Unprecedented Numbers of Americans Question Israel's Actions in Gaza
By Max Blumenthal,
Huffington Post, Posted January 6, 2009
Could it be the rise of online progressive media telling the truth about Israel, or that the public rejects the same pundits who sold us Iraq? Tools
Almost as soon as the first Israeli missile struck the Gaza Strip, a veteran cheering squad suited up to support the home team. "Israel is so scrupulous about civilian life," Charles Krauthammer claimed in the Washington Post. Echoing Krauthammer, Alan Dershowitz called the Israeli attack on Gaza, "Perfectly 'Proportionate.'" And in the New York Times, Israeli historian Benny Morris described his country's airstrikes as "highly efficient."
While the cheerleaders testified to the superior moral fiber of their team, the Palestinian civilian death toll mounted. Israeli missiles tore at least fifteen Palestinian police cadets to shreds at a graduation ceremony, blew twelve worshipers to pieces (including six children) while they left evening prayers at a mosque, flattened the elite American International School, killed five sisters while they slept in their beds, and liquidated 9 women and children in order to kill a single Hamas leader. So far, Israeli forces have killed at least 500 Gazans and wounded some two thousand, including hundreds of children. Yesterday, the IDF blanketed parts of Gaza with white phosphorus, a chemical weapon Saddam Hussein once deployed against Kurdish rebels.
"It was Israel at its best," Yossi Klein Halevi declared in the New Republic.
By New Year's Day, Israel's cheering squad had turned the opinion pages of major American newspapers into their own personal romper room. Of all the editorial contributions published by the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times since the Israel's war on Gaza began, to my knowledge only one offered a skeptical view of the assault. But that editorial, by Israeli novelist David Grossman, contained not a single word about the Palestinian casualties of IDF attacks. Even while calling for a cease fire, Grossman promised, "We can always start shooting again."
Israeli public relations agents fanned out to broadcast studios from the US to Europe, fulfilling an aggressive strategy conceived after the country's catastrophic 2006 attack on Lebanon. An analysis by Israel's foreign ministry of eight hours of coverage across international broadcast media concluded that Israeli representatives received a whopping 58 minutes of airtime compared to only 19 minutes for Palestinians. "Quite a few outlets are very favorable to Israel, namely by showing [its] suffering. I am sure it is a result of the new co-ordination," said Major Avital Leibovich, an IDF spokesperson who has become a fixture on cable news in the past weeks.
But while Israel's PR machine cranked its Mighty Wurlitzer to full blast, drowning out all opposing voices with its droning sound, a surprisingly substantial portion of the American public decided to dance to its own tune. According to a December 31 Rasmussen poll (so far the only measure of US opinion on the Gaza assault), while Americans remained overwhelmingly supportive of Israel, they were split almost evenly on the question of whether Israel should attack Gaza -- 44% in favor of the assault and 41% against it. The internals are even more remarkable.
While Republicans supported the assault on Gaza by a large margin, a predictable finding, only 31% of Democrats did. Members of the Democratic base thus stood in sharp contrast to most of their elected representatives (freshman Rep. Donna Edwards is a notable exception), who backed the latest Israeli assault in lockstep, and seem to support Israel no matter what it does. The rift between the progressive base and the party played out on Barack Obama's Change.gov site, which was deluged in recent days with demands for a statement condemning Israel's assault on Gaza.
So what accounts for the surprising trend in American opinion on Gaza? The proliferation of progressive online media and social networking sites could be a factor, but I have another theory: The same pundits who are cheerleading Israel's assault on Gaza once sold the occupation of Iraq to America, and with a nearly identical set of arguments. In their voices and those of the grim Israeli PR agents carted out for cable news, many Americans hear echoes of the Bush administration's most fantastical lies. When they see images of Gazans under withering bombardment, they flash back to Fallujah and the assorted horrors of Iraq. When they look at Israel, they see themselves during the darkest days of the Bush era.
Now, an increasing share of Americans know what Israel is doing to Gaza. And they reject it, even when Israel is "at its best."
Max Blumenthal is a Puffin Foundation writing fellow at the Nation Institute based in Washington, DC. Read his blog at maxblumenthal.blogspot.com.
America's Hidden Role in Hamas's Rise to Power
By Stephen Zunes, AlterNet. Posted January 3, 2009.
No one in the mainstream media or government is willing to acknowledge America's sordid role interfering in Palestinian politics.
Editor’s note: In the U.S., the claim that the actions of Hamas forced Israel to launch a massive assault on the impoverished population of Gaza is almost universally accepted. But, as scholar Stephen Zunes explains below, the picture of Hamas as an organization of wide-eyed radicalism without electoral legitimacy or the support of a significant portion of the Palestinian population is simplistic. In this important piece, Zunes examines the ways in which Israeli and American policy-makers encouraged the rise of the conservative religious group Hamas in an effort to marginalize secular and leftist elements within the Occupied Territories.
The United States bears much of the blame for the ongoing bloodshed in the Gaza Strip and nearby parts of Israel. Indeed, were it not for misguided Israeli and American policies, Hamas would not be in control of the territory in the first place.
Israel initially encouraged the rise of the Palestinian Islamist movement as a counter to the Palestine Liberation Organization, the secular coalition composed of Fatah and various leftist and other nationalist movements. Beginning in the early 1980s, with generous funding from the U.S.-backed family dictatorship in Saudi Arabia, the antecedents of Hamas began to emerge through the establishment of schools, health care clinics, social service organizations and other entities that stressed an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam, which up to that point had not been very common among the Palestinian population. The hope was that if people spent more time praying in mosques, they would be less prone to enlist in left-wing nationalist movements challenging the Israeli occupation.
While supporters of the secular PLO were denied their own media or right to hold political gatherings, the Israeli occupation authorities allowed radical Islamic groups to hold rallies, publish uncensored newspapers and even have their own radio station. For example, in the occupied Palestinian city of Gaza in 1981, Israeli soldiers -- who had shown no hesitation in brutally suppressing peaceful pro-PLO demonstrations -- stood by when a group of Islamic extremists attacked and burned a PLO-affiliated health clinic in Gaza for offering family-planning services for women.
