Al-Ahram Weekly Online
4 -10 April 2002
Issue No.580
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Current issue | Previous issue | Site map

Across the lines

Cartoon by Ossama Qassim
Sir- American hypocrisy seems to go not only unchallenged, but also unexamined. Let us take a closer look. The US's absolute and unqualified support of Israel has nothing to do with morality, but rather the tremendous power of the Zionist lobby in America itself. Political ambition demands -- in America -- that you dance to this lobby, or be accused of being "anti-Semitic." What a convenient accusation this has been! It's unassailable, irrefutable and, once leveled, will destroy a political career. Ariel Sharon has not only the Israeli army, but also the Zionist lobby in Washington and thus knows, without a doubt, that he can do to the Palestinian people what the Germans once did to the Jews. I guess the Israelis have learnt from those who once persecuted them.

As for the Palestinians targeting innocent civilians, I'd like to point out that the fire-bombing of Hamburg and Dresden, the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were all deliberately aimed at civilians, in the name of "freedom." But then, history is written by the winners.

I will also aim a barb at the Arab nations: why do you stand by and, on a diplomatic level, accept what is happening? Admittedly Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait (surprise!) and one or two other Arab nations have expressed outrage at what is happening to the Palestinians. But what of the Saudis? How muted they are! Or have they been "bought" -- heart and $oul?

Believe it or not, the Israeli people, themselves, are good people, but they are ruled by an ultra- orthodox rabbinical government that wallows in self-righteous bigotry and cold ruthlessness bordering on the insane. They boast of a democratic system, but if you are an Arab member of the Knesset you are not only a second-class citizen, but a target for racial and religious persecution. Israel is in the grip of Hassidic bigots led by Sharon, who would cheerfully slaughter all those who object to their religious map of Zionist ambition. And they have nuclear weapons. Think about it. I never thought I would write a letter like this to an Arab newspaper, criticising Israel, but a line has been crossed and even people with a name like mine have to stand up and say: "Enough!"

Aaron Kfir

Wake up, world

Sir- Listening to the radio, watching TV and reading the newspapers, something very important dawned on me. After the tragic events of 11 September, the Western leaders, with the help of a powerful public relations apparatus and the media, tried to convince themselves and the rest of the world that this was not a war of civilisations and religions, but only a war between the civilised world and terrorism. The whole world (almost) stood behind the US and showed solidarity with the American people. The so- called international alliance was built and started the fight against Taliban and Al-Qa'eda -- and very rightly so. The removal of the Taliban regime, one of the worst, most inhumane, dictatorial, barbaric regimes ever in the history of mankind, is the greatest victory of the intervention of the US forces, together with the international alliance. The rest of the operation, and the status quo today, are another issue and open to discussion! George W Bush repeated and underlined at every possible occasion that the US and its allies were fighting terrorism, wherever it may be and whoever may be involved in it: Muslims, Christians, Hindus, etc. So far so good! Until the recent irresponsible escalation of violence between Israel and Palestine, this theory seemed to be accepted, or at least tolerated by the majority of the world nations. But then again, ever since, this tolerated acceptance started to shake, rattle and roll. One of the objectives of the 11 September attacks was and is to start the final division between the Muslim and the Christian and Jewish world, and hence initiate an all-out devastating war, where at the end of the day, the Christian world has a lot to lose, in contrast to the Muslim world, which has nothing much to lose, of course in a broader sense.

