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The Last Colonial War?

by Robert Fisk The Independent

Can Ariel Sharon control his own people? Can he control his army? Can he stop them from killing children, leaving booby traps in orchards or firing tank shells into refugee camps? Can Sharon stop his rabble of an army from destroying hundreds of Palestinian refugee homes in Gaza? Can Sharon “crack down” on Jewish settlers and prevent them from stealing more land from Palestinians? Can he stop his secret-service killers from murdering their Palestinian enemies –or carrying out ” targeted killings”, as the BBC was still gutlessly calling these executions yesterday in its effort to avoid Israeli criticism.

It is, of course, forbidden to ask these questions. So let’s “legalise” them. The Palestinian suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Haifa are disgusting, evil, revolting, unforgivable. I saw the immediate aftermath of the Pizzeria suicide bombing in Jerusalem last August: Israeli women and children, ripped apart by explosives that had nails packed around them –designed to ensure that those who survived were scarred for life.

I remember Yasser Arafat’s grovelling message of condolence, and I thought to myself –like any Israeli, I guess –that I didn’t believe a word of it. In fact, I don’t believe a word of it. Arafat used to make the same eloquent expressions of grief when his gunmen murdered innocent Lebanese during that country’s civil war. Bullshit, I used to think. And I still do.

But there was a clue to the real problem only hours after the latest bloodbath in Israel. Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, was being questioned with characteristic obsequiousness on CNN about his reaction to the slaughter. Nothing, he said, could justify such “terrorism”, and he went on to refer to the plight of the Palestinians, who suffer “50 per cent unemployment”. I sat up at that point. Unemployment? Is that what Mr Powell thought this was about.

And my mind went back to his speech at Louisberg University on 20 November when he launched –or so we were supposed to believe –his Middle-East initiative. “Palestinians must…” was the theme: Palestinians must “end the violence”; Palestinians must “arrest, prosecute and punish the perpetrators of terrorist acts”; Palestinians “need to understand that, however legitimate their claims” –note the word “however” –“they cannot be… addressed by violence”; Palestinians “must realise that violence has had a terrible impact on Israel”. Only when General Powell told his audience that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza must end, did it become clear that Israel was occupying Palestine rather than the other way round.

The reality is that the Palestinian/Israeli conflict is The Last Colonial War?. The French thought that they were fighting the last battle of this kind. They had long ago conquered Algeria. They set up their farms and settlements in the most beautiful land in North Africa. And when the Algerians demanded independence, they called them “terrorists” and they shot down their demonstrators and they tortured their guerrilla enemies and they murdered –in “targeted killings” –their antagonists.

In just the same way, we are responding to the latest massacre in Israel according to the rules of the State Department, CNN, the BBC and Downing Street. Arafat has got to come alive, to get real, to perform his duty as the West’s policeman in the Middle East. President Mubarak does it in Egypt; King Abdullah does it in Jordan; King Fahd does it in Saudi Arabia. They control their people for us. It is their duty. They must fulfil their moral obligations, without any reference to history or to the pain and the suffering of their people.

So let me tell a little story. A few hours before I wrote this article –exactly four hours after the last suicide bomber had destroyed himself and his innocent victims in Haifa –I visited a grotty, fly-blown hospital in Quetta, the Pakistani border city where Afghan victims of American bombing raids are brought for treatment. Surrounded by an army of flies in bed No 12, Mahmat –most Afghans have no family names –told me his story. There were no CNN cameras, no BBC reporters in this hospital to film the patient. Nor will there be. Mahmat had been asleep in his home in the village of Kazikarez six days ago when an bomb from an American B-52 fell on his village. He was asleep in one room, his wife with the children. His son Nourali died, as did Jaber –aged 10 –Janaan, eight, Salamo, six, Twayir, four, and Palwasha –the only girl –two.

“The plane flies so high that we cannot hear them and the mud roof fell on them,” Mahmat said. His wife Rukia –whom he permitted me to see –lay in the next room (bed No 13). She did not know that her children were dead. She was 25 and looked 45. A cloth dignified her forehead. Her children –like so many Afghan innocents in this frightful War for civilisation –were victims whom Mr Bush and Mr Blair will never acknowledge. And watching Mahmat plead for money –the American bomb had blasted away his clothes and he was naked beneath the hospital blanket –I could see something terrible: he and the angry cousin beside him and the uncle and the wife’s brother in the hospital attacking America for the murders that they had inflicted on their family…

One day, I suspect, Mahmat’s relatives may be angry enough to take their revenge on the United States, in which case they will be terrorists, men of violence. We may even ask if their leaders could control them. They are not bin Ladens, Mahmat’s family said that –“We are neither Taliban nor Arab” –but, frankly, could we blame them if they decided to strike at the United States for the bloody and terrible crime done to their family. Can the United States stop bombing villages? Can Washington persuade its special forces to protect prisoners? Can the Americans control their own people?

Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared. 

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