Monday, July 21, 2008

The 'Motiveless Malignancy' of Samir Quntar

The corporate media, especially the Murdoch branch, thrives on colonial delusions. Take the recent Israeli-Hezbollah prisoner swap. The overwhelmingly pro-Israel reportage and opinion focused almost exclusively on the figure of the demonic native Samir Quntar.

To adapt Frantz Fanon, Quntar is "insensible to ethics; he represents not only the absence of values, but also the negation of values, and in this sense he is the absolute evil. He is the corrosive element, destroying all that comes near him; he is the deforming element disfiguring all that has to do with beauty or morality; he is the depository of malificent powers, the unconscious and irretrievable instrument of blind forces":

"Kuntar was a member of the Palestinian Liberation Front squad that infiltrated northern Israel by sea on April 22, 1979. In the middle of the night they broke into a residential building, taking Danny Haran and his 4-year old daughter Einat hostage as the rest of the family hid. When they arrived at the seashore, Kuntar made little Einat watch as he shot her father at close range, then murdered her by smashing her head against a rock with his rifle butt. Meanwhile, Haran's wife Smadar, who had hidden in a closet with their 2-year old toddler Yael, accidentally suffocated the child while trying to stifle her cries and preventing Kuntar from finding them. Kuntar bears responsibility for this death as well. This is the child-killer that Hezbollah is greeting with cheers and parades. This is the brutal murderer whose release will be called a victory by extremists throughout the region." (Prisoner deal that had to be made, Dor Shapira, The Australian, 17/7/08)

"Samir Kuntar was sentenced to 3 life terms for killing an Israeli man in front of his 4-year old daughter, then killing the little girl by smashing her skull with his rifle butt." (Editorial, The Australian, 18/7/08)

"Kuntar shot an Israeli man in front of his 4-year old daughter, then killed the little girl by smashing her head with his rifle butt. Kuntar is the kind of disturbed individual who gravitates to violent extremist groups." (Editorial, Sydney Morning Herald, 18/7/08)

"... Samir Kuntar the face of Israeli nightmares for almost 30 years. Kuntar was the type of figure mothers across the country - but especially in the north - had warned their children about. In 1979, he had set out in a boat from Lebanon and rowed ashore in Nahariya, 15 km south of the border, with a gang of Palestinians who had aimed to kidnap, or kill, the first Jews they found. Kuntar was convicted of killing first a policeman, then a father and his 4-year old daughter. The slain man's 2nd daughter, aged 2, was inadvertently smothered by her mother minutes later as the terrified pair hid in an attic... Kuntar, by any measure a child-killer..." (No price too high for Israel to bring home its soldiers, Martin Chulov, The Australian, 19/7/08)

What a beast! - if you automatically believe the Israelis, that is. And believing the Israelis is the way of the corporate media in this country. (The SMH may mock the "monochromatic opinion pages" [Editorial, 19/7/07] of The Australian, but when it comes to their own editorials on the Middle East conflict, they could just as easily have been written by The Australian's foreign editor, Greg (Jerusalem Prize) Sheridan: "Israel's armed forces are its pride, the guarantor of the nation's existence and the symbol of a people's determination never again to be herded to their doom by oppressors." (Snipping at Samson, 18/7/08)

The only deviation from the official story I could find was this from the SMH, lifted from The New York Times: "At his 1980 trial Kuntar said Haran had been killed by Israeli soldiers' bullets, according to the court transcripts published this week by the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot. He testified he had been injured, had passed out and not seen what happened to the child. Witnesses contradict his story." (Many set to welcome 'reviled' prisoner, 17/7/08)

Yediot Aharonat's account (The Kuntar File, Exposed by Nir Gontarz, 14/7/08) seems to have the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs' seal of approval, appearing on its website ( Classified for almost 30 years, says Yediot Aharonat, it was authorized for publication on 13/7/08 at the newspaper's request.

Yediot Aharonot reports that Quntar initially "confessed that he had bludgeoned Einat to death with the butt of his rifle. Later, however, when testifying in court, Kuntar denied the charges... 'I was hit by 5 bullets. Then Haran got to his feet and signaled to the army forces with his hand to stop them from firing. He was hit by the bullets being shot at him by the soldiers... I lost a lot of blood and passed out. I didn't know what else was happening with me until I woke up in the morning and found myself in the military's hands. I didn't hurt the girl at all and I didn't see how she met her death'. However, in court, prosecution witness no. 4 testified that he saw Danny Haran stand up and shout, 'Cease your fire, don't shoot. My little girl is here'. Immediately thereafter he saw Danny shot by Kuntar. Testimony was also given in court by a doctor who ruled that Einat's death had been caused by a direct blow with a blunt instrument, something like a stick or a rifle butt... 'Kuntar went over to Einat Haran and hit her head twice with the butt of his rifle, with the intent of killing her', wrote the judges in their verdict... As a result of the blows, Einat suffered skull fractures and fatal brain damage causing her death. They murdered the hostages - a helpless father and daughter, in cold blood'. They wrote in the sentence, 'By these acts the defendants reached an all-time moral low... an unparalleled satanic act... the punishments we are about to impose on the defendants cannot begin to match the brutality of their actions... "

