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Israel and America vs the Rest of the World
5 April 2002
So, George W. Bush has, finally, told Ariel Sharon, as has the United Nations Security Council twice to pull his tanks, armoured vehicles, guns and soldiers out of the West Bank and ease the suffocating siege of Palestinians which left them with little food or water or electricity, their injured unattended in demolished homes, their ambulances shot at and their dead lying in the streets or buried in a hospital parking lot.
What took the president so long? Domestic politics, said some commentators. But Bush was really caught in a trap of his own making. While waging war on terrorism, he let the far right in Israel and his own administration hijack his post-Sept. 11 agenda to brand the Palestinian struggle as terrorist, even more so than it already had been.
Despicable suicide bombings made their job easier. But the mantra against Palestinian terrorism masks a distorted narrative riddled with double standards, one that sets America and Israel apart from the rest of the world.
Were Bush and Sharon reacting to the same set of events as Jean Chrétien, Bill Graham, John Manley and even Stephen Harper, along with virtually all the leaders of the European Union, and moderate Arab and Muslim states, as well as Kofi Annan and Pope John Paul II?
Were they all wrong and only the right-wing American and Israeli governments right? Yes, according to the latter, which tend to extend all the understanding and sympathy to the Israelis and none to the Palestinians. They are entitled to that view. But repeated ad nauseam in most American and some Canadian media, it suffuses the public space with one-sided formulations. To wit:
Arafat must do more to control terrorism. Duplicitous, he talks peace but wages war, says one thing in English and another in Arabic. But can he stop the suicide bombers when, by Sharon's own declaration, he has lost control and is irrelevant, not the least because his security apparatus has been shot to smithereens and he has, lately, been confined to two rooms? "He is a prisoner in Ramallah," said Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, feeling the need to restate the obvious.
Sharon is democratically elected. He is, in the words of Bush, merely "responding to the will of the people." Arafat was also elected and has his constituency to cater to. Not only does that not seem to count, but he is often asked to do the opposite of what his people want.
There is also the uncomfortable reality of America's best allies in the Arab world being non-democratic, and kept so as a buffer against the near-unanimous domestic public opposition to the Israeli occupation and now against Bush's plan to attack Iraq.
Suicide bombing is vile and must end. Of course. But when does state oppression, well documented and condemned by the United Nations and other international organizations, cross the line into terrorism of its own? New Democrat Alexa McDonough has become the first federal leader to say that it has in Israel.
Arabs hate Jews. Many do, as the examples often paraded show. But why the near-silence on the racist characterization of Arabs and Muslims? Sharon calls Arabs "savages." Other prominent Israelis have described them as "serpents," "cockroaches in a glass jar," or "crocodiles." Ordinary citizens are at times given to even more evocative characterizations.
Hatred is not the exclusive preserve of one side. There is anti-Semitism, and there is anti-Arabism and anti-Islamism, the latest accepted face of racism, as recently noted by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Terrorism kills innocents. So do guns and mortars and tanks, even while the Sharon government proclaims that its "war is not directed against the Palestinian people." More than 400 innocent Israelis have died, including women and children. The Palestinian toll stands at nearly triple that, 1,150, including women and children. We can't shed tears selectively. Or, are Palestinian lives worth less?
Palestinians are arming themselves. They are, in the crude way the oppressed do. Rare are the liberation movements that stay peaceful, as much as some of us wish. But after deploying the most sophisticated war machinery in the Middle East, some of it American in origin, Sharon is hardly in a position to be advocating non-violence.
The right-wing anti-Arab narrative reviles not just Arafat, or suicide bombing, but discredits the Palestinian struggle against brutal and unjust occupation. As Israeli historian Amos Oz has said, it is useful to keep that distinction in mind. The reminder is even more pertinent for Canadians watching CNN.
More than battling terrorism, Sharon is trying to impose military control over a hostile population a hint of a colonialist desperate to delay his inevitable departure, or merely a believer of Greater Israel sabotaging the peace process. Regardless, his is a disastrous formula, which has given Israelis the exact opposite of the peace and security he promised, while dragging them to the brink of war, yet again.
Israelis deserve to live in peace and security. So do the Palestinians. Neither will have either so long as the occupation continues. That is the harsh truth. The rest is mostly propaganda and bloodshed.