Israel has a checkered record when it comes to official commissions of inquiry. Some have done fine, impartial and professional work, such as the Bejski Commission after the bank share controversies of the early 1980′s; the Agranat Commission that investigated the debacles at the start of the 1973 Yom Kippur War; and even the Shamgar Commission report on the Rabin assassination.
Others, however, have been set up for dubious and cheap headline-seeking reasons (the silly commissions that investigated the ‘kidnaping’ of Yemenite children) or for outright purposes of political persecution (i.e. the Kahan Commission that ‘charged’ Ariel Sharon with indirect responsibility for the Sabra and Shatilla massacre).
The Or Commission Report on the deaths of thirteen Israeli Arab rioters in the fall of 2000 was released last week and instantly became the talk of the town. Like most of the other commissions of inquiry, it was headed by a Supreme Court justice. Its report, at first glance, looks balanced, with assignment of blame divided among the police, the Labor Party leadership and the Arab politicians and leaders inflaming the mobs.
But there is more to it than that, and the Or Commission represents some unique dangers and threats to Israeli society.
As background to all this, let us recall what actually happened in the fall of 2000. After Ehud Barak presented Yasir Arafat with Israel’s program for self-annihilation at Camp David II – which the Palestinian Authority chairman rejected because it would destroy Israel too slowly – Arafat ordered his hordes to attack Jews and murder them everywhere. The riots began around Rosh Hashanah, and while they have since been labeled the ‘al-Aqsa Intifada,’ they initially were called the High Holiday Pogroms in these corners.
Making a mockery of the ‘peace process,’ the PLO openly declared war on the Jews. It was at this point that Israel’s own Arabs and their leaders decided the time was ripe to show their solidarity with the enemies of their country by joining the pogroms and demonstrating their opposition to Israel’s existence.
And pogroms these were, in all ways. Jews were attacked and beaten everywhere. The entire Galilee and other parts of Israel became scenes reminiscent of the late 1940′s, when Arab gangs blocked roads, laid siege to Jewish towns, beat Jewish families randomly, grabbed Jews out of their cars, and stoned every Jew they could find.
Jan Bechor was murdered when his car was stoned by Israeli Arabs south of Haifa, in Gissar A-Zarka, on the main road TA-Haifa on his way home These were not Palestinians living across the Green Line, but second- and third-generation Israeli Arabs, with their European standards of living, health and education levels, and their Scandinavian-style social welfare benefits. They were egged on by Arab fascist Knesset members openly calling for violence and murder; Arab Knesset members protected by their parliamentary immunity and the dual Israeli legal system that never prosecutes Arabs or leftists calling for violence, only right-wing Jews.
Throughout the country, small teams of Israeli police were confronted by hordes of violent Arabs hurling Molotov cocktails and rocks and sometimes shooting guns. Armchair commentators today insist that the police should have displayed infinite tolerance and patience at the time, but such people have never been confronted by a mob of thousands of screaming pogromchiks. Police in any other country would have responded to such provocation by mowing down the rioters, which is not only what the Allied troops did with rioting Iraqis, but what the Swedish police did with the ‘anti-globalization’ hooligans.
While also using riot control gas and rubber bullets, the Israeli police in several cases felt their or others’ lives were in danger and fired on their attackers. In all, thirteen Arabs were killed by police fire in a week. Most were rioters, some may have been bystanders.
Whether or not the police over-reacted, as the Or Commission insists, the killings effectively stopped the uprising of the Israeli Arabs cold. In some places, especially in Nazareth, Jewish hooligans also started beating Arabs, and that also may have chilled the Arab hordes. (I have long argued that if a couple of dozen Palestinians had been killed when they launched the first intifada in the late 1980′s, there would have been no subsequent intifada, and the violence would have ended many years ago. Israel would be an oasis of tranquility today. Thousands of lives would have been spared.)
At the time of the pogroms, few in Israel suggested that the police had been out of line in suppressing the rioters with force, and even fewer from among those Jews who had been hiding in their basements in the Galilee, fearing imminent lynching. The police chiefs in charge insisted they had tried less lethal means first, and ordered the live fire by snipers only after a Jewish woman had been lynched and there was a clear and present danger of more lynchings. Galilee Jews, some with Labor Party pedigrees, declared boycotts of local Arab storekeepers who had spoken out in favor of the violence and lynching.
The police commissioner/minister at the time was Shlomo Ben-Ami, one of the vintage Oslo peaceniks, a Moroccan-born professor of law who had been on the Labor Party Left long before Oslo. He had been present at Camp David, urging ever greater displays of appeasement from Barak.
The violence ended not long after the shooting of the thirteen. While Israeli Arab fascist politicians screamed for vengeance and demanded an accounting of the deaths, the bulk of Israelis considered the pogrom leaders and their followers to be the ones who needed to be held accountable.
Little developed until election time. Ehud Barak, his popularity in tatters among Jewish Israelis, tried to formulate a strategy for getting Israel’s Arabs to vote for him. That way, even if the Jews voted against him, he could stay in office.
Barak was under pressure from his party to issue an apology to the Arabs but dragged his feet on that, knowing how such an action would affect the Jewish voters in the Galilee, who had been under siege from marauding Arabs. Just before the voting, Barak did issue an apology, but it had little effect. Wags suggested at the time that Barak would have bettered his chances if he’d issued an apology to the Israeli public for the police having killed only thirteen rioters.
Barak also set up a commission of inquiry, figuring it would tongue-lash the cops but leave the Labor politicians out of things. After all, commissions of inquiry were normally Labor Party devices to persecute Likudniks. Aside from Justice Or, the commission included an Arab judge and the Laborite, left-leaning professor and ex-diplomat Shimon Shamir. No doubt Barak figured this composition would nudge the commission leftward, ensuring it did not attack him and his party’s doves.