End of story? Not quite. Before you abandon your critical faculties entirely, consider the following data about what happens to Palestinians when they enter the Kafkaesque world of Israeli 'justice':-

"His name is Muhammad Ali Khalil Hasan... There are 2 charge-sheets against him, one at Nablus and the other at Lydda. But the prosecutor comforted me: 'If he gets a life term in Lydda, that'll be enough for us and we won't put him on trial at Nablus...'

"He is an educated man. The first time he had been arrested was 2 years before. At that time he was badly beaten, so much so that he could hardly move, but he was later released for lack of proof. The second time he was arrested was on 22 July 1971, charged with being the leader of a large Fatah group... His mother was arrested with him. He told me later that his interrogators started beating him in her presence, and told her that if she didn't say everything she knew about her son, they would go on beating him. His poor mother, who really did not know anything, denied any knowledge about her son. She was arrested, held at the Nablus prison, and received a very light sentence at the trial because of her age. She asked me to help her son. I explained to her that it was an almost hopeless case. She understood.

"Muhammad talked about his family and about himself: he was a teacher and the director of an UNRWA school in Nablus. He had brothers in various Arab countries, who in spite of being refugees like him, had acquired academic education. One of his brothers had come to Nablus after the [1967] war and had been killed in the street by Israeli soldiers; this had left a deep impression in Muhammad: 'He was a civilian. He had come to his home and family. Why did they kill him?'

"To his judges in Lydda he said: 'It was not I who came to you in Tel-Aviv, but you who came to me in Nablus. So who should be trying whom?' He was transferred to the Ramleh prison. All those who act proudly during their trial pay the price for it. Whoever dares to express his credo during trial, talking of his homeland, of the Palestinians, of the revolution, gets his due in prison when the sentence is pronounced.

"When I visited him at the Ramleh prison, he told me that he had been put in solitary confinement for 31 days, and for many months his mother had not been allowed to visit him. It is hard for the patriot to learn 'good manners'." (With My Own Eyes: Israel & the Occupied Territories 1967-1973, Felicia Langer, 1975, p 93)

"The Landau Commission [1987] report [into the General Security Services] confirmed what had long been alleged by Palestinian detainees, their Palestinian and Israeli lawyers, and local human rights organizations: that GSS agents had used violent interrogation methods routinely on Palestinian detainees since at least 1971 and that they had routinely lied about such practices when confessions were challenged in court on the grounds that they had been coerced." (Courting Conflict: The Israeli Military Court System in the West Bank & Gaza, Lisa Hajjar, 2005, p 70)

"It is clear that this is not a natural and ordinary court system, but some solution that the military administration found for the purpose of enforcing the occupation regime. The job that is done there is not purely jurisdictional. In fact, the situation in the military court in Gaza does not look like something of this world. Hundreds of families are outside, dozens of prisoners are inside, most very young. The impression is that they have lost faith in the system and do not even try to defend themselves. They confess to everything. The defense counsels, who are in many cases pathetic characters, also accept the situation and act, in fact, as mediators for the purpose of punishment. I found there a total symbiosis between the prosecution, the judges and the lawyers, while the accused are at the side. And everything is taking place in stoic agreement." (Israeli Judge Aryeh Cox, quoted in Courting Conflict, p 102)

"Another advantage prosecutors enjoy is the tendency of judges to favour the testimony of their witnesses over those of the defense... [A] Gazan lawyer told of a soldier who testified in a case against one of his clients, saying he had witnessed the man throwing stones at 9:15 am in Jabalya refugee camp. The client was found guilty. Several days later, the same soldier testified against another client, reporting that he had seen the man throwing stones at 9.30 am (on the same day as the earlier case) in Rafah refugee camp. The lawyer questioned the soldier about how long it would take to get from Jabalya to Rafah, to which the soldier responded that the trip would take about 45'... The lawyer then asked the judge to dismiss this case because the soldier could not possibly have been in both places as he had testified. Rather than acknowledging that the soldier was perjuring himself in at least one of the cases, the judge ordered that the lawyer be thrown out of court because his line of questioning had insulted the soldier." (ibid pp 112-113)

"Israel's military court system for Palestinian suspects in the West Bank produces almost automatic convictions, an Israeli human rights group charged Sunday. The group, Yesh Din, said in a new report that in 2006 more than 99.7% of those accused were convicted, 95% in plea bargains." (Report: Israeli military courts automatically convict Palestinians, Haaretz, 6/1/08)

