The War on Terror, Act II (First of Two Parts)

That the Jews were morally justified in seeking a territory of their own cannot be questioned. But that the Arabs of Palestine should be obliged to give up most of their homeland to accommodate them was, obviously enough, unjust. A conflict between two deeply injured people has grown up. It is not a clash between the right and the wrong claim (as was the European conflict of the thirties) but a conflict between two wronged peoples. Unless it is appreciated that the Arabs have seen the Zionist immigration as the solving of a Christian problem at their expense there is no chance of discovering a means of improving Israel's situation among the Arab states. An improvement of Israel's situation means one thing only: gaining political acceptance by the Arab states. In practice, it is a choice between seeking peace through indefinitely protracted holding operations and, ultimately, through negotiations.

(David Astor, "Two wronged peoples," The Observer, June 4, 1967)

Setting the Stage

It's the middle of March, 2002. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in the news, but it's always in the news, so no big deal. A bomb goes off in Jerusalem, a tank bulldozes some houses in Ramallah, we've been reading this for 35 years now. Except that under the ho-hum atmosphere of the western press, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) is quietly gearing up to its biggest offensive in two years.

Ever since the failed Camp David talks of July 2000, in which Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Yasser Arafat refused to accept a peace accord drafted by then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and then US president Bill Clinton, violence has brewed between Palestinian militants and the Israeli army. Clinton and Barak both blamed Arafat for refusing to accept what they called a fair offer. To be sure, the Barak initiative went farther than any previous Israeli offerings, but to call the offer fair is misleading.

Barak's offer was not a Palestinian state but a Palestinian bantusan. The offer included three or four territories in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, separated from each other and surrounded on all sides by the Israeli army on Israeli territory, demilitarized, featuring Israeli control of water and air space, with Israeli checkpoints at every stop, and no dismantling of the Israeli Settlements. Further, Barak would not recognize the "right of return" for any Palestinians displaced in the 1948 war of independence. While the "right of return" is a controversial principle, it would not have been so pressing to the Palestinian people if the Barak plan had involved a full Israeli withdrawal from the lands occupied in the 1967 Six Day War. Arafat wryly commented that the region under the Camp David plan would be swiss cheese, and Palestine would get the holes.

Rabbi Michael Lerner explained the situation eloquently in an October 2000 essay:

Since taking office, Barak has expanded existing settlements, built new roads into the West Bank and made it clear at Camp David that he would insist on keeping the vast majority of settlers in place. The state the Palestinians would then be offered would have within it a group of Israeli nationalistic fanatics, many of whom moved to the West Bank precisely to ensure that there would never be a Palestinian state.

The resulting scenario is obvious: The settlers would continue their long history of violent attacks against Palestinians, and when the Palestinian state tried to impose law and order, the settlers would demand protection from the Israeli army, which would use the new roads to send in tanks and heavy artillery just as it has done in the past week.

These Israeli roads and settlements turn the claim of offering the Palestinians 90% of the land into a cruel hoax. With the Israeli military patrolling those roads that crisscross the Palestinian state, Palestinians would face humiliating searches and would not be able to move freely. Imagine someone offering you a house in which you were going to have large rooms but they were in charge of the hallways between the rooms. You would quickly realize that your freedom to be "at home" was remarkably compromised. (Rabbi Michael Lerner, "It's Time To Atone When We See Only Our Own Pain," FCNL, October 13, 2000)

Nevertheless, I've searched through Israeli newspapers and journals for articles that reference Camp David, and they have been long on Palestinian violence and short on details about Camp David. The premise that Barak's offer was fair and that Arafat rejected it out of hand goes unchallenged. For example, in an article in AISH, Daniel Pipes is able to write, "the purpose of Palestinian violence against Israel ... is not directed at winning an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza. Had the Palestinians wanted just that, they could have taken it on a silver platter during negotiations at Camp David in July 2000." (Daniel Pipes, "Missing: Realistic Take on Arafat", AISH, April 5, 2002) In this view, Arafat's rejection of the Camp David plan was a de facto a call to violence and a return to his own violent past. The details surrounding Camp David, including Barak's failed promises to stop expanding the Settlements, transfer control of three Jerusalem Villages to the PA, and release Palestinian prisoners, are rarely mentioned. Ehud Barak went on record after the talks failed as saying, "We went as far as we could go, but it takes two to tango." (Suzanne Goldenberg, "Barak Rushes to Blame Unyielding Arafat" The Guardian, July 26, 2000)

