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An Interview with Prof. Haim Bresheeth about his new book, An Army Like No Other: How the Israel Defence Forces Made A Nation, published by Verso, August 2020

book Cover

Q. You have just published a book on the Israeli army, entitled "an army like no other". why such a work now?

A. This is a crucial moment in time, a decisive juncture of the history of the settler-colonial project in Palestine. After more than seven decades of the de-fact Apartheid state, and 53 years of the occupation of all of Mandatory Palestine by the IDF, Zionism is moving to regulate its illegal occupation by imposing a unilateral illegal annexation agreed with President Trump, and imposing a de-Jure militarised Apartheid in the occupied Territories of Palestine.

This will further extend the ability to quickly expel Palestinians from their homes, villages and fields, to expropriate land on an unprecedented scale and without any cost to the occupying regime, and to extend the settlements to the rest of Palestine. Those who say that this is already the case, have a point, of course, but are wrong about one important issue - once the annexation is done and dusted, they will have no legal breaks on the speed and extent of the process of disinheriting and stealing Palestinian land, while the people living on such land, more than four millions, will have no rights of any kind whatsoever. We know from the earlier illegal annexations, of the Golan Heights and the Jerusalem metropolitan area, the biggest of any small city on earth, that other states have not reacted to the annexations in both cases, and thus enabled Israeli crimes by their inaction. The situation was ‘regularised’, despite the fact that these actions were illegal according to international Law, the Geneva Conventions, and the UN Charter and specific Resolutions. These areas have, for all intents and purposes, become ‘normalised’ areas of Israel.

This would be impossible without the IDF and its related institutions. Israel is a nuclear power avoiding all international controls, with between 100 to 280 nuclear devices, a similar number to China’s systems. This in itself is incredible. But this level of nuclear armament is enabling its further crimes; No country will feel easy about taking on Israeli crimes with this type of nuclear arsenal, capable of delivery at distances of thousands of miles. Israel has a clear record of breaking international law through unilateral and unprovoked military actions - in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Tunisia, Libya, Iran, and at other locations in Asia and Africa, as well as air and marine acts of international piracy and murder.

In addition, Israel is providing advanced military and security equipment to more than 130 states, mainly ones with undemocratic, authoritarian regimes. Such armaments and training are, in most cases, used for the denial of human and national rights of minority populations, such as is clearly the case in India and Myanmar, for example. A country which has become a client of the Israeli Military-Industrial-Complex, one of the most advanced on the planet, is totally unlikely to act politically in any way critical of Israeli continuing war crimes. The countries and states thus collaborating with Israel are denying any rights of the indigenous Palestinians in their own country, Palestine, and are guaranteeing the continuation of the colonial occupation, oppression and conflict by supporting the culprit state, Israel.

None of this would be possible or imaginable without the militarised state which Israel has become. The main social establishment, employment cluster, research hub, and formative institution in Israeli society is the IDF and the multitude of additional appendages - industrial, financial, academic, commercial, artistic and cultural - built around the military core to protect and integrate it into every aspect of Israeli society. The IDF has created a web of links - national and international - enabling Israel to act in the illegal manner she has been used to since its inception. Some might think of the IDF as the master Arachnoid perched in the centre of this web-like system of Israeli society; Actually, I would instead argue that the IDF IS Israel. It is the most influential, the most far-reaching, formative and crucial institution of the Apartheid state.

Q. Can we present the Israeli state as a garrison where the civilian and the military are intimately linked?

A. As I said above, one cannot easily draw a line between Israel and the IDF. The two are one and the same. Indeed, I mention in the book that Ben-Gurion, Israel first and most influential leader, spoke in 1948 and for years afterwards, about Israel being an army which has created a state in 1948, but then ‘needed to create a nation’! Ben-Gurion chose the army for that role of shaping a nation out of the incoherent and unrelated masses in and post 1948, because there was no other institution he could chose instead. The army therefor remains the one body in Israeli society, in which all Israeli Jews, and some of its non-Jewish minorities are serving, mixing and cohabiting not only during the mandatory service at 18, but for decades later in the reserves. The IDF is the largest, most wide-ranging social institution of Israel, its most important location of social contact, its most important financial and commercial hub, cultural training, academic research, media production, social advancement, and political and diplomatic training. Israel has no existence as a Zionist Apartheid entity without this central social institution. The book maps the development of this unique role the IDF has played in the short history of the state, how the IDF was created in 1948 as the first and main institution of the new state, and how it in turn was used to build a nation of Jewish Israelis, based on the racist ideology of Zionist settler-colonialism. Israel cannot be said to have a civilian tradition and realm which is independent of the IDF, in the way most other states have. The political class is in hock to the IDF, and could not enact any policy which the IDF is against. This explains the militarism of the Israeli society, and the fact that Israel, in its 72 years has fought and started more wars than any other country on earth.

Q. How would you describe the failure (to date) of the annexation plan wanted by Netanyahu? Can the Israeli army, which nevertheless has considerable firepower, be able to regain control of the entire West Bank?