Whatever the truth in this matter, there was no avoiding the media's exclusive focus on Israeli suffering. The only deaths that matter are Israeli deaths. Quntar, it seems, was just one more monster from the Dark Side, aka Lebanon, where death is a way of life. His sole purpose was to afflict Jews (or, in the words of the Herald editorialist, an "oppressor" bent on herding Jews to their "doom"). The one reference in all the coverage I could find which might suggest that another side to the story were these 2 sentences in the Herald: "In 1978 Kuntar went to the Israel-Lebanon border after Israel invaded southern Lebanon. His stepmother and brother said he returned deeply affected by the deaths he witnessed." (Many set to welcome 'reviled' prisoner, 17/7/08) What was it that so affected Quntar? Consider the following testimonies:-

"It may be pertinent... to mention that provocative as the Palestinians had often been on the Lebanese border, it was Israel that had, as it were, called the shots there since the border became a 'hot' one in 1968. According to the tally of the Lebanese army (before its disintegration in 1976), Israeli violations of Lebanese territory in the period 1968-1974 occurred at the rate of 1.4 violations per day. This increased to 7 violations per day during 1974-75. In the 8 months' period between 1 January 1975 and 21 August 1975 (when the Lebanese army's tally ended), the following Israeli violations were recorded: air space 1,101; territorial waters 215; artillery shellings 2,180; machine-gun firing 303; air and naval raids 40; temporary installation inside Lebanese territory 193; road building 3; land incursions 151. This averages out to 17 violations per day." (Conflict & Violence in Lebanon: Confrontation in the Middle East, Walid Khalidi, 1979, p 124)

"London Guardian correspondent Irene Beeson reports that '150 or more towns and villages in South Lebanon... have been repeatedly savaged by the Israeli armed forces since 1968'. She describes the history of the village of Khiyam, bombed from 1968. By the time Israel invaded 10 years later, only 32 of its 30,000 inhabitants remained. 'They were massacred in cold blood' by the Haddad forces that Israel had established in the south... By October 1977 it was estimated that the total number of refugees from the south (mostly impoverished Shiite Lebanese Muslims) had reached 300,000." (The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel & the Palestinians, Noam Chomsky, 1983, p 191)

"Thousands of people are now on the move northwards to Beirut... displaced by what is simply a campaign of military terror conducted against them by the Israeli army, navy and airforce and its Lebanese Christian allies. People are being bombed, rocketed, shelled and shot all over South Lebanon but their sufferings have been almost entirely ignored... The Israelis in fact seem to have the same attitude towards the Arabs of South Lebanon as Hopalong Cassidy did towards Indians - namely that the only good ones are dead ones. Over the years I have seen dozens of dead women and children killed by Israeli attacks in the south - and very few corpses of young men, let alone young men in the green fatigues that Palestinian militia groups now almost always wear." (Where bombs still fall, Christopher Bourne, New Statesman, 3/8/79)

As Ben Hecht once said, "Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock." But just when you think it couldn't get worse, you get the letter writers from Planet Zion:-

Notwithstanding 197 nameless (as far as the corporate press is concerned) Arab bodies, Howard Hilton of Alexandria, NSW had this to say: "Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the prisoner exchange between Israel and Hezbollah was the condition of the prisoners. The Palestinian prisoners were all alive and healthy, the 2 Israelis were dead. No matter one's view of this conflict, the choice of one's captors would be a no-brainer." (The Australian, 19/7/08)

Under the Orwellian heading "The truth about Kuntar", Dov Midalia of Bondi Junction, NSW thought he'd outdo The Australian in grand guignol: "After finding his way into a sleepy Israeli town, Kuntar killed the policeman, broke into an apartment and took the man and his daughter at gunpoint to a beach. Here, in full view of eyewitnesses, he shot and then drowned the man in front of his little girl, and then picked her up, swung her head against the rocks and smashed her skull in with his rifle-butt." (The Australian, 21/7/08) Apparently the witnesses were so transfixed by Quntar's murderous acrobatics they forgot to shoot.

Of course, while we're in the late 70s, I guess no one out there in mass media land would be interested in the 'motiveless malignancy' of Israeli Lieutenant P, would they? Lt P? Well, he and his mates in the Israeli army invaded south Lebanon in 1978, with the results you see above. He and two corporals, feeling a tad bored, "decided to go on a man-hunting (accepted Israeli army jargon) expedition and brought back 4 villagers including a youth of 16. The 4 were put in separate rooms and their hands and feet were bound with nylon cords. Lieutenant P then tortured them before strangling them with the cord, and the bodies were disposed of in a nearby well." (Furore in Israel over army murders, The Middle East, September 1979)

Initially sentenced to 8 years in the clink, Lt P had his sentence reduced by Israeli Chief of Staff General Raphael Eitan to 2 years.

No comments: