Thursday, February 26, 2009

Occupation is Still the Issue

For years, up until the time of his death in November, 2004, it seemed that every where I spoke about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, somebody was “Arafating, Arafating. If we could just get rid of that damn ol’ Arafat, everything would be solved in the Middle East.” It reminded me of the Civil Rights days in Mississippi when over and over I heard, “If we could just rid of that Martin Luther King, Jr. everything would be solved.

Well, they got rid of King only to find out that the problem had never been King. The problem had been segregation all along. And they got rid of Yasser Arafat only to find out that the problem never was Arafat, but occupation. The problem is not Islamic militant theology or suicide bombings. In fact, as Chris Hedges points out:

The Koran is emphatic about the rights of other religious to practice their own beliefs. It unequivocally condemns attacks on civilians as a violation of Islam. It states that suicide, of any type, is an abomination. The tactic of suicide bombing, equated by many of the new atheists with Islam, did not arise from the Muslim world… Suicide bombing is what you do when you do not have artillery or planes or missiles and you want to create maximum terror for an occupying power.[1]

Occupation leaves a people feeling humiliated, abused, poverty stricken and
hopeless. Robert Pape, Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, having compiled the world’s largest database of information on suicide terrorists, creates a new picture of what motivates suicide terrorism. “Almost every major suicide-terrorist campaign – over 95 percent –carried out attacks to drive out an occupying power. This was true in Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Chechnya, Kashmir, as well as Israel and the Palestinian territories.” Pape found that suicide bombers see violence as the way to change the public opinion of occupying powers like Israel and the United States. They hope to make the occupiers suffer.[2]

So, let us be clear when asking the question of why terrorist do what they do. It’s not so much a matter of poverty, education, or religion fundamentalism. It’s a matter of occupation.

Thomas Are
February 26, 2009

[1] Chris Hedges, I Don’t Believe in Atheist, (Free Press, New York, 2008) p.141.
[2] Robert Pape, Dying to Win, Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, Cited in Chris Hedges, I don’t believe in Atheists., p.137. Google: Robert Pape, The logic of Suicide Terrorism.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Second Chapter Paybacks

When I was a kid, my big brother was always “picking on me.” He was stronger and smarter and to him, I was a pest, always messing up his things, embarrassing him in front of his friends and getting in his way. To keep me under control, he would pinch, push and yell at me. When all that failed, he would hit me. Every now and then, I would screw up my courage and hit him back. Invariably, he would run to mother announcing, “Tommy hit me! You see, no body can live with him,” and invariably, I would be the one to get punished. We both knew that the only way for him to get away with it was to leave out the first round about who hit who first. That’s called second chapter payback. Not one time… never, did he admit that he had hit me first.

What Israel is into today is not security, but pulling off “second chapter paybacks.” Israel hits the Palestinians for being Arabs and living in the land and having the water Israel claims Yahweh gave to the Jews. However, the problem with “payback” is not just that it so often begins with the second chapter but that it never ends with the last. Recently, Larry King interviewed Jimmy Carter: [i]

KING: Do you think Israel was right in retaliating when it was hit with missiles every day, to go into Gaza. (Absolutely not the first chapter.)

CARTER: Well, you have to remember something in perspective. Of Course, it’s bad to fire missiles. It’s bad to kill civilians. But the year before the cease fire went into effect last June the 19th, which I went over and helped to negotiate, there had been one – a total of one Israeli killed in an entire year. And an average of 49 Palestinians were killed every month. So, that kind of puts it into perspective.
But, I think it’s best for all of us to condemn any violence on either side. And what we need is just two things right now. One is to open up the gates going into Gaza so that people can have food and water and medicines and fuel. And on the other hand, stop all the missiles and also, all the firing of – dropping bombs and so forth -- end the violence. And I think it is possible.

KING: One of the problems is, I mean, if someone was dropping missiles into Atlanta, you would retaliate wouldn’t you? I mean it’s just human form to do that. (He ignores Carter’s points and jumps again to the second chapter)

CARTER: If I couldn’t stop it otherwise, I certainly would, yes. One way to stop it would have been to open up the supply of fuel and water and food and medicines to let 1.5 million Palestinians have a decent life.

The first chapter of Payback began years before rockets with closures, assassinations, theft of land and water. The first chapter goes back at least 60 years when Palestinians were driven from their homes into Gaza as refugees to live behind cement barrels and barbed wire fences for the rest of their lives. Another chapter includes those who were forced to join them in 1967. In all, 80 percent of the people crowded into Gaza never wanted to be there in the first place. Prior to the only chapter Larry Kings wanted to talk about is a two year closure of the only entrance into Gaza, the shutting down of the delivery of UN humanitarian aid, cutting off fuel and electricity, restricting movement of people and creating life threatening problems due to the lack of food, medicine and sanitation facilities. The first chapter includes sonic booms deliberately and frequently exploding over Gaza on a regular basis which not only jars normal living but actually causes deafness in children. The first chapter must also include Israel’s unwillingness to recognize the democratically elected government in Gaza and continuing to label Hamas as no more than a terrorist organization, even though Hamas has repeatedly offered an end to hostilities, an offer which Israel refuses to even acknowledge much less respond to or act upon. Instead, Israel chose “total war” against a defenseless people who have no air force, army or navy with which to protect themselves. In the words of Ilan Pappe, Chair of the Department of History at the University of Exeter, “Israel’s policy – in the last 60 years – stems from a racist hegemonic ideology called Zionism…an ideology that endorses ethnic cleansing, occupation and now massive massacres”[ii] That’s the first chapter.

More frightening still however, is the fact that Payback refuses to see the next chapter. Can’t Israel, and the U.S. for that matter, catch on to the fact that you can’t bomb and kill innocent people without creating more hatred? David Bromwich, Professor of Literature at Yale, writes:

What prompts the fantasy that you can “kill all the terrorists” without sewing the seeds of new terrorism? Partly, the fantasy comes from the idea that any civilian deaths you cause will be forgiven, but much more, it derives from the secondary fantasy that civilian deaths will go mainly unwitnessed. They will be recorded as numbers, perhaps, but they will pass out of the awareness of the world. That is not the way things work, of course. There are people in the world – not hundreds, not thousands, but hundreds of millions – who feel more closely allied to the killed than they do to the killers.[iii]

He goes on to say, “You cannot bomb a people into a partnership. You cannot obliterate a people into a just and lasting peace.”

Israel has been humiliating, torturing and stealing from Palestinians for years and it hasn’t worked. In fact, the pain and humiliation is a bonanza for recruiting Islamic terrorists.

The Red Cross reports that 50 percent of the children in Gaza have lost their will to live.[iv] I ask, how long before one of those with no will to live straps a bomb on his or her vest and walks into Tel Aviv, or Washington? That could very well be the next chapter.

Thomas Are
February 16, 2009
[i] Larry King Live, CNN, January 27, 2009
[ii] Ilan Pappe, Israel’s Righteous Fury and its Victims in Gaza, The Electronic Intifada, January 2, 2009.
[iii] David Bromwich, Self-deception and the Assault on Gaza, The Huffington Post, January 18, 2009.
[iv] This statistic and final question, slightly edited, comes from Susan Abulhawa, Palestinians Will Not Forget, Contact Community.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Where's the Moral Compass?

Right after Jimmy Carter’s April, 2008 meeting with representatives of Hamas in Syria, Ari Fleischer, former Press Secretary for George W. Bush said, “I just don’t know where that man’s moral compass is set.”[1] It’s a legitimate question, it’s just aimed in the wrong direction. Since the massacre in Gaza, millions around the globe are asking that very same question not of Carter, but of Israel.

More than 1300 killed, many of them women and children. Thousands injured, many of them permanently with arms, legs and faces blown off or burned beyond recognition by internationally condemned white phosphorous bombs, 22,000 buildings destroyed, Gazans are left without electricity, medicines, food and very little water for drinking or sanitation needs.

Keep in mind that it was Israel, not Gaza, that broke the truce. Admittedly, some crude, home made rockets were launched into Israel in response to Israel’s brutal siege of Gaza, one of the poorest and most densely populated areas of the world, blocking off the necessities of life. Then, suddenly, November 4th, while all Americans were watching the results of our presidential elections, Israeli troops reentered Gaza and killed five Palestinians. It was then that Hamas refused to renew the truce. Israel invaded, dropping one hundred tons of bombs on the first day.[2]

“You can’t believe everything you hear,” is a common comment from friends and politicians. But, given Israel’s history of overwhelming force, you can’t just ignore it either.

“Have we forgotten the 17,500 dead – almost all civilians, most of them children and women – in Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon; the 1,700 Palestinian civilian dead in the Sabra-Shitila massacre; the 1996 Qana massacre of 106 Lebanese civilian refugees, more than half of them children, at a UN base; the massacre of the Marwahin refugees who were ordered from their homes by the Israelis in 2006 then slaughtered by an Israeli helicopter crew; the 1,000 dead of that same bombardment and Lebanese invasion, almost all of them civilians.”[3]

writes Robert Fisk, described by the New York Times as “probably the most famous correspondent in Britain.”

It is hard to believe that the massacre of Gaza is any different. It seems that the most dangerous place in the world to live today is close to Israel.

How is, “not believing” today any different than not believing the stories and pictures of the Nazi atrocities in the 30s and 40s when no one wanted to question the moral compass of “Christian” Germany?

There are at least two reasons why we cannot ignore what we are hearing and seeing from Gaza. One is that the planes, ships, gunboats and rockets fired into Gaza were paid for by billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars. Like it or not, our hands are in that dish. Second, we have allowed, unchallenged, the Christian right to distort the teachings of Judaism and Christianity to justify anything done by Israel’s military.

Someone has to challenge Israel’s Holocaust theology,[4] which says, “We have suffered, therefore we are innocent,” and “we are empowered, therefore we are entitled,” with or without moral compass.

Thomas Are
February 6, 2009
[1] Ari Fleischer, Larry King Live, April 28, 2008.
[2] Rachelle Marshall, Israel’s War on Gaza Arouses Rage Throughout the Middle East and Beyond, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 2009, p.7.
[3] Robert Fisk, Why Do They Hate the West So Much, We will Ask, The Independent, January 7, 2009
[4] A term I first heard when used by Marc Ellis, Jewish scholar and author of Beyond Occupation.