[OPE-L:6944] fisk: the US-Israeli alliance

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Mon Apr 08 2002 - 14:55:58 EDT

Robert Fisk: This will be the week when we see who runs the US-Israeli alliance

'Since US soldiers are blindfolding and gagging Muslim prisoners, why 
should Mr Sharon worry?'

08 April 2002


So what's the surprise? Suddenly Israel doesn't want to take our 
advice. Ex-general Ariel Sharon prefers to go on wrecking the 
Palestinian Authority, tearing up the Oslo agreement in the name of 
his Holy War on terror. Why should he worry about the scandalous 
number of civilian casualties among the Palestinians? After all, 
didn't America wreak its own revenge - killing thousands of innocent 
civilians in one of the poorest countries on Earth - after the crimes 
against humanity of 11 September? I must admit, though, to a grim 
satisfaction when I heard President George Bush's puzzled, 
uncomprehending response to Mr Sharon's refusal to withdraw his army 
from the West Bank.

The Israeli Prime Minister is, after all, the man who sent his army 
into Lebanon in 1982 to "root out Palestinian terror'' - note the 
identical rhetoric, as well as the same cast of characters - and 
whose "elite'' Israeli forces killed up to 17,500 people, almost all 
civilians. Mr Sharon is the man who then sent Israel's vicious 
Phalangist allies into the Beirut refugee camps of Sabra and Chatila, 
after which they massacred 1,700 Palestinian civilians. For this he 
was held "personally responsible'' by Israel's own commission of 
inquiry. Evidence now emerging in Beirut suggests that most of the 
slaughtered refugees were actually killed in the two weeks following 
the original massacre - after the survivors had been handed back to 
the Phalange by Israel's own soldiers

So why should Mr Sharon stop now? If Mr Bush wants to rein in his 
reckless ally, why doesn't he ask Mr Sharon a few questions? Why 
doesn't he ask what has happened to the more than 1,000 Palestinian 
prisoners who have disappeared into Israel's hands over the past two 
weeks? What happened, for example, to the five men, blindfolded and 
trussed up like chickens whom I discovered in the Jewish settlement 
of Psagot? What happened to the masses of young men I saw being taken 
in a bus with its windows wired over, a bus that made its way around 
Jerusalem and headed west on the Tel Aviv highway. How many of these 
young men are now being tortured either in interrogation centres or 
in the Russian Compound, the main torture compound in West Jerusalem?

But since Mr Bush's soldiers are experts in blindfolding and gagging 
Muslim prisoners - and putting them in front of drumhead military 
courts - why should Mr Sharon worry? For month after month, as Mr 
Sharon tore up the Oslo agreement, put the building of Jewish 
colonies on Arab land into overdrive and sent out his death squads to 
murder Palestinians, the Bush administration - fearful of offending 
the Israelis - allowed him to do what he wanted. In response to the 
wicked Palestinian suicide bombings, Bush expressed outrage. In 
response to Israel's aggression, he called for restraint - and then 
did nothing.

Again, what's the surprise? For months the American media has refused 
to tell its viewers and readers what is going on in the occupied 
territories. Its newspapers have indulged the insanity of writers who 
have been encouraging Mr Sharon into ever-more-savage acts. What are 
we supposed to make - for example, of a recent article in The New 
York Times by William Safire, referring - as usual - to Jewish 
civilians murdered by Palestinians but to Arab civilians "caught in 
the crossfire'', "crossfire" being the nearest many journalists will 
dare to go in saying that the culprits were Israeli.

Safire plays the old game of talking about the occupied territories 
as "disputed'' rather than occupied, a grotesque distortion of the 
truth upon which the State Department insisted in a policy paper sent 
out by the Secretary of State, Colin Powell.

But Safire adds a new threat to journalists who might wish to tell 
the truth: "These are disputed territories'' he writes, "to call them 
'occupied' reveals a prejudice against Israel's right to what were 
supposed to be 'secure and defensible' borders.'' You can see the way 
the argument is going. If we have a 'prejudice' against Israel's 
rights, it's only a short step to call us anti-Semitic. But what is 
one to make of this nonsense? Am I supposed to pretend that the 
soldiers who blocked my car and pointed their guns at me in the West 
Bank last week were Swiss? Am I to believe that the rabble of 
soldiers shouting at Palestinian women desperate to leave Ramallah 
were Burmese?

Safire regularly takes phone calls from Mr Sharon (and then insists 
on telling us of Mr Sharon's latest fantasies), but my old chum Tom 
Friedman in his ever-more-Messianic column in The New York Times, has 
almost gone one better. "Israel needs to deliver a military blow that 
clearly shows terror will not pay,'' he announced last week. What, in 
God's name, is an American journalist doing when he urges Mr Sharon 
to go to war? Friedman was with me in the Sabra and Chatila camps. 
Has he forgotten what we saw? Last week, however, Friedman was also 
amiably advising the Palestinians to turn to non-violent resistance  
la Gandhi.

For Friedman, "a non-violent Palestinian movement appealing to the 
conscience of the Israeli silent majority would have delivered a 
Palestinian state 30 years ago...'' Needless to say, when Westerners, 
including two Britons, protested peacefully in Bethlehem - and were 
wounded by an Israeli soldier who shot at them, Friedman was silent.

The reason why the Palestinians turned to suicide bombing, according 
to Friedman, was not despair over the occupation - occupation which, 
of course, Safire tells us we mustn't refer to - but because "the 
Palestinians are so blinded by narcissistic rage'' that they have 
lost sight of the sacredness of human life.

And so it goes on. Having bestialised the Palestinians over so many 
years, why should we be surprised when a society eventually produces 
the very monsters we always claim to see in them? Even Mr Bush's 
speech last week in which he dispatched Mr Powell on his "urgent'' 
mission of peace - allowing him a lazy seven days to reach Israel, 
reserved its venom for the Palestinians. And yet, after all that, he 
fails to see why Mr Sharon might choose to keep his army in the field.

So this week will be a crucial one in the American-Israeli 
relationship, a real test of the Bush presidency. We shall find out 
who - the US or Israel - runs America's policy in the Middle East. It 
would be nice to think that it was the former. But I'm not sure.

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