Israeli Weapons Are Being Used To Ethnically Cleanse The Rohingya. This Must Stop.

(Photo: Getty Images)

By Matthew Gindin
September 28, 2017

As hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people are expelled from their homes in Myanmar in one of the most severe examples of ethnic cleansing in recent times, Myanmar has been getting weapons, military training, and skills from a dismaying source: Israel.

I’m not the only one who feels dismay that the Jewish State is allowing the supply of Myanmar with the tools of ethnic cleansing. Yesterday, Eitay Mack, an Israeli human rights lawyer, filed a petition in the Israeli Supreme Court asking for the state to halt the supply of weapons and skills which have been used in the Rakhine State in a brutal campaign of violence against the Rohingya.

On the same day, in an open letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and government ministers, several Israeli rabbis and religious leaders joined their voices to the call to stop the collaboration with the Burmese military. The spiritual leaders wrote that it was unthinkable that the Jewish state, “built on the vision of the prophets of Israel,” would assist this regime. “As rabbis, female religious leaders, educators and communal leaders who go in the ways of the Torah, ‘whose ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peaceful,’ we cannot be silent when the State of Israel assists those in the world who destroy in their destruction,” wrote the leaders.

Rakhine is home to an estimated 1.1 million Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority that has suffered from more than forty years of persecution. This most recent escalation of state violence against the Rohingya began when attacks were launched on dozens of state security stations by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), killing twelve people. The resultant government “cleansing operation” has sent nearly 400,00 Rohingya fleeing Myanmar into neighboring Bangladesh since August 25.

Escaping refugees report extra-judicial killings, gang rape, infanticide and the throwing of elderly people into burning buildings to their death. Satellite imagery, showing widespread destruction of Rohingya villages, backs up their claims. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has called recent events “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Maung Zarni, a Burmese Buddhist human rights activist with the European Center For The Study of Extremism, active for years in defense of the Rohingya, goes even further. “This is genocide,” he told me.

Ethnic cleansing requires tools. The arms and training from Israel comes from companies like TAR Ideal Concepts, which bills itself as a “police and military equipment one-stop shop” and has been supplying tanks, weapons, and training to the Burmese special forces.

Israel is complicit because the Israeli government determines what countries Israeli firms can sell to; their customers are directly determined by the state, says Mack. Indeed, the State’s defense in court has not been that Israeli firms can sell to whoever they want, but rather, the question of who Israelis sell arms to is a matter of foreign policy and should not be determined by civil courts.

But Israel also has a long history of friendship with Myanmar, dating back to before the coup that put the military in power for more than fifty years. Burma was the first Asian country to recognize Israel, and in 1961, Ben-Gurion, prior to a diplomatic visit to the young Union of Burma, said, “In all of Asia, there is no more friendly nation to Israel than Burma.” Then head of state U Nu was the first foreign prime minister to visit Israel on a state trip.

Both Israel and Burma gained independence from Britain in 1948, and both faced severe conflict between the majority and minority ethnicities in their young nations. When General Ne Win led a coup against U Nu’s government in 1962, he replaced it with a hardline Burmese nationalist government that has since systematically disempowered and oppressed non-Burmese minorities.

Through it all, Israel has retained close diplomatic and military ties with Burma (now renamed Myanmar), notwithstanding Myanmar’s widely known human rights abuses, says Mack.

Perhaps the most egregious example of Israeli friendship with the Burmese military came in 2015, when Min Aung Hlaing, the Burmese Military Chief of Staff, visited Israel. Though Israel had not announced the tour and was quiet about its details, Mack says Hlaing was eager to share them on his Burmese-English Facebook page, where he detailed his tour of IDF bases and his sampling of Israeli military goodies. Hlaing, who is widely seen as a war criminal, is regarded as the chief architect of the violent campaign against Rohingya civilians in Oct 2016 which sent 74,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh and led to 100,000 homeless Rohingya ending up in displaced persons camps in Rakhine State.