Hamas, an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya (Islamic Resistance Movement), was founded in 1987 by Sheik Ahmed Yassin, who had been freed from prison when Israel conquered the Gaza Strip 20 years earlier. Israel's priorities in suppressing Palestinian dissent during this period were revealing: In 1988, Israel forcibly exiled Palestinian activist Mubarak Awad, a Christian pacifist who advocated the use of Gandhian-style resistance to the Israeli occupation and Israeli-Palestinian peace, while allowing Yassin to circulate anti-Jewish hate literature and publicly call for the destruction of Israel by force of arms.
American policy was not much different: Up until 1993, U.S. officials in the consular office in Jerusalem met periodically with Hamas leaders, while they were barred from meeting with anyone from the PLO, including leading moderates within the coalition. This policy continued despite the fact that the PLO had renounced terrorism and unilaterally recognized Israel as far back as 1988.
One of the early major boosts for Hamas came when the Israeli government expelled more than 400 Palestinian Muslims in late 1992. While most of the exiles were associated with Hamas-affiliated social service agencies, very few had been accused of any violent crimes. Since such expulsions are a direct contravention to international law, the U.N. Security Council unanimously condemned the action and called for their immediate return. The incoming Clinton administration, however, blocked the United Nations from enforcing its resolution and falsely claimed that an Israeli offer to eventually allow some of exiles back constituted a fulfilment of the U.N. mandate. The result of the Israeli and American actions was that the exiles became heroes and martyrs, and the credibility of Hamas in the eyes of the Palestinians grew enormously -- and so did its political strength.
Still, at the time of the Oslo Agreement between Israel and the PLO in 1993, polls showed that Hamas had the support of only 15 percent of the Palestinian community. Support for Hamas grew, however, as promises of a viable Palestinian state faded as Israel continued to expand its colonization drive on the West Bank without apparent U.S. objections, doubling the amount of settlers over the next dozen years. The rule of Fatah leader and Palestinian Authority President Yassir Arafat and his cronies proved to be corrupt and inept, while Hamas leaders were seen to be more honest and in keeping with the needs of ordinary Palestinians. In early 2001, Israel cut off all substantive negotiations with the Palestinians, and a devastating U.S.-backed Israeli offensive the following year destroyed much of the Palestinian Authority's infrastructure, making prospects for peace and statehood even more remote. Israeli closures and blockades sank the Palestinian economy into a serious depression, and Hamas-run social services became all the more important for ordinary Palestinians.
Seeing how Fatah's 1993 decision to end the armed struggle and rely on a U.S.-led peace process had resulted in increased suffering, Hamas' popularity grew well beyond its hard-line fundamentalist base and its use of terrorism against Israel -- despite being immoral, illegal and counterproductive -- seemed to express the sense of anger and impotence of wide segments of the Palestinian population. Meanwhile -- in a policy defended by the Bush administration and Democratic leaders in Congress -- Israel's use of death squads resulted in the deaths of Yassin and scores of other Hamas leaders, turning them into martyrs in the eyes of many Palestinians and increasing Hamas' support still further.
Hamas Comes to Power
With the Bush administration insisting that the Palestinians stage free and fair elections after the death of Arafat in 2004, Fatah leaders hoped that coaxing Hamas into the electoral process would help weaken its more radical elements. Despite U.S. objections, the Palestinian parliamentary elections went ahead in January 2006 with Hamas' participation. They were monitored closely by international observers and were universally recognized as free and fair. With reformist and leftist parties divided into a half-dozen competing slates, Hamas was seen by many Palestinians disgusted with the status quo as the only viable alternative to the corrupt Fatah incumbents, and with Israel refusing to engage in substantive peace negotiations with Abbas' Fatah-led government, they figured there was little to lose in electing Hamas. In addition, factionalism within the ruling party led a number of districts to have competing Fatah candidates. As a result, even though Hamas only received 44 percent of the vote, it captured a majority of parliament and the right to select the prime minister and form a new government.
Ironically, the position of prime minister did not exist under the original constitution of the Palestinian Authority, but was added in March 2003 at the insistence of the United States, which desired a counterweight to President Arafat. As a result, while the elections allowed Abbas to remain as president, he was forced to share power with Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister.
Despite claiming support for free elections, the United States tried from the outset to undermine the Hamas government. It was largely due to U.S. pressure that Abbas refused Hamas' initial invitation to form a national unity government that would include Fatah and from which some of the more hard-line Hamas leaders would have presumably been marginalized. The Bush administration pressured the Canadians, Europeans and others in the international community to impose stiff sanctions on the Palestine Authority, although a limited amount of aid continued to flow to government offices controlled by Abbas.
Once one of the more-prosperous regions in the Arab world, decades of Israeli occupation had resulted in the destruction of much of the indigenous Palestinian economy, making the Palestinian Authority dependent on foreign aid to provide basic functions for its people. The impact of these sanctions, therefore, was devastating. The Iranian regime rushed in to partially fulfill the void, providing millions of dollars to run basic services and giving the Islamic republic -- which until then had not been allied with Hamas and had not been a major player in Palestinian politics -- unprecedented leverage.
Meanwhile, record unemployment led angry and hungry young men to become easy recruits for Hamas militants. One leading Fatah official noted how, "For many people, this was the only way to make money." Some Palestinian police, unpaid by their bankrupt government, clandestinely joined the Hamas militia as a second job, creating a dual loyalty.
The demands imposed at the insistence of the Bush administration and Congress on the Palestinian Authority in order to lift the sanctions appeared to have been designed to be rejected and were widely interpreted as a pretext for punishing the Palestinian population for voting the wrong way. For example, the United States demanded that the Hamas-led government unilaterally recognize the right of the state of Israel to exist, even though Israel has never recognized the right of the Palestinians to have a viable state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, or anywhere else. Other demands included an end of attacks on civilians in Israel while not demanding that Israel likewise end its attacks on civilian areas in the Gaza Strip. They also demanded that the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority accept all previously negotiated agreements, even as Israel continued to violate key components of the Wye River Agreement and other negotiated deals with the Palestinians.
