killed six, while searching thousands of locations and confiscating $350,000. Israel also conducted dozens of attacks in Gaza, killing five Hamas members on July 7th.
Hamas finally reacted with its first rockets in 18 months, Israeli officials reported, providing Israel with the pretext to launch Operation Protective Edge on July 8th. The 50-day assault proved the most extreme exercise in mowing the lawn—so far.
Operation [Still to Be Named]. Israel is in a fine position today to reverse its decades-old policy of separating Gaza from the West Bank in violation of its solemn agreements and to observe a major ceasefire agreement for the first time. At least temporarily, the threat of democracy in neighboring Egypt has been diminished, and the Egyptian military dictatorship of General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi is a welcome ally for Israel in maintaining control over Gaza.
The Palestinian unity government, as noted earlier, is placing the U.S.-trained forces of the Palestinian Authority in control of Gaza’s borders, and governance may be shifting into the hands of the PA, which depends on Israel for its survival, as well as for its finances. Israel might feel that its takeover of Palestinian territory in the West Bank has proceeded so far that there is little to fear from some limited form of autonomy for the enclaves that remain to Palestinians.
There is also some truth to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s observation: “Many elements in the region understand today that, in the struggle in which they are threatened, Israel is not an enemy but a partner.” Akiva Eldar, Israel’s leading diplomatic correspondent, adds, however, that “all those ‘many elements in the region’ also understand that there is no brave and comprehensive diplomatic move on the horizon without an agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders and a just, agreed-upon solution to the refugee problem.” That is not on Israel’s agenda, he points out, and is in fact in direct conflict with the 1999 electoral program of the governing Likud coalition, never rescinded, which “flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river.”
As Operation Protective Edge ended, Israel announced its largest appropriation of West Bank land in 30 years, almost 1,000 acres. Israel Radio reported that the takeover was in response to the killing of the three Jewish teenagers by “Hamas militants.” A Palestinian boy was burned to death in retaliation for the murder, but no Israeli land was handed to Palestinians, nor was there any reaction when an Israeli soldier murdered 10-year-old Khalil Anati on a quiet street in a refugee camp near Hebron on August 10th, while the most moral army in the world was smashing Gaza to bits, and then drove away in his jeep as the child bled to death.
Anati was one the 23 Palestinians (including three children) killed by Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank during the Gaza onslaught, according to U.N. statistics, along with more than 2,000 wounded, 38% by live fire. “None of those killed were endangering soldiers’ lives,” Israeli journalist Gideon Levy reported. To none of this is there any reaction, just as there was no reaction while Israel killed, on average, more than two Palestinian children a week for the past 14 years. Unpeople, after all.
It is commonly claimed on all sides that, if the two-state settlement is dead as a result of Israel’s takeover of Palestinian lands, then the outcome will be one state west of the Jordan. Some Palestinians welcome this outcome, anticipating that they can then conduct a civil rights struggle for equal rights on the model of South Africa under apartheid. Many Israeli commentators warn that the resulting “demographic problem” of more Arab than Jewish births and diminishing Jewish immigration will undermine their hope for a “democratic Jewish state.”
But these widespread beliefs are dubious.
The realistic alternative to a two-state settlement is that Israel will continue to carry forward the plans it has been implementing for years, taking over whatever is of value to it in the West Bank, while avoiding Palestinian population concentrations and removing Palestinians from the areas it is integrating into Israel. That should avoid the dreaded “demographic problem.”
The areas being integrated into Israel include a vastly expanded Greater Jerusalem, the area within the illegal “Separation Wall,” corridors cutting through the regions to the East, and will probably also encompass the Jordan Valley. Gaza will likely remain under its usual harsh siege, separated from the West Bank. And the Syrian Golan Heights—like Jerusalem, annexed in violation of Security Council orders—will quietly become part of Greater Israel. In the meantime, West Bank Palestinians will be contained in unviable cantons, with special accommodation for elites in standard neocolonial style.
These basic policies have been underway since the 1967 conquest, following a principle enunciated by then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, one of the Israeli leaders most sympathetic to the Palestinians. He informed his cabinet colleagues that they should tell Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, “We have no solution, you shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wishes may leave, and we will see where this process leads.”
The suggestion was natural within the overriding conception articulated in 1972 by future president Haim Herzog: “I do not deny the Palestinians a place or stand or opinion on every matter… But certainly I am not prepared to consider them as partners in any respect in a land that has been consecrated in the hands of our nation for thousands of years. For the Jews of this land there cannot be any partner.” Dayan also called for Israel’s “permanent rule” (“memshelet keva”) over the occupied territories. When Netanyahu expresses the same stand today, he is not breaking new ground.
Like other states, Israel pleads “security” as justification for its aggressive and violent actions. But knowledgeable Israelis know better. Their recognition of reality was articulated clearly in 1972 by Air Force Commander (and later president) Ezer Weizmann. He explained that there would be no security problem if Israel were to accept the international call to withdraw from the territories it conquered in 1967, but the country would not then be able to “exist according to the scale, spirit, and quality she now embodies.”
For a century, the Zionist colonization of Palestine has proceeded primarily on the pragmatic principle of the quiet establishment of facts on the ground, which the world was to ultimately come to accept. It has been a highly successful policy. There is every reason to expect it to persist as long as the United States provides the necessary military, economic, diplomatic, and ideological support. For those concerned with the rights of the brutalized Palestinians, there can be no higher priority than working to change U.S. policies.
[Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Among his recent books are Hegemony or Survival, Failed States, Power Systems, Occupy, and Hopes and Prospects. His latest book, Masters of Mankind, will be published this week by Harmarket Books, which is also reissuing 12 of his classic books in new editions over the coming year. His work is regularly posted at TomDispatch.com. His website is www.chomsky.info.]