Israel is not alone in shamelessly befriending Hlaing. He made several similar visits to India, the UK, and Europe. But Jews know from ethnic cleansing; the Jewish State was founded as a response to it. As such, Israel should know better.

Hlaing’s visit is not the only recent example of Israeli cozying up to the Burmese military. Mack’s petition also points out that the head of the defense exports branch of the Israeli Defense Ministry, Brig. Gen. Mishel Ben Baruch, visited Myanmar in June 2016 and met with heads of military regime there.

Mack points out that prior to the various petitions he has launched before the court on this and related issues, including historic Freedom of Information requests, there was no legal oversight of Israeli security exports. Last year, when Mack put forward a petition dealing with Israeli collaboration with Rwanda and Bosnia during their ethnic cleansing campaigns, the state asked for a gag order on the trial and the judge agreed. That hasn’t happened this time.

“The Israeli public is watching,” Mack told me. “I do not see how the Supreme Court can support aiding and abetting crimes against humanity. By doing the right thing now they have a chance not to repeat history.”

There is no moral justification for Israel to allow the sale of arms to states implicated in human rights abuses and crimes against humanity. Until Myanmar has truly undergone radical reform (and signs suggest that’s a long way away), Israeli collaboration with Myanmar must stop.

Update: Since this piece was published, the Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs and the State Attorney have successfully filed an urgent request to retroactively classify the entire case of Israeli sales of arms and training to Myanmar. As a result of this “retro-active classification” the court’s decision on Israeli arms and training being supplied to Myanmar will in fact not be made public.

Matthew Gindin is a journalist, educator and freelance writer located in Vancouver, BC.


"Classic Genocide of Rohingyas Underway, Suu Kyi - Military On Same Page": Burmese Dissident Maung Zarni


By Seema Mustafa
September 28, 2017

NEW DELHI/LONDON: “I think we are seeing nothing short of a classic genocide in Burma, long drawn out unlike the Nazi gas chambers and execution camps---but genocide nevertheless. How can it be anything else when everyone in the country, from the military to the civilian government to business to civil society, is fully engaged in a hate campaign against the Rohingyas,” said Dr. Maung Zarni, exiled dissident and scholar from Myanmar, in a hard hitting interview to The Citizen.

Based in London, Zarni has worked with Aung San Suu Kyi during her more democratic years, and has recently set up a Peoples Tribunal on the Rohingya crisis in the UK. He was a founder of the Free Burma Coalition, and has been with the London School of Economics and Harvard University, Himself a Buddhist, he is a strong voice on human rights and does not mince his words as this interview demonstrates.

Zarni said, that the hatred, racism and fear of the Rohingya’s was the result of a direct campaign of systematic hatred coming out of Military Intellgence. He said the process began in 1964 after the Burmese military introduced changes in the citizenship rules whereby Rohingya’s recognised as a legal ethnic group were deprived of this status altogether.

“Policies became increasingly oppressive, children were blacklisted in mothers womb and born stateless. Others if born in Burma can have Burmese citizenship, but not the Rohingyas who get no birth certificate and no death certificate. It is utterly immaterial to the Burmese state whether the Rohingyas live or die.”

Zarni said since 1966 there has been unrecognised, unofficial apartheid in Arakan. At the top is the military, the local administration was provide by Rakhine Budhists with the Rohingyas second class citizens subject to state directed terror. The first exodus was in 1978, he said, when 280000 Rohingyas fled the country. Most went to Bangladesh that was under a military ruler at the time. The pretext used this time was surprise illegal migration checks, used by the Burmese Army to brutalise the Rohingyas and create terror.

39 years ago “it was an information blackhole” and very few details of the horror faced by them was in the public domain. Even so Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Indonesia raised a storm of protest. And Bangladesh, Zarni said, that had received the refugees told Burma to take them, or else they would have no choice but to “train them to fight against you.”This worked and 220000 refugees returned to Burma, with the remaining absorbed in Cox Bazaar.