While Hamas honored a unilateral cease-fire regarding suicide bombings in Israel, border clashes and rocket attacks into Israel continued. Israel, meanwhile, with the support of the Bush administration, engaged in devastating air strikes against crowded urban neighborhoods, resulting in hundreds of civilian casualties. Congress also went on record defending the Israeli assaults -- which were widely condemned in the international community as excessive and in violation of international humanitarian law -- as legitimate acts of self-defense.
A Siege, Not a Withdrawal
The myth perpetuated by both the Bush administration and congressional leaders of both parties was that Israel's 2005 dismantling of its illegal settlements in the Gaza Strip and the withdrawal of military units that supported them constituted effective freedom for the Palestinians of the territory. American political leaders from President George W. Bush to House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have repeatedly praised Israel for its belated compliance with a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for its withdrawal of these illegal settlements (despite Israel's ongoing violations of these same resolutions by maintaining and expanding illegal settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights).
In reality, however, the Gaza Strip has remained effectively under siege. Even prior to the Hamas victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, the Israeli government not only severely restricted -- as is its right -- entry from the Gaza Strip into Israel, but also controlled passage through the border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, as well. Israel also refused to allow the Palestinians to open their airport or seaport. This not only led to periodic shortages of basic necessities imported through Egypt, but resulted in the widespread wasting of perishable exports -- such as fruits, vegetables and cut flowers -- vital to the territory's economy. Furthermore, Gaza residents were cut off from family members and compatriots in the West Bank and elsewhere in what many have referred to as the world's largest open-air prison.
In retaliation, Hamas and allied militias began launching rocket attacks into civilian areas of Israel. Israel responded by bombing, shelling and periodic incursions in civilian areas in the Gaza Strip, which, by the time of the 2006 cease-fire, had killed over 200 civilians, including scores of children. Bush administration officials, echoed by congressional leaders of both parties, justifiably condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas-allied units into civilian areas of Israel (which at that time had resulted in scores of injuries but only one death), but defended Israel's far more devastating attacks against civilian targets in the Gaza Strip. This created a reaction that strengthened Hamas' support in the territory even more.
The Gaza Strip's population consists primarily of refugees from Israel's ethnic cleansing of most of Palestine almost 60 years ago and their descendents, most of whom have had no gainful employment since Israel sealed the border from most day laborers in the late 1980s. Crowded into only 140 square miles and subjected to extreme violence and poverty, it is not surprising that many would become susceptible to extremist politics, such as those of the Islamist Hamas movement. Nor is it surprising that under such conditions, people with guns would turn on each other.
Undermining the Unity Government
When factional fighting between armed Fatah and Hamas groups broke out in early 2007, Saudi officials negotiated a power-sharing agreement between the two leading Palestinian political movements. U.S. officials, however, unsuccessfully encouraged Abbas to renounce the agreement and dismiss the entire government. Indeed, ever since the election of a Hamas parliamentary majority, the Bush administration began pressuring Fatah to stage a coup and abolish parliament.
The national unity government put key ministries in the hands of Fatah members and independent technocrats and removed some of the more hard-line Hamas leaders and, while falling well short of Western demands, Hamas did indicate an unprecedented willingness to engage with Israel, accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and negotiate a long-term cease-fire with Israel. For the first time, this could have allowed Israel and the United States the opportunity to bring into peace talks a national unity government representing virtually all the factions and parties active in Palestinian politics on the basis of the Arab League peace initiative for a two-state solution and U.N. Security Council Resolution 242. However, both the Israeli and American governments refused.
Instead, the Bush administration decided to escalate the conflict by ordering Israel to ship large quantities or weapons to armed Fatah groups to enable them to fight Hamas and stage a coup. Israeli military leaders initially resisted the idea, fearing that much of these arms would end up in the hands of Hamas, but -- as Israeli journalist Uri Avnery put it -- "our government obeyed American orders, as usual.” That Fatah was being supplied with weapons from Israel while Hamas was fighting the Israelis led many Palestinians -- even those who don't share Hamas' extremist ideology -- to see Fatah as collaborators and Hamas as liberation fighters. This was a major factor leading Hamas to launch what it saw as a preventive war or a countercoup by overrunning the offices of the Fatah militias in June 2007 and, just as the Israelis feared, many of these newly supplied weapons have indeed ended up in the hands of Hamas militants. Hamas has ruled the Gaza Strip ever since.
The United States also threw its support to Mohammed Dahlan, the notorious Fatah security chief in Gaza, who -- despite being labeled by American officials as "moderate" and "pragmatic" -- oversaw the detention, torture and execution of Hamas activists and others, leading to widespread popular outrage against Fatah and its supporters.
Alvaro de Soto, former U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, stated in his confidential final report leaked to the press a few weeks before the Hamas takeover that "the Americans clearly encouraged a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas" and "worked to isolate and damage Hamas and build up Fatah with recognition and weaponry." De Soto also recalled how in the midst of Egyptian efforts to arrange a cease-fire following a flare-up in factional fighting earlier this year, a U.S. official told him that "I like this violence … it means that other Palestinians are resisting Hamas."
Weakening Palestinian Moderates
For moderate forces to overcome extremist forces, the moderates must be able to provide their population with what they most need: in this case, the end of Israel's siege of the Gaza Strip and its occupation and colonizing of the remaining Palestinian territories. However, Israeli policies -- backed by the Bush administration and Congress -- seem calculated to make this impossible. The noted Israeli policy analyst Gershon Baskin observed, in an article in the Jerusalem Post just prior to Hamas' electoral victory, how "Israel 's unilateralism and determination not to negotiate and engage President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority has strengthened the claims of Hamas and weakened Abbas and his authority, which was already severely crippled by … Israeli actions that demolished the infrastructures of Palestinian Authority governing bodies and institutions."
