by Stephen Gowans
The Economist, that estimable UK
magazine, wants me to do it "the honor of trying our publication
risk-free." So theyíve sent me a colorful brochure with a photograph
of what appears to be an Afghan boy, about four or five, carrying a
young girl, perhaps his sister, about two years of age, on his back.
Superimposed on the photograph, to the right of the The Economistís
white on red logo, is the headline: A heart-rending but necessary
Who these children are we can only
guess. Orphans, their parents killed in the barrage of Kandahar by U.S
warplanes? Or are their parents still alive, eking out a bare existence in
a refugee camp, fighting their own necessary war, not against abstractions
like terrorism or the Talibanís brutality or its refusal to kowtow to the
Presidentís demands, but against cold and hunger?
If you can have it both ways, the
editors of The Economist are determined they will. Weíre hard-headed,
prepared to back the tough choices, they seem to say, but that doesnít
mean we donít have a heart.
Those who will give The Economistís
editors the honor of trying their publication risk-free (the risks, not
financial, but related to oneís conscience), sit in warm houses in places
like Denver and Dallas, London and Toronto, smartly dressed in
fashionable, comfortable clothes, poring over their newspapers while they
wash their toast down with hot coffee, the kids already safely off to
school, nodding in agreement. "Yes, it is a necessary war. Too bad about
the kids, though. But warís like that."
Meanwhile, Bibi Gul, sitting on her
sole possession, a tattered blanket, laid out on the hard, rocky soil of a
Pakistani refugee camp, wonders just how necessary the war is. And she
wonders if the editors at The Economist really know how heart-rending it
is, not in that vicarious way, the way movies can be, but in a visceral,
personal way, the way it would be if fuel air bombs, with their relentless
boom, boom, boom had burst over London, and had driven The Economistís
editors from their homes, into a refugee camp where there was too little
to eat and too little to keep the cold away. Where no photographer could
snap a picture of their own children, to be put on the cover of a
magazine, or a brochure to show how dispassionate but at the same time
human you are, because their own children had already died? Bibi Gulís son
died one morning, from cold and hunger, a victim of the "necessary" war.
The Economist wonít show you a photograph of Bibi Gulís son, emaciated,
crouched in a ball, trying to get warm, the way he was when he froze to
death that night. That would be, well, a little too heart-rending.
Heart-rending has its limits.
Plenty of well-fed, comfortable people,
whoíve never known war but as something that happens somewhere else,
something to make the pulse quicken and to stir patriotic feelings and to
be glorified by Hollywood and to bear a presidentís approval ratings into
the stratosphere, squirm uncomfortably when they run headlong into
reality. So war is pain and grief and blood and hunger and cold and panic.
Itís little kids pissing their pants in terror, before a sniperís bullet
rips through their skull, splattering brains across their mothersí faces.
Itís young men being beaten to death by thugs, who we call soldiers. Itís
Afghan kids orphaned by pilots who fly B-52ís, and have kids of their own,
who go to Sunday School, and speak in admiring tones of their daddy the
war hero whoís off in Afghanistan killing other peopleís kids.
Itís easy to talk bravely of a
necessary war, when other people are the victims, and other people do the
fighting, and all you have to do is watch from afar and spin romantic
fantasies about it. Harry Fisher, who went to war in Spain, fell into the
arms of a great despair when he returned home, because all his friends
wanted to know what it was like to kill fascists. They thought it was a
glorious war, Fisher recalled. But to Fisher it was a sad, depressing
affair, of corpses whose "faces revealed final moments filled with pain,
horror, and fear," of kids who wanted to do nothing more than play soccer
but who were dragooned into Francoís army and thrown into the front lines
and were machine-gunned by antifascists filled with a burning desire to
smash the vile, repellent ideology of Hitler and Mussolini and Franco, but
who eventually learned the truth about war, a truth those at home could
Itai Haviv is an artillery captain in
the Israeli army reserves: "As a fighting officer of the Israel Defense
Forces, I served all over the West Bank and Gaza Strip," he writes. "I am
not naive. Sometimes you must kill to survive. In the name of the State of
Israel, I chased after children who threw stones at me. I patrolled the
alleys of refugee camps. I banged on tin doors in the wee hours of the
night. I looked for inciting texts between mattresses and blankets. I
heard babies cry. I pulled people out of bed to erase slogans off the
walls. I enforced curfews. I fought against Palestinian flags hanging on
electricity poles. I stopped vehicles. I confiscated ID cards. I
transferred handcuffed detainees in the back of my jeep. I shot rioters. I
stopped hundreds of cars at checkpoints."
