Archive for the ‘SHARON’ Tag

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: THINGS MY MOTHER NEVER TOLD ME   Leave a comment

 

THINGS MY MOTHER NEVER TOLD ME

John Chuckman

 

Despite my title, this is not a memoir, dealing as it does with some of the most deadly serious subjects on the planet.

I was brought up by a hard-working, fiercely honest woman. She was brave in the most profound way, not the momentary, over-hyped stuff of soldiers and sports stars, but the unsung stuff of facing great odds and painful situations and doing her duty, not for moments or days, but for year after year. She was unusual for the early 1950s, a time of great social conformity in America, for having left my father whose drunken abuse she refused to endure. She set off on her own with two very young boys and never looked back. She always set an example of high standards, expecting the same from my brother and me, made us regular church-goers, and generally bestowed a great deal of love on us.

For the greatest part of my life, I believed in the same values and precepts she taught although I parted with church-going before I was a man. I was not without cynicism about many things I observed through life, but now, in my old age, I realize forcefully how entirely different are the rules which actually govern human affairs, and especially those pertaining to international affairs. Virtually everything my mother taught me, and my church too, was mistaken.

We hear a good deal these days about the problem of bullying in schools, and my instincts always put me on the side of victims and make me question teachers and authorities who do not step in to protect the innocent. But just look at the major political and economic leaders of our time: virtually every one of them has been an unqualified bully. It appears that being a bully features prominently on the road to success.

And we all believed that the bad guys never won and that time would see victims receive justice. The painful truth is though that the bad guys, at least all the clever and well-connected ones, always win and their victims almost never receive justice.

My mother had no tolerance for lying, and obvious lies still try my patience, but lying is in fact one of the chief occupations of those who govern us. Messrs. Obama, Netanyahu, Cameron, Harper are all the grossest liars, as were Sharon, Clinton, Blair, Bush, Cheney, and a very long list of others notable for their positions and the headlines they generated. Most of these individuals, along with a good many others, likely have never, in their entire careers, uttered a single truthful sentence, discounting the platitudes and bromides they are accustomed to delivering.

The issue of lying most comes into prominence in the case of war. I have seen so many wars in my lifetime, and it is painfully clear that every one of them was based on lies. The poor citizens of every land are never told why their lives are being snatched and their wealth squandered. They are certainly never consulted about whether so terribly serious a measure as war should be undertaken. Instead they are lied to. The ghastly horror of Vietnam, all that vast work of death and destruction on a genocidal scale – carpet bombing, napalm, and poisons dropped – was about nothing which mattered to almost all ordinary people, it was about blood-drenched lies their leaders told them.

And how can you possibly have meaningful democracy when the voters are lied to daily by those running for office and those holding office? You cannot, clearly.

And today, the whole Middle East is either in flames or has recently passed through war or revolution – Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, Lebanon, Libya, and still others. We are given many reasons for this phenomenon, but at the heart of the matter, there really is only one cause, and that cause is never mentioned in our press.

In all cases, American is found either covertly directing affairs or at least pouring money and weapons into countries to de-stabilize them. And why does it do this? It reflects a vast effort to mold the Middle East into a shape comfortable for the rather unusual requirements of its colony in the region, Israel. Why unusual requirements? What other small country in the world seems to need to control and dominate everything around it for at least a thousand miles? And this is only necessary because Israel refuses to obey almost any of the laws and customs of nations as we have grown to understand them in modern times. Israel continues to rule areas conquered in what itself was a fraudulent war, the Six Day War, nearly fifty years ago, and it doesn’t just rule these places against all international law and conventions, it treats their millions of residents as entitled to no law or justice, no hopes or aspirations, and not even entitled to hold the property they have because whenever a chunk of it appeals to Israelis, they simply take it.

Such is the behavior of the self-designated “only democracy in the Middle East,” a glib and meaningless phrase which completely ignores the fact that half the people ruled by Israel have no votes and no human rights. Actually, it is a good thing there are not more such “democracies,” or the region would be total hell on earth. Democracy for some is not democracy at all. Think of Orwell’s precept in Animal Farm, a book intended to satirize Stalin’s Soviet Union, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal.” That could have been just as well written about modern Israel. Israel’s embrace of neighbors who are virally anti-democratic – from Egypt to Saudi Arabia – again says something profound about the nature of Israeli “democracy.”

And the much bigger country which likes to style itself, the world’s oldest democracy and the land of the free, not only supports Israel in its disregard for law, customs, and international conventions, it finances a great deal of the tyrannous behavior. Where is the regard for democracy, rights, or even due process in that?

The always-tolerated violation of accepted principles by Israel which seems most remarkable to me is its regular theft of homes and farms. Americans are comfortable with bombings and assassinations and torture, at least judging from their national behavior over a good many decades in a number of countries, but when you consider how Americans revere property rights above all else in their society, it does seem it should be another matter when it comes to property being swiped in public. Property and profits are the truest guiding, long-term principles in American society. So you might think, despite the shower of lies in which Americans are immersed concerning Israel and its neighbors, public theft would stir something deep in their hearts. So why don’t we see American leaders, even if they can’t get worked up over endless occupation and abuse and killing and apartheid-like laws, at least strenuously objecting to Israel’s regular, high-handed thefts of property?

America’s politicians always back Israel because America’s government is constituted on the fallacious and unethical concept that money is free speech when it comes to political campaign contributions – fixed by a Supreme Court whose history includes vigorous support of such other glorious principles as slavery. When you allow such a political financing system to dominate your politics, it follows, ipso facto, that those able and willing to give very large sums as campaign contributions (as well as favorable press coverage, there not being a single major newspaper or network in America which does not play the game of boosting Israel) receive access and have their voices heard to the virtual exclusion of others.

What is certainly one of the most efficient and untiring lobbies, the Israel lobby, understands America’s system perfectly and has adapted over time to work it perfectly, resulting almost in a custom-designed, industrial-scale machine for turning out loyal and uncritical politicians in one country concerning the acts of a foreign country. Again, there’s very little truth and even less democracy in that way of conducting politics.

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: BANGING YOUR HEAD INTO WALLS   Leave a comment

BANGING YOUR HEAD INTO WALLS

John Chuckman

We’ve all met them, people who stubbornly hurl themselves in the wrong direction, stopping only when they violently collide with reality. It is a painful way to learn, but those afflicted with the disability seem unable to learn in any other way.

This way of learning characterizes much of America’s effort at foreign policy since World War II. I was forcefully reminded of this by a news story with its searing memories of Vietnam.

It now appears that part of the 101st Airborne Division, members of a so-called Tiger Force unit, dropped grenades into bunkers where women and children hid and shot farmers without warning. They killed blind peasants and old men. These events happened in 1967, comparatively early in the war and about a year before the well-documented mass murder by members of the United States Army at the village of My Lai. No one knows how many innocent people the Airborne slaughtered. One surviving member of the unit is quoted saying he killed so many he lost count. Although investigations were conducted, they went nowhere, and it only now that we learn of the horror.