The Israeli negotiating committee claimed that it had offered Arafat over 90 percent of the contested territory, and that Arafat had flatly refused. The most charitable thing to say about the stream of articles that trumpeted Arafat's refusal to accept Barak's offering of over 90% of the contested land is that they are incorrect. Right off the top, the offer excluded Arab East Jerusalem, the belt of settlements around the city (to which Barak was adding even as he negotiated), or a 10 mile wide "buffer zone" around the Palestinian territories. (Robert Fisk, "Barak Shares Blame for Camp David Failure, says Clinton Aide" The Independent, July 23, 2001)

The mantra that Barak made a fair offer and Arafat refused it is repeated ad nauseum. Just this week, the Jerusalem Report's Hirsh Goodman could write (presumably with a straight face) that "There is much argument about Ehud Barak's legacy. But there is no denying what he offered the Palestinians: 94 per cent of the West Bank, a division of Jerusalem, a land swap, an equitable solution to the refugee problem and imaginative thinking over the Temple Mount -- as a basis for negotiation. Arafat refused." (Hirsh Goodman, "The Real War of Independence," The Jerusalem Report, April 11, 2002) Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went one further, speaking the the US Senate this week: "If you offer terrorists political concessions, you encourage them to engage in more terror, which is more or less the process that Israel just went through. It offered Arafat´s terror enormous concessions under a previous prime minister, and the terror catapulted to impossible heights. There is no political solution to terror." (Benjamin Netanyahu, Speech to US Senate, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, April 10, 2002)

But setting aside for a moment the reality of Palestinian aggression (to which I will return), Israel's aggressive stance is partially justified by the claim that Arafat was offered a fair solution and refused it. If it is demonstrated that Barak's plan was not fair, then much of Israel's justfication for its aggression against Palestine is undermined. Unfortunately, it has been exceedingly difficult to get a straight story from the Israeli press.

Camp David: Spin vs. Truth

A year after Camp David, Robery Malley, a senior US National Security Council aide to Bill Clinton during the talks, wrote an essay in which he challenged much of the received wisdom concerning the failure of the negotiations. Malley writes that the official story does not explain "why what so many viewed as a generous Israeli offer, the Palestinians viewed as neither generous, nor Israeli, nor, indeed, as an offer." Malley notes that Barak did not support the idea of incremental progress, and unilaterally abandoned many of his obligations, including the withdrawal of troops from the West Bank and the restoration of three villages to the PA. This occurred in a larger environment in which many of the key provisions of the 1993 Oslo accords were unfulfilled. Israel was still expanding its Settlements; indeed, the early nineties saw the biggest building drive in the Settlements since Israel had taken over the land. Avi Shlaim writes, "The building of settlements in the occupied territories has always been illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace ... Israel's protests of peaceful intentions were vitiated by its policy of expropriating more and more Palestinian land and building more Jewish settlements on this land." (Avi Shlaim, "A Betrayal of History," The Guardian, February 22, 2002). Finally, the occupied territories had become more, not less, impoverished and punitive to the Palestinians since the signing of the Oslo Accords. For these reasons, Arafat was very skeptical about Barak's deliberately vague propositions. Arafat's entire approach was very cagey, which helped foster the perception that he was solely responsible for the failure of the talks.

There's no question that Barak went further than anyone before him, openly discussing the possibility of restoring parts of Jerusalem to the PA, but Malley notes that, at the same time, his proposals were never clearly formulated. Malley writes, "If there is one issue that Israelis agree on, it is that Barak broke every conceivable taboo and went as far as any Israeli prime minister had gone or could go. Even so, it is hard to state with confidence how far Barak was actually prepared to go. Strictly speaking, there never was an Israeli offer. Determined to preserve Israel's position in the event of failure, the Israelis always stopped one, if not several, steps short of a proposal." Malley argues that Arafat constantly felt he was being led into a trap, and was reluctant to commit to an agreement that would bind Palestine to quiet acceptance of a bad deal. (Robert Malley and Hussein Agha, "Camp David: A Tragedy of Errors," The Guardian, July 20, 2001)