Bush and an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress have also thrown their support to the Israeli government's unilateral disengagement policy that, while withdrawing Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip, has expanded them in the occupied West Bank as part of an effort to illegally annex large swaths of Palestinian territory. In addition, neither Congress nor the Bush administration has pushed the Israelis to engage in serious peace negotiations with the Palestinians, which have been suspended for over six years, despite calls by Abbas and the international community that they resume. Given that Fatah's emphasis on negotiations has failed to stop Israel's occupation and colonization of large parts of the West Bank, it's not surprising that Hamas' claim that the U.S.-managed peace process is working against Palestinian interests has resonance, even among Palestinians who recognize that terrorism by Hamas' armed wing is both morally reprehensible and has hurt the nationalist cause.
Following Hamas' armed takeover of Gaza, the highly respected Israeli journalist Roni Shaked, writing in the June 15 issue of Yediot Ahronoth, noted that "The U.S. and Israel had a decisive contribution to this failure." Despite claims by Israel and the United States that they wanted to strengthen Abbas, "in practice, zero was done for this to happen. The meetings with him turned into an Israeli political tool, and Olmert's kisses and backslapping turned Abbas into a collaborator and a source of jokes on the Palestinian street."
De Soto's report to the U.N. Secretary-General, in which he referred to Hamas' stance toward Israel as "abominable," also noted that "Israeli policies seemed perversely designed to encourage the continued action by Palestinian militants." Regarding the U.S.-instigated international sanctions against the Palestinian Authority, the former Peruvian diplomat also observed that "the steps taken by the international community with the presumed purpose of bringing about a Palestinian entity that will live in peace with its neighbor Israel have had precisely the opposite effect."
Some Israeli commentators saw this strategy as deliberate. Avnery noted, "Our government has worked for year to destroy Fatah, in order to avoid the need to negotiate an agreement that would inevitably lead to the withdrawal form the occupied territories and the settlements there." Similarly, M.J. Rosenberg of the Israel Policy Center observed, "the fact is that Israeli (and American) right-wingers are rooting for the Palestinian extremists" since "supplanting ... Fatah with Islamic fundamentalists would prevent a situation under which Israel would be forced to negotiate with moderates.” The problem, Avnery wrote at that time, is that "now, when it seems that this aim has been achieved, they have no idea what to do about the Hamas victory."
Since then, the Israeli strategy has been to increase the blockade on the Gaza Strip, regardless of the disastrous humanitarian consequences, and more recently to launch devastating attacks that have killed hundreds of people, as many as one-quarter of whom have been civilians. The Bush administration and leaders of both parties in Congress have defended Israeli policies on the grounds that the extremist Hamas governs the territory.
Yet no one seems willing to acknowledge the role the United States had in making it possible for Hamas to come to power in Gaza in the first place.
The Long and Bloody Hypocrisy of U.S.-Israeli Acts of Terrorism
By Robert Parry, Consortium News. Posted January 5, 2009.
Without an extreme double standard on terrorism, it's hard to see how today's bloodbath in Gaza would be possible.
Israel, a nation that was born out of Zionist terrorism, has launched massive airstrikes against targets in Gaza using high-tech weapons produced by the United States, a country that often has aided and abetted terrorism by its client military forces, such as Chile’s Operation Condor and the Nicaraguan contras, and even today harbors right-wing Cuban terrorists implicated in blowing up a civilian airliner.
Yet, with that moral ambiguity excluded from the debate, the justification for the Israeli attacks, which have killed at least 364 people, is the righteous fight against “terrorism,” since Gaza is ruled by the militant Palestinian group, Hamas.
Hamas rose to power in January 2006 through Palestinian elections, which ironically the Bush administration had demanded. However, after Hamas won a parliamentary majority, Israel and the United States denounced the outcome because they deem Hamas a “terrorist organization.”
Hamas then wrested control of Gaza from Fatah, a rival group that once was considered “terrorist” but is now viewed as a U.S.-Israeli partner, so it has been cleansed of the “terrorist” label.
Unwilling to negotiate seriously with Hamas because of its acts of terrorism -- which have included firing indiscriminate short-range missiles into southern Israel -- the United States and Israel sat back as the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza worsened, with 1.5 million impoverished Palestinians packed into what amounts to a giant open-air prison.
When Hamas ended a temporary cease-fire on Dec. 19 because of a lack of progress in those negotiations and began lobbing its little missiles into Israel once more, the Israeli government reacted on Saturday with its lethal “shock and awe” firepower -- even though no Israelis had been killed by the post-cease-fire missiles launched from Gaza. [Since Saturday, four Israelis have died in more intensive Hamas missile attacks.]
Israel claimed that its smart bombs targeted sites related to the Hamas security forces, including a school for police cadets and even regular policemen walking down the street. But it soon became clear that Israel was taking an expansive view of what was part of the Hamas military infrastructure, with Israeli bombs taking out a television station and a university building as well as killing a significant number of civilians.
As the slaughter continued on Monday, Israeli officials confided to Western journalists that the war plan was to destroy the vast support network of social and other programs that undergird Hamas’s political clout.
“There are many aspects of Hamas, and we are trying to hit the whole spectrum, because everything is connected and everything supports terrorism against Israel,” a senior Israeli military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Washington Post.
“Hamas’s civilian infrastructure is a very, very sensitive target,” added Matti Steinberg, a former top adviser to Israel’s domestic security service. “If you want to put pressure on them, this is how.” [Washington Post, Dec. 30, 2008]
Since the classic definition of “terrorism” is the use of violence against civilians to achieve a political goal, Israel would seem to be inviting an objective analysis that it has chosen its own terrorist path. But it is clearly counting on the U.S. news media to continue wearing the blinders that effectively limit condemnations about terrorism to people and groups that are regarded as Washington’s enemies.
