And if They Used Israeli Weapons

The public is not allowed to know which products can be marketed without a license and to whom, but they are also sold to countries that perpetrate horrific acts with them

Published in "Haaretz": https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/2022-10-06/ty-article-opinion/.premium/and-if-they-used-israeli-weapons/00000183-aa22-d5eb-a3af-fab6ca870000

The raid on MonTaing Pin began at 6 A.M. About 150 soldiers entered the village from the west, firing in all directions. Many of the residents fled, others found shelter in the local monastery. What happened afterwards was described by witnesses who told their story to Radio Free Asia (RFA). The soldiers arrived at the monastery, found the villagers who had hidden there and sat them in rows, men and women separately. The women were taken to one of the rooms and locked inside. The men were tied up and their valuables taken. Later they were stripped, interrogated and tortured by knife stabbings and beatings.

In the evening they were locked into one of the rooms without food, water or access to a toilet. The next morning 10 of them were forced to carry looted property to the riverbank. When they finished the work, they were executed with machetes. Their bodies were burned. In the afternoon most of the remaining men were taken to the village, with their hands bound and their faces covered. They were executed with guns and machetes, and their bodies were dragged into the houses.

Some were cut into three or four parts before the houses were torched. Afterwards the soldiers left. A few hours later, the few captives who had remained in the monastery and survived returned to the village and found puddles of blood outside the ruins of the houses, and body parts, some of which were eaten by feral dogs.

The village where the massacre was perpetrated in May is located in the Sagaing district of northern Myanmar – a region identified with opponents of the junta that ousted the semi-civilian government of Aung San Su Chi in February 2021 and took over the country. There is evidence that recently in this region there were acts of slaughter and torching of additional villages.

This is a tumultuous period in Myanmar because many forces are fighting one another, while harming the civilian population. The conflict in the state of Rakhine in the west of the country continues even after it had already turned into genocide against the members of the Rohingya minority. Protesters against the regime are killed in demonstrations in the major cities, and at the same time there are clashes with organizations of ethnic minorities. We know nothing about many of the incidents due to restrictions on freedom of the press.

The reason why the massacre in Mon Taing Pin reached the media is interesting and unusual: One of the soldiers involved in it forgot or lost his cell phone. The phone was found, and its contents sent to RFA, a Washington based American funded media organization.

The photos and film clips discovered on the phone are a smoking gun. There is a picture of men who are seated, tied up, in a row outside the monastery. Another picture, dated a day later, shows the bodies of five of those men, with three soldiers standing over them: One is smoking a cigarette, a second is staring at the bodies and holding a gun, the third is photographing the bodies with his cell phone. Other pictures show a young man, on his knees, his hands bound, being tortured by knife stabbings. And there is also a film clip of the owner of the phone and two of his friends boasting about the executions they carried out. Their faces and the symbols and numbers of the army units are exposed.

This is horrifying evidence for anyone to absorb, but there is an aspect that is likely to be of particular concern to Israeli readers. It is known that in the past, Israel had extensive ties with the regime in Myanmar, and weapons, cyber systems, vehicles and drones of Israeli manufacture were and are used by the army. These are not only historical connections, but also business deals dating from the middle of the previous decade, when the hands of the Myanmar army were deeply mired in the blood of the genocide of the Rohingya.

As far as is known, Israeli defense exports to Myanmar ended about five years ago, but is it possible that Israeli weapons are still being used by the Myanmar army? Is it possible that the horrors in the village of Mon Taing Pin also have an Israeli connection? As a journalist who writes about genocide, ethnic cleansing and human rights violations, I asked the RFA for the original photos and film clips, and when I received them I was pleased to discover than they contain no evidence of weapons and equipment originating in Israel. Presumably, this is reason for a sigh of relief.

But only presumably. Israel is one of the world’s largest arms exporters. In spite of that, it did not ratify the Arms Trade Treaty – a multilateral pact that regulates the international trade in conventional arms – as did most Western democracies. Israel is also refraining from setting regulations to monitor the activity of intermediaries, especially former senior defense establishment officials, in military transactions and arms sales.

In addition, a few weeks ago the Defense Ministry’s Defense Export Control Agency published a proposal for new regulations that ease the sale of unclassified products. The list of unclassified products that can be sold without a license was expanded, as was the list of countries to which they can be sold. At the same time, the public is not permitted to know precisely which products can be sold, or to which countries. Yet it is known that crimes and horrific acts that are likely to be committed are not a consideration in determining the list of countries, and the government can in any case bypass the list by means of secret diplomatic agreements.

It is true that no evidence of Israeli weapons was found in Mon Taing Pin, but in the broader picture Israeli citizens have no way of knowing that their country, or companies operating in their country, are not involved in the marketing, sale or mediation in transactions with countries that massacre civilians, like Myanmar; countries where there is ethnic cleansing, like Ethiopia or South Sudan; or dictatorships that keep ethnic minorities in concentration camps and attack their neighbors, like Russia and China.

Transparency and adding an ethical dimension to considerations in this field would not harm Israeli security and are unrelated to political parties. Yanshuf, an NGO that does important work in this area, recently turned to all the parties to get their official position on the issue. Only one of them, Meretz, bothered to reply. And even if someone lost money from tougher regulation, all of Israeli society would benefit from the removal of its contribution to the major atrocities of our time, and enjoy an international reputation as the nation of startups, drip agriculture and Copaxone, rather that as a nation of “masters of war.”