The full story of American savagery in Vietnam will perhaps never be told. We have had other glimpses of it, as for example when former CIA Director William Colby, responding to a titanic power struggle inside the CIA, revealed Project Phoenix, a secret program for the mass murder of civilian leaders regarded as sympathetic to the enemy. There were the revelations about a number of individuals engaging in barbarism, most notably, former Nebraska Senator and Medal of Honor winner Bob Kerrey having been part of a butcher-civilians operation.

The so-called Tail-Wind affair, whose discovery cost some very reputable journalists their jobs, is now consigned to the ever-handy conspiracy bin, but intelligent skeptics can hardly doubt that with all the other savageries of Vietnam, a secret operation to poison-gas American prisoners of war cooperating with the enemy is totally plausible.

To this day, thousands of American veterans attend meetings or counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder, the bureaucratic term for minds deranged by the horrors they saw or inflicted. War is always full of horror, but in the midst of the brutality in Vietnam, it dawned on many that the war served no good purpose and that most of its victims were civilians. The military draft sent a lot of people to Vietnam who weren’t suited to
the business of serious killing. And while the number of Americans killed was small for a long war, it still proved too many for people enjoying ice cream and beer at ballgames.

For years after Vietnam, Americans talked of the war’s lessons, but just what lessons were those? For a while, many believed the lessons might concern the values of the Bill of Rights, words so often abused as hollow marketing slogans. America’s armed forces would never again be sent to kill and torture for colonial interests.

But that was a hasty conclusion, as we see in Iraq. America perfected its technology for killing and terrifying so that at least for a small county, it is able to overwhelm fairly quickly. Relatively few American soldiers die, those that do are professionals, and the whole thing is quickly over.

Of course, there is a deep and jagged pit along this smooth-sounding path to military dominance, and it has to do with occupying and rebuilding a country, how you assume responsibility for tens of millions of new dependants. No people on earth today is less inclined or qualified for this task than Americans. You only have to look at the individualistic, selfish, and impatient nature of American society itself to understand why this should be so. The word dependant in America often is used as a term of abuse.

Recall Richard Nixon’s “madman theory” of the early 1970s. Nixon was trying to pressure the North Vietnamese in Paris for a settlement, and he deliberately spread the idea that he was a madman, quite capable of doing something irrational, and that it would be better for everyone to reach a settlement before he did so. The context that gave his suggestion force included his shattering bombardment of civilians in North Vietnam and Cambodia, as well as nightmarish programs like Project Phoenix, started under him.

I’ll set aside the fact that Nixon truly was something of a madman – for, apart from his lifelong career of promoting divisiveness, intense hatreds, and suspicions, who else but a genuine madman relishes being credited as one? In the end, Nixon was outfoxed by the Vietnamese, and America lost a major war. A decade of shameful destruction, vast resources consumed, rage, and riots were for nothing.

This did not go unnoticed by the American establishment – the Bushes, the Cheneys, the Rumsfelds, and all the other arrogant, insatiably-rapacious people who’ve given you war in Iraq. Their major lesson from Vietnam – apart from the unreliability of conscripts, the need for tight news control, and the need to improve the efficiency of killing with high-tech weapons – was that threats not acted upon were useless. This lesson comes packaged with a new release of the error-riddled Domino Theory: that a decisive demonstration of power in the Middle East would serve to stabilize the area. The Democrats’ regrettable Wesley Clark, among others, has pontificated along these very lines.

Lost in the armchair toying with other people’s lives and countries you might think is the fact that Nixon’s threat was nuclear, but actually it is not lost. Bush wants to develop and deploy a new generation of compact nuclear weapons, the implication being that these somehow would be useable, as for such wholesome crusade tasks as “bunker busting.” Please recall, the main bunker busted in the first Gulf War was the Al Firdos bunker in Baghdad packed with over four hundred civilians who were roasted alive by two “smart bomb” direct hits.

Vietnam truly was a twentieth-century version of burning witches, the witches in that case being communists rather than people who were either demented or senile as in the witch-burnings of a few centuries ago. Powerful people in the 17th century understood that witches were superstitious nonsense, but they used the phenomenon to their own purposes. We’ve almost run out of communist witches, so now the crusade has been redirected against evil spirits far less well defined, terrorists.

Not that there is no such thing as genuine terrorists. Of course, there are. Terrorism – from the Sons of Liberty and the Klu Klux Klan to black street gangs and camouflage-obsessed militia-nuts – is a rich part of American history. Please note that it has not been dealt with by blowing up whole neighborhoods of innocent people.

The communist-panic after World War II was promoted and manipulated by the America’s establishment, that ruthlessly ambitious segment of American society that does not consist solely of Republicans. American liberals today often seem unaware that Democrats like Robert Kennedy gladly played energetic and nasty roles. The establishment sought the immense bounty of new military contracts, forced access to other peoples’ resources and markets, and the swaggering sense of exercising vast power throughout the world. Note that the communist-panic began with the precipitous decline in military spending after the world war and with the opportunities for expansion represented by the sudden decline of former colonial powers.

At the end of the Cold War, there was a tendency for military expenditure to slide in real terms. America’s current terror-panic, manipulated and exploited relentlessly by Bush, and always echoed by Sharon for his own dark purposes, serves almost identical ends. The average American cannot even grasp the unholy amounts of money now changing hands to almost no good purpose.

I once described a scene in the wake of 9/11 where some Americans in a bar hooted and pumped their arms at the television image of ships equipped with cruise missiles, as though the ships or the missiles had the slightest relevance for individuals bent on killing others through their own suicides. That televised image comes pretty close to symbolizing Bush’s entire policy on terror. He has spent tens of billions of dollars, killed many thousands of innocent people, and made many Americans feel intimidated in their own country, but he has done little to end the threat of terrorism. He may even have increased its long-term prospects.

Terrorism predates modern history, and it generally comes as a result of great and oppressive injustice against a definable group of people. Short of ruthlessly repressing the group of people from whose ranks terrorists are drawn – something attempted many times, as, for example, by Cromwell in Ireland or Stalin in the Soviet Union – violence offers no effective solution.

Even Cromwellian repression fails over the long term, Ireland being a potent example. An oppressor eventually tires of repression. It may well have been some such dark thought that helped motivate Hitler in history’s greatest bloodbath, the invasion of the Soviet Union and the simultaneous start of the Holocaust (27 million and 6 million victims respectively). He demanded utter ruthlessness in these vast murderous enterprises. The people whose wealth and resources he was seizing, would not get the chance ever to become terrorists.

Bush’s policy is partway along the path of repression, a virtual copy of Sharon’s policy in Palestine, but has Sharon ended terror? Does Sharon not almost weekly become more violent and desperate, recognizing the futility of all he has done to date?

Bush’s prospects and opportunities are in some ways even more limited than Sharon’s, despite the immense and terrible power at his disposal. Although Al Qaeda was a relatively small organization – and nothing has come to light that contradicts an early conclusion that Al Qaeda, though dispersed and having some allies, was no bigger than a Chicago street gang – Bush’s tactics have created waves of sympathizers and new enemies, likely even more determined through their confrontation with such a bully. He is not opposed by a group of people confined to a tiny place like Palestine. Rather, he faces opposition in many forms in many countries with mobility across continents. You can’t just bomb it all.

