WAR WITHOUT ENDby Michael Hammerschlag
After the latest Israeli attack on Arafat's compound (which killed a guard), Bush again reacted with blinding inappropriateness. He attacked Arafat, as if he had been moving pins around on some giant WW2 wall map to show the next suicide bomber attack. Bush was "disappointed in Arafat"; "he has to stop the terrorism", the phrase he's been parroting for 3 months, also used verbatim on Musharraf- the problems of the world reduced to a single man and prescription. George Bush II doesn't read (despite the John Adams book he lugged around for weeks); he gets his information from the people he talks to and spends time with (like destroying the World Court or canceling EPA limits on coal plant pollution). He just met the thuggish Ariel Sharon for the 6th time, who educated the President again about what a monster Yasser was, but our leader has never met Arafat or reportedly even spoken to him (so hasn't heard the same panning of Sharon). Most of Bush's advisors/mentors: Rice, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Kristol and the brigade of evangelists (who decided that the Israelis are people of the Book, as if Jewish territorial claims of 3000 years ago outweigh, say 1300 years of Moslem domination) subscribe to Sharon's virulent notions.
Arafat has made many terrible mistakes- from supporting Saddam to backing the self-destructive Intifadas to countenancing terrorism since the 70's. Sharon is the iron general who, given the mandate to only clear out the Lebanon border areas in '82, marched into and devastated Tyre, Sidon, and Beirut- killing thousands of innocents to drive out the 5000 PLO. This ended with the massacres of over 1000 at Sabra and Shatilla refuge camps by Israeli Phalangist allies, after which he was disgraced and dismissed. In 1953, he led notorious Unit 101 as it massacred 2 Palestinian villages. 5 decades later, he hasn't changed much, a geriatric fixated on his blood feud with Arafat and the Palestinians. His election as Prime Minister in Feb. 2001, after Arafat walked away from Clinton's desperate push at Camp David, was a disaster- unlike TV tough guy Netanyahu, Sharon really believes Palestinian aspirations can be crushed by military might; he's even sorry "he didn't kill Yasser when he had a chance." After the initial shock and horror, Sharon must have been as thrilled at 9-11 as Churchill was at Pearl Harbor. All things were possible now, as America cranked up to battle the fiends of Al Qaeda- any Israeli violence could be seamlessly rolled into the war on terrorism, the new gold standard of Bush's diplomatic currency, and perhaps this upstart Palestinian Authority could be finally destroyed.
When the huge Israeli incursions into the West Bank started in March, there was unified horror across the world, including America. This was too much- this would definitely devastate any possibility of peace. Nobody said it better than Zbigniew Brzezinski in a PBS News Hour interview:
"..the United States and Israel are increasingly isolated internationally. This could hurt our ability to conduct the war on terrorism and... -- this worries me a great deal -- I think the Palestinians are being turned, largely by Mr. Sharon, into something like the Algerians: people absolutely determined to wage urban guerilla warfare brutally, ruthlessly, at any cost at enormous self-sacrifice. And the Israelis are becoming increasingly like the white supremacist South Africans, viewing the Palestinians as a lower form of life, not hesitating to kill a great many of them and justifying this on the grounds that they are being the objects of terrorism, which is true."
The destruction of Palestinian Authority Police stations because they fail to stop the bombers is ferociously destabilizing and morally bankrupt- like tossing a hand grenade in a police station because they don't catch your sister's rapist. Over 250 Palestinian security forces have been killed by April, according to Israeli human rights org B'tselem. William Buckley, no softie, wrote, "Ariel Sharon's offensive is the stupidest campaign in recent memory. (It's) solved nothing, increased Israel's problems, intensified Palestinian hatred of Israel, estranged many Europeans and Americans, and fanned Islamic hostility... Sharon's policy is scorched earth. Under his command, the Israeli army has engaged not in isolating the infrastructure of the suicide terrorists. What he is engaged in is wanton damage... his artillery and air force haven't been discriminating."