So, making a long story short, what dawned on me is the knowledge that Ariel Sharon turned out to be the most effective ally and assistant of Osama Bin Laden! Let's not make a mistake: the suicide bomb attacks of various Palestinian extremist groups are terrorist attacks and are to be condemned to the fullest. On the other hand, the aggressive revenge policy applied by Mr Sharon is to be compared with trying to put out a fire by pouring jet- fuel into it. He is pursuing the "eye for an eye" strategy with the vehemence of a psychopath. He is pushing Israel and the rest of the world into a bloody conflict with consequences of unknown dimensions. He is actually delivering proof of Bin Laden's theory of (and wish for) a worldwide clash of civilisations. President Bush, "watching from the side-lines," is not helping anything; on the contrary, this policy is also delivering proof, at least to the Muslim world, that this really is all about a war of civilisations and religions. The world, with all of the religions, races and the rest of it, deserves better. Israel and the Israeli people, whom I love and respect, deserve a leader who is ready to approach the imminent problems with intelligence, pragmatism, tolerance, diplomacy and love for his own people and for the human beings on the opposite side. Ariel Sharon obviously is not this person. If we don't all wake up and use every possible means to put an end to this, Mr Sharon will draw Israel and the rest of the world down the tube. Bin Laden will have been successful. Hey, civilised world, let's wake up and do something!

Mehmet Uelfeti

No debate

Sir- It was interesting to read "The lobby that cried wolf" (Al-Ahram Weekly, 28 March - 3 April). I don't routinely read the European press, but I know that in the United States the media is completely out of control and biased (in favour of Israel) in its reporting of the Palestinian-Israeli issue. I believe that the fear of being labeled an anti-Semite, while certainly not the only cause of this outrage, is at least partly responsible. There is no real debate in the US. Only the Israeli point of view is given substantial air time, and US politicians and media personalities act as if Israel can do no wrong. To criticise Israel is to open yourself up to charges, either open or implied, of anti-Semitism. I think this is a dangerous situation for the region, the United States, and the rest of the world. If you cannot have an open debate, then the people remain uninformed (and the majority of Americans have no idea what is really happening in Palestine) and unable to express an educated opinion to their leaders. This enables the continuation of existing policies, which obviously aren't helping the situation. The press has a responsibility to tell the truth, regardless of pressure from interest groups. And politicians have a responsibility to do what is right, regardless of how much money AIPAC donates to their campaigns.

Paulette Banaszak
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Defiance in death

Sir- A propos suicide bombings by Palestinians, the ultimate punishment one can inflict is to deprive someone of his/her physical existence: to mete out the death penalty. What more can be done with those who already crave death and have nothing to lose? Logically, it would imply that to prevent Palestinians from blowing themselves up, their lives have to be made worth living. If it is not possible for them to lead a respectable life and they find no tangible incentives to live, no coercing mechanism, no intimidating tactics can stop them playing havoc with their own as well as Israeli lives. We have to keep in mind that suicide bombers are not born; no one is genetically programmed or destined to be a terrorist. Suicide bombers are made, and made out of insult and repression. If you don't allow people to live honourably, you cannot stop them from dying defiantly.

What is urgently needed is the reevaluation of the policies that have elevated the religiously proscribed practice of suicide to glorified "martyrdom." In particular, in the case of the Palestinians, there are no avenues for making their ordeal known peacefully (for instance, all efforts in this regard at the UN have always been frustrated by the US) and attempts to obtain redress by diplomatic means have failed completely. This is a virtually certain recipe for extremism. The suicide bombing is normally an end result of sheer despair, the last protest of the perpetrator, the concluding attempt to highlight his/her helplessness.

So shouldn't we ask ourselves whether the suicide bombings by young Palestinians are acts of "barbarism" or an accumulated reaction to the injustices they have been suffering for over half a century? Do we need to look into history books to find out which came first, Palestinian terrorists or the Israeli occupation of Palestine? Must we not contemplate whether the desperate acts of Palestinian suicide bombers are a rejoinder to more than 50 years of suffering and humiliation, or lunatic conduct only meant to display their fanaticism? Should the oppressor/occupier not be held accountable for instigating violence, rather than the oppressed for protesting? Are Israel and Sharon willing to respect the Palestinians' right to live?