The more verbal blunders Bush and his associates make – consider the idiotic statements made recently by Lt. Gen. William Boykin, a man associated directly with secret activities in places like Pakistan, to gatherings of American Christian fundamentalists – the more Bush’s efforts come to be viewed as broadly anti-Islamic. The word blunder here is only appropriate because such statements are errors in managing public affairs. They are not blunders in a more basic sense: these nasty, narrow people do believe what they are saying, and although that belief is not what launched Bush’s crusade, it undoubtedly motivates many along the way.

Terror is one response of those with terrible grievances who lack effective conventional means to fight for them, although if you listened to Bush you would think there were mobs of natural-born terrorists out there, ready to kill for no reason other than jealousy at America’s great good fortune and beneficence. As in the case of Northern Ireland, terror can only be ended by redressing the grievances, and even then, great patience and tenacity are required.

A general military action against terror is an insane concept, too destructive and unfocused to have predictable results. You cannot fight beliefs or grievances with armored divisions. You can only have vengeance that way, but vengeance can hardly be called policy and is unworthy of a great power claiming high ideals.

The example of Sharon’s brutality just couldn’t offer a clearer lesson. The Palestinians have immense grievances that virtually the entire world recognizes as legitimate. Assassinate all the leaders you please, bulldoze all the homes and shops and orchards you can, bomb and shoot civilians time after time as reprisals, the grievances not only remain, they are intensified. The ultimate danger in a situation like this is that Sharon’s frustration will drive him to move beyond Cromwell.

And so, too, Bush, but note that I use his name only as shorthand for that much bigger thing, the pitiless greed and arrogance of a large segment of America.

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE   Leave a comment

THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE

John Chuckman

I read something recently about America’s Middle East initiative, the “road map,” offering Bush the chance for greatness. Verbal excess like that demands a realistic discussion of the prospects.

When Britain achieved a breakthrough for peace in Northern Ireland, it did not do so by telling the IRA that its representatives were terrorists, unacceptable to negotiate. It had not surrounded the houses of IRA leaders with tanks, blasting away until ruins remained. It did not forbid IRA leaders from attending church or travelling. Yet this is the way – along with a daily toll of reprisal killings and assassinations – Mr. Sharon prepares for peace.

For many reasons, I can only be pessimistic about the “road map.” Sharon’s immediate instinct was to reject and belittle it. Under pressure from Washington to reverse himself, he only did so with a list of qualifiers long enough to make it a different document than the one Palestinians accepted.

The fact that Mr. Sharon used, just once, the honest word occupation, normally forbidden in the Cloud-cuckoo-land of Israeli politics, and offered to trash a couple of clumps of abandoned, beaten-up trailers where the most-crazed settlers play cowboys-and-Indians with assault rifles do seem less than signs of great events to come.

Consider some of the constraints around this initiative. First, it is sponsored by a President who has just launched the United States into two meaningless, destructive wars. American forces, resources, and diplomacy now face huge, complex, and long-term obligations in Afghanistan and Iraq that did not exist a short time ago. Bush has, at the same time, threatened Iran, Syria, and North Korea, and, at least in the case of North Korea, a serious conflict may well be coming.

Second, this President’s policies have not ended terrorism, nor do I believe they ever can, which means American concerns and resources will be stretched even further. The President’s policies since 9/11 have been exactly those followed by Israel for fifty years, striking out against someone, almost anyone, wearing the right kind of headdress. Has fifty years of that solved Israel’s problems? If anything, it has only created new and desperate enemies, like the hopeless young people willing to blow themselves up to strike a blow.

Third, the plan is in the hands of Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has proved ineffective at almost everything undertaken, a judgement from one who once admired him. More importantly, Powell’s stature among Bush’s intimates is so low that you suspect they have secretly uncovered he is a distant relative of Bill Clinton, the political anti-Christ of neocon America.

Bush appointed Powell to reassure the world that America had not fallen to a coup of drawling closet-fascists, but the appointment has not proved especially helpful. The insane, arrogant intensity of Bush’s inner cabinet – including Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Ashcroft – does mean that any civilized foreigner with something important to say to the United States might rather face Powell, but he or she will be addressing an exalted messenger with little influence.

Powell works hard trying to overcome the zealots’ distrust, as with his recent rants and threats about everything from French ingratitude and delusions of yet finding strategic weapons in Iraq to warning Mr. Arafat about blocking the “road map.” He’s even gone back in time to the 1960s by attacking the neocons’ second-most hated figure after Bill Clinton, Fidel Castro. All this only has him clumsily climbing trees, sawing off unwanted limbs that block the Oval Office view, while the viciously dysfunctional family that hired him gazes through the windows gleefully awaiting his plunge to earth.

But perhaps the most important reason for bleakness over the “road map” is the man who is not at the discussions.

Yasser Arafat is now treated as the source of all evil in the Middle East. He is for Sharon the Middle East’s equivalent of what Bill Clinton is for America’s neocons, although in Israel the nasty game is played with real blood, and likely only Arafat’s world-stature and connections have saved him from Sharon’s assassins.

Arafat doesn’t speak English well, making it easy to give him a bad press in America, and he is indeed given a bad press. Few Americans even know that Arafat has a better analytical brain than their current President. He is a civil engineer and comes from a family that includes a remarkable brother who is a pediatrician and the founder of many medical institutions – not exactly the kind of hot-tempered, inarticulate tribal chief he is so often portrayed in America.

As with almost anyone raised to authority in his part of the world, his experience with democracy is limited to being on the receiving end of what nations boasting of democratic values – America, Britain and Israel – dish out abroad but wouldn’t dream of doing at home.

Since democracy naturally flows from a healthy, growing society, it should come as no surprise that Arafat’s democratic values are less than perfect. One form or another of authoritarianism is the way all the world’s people have been governed before experiencing the revolution of economic growth. It is the way most of the world’s people are governed still. Does that preclude us from having negotiations, treaties, and agreements with the governments of most of the world’s people?

I do not think there is the slightest question that Arafat sincerely wants peace, although the peace he wants includes the long-term interests of all parties with the injustices and grievances attending the birth of modern Israel having been reasonably settled. This runs up against the Sharon concept of peace which means absolute, unconditional security for Israel while giving little more than words to those who insist on running around in keffiahs and kaftans. One suspects Sharon’s idea of a concession is to have his tanks roll back from the center to the edge of a village recently flattened.

Of course, all of human history and the especially the discoveries of modern physics demonstrate that there are no absolute certainties in this world. Einstein, troubled about quantum mechanics, said God didn’t play with dice, but we now know he was wrong about that. Israel’s insistence on impossible absolutes always prevents genuine progress – that is, the kind of practical progress that characterizes normal human relationships and decent relations among nations.

