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The bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York on 11 September was without a doubt the largest and most devastating man-manufactured disaster in history. More than 6,000 civilians from 80 countries lost their lives in an explosion of flame and smoke. Television screens provided the medium through which the tragedy unfolded, and viewers thought they were watching a new ‘disaster’ movie. “The world has changed” was the initial reflective comment, but it became clear in the ensuing weeks that it was the American government trying to change the world, to unilaterally organise the ‘new world order’ and imprint its hegemony upon the rest of the globe. It became increasingly difficult to assess the impact of the mass murder as the horror of the American administration’s response rapidly unfolded. The American people rallied in a surge of previously unexpressed nationalism and solidarity, wrapping anything, including themselves, in stars and stripes while President Bush called for a world war against terrorism. The heralding of trumpets could be viewed as belated. The results of a year’s research by a group of Senators submitted to President Clinton in January 2000 made it clear that America faced a real threat from terrorist attacks. The report highlighted a growing resentment against America, notably in Egypt, and rage over American policy in the Middle East, in particular with respect to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Its recommendations were ignored.
In principle, Bush’s efforts are welcome but the framework in which he chooses to do so is unquestionably terrifying, and the language adopted should send cold shivers down the global spine. His most receptive audiences can only be drawn from either fans of old Western films or members of Christian fundamentalist sects. “We are not seeking justice-we are at war, a war against evil.” Notwithstanding that it would take a doctoral thesis to define the concept of evil, such language belongs to the revivalist pulpit rather than an American President. Bush proved unstoppable, now presumably referring to as yet an unidentified lower form of life-possibly extra-terrestrial terrorists-when he said, “they may run and hide, crawl into their caves, but they cannot hide forever.” Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair overnight became more American than Americans and perhaps should consider a transfer from Westminster to the American Congress. Blair, emulating Bush’s war-mongering rhetoric, said, “If the Taliban people refuse to hand over Bin Laden, they too become the ‘enemy’.” Within hours of the bombing and without a shred of evidence, Palestinians were named as possible suspects. As a result, Arabs are experiencing difficult times from their American neighbors, a phenomenon met with undisguised glee by the Israeli media. It is significant also that in a meeting with American airline staff President Bush stated, “We will not let the terrorist take away our right to worship, or our right to freedom of movement.” Welcome to Palestine, Mr Bush.
The announcement that the Saudi radical Osama Bin Laden, living in exile in Afghanistan, was a primary suspect inspired Bush to loftier heights. “We want him dead or alive” and “We will bring his head on a platter.” Administration spokespeople did their best to quickly downplay his use of the term ‘crusade,’ a word unpalatable in the Muslim world, but it was too late. The damage had already been done. The war became one of utopian values, waged by freedom-loving democracies against all those who do not share those values. In a later breath, Bush directly attacked the Taliban leadership who ‘profane’ their faith, who ‘claim to be pious men but abuse their women’. It may well be the case that the Taliban has sought to return Afghanistan to the Middle Ages and throw the veil of anonymity over Afghan women but such diatribe serves only to fan existing hostility. It is indeed a great irony that in seeking a world coalition for a terrorist-free world Bush has succeeded in bringing into crystal clear focus the divisions within the global community, in particular with the Muslim world. “You are either with us or against us,” Bush’s succinct response to the Ayattolah Aymani of Iran who said, “The terrorists are with you (referring to the Israeli leadership), and we are not with you.” Bush’s war is proving a grievous threat to global stability.