However, Israeli articles that mention Robert Malley's essay and other dissenting views dismiss them without analyzing the evidence. For example, the Jerusalem Post dismissed Malley's "revisionist" essay by writing that Israelis have "over 3000 years of intense Jewish identification with Jerusalem," implying that this made the 1967 Occupation okay. Of course, the occupation itself is not mentioned anywhere in the article, so we can only surmise this. Instead, the Post dismissed Malley's analysis by reiterating the official version of events: "Last year, at Camp David, the Israeli leadership was prepared to make fundamental and very painful compromises, based on the understanding that both peoples have deep historical and religious attachments to this land. However, this readiness for compromise was not reciprocated, and Arafat again chose the path of rejection, violence and terrorism." (Gerald M. Steinberg, "Arafat's Rewriting of History," The Jerusalem Post, July 27, 2001)

Another Jerusalem Post article reads, "Barak broke the taboo on discussing Jerusalem, but suggested little in the way of a real sharing or division of the city. And he offered 'only' 91 percent of the West Bank, sliced up into three blocs by Israeli settlements, corridors and bypass roads and with no independent access to the rest of the world." (Mark A. Heller, "Camp David Revised," The Jerusalem Post July 27, 2001) This is surprisingly forthright for the Post (although it does trot out the "91 percent" fallacy again), and in the rest of the article the author writes about the need for both sides to "confront the issue...of ultimate visions of coexistence." Still, somehow the author can't seem to make the connection between the facts of the Camp David offer and Arafat's reluctance to accept it. He also repeatedly calls Malley's account "revisionist," a term that is excruciatingly loaded through its connection to anti-Semitic revisionists who deny the historical facts of the Holocaust.

September 2000 saw the beginning of a Palestinian Intifada (intifada is an Arabic word that means "a shaking-off"), an uprising that decried the continued occupation of Palestine after the failed Camp David talks. Between September 2000 and February 2001, more than 400 people, most of them Palestinian, were killed in the ensuing violence. The United Nations tried to investigate alleged human rights violations during the uprising, but Israel condemned the investigation and would not cooperate. ("UN Launches Abuse Inquiry Over Israeli Protests," CNN, February 10, 2001)

Ariel Sharon and the Politics of Terror

In January 2001, Ariel Sharon, leader of the hawkish Likud Party, decided to pay a visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem even as Barak and Arafat were negotiating a compromise over which group would control Jerusalem's Holy Places. Sharon publicly criticized Barak's initiative, saying that "Barak does not have the right to give up Jerusalem, which the people received as a legacy." (Gerald Butt, "Ariel Sharon: Controversial Hardliner," BBC News, December 4, 2001). Sharon is reviled by Palestinians, who recall that he commanded an armoured division in the 1967 Six Day War that ended with Israel occupying the West Bank, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, and all of Jerusalem. More importantly, as Defense Minister in 1982, Sharon orchestrated the appalling Israeli invasion of Lebanon that sent Israeli soldiers right into Beirut, killing hundreds of Lebanese civilians. He was also closely associated with massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, in which a Christian paramilitary group, under his orders, killed between 1,000 and 2,000 refugees. For this, the Israeli Knesset, through the 1983 Kahan Commission, ruled that Sharon was not fit to serve as Defense Minister. Biding his time and returning to politics a decade later, Sharon was the Housing Minister responsible the dramatic expansion of the Settlements during the early 1990s.

In August 2000, Barak had asked Sharon to join an emergency coalition to bolster Barak's shaky mandate. Sharon responded by saying "'Given [Barak's] numerous concessions, particularly on Jerusalem, and his failures on the domestic scene, there is no place for us in the Barak government." ("Ariel Sharon: Controversial Hardliner", BBC News, January 26, 2001) Statements like this sent a clear message to Palestinians that Sharon was not interested in brokering a fair deal, and when Sharon visited the Temple Mount, the response was swift and predictable. His visit was calculated to provoke Palestinian extremists into violence, and he wasn't disappointed. The resulting terrorism easily fueled domestic support for an escalation of IDF retaliation, which further fueled Palestinian violence towards Israel.

It also represented the last straw for Barak's shaky coalition. Barak was the Israeli dove, leader of the Labour Party and the Prime Minister most willing to speak openly about compromise with Palestine. His Camp David proposal, for all its flaws, went farther than any other towards meeting the demands of the Palestinians. Many hawks in Israel saw Barak's position as weak, accusing him of falling into Arafat's trap in which no amount of concessions would be enough. In the Israeli media, the Camp David plan was widely presented as a fair offer. When Arafat rejected it, the hawks insisted that this was "proof" that Arafat was not really committed to peace. While the effect that Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount had on the Palestinians has probably been overrated - the protests and violence were just as calculated as Sharon's contentious appearance, after all - the fallout caused critical damage to Barak's credibility in the aftermath of Camp David's failure.