As a Washington-based reporter for the Associated Press in the 1980s, I once questioned the seeming bias that the U.S.-based wire service applied to its use of the word “terrorist” when covering Middle East issues. A senior AP executive responded to my concerns with a quip. “Terrorist is the word that follows Arab,” he said.
Though meant as a lighthearted riposte, the comment clearly had a great deal of truth to it. It was easy to attach “terrorist” to any Arab attack -- even against a military target such as the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983 after the Reagan administration had joined hostilities against Muslim forces by having U.S. warships lob shells into Lebanese villages.
But it was understood that different rules on the use of the word "terrorism" applied when the terrorism was coming from “our side.” Then, no American reporter with any sense of career survival would think of injecting the word “terrorist” whatever the justification.
Even historical references to acts of terrorism -- such as the brutal practice by American revolutionaries in the 1770s of “tar and feathering” civilians considered sympathetic to the British Crown or the extermination of American Indian tribes -- were seen as somehow diluting the moral righteousness against today’s Islamic terrorists and in favor of George W. Bush's "war on terror."
Gone, too, from the historical narrative was the fact that militant Zionists employed terrorism as part of their campaign to establish Israel as a Jewish state. The terrorism included killings of British officials who were administering Palestine under an international mandate as well as Palestinians who were driven violently from their land so it could be claimed by Jewish settlers.
One of the most famous of those terrorist attacks was the 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem where British officials were staying. The attack, which killed 91 people including local residents, was carried out by the Irgun, a terrorist group run by Menachem Begin who later founded the Likud Party and rose to be Israel’s prime minister.
Another veteran of the campaign of Zionist terrorism was Yitzhak Shamir, who also became a Likud leader and eventually prime minister.
In the early 1990s, as I was waiting to interview Shamir at his Tel Aviv office, I was approached by one of his young female assistants who was dressed in a gray and blue smock with a head covering in the traditional Hebrew style.
As we were chatting, she smiled and said in a lilting voice, “Prime Minister Shamir, he was a terrorist, you know.” I responded with a chuckle, “yes, I’m aware of the prime minister’s biography.”
To maintain one’s moral purity in denouncing acts of terror by U.S. enemies, one also needs a large blind spot for recent U.S. history, which implicates U.S. leaders repeatedly in tolerance or acts of terrorism.
For instance, in 1973, after a bloody U.S.-backed coup overthrew the leftist Chilean government, the new regime of Gen. Augusto Pinochet joined with other South American dictatorships to sponsor an international terrorist organization called Operation Condor which assassinated political dissidents around the world.
Operation Condor mounted one of its most audacious actions on the streets of Washington in 1976, when Pinochet’s regime recruited Cuban-American terrorists to detonate a car bomb that killed Chile’s former foreign minister Orlando Letelier and an American co-worker, Ronni Moffitt. The Chilean government's role immediately was covered up by the CIA, then headed by George H.W. Bush. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]
Only weeks later, a Venezuela-based team of right-wing Cubans -- under the direction of Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles -- blew a Cubana Airliner out of the sky, killing 73 people. Bosch and Posada, a former CIA operative, were co-founders of CORU, which was described by the FBI as “an anti-Castro terrorist umbrella organization.”
Though the U.S. government soon learned of the role of Bosch and Posada in the Cubana airline attack -- and the two men spent some time in a Venezuelan jail -- both Bosch and Posada since have enjoyed the protection of the U.S. government and particularly the Bush Family.
Rebuffing international demands that Bosch and Posada be held accountable for their crimes, the Bushes -- George H.W., George W. and Jeb -- have all had a hand in making sure these unrepentant terrorists get to live out their golden years in the safety and comfort of the United States.
In the 1980s, Posada even crossed over into another U.S.-backed terrorist organization, the Nicaraguan contras. After escaping from Venezuela, he was put to work in 1985 by Oliver North’s contra-support operation run out of Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council.
The Nicaraguan contras were, in effect, a narco-terrorist organization that partially funded its operations with proceeds from cocaine trafficking, a secret that the Reagan administration worked hard to conceal along with the contras’ record of murder, torture, rape and other crimes in Nicaragua. [See Parry’s Lost History.]
President Reagan joined, too, in fierce PR campaigns to discredit human rights investigators who documented massive atrocities by U.S. allies in Central America in the 1980s -- not only the contras, but also the state terrorism of the Salvadoran and Guatemalan security forces, which engaged in wholesale slaughters in villages considered sympathetic to leftist insurgents.
Generally, the major U.S. news outlets treaded very carefully when allegations arose about terrorism by “our side.”
When some brave journalists, like New York Times correspondent Raymond Bonner, wrote about politically motivated killings of civilians in Central America, they faced organized retaliation by right-wing advocacy groups which often succeeded in damaging or destroying the reporters’ careers.
Eventually, the American press corps developed an engrained sense of the double standards. Moral outrage could be expressed when acts of terrorism were committed by U.S. enemies, while studied silence -- or nuanced concern -- would be in order when the crimes were by U.S. allies.
So, while the U.S. news media had no doubt that the 9/11 terrorist attacks justified invading Afghanistan, there was very little U.S. media criticism when President Bush inflicted his “shock and awe” assault on Iraq, a war that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths.
Though many Muslims and others around the world have denounced Bush’s Iraq invasion as “state terrorism,” such a charge would be considered far outside the mainstream in the United States. Instead, Iraqi insurgents are often labeled “terrorists” when they attack U.S. troops inside Iraq. The word “terrorist” has become, in effect, a geopolitical curse word.
Despite the long and bloody history of U.S.-Israeli participation in terrorism, the U.S. news media continues its paradigm of pitting the U.S.-Israeli “good guys” against the Islamic “bad guys.” One side has the moral high ground and the other is in the moral gutter. [For more on the U.S. media’s one-sided approach, see the analysis by Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher.]