Within weeks, Bush’s war against terrorism against a nebulous enemy is now a war against Afghanistan and its Taliban leadership for its refusal to surrender Bin Laden. Pentagon press announcements waffle around the issues that this war is of necessity of indeterminate length, without borders and with no measured key to victory. Apparently, incontrovertible evidence against Bin Laden has been distributed to the select few, including Britain and Pakistan, but not to the Taliban. It is inconceivable the world’s only superpower is prepared to invade one of the world’s poorest countries, its back broken from a ten-year struggle against Russian occupation, and now a victim of a three-year drought. It is incredible that everyone, particularly the European States, are so eager to join the anti-Afghanistan club. Bush has made it clear that he is prepared to act outside the rule of law and all existing Conventions Against Terrorism. He recently instructed the CIA “to do everything possible to eliminate Bin Laden”, a policy so familiar to the Palestinian community which has lost more than 60 of its civic and political leaders to Israeli arbitrary executions. However, Bush was spared the renegade course by the hastily compiled United Nations Security Council Resolution 1368, which refers to “the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense in accordance with the Charter,” and such acts as the bombing of the World Trade Center are “a threat to international peace and security.” However, Resolution 1368 did not invoke Chapter VII of the Charter, which authorizes military action and sanctions as it did when Iraq invaded Kuwait. But the reference to self-defense proved enough to be used as legal cover for anything the U.S. government may choose to do. This includes the declaration of war, which violates the very essence of the United Nations Charter. Resolution 1368 also neatly dovetails with the NATO Council’s resolution which reiterates “that an attack on one is an attack on all.” It is not at all surprising that this very same sentiment is echoed by the Muslim faith; if one part of the Muslim world is attacked, all of the Muslim world is attacked; if you kill one human being, you kill all humanity.
Thus a dubious ‘legal’ framework was hurriedly laid to pave the way for the U.S.-led world coalition against terrorism. It is alarming that given the various options in combating terrorism-from freezing financial assets to precise counter intelligence-Bush has chosen a war against a Muslim people which involves the entire central Asian region and all the Islamic States. In order to launch the coalition, the Bush administration has put certain States under enormous pressure, most notably Pakistan, which tried valiantly to place any action under the sanctions of the United Nations. At the same time, the United Nations has undertaken a special courting of India [in a mortal struggle with Pakistan over Kashmir] to join such a coalition alongside Pakistan. A very delicate task considering, in the words of India’s Foreign Minister, “Pakistan is part of the problem.” The U.S. seeks the support of 21 Asian countries, including Indonesia and Malaysia, both fragile States with a strong Muslim presence. Again, it is vital that Israel’s neighbours, including Saudi Arabia, and the other Middle Eastern countries be brought into the ‘coalition.’ Thus the timely reminder from Saudi that its unreserved support would not be forthcoming unless the Palestinian national struggle is addressed. The Arab States, faced with the parameters of ‘you are either with us or against us,’ were thrown into their own individual dilemmas. Served with notice to arrest or extradite ‘terrorists’ that extended to Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hizbullah, they must be pondering over impossible contradictions.
It is in the minds of more than a few that the only country to really benefit from the bombing of the World Trade Center is Israel Prime Minister Sharon and his ilk were quick to jump on the anti-terrorist bandwagon. Turning to the world, Sharon had the audacity to declare to the American public, “Now you know how we feel,” making the outrageous analogy between the death of thousands and the resistance struggle of the Palestinians against Israeli Occupation-stone-throwing Palestinian schoolchildren against fully garbed combat soldiers or the solo suicide bomber. In a telephone conference with American Jewish leaders, Sharon declared, “We, too, have our own Bin Laden in Yasser Arafat.” He went on and went too far: “The coalition against terrorism must include the terrorist organization led by Arafat.” Sharon’s remarks were not welcomed, and he was informed by the White House to stop incursions into Palestinian Territories and to let the much-postponed Arafat-Peres meeting go ahead. On 17 September, the long-awaited meeting with Peres took place, albeit too late, and any progress unraveled within days. Peres himself seems to have lost some of his vision as he declared with that familiar straight face to the American National Press Club, “We gave all the land without bullets; what more do they want?”
