by Stephen Gowans
When gunmen fired at point blank range into the face of Israeli cabinet
minister Revaham Zeevi, they were playing out the ongoing tragedy of
tit-for-tit: you kill our guy, we'll kill yours. They were also
unwittingly pointing out the utter futility of the way George W. Bush
has decided to wage war on terrorism.
The gunmen, members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of
Palestine, ambushed Zeevi at about 7:00 a.m. while the Israeli minister
of tourism was returning from breakfast to his room in a Jerusalem
hotel. Zeevi, who had some chose words for Palestinians -- they're
"lice," they should be driven out of the West Bank and Gaza -- didn't
have a bodyguard. Palestinians needed bodyguards, not Israelis, he said.
But bodyguards didn't protect Abu Ali Mustafa, a Palestinian Authority
official. On August 27, Israeli helicopters fired missiles into his
office. The Palestinian leader died instantly, one of a growing number
of victims of Israel's policy of extrajudicial assassinations, a program
eerily similar to Washington's plan to root out terrorists where they
The gunmen who shot Zeevi said they were seeking revenge for Abu Ali
Mustafa's death, also eerily similar to the revenge a US intelligence
source warned the Senate of when he said "there is a 100 percent chance
of an attack should the United States strike Afghanistan." You would
think Washington would learn. Israel's crackdown on the Palestinians
hasn't rooted out terrorism. You can't root out revenge.
One of the main architects of this escalating violence, Ariel Sharon,
not too long ago criticized Ehud Barak, his predecessor, for not being
tough enough on Palestinians. Sharon knows something about being tough,
having let Lebanon's Christian Falange massacre Palestinian refugees at
the Sabra and Shatilla camps. Still, that toughness, didn't stop the
first Intifada, or prevent the second.
Sharon charged that Barak's meekness -- he was anything but --
encouraged the Palestinians. That's why the Al-Aqsa Intifida was touched
off, he said, conveniently omitting that he himself had provided the
spark to set off the kindling of rising Palestinian discontent over the
failure of the Oslo accords, by visiting the mosque and declaring
provocatively that it would always be Israeli.
In the election that followed, Sharon appealed to the rising anxiety of
the Israeli public. He would deal with the Palestinians, he promised.
And so, having won the election, he has. Assassinations. Invasions.
Stepped up killings of civilians. Destruction of homes. Helicopter gun
ships, even fighter jets, pressed into service to put down Palestinian
violence. Do Israelis feel safer? Hardly. Are they more secure? Not at
Soon after Zeevi was gunned down, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew
himself up, wounding two Israeli soldiers, a reminder of the lengths to
which oppressed people will go, are forced to go, when an unbending,
bloody-minded, opponent holds all the cards.
Tel Aviv's policy of assassinating suspected terrorists before they
commit terrorist acts has done nothing to stop the number of terrorist
incidents from rising. And it's far harsher than the anti-terrorist
measure of "preventive detention" that Western governments have
embraced. Indeed, the only way of preventing terrorist attacks against
Israelis altogether is to assassinate every Palestinian, something
Zeevi, corrupted by anti-Palestinian venom, may have approved of.
Or you could try something else. End the military occupation. Dismantle
the settlements. Let the refugees return. Build Israel on civil, not
religious, foundations. In other words, deal with the roots of
Palestinian violence. Justice, not "just" cause.
But while the root cause of the uprisings in the occupied territories is
easy to identify, identifying the root cause of the Sept. 11 attacks,
and the recent anthrax attacks, is quite another matter. Not because the
grievances of those who have been blamed for the attacks aren't
legitimate, not because there aren't root causes, but because it's
unclear who's really behind the attacks.
Much as the media and Western governments have rushed to pin the blame
on Osama bin Laden, these attacks are fundamentally different from other
terrorist attacks -- no one is taking responsibility for them, and hence
it's unclear, Washington's feigned certitude aside, who ordered them.
Washington was also sure the pill factory its cruise missiles blew up in
Sudan in 1998 was manufacturing biological weapons. It wasn't. And the
bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999: the Pentagon was
sure it was a Yugoslav government building, or so they said.
