Lieutenant Paul Mervis was a platoon commander in the British Army’s 2nd Battalion The Rifles. His company serjeant major said of him: “In my twenty years in the Army, I have never met, nor am I likely to meet, a man who cared so much about his men. He fought the corner of every single one of them.”
Paul had a razor sharp intellect and devoured military books in his desire to gain ever greater knowledge of his chosen profession. According to his platoon serjeant: “He had our utmost respect as a platoon commander, but perhaps more so as a genuine friend.”
He had an infectious sense of humour, and was always messing about and joking like one of the lads – one of his soldiers said you could hear his laugh anywhere in the base in Afghanistan – usually at someone else’s expense!
He had time for everyone, and would go out of his way to help anyone he could. He made an enormous effort to get to know as many as possible of the 600 troops in his battalion. His men were always at the forefront of his mind, and although he was their commander, every man felt he could approach him and talk about absolutely everything. Although still a young man, Paul was like a father-figure to his soldiers.
On patrol near Sangin, central Helmand, on the morning of the 12th of June last year both of Paul’s legs were blown off by a Taliban bomb hidden in the roof of a school. His men worked desperately – desperately – to save his life, but he died soon afterwards.
With enormous personal courage, he had been leading his men from the front through an area known to be laced with explosives, putting himself in danger to protect the lives of his men, risking everything to safeguard the local people, including women and children, who had been so horrifically assaulted by the Taliban.
After his death, one of the soldiers under his command, Lance Corporal Joe Ellis, said: “The Merv-dog left us this morning, surrounded by his men. He will always be part of 10 Platoon – tough riflemen who were proud to be led by him.”
Lieutenant Paul Mervis was a Jewish soldier.
He grew up in London, and was educated at King’s College School Wimbledon. He spent a gap year in Israel, studying Hebrew. During his service in Afghanistan, His sister Hannah and brother Jack sent him a provisions parcel with matzah and dried chicken soup so that he could mark the Passover festival while on duty. Paul carried a 1936 issue Soldier’s Siddur which had previously belonged to Sergeant Dave Newman, a Jewish soldier who fought in the Battle of El Alamein in World War II.
It would have been equally possible for Paul to have opted to join the Israeli Defence Forces to realise his soldierly ambitions, as do so many young British Jewish men and women. In fact he did undergo training with the IDF during his gap year before joining the British Army.
But had he joined the IDF, instead of developing into a brave, dedicated military leader concerned for the welfare of his men and taking every conceivable step to protect the civilian population, would Paul Mervis have become a callous, brutal thug, haphazardly dropping white phosphorous into the houses of innocent civilians? Would Paul Mervis have deliberately and without qualms killed women and children? Would Paul Mervis have blown up schools, raked ambulances with machinegun fire?
No. No. No. Because that image of the Israeli Defence Forces is horribly false.
This malevolent portrayal of the Israeli Defence Forces is carefully and systematically planned, cultivated, developed, expanded and relentlessly driven forward. It is the key part of what amounts to nothing less than a pernicious and increasingly dangerous global conspiracy of propaganda aimed at the total delegitimization of the state of Israel. A conspiracy that has so far exceeded in its international scope, anything dreamt of even by that master of propaganda, Dr Josef Goebbels himself, spreading the idea that Israel is so evil that it has no right even to exist, aiming for the point where that idea becomes an acceptable, mainstream argument in our societies.
It is no surprise of course that such a campaign has great popularity in the Arab and the wider Islamic world any more than Goebbels’s twisted propaganda machine succeeded in persuading so many Germans to his murderous cause. But what is truly shocking is the traction that this propaganda has gained in the west among student bodies, teachers, university authorities, academics, think tanks, human rights organizations, aid agencies, parliamentary bodies, and – perhaps most damaging of all, the mass media.
What is the evidence for this?
A favourite vehicle for the anti-Israel conspiracy is the United Nations Human Rights Council. While continuing to neglect the woefully abused rights of 350 million citizens of the Middle East, not to mention the rights of many more people the world over, the Council focuses its attention almost exclusively on Israel. The Report of the UN Fact Finding Mission into the 2009 Gaza Conflict, better known as the Goldstone Report, accused Israeli forces of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, deliberately killing, wounding and terrorising innocent civilians.
That report was endorsed on two occasions by the General Assembly of the United Nations. But only last month, Judge Richard Goldstone retracted the most serious allegations that he had made, saying that Israel did not in fact intentionally kill or wound innocent civilians. He wrote that if he had known at the time of his investigation what he knows now, the Goldstone Report would have been a very different document. Well, I, with my far more limited resources and access, could have told him a great deal of what is now apparently new to him.
In fact, I did tell him at the time of his report, in evidence I gave to the United Nations Human Rights Council in October 2009:
“During its operation in Gaza, the Israeli Defence Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”
I based my opinion on 30 years of experience fighting terrorists and insurgents, of my detailed study of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, of my extensive knowledge and understanding of the Israeli Defence Forces, and of my knowledge of Hamas and its military strategy and tactics. The same strategies and tactics used by insurgents and violent jihadists in Iraq, Afghanistan and many other parts of the world.
Many people have contradicted my assertion about the IDF. But no one has been able to tell me which other army in history has ever done more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone. In fact my assertions about the steps taken in that conflict by the Israeli Defence Forces to avoid civilian deaths are inadvertently borne out by a study published by the United Nations itself. A study that shows that the ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in Gaza was by far the lowest in any asymetric conflict in the history of warfare.
The UN estimate that there has been an average three-to-one ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in such conflicts worldwide. Three civilians for every combatant killed. That is the estimated ratio in Afghanistan: three-to-one. In Iraq, and in Kosovo, it was worse: the ratio is believed to be four-to-one. Anecdotal evidence suggests the ratios were very much higher in Chechnya and Serbia.