Sharon capitalized on the popular notion that Barak had been too generous and that Arafat was not bargaining in good faith. He must have known that his appearance on the Temple Mount would not only stir up Palestinian extremists but also undermine domestic support for Barak. He must also have known that, in the aftermath of renewed Palestinian hostilities, the Israeli public would be more amenable to exactly the kind of stern military response that he advocated. Immediately after Camp David failed, some people were still optimistic. In that spirit of optimism, Menachem Klein of the Israeli Institute for Jerusalem Affairs wrote that "Even with no agreement, the summit laid down the terms of reference for a new deal. There is no way back - only forward. This is the big achievement from Camp David." (Suzanne Goldberg, "Barak Rushes to Blame Unyielding Arafat," The Guardian, July 26, 2000)

However, that optimism soured quickly, and Sharon found his views to be increasingly popular as violence escalated. After the failure of Camp David, the launch of the Intifada, and Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount, Barak's government fell. On February 6, 2001, Ariel Sharon was elected Prime Minister. Finally, Sharon shut the door completely on progress from the "achievement" of Camp David, when he said, "My predecessor, Barak, came to [the Palestinians] and told them from the beginning what he would like to do for them. But they will never get what he promised them. I'm ready to negotiate in order to get a cease-fire. But it will be a major mistake to say now what we are going to offer them, because that will then become the start line of the negotiations." (Emma Brockies, "The Bulldozer," The Guardian November 7, 2001) There's no question that the renewed Intifada fueled domestic Israeli support for exactly the kind of hard-line approach Sharon brought with him. Further, Sharon sent a painfully clear message to Palestinians that they simply could not expect a negotiated settlement from Sharon's administration. It should have come as no surprise, then, when Palestinian violence escalated after Sharon's election; the restraint that Arafat had extracted from the Palestinian militants was conditional on Israel bargaining in good faith. When this faith was broken, the extremists abandoned the path of a negotiated solution.

Escalating Violence

In February, 2002, Palestinian militants started using crude homemade rockets, called Qassam-2 missiles, to strike deeper into Israeli territory. The missiles have a range of up to 8 km, which doesn't sound like much. However, in the congested area around Jerusalem, 8 km has meant the difference between border attacks and internal attacks on Israel. They also represent an evolution of sorts in the military capacity of the Palestinian terrorists. Like the Hezbollah, the militant group that spent nearly 20 years fighting with the IDF during Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon, the Palestinian militants are becoming more sophisticated in their use of weapons, graduating from rocks to Kalashnikovs to suicide bombs to rockets. By the end of the Israeli occupation in Lebanon, the Hezbollah had developed bombs that could disable Israeli tanks. The object lesson for Israel, regardless of all other issues, is that the longer you spend fighting militants, the more opportunity they have to catch up to your level of technology. With the Qassam-2, the Palestinians are able, for the first time, to use rockets to reach into Israeli population centres.

By the end of February 2002, Israel launched assaults on two Palestinian refugee camps, one in Nablus and one in Jenin. A suicide bomber had killed herself and her two companions, and injured three Israeli police officers, at a West Bank check point, and Israel responded with the assaults, ostensibly to uncover terrorists hiding in the West Bank. Thirteen Palestinians were killed in the fighting. ("Israel Launches Assault on West Bank Refugee Camps," CNN, March 1, 2002) However, Israel's increasingly violent responses, employing heavy weaponry and directly targeting civilian areas, was becoming harder to justify in terms of defense against terrorism. Israel's actions were looking less self defense and more like punishment administered to the entire Palestinian population, with no regard to the victims' involvement in Palestinian aggression.

By March 2002, the death toll since Camp David had risen to some 1200 Palestinians and some 400 Israelis. ("Calender of Horror in the Holy Land," The Guardian, March 31, 2002). On March 5, the Intifada escalated when a Qassam-2 attack on the town of Sderot slightly injured three children. The next day, Israel responded with bombing attacks in Gaza and the West Bank. Among the targets was the Al Nour Rehabilitation Centre for the Visually Impaired, a UN-run school for the blind. The school was empty during the attack and no one was injured. However, the IDF attacks did kill several civilians. Peter Hansen, head of the UN department that operates the Al Nour school, responded by saying, "Such bombing raids in heavily populated civilian areas, next to a school flying a U.N. flag that is brightly lit at night, are totally unacceptable." (Daniel Williams, "Israel Answers Missiles With Broad Offensive," The Washington Post, March 7, 2002.)

