Likening Palestinians to Blades of Grass

From the Archive: As Israel’s Operation Protective Edge winds down with more than 1,700 Gazans – mostly civilians – dead, Israeli leaders may feel they’ve finished a recurring chore, “mowing the grass” to eliminate troublesome Palestinians, as ex-CIA analyst Elizabeth Murray observed in 2012.

By Elizabeth Murray (Originally published on Nov. 16, 2012)

In early 2010, one of Washington DC’s most prestigious think tanks was holding a seminar on the Middle East which included a discussion of Israel’s December 2008-January 2009 assault on Gaza which killed about 1,300 Palestinians. When the death toll was mentioned, one expert on the panel smiled enigmatically and intoned: “It’s unfortunate, but every once in a while you have to mow the lawn.”

The remark, which likened killing hundreds of men, women and children – many of them noncombatants – with trimming the grass, was greeted with a light tittering around the room, which was filled with some of Washington’s most elite, highly educated and well-paid Middle East experts. Not a single one objected to the panelist’s black humor.

An Israeli strike caused a huge explosion in a residential area in Gaza during the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2008-2009. (Photo credit: Al Jazeera)

An Israeli strike caused a huge explosion in a residential area in Gaza during the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2008-2009. (Photo credit: Al Jazeera)

On the contrary, several analysts and experts were grinning at the reference to Israel’s strategy of mounting periodic attacks on the Palestinians to cull each new generation of militants. Such is the nonchalance of Washington’s policy-advising cognoscenti toward the ongoing and systematic genocide of Gaza’s oppressed population.

The cavalier language is symptomatic of the policymaking community’s increasingly pervasive tendency to disregard and disparage the humanity of Palestinian victims of Israeli attacks, which are often waged by Israel’s high-tech drones and U.S.-supplied F-16’s. There is also a tendency to ignore or downplay Israeli war crimes.

This dangerously sociopathic attitude is prevalent whether cloaked in a cheap joke or reflected in the failure by the State Department spokesman to condemn or even acknowledge the criminality of Israel’s aerial and sea-based bombardment of Palestinian civilians. (Editor: One of the rare exceptions to that rule came on Sunday when the Obama administration – after weeks of defending Israel’s slaughter of more than 1,700 Gazans – finally voiced outrage over Israel’s “disgraceful” shelling of a United Nations school where children and other civilians had been given refuge.)

After the 2012 attacks, the State Department’s statement justified Israel’s bombardment of Gaza as Israel’s “right to defend itself” against the launching of relatively primitive rockets, mostly by radical groups, from inside Gaza. Yet, while the State Department urged both sides to avoid civilian casualties, nowhere was there mention of the Palestinians’ right to defend themselves from various attacks by Israel. Apparently only one side is granted that privilege, according to the U.S. statement. (Editor: A similar stance was taken in 2014.)

The relegation of Palestinians to a less-than-human status by Israel and the United States – especially the inhabitants of Gaza who are perpetually locked into an open-air prison and subject to an Israeli blockade – was noted by MIT professor Noam Chomsky after a visit to Gaza to attend an academic conference. In comments broadcast by “Democracy Now” on Nov. 14, 2012, Chomsky remarked:

“It’s kind of amazing … and inspiring to see people managing somehow to survive … as essentially caged animals subject to constant, random, sadistic punishment – only to humiliate them – no pretext. They [the Palestinians] would like to have dignified lives, but the standard Israeli position is that they shouldn’t raise their heads.”

Instead of a serious effort to reach a peace acceptable to both sides, Israel seems to prefer a state of endless conflict with the Palestinians. After all, the prospect of peace might require the Israeli government to treat their neighbors as equals and withdraw from territory occupied since 1967.

So, rather than making meaningful concessions, some Israeli hardliners simply promote the idea of periodically “mowing the grass,” i.e. killing the latest generation of Palestinian militants who sprout up from the injustice all around them. Perhaps that is why Israel broke an informal ceasefire (during the 2012 offensive) by assassinating Hamas military commander Ahmed Jabari in an air strike.

Jabari was killed hours after he received the draft of a permanent truce agreement with Israel, which included mechanisms for maintaining the ceasefire, according to Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, who helped mediate talks between Israel and Hamas for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Jabari was a key Palestinian interlocutor in the release of Shalit, and an important intermediary for truce negotiations with groups such as the PFLP and Islamic Jihad. Such a relatively moderate figure may have been perceived as a threat to Israeli leaders who prefer to portray Hamas as rejectionist toward any peace.

These developments and the U.S. response to them are a chilling omen for those who had hoped for a change in U.S. Middle East policy after the 2012 U.S. presidential election – namely, increased pressure on Israel to halt its cruel oppression of Palestinians and obey international law.

There is still a window of opportunity for the U.S. to shift its approach before the violence spirals out of control. One also can hope that President Barack Obama is working the phones to rein in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But Obama’s eerie and reprehensible silence during the Israeli assault on Gaza in December 2008-January 2009 must not be repeated.

Elizabeth Murray served as Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East in the National Intelligence Council before retiring after a 27-year career in the U.S. government, where she specialized in Middle Eastern political and media analysis. She is a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

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5 comments on “Likening Palestinians to Blades of Grass

  1. Joe Tedesky on said:

    What’s with us that someone has to always be in the barrel? First the Native American Indian, along with the Black African slaves, while throwing American Japanese into interment camps, will we ever learn. Now, we find ourselves supporting a brutal regime in Israel, who is ‘mowing the lawn ever once in awhile’. There is no honor in any of this. Yet, we continue to give Israel military aid.

    Don’t give me the usual talking points of how Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. Maybe, if we would quit waging our wars all over the Middle East, the Middle East would be fine. Then there is the talking point of how Hamas uses human shields. Does Hamas have a military base? I think not. How would any group who is forced to live in such a place as Gaza react over time.

    I think it is long overdue for America to evaluate our relationship with the Zionist of Israel. If we really are the land of the free, then let’s prove it. Stop with all these military operations that just create another generation of haters. The blowback that is coming will be long remembered. Instead we should put our money where our mouths are, and do the right things. We can be better than this!

  2. borat on said:

    heaven forbid you should bring arab terrorism over the decades and the initial effort to annihilate the Jewish state early after its founding.

    • Joe Tedesky on said:

      You say Jewish State as though it always was only Jewish. I can appreciate your support, but don’t come around here with any of your history rewrites. Other than that I always like reading your post. J.T.

      • borat on said:

        No rewrite, Israel was founded and created by the UN after the Nazi holocaust as a Jewish state period.

    • John J on said:

      Borat, Why don’t you read “The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited” by Benny Morris, then “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” by Ilan Pappe, then “Israel and Palestine” by Avi Shlaim, then broaden out to “Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict” by Norman Finkelstein. To add a little salt try “Dangerous Liaison the Inside Story of the US-Israeli Covert Relationship” by Andrew and Leslie Cockburn, “The Sampson Option” by Seymour Hersh and “The Israeli Connection – Who Israel Arms and Why” by Bejamin Beit-Hallahmi.
      In 1948 Israel was never out manned or out gunned. The removal of the indigenous Palestinians was well organized by the fact Israel had gathered intelligence on all the Palestinian villages and who could be a problem. The removal of Palestinians was somewhat organized. Several massacres and neighbourhood threats (yes terrorism) started the ball rolling. And your own people in the era WWII lobbied to prevent European Jews from coming to NA and other Western countries in an attempt to funnel them into Palestine.
      I don’t know where you live, But I wonder how you would respond if strange people en-masse knocked on your door and told you this is their home from 2,000 years ago, MOVE.