[Note: This was written before the attacks on New York and the Pentagon, but it deals with an issue that is bound up with the attacks and with the war that Washington seems about to loose upon the world. It occurs to me to send it around now because of a report carried by Agence France Presse last Friday, quoting an interview by Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer with the newspaper Yediot Aharonot. He noted that “the international community has been silent about the recent Israeli killing of Palestinians in the West Bank” because of the attacks on the US. “It is a fact that we have killed 14 Palestinians in Jenin, Kabatyeh and Tammun, with the world remaining absolutely silent. It’s a disaster for Arafat,” Ben Eliezer told the Yediot. It seems more important now than it’s been in a while for us to try to understand the real situation in the US and it client states — rejecting the propaganda persistently propounded by pundit and professor.-CGE]
Each day the media bring us new accounts of killings in the Middle East, described as the result of “fighting between Israelis and Palestinians,” and we wonder why these people can’t simply be reasonable, like us, and stop it. The news reports rarely point out that on one side stands perhaps the second-strongest military in the world, armed and supplied by US money, and on the other a subject people with no army or heavy weapons, but who do have the weapon of the powerless — their willingness to die. And the media hardly ever point out that the killing goes on in a region under military occupation by Israel, a military occupation that is not only brutal, as military occupations often are, but entirely illegal under international law.
It could be argued that Israel’s military occupation of the “West Bank” (of the Jordan River) and the “Gaza Strip” (a parcel of land at Israel’s southwest corner) are even more clearly illegal than, say, Germany’s military occupation of France in World War II. In June of 1940, after a rapid invasion, the German army occupied three-fifths of France and secured the collaboration of the French government at Vichy that controlled the rest of the country. In June of 1967, after a rapid invasion, the Israeli army occupied the West Bank and Gaza, and, with the Oslo Accords of 1993, secured the collaboration of the Palestinian Authority that now controls some parts of the occupied territories. But UN Security Council Resolution 242 in 1967 demanded the complete withdrawal of Israel from the occupied territories; instead, Israeli governments continued the occupation and continued to establish settlements of its citizens throughout the occupied region, settlements in violation of international law as stated in the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which was designed precisely to make illegal what Germany had done in the Second World War.
In France, to the dismay of the Vichy government, a resistance movement (maquis) grew up against the invaders almost immediately. In Palestine, the resistance has been much more sporadic, in part because of the far tighter control the Israeli army was able to exercise: in 1987 a resistance movement (intifada) broke out in the Jebalia refugee camp in Gaza, spread to the rest of the occupied Territories, and lasted until 1993 — a popular uprising, it came as a surprise to the PLO, then in exile in Tunisia; and then a year ago, popular resistance against occupation broke out again, out of the control of the Palestinian Authority.
We honor the French Resistance, because it can hardly be doubted that there is a right to resist illegal military occupation. The German rule in France was famously brutal, especially after the Germans occupied the rest of the country (as many American columnists are now advising the Israelis to do). Thousands were said to have been killed by the occupying forces in reprisals for attacks on members of the occupying army, although of course many of the French collaborated with the invaders as well.
Outside the area “served” by the US media, the real situation today in the Middle East is known to be similar. At a large meeting of NGOs (“non-governmental organizations” — service groups actually involved in alleviating suffering around the world) parallel to the recent World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa, 3,000 delegates from 44 regions agreed to a resolution referring to Israel as a “racist apartheid state” guilty of “war crimes, acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing.”
At the racism conference itself, the careful and diplomatic Secretary General of the UN, Kofi Annan, made an important comment in his opening address. (He has to be careful and diplomatic on these issues: his predecessor, also an eminently careful and diplomatic man, was thrown out of his UN job by the Clinton Administration because they deemed his support for Israel tepid at the time the Israelis carried out a massacre at Qana.) On the suggestion that anti-Semitism somehow justifies Israel’s crimes in the Middle East, Annan said, “We cannot expect Palestinians to accept [the killing of Jews in World War II] as a reason why the wrongs done to them — displacement, occupation, blockade, and now extra-judicial killings — should be ignored.” (The “extra-judicial killings” are the assassinations — forbidden by international law since 1907 — that Israel carries out in the Occupied Territories, as the Germans assassinated maquis.) It was the only line in the address that prompted interruption by applause.
Some American progressives say that the US approach to Israel and Palestine should be “even-handed,” which of course it surely has not been. Since the 1967 war, the US has regarded Israel as its cop on the block, guarding “our” oil. A decade later the Carter Administration increased aid to Israel to half of total US aid to the world as part of the Camp David settlement (and used a good bit of the rest to buy off Egypt, as we continue to do.) With the US money, Israel was able to consolidate its occupation and launch an attack against its northern neighbor. For the next 22 years, Israel also occupied Southern Lebanon in violation of a Security Council resolution and killed perhaps 45,000 people.
US support continues through the current uprising, as Palestinian towns and neighborhoods are attacked by the latest American helicopters, rushed to Israel by the Clinton administration when the resistance began a year ago. And the US and Israel are quite concerned that the rest of the world be prevented from even knowing the extent of the repression: at the end of August the US blocked proposals in the UN Security Council that would have provided international monitors (as the Palestinians have requested) for the region. Neither the helicopters not the Security Council proposals were discussed in the US media.
To the suggestion that US policy should be “even-handed” in regard to Israel and the Palestinians, we might ask, Should the US have been even-handed between the German army and the French Resistance in 1941? CP