Instead of exclusively blaming the Palestinians for everything, it is time for the Israeli authorities to realise that brute force alone can never give them real security. Theoretically, after years of "targeted killings" of Palestinian "terrorists" orchestrated by Israel, the problem should have been solved by now. In reality, after every assassination by Israeli forces there has been intensified violence and even more loss of human lives -- on both sides. Without addressing the underlying reasons of Palestinian "terrorism," I really don't see any hope for anyone in the Middle East. Without undertaking some concrete steps to alleviate the frustration, intense rage and disillusionment that drive young Palestinians to suicide bombing, there are slim chances for viable peace in the Middle East. Making Palestinian lives valuable to them and beneficial for their kith and kin, providing them inducements to live, would be the most effective method of curbing "terrorism." Both sides need to understand that striving to solve this contentious issue militarily will only perpetuate violence in the region.

Waqar Talib

A question or two

Sir- As the Mideast boils over, too much is getting lost in the quagmire. One question I have is: how can Mr Arafat put an end to the suicide bombers, assuming he wants to, when he is locked in a closet? And how can the Israelis compare their "war against terrorism" to the US war against terrorism, when the underlying political reasons are so different? The US, after all, despite its many flaws, at least is not occupying someone else's land. But here is something else I don't understand: why does the entire world call on the US to "get involved," to "do something" to keep Ariel Sharon at bay without also calling on leaders of the Arab world to try and stop the suicide bombers?

Most of the world recognises that the Palestinians have been, to say the least, treated hideously for half a century. But targeting civilians over and over again is only going to erode that international support for the Palestinian cause. If someone in the Arab world can get the suicide squads to unstrap the bombs, even for just a month, and then claim responsibility for the lull in the carnage, the US will have an easier time convincing Israel it has no choice but to back off as well. In other words, you hold back the Palestinians, we'll hold back the Israelis, and maybe we can all work something out.

When you truly hate someone, I suppose it must be a thrill to know that they are suffering, that their heads and arms are being splattered in all directions. But when the killing gets in the way of the ultimate goal, the killing really ought to stop, at least for a while. I just wish someone from the outside could convince the Palestinians to give it a rest. One more thing -- why is it such a shock that the US appears to favor Israel when the entire Arab world can only see the Palestinian view, and can offer nothing but vicious contempt for Jews? Talk about one-sided! At least the US truly sympathises with the Palestinian situation. And if you don't believe that, pay close attention to the US press. You'll find that many if not most Americans think Sharon is absolutely crazy (my guess is that also includes Bush, Cheney and Powell).

Most of us also think the Israelis have no business in those settlements. And most of us scratch our heads wondering why and how a leader like Arafat can in effect be put under arrest! But we also think that no matter how oppressed a society, no matter how hopeless a situation, the answer should not be suicide bombers. As crazy as Sharon is, it's crazier to allow young people to die in the name of a freedom that becomes more elusive every time a suicide attack occurs.

Let's all do our part to keep these enemies from prolonging each other's suffering.

Margaret Harper
Sherborn, Massachusetts

Prayers for Palestine

Sir- As a Catholic Canadian living in America, I have never felt so out of touch with events in the world via US media. I am astonished at how gullible the American people are and believe the bias they are fed. It is obvious to me that the American governments' unconditional support for Israel is because a president cannot get elected in this country without the Jewish vote. They have so much political and media power that it is literally brainwashing the average American, who would never support the oppression of the Palestinian people with US military funds if the media gave the full picture. It's no coincidence, I believe, that there is no movie about Palestinian suffering and oppression. It would be a great non- violent way to educate the average American. Unfortunately, I doubt that Hollywood would allow such a movie to be released. We are constantly reminded of the holocaust in movies; why not show the ongoing apartheid in Palestine?

It will take the American Jewish community to speak up against the Palestinian occupation in order to motivate the US government to stop funding the Israeli army, because the government is motivated by elections. We all realise this is not very likely to happen. Jews may accuse me of anti-Semitism, but I have no prejudice. I just feel the need to speak up against their obvious prejudices against the Palestinians. My heart goes out to the Palestinian people for all their suffering. How much pain they must have gone through to drive them to take their own lives and those of others. I would like to tell them that I and many others do care; we simply don't know how to help. I pray that the rest of the world will do something to increase awareness in America and especially the American Jewish community.