The gunmen who assassinated Zeevi said who they were, and why they did
what they did. That's what terrorists do. That's the whole point of
terrorism. The group to which they belong, the secular Popular Front for
the Liberation of Palestine, claimed responsibility for the suicide
bombing that followed. And they made clear what they hoped to
By contrast, no one is owning up to the attacks on New York and
Washington, or taking responsibility for the anthrax attacks, or saying
why they've happened. There's a lot of guess work. There's a lot of
inference. But significantly, all claims of responsibility, and all the
reasons for the attack, have been made by people other than the presumed
So far, all Washington can say is, "bin Laden is evil, he's done this
kind of thing before, therefore it was probably him." Yes, bin Laden has
been behind terrorist attacks before - though on a smaller scale -- but
when he has, he's taken responsibility. So why not now?
And no, the recent Al-Qaeda statements that warn of more airplane
attacks against more towers isn't an admission of guilt. It's a
prediction of a likely future event, qualitatively the same as the
prediction from US intelligence sources that an attack on Afghanistan
makes future terrorist attacks against US targets 100 percent certain.
Are we to conclude that US intelligence is behind the Sept. 11 attacks
because they warn of future attacks?
And if Al-Qaeda was really behind the attacks, why would its spokesman
warn of future aerial attacks, and not future anthrax attacks?
Apparently, Al-Qaeda is as much in the dark as the rest of us.
The terror attacks that have disoriented, frightened, cowed, and
terrified Americans don't have the exact footprint of terrorist attacks.
They have something that looks close enough to be easily mistaken for
the genuine article, but there's something off, not quite right, like a
Sikh mistaken for a Taliban Muslim, because he wears a turban. The
similarities are there, but the fit is wrong.
In being anonymous and unanticipated, the Sept. 11 and anthrax attacks
have more the character of what the US military calls a psychological
operation, something the 4th Psychological Operations Group, at Fort
Bragg, N.C. would say was designed to frighten a civilian population
Whether this is a psychological operation, and who's behind it, is
unclear, like much else that's happened since Sept. 11.
But what is clear is that the terror is playing into the hands of people
who would have Americans submit to war, to the loss of American lives in
war, to bigger military budgets, to the abridgment of civil liberties,
to intolerance of dissent, to bigger tax cuts for the wealthy, to the
raiding of Social Security, to impatience with the anti-globalization
movement, to the ceasing of any questioning of the legitimacy of the
Bush presidency, to the turning of attention away from Israeli war
crimes and human rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza, to the
possibility of racial profiling (which is far too close to having Jews
wear the Star of David, for my liking), and bizarrely, to Star Wars, a
system completely useless against terrorist attacks.
Before he was sentenced to death at Nuremberg, Nazi leader Herman
Goering mused on psychological operations, and the reason for them.
"Why of course the people don't want war," Goering said. "Why should
some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best
he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece?
Naturally, the common people don't want war: neither in Russia, nor in
England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But after
all it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is
always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a
democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist
dictatorship ... Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to
the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell
them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of
patriotism and exposing the country to danger."
All you have to do is tell the people they are being attacked. And then
make it all the more likely -- indeed, 100 percent certain, as US
intelligence says -- that they will be attacked.
Ariel Sharon, who knows nothing other than war, is using the Zeevi
killing, as a pretext for "a war to the finish," assigning "full
responsibility" to Arafat, "as someone who has controlled, and continues
to control, terrorism."
Arafat had nothing to do with the Zeevi killing.
That sounds awfully close to George W. Bush holding Al-Qaeda and the
Taliban fully responsible, as organizations that have controlled, and
continue to control terrorism, without having any evidence either
organization ordered the Sept. 11 attacks.
Sharon hopes to make the West Bank and Gaza Israeli, once and for all.
Bush hopes to put Afghanistan and central Asia firmly under US control.
Most of the rest of us simply hope to see justice done and a sense of
security return to our lives. Neither seem likely now.
Mr. Steve Gowans is a
writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.