In Gaza, it was less than one-to-one.
This extremely low rate of civilian casualties flatly contradicts many of Goldstone’s original allegations, and the bleating insistence of various other human rights groups about Israel’s alleged crimes against humanity.
As with Operation Cast Lead, the tragedy of the Gaza flotilla incident almost exactly one year ago has been widely exploited as part of the conspiracy against Israel. The anti-Israeli activists on board the ship Mavi Marmara set out deliberately to provoke the Israeli boarding party into an attack that would cause bloodshed to be exploited in the world’s media. Which of course is exactly what happened.
The Turkish humanitarian group IHH were prominent among the organizers of the Flotilla, and had purchased the Mavi Marmara for that purpose. As well as being a genuine humanitarian aid group, the IHH is a radical Islamic organization: vehemently anti-Israeli and anti-American, with extensive connections to international jihadist groups including Al Qaida.
According to a French investigative magistrate specialising in terrorism, the IHH played an important role in an Al Qaida plan to carry out a mass-casualty attack at the Los Angeles International Airport on the eve of the millennium. So – not an entirely innocent humanitarian organization attacked without justification by vicious Israeli thugs, as presented in the world media, by governments and by the UN.
The Israeli handling of the Flotilla Incident was far from a model military operation. Indeed Israel’s Turkel Commission criticised a lack of preparedness by the commandos who boarded the Mavi Marmara. But I have seen nothing to suggest that their actions amounted to a breach of international law. Many have stridently proclaimed that the Gaza blockade itself is illegal. But does the government of Israel not have the right – indeed the duty – to protect its citizens against the re-arming of Hamas and other jihadist groups in Gaza, which continue to attack the civilian population of Israel with rockets, and undoubtedly desire to expand their conflict in line with the proclaimed objective of destroying Israel as an entity?
The Royal Navy, the Irish Navy and the French Navy often boarded ships heading towards Ireland in the ’80s and searched them for munitions at a time when Gadaffi’s Libya was arming the IRA with weapons, missiles and explosives that killed hundreds of British soldiers and civilians. But unlike Israel’s blockade – which has an identical purpose – these boardings were never criticised or characterised illegal and still are not.
And I’ll bet that no-one will accuse NATO of acting unlawfully in its naval blockade of Libya which was put into place last week. Again, an operation with an identical purpose to the Gaza maritime blockade – a blockade in which, with supreme irony Turkey – arch condemners of the Gaza blockade – is playing a role.
But why would they be criticised? These were not Israeli operations. To Israel, a completely different standard is unfairly and unrealistically applied by so many, even in the Western world, as a result of the international conspiracy of deligitimisation against Israel.
On her 63rd birthday I do not see an apocalyptic future for the State of Israel. Allah will not bring a new holocaust to the Jewish people at the hands of Islamic believers, according to the evil prophecy of Sheikh Youssef Qaradawi, spiritual guide to the Muslim Brotherhood, who are no doubt on the eve of gaining significant power in Egypt. Israel will not be “wiped off the map”. Her people will not be “driven into the sea” in accordance with the perverted vision of Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad who disposes so many of his nation’s offensive resources with such brutality against the Israeli people.
But a central aim in the conspiracy of delegitimization against Israel is to give validity and justification to attacks on Israel by groups such as Iran’s proxies Hamas and Hizballah, allowing them to strike at Israel with impunity, and encouraging the view that any retaliatory or defensive measures by Israel are by definition disproportionate and should be criminalised. The more traction this objective is allowed to gain, the greater the instability between Israel and her neighbours; the less chance of any lasting peace; the more that blood will be shed on all sides in the region.
The most powerful weapons in this conspiracy are legal, diplomatic and media. Fundamentally we are talking about a war of words. Words that are given unprecedented potency by the internet, by the globalisation of the 21st Century. Words have consequences. Look at the Goldstone Report. I have no doubt that people have died because of the hatred stirred up as a result of the endorsement of false accusations by the Goldstone Report. People who need not have died. What is said and who says it is of course very important.
There is nothing the anti-Israeli conspirators find more appetising than the support for their agenda of Jewish voices. That is why they so relished Judge Goldstone’s specious role. It is the same basis on which the Nazis prized the British Lord Haw-Haw above any of their own broadcasters. And the late, unlamented Usama bin Laden seized so hungrily upon the supportive words of Noam Chomsky.
If this is a war of words, we must also use words to counter attack. I am not suggesting that anybody should give unqualified support for Israel, or that we should not dissent on any specifics of policy or approach – even in the widest sense. I am critical of many of Israel’s actions, as indeed I am critical of many of the actions of our own democratic government here in the UK and of many of our institutions. I recognise too that the IDF is far from perfect. They make mistakes. As do the British Army. Apart from anything else the friction of war ensures it. They certainly killed people in Gaza who should not have died. As did the British Army in Northern Ireland, in Iraq and in Afghanistan. They have bad soldiers, who either through stupidity or malicious intent, disobey orders. As does the British Army. I know as well as anybody about that!
But the conspiracy that I have been discussing does not concern itself with such details as this, or with any individual policy of Israel. It seeks to undermine the right of Israel to exist as an entity. And it is this that we must stand up against, as we would stand up vigorously against any movement that seriously sought to undermine the existence of our own state. In this war of words, all that is necessary for this evil conspiracy of delegitimisation to triumph is for good men to say nothing.
I would like to conclude by adding to the theme of this conference. As a friend of Israel, of course I “believe in Israel”. As a life-long soldier I believe also in the brave, dedicated, and democratically-accountable soldiers of the Israeli Defence Forces, who sacrifice so much for the defence of Israel and for our Western democratic values.