The American government has not supported the Palestinian point of view, so I don't think they will help the peace process. It will take other, more just nations to step in. I am saddened by human history. Will man not learn from the past that oppression is wrong? Only in hindsight does the average person oppose oppression if it is not hurting him personally. We all know that the holocaust and the apartheid in South Africa were wrong. But while they were going on, most people would simply look the other way as long as it didn't hurt them directly. Why can't the Jews, Americans and many others admit that the oppression of the Palestinians is horrible now, while it is happening and could be stopped, not just in hindsight 10 or 20 years from now in a history lesson. My prayers go out to the Palestinian people. I am so sorry for your loss, pain and suffering. God bless you all.

D Danushka

Back to 1947

Sir- After reading article after article by people consumed by the actions of suicidal Palestinians, I have to wonder about their sense of historical events. Do they think that injustices felt by a whole people will not eventually boil to the surface? Please allow me to bring some historical perspective (no doubt heretical to some) back into this discussion. I may be an outsider, but that has its advantages in such an endeavour. At one time, a majority of Americans believed that Israel was a "white-hat" good guy fighting a lonely battle against the amassed might of "no-good black-hat" surrounding Arab countries.

That simple characterisation has changed through the years, as I am sure we've all changed, hopefully growing wiser with age. Israel does not seem to take much notice, but the Arabs have also changed along with the whole world. As an example, Arafat and his people are now capable of writing compelling statements of the Palestinian case for justice (in English no less, and appealing directly to the court of world opinion, published in the New York Times). And he was able to do this despite having to pass through Israeli checkpoints to use the bathroom!

Israel has perhaps fallen victim to "believing its own press." After so many wars fought and won on the battlefield (with the most lethal weaponry that US money could buy) maybe it was natural to begin acting arrogant and condescending to your enemies. But Israel did not perceive or care that in so doing, it was reinforcing and inciting deep passions of injustice. The prevalent attitude is a Rambo-like "if they don't like it, tough!" In my opinion, the Middle East is not a place where you can act like this and not expect lethal consequences.

So when 12-year-olds started to give up their lives and challenge million-dollar tanks, the Israeli army merely gave permission to target and shoot them. Yet Israeli society did not say "wait a minute, this is unprecedented, if these kids had been in the Warsaw ghetto they would have been called martyrs, and maybe these children are acting out of a genuine hatred of what we have done to 'their' people." When young women (givers of life in any culture) started to blow themselves (and Israelis) up, a similarly short-sighted reaction occurred, not a dawning realisation that suicide is a serious act of extreme desperation.

When Ariel Sharon sends the army on midnight destruction missions in the camps "to teach those Palestinians who's boss," does it not occur to Israel that more sympathy for Hamas is created in one such night than Arafat can create in one year? The thousands of Palestinians who were recently rounded up, numbered, blindfolded, and abused "learnt" nothing except fear and hatred of another type of storm-trooper. Has Israel become a Frankenstein that our tax money created?

Israel seems to be convinced that the "black-hat" Arabs all want to wipe it off the map. Wouldn't it therefore make sense to explore what the basic reasons are for Arab hatred instead of just dismissing it as rabid anti-Semitism? Intellectuals, "brain-washed suicidal maniacs," and rock-throwers alike are expressing themselves to Israel: about the brutal manner in which Israel acquired its territory in 1948 prior to declaring itself a state, the bullying way it has since treated a totally subjugated people, about how it has treated its neighbours and "mended its fences," and the arrogance with which it illegally expropriates Arab land today.

The UN Partition Plan of 1947 was the product of the world's best diplomatic brains. It was passed by the General Assembly and called for separate and equal Jewish and Arab states in economic union, and for an international Jerusalem among other provisions. It was understandable that the Arabs and their supporters were violently opposed to this partition of Palestine (a land of which they owned over 90 per cent). To "give" half of it to a people who were natural enemies seemed very ill-advised. By any standard of justice, one would have to ask which country today would give up half its territory (without just compensation) and without going to war. But in 1947, the various forces of history had spoken to both Jew and Arab through the UN plan.