Aung San Suu Kyi came out in their support in 1990-91, Zarin recalled with Rohingyas backing her every step of the way. She visited the Rakhine towns, set up party offices and took their support for her fight for democratic reforms. The Burmese Army set up a Border Affairs Unit of inter intelligence agencies Zarni said, and stepped up its offensive against the Rohingyas. According to him this was prompted by the overall strategy to free Burma of the Muslims, and this Unit created security zones for the Rohingyas to restrict their movements. And also to ensure that the community did not grow in numbers, the Unit restricted marriages by introducing the system of permits that took two or more years to be issued, and made them sign documents that they would not have more than two children.

This Zarni pointed out “ took the policy of Burma on the Rohingyas into genocidal territory. Attempts to control a communitys growth rate is considered broadly genocidal.” Under this Unit there was extortion,rape, executions of Rohingyas with the oppression growing steadily. In 2012-2015 250000 Rohingyas fled Burma. By this time the propaganda of extremism had been started, with the community being branded terrorists, jihadists.

The current attack by the Burmese military has reached new levels altogether. Zarni does not believe their propaganda. And wondered at the news being released recently of bodies of 29 Hindus being found in a mass grave. He said this came after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s endorsement to Suu Kyi, adding, “I do not believe it at all, not at all.” Thousands have been killed, where are their bodies, their mass graves, he asked.

The information has come from the Burmese military and government and not an independent source. If this is so then let the government bring in the United Nations to investigate these mass graves and determine whether indeed this crime has taken place at all, he said.

Zarni said that Suu Kyi was on a different page from the military on the issue of democratic reforms. But on the Rohingyas and a Muslim free Burma she has no differences with the junta at all. They are both on the same page, he said. He said that currently there are 10,000 military cadets coming out of Burma’s military schools. “Every single military cadet is assigned to engage in anti Muslim, anti Rohingya campaigns on the social media, for two hours each” he added saying that the ordinary citizen thus could not even be expected to have any resistance against this as he or she would not know the truth from the lie.

The Burmese military has used different narratives to wipe out the Rohingyas, Zarni said. Now it is the security narrative, of how the community poses a threat to national security, being extremist and jihadist under the discourse of Burma’s war on terrorism.

The scholar pointed out that the silver lining in all this is that several powerful western countries are completely against the narrative being put out by Myanmar, and have not accepted a word of it. In fact several of the lies spun by the Burmese military have been nailed, he added. However, South Asia has bit into the narrative as was visible when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi went and stood beside Suu Kyi despite strong world criticism, Zarni pointed out.

“What is really scary is the Burmese military’s attempt to expand the circle of enemies against the Rohingyas,” Zarni said.

Asked about Suu Kyi’s support for the military position he said this comes from her own Buddhist credentials no, sharing the sense of entitlement that comes with being the majority community. And her willingness to accept the military narrative without question. Zarni pointed out that currently she has surrounded herself with former military officers, and Rakhine nationalists. According to him the Nobel Laureate is disdainful of international NGOs and of western governments “and uses them as a bargaining chip”.

According to Zarni, while Suu Kyi is on the same page as the Army on Burma for Buddhists, she could accept the Rohingyas as legal residents. The military will not, and wants to exterminate them, he said.

Suu Kyi, Zarni insisted, had a blind spot for her father and part of her support for the military now came from this. She admitted in an interview that she had wanted to be a soldier, and Zarni is of the view that much of her gestures towards the Burmese military comes from this ‘psychological’ admiration for her father who died when she was just two years old.

About the future of Burma now, Zarni is categorical. He said that while Nazi Germany destroyed the Jews, it also destroyed German society. “In my view we are going down the same road in history as Nazi Germany, we have joined the ranks of genocidal countries that have never had happy endings,” he said.

Burmese society, Zarni said, had lost its collective conscience, its moral compassion, and is engaged in mocking the Rohingyas, hating them, ridiculing them despite the horrific images. “So while we are destroying the Rohingays, our society is also being destroyed by its hate,” he added.

“We are on a very dangerous, slippery slope here, we in Burma and you in India, I give Burma a maximum of ten years before it starts sliding downhill towards destruction,” Dr Maung Zarni concluded.

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