On March 13, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan publicly condemned the previous day's Israeli offensive, saying that "Large-scale military operations in pursuit of Palestinian militants -- involving ground troops, attack helicopters, tanks and F-16s -- have taken place throughout civilian areas and refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza, causing large-scale loss of life." Annan told Israel that it "must end the illegal occupation ... stop the bombing of civilian areas, the assassinations, the unnecessary use of lethal force, the demolitions and the daily humiliation of ordinary Palestinians." Annan also condemned the Palestinian terrorists, saying that the "deliberate and indiscriminate targeting of civilians is morally repugnant," and making the seemingly obvious case that these acts of terror were not helping the Palestinian cause. ("UN Chief Criticizes Israel,", March 13, 2002)

Instead of responding to the international pressure, Ariel Sharon turned up the rhetoric, announcing that "The Palestinians must be hit and it must be very painful: we must cause them losses, victims, so that they feel the heavy price." This was a progression of his position, articulated just a few months before, in which he simultaneously condemned Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians while defending Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians. As always, Sharon insisted that Arafat was the linchpin that kept the cycle of violence going, absolving himself of any responsibility for its perpetuation. "[The Palestinians] suffer heavy casualties, we suffer heavy casualties and there is one man, only one, to blame and that's Arafat, because he could have avoided it. Look, they committed the most terrible murders. In wars, civilians are killed. We know that. It's a tragedy, but to take civilians as a target is something that one cannot forgive." (Emma Brockies, "The Bulldozer," The Guardian November 7, 2001) Of course, this is a little galling coming from the man who was once kicked out of the Knesset for hiring a paramilitary group to slaughter two refugee camps.

Between February 28 and March 10, Israeli assaults killed more than 113 Palestinians and injured another 368. Khader Shkirat, the Director of LAW, Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment, and a visiting Law Fellow at Harvard University, wrote a scathing condemnation of Israeli Aggression in the middle of March, before the international press had really picked up on the escalating violence.

On a scale only seen recently in the Balkans, we have suffered extensive destruction of civilian property, including houses, workplaces, hospitals, clinics, ambulances, schools and universities, churches and mosques - as well as water and electricity supply lines. Despite the glare of publicity, Israel even feels free to attack humanitarian agencies, and deny civilian access to medical supplies and treatment. Since last Friday, there has been an effective ban on any movement of Palestinian vehicles in the West Bank, including ambulances, unless they have express permission. Otherwise, they are shot at on sight. This tightens still further restrictions in force since September 2000 - including hundreds of checkpoints, unmanned dirt-blockades and trenches - making access to work, education, food, water and health services extremely difficult, if not impossible. Since February 28 there has also been an alarming increase in the number of attacks on medical staff, ambulances and hospitals and field clinics, with at least six medical staff killed, 12 injured and five ambulances destroyed.

These acts are in direct violation of the fourth Geneva Convention 1949, which is legally binding on Israel. Several are classed as "grave breaches" - in other words, war crimes - including documented cases of murder and manslaughter, instances of intentionally causing "great suffering or serious injury to body or health" and "extensive destruction of property not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly".

Suicide bombings inside Israel which target innocent civilians are outrages. However, these acts cannot be used as justification for the collective punishment of the entire civilian population of the occupied territories, nor can they excuse or justify Israeli breaches of international law, including its continued illegal occupation of the territories. (Khader Shkirat, "Conspiracy of Silence," The Guardian, March 15, 2002)

Sharon Declares "War on Terror"

Of course, these attacks precipitated two more attacks on Israel that killed 13 people, which lead to another Israeli excursion on March 12, 2002 that killed over 20 Palestinians, and so on and so on, up to the present. Finally, on Passover weekend, all hell broke loose. On March 27, 2002, a Palestinian suicide bomber walked into the Park Hotel in Natanya and killed 22 people who were celebrating the Passover Seder. This was the final outrage for Sharon, and he declared a "war on terror." As Sharon explained in an April 2 address, "Everyone who seeks freedom, everyone who was brought up on the values of freedom and democracy must know that Arafat is an obstacle to peace in the Middle East." (Michael Petrou, "Israelis remain divided over crisis; Sharon faces a skeptical nation," The National Post, April 3, 2002)