Given that the world’s attention was focused elsewhere, Israel lost no time in escalating its propaganda war against the Palestinians. Former Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on his own tour of the U.S. at the time of the bombings was asked by the New York Times what the attack meant for relations between the United States and Israel. He replied, “It’s very good-well, um-it will generate a lot of sympathy.” For other Israeli politicians it represented a window of opportunity to finally deal with Arafat and the Palestinians without all that bothersome criticism. The Israeli media were eager to show footage of Palestinians celebrating the World Trade Center bombing whereas the story that someone paid a shopkeeper 200 shekels to give children sweets and act out celebrations was not repeated. The fact that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians felt the utmost sympathy for the WTC victims was ignored. In a speech broadcast by Al-Jezeera television, Bin Laden stated that “peace would not come to America if there was no peace in Palestine.” This received a luke-warm response from the Palestinians who in general do not identify strongly with either the Taliban culture and customs or with Bin Laden.
Now, two months following the WTC attack and one month of America’s relentless bombing attacks on Afghanistan, the Taliban have retreated to the mountains, and the Northern Alliance, much against America’s instructions, has entered Kabul. Thousands of Afghan refugees stagnate at the borders of Pakistan and Iran, and more than 100,000 Afghan children face death from starvation or the winter cold. Countless numbers of civilians are dead. When questioned over such civilian casualties at a Pentagon briefing on Thursday, 25 October, American Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld immediately referred to the 5,000 or more who lost their lives at the WTC as the horrendous figure. Does this make the death of Afghani civilians addressed as ‘collateral damage’ merely regrettable! An Afgan mother begins her day and ends it with her children dead. What is the future as millions of Muslims across the globe protest against this war of revenge? The Islamic world is in turmoil, and Afghanistan will burst the American bubble and become another Vietnam on its sleeping conscience-its self-declared war turned into an abject failure. In Bush’s words, “We will not falter and we will not fail.” He has already seriously faltered and will no doubt equally clearly fail. Incidentally, lest we forget the supposed point of all this, where can Osama Bin Laden possibly be?
With the smoke still rising into the Washington skies, Israel was similarly quick to further escalate its military war against the Palestinians, and to attempt to graft its Occupation onto the global war against terrorism. Given the vociferous language of Bush, it is not surprising that Sharon believed that in the new climate Palestinians were fair game. Within one week of the WTC bombing, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) killed 28 Palestinians, wounded 200 and mounted 18 incursions into Palestinian Authority territory in the West Bank and Gaza, including a seven-day incursion into Jenin that left 14 Palestinians dead. Israel’s Defence Minister Ben Eliezer told a Yediot Aharnot reporter that the WTC outrage was “from the perspective of the Jews, the most important public relations act ever committed in our favour,” not withstanding that many New York Jews were among the victims. Driving his point home, Ben Eliezer added, “It is a fact that we have just killed 12 Palestinians in Jenin, Qabatiya and Tammun with the world remaining absolutely silent.” With the relentless media coverage coming out of the Pentagon and Islamabad, Israel’s bombing of Palestinian cities by helicopter gun–ships and F-16 fighter planes dropped off the pages, as did the deeper and deeper armed tank incursions into Palestinian-controlled territory and the almost daily executions of its political and civic leaders.
But the Israelis-cold-shouldered by the U.S. and not invited to join the world coalition-were not finished. With the assassination of Israel’s Tourist Minister Ze’evi “send them (Palestinians) to Mecca” and apparently nicknamed Ghandi because of a physical resemblance in his youth, Israel intensified its already suffocating siege on Palestinian lands and its people. Ze’evi, a passionate supporter of deporting Palestinians, was shot dead in his hotel room at the Hyatt hotel in East Jerusalem by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Israel then copycats the language of Bush as unilateral statements announced from the Pentagon and the Israeli Knesset reveal unnerving similarities. Changing only the geographical backcloth, Israel calls upon Arafat to arrest and extradite members of the PFLP, a demand that Israel knows is an impossible one to meet. Failure to do so gives Israel the green light to regard Arafat’s Authority as “an entity harbouring terrorists and to act accordingly.” Yet another golden avenue opens for Sharon to skuttle the peace process. It is worth noting that 24 hours prior to the assassination of Ze’evi, Israel (with impunity) assassinated two Hamas leaders. We hear a call for their killers to be brought to justice, but it would seem illogical to demand that Israel arrest their own agents of State terrorism!