The commission did indeed conclude that the police had over-reacted in quelling the rioters, recalling the Kahan commission’s conclusions that reasonable people should have known up front what would happen if the Lebanese Phalangists entered Sabra and Shatilla in 1982, and never mind that no reasonable people at the time foresaw what would happen.
But the commission also blasted Barak and Ben-Ami in its report. The ultra-dove leftists of the Labor Party found that their creation had turned on them.
The Or Commission is just the latest example of the deluded attempts by Israel to try to gain some public-relations brownie points through self-prosecution, self-investigation, self-abasement, and self-criticism. Israeli politicians think the world will gallop over and congratulate Israel for airing its dirty laundry and using democratic tools to fix what is broken in its own house.
Please, reader, stop laughing.
The Or Commission will convince the Jew-baiting media of the world of the pureness of Israel’s intentions and alert conscience about as effectively as the Kahan Commission did. What is much more frightening, the Or Report can be seen as the latest escalation of the Oslo Camp against Israel’s ability to defend itself. The Beilinized Osloids have already largely disarmed Israel, stripping away military budgets and arms procurements, and have handcuffed the military and prohibited it from responding to provocations from Hizbullah and the PLO.
And now they are attacking the police. Sharon’s minister of justice is the loud-mouthed Judaism-hating Tommy Lapid from Shinui, and he has indicated that he plans to try to prosecute the police chiefs. (As it turns out, nothing in the Or Commission Report can be submitted as evidence, meaning that a trial would necessitate years of taxpayer-financed investigation and preparation.)
When next the Israeli Arabs launch pogroms, how many cops will call in sick rather than risk being indicted and prosecuted by some new commission?
I do not rule out the possibility that Israeli police may sometimes behave with brutality (such as when arresting right-wing ‘settlers’), and may sometimes even be trigger-happy. While I am reluctant to second-guess the Or Commission conclusions regarding specific cases of alleged trigger-happiness, I am also reluctant to second-guess decisions from the front lines by cops and soldiers under attack by masses of violent Arabs. Israel has far too much crowd-control restraint and passivity and far too little suppression of Arab violence with massive force. Israeli restraint is the petrol that fuels the bonfire of Arab violence.
Even if misguided, the police shootings of the thirteen Israeli Arabs effectively stopped the pogroms cold. It did not end all Israeli Arab belligerence, of course, and growing numbers of radicalized Israeli Arabs are joining the ranks of the suicide bombers and other terrorist murderers. More Oslo ‘success.’
Among the features of the Or Commission Report, by far the silliest and potentially most harmful is its ‘finding’ that Israeli Arabs took to the streets in pogroms against Jews in the fallof 2000 because Israeli Arabs are the ‘victims’ of discrimination.
The ‘evidence’ behind this remarkable ‘finding’ is nothing more than the lay opinions and biases of the commission members. Not a single one of these members has any background at all in social science, and none of them heard the tiniest piece of social science research on the question as part of commission hearings before coming to this conclusion.
The commissioners based this ‘finding’ on their hunch that it stands to reason. Why else would the Arabs attack their Jewish fellow citizens? But standing to reason gets you nowhere when trying to understand the Middle East. Why else, indeed.
The pseudo-scientific findings of the Or Commission will now no doubt be bandied about all over the globe. Here we have the spectacle of an official commission of inquiry chaired by a Supreme Court justice ‘concluding’ that Israel is a racist and discriminatory country.
Now the ‘finding’ is just the latest manifestation of the Islamofascist Socioeconomic Big Lie, the myth that when Arabs engage in mass murder and terrorism and violence, it must be because they have legitimate grievances and have been victims of injustice. Stands to reason – why else would they get so ‘desperate’?
Moreover, such a view takes off from the axiomatic left-wing starting point that holds poverty and underprivilege as the causes of Arab violence. So if the Islamic Nazis hate the United States, America must examine itself to see what sins and crimes it did to anger them.
The media never get tired of the myth. Never mind that Bin Laden and his cronies are filthy rich Saudis. Never mind that the evidence is overwhelming that the richer a Palestinian is, the more violent and fanatic he is likely to be. Palestinian suicide bombers are invariably college students and professionals. There has never been an undernourished suicide bomber. The most fanatical Islamofascists are the graduate students at Western universities. Palestinian fanaticism and violence grew consistently after 1967 even as Palestinian consumption, health, and schooling standards rocketed upwards.
The Islamofascist Socioeconomic Big Lie is first cousin to the claim that if Arabs engage in terror, it must be because their cause is just. They must have suffered from such injustices to make them so desperate, right? Why else, after all, would they blow up buses of children? It must be that they have no other option.
Now imagine how just the cause of the Germans must have been in the 1940′s for them to engage in so much violence. Heck, imagine how desperate and oppressed and victimized they must have been!
There is not the slightest shred of real evidence that Israeli Arabs are victims of discrimination. Yes they earn less on average and are less educated than Israeli Jews. But if that proves ‘discrimination,’ then the United States is a horrid racist country that discriminates against people who are neither Asians nor Jews. Jews are better educated and on average earn more than non-Jews in every country on earth with a Jewish population, including those with rigid anti-Jewish discrimination and quotas.
The main forms of institutional discrimination in Israel these days are all anti-Jewish discrimination. Only Jews (and Druse) get conscripted into the army. Colleges and civil service agencies all discriminate against Jews. Jews are the only ones prosecuted for ‘incitement.’
The Or Commission has given a massive injection of vitamins to pseudo-scientific superstition.
Steven Plaut is a professor at Haifa University. His book ‘The Scout’ is available at Amazon.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.