No more war lies: Linking Palestine and Iraq

I would like to address a war lie that needs rebuttal: The myth that the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq have nothing to do with Israel.

To those who believe this, I offer a quote from US Congressman Tom Lantos in the September 30, 2002, edition of the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. He told Israeli Minister Colette Avital: "My dear Colette, you won’t have any problem with Saddam. We’ll be rid of the bastard soon enough. And in his place we’ll install a pro-Western dictator, who will be good for us and for you." Avital later confirmed that the quote was accurate.

In the run up to the invasion, we saw meetings between some members of the Iraqi opposition and pro-Israel lobbies in the US and elsewhere. And under the US occupation, we have seen Israeli business delegates travelling to Iraq, talk of the re-opening of a pipeline between the two countries, an Israeli media-monitoring office opening last month in Baghdad, and Israeli planes taking away the last of Iraq’s Jews.

The Times reported that they needed three days of convincing, and their departure sadly extinguished the age-old presence of a once-thriving Jewish community in Mesopotamia. No doubt Israel will now ask Iraq to compensate those Jews who had to be begged to leave their homeland.

But is all this really surprising? After all, every US president for decades has publicly stated that their top priority in the Middle East is the military dominance, political strength and economic wellbeing of Israel, regardless of how Israel abuses such power, which is fuelled by billions of dollars of US taxpayers’ money a year, no questions asked.

Would the US acquiesce to an Iraqi leader critical of Israel? Former Iraqi Minister of Information, Mohammed Saeed Al-Sahaf, told Abu Dhabi TV this week that during the 1990s, US senators told Iraqi officials that if they wanted their country to return to the international fold, one of their tasks would be to recognise and establish ties with Israel.

And is it any coincidence that Israel has been a strident supporter of the US attacks against Afghanistan and Iraq, and future designs on such countries as Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, and even US ally Saudi Arabia?

Let us never forget that when it comes to Bush’s bloody crusades, his apocalyptic visions of good versus evil, his child-like threats of them or us, and his arrogant assertions of a civilised world and an uncivilised world, there is a bulldog in Israel that makes our poodle in Downing Street look like a Chihuahua.

How it suits Israel to see the occupation of another Arab country and US threats against numerous others, so it can literally get away with murder.

During the Palestinians’ unilateral ceasefire, civilians, politicians and resistance leaders continued to be killed, curfews and closures continued to be imposed on entire cities and communities, houses continued to be demolished, checkpoints continued to sprout, and ambulances and hospitals continued to be attacked.

We saw the passing of an annual Bill in Israel’s parliament denying the very existence of an illegal, 36-year military occupation, and another Bill claiming that its illegal settlements on Palestinian land are an internal matter which will be dealt with at Israel’s discretion.

Existing settlements expanded and new ones were established, despite the much-publicised withdrawal from a few uninhabited shacks. Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem reported this year that the settlements now control almost half of the West Bank, which is itself less than one-fifth of historic Palestine.

Israel’s apartheid wall continued to snake its way through the West Bank, swallowing up huge swaths of land and devastating Palestinian livelihoods, economies, transport, and access to hospitals and schools.

All these practices have increased since the inevitable collapse of the ceasefire under the weight of Israel’s "goodwill".

And yet reactions have been astonishing. There is no mention in the media or among politicians that Israel’s assassinations, curfews, house demolitions, settlements and apartheid wall are grave violations of international and humanitarian law. Yet these assessments are easily available from human rights groups.

A recent report on increasing settlement activity by Israel’s Peace Now barely registered in the British media, and an Amnesty International report this month on the devastating impact of Israel’s closures was totally ignored, as was a statement this week by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Jean Ziegler, that Israel was triggering a “humanitarian catastrophe” in the Palestinian territories. The same is true for a report this week by the UN Conference on Trade and Development, stating that Israel’s occupation has transformed the Palestinian territories into a “war-torn economy”.

Last week I contacted the Times diplomatic editor about the exclusion of the Amnesty report, and he told me that decisions about which articles they include are “made on the basis of our news judgment, namely what we consider to be the most important and most interesting for readers.” Is he telling me that his newspaper and readers don’t consider the confinement of millions of people newsworthy?

Assassinations, civilian deaths and house demolitions are often unreported, and when they are there is little if any detail about the victims or their families. This contrasts sharply with news coverage of suicide bombings. Anything in between is simply “relative calm”.

This sanitation of Palestinian suffering reminds me of the suffering of Iraqis, displayed on Arabic TV that you seldom see on American or British stations. No, we hear about Iraq when occupying forces are attacked. It seems some lives are worth more than others, even in our so-called “civilized world”.

