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Europe must stop parroting the American script in the Middle East
21 February 2002
While President George Bush rabbits on about the "axis of evil" and his "crusade" against "terror", a real tragedy is about to interfere with his mythic struggle against America's enemies. It's about a place called Palestine. And a place called Israel.
So idle, so lazy, so pro-Israeli has Washington's policy become towards the Middle East that the President still seems unaware that the real war in the region involves its own ally a colonial Israel and a nationalist struggle run by Israel's own surrogate Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.
President Bush really thinks he is conducting a crusade. True, he was warned not to use the expression Muslims are not terribly keen on the 11th century Christian knights who slaughtered Muslims and Jews by the tens of thousands but he used the word again just five days ago. Speaking of the Canadian soldiers who have rashly joined US troops in Kandahar, Mr Bush announced that "they stand with us in this incredibly important crusade to defend freedom".
Crusade indeed. As Palestinians are learning from their Hizbollah compatriots in Lebanon how to resist an occupying force how to obtain "freedom" Mr Bush continues to give the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a green light to "strike against terror" while at the same time demanding democracy for all Muslim countries in the Middle East, especially Iran and Iraq. But not, of course, for allies like Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
The ability of the Americans to re-write history and to blow-dry the Palestinian-Israeli conflict into clichés is a scandal. The occupied Palestinian territories have now become the "disputed" territories; Jewish colonies on Arab land have become "settlements" and now, according to the BBC and CNN, "neighbourhoods". Israeli death squads are now "elite forces" who carry out "targeted killings". In the same way, the American media have declared victory in Afghanistan.
Another lie. Hamid Karzai's government controls only a few Kabul streets. Afghanistan is a place of anarchy and lawlessness, of rape and brigandage after America's war. One of Mr Karzai's own ministers is murdered at the Bagram air base in an inter-cabinet feud. The British Army, which controls the airport, is so we are told not responsible. And the Saudis allow the culprits to go free. American B-52s are now bombing "enemy soldiers" not enemies of the United States but warring tribesmen who happen to oppose America's choice of leader, Hamid Karzai. It's an old story. We British were fighting "warring tribes" in the 1920s. Now the Americans do the same.
And in the meantime, we must ignore the Palestinian-Israeli war. The Palestinian Intifada uprising, provoked by Ariel Sharon's visit to the Al-Aqsa mosque, is a "strategic error", according to the State Department on Tuesday. An Israeli officer tells his colleagues, according to the Israeli daily newspaper Ha'aretz, that they must "study how the German Army operated in the Warsaw Ghetto". Needless to say the latter report is not published in the United States.
The truth is that the Palestinians have learned from the Hizbollah in Lebanon. You don't have to submit to occupation. You can fight back. With home-made missiles, with crude mines on the roads, with suicide bombers. This is a cruel, ruthless war, the worst year of "terror" in Israel's recent history.
But it is an anti-colonialist war, a struggle against Jewish settlements and I can well see why Professor Arie Eldar, a former Israeli army medical officer, should announce that "we must execute him [Mr Arafat] today".
Yet still the US government parrots whatever Mr Sharon says. Mr Arafat must end "terrorism", his plot to import Iranian arms always supposing it can be conclusively proved a symbol of his plans to destroy Israel. Listening to the US State Department spokesman, you might think that the administration really has accepted the insane Sharon thesis that Mr Arafat is a part of "world terror". In fact, given the supine and cowardly American reporting of the Middle East conflict, you might wonder why the Pentagon wishes to create its absurd "Office of Strategic Influence (OSI)" to peddle truth and lies to the press. US journalists are so gutless so quick to adopt the government line that it is surely unnecessary to plunder the $10bn supplement to the Pentagon budget to sell this kind of trash.
A few days ago, I participated in a live American radio show in which a former State Department official warned that Washington may have to cut its ties with Mr Arafat unless he "curbed terror" he was, of course, faithfully following the Sharon line. I was supposed to intervene with a plea for Mr Arafat. In fact, I suggested that Washington should cut all its connections with Mr Arafat because, given the total failure of US policy in the region, it was time the Europeans took over and acted as intermediaries. After the Israelis had vandalised more than 11million euros worth of Palestinian property supplied by the European Union, why shouldn't we play a role in the Middle East conflict?
Apoplexy reigned. I was not speaking to cue. But why the hell do we Europeans have to speak according to the script? True, we have the occasional nutter the Czech Prime Minister, for example, this week comparing Mr Arafat to Hitler but in the world where Mr Bush tells us, like a Hollywood director, that 2002 will be a "war year", we have a right to speak out. The United States has a right to its own illusions. The latest, from "American intelligence" the heroes who failed to learn of the plot to attack the World Trade Centre is that Afghanistan is threatened by Iran which has sent hundreds of Arab and Afghan fighters to Mazar-i-Sharif to create mayhem. And of course, these diabolical forces were "trained by the Hizbollah in Lebanon".
Needless to say, this rubbish is taken seriously in Washington and in Israel (from whence it came). But we do not have to accept this nonsense. The real battle exists between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Iraq is a side-show. If Washington wants to reverse the priorities, we Europeans can only pity them. But the condemnation of Mr Bush's policy by the French and German foreign ministers and by Nato's leadership is real enough. Let us have done with crusades and the "war on terror". Let's have some justice in the Middle East. For Israelis and Palestinians alike.