Harvard Square Observer: The Endless War

Ernest Cassara

Author’s note: Since I have been in the U.S. heartland, when I could have been in Harvard Square tending to this commentary, I have decided to take a page out the practice of “60 Minutes,” and innumerable other TV programs in summertime, and delve into my archive and dredge up a piece that I wrote in the past.  A “golden oldie,” perhaps.  In any case, this is from the issue of the HSC of 9 August 2004.  Actually, as I scanned it, with the exception of the mention of President Arafat and Prime Minister Sharon, it is as relevant today as when I put it online.

The Endless War

It wasn’t until I was well into the following discussion that I realized in choosing the heading “endless war” that I was parroting George Orwell in “1984.”

Our politicians have chosen to label the struggle against terrorism a “war.”  As I have remarked before in this place, it is an American tendency to label campaigns of one kind or another - vs.  smoking, drugs, etc., etc. - “wars.”  This from folks who insist they are peace loving.

The policy of the U.S. government, apparently, is to kill as many terrorists as it can lay its hands on.  But, I would suggest that no matter how many they shoot, hang, or blow up, that will not solve the problem.  Perish the thought that any politician in the U.S. would have the courage to state what is true in this regard.  That is, that it is American governmental policies across the world that have alienated so many.  The U.S. throwing its weight around, putting its nose into the business of other people is the source of the terrorism directed against us.

Take the Middle East.  What gives Americans half a world away the right to interfere in the affairs of the nations of the Middle East?  Iran is an example.  In 1953, the U.S. joined with the U.K. to arrange a coup d’état, overthrowing Mohammad Mossadegh, the Prime Minister of Iran,  who had the effrontery to want to control Iran’s oil resources, among other things.  After much turbulence - for the Iranian public was not enthusiastic about having the U.K. and the U.S. control its affairs — Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was placed in the office of Shah by the U.S. CIA.  He led a brutal regime, but, it was in line with U.K. and U.S. policy.

We Americans all remember the overthrow of the Shah during the administration of Jimmy Carter and the student seizure of American embassy personnel as hostages. What our fellow citizens don’t seem to remember, if the news media are any guide, are the events leading up to that unfortunate event. 

It is claimed that Ronald Reagan’s cohorts made a deal with the Iranians.  The hostages would be released after the presidential election; that is, with the defeat of Jimmy Carter and the election of Reagan. Thus, the origin of the Iran-Contra affair.

We are still interfering in the affairs of Iran today.  The U.S. seeks to keep that country from becoming a member of the “nuclear club.” Of course, as we all know, the U.S. government shuts its eyes to the fact that Israel has atomic weapons.  (Those who doubt this, must ask themselves why Mordechai Vananu was imprisoned for  years, and, on release, is forbidden from talking to reporters.)  This hypocrisy is not lost on the inhabitants of the Middle East!

Now Iraq.  If Americans are not remarkable for good memories, people in the Middle East are.  The Bush administration lied its way into a war with Iraq.  First the excuse was that President Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, even though the UN inspectors had not found any - and none have been found to this day. This being the case, we have been treated to a series of explanations, one more ridiculous than the last.  From the danger of a third-rate nation attacking the U.S. with WMDs, to the latest excuse that we are bringing “democracy” to the Middle East.  Imposing “democracy” would seem a contradiction in terms, but the Neocons in the Bush administration do not worry about logic.

Speaking of Chutzpah, one has only to think of the American involvement in the struggle of the Palestinians to shake off Israeli rule, and the pusillanimous actions of one administration after another.  Instead of taking a tough line with the likes of Ariel Sharon, and forcing a resolution of the problem, the U.S. has swallowed the ridiculous line that the Israelis have no one to negotiate with.  Yasser Arafat?  Oh, him?  He is the chosen leader of the Palestinians, but, Sharon will not deal with him, therefore, the U.S. will not deal with him.

We have been plowing billions of dollars into Israel over the years, but the U.S. government has adopted the fiction that it is up to the Israelis and the Palestinians to settle their differences.  The Palestinians, we are told, must make concessions.  What, one may ask, do a captive people have to concede, unless it is more and more of the land that was seized from them almost forty years ago?
When one has supported Israel since its creation, it is painful to realize the truth of what Tony Judt wrote recently in his review of a volume of the articles of the late Edward Said  (The Nation, 7/19/04): “ . . . the public impression of Israel has steadily darkened. Today it presents a ghastly image: a place where sneering 18-year-olds with M-16s taunt helpless old men ("security measures"); where bulldozers regularly flatten whole apartment blocks ("rooting out terrorists"); where helicopters fire rockets into residential streets ("targeted killings"); where subsidized settlers frolic in grass-fringed swimming pools, oblivious of Arab children a few meters away who fester and rot in the worst slums on the planet; and where retired generals and Cabinet ministers speak openly of bottling up the Palestinians "like drugged roaches in a bottle" (former Israeli Chief of Staff Rafael Eytan) and cleansing the land of its Arab cancer (former Housing Minister Effi Eitam).”