In hindsight, it was not acceptable to either the Arab or the Jewish side, and so began the whole tragedy. The Jews, however, were a worldly people, smarter at politics, more ruthless, and more dedicated to founding their state than were the Arab peasants who owned Palestine. As British forces withdrew, the forces of terror and absolute dedication to the Zionist vision of a Jewish Palestine were the clear winners. In the chaos that transpired it is estimated that over 700,000 Palestinian Arabs were driven off their land. That the Arabs had opposed the Partition Plan, however, did not justify the taking of their land by these Genghis Khan-type methods. Even winning several wars did not give Israel carte blanche to do so, unless we buy into Israel's regressive policy that "to the victor go the spoils." If the Arabs had accepted the plan, it would not have changed the mind set of Israel's militant Zionists "that we are entitled to Palestine as a whole" (as Ben-Gurion put it).

It is clear to the world that certain Zionists still feel entitled to all of Palestine, given the actions of extremist "settlers." Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a proponent of this view. It is also clear that Palestinian suicide attacks (by individual people, not squads or military divisions) have been used as further excuse by Israel to push Arabs off their land and to the brink of liquidation in squalid camps. And so Israel was born, not trailing clouds of glory, but in the smoke of terror and the "displacement" of Arab Palestinians. Many creative explanations have been advanced to justify Israeli actions, but the fact remains that the world's best attempt at solving the situation, the Partition Plan of 1947, was rejected and subverted. The Jewish state was not constituted as envisioned, the Arabs lost most of their land holdings and legal rights instead of attaining statehood, and Jerusalem is now firmly in Israel's control instead of being the international city it should be.

Many eloquent and prescient comments about Palestine were made long ago during the 1947 UN sessions and are there for anyone interested enough to read. The whole world in effect "solved" the Jewish diaspora problem and the Jewish-European refugee problem and their guilt over the holocaust, mainly at the expense of Arab Palestinians. And there is a debt owing. When Arabs refer to "a right of return," they are really saying in a real estate sense that someone owes them just compensation for the value of land and chattel which were taken by force. This is not some Biblical prophecy that they are trying to collect on: Israel will not have real peace until it addresses this perfectly legal grievance. And I wish the Israelis would stop saying that the return of Palestinians will mean the end of Israel because it will dilute its blood; this whole line of reasoning reeks of Nazi racial- purity thinking. Is this the real hidden character of Judaism, that only Jews can live in Israel? Shall we then refer to Israel as being an apartheid democracy?

America is dancing to the tune of the Jewish lobby by demanding only that Arabs cease their "terrorism" and Israel only cease its "incursions" into Arab areas. The Arabs, having been pushed around like cattle in camps for two generations while Israel does nothing but add to their misery, have come to the point where they have nothing left to lose (if Israel would but listen, it would hear this direct statement in the sickening explosions of human flesh). When Israel demands "defensible borders," a firm US and world community should remind Israel that no country on earth has guaranteed security; the only way to attain security in this era of modern weapons is to learn to "get along" with neighbours. The Cold War is a prime example of how apocalypse can be avoided.

I pray it is not too late for Israel and the Arabs to avoid another senseless Great War (and this includes all the saber-rattling going on now regarding Iraq and Iran). Fortunately, the pendulum of historical justice appears to be swinging back to the original intent of the 1947 Partition Plan. In a carefully worded United Nations resolution, the Security Council recently decided to "affirm a vision of a region where two States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognized borders." One can only wonder why it took until now for the Palestinian people to be granted basic fairness, surrounded as they are by a totally wrecked economy and a destroyed infrastructure. They've been "bombed into the stone age" and only now become a recognised entity. As we go forth, hopefully Israel's right to exist will be recognised, a precious Jerusalem will be open to all faiths as it was intended, and the Palestinians will get their own separate state with the same right to exist. But in order for this to happen, (1) the world will have to re- impose its vision of a peaceful Palestine peopled by two ancient Semitic cultures which are of the same soil, and (2) some means of redress must be found to assuage generations of Palestinian suffering. There is no other way to peace that I can see.

John Marker

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