A. An important part of this failure is due to the Israeli army. The Netanyahu plan, agreed by Trump, is quite unhinged, as it is. It annexes the territory, but leaves the people living on it in limbo, without any legal or civic status - as non-persons. The IDF realises that in comparison to the current situation, when the Palestinian National Authority looks after securitising the Occupied Territories on behalf of Israel, the annexation may well so undermine the PNA that it may collapse, bringing with it a collapse not only of the Oslo Accords, which have already been rescinded, but of the PNA control of the Palestinian security organisations, which are hated and despised by the Palestinian people. Such a development will return the IDF to pre-Oslo scenario, when it had to invest enormous human and material resources in policing the whole of Palestine - this dire situation which had developed in the wake of the First Intifada, pushed Israel to arrange the Oslo Accords, which removed both the duty and the cost from the IDF; The financing of the occupation was done indirectly after the agreement, by the EU and US financing the PNA and its various security organisations, trained and armed by Israel. The IDF does not wish to lose this important easing of its duties and worries greatly about its ability to control the Occupied Territories if such a scenario takes place. They are right to be worried. The attacks on Lebanon in 2006, and on Gaza in 2008/9, 2012 and 2014 have shown the IDF inability to act in a logical and efficient way against well organised guerrilla units. This is not merely a question of fire power - in 2006, Hezbolah had few thousand well-trained and motivated fighters, and the IDF has put against them more fire power than used by both sides in Al Alamein during WW2… You cannot defeat a guerrilla force by firepower, as the US army found out in Vietnam. This is clear to the IDF, and they are angry that Netanyahu did not take their calculations and limitations into account.

As opposed to Netanyahu, who is concerned mainly with electoral calculations of the crudest kind, like his friend Donald Trump, the IDF is calculating from a material base and understands that the political, social and diplomatic fallout in the case of annexation, added to the great difficulty of controlling the whole of Palestine directly again, creates an irresponsible and unnecessary complication from the IDF perspective. They realise this is mere propaganda move for Netanyahu - a leader in danger of spending years in jail, and in need of the support of the extreme right and keep him out of jail with their Knesset votes. The IDF has vetoed the annexation programme as Netanyahu presented it, and hence he had to quietly abandon it for the time being. I deal with the links and relations between IDF and Israeli politics in great detail in the book.

Q. The movement which defends the only democratic perspectives on all historic Palestine is reinforced today by militants who campaigned for a one democratic state solution and are working to reconstitute an independent Palestinian National Council(PNC). How do you appreciate these perspectives?

A. It is greatly regrettable that the PLO has changed its policy of a single, secular democratic state in the whole of Palestine in 1988, moving to support a 2-states solution under US and EU pressure. Israel is the only reason while such a solution never stood a chance - since 1967, Israel has done all that is humanly possible to make such a solution impossible - divided the territories with Jews-only roads, built hundreds of illegal settlements, constructed numerous army camps and hundreds of checkpoints, and to top it all, the Apartheid wall, one of the only features from the Middle East visible from space, This was linked to as regime of extreme lawlessness and oppression, denial of all human rights of any kind, mand a refusal to discuss the two state solution with the Palestinians. This policy was indeed successful - there is no such solution possible, as it was undermined and destroyed by Israel. The recent racist Nation-state Law enacted last year had put the last nail into the coffin of the 2-state solution. By this law, Israel is the only state not of its citizens, but of the ‘Jewish People’ - an ideological artificial construct, as clearly shown by Shlomo Sand and others; Most of the so-called Jewish People does not live in Israel, has no intention to do so, but as a result, has more influence and rights than many notional citizens, such as the two million Palestinians who were told officially that Israel is not their country. Netanyahu and his partners who represent most of the Jewish citizenry, is making sure that this huge group, already with limited rights, is told clearly they are not wanted in Israel.

These are the reasons that more and more people in Palestine, on both sides of the Apartheid wall, have come back to the really democratic option. The support of a single, secular democratic state has never been stronger than it now is. This position has been argued by most anti-Zionists like myself - only those with a fear and suspicion of democracy, and who refuse to give up their colonial privileges and racist outlook, can be against a democratic system; This position reminds us of White opposition to democracy in South Africa until 1993. I hope that it will collapse in the fullness of time, once the BDS movement is as strong and efficient as the Anti-Apartheid movement became by the late 1980s. The only Palestinians who are against this are the ones employed by Israel in securitising the occupation, and they are neither democrats, nor accountable to the Palestinian people, and refuse to call elections as they know they cannot win.

In that sense, freedom and equality in Palestine is freedom and equality for all; It will also offer security, real security, this time, not the unreal kind offered by the brutality of the IDF. Security, peace, democracy, equality - these cherished values are not divisible. You cannot have security and peace for Jews only, of course. Only the end of apartheid and the deconstruction of Zionist institutions and values, and the building of a truly egalitarian and decolonised society in Palestine with bring just peace and real security, not just to Palestinian and Israelis, but, in all probability, to the rest of the states surrounding Israel. Without this, we shall live through many more decades of conflict, with enormous and dangerous war crimes committed again by Israel. All of us have a stake in bringing about the end of Zionist militarised Apartheid, though the active support of the international BDS campaign, and a continued support for Palestinian human and political rights.

From DIALOGUE REVIEW ( www.dialogue-review.com )