Amira Hass is a Jewish journalist who has worked since 1993 as Ha’aretz’ correspondent in the Palestinian Occupied Territories.
Born in Jerusalem in 1956, Hass has been with Haaretz since 1989. She has lived in the West Bank city of Ramallah since 1997.
Prior to 1997, Hass was posted to Gaza for three years, an assignment which led her to write her book, published in 2000, Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege, essential reading for understanding the impact of Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
One comment on her book may still serve an accurate description of Amira Hass’ current Ha’aretz columns, all written from within the Palestinian Occupied Territories:
Full of testimonies and stories, facts and impressions, Drinking the Sea at Gaza makes an urgent claim on our humanity. Beautiful, haunting, and profound, it will stand with the great works of wartime reportage.
Hass wrote extensively about Israel’s latest invasion of Gaza. She is widely acclaimed and just as widely disdained within Israel, for her honest reporting on her country’s actions in the occupied territories.
One recent column is entitled, The Genius of Israeli Evil: It Poses as Concern and Compassion.
Hass begins this particular column with the flat statement that “Israeli evil is not at all banal”, evoking the memory of the emotional debate over Hannah Arendt’s 2006 book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, in which Arendt described Eichmann’s evil as banal conduct derived from personal ignorance and indifference to, the suffering of the millions of Jews who died under his command.
For Amira Hass, there is nothing banal about Israel’s current evil. This is evil performed not from ignorance but under the pretense of “concern and compassion”.
Abundant in inventions and innovations as well as in age-old techniques, [the evil Israel embodies] trickles like water and bursts out from hidden places. But unlike floods, it does not reach an end, and it affects some while being invisible, undetectable and non-existent for others. The genius of Israeli evil is in its ability to disguise itself as compassion and concern.
Hass has written extensively, and movingly, about the impact of Israel’s occupation on the Palestinian village of Deir el-Hatab, which had a population of 223 in 1922. The most recent census, in 2007, reported, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, that Deir al-Hatab had a population of 2,213 inhabitants.
Those residents had a peaceful existence, one that depended largely on farming, a rural existence where families lived close to their land. The peace was shattered, however, with the arrival of religious extremist Jewish settlers who began looking for land to settle in the early 1970s.
Their conduct was illegal under international law and, depending on the whims of the Israeli government of the moment, also illegal under Israeli law.
As illegal settlements spread, the settlers’ political power grew, which caused the Israeli government to shift on what was legal.
The settlers seeking a permanent home near the Palestinian city of Nablus, were part of the Gush Emunim “Bloc [of the] faithful”, an Israeli messianic, right-wing activist movement committed to establishing Jewish settlements in what they call Samaria and Judea.
The current location of Elon Moreh (a contemporary picture is shown above) was established in February 1980, with the help of the Israeli government which declared the land Elon Moreh desired, to be “state land”, “essential” for Israeli security.
The name Elon Moreh, is derived from the name of Abraham’s altar location (Genesis 12: 6). The settlement and its outposts dominate, Hass writes, “about half of [Deir el-Hatab’s] 12,000 dunams (some 3,000 acres)”.
Because the heavily armed and hostile Jewish settlers are living so close to the village of Deir el-Hatab, the Israeli army enforces strict access to farming areas, which includes many dunams of ancient olive trees.
Hass writes in Ha’aretz:
Because of the proximity to the settlement, the village’s farmers are not permitted to cultivate about 6,000 dunams of their land, nor are they permitted to walk there, graze flocks, rotate crops, plow, weed, watch birds or transmit their family’s accumulated knowledge to the young generation. They may go there only two or three days a year to pick the olives that Allah made to sprout with his rain and that unknown Israelis did not manage to steal.
It is this militarily-enforced control over the daily lives of the Palestinian residents of Deir el-Hatib, a control driven by the religious zeal of the Orthodox Jews of the “Bloc of the Faithful”, that Hass identifies as the embodiment of evil in Israel’s occupation.
Put everything together and you get another innovative technique from the producers of Israeli evil: How to murder human beings without using an explosive or a knife, how to empty them from within, how to steal from workers of the land the thing they hold most dear – not only their livelihood and their children’s future, but also the deeply-rooted relationship of love they have with their homeland.
Hass offers additional examples of Israel’s “innovative techniques” of repression, and then concludes her column with these searing words:
To keep our blood pressure down, we have not touched on the evil embodied in the killing of children by Israeli troops, the evil of Israel’s collective disregard of the inevitable wrath that builds up with the burial of each bullet-riddled child, the evil that exists in the evasive wording imposed by so-called objective traditions of news reporting.
Killing? Israeli soldiers shoot at Palestinian children because that is the job of soldiers who are sent to protect, with self-sacrifice, the colonialist enterprise and the benefits that it provides to the master nation. Is it any wonder that so few Israelis are emigrating abroad?
President Barack Obama has responded to worldwide criticism of Israel’s excessive military assault on Gaza’s civilian population this summer. His words of condemnation were more forceful than those he used during the assault..
Certainly Obama’s criticism of Israel was considerably stronger than the message from Obama’s top military leader, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey. (right)
The General “went against the Obama administration’s own line when he said Thursday that the Israeli military acted ‘responsibly’ and went to ‘extraordinary lengths’ to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties during Operation Protective Edge last summer”.
Dempsey made his remarks at a Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs conference in New York on Thursday of this week..
In response to General Dempsey, a State Department spokesperson, Jen Psaki, said Friday during a daily press briefing in Washington “that the administration still believes ‘Israel could have done more to prevent civilian casualties’ during the offensive on the Gaza Strip.
Her remarks were in response, according to Mondoweiss, to a question that referenced both the general’s declaration and the State Department’s condemnation of Israel’s August 3 shelling of a United Nations Relief and Works Agency school in Rafah.
Psaki issued a statement after that attack, saying that the US was ‘appalled.’ She described it as ‘disgraceful. Psaki added:
“The coordinates of the school, like all UN facilities in Gaza, have been repeatedly communicated to the Israeli Defense Forces, The suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians. We call for a full and prompt investigation of this incident as well as the recent shelling of other UNRWA schools.”
Israel’s right wing Jerusalem-based news outlet, Times of Israel, praised Dempsey for his remarks, reporting that in his speech General Dempsey praised Israel, who, according to the general, ‘went to “extraordinary lengths’ to prevent civilian casualties during this summer’s conflict in the Gaza Strip.”
The Times of Israel also reported (via Reuters), that Dempsey defended Israel by saying, “In this kind of conflict, where you are held to a standard that your enemy is not held to, you’re going to be criticized for civilian casualties.”
The general is following the Israeli script to the letter, which is not a surprise. But as the politicians kept telling us during the just-completed national election, “We can do better.”
President Obama has two years left to start “doing better”. He could start by finding a new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff with a better understanding of evil.
The header at the top is from a larger picture on line, of Palestinian-made crafts at the The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) Online Store, a source for seasonal gift shopping.
The picture at top of this posting is by AP and appeared in Ha’aretz. It shows the Jewish settlement Elon Moreh in the foreground, with the Palestinian city of Nablus in the distance. The Palestinian village of Deir el-Hatab, is not shown.