Israel’s apartheid wall continues to be described by the media as a security fence, despite the fact that in many places it is a wall three times higher than that which divided Berlin, with an extensive network of reinforced cement, barbed wire, electrical fences, trenches, electronic motion sensors, guard towers and security roads.

As reported by B’Tselem, it has nothing to do with security and plenty to do with maximizing the confiscation of Palestinian land.

Early Day Motion 1689, which I urge all of you to get your MPs to sign, points out that when completed, the wall will leave 45-55% of the West Bank on Israel’s side. Between the wall and the settlements, what is left for Palestine?

If security was the aim, the wall would surely follow Israel’s border. As such, I have a message for Sharon: security will never be achieved through imprisonment and dispossession.

Furthermore, the media’s unquestioning use of Israeli terminology is unacceptable. A colleague of mine contacted the BBC about the use of the term security fence, and this was the reply he got: “We feel we are right to use the term ‘security fence’ as this is what Israel is calling it."

Speaking of the BBC, last week its website posted a chronology of suicide bombings against Israel. However, I couldn’t find similar chronologies of Israel’s assassinations, house demolitions, settlement activity etc. My colleagues and I contacted the BBC to ask whether they have such chronologies, and if not why not. I alone e-mailed them 6 times and called them 3 times. None of us have yet received a reply, though at this point the answer is rather obvious. And this is a corporation that the Daily Telegraph has started monitoring for anti-Israel bias!

But blame does not fall solely on the media and Israel. The Palestinian leadership has done its usual lousy job of upholding the rights of its people. During the Oslo process, the number of settlers doubled, and all the while Yasser Arafat kept negotiating. When it came to final status talks, it was clear that Israel had no intention of leaving its major settlements. Their position was: “Well they’re there now. We have to work around them.”

The same thing is happening now, not just with the settlements but with Israel’s wall. More and more Palestinian land is being confiscated for their construction, yet Abu Mazen, and now Abu Ala, continue to negotiate. It is time for the Palestinian leadership to stand firm and say: “We will not negotiate one more day while these illegal, immoral activities go on.”

If not, the day will come when the wall will be completed, and Israel will say: “Hey, it’s there now, nothing we can do about it.” This must not happen. Negotiations should not take place at any price.

Abu Mazen repeatedly condemned attacks against Israel while Sharon repeatedly justified attacks against Palestinians. Abu Ala, Arafat and his aide Jibril Rajoub continue to call for another ceasefire, when Israel refused to reciprocate during the last one and has rejected the idea of another one.

All this while Arafat has been confined in what remains of his headquarters for almost 2 years. Now Israel says it wants to expel or assassinate him. This is rich coming from a country that claims to be the only democracy in the Middle East, yet wants to kill a leader elected in free and fair elections.

Incidentally, the observers of those elections were headed by former US President Jimmy Carter –” now the US administration has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel for its decision to “remove” Arafat.

Sharon and the US say there should be no negotiations without democratic reform in the Palestinian Authority. By this they mean the blocking of elections which were scheduled for January this year, and the imposition of unelected prime ministers with little, if any, public support.

This sounds like US declarations of wanting democracy in Iraq, while imposing a hand-picked Governing Council answerable to an American. Donald Rumsfeld recently said that he welcomed democracy in the country, as long as the Shias did not gain too much power and bolster ties with Iran. I didn’t know democracy was such a selective, conditional process. But then we are talking about a US government that is itself unelected. If this is democracy, who needs dictatorships?

Of course our media don’t mind this contradiction. Barbara Amiel, wife of Daily Telegraph owner Conrad Black, wrote in the newspaper this week that killing Arafat would be a “moral act”, but her only misgiving is that it would make him a martyr. This is incitement to murder. This may not be a crime in Israel, but it certainly is in this country.

I would like to conclude by returning to the link between the issues of Palestine and Iraq. Israel and the US now both occupy Arab land and people, harass them at checkpoints, kill civilians, raid houses without warning in the middle of the night, hold prisoners without charge, and exploit their natural resources. And both are in full support of the other’s actions. Can anyone really tell us that this is pure coincidence?

It is our responsibility, our duty as citizens and voters in a country whose prime minister acquiesces in the violent, illegal actions and policies of the US and Israel, to hold our politicians and media accountable, to give them the facts, to remind them of injustices, to correct their errors, and to uphold the rights of the Palestinian and Iraqi people, not because they are Arabs, not because they are Muslims and Christians, and certainly not because of any ridiculous claims of anti-Semitism, but because they are human beings that have experienced oppression for far too long. Inaction is complicity –” let us not be accomplices.