Israeli's, terrified of negative press, attacked them, shooting at dozens of plainly marked reporters, including a CBS news car, killing 1† and wounding 4 more in a few weeks (though Reporters without Borders reports 45 wounded and 1 dead from Oct 2000 to Jan 2002- CPJ full list). Reports were rife of massive senseless vandalism by the Israeli Army, like crushing every car in Bethlehem, or smashing every window and door in a Christian church, or destroying TV and radio studios in Ramallah. In the leveling of the center of Jenin, unknown numbers died to hunt a few dozen terrorists, some reportedly buried in secret southern graves- we'll never know because reporters were excluded for a week. Andy Rooney was scathing: "Israel is our friend, but Sharon is not our friend." After that, the Israeli PR machine rolled into high gear. There were no massacres in Jenin, it was proven, meaning that people weren't machine-gunned against walls- but that was never alleged and not the point- people huddled in houses against the fighting, crushed by armored bulldozers, blasted by helicopter missiles to remove a possible sniper, or bleeding to death as they waited at an Israeli checkpoint... are just as dead. Soon critical reports about the incursions disappeared. The New York Times's long report on an Israeli sniper team, had them, incredibly, carefully rolling up carpets and not touching the tenants' food in a commandeered house (before they.. ah, shot people). This is rebuttal journalism- not false perhaps, but not honest either- maybe they were so scrupulous only for the reporter. I would have liked to read about the experiences of West Bankers who had the Army smash through their walls from house to house because they "didn't want to be exposed to fire on the outside", which happened repeatedly. One thing that was clear from the piece was the suicidal exhaustion of the bulk of Palestinians, who idly dared the snipers to shoot them.
3 to 4 times more Palestinians have been killed than Israelis since the last Intifada started_ (statistics) in Sept 2000, mostly non-militants, but you'd never know that to listen to American media, where criticism of Israel is relentlessly scrubbed, except right after the Incursion. Even in the '82 Lebanon invasion, when the ratio of carnage was 400 odd Israelis to an est. 10-20,000 Lebanese, the stories were about the tragedy of the dead Israeli soldiers. America is getting a hugely filtered version of the MidEast on TV: Israel censors the press in occupied zones, once US editors screen it, it has little semblance to the savage reality- often reduced to a "balanced" tit-for-tat 'relentlessness of tragedy' story. According to FAIR, the word "retaliation" was used on network evening news shows 9 times more to describe Israeli violence than Palestinian violence- making it clear who the original aggressor was, though 70 barely noticed Israeli assassinations make that a 'chicken and egg' question. The Palestinians extremists, always brilliant at self-promotion, then on cue publicly executed suspected collaborators for the cameras. The public in Israel and America are wiser than their leaders; 57% of Israelis and 68% of Americans favor creation of (or talks towards) a Palestinian homeland. A heartbreaking Frontline documentary showed the desperate attempts of negotiators to come to an agreement just before the '01 election that brought the bulldozer to power, as well as the tortuous last decade of hope and horror. "Only 6 more weeks," laments the lead Palestinian negotiator, "and we could have had an agreement."
Israel's right-wing shift may be another byproduct of the Soviet break-up: about a million Soviet Jews fled to Israel since 1990- about 1 out of 4 Israeli Jews are now ex-Sovs (inc. Sharon's parents) - there's another 1.2 million Arab Israelis. Jews were discriminated against in Russia, but also sometimes had positions of power. More universally, Russians of all stripes considered the southern Moslem peoples vastly inferior, and resented or hated them (I spent 2 years in Russia)- one of the factors behind the Chechen War. And like many oppressed people (Puritans), the first thing they wanted to do on their arrival to a new land was find their own oppressees- the Palestinians were ready-made and waiting. The founders of the conservative Chas ('Time' in Russian) party, they are probably how people like Netanyahu (by 1/2% when the Israeli Arabs suicidally boycotted the election) and Sharon were elected to begin with.