Exploiting the assassination of Ze’evi to the fullest extent, Israel embarks upon vicious military attacks against Palestinian towns and villages. This, perhaps, should come as no surprise as it is consistent with Sharon’s policies of using military might to extinguish the passion and determination of the Palestinian people to be free. Over the past month, Israeli forces have invaded the Palestinian cities of Jenin, Bethlehem, Al-Bireh and Ramallah. Children have died, students have been injured and more Palestinian leaders blown to smithereens. Under the pretext of arresting Palestinians suspected of killing Ze’evi, Israeli tanks and troops invaded the small village of Beit Reema near Ramallah under the cover of darkness on Wednesday, 24 October, killing ten Palestinian civilians in unclear circumstances. The Palestinian Red Crescent Society claims that its emergency teams were not allowed access to the village, leaving wounded people to bleed to death. In the words of Arab League spokesperson Hanan Ashrawi, this was indeed a massacre, and the fact that the PA had already arrested four suspects in the Ze’evi assassination was ignored. Israel admits no one directly associated with the Ze’evi case was found in Beit Reema.
Upon his inauguration, Bush made it clear that his policies in the Middle East would be guided by the opposite of Clinton’s policy of close engagement. He thought to simply let both parties get on with it and adopted an uncritical line towards Sharon’s increasingly oppressive measures, most significantly the search-and-destroy military incursions, such as the one in Khan Younis, Gaza, where the IDF destroyed several homes, leaving 500 people homeless. Now, suddenly, America cares about the plight of the Palestinian people, not because Israel’s Occupation is recognized for what it is but simply because it upsets Bush’s plan for a ‘grand finale,’ which may indeed never take place. It may never even catch sight of Bin Laden or even gain the slightest access to the Al-Qaeda network. Overnight, Bush talks about the creation of a Palestinian State as ‘a part of a vision’ when it, alongside successive American governments, has tolerated the actions of the most brutal, inhumane, racist government hell-bent on protecting the preciousness and security of an exclusive racist State. Vast tracts of Palestinian land in the north have been swallowed up to establish ‘security zone’ walls, barriers and guard towers to keep Palestinians out and Israelis inside their ghettoes. It has blocked exit roads with tanks, covered Palestinian land with checkpoints, physically destroyed roads and made every Palestinian’s personal security a fragile entity. And who cares about hundreds of cave-dwellers in the southern Hebron hills brutally ejected from their homes and destined to spend this winter under canvas?
Israel has taken virgin mountains and valleys and raped them with concrete. It has vandalized the region’s beauty, its vine-covered hillsides, its natural resources and placed its soldiers’ boots on the heads of the Palestinian people, aimed its rifle butts at the hearts of Palestinian children, still in school uniform as they play at war games amongst the rubble and aroma of rotting rubbish that border Palestinian refugee camps. Israel has imposed its military might upon Palestine, and daily imposes unacceptable humiliation upon the Palestinian people, the old, the sick, young women crossing fields carrying their newborn babies as the snouts of Israeli tanks threaten to gobble them up as so much undesired fodder. In response to the White House request to withdraw its military from Palestine, Israel responds with “we need a few more days, a few more jobs to do.” How many more Palestinians must lose their lives as part of Israel’s unfinished business?
For myself, the situation was ultimately summarized in the words of Sa’eb Ereikat in an interview with Tim Sebastian on BBC’s programme “Hard Talk.” “If for once-if for only once in their lives Americans would adopt the moral high ground and treat Israel as an Occupying power. If for once we could all clearly remind ourselves that the Palestinians are continuing in their struggle for freedom. If just once we could remind ourselves that Israel is an occupying power, with a relentless appetite for everything Palestinian.”
Christine Lane is from South Wales. She has lived in Palestine for the past ten years.