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|Robert Fisk: A speech laced with obsessions and li|
|04/05/02 at 03:34:17|
|Robert Fisk: A speech laced with obsessions and little else|
05 April 2002
Ariel Sharon could not have done better. The heaping of blame upon an occupied people, the obsessive use of the word terror – by my rough count there were 50 references in just 10 minutes – and the brief, frightened remarks about "occupation" and (one mention only) to Jewish settlements and the need for Israeli "compassion" at the end were proof enough that President Bush had totally failed to understand the tragedy he is supposedly trying to solve.
The mugger became the victim and the victim became the mugger. What, I wonder, is the exact distance between the Rose Garden and Bethlehem? So the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, is travelling to "the region'' next week. Next week? Why not now?
But of course, the White House, which according to the Israeli press has repeatedly been asking Mr Sharon how long he intends to reoccupy the Palestinian cities of the West Bank, is to give the Israeli Prime Minister more time to finish his invasion, destroy the Palestinian infrastructure and dismantle the Palestinian Authority.
The speech was laced with all the "war on terror'' obsessions: Iraq as a sponsor of terror for donating money to a family of Palestinian "martyrs'', and Syria for not making up its mind if it is "for or against terror''.
The European Union, fearful of rising oil prices and their effect on the eurozone economy, had earlier dispatched a mission to Israel; with typical contempt, Mr Sharon told its members they could not visit Yasser Arafat in Ramallah. The delegation, which had earlier announced that the Americans had failed in their mission as peacemaker in the Middle East, simply packed up and left Tel Aviv within hours.
But will Mr Powell do any better? The dollar has fallen against world currencies because of the Middle East crisis – as good a reason as any for Mr Bush to act – and the possible restrictions on Middle East oil production, though more damaging to Europe, must have helped to prompt the President's decision to dispatch Mr Powell.
The Palestinian suicide bombings, however, were the core of Mr Bush's address. He talked of the 18-year-old Palestinian girl who blew herself up and killed a 17-year-old Israeli girl, the Jewish state's "dream'' of peace with its neighbours. "Terror must be stopped ... no nation can negotiate with terrorists ... leaderships not terror ... you're either with the civilised world or you're with the terrorists ... all in the Middle East ... must move in word and deed against terrorists ... I call on the Palestinian Authority to do everything in their power to stop terrorist activities.'' Arafat had agreed to control "terrorism'' – "he failed'.' The reoccupation of the West Bank was a "temporary measure'', Mr Bush announced, trusting the word of the Israeli occupiers. "Suicide bombing missions could well blow up the only hope of a Palestinian state.''
On it went, 11 September-speak applied to the Middle East. Israel's enemies must be eliminated – Al Aqsa, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizbollah, which yesterday beat up a UN observer on the Lebanese border in the most dangerous incident of its kind since the Israeli withdrawal in 2000. The whole Bush speech revolved around Israel's wellbeing, with scarcely three minutes devoted to the Palestinians and their 35 years under occupation. Israel should, Mr Bush decided, show a "respect'' for and "concern'' for the Palestinian people.
There was some ritual mention of UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, which calls for Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in the 1967 war but which Mr Sharon has already said he cannot accept, and an appeal to halt settlement building. But Jewish settlements are still being built, at an ever-faster rate, on Palestinian land.
Only a heart of stone could not respond to the suffering of those Israeli families whose loved ones have been so wickedly cut down by the Palestinian suicide bombers. But where was Mr Bush's compassion for the vastly greater number of Palestinians who have been killed by the Israelis over the past 19 months, or his condemnation of Israel's death squads, house demolition and land theft? They simply didn't exist in the Bush speech.
The money for "martyrs" does not, of course, only go to the kin of suicide bombers – it goes to families of all those killed by Israelis, most of whom have been struck down by American-made weapons. Certainly, America has never offered to make reparations for the innocents killed by the air-to-ground missiles and shells it has sold to Israel.
Far more instructive than the Bush speech was the measured, fair way in which Terje Larson, the UN's special Middle East envoy, and Nigel Roberts, the local director of the World Bank, tried to describe the tragedy. In a short press conference they appealed to both sides to end violence and respect international law and cited Israel as well as the Palestinians for breaking it. The so-called Israeli "closed military areas" were, Mr Larson said, "illegitimate and in direct violation of the [Oslo] Agreements". Mr Roberts talked of the surge in violence as a threat that could "consign to history the unique opportunity for reconciliation''.
But "closed military areas" achieved another Israeli victory over the Western television satellite stations. Yesterday, the BBC, Sky and CNN, with their own crews largely prevented from filming in the reoccupied Palestinian cities, all ran footage of the Bethlehem battle taken by Israeli soldiers. Rather than refuse to use the tape unless their own crews were permitted access to the carnage, the three channels all dutifully used the film taken by the army of occupation. Another milestone in the collapse of journalism in the Middle East. But not so serious as the collapse of America's peace-making.
|Re: Robert Fisk: A speech laced with obsessions an|
|04/08/02 at 00:11:12|
|Salam alaykum , pz read till the end.|
Unholy War: The Bethlehem bellringer, the doctor, the mother. The innocent keep on dying
At the end of a week when violence in the Middle East conflict has reached new, horrific heights, President Bush has asked Israel to hold its fire. Here, Robert Fisk explains why the call could in fact increase Israeli resolve to crush the Palestinians, and on the following pages we investigate the conflict's history
By Robert Fisk
07 April 2002
I had just crossed the northern bridge from Israel over the Jordan river for a brief visit to Amman when my driver swerved to the right next to a group of soldiers and headed down a track beside a canal. "We have to avoid the first village," he said without comment. A few minutes later, I could see why.