It is this kind of thing that the mainstream media in the U.S. do not report, but, it is reported in Europe.    If one wonders why there has been an upsurge of anti-Semitism in Europe, one has only to read this passage again.  For, in Europe, the media are not afraid of reporting the news concerning Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians, which, after all are in their backyard.  The U.S. media are tongue tied:  the fear of being labeled anti-Semitic is so great that the media censor themselves.

If I may be allowed a precious reminiscence from years ago, when I was on the faculty of Tufts University.  Before computers came into our lives, faculty members sat at long tables in the Cousens Gymnasium for three days at the beginning of each semester, explaining to students what their courses were about and signing them up.  For several years, Rabbi Beryl Cohon, who served as an adjunct lecturer in Judaic studies, and I sat together.  As I tell my friends, I learned my Judaism from Rabbi Cohon (and I am the happy possessor of several of his autographed books).  Not only did I learn of the relations of the various Jewish denominational groups, but, to this day, I tell some of the wonderful Jewish jokes that he passed on to me.

I was surprised to learn that Rabbi Cohon was not a Zionist.  He explained that the establishment of Israel was a mistake; that the Jews had established themselves nicely in such places as the U.S.

As much as I respected the late Rabbi Cohon - of blessed memory - I was sympathetic and supportive of Israel.  But, in recent times it has proved more and more difficult to do so.  The way the Israeli government treats the Palestinians is against every Jewish teaching that I am aware of.  Note, I say the Israeli government, for many Israelis and Palestinians associate with each other and find the political situation painful.  And, despite the financial hold that AIPAC has on the American Congress, and administration, there are many American Jews, as well as Israeli Jews, who want an equitable settlement of the conflict.

Some folks say, however, that the conflict will not be settled until the Palestinians give up “terrorism.” This is the most fatuous of many fatuous arguments we have heard over the years.  Some Palestinians indulge in terrorism - others would call them “freedom fighters" - for the simple reason that Israel will not get out of their territory. And, the Israeli government can build its wall as high as it wants, but this will always be the case.  Some American politicians are so dense that they do not see that this is the case.

One of the most appalling parts of this whole mess is that many American politicians, who claim to be fighters for human rights, treat the Palestinians as non-persons.

[Note: I recommend that you read “The Problem with Neutrality Between Palestinians and Israel,” By Kathleen Christison, under the Link below.]

Unfortunately, it is time to take seriously those who refer to an American imperium. We have troops stationed all over the world.  When did the Congress vote that we should become an empire?  Increasingly, the Congress has shied away from its responsibilities.  The most serious example is its surrender of its war making power, which is explicit in the Constitution.  It has allowed the president to assume this power, which takes us one more step in the direction of dictatorship. Totalitarianism is no more acceptable in an American guise than it was in the regimes of a Hitler or Stalin.

There was a time when the U.S. was admired around world.  New Nations sought to emulate our Declaration of Independence and Constitution.  Now, however, we are increasingly resented - and, in many places, hated.

It is a very sad state of affairs, when we have forgotten the stirring sentiment uttered by that great man of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine, when he said that the new United States had the opportunity to begin the world over again.  Instead, we have become like all of the imperial powers of the past.


The Problem with Neutrality Between Palestinians and Israel

By KATHLEEN CHRISTISON, writing in CounterPunch, 7/10/04 

A friend recently said that she had come to believe the level of Israeli violence against Palestinians is now so great that a balanced approach to the two sides, the middle way promoted by so many peace groups, has become totally untenable. Another friend, an Israeli American just returned from several months in Israel, witnessed such a level of Israeli violence, not only against Palestinians but even against Israeli protesters, that she committed herself to oppose it. She decided she could no longer "protect my own skin" by simply standing by. "I no longer cared about protecting myself". She put her life in danger on behalf of justice for the Palestinians. These two friends have recognized and are strongly protesting the sham of taking a neutral position between the two sides in this most unbalanced of conflicts. Neutrality in any conflict in which there is a gross imbalance of power is probably an impossibility and certainly immoral. Treading a middle path between one utterly powerless party and another party with total power, effectively removes all restraints on behavior by the powerful party. Yet this is the posture of those American peace groups that put themselves forward as advocates for Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation. They take no position between the Palestinians and Israel, but only promote peace plans such as the unofficial Geneva Accord without also taking action or even speaking out forcefully against Israel's occupation. The consequence is that these groups have given Israel the time and the license to devastate the land, begin its ethnic cleansing, and destroy any prospect for Palestinian independence. Their refusal to take a clear stand against Israel's oppressive policies is a statement that might makes right, that oppressive policies are acceptable, and most particularly that justice for Palestinians is less important than power for Israel.

To read the full column: http://www.counterpunch.org/christison07102004.html

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