Short of driving the Palestinians, like three-and-a-half million head of cattle, across the Jordan river – an idea which finds considerable support in Israel and in America’s loony Bible-belt – Sharon’s vision of peace appears to consign Palestinians perpetually to walled ghettos, dotted with settlements of armed, hostile fanatics and crisscrossed with no-go roads. That is a fairly accurate summary of Barak’s Camp David proposal for a Palestinian state, and nothing since has happened to increase Israel’s inclination to be large or statesmanlike – rather, quite the opposite.

Arafat correctly rejected Barak’s degrading concept of a nation, feeling humiliated after so many years of effort and so many compromises before and after the Oslo Accords. Accepting such an offer would only have seen Palestinians assassinate him and likely tipped them into civil war, hardly contributions to Israeli security. Indeed, once the insanity of civil war takes hold anywhere, normal restraints and humanity are pitched aside in a frenzy of killing and vengeance.

The second Intifadah can be understood both as a natural human reaction to decades of oppression and as an escape-valve for immense internal pressures. Israel blindly insists on seeing only terrorism.

American commentators like Thomas Friedman embroider the theme of Palestinian unreasonableness by asking why Palestinians have not followed the teachings of Gandhi and Dr. King to achieve their goals. I do not know whether this is asked from naivete or utter cynicism, but the answer is simple: the structures of these abusive situations are entirely different.

Israel, on short notice, can close Palestine completely down and has done so briefly many times. Israel simply imports guest workers or new migrants for the many daily tasks done by Palestinians. Neither Imperial India nor Bull Connor’s South could do this. Also, the afflicted people of Gandhi and King lived in many locations and were actually the large majority in many or most places. Further, Palestinians have no citizenship and no rights and no standing before Israeli courts. Even citizens of Israel have no defined rights. A nation defined by ethnic/religious identity makes a meaningful bill or charter of rights something of a logical puzzle, a puzzle Israel has not solved in over fifty years.

The possibility of bloody civil war among the Palestinians, brought on by the steps of the “road map” itself is not to be treated lightly, because the steps of every American initiative always demand concessions disproportionately from the weak side. Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has only restated the obvious in refusing a harsh crack-down on militants for fear of civil war, something Arafat has understood for decades and that has always informed his resistance to Israel’s harsh, absolute demands.

Arafat has spent his adult life trying to get a reasonable settlement for the Palestinians. He has made mistakes, plenty of them, but the truth is that none of them proved as bloody and destructive as, for instance, Mr. Sharon’s brutal invasion of Lebanon. Yet, Mr. Sharon’s career of blunders and bloodshed seems not to have disqualified him as spokesman for his people. Indeed, he does more than this, he now determines who is a fitting representative for the Palestinians.

Excluding Arafat may look attractive from the limited vantage points of Israel’s volatile politics and Bush’s born-again crowd, but to an independent observer, it looks hopeless.

Israelis may be the victims of their own propaganda about Arafat the terrorist, believing that his replacement in talks can genuinely change the dynamics of the situation. How easily Israelis forget that several of their prime ministers had extensive service as terrorists on their resumes.

The achievement of peace requires genuine risks and brutally hard work from all parties, but Israel demonstrates no willingness to assume the kind of risks that ended Apartheid in South Africa and has come close to ending the sectarian violence of Northern Ireland, and Bush is someone who has never worked hard at anything in his life. The existing human and political mess in the Middle East is frozen in place by the immense protection and subsidies of the United States, and so we come full circle to the nature of the people in the present American government and the terrible new obligations they have thoughtlessly assumed. Then we have Bush’s intimate relationship with America’s delusional Religious Right whose leaders daily rant against a Palestinian state and cheerfully anticipate the promise of Armageddon from the jumbled nightmares of the Book of Revelations.

Hopes for greatness? I think not.

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: POLICY THROUGH ROSE-COLORED PILOT’S GOGGLES   Leave a comment

POLICY THROUGH ROSE-COLORED PILOT’S GOGGLES

John Chuckman

Everyone, not attached by threadbare ideology or plain old war profiteering to President Bush’s War on Terror, knows that even on its own terms, it can only fail miserably in a great waste of lives and substance. You cannot fight a war against religious faith and opposition to injustice unless you are prepared to be as utterly ruthless as Stalin, and even then, when you lie pickled in your tomb, the roots you missed destroying will grow hardy new plants, as they have in contemporary Russia. But I would never have expected stark evidence for failure to come so quickly.

Massive explosions in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, just before the arrival of Colin Powell for talks, have left a smoking mass of blood and charred bodies.

Before this, only hours after talks in Israel about easing restrictions on the Palestinians, Mr. Powell was rewarded by Mr. Sharon’s sealing Gaza. Already Sharon had dismissed the new peace plan, and already he has publicly broadcast that Israel will continue to build new settlements.

Seeking stability for America’s Middle East policies was the central purpose of the Iraq invasion. One might think Sharon would show some gratitude for the monstrously-costly invasion of Iraq, but instead something like “Well, you can’t take back the invasion now, so it’s not going to change what I do” seems to be his response.

These signs follow others. The American Proconsul for Baghdad has been sacked for incompetence as chaos still characterizes life for a city of five million souls. Reports by independent journalists – that is, those not tied to America’s propaganda consortium of major networks and newspapers – indicate a growing fierce resentment towards the liberators. My, such ingratitude.

And in a move strikingly reminiscent of Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1979 triumphant return to Iran from exile in France, last Saturday (May 10), Ayatollah Baqir al-Hakim, a noted Shia cleric and fierce opponent of Saddam Hussein, returned after twenty-three years of exile. He was greeted in Basra with far more enthusiasm than anything seen by America’s kevlar-clad warriors for peace, justice, and the American way – especially the American way. The cleric has made statements both about a widely-based elected government and an Islamic state – goals that are not entirely inconsistent since Iraq is about sixty-percent Shia.

How that will be reconciled with Iraq’s more modern elements is not clear – many Americans being unaware that Hussein was a rather secular ruler and women, for example, in Baghdad lived a more modern life than those in most other Arab capitals. Of course, there’s still the angry demands of the Kurds in northern Iraq for autonomy, a people previously betrayed by American foreign policy. Who knows what they’ll be up to if betrayed again?

The Kurds’ demands are accompanied by a background roar from Turkey against any such thing happening, but then Turkey is in the dog house for failing to permit a second front against Iraq from its territory, even after being offered billions in bribes. Still, Turkey is a key ally and is trying to join the modern world as quickly as possible, so it can’t be treated as badly as Bush is determined to treat France and Germany.

Such are the rewards of rudely elbowing your way into the intimate affairs of others. If only America’s great power were ever actually used against the world’s great injustices or to protect the weak, but all evidence since the end of World War II points the other way. It is used only to defend narrowly-defined interests, fight superstitious fears such as those it feels around communism or now Islam, and lay low anyone who seriously gets in its way. Any end to an injustice along the way is strictly coincidental.

Of course, one can only be glad the murder in Iraq is largely over, despite receiving notice of the fact from an odd man in an Armani suit and pilot’s goggles on the deck of an aircraft carrier. The likelihood of Bush understanding what he has actually achieved in Afghanistan and Iraq is not high. So too the likelihood for success of his limp effort to control Israel’s bloody excesses.