Black smoke rose from burning tyres on the main road and crowds of young Jordanian men were stopping cars on the highway. "They are throwing stones at foreigners and looking for Israelis," said the driver. You bet they were. And, two hours later, I saw black smoke cowling into the air over Amman as more demonstrators screamed their hatred of America and Israel.
And this, remember, is friendly, pro-Western Jordan, whose young king moves members of the British Parliament to tears, whose peace treaty with Israel was hailed – preposterously, of course – as the start of an economic boom, a new freedom and security for a nation of whom more than half the population are Palestinian.
All across the Arab world, local dictators are suppressing their people's anger. In Jordan, you can even find people who ask not only why the late King Hussein signed a peace treaty with Israel. Some of them are asking another question: what is the point of his son, King Abdullah? No wonder that the Arab leaders told US Vice-President Dick Cheney last month that he should forget America's forthcoming screen epic in Iraq and deal with the Palestinian-Israeli war. Valuable days were lost while Mr Cheney toured the region in a desperate search for an Arab who would support an Iraqi blitz. And as happens so often nowadays – incredible though it seems – the Arabs got it right while the Americans fantasised about the "axis of evil".
Perhaps the only man who now has time to work out the logic of this appalling conflict is the Palestinian leader sitting in his ill-lit broken office in Ramallah. The one characteristic Yasser Arafat shares with the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon – apart from old age and decrepitude – is his refusal ever to plan ahead. What he says, what he does, what he proposes, is decided only at the moment he is forced to act. This is partly his old guerrilla training. If you don't know what you are going to do tomorrow, you can be sure that your enemies don't know either. By contrast, the Israeli army obligingly boasts of its attacks long in advance, allowing Palestinians – and, of course, journalists – to be ready for them.
What the world has so far witnessed – and the Palestinians spotted this from the start – is that the Israelis are meeting resistance they never expected. The "few days" they needed to "root out the network of terror" will now have to extend, according to Israeli officers, to a month. President George Bush gave Mr Sharon just days to end his campaign against the Palestinians – the delay before the Secretary of State leaves for his "urgent" Middle East mission – and everyone now knows that the Americans will expect Israel to wrap up its assault by the time Mr Powell arrives later this week.
So the military logic is simple. This weekend, the Israeli army has got to batter the Palestinians into submission. And somehow, the Palestinian forces have got to hang on and keep fighting. If they succeed, and the Israelis withdraw their tanks without subduing them, Mr Sharon is forced into a bitter humiliation. If the Israelis do not withdraw at Mr Powell's demand, then the first serious crack appears in the Sharon-Bush alliance. In which case, Mr Arafat will win yet again.
The Israeli army, meanwhile, is proving once more – as it did in Lebanon – that it is not the "elite" force it's cracked up to be. It is impossible to dismiss the widespread reports of looting from homes in Ramallah (not least because that is exactly what Israeli soldiers used to do in southern Lebanon in 1983); and that brave Israeli academic, Avi Shlaim, has himself charged Israel with extra-judicial killings in Ramallah.
Watching the Israelis in Ramallah and Bethlehem last week was a disturbing experience. They were undisciplined, firing like militiamen – the degree of fire control (or rather the lack of it) exercised by the average Israeli soldier and Palestinian gunman is almost exactly the same. Three times I watched Israeli tanks jam themselves into narrow streets so hopelessly that their crews had to emerge under fire from their hatches, jump on to the roadside and hand-signal the tank drivers to reverse their vehicle.
And of course, the innocent go on dying. The Bethlehem bell-ringer, the woman doctor in Jenin, the 14-year-old girl killed by Israeli tank fire in Tubas, the mother and son shot dead by Israeli bullets and left to rot on the floor of their home in Bethlehem beside their still-living relatives for 30 hours. Journalists and unarmed Western "peace" protesters who get in the Israeli army's way are gunned down or battoned or blasted with stun grenades. So much for those gentle souls who say that Gandhi-like peaceful protest is the way to end the Israeli occupation.
And what does the Israeli government do when the guns and grenades don't shut journalists up? Why, last week it threatened legal action against CNN and the American NBC television chain for not leaving "closed military areas" of the West Bank. No matter that Israeli law possesses no legitimacy in the Palestinian areas it occupies – the world still accepts the Oslo agreements even if Mr Sharon is destroying them – CNN and NBC meekly refused to make any comment. What happened, one wonders, to that great American journalist's principle of refusing to tolerate censorship?
But there is another question which has been quietly forgotten by the world ever since the Israeli assault. If Israel fails militarily – as it will – then how are the vicious Palestinian suicide bombers to be stopped? True, there has been a lull after the massacres of Israelis last month. But even if the suiciders have been temporarily unbalanced by the Israeli offensive, Israel has created many more potential "martyrs" for the Palestinians in the bloodbath of the past week.
The Israelis still refuse to contemplate the arrival of a foreign protection force – the dream of every Palestinian – but the time may come when a Nato-American force will have to be contemplated, to protect Israelis as well as Palestinians. It would not be called a foreign protectorate, but that is what Israel/Palestine would become, an updated version of the old, hopeless British mandate.
In the meantime, be sure the Americans will go on over-arming the Israelis. Just under two weeks ago, for example, the Americans rolled out their first S-70A-55 troop-carrying Black Hawk helicopter to be sold to the Israelis. Israel has purchased 24 of the new machines costing $211m (£150m) – most of which, of course, will be paid for by the United States. The logbook of the first of the new Black Hawks was handed over to the Israeli defence ministry by none other than the former secretary of state, Alexander Haig – the man who gave Israel's then prime minister, Menachem Begin, the green light to invade Lebanon in 1982.
So, coming soon to the Middle East, a new breed of Black Hawk in the skies over your local West Bank town. Funny, though, that we haven't heard a thing about all this
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