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January 21, 2002
Making occupation work

By Ali Abunimah


Making occupation work

By Ali Abunimah

The Jordan Times
January 20, 2002


REACTIONS IN the United States to Israel's capture of the "Karine A", the ship carrying tonnes of weapons allegedly destined for the Palestinian National Authority, and the recent rampage by Israeli occupation forces, which left hundreds of Palestinian refugees in Rafah homeless once again and destroyed what was left of "Gaza International Airport" illustrate, in the starkest terms, the increasing distance between American perceptions of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and what must be done to solve it.

Rocky Mountain News columnist Holger Jensen was one of the scarce voices who pointed to holes in Israel's story about the Karine A, and observed that since Arafat was labelled "irrelevant" by Sharon's government and "thus no longer a partner in the peace process -- if anything is left of it -- he may feel he has every right to arm his people to oppose a 34-year-old military occupation". (Jan. 10)

This rare exception notwithstanding, American commentators seized on the ship as incontrovertible evidence of the wickedness of the Palestinians and their desire to harm Israel. The Chicago Tribune railed that "the arms shipment serves blunt notice that Palestinians are preparing for war, not for peace". (Jan. 12).

The paper called a Jan. 9 attack by Hamas which killed four armed Israeli soldiers near the occupied Gaza Strip "terrorism pure and simple". The Tribune dismissed the notion that the weapons on the captured ship could be for Palestinian self-defence, because "they were offensive weapons. They were weapons of terror: Katyusha rockets, anti-tank missiles, mortars, ammunition and plastic explosives". If this is the case, what is one to make of the fact that there is not one kind of offensive weapon in its vast arsenal, from small arms to artillery, from tanks to helicopters, from death squads to F-16s that Israel has not used against the Palestinian people, all allegedly in "self-defence"?

The only weapons that Israel has yet to try on the Palestinians are nuclear, chemical and biological. Despite all this, neither The Chicago Tribune nor any other major American newspaper has referred to Israel's brutal aggression against Palestinian civilians as "terrorism". Amidst its indignant tirade, The Chicago Tribune found not one word to say about Israel's Jan. 10 demolition rampage in Rafah. Nor did it comment on the destruction of the airport once viewed as a symbol of emerging Palestinian independence, and built with international aid money. This was no exception; I could not find a single editorial in a major US newspaper that condemned Israel's actions in Gaza. This vitriol against Palestinians, on the one hand, and boundless indulgence of the Israelis, on the other, while typical of the US response, contrasted with the editorial in the leading Israeli daily Haaretz which attacked the Rafah demolitions as "blind cruelty" and "one of those acts over which the black flag of blatant illegality is flying". (Jan. 13) Amnesty International termed the demolitions a "grave breach of international humanitarian law", and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, usually reluctant to take strong stands against Israel, condemned them as a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Nor is this view restricted to well-meaning outsiders: Brigadier General Dov Zedaka, head of Israel's civil administration in the occupied West Bank was quoted by Haaretz columnist Gideon Samet as saying: "Nowadays, I want to avoid ending up in the high court in The Hague for war crimes," (Jan. 16).

This perception gap is reflected at the official level between the United States and its closest allies. While US Secretary of State Colin Powell defended Israel's destruction of Gaza airport as legitimate "self-defence", Josep Pique, the foreign minister of Spain, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, said the action was "unjustifiable". Powell did not explain how a civilian airport, under full Israeli security control, which had in any case long been closed by the Israelis, could present any threat at all. In the climate of fulsome support for Israel that exists in the mainstream US media, he did not have to.

The routine suppression of information about the daily experience of Palestinians under Israel's occupation logically leads to a situation where many Americans cannot imagine that Palestinians might have a right to defend themselves, and that it would be surprising only that people under the occupation of a superior military power were not attempting to import weapons to resist it.

With few exceptions, American print and electronic media reported last week's deadly Hamas guerrilla attack as the end of a "period of relative calm", or the "shattering of a ceasefire". The Washington Post, for instance, stated that "after finally declaring a ceasefire on Dec. 16, the Palestinian leader [Yasser Arafat] largely made it stick for more than three weeks -- no Israelis were killed in Palestinian attacks until Wednesday [Jan. 9], when the Islamic group Hamas attacked a military outpost". (Jan. 11)

In fact, no fewer than 31 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli occupation from Dec. 13 to Jan. 8, most of them unarmed civilians and eleven of them children, like 13-year-old Rami Khamis Al Zorob, shot in the head on Dec. 13, while playing near his home in Rafah, Gaza. Five of the children, the youngest of them three years old, died when fire consumed the tent to which they had fled for their lives from constant Israeli shelling of their neighbourhood in Khan Yunis. What it boils down to is that the meaning of "ceasefire" is that only Israeli lives are being saved.

In this looking-glass world, New York Times columnist William Safire and National Public Radio commentator Daniel Schorr were among many who seethed that Iran was implicated in the Karine A affair. While the Washington Post's Charles Krauthammer wrote that the Palestinian ship was a "candy store of terror", no ink was spilled or breath wasted worrying about how the United States alone in the world is fuelling the bloodshed by furnishing Israel's shopping mall of destruction. Thus, we are now at a point where everything is permitted to Israel in furtherance of its occupation and colonisation of Palestinian land and its refusal to engage in peace negotiations -- including attacking unarmed civilians with naked ruthlessness in reprisal for guerrilla actions against combatant Israeli soldiers.

By the same token, nothing at all is permitted to the Palestinians in self-defence. What the US government and a large segment of the media demand is a perfect occupation. The occupier must be allowed a free hand to colonise, brutalise and control, while if the occupied react in any way at all, except with complete subservience and expressions of recognition and warmth for the occupier, they immediately join the ranks of "terrorists" and can be crushed by any and all means. Only when occupation works perfectly and imposes no burden whatsoever on the occupier will we be allowed to discuss ending it. Hence, it follows that the only acceptable role for the PNA is not to defend its people against the occupier, but to defend the occupier against its victims with mass arrests of its own people -- demanded by Israel -- or even a full-scale civil war.

What the PNA expects to receive in return for such behaviour, either from Israel, which has shown it will manufacture whatever excuses are necessary to finish off the Authority, regardless of its compliance; from the United States, which is unable to free itself of the demands of the Israeli lobby; from the rest of the world, which stands by wringing its hands; or from the hapless Palestinian people, who are only further victimised and alienated, remains a total mystery. Working from Israeli government talking points, the army of pro-Israeli commentators issue ever longer lists of demands and threats against Arafat, but give no indication at all that Israel is expected to change its destructive behaviour in any way.

For the foreseeable future, this structure will ensure great suffering for Israelis and far greater suffering for Palestinians. In the long-run, the occupation will, like all efforts to maintain colonial domination, fail. Palestine and the Palestinians will survive all Israel's efforts to wipe them out and will, one day, co-exist in peace with the Israeli people, either as neighbours in two equal and sovereign states or as citizens in one democratic state for all. What is far from certain is whether Israel in its present ethno-nationalist form, egged on by its ultra-Zionist supporters in the United States, having rejected a historic territorial compromise that would give it 78 per cent of Palestine, can survive what it is doing to itself -- economically, morally and politically -- in the process of trying to crush the Palestinians and make them disappear.

The writer is a contributor to `The New Intifada' (Verso Books, 2001). He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.