What do the Israeli hard-liners think will happen if they manage to kill Arafat, the most moderate Palestinian leader? There is a popular alternative to Arafat: HAMAS, with the highest poll numbers in the West Bank. They are less "corrupt", but they, unlike Arafat, are dedicated to unlimited war on the Israelis and the occupation that has compressed the Palestinians into tighter and tighter cages, unable to move a mile without hours of delay (they openly claim responsibility for most suicide bombings). If he is killed, the West Bank + Gaza will become a seething mass of anarchic hatred, and the suicide bombers will multiply like lemmings- as they apparently have from the brutal incursions. Already the Palestinian Authority has descended into political infighting, the possible goal of the anti-Arafat campaign. Ariel Sharon finally admitted that "this wasn't the time" for a Palestinian state- and it won't be till Alec Baldwin goes clubbing with Tom DeLay- Sharon started the influx of settlers as Minister for Settlements in 1977-82. But that is the only solution - a state of their own without the endless restrictions and humiliations of the occupation- it can happen now or thousands of bodies later... on all sides, including ours. Ironically the new Wall, as totalitarian a solution as it is, may force resolution of the most intractable problem: the 200,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank who've appropriated 9% of the West Bank and would rather fight than switch. If they are physically isolated without Army support, these extremists may leave of their own accord- sparing Israel the nightmare of forcible removal, which would be almost impossible for any government. The proposed gerrymandering of the West Bank into separate cantons to preserve these settlements was what torpedoed the August 2000 peace talks.
Meanwhile Bush still obsesses about his mano-a-mano duel with the odious Saddam‡, and considers Israel and the nuclear standoff on the subcontinent a sideshow, till now totally neglected. Mubarak and Abdullah's talks with Bush have ping-ponged his thinking, but not deepened his understanding. His enormous lack of international knowledge has sadly dovetailed with Americans' similar ignorance, and our justified rage against Moslem terrorists. In not strongly condemning these dangerous military assaults near Arafat and by repeatedly attacking him, Bush has endorsed his guilt and potential assassination. "They're making him a martyr, and they should move into a situation in which there is no danger whatever of his being killed by accident," said Henry Kissinger. "It is not for Israel or for us to define who should be the negotiator for the Arab side." The very idea that sequestered besieged Arafat is the fount of all the violence against Israel is absurd, but unchallenged- and Bush has got it in his head that Yasser needs to be removed, including that demand in his pro forma peace plan. Said Brzezinski, "the argument that he could stop terrorism and bring it to a halt ... is sheer illusion or self-deception." The blind leading the blind, 76% of Americans now think Arafat is main source of the violence. The general attitude in America now is: Israelis good; Palestinians bad- the daily Israeli armored incursions into the West Bank don't even make TV news. The irony of Bush, who received only 47% and 540,000 less votes ... demanding the removal of Arafat, who received 88% in a '96 election and won a Nobel Prize, isn't mentioned. Bush hasn't shown the slightest inclination to effectively pressure Sharon towards any concessions (which might be impossible), heightening the impression of American unfairness.
Israel's terrorists, except for Hezbollah, are NOT America's terrorists... but our enormous and blind tilt towards Israel has gone a long way towards making them that. It could deny us the ability to function as honest brokers in a peace agreement that is impossible without us; it has converted the pool of possible U.S. terrorists from a few thousand Al Qaeda delusional lunatics to millions of manic Muslims worldwide (who obsess, like Jews, over the world's conspiracy against them), and likely extended this so-called War from 15-24 months to 10-15 years. It is notable that not one other country, even England (which has lately been functioning as the 51st state), has been supportive of the Israeli incursions. Bushes reaction was sequentially, "Go, So what, No go, Stop, Stop right now!, Come on, stop, So what". It was so disjointed as to invite contempt. Congress stuck its foot firmly down its throat May 2nd by approving a near unanimous measure of support for Israel's actions in a remarkable display of foreign fealty.
The 1.1 billion Moslems (about the same # as China, our MFN pal), fed by a steady diet of Middle East outrages in their yellow press, are united in their rage over the seeming pummeling of a relatively unarmed people- indeed these suicide bombings, as horrible as they are, are acts of desperate powerless people who think they have nothing to lose. You can't extinguish that with tanks and snipers. One teenage girl who blew herself up was an ambulance EMT, presumably incensed at rescuing wounded Palestinian protestors, only to wait at the 110 checkpoints as they bled to death. The mechanics and reality of the suicide bombers are completely different than megalomaniacally run Al Qaeda- Bin Laden is more a neglected frustrated schoolyard shooter on a massive scale, trying to show his family and country what a big man he can be. Sharon's latest reaction to the latest bombing is to seize Palestinian territory, but that's why there are bombings. After a half century of war, Israelis are suffering a serious case of battle fatigue. They have become many things they were founded to prevent. Israeli military actions were once deft, elegant, skillful; now they are clumsy, pyrrhic, and brutal. Every reprisal is more gasoline on the fire: for every suicide bomber they kill or capture in these incursions, they breed 3 more.