And what of the longer-term results of Mr. Bush’s mismanagement? Additional attacks against American interests will bring further suppression of American rights and freedoms, and I believe this may be supported by the almost childish fears and lack of understanding of many Americans. “Heavens, there was a terror alert while we were buying ice-cream cones at Disney World!” Of course, there will be more violent, hatred-inducing incursions abroad.

At the same time that Mr. Bush increases repressive and intrusive measures at home and destruction abroad, he insists on massive, economically-obtuse tax cuts as voter bait. This is a formula for re-creating the economic chaos of Israel, only there is no one out there able to bail the United States.

The combined effects of massive American security restrictions, secrecy, retaliation against otherwise-friendly states opposed to its destructive acts, national deficits, trade deficits, war and the resentments it generates may well depress the growth of international trade seen in recent decades, imposing still a further cost on the world.

The first part of the twenty-first century looks promising indeed. Let’s hear it for Commander Bush, giggling in goggles, while he launches us all into darkness.

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: A TOXIN IN THE BLOOD   Leave a comment

A TOXIN IN THE BLOOD

John Chuckman

Like acrid fumes seeping from a chemical dump long thought dormant, attitudes of an unmistakably-fascist nature are drifting through American society. One catches whiffs of the dreadful stuff on almost every breeze from America.

Just the day before the recent Congressional election, the CIA laid claim to the assassination of six men in Yemen. The men were, of course, described as associated with al Qaeda, and may, for all I know, have been so, but just when did bragging about the public murder of six people by a government agency become acceptable practice to Americans? No charges, no trial, no evidence – just murder.

That act was in keeping with the spirit of America’s treatment of prisoners from its stupid, disastrous war in Afghanistan. First, many hundreds of prisoners were murdered under American auspices. Second, thousands were illegally detained and abused. Many were tortured. Hundreds remain prisoners in cages thousands of miles from their homes with no legal rights. A scholastic nonsense about these men being held away from the rights-protected soil of America appears adequate to make their treatment acceptable.

The murder also is in keeping with the alliances and interests America has been forming abroad. Perhaps the most murderous elected leader in recent memory, Mr. Sharon, responsible literally for the deaths of thousands and for keeping an entire people hopelessly crushed into apartheid-style camps is called a “man of peace.” His works of assassination and destruction are blessed and supported more cordially than I remember support for America’s old friend, the Shah of Iran, who smiled at dinners in the White House while his secret police, Savak, pulled out the fingernails of screaming opponents and suspects.

Russia’s Mr. Putin wages the most devastating small war of recent times, a relentless, murderous effort to hold a people who do not want to be held, reducing their towns and farms to burnt-out wasteland, and he, too, is regarded as a partner for peace and an opponent of terror. I wonder how many Americans caught the little-noted fact that not one Chechen left the theater in Moscow alive, despite all having been knocked out by gas. I’m not objecting to effort to free hostages, only to the clear fact that every Chechen was summarily murdered in scenes that must have recalled the old NKVD’s bullet to the back of the head. I wonder was the old Soviet practice of charging relatives for a cartridge followed?

A military dictator in Pakistan is regarded as an ally against terror, as are bestial war lords in Afghanistan.

The Attorney General of the United States tells Arab Americans they are fortunate not to be treated the way Japanese Americans during World War II were – that is, fortunate not to be thrown into concentration camps and have most of their property seized, never to be returned. More disgusting yet, coming as it does carefully wrapped in robes of reasoned debate, are the words of a American lawyer on the need for establishing legal procedures governing the proper use of torture in the country.

It does suit the tenor of times in which U.S. border officials have been routinely photographing, fingerprinting, and grilling visitors for hours from certain countries even though they may have taken up a new citizenship. Prize-winning Canadian author Rohinton Mistry, a man born in India and whose religious background is a form of Zoroastrianism, about as far removed as you can get from being a Muslim Arab, cut short his American reading tour after being stopped and interrogated every time he caught a plane.

Another Canadian, unfortunate enough to have been born in Syria many years ago, was refused entry to the U.S. and deported. Not serious you say? Well, yes, had he been deported to his home in Canada. But the INS in a frenzy to demonstrate appropriate zeal, deported the man to Syria, leaving his family in Canada desperate for some while trying to locate him. It’s the kind of activity Germans in the 1930s used to call fondly “working towards the Fuhrer,” that is, guessing what action might please the leader.

There’s been a lot of “working towards the Fuhrer” lately in America. It seems to come quite naturally to a significant number of people. I am reminded of the farce in Florida when a mindless police chase was created by the paranoid reports of an overheard conversation. Or the universities and colleges where dissenting views are punished. Or the lists published of dissenting voices. Or the nonsense that pours from mainstream American media like CNN or the New York Times, as when recently they deliberately underreported the size of an anti-war rally in Washington.

Ah, the New York Times, that courageous tribune of the people – people, that is, who make well in excess of $100,000 a year and think the word empire when applied to America is actually a benevolent concept. Does that motto about all the news “fit” to print not suit well?

This government has given America corruption, poor appointments to important posts, a huge and wasteful increase in military spending, not a single worthy humanitarian initiative, and it has set its jaw in grim contempt for the sensibilities of virtually the rest of the planet. It is determined to launch a war for which there is not one sound reason, a war that promises to send the world into a downward spiral of resentments, uncertainty and death.

Yet Americans have given it a vote of confidence.

A political party that in one generation has included as prominent spokesmen and leaders Jesse Helms, Tom De Lay, Phil Gramm, Dick Armey, John Ashcroft, Bob Barr, Pat Buchanan, and Newt Gingrich, that attracts vultures like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, and whose spokespeople include genuine hate-mongers like Ann Coulter cannot be regarded as harmless. There is a large enough cesspool of ignorance and arrogance here to threaten all people who regard human decency and rationality as important.

Students of history will know that not every member of the Nazi party in Germany at the height of its prestige and power around 1940 shared the poison dreams of its leadership. People joined because of social pressure or the requirements of career advancement or agreement with limited aspects of the Nazi program. Yet we do not sort this all out when we speak of Nazis. Who on the planet does not use the term Nazi as one of contempt and anathema?

Of course it is not just the bulk of “decent” Republicans who fail to speak against genuine evil. The Democrats are softer spoken, more benign in their use of words, but they have utterly failed to provide leadership here. They have not raised their voices against torture and abuse of prisoners, against public murder, against policies advocating unprovoked attack, against the wanton destruction of a generation’s work on treaties and conventions for international cooperation, or against unholy alliance with thugs like Sharon, Putin, Musharraf, and General Dostum.

Mr. Clinton’s eight years in the White House were not marked by particularly enlightened measures either at home or abroad, although almost anyone would agree that his smiling intelligence was more reassuring than the numb-faced, thick-tongued mumbling of Mr. Bush. All decent people had sympathy over the low-life dragging of Mr. Clinton’s private life into the glare of publicity, but that fact did not render him a particularly enlightened leader on the world’s scene.