Haviv, along with some 400 others, is a
refusinik, an army reservist who refuses to serve in the West Bank, who
sees the Israeli army operation against Palestinians not as a war against
terrorism, but a war that guarantees terrorism. Havivís views are quite
different from those of many Jews who live in North America, well away
from the fighting, whoíve never patrolled the alleys of refugee camps,
have never shot rioters, have never beaten rock-throwers to death, will
never sit in cafes that are plunged into a maelstrom of blood and screams
and exploding nails and metal by a suicide bomb detonated by a youth whose
life is so bleak that a martyrís death is infinitely more attractive, but
are prepared to belligerently back whatever brutality is deemed necessary
to defend Israel from terrorists, even if it means the terrorism will get
worse, and more Israelis will die, and Israel is irredeemably stained.
Assaf Oron, another refusenik, says
that when Tikkun, a US peace-supporting Jewish organization, declared
solidarity with the refuseniks, it was "immediately bombarded with hate
mail and phone calls from other American Jews." Like the ardent communists
Harry Fisher met when he got back from Spain, America's staunch Israeli
defenders can be counted on for unrelieved pugnacity.
"You get used to it in a hurry," says
Oron, an infantry sergeant. "Many even learn to like it. Where else can
you go out on patrol Ė that is, walk the streets like a king, harass and
humiliate pedestrians to your heart's content, and get into mischief with
your buddies Ė and at the same time feel like a big hero defending your
country?" But to pro-Israelis, these are necessary actions. Israel must be
defended."Without thinking, I turned into the perfect occupation
enforcer," he continues. "I settled accounts with "upstarts" who didn't
show enough respect. I tore up the personal documents of men my father's
age. I hit, harassed, served as a bad example Ė all in the city of
Kalkilia, barely three miles from grandma and grandpa's home-sweet-home.
No. I was no "aberration." I was exactly the norm."
Ellen Cantarow, a Jew who has reported
for The Village Voice, Mother Jones and Inquiry from Israel and the West
Bank from 1979 to 1989, has been keeping a record of what Israelís
necessary war amounts to: "[A]mbulances shot at and stopped from arriving
at their destinations; hospitals invaded and medical personnel prevented
at gunpoint from carrying out their responsibilities; people bleeding to
death while soldiers block, at gunpoint and in tanks, their safe passage
to medical relief; corpses rotting in hospital corridors; relatives
forbidden to carry out decent burials (one group of the slain had to be
buried in a Ramallah parking lot); civilians shot if they venture out
their doors; massive looting and vandalizing of homes; cultural
institutions invaded and files destroyed; electrical systems for water
pumps destroyed so that whole urban areas have their water supplies cut
off; internationals and Palestinian press members wounded by Israeli
gun-fire.... six Nablus field hospitals with scores of people in
serious-to-critical condition, doctors forced to operate with minimal
If it seems like the IDF has borrowed
from the Nazis, itís because they have. The January 25th edition of
Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, reported that one of the top commanders in
the occupied territories recommended the German armyís methods of
operating in the Warsaw Ghetto as a model for the IDF to follow.
Outrage is growing, met by an almost
hysterical cry of protest from pro-Israelis. And the target of the outrage
isnít directed solely at the war-crazed Ariel Sharon, Israelís Prime
Minister, no stranger to atrocities and war crimes; itís turning towards
"There is a nearly unanimous global
consensus that the United States policy has become one-sided and morally
hypocritical, with clear displays of sympathy for Israeli victims of
terrorist violence and relative indifference to the (much more numerous)
Palestinian civilian causalities," wrote Zbigbiew Brzezinski, National
Security advisor to former President Jimmy Carter, in the New York Times.
Echoing Brzezinski, Bill Christison, a
former CIA analyst says, "In the minds of Arabs and Muslims everywhere,
the US seems to have accepted all actions by Palestinians against
Israelis, including acts against Israeli soldiers as well as those against
innocent civilians, as being terrorism. At the same time, however, the US
appears to believe that no acts by Israelis against Palestinians
Many, like the American novelists
Russell Banks, who visited the West Bank at the invitation of Palestinian
poet Mahmoud Darwish, believe the Palestinians best hope lies with the
refuseniks. But to others, itís clear who can also stop the Israelis --
the same people whoíve provided them with their tanks, helicopter gun
ships and warplanes: the United States "[O]ne should not...underestimate
the leverage the United States has, " Brzezinski points out.
No, we shouldnít.
Mr. Steve Gowans is a
writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.