Any attempt to cite the larger, more ambiguous and more troubling picture draws accusations from defenders of U.S.-Israeli actions, especially the neoconservatives, of what they call “moral equivalence” or “anti-Semitism.”
Yet it is now clear that acquiescence to a double standard on terrorism is not just a violation of journalistic ethics or an act of political cowardice; it is complicity in mass murder. Without the double standard, it is hard to envision how the bloodbaths -- in Iraq (since 2003), in Lebanon (in 2006) and in Gaza (today) -- would be possible.
Hypocrisy over the word “terrorism” is not an innocent dispute over semantics; it kills.
The Paradox of Israel: Regional Super Power and the Largest Jewish Ghetto Ever Created
By Ira Chernus, AlterNet. Posted January 2, 2009.
Israelis keep saying they only want security, while they go on electing leaders whose policies make them less secure.
Trying to understand the psychology of a people at war is a lot like trying to find the bodies buried under a bombed-out building.
For more than 40 years, I've been watching my own Jewish people in wartime, repeating the same self-defeating pattern over and over. Most Jews say that they want Israel to be more secure, and they really mean it. Yet they support and vote for leaders who perpetuate the conflicts that make Israel less secure.
I've been digging for decades through the endless pieces of that paradox, trying to get to the bottom of it. Here's what I see now as the bottom layer (though there may be layers further down that I haven't reached yet): The root of the problem lies in the Jews' relationship to the non-Jewish world and, even more, in the way Jews understand that relationship.
Jews have a long, checkered history of relations with their gentile neighbors. Sometimes, in centuries past, they got along very well; Jews felt fully a part of a larger multiethnic community. But most of the Jews who came to Palestine to populate a Jewish state never had that connected feeling. They experienced the human world the way minority groups so often do: There's us, and then there's everybody else; there's a wall separating us from everybody else. So they could never see themselves as part of a larger Middle Eastern community, a web of interactions where each group influenced all the others.
All they could feel was a great disconnect. Before 1948, they saw themselves as a community separated by all sorts of invisible walls from the Arabs around them. After 1948, they had geographical borders that functioned as visible separators, much like the ghetto walls of old. Although Zionism began as an effort to make the Jews a "normal nation," it ended up creating the world's largest Jewish ghetto.
For many Jews, the sense of disconnection was rooted in real history. Some had ancestors who had been separated from gentiles physically by a ghetto wall. Many had ancestors who felt separated by invisible walls of law and social custom, which seemed just as thick and high.
Still others, though, came from relatively well-assimilated communities. They learned to feel separated from the non-Jewish world, for reasons of all sorts. And since the Six-Day War of 1967, many Jews in the United States and around the world, who grew up in very well-assimilated settings, have learned a similar attitude. For them, Israel is the symbol of a gulf that they imagine has always existed, and must always exist, between Jews and gentiles.
That's why many Israeli Jews, and Jews everywhere who sympathize with them, have a hard time recognizing what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. taught us: Whoever we are, whomever we live with, all the members of a community are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. That's not a moral platitude. It's a poetic way of stating a commonsense observation of fact: Whatever we do is bound to affect others in our community, just as what they do affects us; we are all responding to each other all the time.
No matter how isolated one group may feel, it is always interacting with the groups around it. A minority group knows that it's responding to the majority. It has a harder time seeing how the majority is responding to it. But in fact, the relationship is always mutual. And when anyone on either sides commits violence, the violence is actually a product of the ongoing pattern of relationship, although the majority typically holds the upper hand when it comes to force.
Since so many Jews in Palestine could not recognize that network of mutuality, they could not see how much the Arabs were responding to them. They saw themselves simply living their ordinary lives, minding their own business, on their side of the invisible wall. When the first Arab rocks were thrown at Jews, they seemed like bolts out of the blue. Most Jews could not imagine that their own behavior and their own choices were triggering the attacks. They assumed that the Arabs' had some other motivation -- anti-Semitism, many assumed -- to single them out as innocent victims.
Today, the Palestinian Arabs' rocks still fly. Bullets and bombs and rockets fly, too. And the same great disconnect remains among far too many Jews, both in Israel and around the world. They assume that there is no network of mutuality, no web of give and take. There is simply the Jewish state, trying its best to live peacefully and mind its own business, constantly victimized by attacks for reasons known only to the attackers. All the trouble, it seems, begins on the other side of the border.
This view is at the root of all Israel's military and diplomatic policies and the support they engender throughout the Jewish world. When you see the world through the lens of the great disconnect, everything that the Israeli government does makes sense, including the recent massive attack on Gaza. It's all based on the premise that no changes in Israel's policies can ever affect the basic antagonism of its neighbors.
The famous historian Benny Morris, in a recent New York Times op-ed, described just how things look from inside this great disconnect: "Many Israelis feel that the walls -- and history -- are closing in on their 60-year-old state. … The Arab and wider Islamic worlds … have never truly accepted the legitimacy of Israel's creation and continue to oppose its existence. … The West … is gradually reducing its support for Israel."
In other words: Nobody likes us, and we can't understand why. We are, as always, passive victims of unprovoked antagonism, and there ain't a thing we can do about it.
Then comes the inevitable conclusion: Though we can't change our opponents' feelings, we can change their behavior. Conciliation and compromise may produce marginal improvements. But the only way to change their behavior substantially is through the fear that comes from overwhelming force. So the best thing we can do is fight back. When the targets of our force try (quite naturally) to resist, we say: See, they really do hate us! It's a self-confirming illusion that is hard to escape.
That's the greatest danger of the great disconnect: If you don't acknowledge your own role in creating a conflict, you are working with an unrealistic view of what's happening. So you can't craft realistic policies that will actually make your nation more secure. When you start out from an illusion, you are bound to end up in self-contradiction -- which is just what has happened to Israel. With its political culture rooted in memories of oppression (and the eras of cooperation largely forgotten), it continues to assume that the Jews are a beleaguered minority. Its policies all stem from that premise.