America spends on its military as much the next thirty countries in the world combined spend on theirs. This gigantic flow of money, like a monstrously-swollen river roaring over the landscape, erodes every value and decent aspect of American life. It simply cannot be otherwise. And it erodes America’s every relationship with the rest of the world. It has been observed by numerous historians that the very presence of great armies helps induce war.

Please remember that not once did Hitler attack a country without a plausible excuse, and the emotional tug of his arguments resonated in many capitals outside Berlin. Moreover, he had what he regarded as a visionary purpose for his belligerence. He spoke of terror against the German people. He wanted to secure Germany’s long-term future as a great and powerful nation. He wanted to end the barbarism of Bolshevism. He also pleaded eloquently for peace at times. Yet the sum total of his work was the greatest destruction in human history.

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: WHAT SHARON WANTS   Leave a comment

WHAT SHARON WANTS

John Chuckman

What was the point of the Israeli army’s reducing Mr. Arafat’s compound to ruins, firing shells that came within the smallest margin of error of killing him? Everyone outside the hermetically-sealed thought-environment of Israel and Washington recognizes Mr. Arafat is no more responsible for the violence of Hamas or Hezballah than Mr. Bush is responsible for a disturbed gunman now terrorizing America’s capital city.

Of course, the question is rhetorical. The reason for the destruction is clear. Mr. Sharon has always exhibited personal animus against Mr. Arafat. He never mentions his name without the rhetorical equivalent of pronouncing a curse. The acts of Hamas or Hezbollah gave Mr. Sharon the excuse to humiliate and frighten him, hoping to destroy him as a political force and push him into exile. There cannot be the slightest doubt Sharon would prefer assassinating Arafat, as he has assassinated so many dozens of others opposing him, but even the unthinking Mr. Bush recognizes the immense strategic blunder of doing that.

With Arafat gone, Sharon could start the last thirty-five years over again. That mystical, nebulous mechanism called the “peace process” could start again – decades of stalling and quibbling, ignoring every United Nations’ resolution while Israel relentlessly inches eastward, absorbing the homes and farms of others – the search for peace through slow-motion ethnic cleansing.

Not that the creation of settlements has ever stopped while Mr. Sharon destroyed both the Oslo Accords, that landmark diplomatic achievement he always held in contempt, and much of the West Bank and Gaza. It would be just so much easier to continue with an opponent who does not have the ear of the world’s statesmen and who has not done everything politically possible to reach a reasonable settlement. It is so much easier to curse Arafat, broadcast his weaknesses, and ignore the fundamental claims he represents.

Mr. Arafat has not been one of the world’s shining statesmen. Nor has his administration in Palestine been marked by the most enlightened practices. But he is, unquestionably, dedicated to peace. He does, despite ups and downs, represent some of the most important interests of his people. And he has shown remarkable courage and tenacity, Sharon’s efforts to remove him having only showcased these qualities before the entire world.

A lot of people in the United States still do not understand that it has always been the policy of extreme parties like Mr. Sharon’s Likud to annex what they call Judaea and Samaria – that is, what is left of Palestine, home to a couple of million Arabic people. Even at the time of the original Camp David Accords, the late Mr. Begin kept muttering those names, Judaea and Samaria, into President Carter’s ear.

A reader recently wrote me about a television documentary on Palestine. He mentioned a settler, who like all the settlers are newcomers who have pushed out residents from places they have lived for centuries, being asked about the Palestinians. Her answer was they should all leave and go where they belong.

Go where they belong? According to this belligerent view, they belong on the other side of the Jordan River, or, indeed, anywhere but in their own homes and on their own farms in the West Bank. I can only wonder whether a person holding such views has ever given a moment’s thought to the reality of shoving two million people out of their homes and into small, poor countries that are not remotely-equipped to deal with massive migration?

The largest internal migration in American history, and perhaps the largest in world history not associated with war, was the great black migration of tenant farmers from the rural South to industrial jobs in the North during the mid-twentieth century. It involved about 6 1/2 million people over several decades. This vast movement of people generated tremendous social difficulties that remain unsettled in the world’s richest country, a land that is many, many times the size of any of Israel’s Arab neighbors.

So how could anyone reasonably expect such a solution in the Middle East? The answer is that reason has nothing to do with it. Israelis with these views simply want the Arabs gone. If you don’t hear echoes of Milosevic, you aren’t listening.

Until Mr. Bush, this idea, its potential for “bad press” clearly recognized, had been little advertised or promoted in North America. Now, it has received some publicity, perhaps offered as “trial balloons.”

Mr. Rumsfeld – in one of his most regrettably-Hitlerian expressions since insisting that Taliban prisoners, after their surrender at Kunduz, should be shot or walled away for good – recently spoke of the spoils belonging to the victor in the Middle East.

That redoubtable American ally, General Dostum, of course, took Rumsfeld at his word about the prisoners. Hundreds of them, after being hideously suffocated, lie in mass graves. One can’t help asking whether American generals are now to apply Mr. Rumsfeld’s spoils-principle to Iraqi oil fields?

Another Republican moral giant, Mr. Dick Armey – not known for charity towards the less-fortunate of any society, even his own – recently chimed in that pushing two-million or so people out of the West Bank would be acceptable to him. Hell, what’s a couple of million Arab lives, right?

And now, the Rev. Jerry Falwell – fundamentalist politico and hate-entrepreneur, a man whose tailored suits are bought with the proceeds of a relentless hate-campaign against a former President, a former First Lady, and all gay people – has added his scholarly opinion that the prophet Muhammad himself was a terrorist. One can almost hear the unspoken link, so why would his followers deserve to live in the Holy Land?

These public statements provide an excellent measure of the moral tone set by Mr. Bush’s administration. America’s long, on-and-off romance with fascism has been stoked back to a warm glow (for background, see my earlier article, “Flirting with Fascism”). Each of these statements should have been loudly condemned by a President with any conscience. Instead, hate-speech is tolerated.

Well, Mr. Sharon now also is building a wall, a truly massive undertaking. Authoritarian personalities and movements seem always to like walls. This one will be a grand re-creation of the Berlin Wall, complete with a strip of no-man’s land, good portions of it at the expense of Palestinian farmers.

This may be what Sharon had in mind when he made statements months ago, contradicting every act and breath of his adult life, that he supported a Palestinian state. One can only imagine what he had in mind with those words, something surely bordering on the nightmares of the gulag. The wall is likely part of his vision. A rump-state, walled off from all natural connections with its neighbor, with every movement in or out controlled, is certain to fail. It would be a state in a bottle. The idea represents a freshening-up of the late Gen. Dayan’s thinking when he said, years ago, that the Palestinians would be made so miserable they would choose to leave.

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: OF WAR, ISLAM, AND ISRAEL   3 comments

OF WAR, ISLAM, AND ISRAEL

John Chuckman

War between Islam and the nations of the West? There have been a good many careless words printed and broadcast in America touching on this simplistic idea. And an American president who lacks the most superficial knowledge of the world or its history offers no reassurance, as he lurches from one misstatement to another, that this idea is not being incorporated into national policy.

