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Israel is a state built on the notion that stateless people are often the worlds most persecuted, and thus need protecting from villainous regimes that seek to leverage political power by scapegoating their very existence.
The memory of the Holocaust is woven into the Israeli state’s DNA. Nearly every high school in the country organizes an annual trip for its students to the remnants of the Nazi extermination camps throughout Eastern Europe, while Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, Yad Vashem, implicitly ties Nazi horrors to the creation of the so-called Jewish state itself.
Naturally, this is a country more committed to the principle of “never again” than any other.
Well, that’s what you would think. That’s what you would think if you were totally unfamiliar with Gaza, an open-air prison that has been likened rightly as the equivalent of the Warsaw Ghetto, where 2 million Palestinians are trapped and encircled by three perimeter walls, robotic spot-and-strike machine guns, and an Israeli navy patrolled ocean.
You might also be susceptible to thinking Israel was committed to “never again” if you were totally unfamiliar with the manner in which Israel profits from its armaments industry.
For instance, as more than 1 million stateless Rohingya Muslims flee what has been described as “textbook ethnic cleansing,” Israel is selling arms to the very regime carrying out the genocide. So much for “never again.”
Investigations by human rights groups have found that Israel has sold more than 100 tanks, as well as patrol boats, which have been an instrumental tool used by Myanmar to attack Rohingya fishermen, and light weapons.
In other words, Israel is actively and openly arming an oppressive regime in the midst of its efforts to exterminate the 1.3 million Rohingya Muslim in Myanmar.
And it’s doing so shamelessly. Even declaring it will continue to arm the genocidal Myanmar regime despite the pleas and High Court petitions of Israeli peace activists.
So what is behind Israel’s financial exploitation of genocide?
Certainly, profit and naked opportunism offers a partial explanation. “Historically, whenever there was a US embargo [on a certain country], Israel filled the gap,” Itay Mach, an Israeli human rights lawyer told the Jerusalem Post. “Israel has always been one of the main weapons suppliers to many regimes around the world, including to countries in Africa and Latin America.”
Indeed, Israel’s track record of selling arms to brutal and oppressive regimes is long and distinguished. When the world stood in unison against the apartheid policies of South Africa in the 1980s, Israel continued to ship tanks, guns, and military advisors to the pariah state.
Israel armed dictatorships in Central America, including providing guns to the Nicaraguan dictator Somoza while he was in the midst of killing 500 of his own people each and every day. Its weapons were also used in the Rwanda genocide, and by the government of South Sudan as it carried out crimes against humanity in the midst of a civil war.
But Israel doesn’t need the money from these arms deals, and it certainly doesn’t need the damage these actions impart on its already tarnished reputation.
So what really explains Israel’s willingness to support genocide?
“Israel needs votes at the United Nations,” says Mack.
Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories has now passed its 50th year, and increasingly Israel finds itself ever more isolated by the international community. The boycott movement grows stronger, while condemnation for Israel’s policies of apartheid and colonization grow louder. In short, Israel needs friends to stave off punitive measures brought before the UN against it, and matters not who these friends are and nor what they do.
So while the memory of genocide is very much at the heart of the Israel state’s identity, its arm sales to genocidal regimes serves as a reminder that Israel rarely invokes the Holocaust as a means to reconcile and cope with the past, but more so as a tool to distort the present.
Norman Finkelstein, whose parents survived the Holocaust, says Israel uses the memory of the Nazi led genocide to play the victim even as it carries out atrocities against the Palestinians, war crimes in Lebanon, and support for human rights violators around the world.
So while Israel gives lip service to the promise of “never again,” its policies are more in synch with again and again. A tragedy by any measure.
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