Meanwhile, rather than trying to find any constructive solutions, the diverse conglomeration of US Israel hard-liners devoted themselves to punishing anyone who dares criticize Israeli actions or presents Palestinian points of view*; whether it's Congressmen who get out of line, boycotts against the NY Times, Washington Post, and LA Times or the yanking of $2 million of advertising to WBUR (NPR Boston- producers of Connection, On Point, Here + Now, Car Talk etc.). CAMERA (Com. for Accuracy in ME Reporting in America) has taken a full page NYT ad libeling the NPR's Israel reporter- perhaps more enraged at the NPR's carrying BBC's sometimes critical reports (in up to 6 hours a day of BBC- widely regarded as the most impartial journalism in the world). Attacking reporters' credibility and alleging bias is a devastatingly effective tactic with spineless media conglomerate honchos. This, folks, is not the American way. It is correct and natural after 9-11 to have great sympathy for Jewish victims of crazed suicide bombers, but it would be foolish and tragic to not also have sympathy for innocent Palestinian victims of tanks, helicopters, missiles, and armored bulldozers, because most of this hardware was donated by America at the rate of $8 million/day.
The President made a brilliant move after 9-11 in attending a mosque to assure Moslems that this war wasn't against them, but against the monsters who attacked us- that good will has been immolated by his misplaced, spastic, partisanship for the Israelis. Israel will always be a better friend and ally to us than any Moslem state, but by dint of our hyperpower status, we must be fair and just towards the Palestinians. Without debate or understanding, we have crossed a huge foreign policy divide, and we are now wandering in an uncharted, dangerous, and barren land.
Copyright 2002 Michael Hammerschlagã2002
*For the record, my father escaped Nazi Germany on the last boat out and I once considered flying for the Israeli Air Force. I have no sympathy for terrorists- I was scheduled to fly over Manhattan on 9-11.
† I was shocked to find that Raffaele Ciriello, renowned Italian war photographer + former plastic surgeon, was killed March 13th. He maintained the most impressive photo website I've seen- Postcards from Hell, which has pics from every war zone in the last 10 years, + which I had linked to in Sept., to an interview he did with Massoud in Afghanistan (the "Lion of Panshir" blown up by Al Qaeda by fake TV cameramen on Sept 10). After all the hell-holes he had covered, who would have thought he'd get it from an Israeli tank.
‡ There is the very strange story of Atta meeting with an Iraqi diplomat/spy in Prague; after being repeated for months, at was "disavowed" by the Bushmen, apparently when the attack on Iraq became untenable. Of the hundreds of satellite phone calls Bin Laden made to USA, England, Yemen, Saudi Arabia; there wasn't one to Iraq. Not, mind you, that Saddam doesn't deserve to die slowly for a hundred reasons- he is psychopathic scum- a murderer from the age of 14, but not because the isolated neutralized Saddam is an imminent threat. For GB2, it's because the former CIA asset went rogue in a massive way, and tried to kill his father. After the interminable embargo turned a first world state into a third world disaster and killed maybe 1/2 million, Iraq's reattachment to the world may result in an influx of thousands of embittered anti-American terrorists.
Michael Hammerschlag has written commentaries + articles for Seattle Times, Providence Journal, Honolulu Advertiser, Columbia Journalism Review, MediaChannel, Moscow News, Tribune, and + Guardian; was a TV reporter. His website is http://mikehammer.tripod.com e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Humiliation (Ha'aretz): http://www.haaretzdaily.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=140684&contrassID=2&subContrassID=3&sbSubContrassID=0&listSrc=Y&itemNo=140684
GUARDIAN LINKS- http://www.guardian.co.uk/weblog/special/0,10627,533512,00.html
Reporters shot- http://www.rsf.fr/article.php3?id_article=1486&Valider=Consult Reporters without Borders
Committee to Protect Journalists- http://www.cpj.org/Briefings/2002/Israel_cases.html#331b
Killed totals: http://www.btselem.org
Why Camp David failed (Palestinian view) : http://www.mediamonitors.net/pnt1.html