The concept of Islam as an intrinsically violent, anti-progressive opponent in the modern world is both ignorant and dangerous. The new prominence of this idea in America provides a good measure of the distorted information that exists in our political environment. It’s almost as though the bloody, parochial views of Ariel Sharon on the nature of Palestinians had been exalted to a world view, worthy of every statesman’s consideration.

How easily we forget that the history of organized Christianity provides almost certainly the bloodiest tale in all of human history.

The Crusades, that dark saga of Christianity written in blood and terror, continued sporadically over hundreds of years. They served little other purpose than gathering wealth through spoils and sacking cities and easing the periodic domestic political difficulties of the papacy and major princes of Europe.

We hear of the treatment of women under Islam in certain places, not remembering that Christian women were left locked in iron chastity belts for years while their husbands raped their way across the Near East. And the character of Saladin, hard warrior that he was, shines nobly in history compared to the moral shabbiness of Richard Lionheart.

Europe wove a remarkable tapestry of horrors in the name of Christianity from the beginning of the modern era. There was the Holy Inquisition, the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain, the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, the Thirty Years’ War, the English Civil War, the St Bartholomew Massacre, Cromwell’s slaughter in Ireland, the enslavement and widespread extermination of native peoples in the Americas, the Eighty Years’ War in Holland, the expulsion of the Huguenots from France, the pogroms, the burning of witches, and numberless other horrific events right down to The Holocaust itself, which was largely the work of people who considered themselves, as did the slave drivers of America’s South, to be Christians.

Over and above the conflicts motivated by religion, European and American history, a history dominated by people calling themselves Christian, runs with rivers, lakes, and whole seas of blood. Just a sampling includes the Hundred Years’ War, the War of the Spanish Succession, the Seven Years’ War, the slave trade, the French Revolution, the Vendée, the Napoleonic Wars, the Trail of Tears, the Opium War, African slavery in the American South, the American Civil War, the Franco-Prussian War, the massacre in the Belgium Congo, the Crimean War, lynchings, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, World War I, the Spanish Civil War, and World War II.

How anyone with this heritage can describe Islam as notably bloodthirsty plainly tells us that immense ignorance is at work here.

What limited knowledge I have of Islam is enough to know that there is no history, despite bloody characters like Tamerlane, to overtop Europe’s excesses, and, in some cases, there has been generosity of spirit exceeding that shown by Christians.

The Moorish kings of Spain tended to follow the same tolerant attitude towards religion that the classical Romans had done. The Romans allowed any religion to flourish, often officially adopting the gods of a conquered people, so long as the religion represented no political threat to Rome’s authority.

People today point to a well-publicized excess like the Taliban’s destruction of ancient statues, apparently completely oblivious to the fact that the religiously-insane Puritans, direct ancestors of America’s Christian fundamentalists, ran through the beautiful, ancient cathedrals of England after the Reformation, smashing stained glass, desecrating ancient tombs, destroying priceless manuscripts, and smashing sculptures.

A remarkably tolerant society flourished under the Moors in Spain for hundreds of years. Jews, Christians, and Muslims were tolerated, and the talented served the state in many high capacities regardless of religion. Learning advanced, trade flourished.

During the centuries of the Jewish Diaspora, the Arab people of the Holy Land looked after the holy places and largely treated Jewish visitors with hospitality and respect. There was none of the bitter hatred we see today. All this changed at the birth of modern Israel and the expulsion of Palestinians from places they had inhabited for centuries.

No reasonable, decent-minded person can deny that the manner of Israel’s rebirth did a great injustice to the Palestinians. And the great powers, first Britain and then the United States, had entirely selfish motives in seeing this done. Under the original UN proposal for Israel, there were to be two roughly-equal states carved out of Palestine, and the city of Jerusalem was to have an international status. More than half a century later, what we have is an Israel that covers three-quarters of Palestine and militarily occupies the rest.

Yet somehow, the burden of appropriate behavior, in a fuzzily-defined “peace process” leading to some fuzzily-defined Palestinian state at some undefined date, is always placed upon the Palestinians. They are supposed to live patiently, exhibiting the peacefulness of model citizens in Dorothy’s Kansas, while under a humiliating occupation in order just to earn the privilege of talking to Israel about the situation.

I often wonder how Americans, with their Second-Amendment rights and hundreds of millions of guns, would behave under such circumstances. Would they patiently wait decade after decade, watching “settlers” fresh from other places build on what was their land? watching bulldozers flatten their orchards? watching their people harassed and often demeaned at checkpoints as they simply travel from one point to another near their homes? not being able to so much as build a road or a sewer without the almost impossible-to-get permission of the occupying authorities? being told that only their patient behavior can earn them the right to talk with those who control their lives?

Looking at the situation in that hypothetical light may offer a better appreciation for what the Palestinians have endured with considerable patience.

The simple fact is that it has been the clear policy of Israeli governments over the last half century to avoid, at all costs, the creation of a Palestinian state. Every effort at delay, every quibble over definitions, every tactical shift that could possibly be made has been made, many times over, in an effort to buy time, hoping that time alone will somehow make the problem of the Palestinians go away.

This policy may have changed, ever-so-slightly, under Mr. Barak from one of preventing the creation of a Palestinian state to one of preventing the creation of a viable Palestinian state, but that is not the same thing as “the great opportunity missed” that has been dramatized, over and over again, in America’s press. And even this slight change in policy remains unacceptable to many conservatives in Israel.

And when the Palestinians, morally exhausted by endless waiting that yields no change, resist the occupation they are under with the limited, desperate means they possess, they are regarded as unstable lunatics who don’t love their children. A number of apologists for Israel’s worst excesses have repeated this theme, an extension of a remark attributed to the late Golda Meir about peace coming “when the Palestinians learn to love their children more than they hate us.” The actual quote from Ms. Meir that is most applicable here is one she made to the Sunday Times of June 15, 1969, “They [the Palestinians] did not exist.”

We are repeatedly told that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and it is defending itself against malevolent forces. This vaguely-defined image of enlightenment versus darkness appeals to Americans. But democracy has never been a guarantee of fairness or decency. It is only a means of selecting a government.

Under any democracy, a bare majority of people with an ugly prejudice can tyrannize over others almost in perpetuity. Indeed, this very experience is a large part of the history of the United States, even with its much-vaunted Bill of Rights. But Israel has no Bill of Rights, and what’s more important for actual day-to-day fairness and decency, the very will to act in a fair manner appears to be absent. What else can one say where assassination, torture, and improper arrest have been management tools of government for decades?

Israel’s politics are highly polarized, undoubtedly far worse than those of the United States, and the balance of power needed to form any parliamentary coalition is always in the hands of far-out religious parties. The interests of these people are anything but informed by enlightenment values and democracy, holding to views and ideas, as they do, that predate the existence of democracy or human rights. It is not an exaggeration to say that killing the Philistines or tearing down the walls of Jericho are regarded as current events by a good many of these fundamentalist party members. A number of their leaders have, time and again, described Palestinians as “vermin.”