On Friday, March 29, the IDF dramatically stepped up the offensive, advancing into Ramallah with tanks and Apache helicopters. The IDF instituted a strict curfew, arrested hundreds of suspected militants, fired indiscriminately at civilians and militants alike, took over Ramallah's three TV stations, and targeted any moving vehicles on Ramallah's streets, including ambulances. On Tuesday, April 2, tanks and bulldozers rolled into Bethlehem, Al Khader and Beit Jalla. By Thursday, April 4, the IDF occupied nearly every Palestinian town in the West Bank. Late Wednesday night, 150 Israeli tanks entered Nablus, the West Bank's biggest city, firing shells into buildings. To the North, Israeli F-16s fired missiles at Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon after the Hezbollah fired rockets into Israel in protest against the advance.

The offensive is cleverly dubbed "Operation Defensive Shield."

Israel has maintained that its military objective is to destroy the Palestinian "terrorist infrastructure," both the physical infrastructure of hiding spots and armaments, and the psychological infrastructure through which Palestinians feel Israel to be vulnerable. However, Israel has left two very important matters in the dark. Israel is not clear in its definition of "terrorist infrastructure," though the activities of the IDF grimly suggest a working definition. Even while decrying Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians, Israel has launched countless attacks on Palestinian civilians, drawing sharp criticism from abroad. The BBC reports that the current offensive is damaging or destroying Palestinian civilian infrastructure, including roads, water pipes and the electrical grid. The IDF is also bulldozing houses, rolling over cars, shelling hospitals and refusing to allow ambulances to pick up the injured. (Tarik Kafala, "Israeli Operations Bring 'Wanton Destruction'" BBC News, April 5, 2002)

The Arab countries roundly denounced the attacks. Egypt suspended relations with Israel. The European Union held emergency sessions to discuss the turn of events, and emerged calling for multilateral peace negotiations. United Nations General Secretary Kofi Annan said, "self defense is not a blank check" (Neil MacFarquhar, "The Reaction," The New York Times, April 5, 2002). The Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, demanded that Israel withdraw its troops. India asked Israel to withdraw its troops and lift the imprisonment of Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Yasser Arafat. Even Pope John Paul II issued a proclamation harshly condemning the Israeli attacks on Palestinians and warning that it would simply lead to more violence. ("World Reaction," The Guardian, April 4, 2002) Then the United Nations Security Council issued Resolution 1402, which called for the "cessation of all acts of violence, including terror, provocation and destruction" by both Israelis and Palestinians, and for the "withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian cities, including Ramallah." (Sheldon Alberts, "PM Tells Israel to Pull Back its Troops," The National Post, April 4, 2002). This may be the first time that America did not veto a Security Council resolution condemning Israeli aggression. South African President Thabo Mbeki may have written one of the most eloquent and insightful responses to the Israeli offensive when he wrote, "The attempt to search and destroy so-called agitators and terrorists in their midst, in the belief that these are the instigators of the rebellion, without whom the rebellion would cease, is to live in worse than a fool's paradise." ("Mbeki: Israel Repeating Mistakes of Apartheid Rulers," Ha'aretz Daily April 4, 2002)

Media Blackout

Perhaps most contentious has been the Israeli media blackout regarding its war on Palestine. When the most recent assault began, the Israeli government press office announced that no "foreign citizens (including members of the media) are allowed to be in the closed zone ... anyone found in the closed zone henceforth will be removed. Members of the media are advised that their presence in the closed zone is at their own risk.'" (Jessica Hodgson, "Journalists Protest at Israeli Press Ban" The Guardian April 3, 2002) Local media are also prevented from going to Palestine to report on what the IDF is doing. Of course, Israeli press coverage has a history of being long on gory details about every Palestinian attack and desperately short on details about IDF aggression. An article in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency makes sure to mention "more suicide bombings" that "claimed more Israeli lives," and then clinically notes that "the scale of Israeli retaliation intensified," being careful not to mention Palestinian lives claimed. (Leslie Susser, "Looking Past Israel's Operation to Potential Long-Term Solutions," Jewish Telegraphic Agency, April 8, 2002) This is typical of Israeli coverage of IDF operations, which are overwhelmingly described as defensive and retaliatory.