While You Focus on Ukraine, This Genocide Goes On

The brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine shocked the world and rightly so. But what about Ethiopia, China, Yemen, Syria and Myanmar, countries in which atrocities which are no less serious are being committed? Why is the world not holding its breath, opening its heart and swiftly reacting for them too?

Published in "Haaretz": https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-while-you-focus-about-ukraine-the-genocide-in-myanmar-goes-on-1.10703741

STOCKHOLM — Last week U.S. Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, declared that the United States recognizes that the Myanmar military has committed genocide and crimes against humanity against the country’s Rohingya minority. The murder of thousands and deportation of hundreds of thousands was mostly committed in 2016-2017, but according to Blinken, the troubling situation in Myanmar continues to this day, after the military seized power in 2021. Blinken spoke of “widespread and systematic” attacks and atrocities committed with the clear intent to annihilate.

This is the eighth case since the Holocaust in which the United States recognizes a genocide. The previous were the Armenian genocide during World War I, the murder of Kurds in Iraq, the genocides in Bosnia, in Rwanda, and in Darfur, the murder of the Yazidis and other minorities by the Islamic State, and the genocide in Xinjiang, China, against Uyghurs and other minorities. In his speech, Blinken described the process preceding the murders – discrimination, stripping of rights and citizenship, incitement, imprisonment and deportation. He further went on to detail some of the atrocities – rape, executions, destruction of villages, children burned alive or trampled underfoot by soldiers, and boats sunk with families aboard.

Despite the importance of the U.S. declaration, it is not a necessarily a call for sanctions, nor does it come with an automatic international alignment against the regime in Myanmar. All this stands in sharp contrast to the U.S. attitude toward Russia following its attack on Ukraine. It may be hard to admit, but Ukraine gets a lot more attention than countries where the suffering, devastation and death toll are no smaller. Those imprisoned and tortured in camps in Xinjiang, the ethnic groups slaughtering each other in Ethiopia, and those doing the same even closer to Israel’s border – none of these affairs have made the world hold its breath, open its heart, or change its agenda.

Why, then, does the Myanmar genocide fail to produce headlines and reactions as strong as those sparked by the brutal invasion of Ukraine? It’s not because it it's over. The regime in Myanmar continues to oppress its people and imprison its critics. It is also hard to explain the indifference by geo-political considerations. While the effects of the Ukraine war could be disastrous, what’s happening in Myanmar isn’t a small, localized conflict either. The Russians sell weapons to the regime. The Chinese, who do so as well, share a border with Myanmar, and have massive investments there. Not far from the border, in Bangladesh, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya populate the world’s largest refugee camp. International institutions, organizations, and courts are also involved in the conflict. Myanmar may not have nuclear weapons, but it is a larger and more populous country than Ukraine, located in a strategic area between India and China. One would have to be blind or disingenuous not to recognize the simple truth behind the world’s silence and indifference.

After all, it's quite natural. The Rohingya, the Uighurs, and the Tigrayans are not like us. They are distant, alien, and most of us know very little about them. Unlike the Ukrainian refugees on the news, they carry colorful wheeled suitcases with them, not rag bundles. They sit en-route to the border in Mazdas and Toyotas, not on donkeys or in rickety boats. They’re the ones wearing H&M clothes, not those manufacturing them. They are the people for whom Hungary and Poland throw their gates open, not those for whom these countries erect barbed-wire fences and station armed soldiers. It’s very human, and therefore we can, and should, admit: The Ukrainians resemble Europeans, and that's at least one reason that Europeans have opened their hearts. Nor is moral preaching called for. Human empathy is differential. Our emotional connection to our family, our tribe, and our people is an integral part of our civilization. It is a survival tool and a source of beauty and cultural richness, not just an excuse for indifference.

Yet there is also no need to make an ideology of it. We are allowed, are able, and should do for those who are different from us, for those who are foreign and distant, and this is no mere slogan. Here are two examples:

Blinken chose to recognize the genocide in Myanmar at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, of all places, because denial is an integral part of any genocide. The purpose of the denial is not just concealment of the crime, but also denial of the very existence of the annihilated group. That is why recognizing a genocide is not only necessary to rescue or punishment – it is an act of redemption and of struggle against the murderers.

-The book “The Voice of Thy Brother’s Blood” (Dror Lanefesh Press), an anthology of poetry by victims of genocide, including those in Myanmar, was recently published in Hebrew. The book, which also includes “The Poem of the Murdered Jewish People” by Yitzhak Katzenelson, shows that even when our sympathy is turned first to Jews and Israelis, we can also hear the poetry of others, teach it in schools, read it at ceremonies, and thus aid the victims and fight the murderers by, in a way, bringing the dead back to existence.

No less important: Decent people must ask themselves what part their country plays in the misfortune of others. In the case of Israel and Myanmar, the answer is clear. The Myanmar military is equipped, among others, by Israeli weapons, which it continued purchasing until at least 2018. Because it's so obvious, it may be unnecessary to mention the tragic aspect of the Jewish state exporting arms that assist in a genocide. But it is, however, necessary to fight  this phenomenon. Israeli NGO "YANSHUF – Arms Exports: Transparency and Oversight" does just that, promoting legislation against weapons exports to homicidal regimes. Israel is one of the world’s largest weapons exporters. It is not a signatory on the Arms Trade Treaty, and it sells weapons to murderous regimes as well. We should support YANSHUF’s struggle to promote legislation on the subject and by this help prevent the next genocide.