But it's an illusion. Any realistic assessment of the Middle East must begin with the obvious fact that Israel has a preponderance of power over everyone else -- and a massive preponderance over the Palestinians. Imagine the United States basing its policies toward Mexico on the belief that we are seriously threatened by Mexico's power. That's pretty much how Israel deals with the Palestinians.
It isn't just absurd; it's lethal. It creates policies that get people killed -- mostly in the Occupied Territories, but far too many on Israel's side as well. Yet Israelis keep saying they only want security, while they go on electing leaders whose policies make them less secure, repeating the same excuse: "Those [fill in the blank] understand only one thing!"
It's a common refrain, a reminder that the great disconnect is hardly unique to Israel and the Jews. It shapes relations between many groups all over the world, including relations between the United States and the many groups it defines as enemies. Many Palestinians may view their conflict with Israel through the eyes of the great disconnect, too.
In fact, when I offer this analysis of the Jewish community, I'm often met with the objection: Why just criticize Israel? What about the other side, with its rockets and suicide bombers? That question, too, emerges from the viewpoint of the great disconnect. It's a way of saying, "Why focus so much on our side? Isn't the real trouble coming from the other side?" -- as if the trouble could come from only one side.
Of course the trouble comes from the relationship, to which both sides contribute. But I don't live among Palestinians. I'm not in any position to understand them. So I speak to my own people. I point out that we have no control over the choices others make. We can control only our own choices. And it's only by making new choices in our own community that we can hope to affect the choices of others.
Fortunately, there are plenty of Jews who understand this. Their numbers are growing. And they hold the key to peace and security for Israel. People who are trapped in the great disconnect are not likely to listen to anyone on the other side of the wall. Only when voices within their own community offer a new, more realistic view can they have a chance to hear it.
But the message has to speak directly to the heart of the problem at its deepest level. It has to name the great disconnect, acknowledge the real and imagined history behind it, but insist that now it is too dangerous -- for ourselves and for others -- to cling to a past memory as if it were present reality.
To explain the great disconnect is not (as some fear) to absolve Jews of their moral responsibility. In fact, it's the only way to bring the Jewish community back to its moral responsibility. The great Zionist thinker Martin Buber said that responsibility is really "response-ability:" the ability to tear down the imagined walls separating people and communities from one another, so that all can respond to the reality of the situation.
The first step toward responsibility is recognizing the reality that no one ever lives shut up behind a wall. We are always in mutual relationship with the people around us, whether we know it and like it or not. Once people tear down the imaginary walls that they think surround them, they can realize that their borders are not walls but bridges, connecting them to the people on the other side. Only then can they begin to reach across those borders and make peace.
Hamas Is Not Iran's Puppet
By William O. Beeman, New America Media. Posted January 6, 2009.
That the conflict between Israel and Hamas is a proxy war with Iran is a myth that has grown up during the Bush administration.
Editor’s Note: The popular wisdom that Iran is pulling the strings behind Hamas doesn’t take into account the geography of Gaza argues William O. Beeman.
The conflict between Israel and Hamas is not a proxy war between Israel and Iran. This is a myth that has grown up during the Bush administration, and is now widely promulgated with little or no support.
Iran has, it is true, been sympathetic to the Hamas situation, particularly since the U.S.-endorsed Palestinian elections of 2006, when Hamas won a plurality of votes, allowing it to form a government. Subsequently, the new Palestinian government was rejected by Israel and the United States, and an economic embargo plunged the Palestinians into economic chaos. At that point Iran provided substantial humanitarian aid.
In the present conflict, Iran is also sending two ships to provide humanitarian assistance.
However, American and Israeli analysts would have the world believe that Hamas could not carry out any actions against Israel if they were not directed by Iran. As George Joffee of the Cambridge Centre of International Studies maintained in 2006 in an interview with U.S.-based Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, “The Israeli government has alleged that indirectly through Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iran is engaged in trying to control the events inside the Occupied Territories and there have been allegations with no proof at all, of involvement in some of the more violent activities there. Those links I suspect are largely Israeli propaganda and don't really carry water.”
The same is true today.
No one promulgating the theory that Hamas’s attacks on Israel are directed by Iran bothers to think much about geography. Hamas has been effectively sealed off from the world by Israel, and by Egypt. The Israelis have essentially controlled the import of food and medical supplies. The idea of Iran shipping arms to Hamas under these conditions is patently absurd. The rockets launched against Israel that started the current conflict were clearly homemade, low-level weapons, not sophisticated arms.
A parallel claim is that Iranians are providing training to Hamas. Given the rhetoric, one would imagine that this is being done on a massive scale. However, on March 9, 2008 the Times of London reported that 150 Hamas fighters were being trained in Tehran. Hamas itself claims to have 15,000 fighters, and Israel has millions of potential fighters at its command. Thus training for a team of 150, if the facts are correct, is hardly much of a threat to Israel.
Hezbollah in Lebanon is sometimes cited as an Iranian cat’s-paw in the region, but Hezbollah has no geographical access to Gaza. Therefore they are limited to leading protests in Lebanon. Timur Goksel, former adviser to U.N. Peacekeepers in Lebanon, told Reuters News Agency on Dec. 30, “With all their rhetoric about Palestine, there is not much [Hezbollah] can do about Gaza, short of getting Lebanon involved in another disaster. So they are leading the popular reaction.”
Egypt is not a conduit for Iranian arms either. President Hosni Mubarak is caught in a dilemma with regard to Gaza. He receives aid from the United States, and has a long-standing peace treaty with Israel. Moreover, his secular government is desperately afraid of Islamic extremism, which they see as a threat. Because Hamas has a religious base, not a secular one like Fatah, its rival for power in the Palestinian community, they are seen as dangerous. For this reason, Egypt has kept the border crossing to Gaza firmly closed except for humanitarian emergencies.
Why then does the myth of Iranian military support persist? One reason is that it has been a long-standing American foreign policy belief that resistance movements cannot exist without state support. Before Iran was targeted as the source for support, Libya was the U.S. bogeyman. It is instructive to look at rhetoric against Libya from the 1980s and see that exactly the same accusations that were leveled at Libya then are being hurled at Iran today.