Still, before the media crackdown, at least some Israeli coverage was critical. Now, it has become next to impossible to find out what is going on. People need reliable information in order to participate meaningfully in the political process. Unfortunately, reliable information has gotten hard to come by, as Sharon's government is systematically preventing the news media from having access to the kind of information that might allow them to criticize what the IDF is doing. Public support for the war is clearly fueled by fear and disinformation, and dissent is buried under a tide of nationalist fervor. Among its activities, the IDF has:

Ha'aretz Daily reporter Aviv Lavie wrote an excellent article about the Israeli media bias, which is worth quoting from at some length.

A journey through the TV and radio channels and the pages of the newspapers exposes a huge and embarrassing gap between what is reported to us and what is seen, heard, and read in the world - not only in the commentaries and analytical pieces, but also in the reporting of the dry facts.

On Arab TV stations (though not only them) one could see Israeli soldiers taking over hospitals, breaking equipment, damaging medicines, and locking doctors away from their patients. In one interview, a doctor was whispering on a phone, explaining that he had to lower his voice lest the soldier in the next room cut off the conversation. Foreign television networks all over the world have shown the images of five Palestinians from the National Security forces, shot in the heads from close range; one was apparently the manager of the Palestinian Authority orchestra. Some of the networks have claimed they were shot in cold blood after they were disarmed.

The entire world has seen wounded people in the streets, heard reports of how the Israeli Defense Forces prevent ambulances from reaching the wounded for treatment. The entire world has heard Palestinian residents saying they can't leave their homes because 'they shoot anyone in the streets.' The entire world has heard testimony by Palestinian families who have been imprisoned in their homes for 72 hours, in some places without electricity or water, and the food is running out. There are also reports of vandalism and looting.

Maybe it's all mendacious propaganda (though in some cases, the pictures speak for themselves) but Israeli journalists have no way to investigate to find out the truth, whether to deflate the stories, or confirm them. In the absence of that kind of reporting, instead, over and over, we hear the worn out mantras about how 'the civilian population is not our enemy,' and reports on how the army takes such strict care not to harm civilians.

Israel looks like an isolated media island, with most of the reporters drafted into the cause of convincing themselves and the reader that the government and army are perfectly justified in whatever they do. Some have actually been drafted - Yedioth Aharonoth has started running a regular column by its reporter, Guy Leshem, who reports with determination from the heart of the West Bank, straight from his military reserve service. This is another step in erasing the line between the defense framework and the editorial framework that is supposed to report and criticize." (Aviv Lavie, "The War Looks Different Abroad - and Maybe So Do the Facts," Ha'aretz Daily, April 4, 2002)

Amazingly, while the Security Council was condemning Israel, the American government had only words of support, and condemned the suicide bombings that had precipitated the Israeli assault. US President George W. Bush said, "It's essential for the peace of the region and the world that we rout out terrorist activities and condemn those activities. Suicide bombers in the name of religion is simple terror. And the free world, the civilized world must band together to stop this kind of activity if we expect there to be peace and resolution in the Middle East." White House spokesman Ari Fleischer elaborated, saying that "The president understands and respects Israel's right to defend herself and to live in security. It's a recognition that any nation that was confronted with the type of violence and terrorism that targets innocents that Israel has been, the president understands that nations have a right to self-defense." American officials asked the Israeli government for a "clarification" of its objectives for the offensive, but stopped short of criticizing the attacks, asking instead that Israel "bring these operations to a close as quickly as possible," as a State Department official explained. (Alan Sipress, "Bush Gives Israel Wide Latitude in Offensive," The Washington Post, April 2, 2002) Perhaps inevitably, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld cast the Israeli offensive in the context of the American "war against terrorism." He then accused Iraq, Iran and Syria of encouraging Palestinian violence. (David E. Sanger and Michael R. Gordon, "Bush is Criticized for Mideast Role," The New York Times, April 2, 2002).

By the next day, however, Bush was already backpedalling. Speaking to both Israel and Palestine, he said, "Enough is enough," and urged Sharon to withdraw the IDF. Sharon refused. On April 9, he explained his refusal, saying, "We should continue to fight until the mission is completed. We can't leave a single cell of terrorism, whether in Jenin, in Nablus or in Ramallah. We are still in the middle of the battle. We have to complete it."

Even though Sharon labelled Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Yasser Arafat "an enemy ... of the entire free world," Ari Fleischer was quick to argue that, as the spokesperson of the PA, Arafat must be part of any peace talks for them to have a hope of success at ending the violence. For his part, Sharon maintains his identification of Arafat with terrorism, and refuses to negotiate with him. However, he did bow under US pressure and allowed US peace envoy Anthony Zinni to meet with Arafat. The next day, Bush also sent US Secretary of State Colin Powell to see if he could broker some kind of cease fire. As of this writing, the IDF is still fully engaged in the West Bank.

