What's Left

March 17, 2003

When saying "we're all Palestinians" really means something

By Stephen Gowans

Do Americans who act as human shields, in places like the West Bank and Gaza and Iraq, believe their lives are so significant that Israeli bulldozers won't rumble over them and that American cruise missiles won't vaporize them?

If they do, they might be forgiven for thinking their lives are special. Millions of non-Americans die needlessly, countless foreigners die violently, and their deaths are hardly noticed. But 3,000 Americans died on Sept. 11, 2001 and Americans tell themselves the event has changed history, as if their deaths mean more than anyone else's.

It wouldn't be a surprise then if American human shields believed another American, the president, wouldn't give the order to fire cruise missiles into Baghdad, or allow Ariel Sharon to send bulldozers to squash them, because they were American and American lives mean more.

Isn't that the essence of the human shield? They'll kill Palestinians without batting an eye, sweep away hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and say its liberation, but they won't hurt us, because we're Americans.

What Americans fail to grasp is that the deaths of their 3,000 compatriots on Sept. 11 have a significance that transcends the significance of any tragedy of similar magnitude, because the deaths serve a purpose -- they can be used as a pretext to justify conquest.

At one time, an explosion aboard the battleship Maine, at rest in Havana harbor, served the same purpose.

That event was seized on by the press of the day as having extraordinary significance, more momentous than any explosion aboard any other ship.

The explosion -- immediately chalked up to an enemy attack, but later attributed to spontaneous combustion in the ship's coal bunker -- was used to start the Spanish-American war, a war "to liberate Cuba from colonial oppression," but which simply replaced one master, Spain, with another, Washington.

Tomorrow, a war to liberate Iraq from Saddam's oppression will replace one dictator, Saddam, with another, General Tommy Franks, and later, with the dictatorship of US business interests

Roy MacGregor, a columnist with The Globe and Mail, points out that the American press's demonization of Spanish general Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau in 1898 bears striking similarities to the Bush administration's depiction of Saddam Hussein in 2003, right down to the use of the obloquy "The Butcher."

"Weyler the brute, the devastator of haciendas, the destroyer of families, the outrager of women...Pitiless, cold, an exterminator of men...There is nothing to prevent his carnal, animal brain from running riot with itself in inventing tortures and infamies of bloody debauchery" ("A nasty little war and bloodthirsty news outlets: The eerie parallels with 1898," The Globe and Mail, March 17, 2003. )

And Sept. 11 provided a pretext for Washington to penetrate Central Asia (destroying more Afghan lives in the process than were destroyed on Sept. 11) and to invade Iraq (which will destroy many times more lives than the Sept. 11 events Washington has tried so desperately to link to Saddam Hussein.)

But if there was a purpose in minimizing the deaths of 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11 (or of playing down the explosion on the Maine) that would have been done, too.

Imagine, if you will, that Washington wanted to demonize Israel. The death of Rachel Corrie, a young American who died after an Israeli bulldozer ran over her as she tried to protect Palestinian homes in Rafah, would have been splashed across the front-page of every newspaper. We'd know who she was, where she went to school, who her parents were, what her aspirations were, what her college marks were.

Her funeral would be attended by the president and various dignitaries, and calls would be made for Israel to be bombed. Palestinians would be turned into brave freedom fighters and Ariel Sharon's mask would be removed. He would be exposed for what he is: a war criminal and ethnic cleanser. Later, he would be branded a dictator "who allows just enough democracy to avoid the charge" (as is said today of elected foreign leaders Washington is seeking to undermine and overthrow.)

But as it is, Rachel Corrie's death will be quickly forgotten, if it were ever noticed, and the script will continue as the script-writers in Washington have written it: Sharon is a man of peace defending Israel from Palestinians, who are terrorists and would-be suicide bombers consumed by irrational hatred of Jews.

Where the truth is whatever Washington, and hence, the media, makes it, the only deaths that matter are those that can be used to justify more conquest. Carrie's death didn't make the grade. She becomes like the foreigners she sought to defend. Nonentities to be rolled over and crushed and soon forgotten.

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