The extreme conservatives receive many special privileges in Israel that distort the entire political mechanism. For example, their rabbis decide the rules governing who is accepted as a Jew or what are acceptable religious, and religiously-approved social, practices. The students in the fundamentalist religious schools traditionally have been exempt from the army. In effect, they are exempt from the violent results of the very policies they advocate.

These parties generally believe in a greater Israel, that is, an Israel that includes what little is left of Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza, minus its current undesirable inhabitants. It has been the view of Israeli government after Israeli government over the last half century to consider Jordan as the Palestinian’s proper home. Thus, when Israeli governments talked of peace, it meant something entirely different than what Palestinians meant.

And when, finally, an offer for a Palestinian state was made by Mr. Barak at Camp David – an offer that, by all reports, was made quite angrily and contemptuously to Mr. Arafat – under any honest, rational analysis, it reduced to one for a giant holding facility for people not wanted in Israel. How surprising that Mr. Arafat left in anger when after days of being subjected to good-cop/bad-cop treatment by Mr. Clinton and Mr. Barak, this was the end result. Surely, this was an immensely-frustrating disappointment to the Palestinians after years of effort and compromise to achieve and implement the Oslo Accords.

Mr. Bush’s War on Terror, a mindless crusade against disagreeable Islamic governments, has had the terrible effect of casting the bloody-minded Mr. Sharon in the role of partner against the forces of terror and darkness. He has received a new mantle of legitimacy for continued destruction and delay, for continued injustice against those too powerless to effectively oppose him.

As Israel’s leaders well know, the Palestinian population is growing rapidly. Rapid population growth is the general case for poor people throughout the world. Israel’s highly organized and costly efforts to support Jewish immigration reflect awareness of this fact. But a combination of large birth rates on one side and heavy immigration on the other is a certain formula for disaster in the long term. The region’s basic resources, especially water, will sustain only a limited population.

A large population, outsizing its resources, almost certainly is the major underlying reason for the immense slaughters and numberless coups and civil wars of Western Africa in recent years, a region whose population growth has been high but whose usable resources are limited. And the history of civilization tells us that vast changes and movements of population have been far more decisive in human affairs than atomic weapons.

So it appears that not only in the short term, but over some much longer time horizon, Israel and the Palestinians are on a deadly collision course.

There is hope. Modern societies have all experienced a phenomenon called demographic transition. This term simply means that, faced with a reduced death rate, people’s normal response is a reduced birth rate, yielding a net result of slow, or even negative, population growth. Couples prefer to have only two or three children who are almost certain to survive instead of six or more, at least half of whom die before growing up. This is the reason why modern countries depend entirely on migration for growth, or to avoid actual decline, in population.

Israel, populated largely by people from Europe and North America and being a fairly prosperous society, follows the pattern of advanced nations. The West Bank and Gaza, with some of the world’s highest birth rates, do not. Now, the only way to trigger demographic transition is through healthful measures like adequate diet, good public sanitation, and basic health care, especially measures for infant care. These things done, nature takes a predictable path and people stop having large families.

But these are not measures that can be accomplished quickly, and the need to get on with them should add some sense of urgency to ending the occupation and helping the Palestinians achieve a state with some degree of prosperity.

By now, it should be clear that life in Israel for the foreseeable future cannot be quite the same as life in Dorothy’s Kansas no matter who leads the government. No one has been more ruthless or bloody-minded than Mr. Sharon, and he has only succeeded in making every problem worse.

Yet life in Israel similar to Dorothy’s Kansas – that is, a life as though you were not surrounded by people seething over injustice and occupation and steeped in poverty – is a condition that Mr. Sharon insists on as a precondition even for talking about peace. Somehow, Mr. Arafat, with a wave of his hand, is to make all the violence disappear. This is not only unrealistic, it is almost certainly dishonest.

Israel herself, in any of the places she has occupied, and despite having one of the best equipped armies in the world, has never been able to do that very thing. All those years in Lebanon, and the violence continued at some level for the entire time. Indeed, a new enemy, Hizballah, rose in response to Israel’s activities. It is simply a fact that there has always been some level of violence in any place occupied by Israel. How is Mr. Arafat, with his limited resources and in the face of many desperate factions, supposed to be able to accomplish what the Israeli army and secret services cannot?

And were he to try running the kind of quasi-police state one assumes Israel favors, with regular mass arrests of suspects, how long would he remain in power?

Moreover, Mr. Sharon treats Mr. Arafat with utter contempt, dismissing him as insignificant, and has destroyed many of the means and symbols of his authority. How can a leader, treated as contemptible, exercise authority? For all his faults, and he has a number of them, Mr. Arafat has demonstrated through many compromises related to the Oslo Accords that he is a man who sincerely desires peace and a constructive relationship with Israel.

Mr. Sharon’s entire adult life has been dedicated to killing. I do believe there is more blood on his hands than any terrorist you care to name. Mr. Sharon first made a name for himself with the Qibya massacre in 1953, when a force under his command blew up forty-five houses and killed sixty-nine people, most of them women and children. Nearly thirty years later, in 1982, he was still at it when Lebanese militia forces under his control murdered and dumped into mass graves, using Israeli-supplied bulldozers, between two- and three-thousand civilians in the refugee camps called Sabra and Shatila. Mr. Sharon was responsible for the disastrous invasion of Lebanon which saw hundreds of civilians killed by Israel’s shelling of Beirut and precipitated a bloody civil war in which thousands more died.

Mr. Sharon’s policies of assassination and bombing have succeeded only in multiplying the suicide bombings beyond anything in recent memory. It is almost impossible to imagine this man as capable of making a meaningful gesture towards peace. Yes, of course he wants peace, peace on his terms, a cheap peace without giving anything, but by definition that is not peace for the Palestinians.

We always hear about what is required of the Palestinians for peace, but a genuine peace requires some extraordinary things on Israel’s part. First, she must at some point accept a Palestinian state. This condition is a necessary one, but it is far from sufficient, for she must be prepared to generously assist this state towards achieving some prosperity, reducing the causes of both run-away population growth and the dreary hopelessness that causes people to strap bombs to their bodies.

Most difficult of all, it is hard to see how Israel can avoid some level of violence during a period of Palestinian nation-building. This is something no ordinary state would consciously embrace, but then Israel is no ordinary state. The norms of Dorothy’s Kansas simply do not apply. The hatreds generated by a half century of aggressive policies are not going to just melt away, but if there is enough genuine, demonstrated goodwill, it does seem likely that such violence would be minimal. It is a unappetizing risk that almost certainly needs to be taken, for no one is going to run a police state on Israel’s behalf in the West Bank.

Considering the immense difficulty of these things and political barriers that exist against them in Israel, it does not seem likely that peace is coming any time soon. The prospect seems rather for low-grade, perpetual war, paralleling that Mr. Bush so relishes speaking of. For someone of Mr. Sharon’s turn of mind, this may be a wholly acceptable alternative.

Posted May 26, 2009 by JOHN CHUCKMAN in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,