To Be Continued...

Ryan McGreal
April 12, 2002

Coming Next Issue: Sharon's Deadly Game; Arafat's Declining Fortunes; Bush Paints Himself into a Corner; and Whither Peace?

Previous: Newsletter #8 | Next: Newsletter #10


From: Richard Weatherill
Date: Saturday, 13 Apr 2002
Subject: Middle East

Hi Ryan:

Here is part of an article from this website:

"In the north of the country, growing Syrian designs over the Golan Heights, where Israel has remained firmly entrenched since the 1967 War, threaten to jeopardize another source of dwindling Israeli water, the Lake Kinneret Basin. At the same time, the possibility of Palestinian control of the West Bank suggests, at the very least, a further reduction of available water to Israel, currently utilizing the majority of the West Bank Aquifer. Due to an amalgam of factors, Israeli security prerequisites for dealing with the Palestinian Authority – the ability to protect its water sources from hostile action, pollution or co-option – are not currently met, making water a critical emerging issue of dispute between the parties. These fundamental disagreements have deadlocked talks between the parties and edged them closer to confrontation."

This is what the conflict is really all about, and religion is only the whip both sides apply at their convenience. Modern populations require vast amounts of water. We in Canada have so much water that we think nothing of it (much to our long-term detriment). The Middle East has a disproportionately small amount compared to the population levels, as well as to the technical levels of these populations. But a rallying cry, "For the Water!" doesn't have quite the same ring as "Next year in Jerusalem!" Even if Israel triumphs in finding it's place in the sun, or whether it is wiped off the map, the Middle East Crisis will continue. There is no solution when something as fundamental as control of water resources is the real issue, and all the oil in the Middle East can't buy it's way out of this one.

Richard Weatherill

From: Philip Davidson
Date: Saturday, 13 Apr 2002
Subject: Re: Newsletter #9


Thanks for the newsletter it was very interesting, and most of the articles were interesting. I also couldn't help thinking that you could change the names, in the media coverage articles of participants; i.e. Israel could be changed to America and Sharon changed to Bush and Palestine changed to Afghanistan - the article would still work.

I've got a couple of nagging questions, if any one wants to have a go at answering them I would be most interested.

1) After September 11 George Bush siad he would bring bin Laden in "Dead or Alive;" bin Laden has hardly rated a mention in the news lately. Why? Has USA found out something they didn't want to find out?

2) Only one person has been charged with directly being involved with the events of Sept 11. Why?

3) No one seems interested any more in Mullah Omar (for a minute there I couldn't even remember his name) So where is Omar and does any one really care anymore?? He was last seen escaping on a "motor bike", who would ever believe that story???

4) What happened to USA's "War on Terrorism"? How many other terrorist groups have been shut down or locked up? Why aren't the IRA being hounded and brought in "Dead or alive"??

5) The anthrax letters: no mention of them any more; has any one been charged with sending them, apart from the dickheads sending the fake ones?

6) Middle East - I'm thinking that maybe this is the spanner in the US works, maybe they weren't expecting this, and maybe they are shit scared of what the Arabs could do if they all decide to throw in their support for Palestine?

7) Usaully wars produce "war heroes", all these conflicts can't be wars because we have no war heroes yet!! Apart from hundreds of dead civilians who probably want nothing to do with war.

Well the questions could go on, but............

From: Steef
Date: Monday, 15 Apr 2002
Subject: Re: Newsletter #9

Well, Ryan,

Again i must compliment you on A) fact-finding and B) the conclusions in your piece of work on - in my opinion - the terrible lack of justice in the treatment the Palestinians get from the Israeli State and the USA. Europe and the country I live in - the Netherlands - are increasingly sceptical to the rhetoric of Sharon and (after Clinton) Bush: Powell.

It was in 1967 when i studied in amsterdam a member of the 'palestina-comit'e', a critical organization of left wing students. Your analysis reminds of of our (moderate) analysis on which we were attacked heavily, when we brought this analysis in the open after (what was called) the seven day's war.

Your voice is, in my opinion and the two friends to who i sent your analysis, the voice of reason.

Thank you!

Drs. Steef van Duin

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