How much longer can Ariel Sharon pretend that he’s fighting in the “war against terror”? How much longer are we supposed to believe this nonsense? How much longer can the Americans remain so gutlessly silent in the face of a vicious conflict which is coming close to obscuring the crimes against humanity of 11 September? Terror, terror, terror. Like a punctuation mark, the word infects every Israeli speech, every American speech, almost every newspaper article. When will someone admit the truth: that the Israelis and Palestinians are engaged in a dirty colonial war which will leave both sides shamed and humiliated?
Just listen to what Sharon has been saying in the past 24 hours. “Arafat is an enemy. He decided on a strategy of terror and formed a coalition of terror.” That’s pretty much what President Bush said about Osama bin Laden. But what on earth does it mean? That Arafat is actually sending off the suicide bombers, choosing the target, the amount of explosives? If he was, then surely Sharon would have sent his death squads after the Palestinian leader months ago. After all, his killers have managed to murder dozens of Palestinian gunmen already, including occasional women and children who get in the way.
The real problem with Arafat is that he has a lot in common with Sharon: old, ruthless and cynical; both men have come to despise each other. Sharon believes that the Palestinians can be broken by military power. He doesn’t realise what the rest of the world learned during Sharon’s own 1982 siege of Beirut: that the Arabs are no longer afraid. Once a people lose their fear, they cannot be re-inoculated with fear. Once the suicide bomber is loose, the war cannot be won. And Arafat knows this.
No, of course he doesn’t send the bombers off on their wicked missions to restaurants and supermarkets. But he does know that every suicide bombing destroys Sharon’s credibility and proves that the Israeli leader’s promises of security are false. Arafat is well aware that the ferocious bombers are serving his purpose – however much he may condemn them in public.
But he – like Sharon – also believes his enemies can be broken by fire. He thinks that the Israelis can be frightened into withdrawing from the West Bank and Gaza and East Jerusalem. Ultimately, the Israelis probably will have to give up their occupation. But the Jews of Israel are not going to run or submit to an endless war of attrition. Even if Sharon is voted out of power – a prospect for which many Israelis pray – the next Israeli prime minister is not going to negotiate out of fear of the suicide bomber.
Thus the rhetoric becomes ever more cruel, ever more revolting. Hamas calls its Jewish enemies “the sons of pigs and monkeys”, while Israeli leaders have variously bestialised their enemies as “serpents”, “crocodiles”, “beasts” and “cockroaches”. Now we have an Israeli officer – according to the Israeli daily Ma’ariv – advising his men to study the tactics adopted by the Nazis in the Second World War. “If our job is to seize a densely packed refugee camp or take over the Nablus casbah, and if this job is given to an (Israeli) officer to carry out without casualties on both sides, he must before all else analyse and bring together the lessons of past battles, even – shocking though this might appear – to analyse how the German army operated in the Warsaw ghetto.”
Pardon? What on earth does this mean? Does this account for the numbers marked by the Israelis on the hands and foreheads of Palestinian prisoners earlier this month? Does this mean that an Israeli soldier is now to regard the Palestinians as sub-humans – which is exactly how the Nazis regarded the trapped and desperate Jews of the Warsaw ghetto in 1944?
Yet from Washington comes only silence. And silence, in law, gives consent. Should we be surprised? After all, the US is now making the rules as it goes along. Prisoners can be called “illegal combatants” and brought to Guantanamo Bay with their mouths taped for semi-secret trials. The Afghan war is declared a victory – and then suddenly explodes again. Now we are told there will be other “fronts” in Afghanistan, a spring offensive by “terrorists”. Washington has also said that its intelligence agencies – the heroes who failed to discover the 11 September plot – have proof (undisclosed, of course) that Arafat has “a new alliance” with Iran, which brings the Palestinians into the “axis of evil.”
Is there no one to challenge this stuff? Just over a week ago, CIA director George Tenet announced that Iraq had links with al-Qa’ida. “Contacts and linkages”, have been established, he told us. And that’s what the headlines said. But then Tenet continued by saying that the mutual antipathy of al-Qa’ida and Iraq towards America and Saudi Arabia “suggests that tactical cooperation between them is possible?” “Suggests?” “Possible?” is that what Mr Tenet calls proof?
But now everyone is cashing in on the “war against terror”. When Macedonian cops gun down seven Arabs, they announce that they are participating in the global “war on terror”. When Russians massacre Chechens, they are now prosecuting the “war on terror”. When Israel fires at Arafat’s headquarters, it says it is participating in the “war on terror”. Must we all be hijacked into America’s dangerous self-absorption with the crimes of 11 September? Must this vile war between Palestinians and Israelis be distorted in so dishonest a way?