Finally, Iran does not help matters. The rhetoric of the original Iranian revolution is still alive and well in some segments of Iranian political life. Iran ousted a Western-supported leader, the Shah, and tried in the early days of the revolution to promulgate this action elsewhere in the Middle East. Hezbollah and Hamas were sympathetic rhetorical partners. Iran supported Hezbollah in its early days, but no longer controls its operations. Iran had nothing to do with the founding of Hamas, but sees its conflict with Israel as sympathetic with its revolutionary ideals. This does not mean that Iran is controlling the action.
The more apoplectic visions of Iranian involvement see Iran developing nuclear weapons and supplying them to both Hezbollah and Hamas. However, not only is there no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program; the simple logistics of transfer of such weapons to a place like Gaza are virtually impossible.
For Israel, and the world, blaming Iran for its troubles with Hamas does not advance the peace process. Nor would attacking Iran mitigate in any way the tensions that exist between Israel and its neighbors.
Tragedy in Gaza -- Desperately Seeking Leadership from Obama
By Sunera Thobani, rabble.ca. Posted January 5, 2009.
Unfortunately, Obama is missing in action and silent on this first foreign policy challenge to his presidency.
The New Year has begun with Muslims around the world being taught a lesson in the crudity of racial equations: 600 Palestinian lives equal four Israeli lives.
Reeling from having learned that over a million Iraqi and Afghan lives equal 3,000 American lives, the logic of this racial mathematics is certainly no new thing. After all, the first U.S. Constitution engaged in just such calculations of human worth, and Katrina demonstrated their ongoing effects. But the lesson has the power to shock every time: the images of Palestinian bodies being pulled out of the rubble in Gaza that flood news reports are unbearable to witness.
Surely the lesson cannot be lost on President-elect Barack Obama. That such violence can be waged on so defenseless a population with the support of the Bush administration is unconscionable. That Obama chooses to remain silent is nothing short of cowardice.
Why is Israel able to continue its deadly assault on Palestinians in Gaza? Because Western governments (and their Arab quislings) are willing to allow the carnage to carry on into day three, four, five ... After all, these governments enabled the Israeli blockade of Gaza for the last year-and-a-half, they aided and abetted Israel's criminal meting out of collective punishment to the population for daring to vote for Hamas.
The mainstream media faithfully reported as true every lie told by the Bush administration about Iraq. Now the media upholds the fiction that Hamas is responsible for the violence waged by the Israelis. Israel probably calculated, and rightly so as has turned out to be the case, that the support it enjoys from these governments could withstand whatever murmurs of regret politicians might be moved to express by anti-Israeli demonstrations in their capitals.
The current Israeli attack is being attributed by some commentators to the machinations of Israeli politicians jockeying for power in the upcoming elections in that country. But there is another consideration that is far more important. Of all the Middle Eastern countries, it is Israel that stood to lose the most with the incoming presidency of Obama later this month.
Obama promised to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq and committed his administration to pursuing diplomatic and political solutions ahead of military ones, not only in Iraq, but also in other conflicts within the region. Iran has been strengthened by the U.S. defeat in Iraq, while Israel was outmanoeuvred by Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006.
The writing has been on the wall for the Israelis. The carte blanche given to that country by past U.S. administrations to destabilize the region and pursue its territorial ambitions could no longer be counted upon.
The worldwide enthusiasm for the election of Obama signalled a global desire for change, people around the world are sick of the lies and wars, of the guns and bombs.
A return to the rule of law and an end to the Iraq war is what Obama promised, not only to the American electorate, but to the entire world. The election of the first black president was an ecstatic moment for people of color around the world, as it was for those white populations sickened by the racism and violence of American empire-building. People around the world took Obama up on his promise of hope, daring to believe that political change was coming.
Whether President-elect Obama will, or can, deliver what he promised is a question people of color passionately debate with eyes wide open. The hope that a black man will stand up to the racial calculations that turn the "native" into a "thing," as Frantz Fanon put it, is palpable among many Muslims.
Obama's public comments that he will welcome pressure from movements for social justice won him some time and a measure of credibility. Surely there is no greater cause for social justice than that of the Palestinian people. And Obama is the first U.S. president who seems to understand the nature of the Palestinian crisis prior to his election, as some who know him, including Ali Abunimah, have pointed out.
In one fell swoop, the Israelis have destroyed whatever momentum Obama might have mobilized for a peaceful resolution of the blockade of Gaza and the siege that Gazans and Hamas have endured. Israel has pushed Obama into a corner with this attack, intensifying the suffering of the Palestinian people and making it all but inevitable that retribution will follow.
A state of war with its neighbors benefits Israel's ambitions in the region, even as it secures support for Zionist lobbies in the Western world. During the U.S. election campaign, Vice President-elect Joe Biden had warned that Obama would be tested early in his presidency. Few expected the challenge to come from a staunch U.S. ally and not from those contesting U.S. power.
Obama's silence on the Gaza crisis grows more curious by the day; it has already cost him much political capital. He appears weak and ineffectual even before his inauguration, one more symbol of hope capitulating to the realpolitik of the "special" U.S./Israel relationship.
As a community organizer in Chicago, Obama understood the racial calculations that shape the everyday lives of black people in the United States. With a Kenyan father who was a Muslim, Obama surely understands the consequences of such racial calculations at the international level. Palestinians have paid a heavy price for their resistance to Israeli power. As a law professor, Obama most certainly understands the terrible toll of surviving the crimes of an occupying power bent on genocide.
Unfortunately, Obama is missing in action in this first challenge to his presidency. The Israelis have used his own words to justify their aggression, and Obama has responded with a deafening silence. This does not bode well for the future.
U.S. and Israeli elites have a long history of buying off quislings to further their interests. Obama needs to act quickly to prove he is not one of them.