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Bitter Rice

by URI AVNERY

Some thoughts about the war:

Beware of the Shiites.

The troubles of the occupation will start after the fighting is over. Here is a personal story and its lessons:

On the forth day of the 1982 Israeli attack on Lebanon, I crossed the border at a lone spot near Metulla and looked for the front, which had already reached the outskirts of Sidon. I was driving my private car, accompanied only by a woman photographer. We passed a dozen Shiite villages and were received everywhere with great joy. We extracted ourselves only with great difficulty from hundreds of villagers, each one insisting that we have coffee at their home. On the previous days, they had showered the soldiers with rice.

A few months later I joined an army convoy going in the opposite direction, from Sidon to Metulla. The soldiers were now wearing bulletproof vests and helmets, many were on the verge of panic.

What had happened? The Shiites received the Israeli soldiers as liberators. When they realized that they had come to stay as occupiers, they started to kill them.

When the Israeli troops entered Lebanon, the Shiites were a down-trodden, powerless community, held in contempt by all the others. After a year of fighting the occupiers, they became a political and military power. The Shiite Hizbullah is the only military force in the Arab world that has beaten the mighty Israeli army.

Sharon is the real father of the Shiite force in Lebanon. Bush may well become the father of Shiite power in Iraq. The Shiites, 60% of the Iraqi population, have been until now down-trodden and powerless. When they will realize that the Americans intend to stay, they will start a deadly guerilla. Bush does not intend to leave Iraq, as Sharon did not intend to leave Lebanon.

Then what? America will argue that Iran, the great Shiite neighbor, is behind the Shiite guerilla. In Iran there is a lot of oil. That’s thenext target.

Blood for Oil

George Bush is a primitive man, but the people behind him are far from being stupid. They are the oil barons and the arms industry giants. They want to do what great powers have always done: use their military might in order to acquire economic hegemony. In simple words: to rob the poor peoples in order to enrich themselves even more.

The military occupation of Iraq will last many years and secure for America the control over the vast oil reserves of Iraq, as well as the Caspian Sea reserves and all the Arab oil. That will give it control over the world’s economy and prevent the emergence of a competing, independent European economic bloc. America is fighting against Europe as much as against Iraq. That is part of the reason for Europe’s angry response.

Germany.

Germany is against the war. Against any war. In no other country was the anti-war outburst so authentic, emanating from the innermost feelings of the masses.

And who is furious about this? Israel, the country of the Holocaust survivors. How do they dare, these damn Germans, to object to the war?

A sad irony of history: all German TV stations show citizens, intellectuals and ordinary folk, who pray for peace, all Israeli TV screens show retired generals, obviously enjoying themselves, discussing with great relish how to employ giant bombs and other instruments of death.

Intoxication of power.

This is the first war of the 21st century, and it bodes ill.

This century has inherited from its predecessor a world containing one sole super-power. America has no competitors, no possible combination of other forces can measure up to it. It can literally do what it wants, and now it is doing just that openly and brutally.

When America won its cheap and easy victory in Afghanistan, using smart bombs and suitcases filled with cash, it was clear it could not stop itself anymore. A huge machine like that wants to go on fighting and is searching for an enemy. Now it’s Iraq. Who next? Iran? North Korea?

That is what happened to the Roman Empire. That is what happened to Napoleon and Hitler. The intoxication of power knows no boundaries. And no one of these was in the situation of the United States now: alone in the world, without enemies that can stand up to it.

A Jewish War?

The anti-Semites proclaim that this is not a war for American interests, but for Israel. As proof, they point to the group of American Jews that took a leading part in initiating this war, people like Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Douglas Feith at the Defence Department, Elliott Abrams at the National Security Council (as well as Ari Fleisher at the White House and even Dan Kerzer, the US ambassador in Tel-Aviv). These people support haron and the extreme right in Israel, some of them speak Hebrew, a group of them has acted as advisors to Benyamin Netanyahu, when he became prime Minister. Together with the two non-Jews, Cheney and Rumsfield, they pushed Washington into the war. Thus say the anti-Semites.

That is true by itself, but this is first and foremost a war for American interests. However, Bush and Sharon believe that American and Israeli interests are practically identical. The Jewish war group in Washington acts in close cooperation with the Christian fundamentalists, who now control the Republican party and who have a hidden anti-Semitic agenda.
The anti-Semites will point to another obvious fact: Israel is the only country in the world where not one single politician nor any part of the media has raised their voices against the war. While millions march all over the world, only one single anti-war demonstration, organized by Gush Shalom and some other peace organizations, has taken place in Israel. It attracted 2500 people.

In the struggle between Bush and world opinion, the government of Israel has chosen chose Bush. On the face of it, that seems sensible, since Bush has might on his side and sides with Sharon. But in the long run, it may turn out to be the wrong bet.

The pope’s divisions.

“How many divisions does the pope have?” Stalin asked sarcastically when told that the Holy Father objects to his actions. Today, the question is: how many divisions does world public opinion command?

All over the world, the public opposes the war. There is an immense majority against it even in countries whose leaders have joined Bush’s “coalition”. For the first time, there is something that can be called “world opinion”.

Only the future will tell if this constitutes a real force. Thomas Jefferson, one of the fathers of American democracy, once said that no country could conduct its affairs without “a decent respect for world opinion.”

Perhaps the 21st century will witness a struggle between the brute force of a mighty military-economic super-power and world public opinion, assisted now by modern technology.

Mercenaries.

This is a war fought by mercenaries. The fighters are professional soldiers, the sons of the poor, many of them black. Therefore it is easy for middle class citizens, and especially the Republican voters, to approve of the war. It is not their sons who will be killed.

In the past, the European left demanded the abolition of the professional army and the introduction of general conscription. At the time, that was a “progressive” idea. When the left put on weight, it forgot all about it.

The Vietnam war was still fought by drafted soldiers. Resistance to the war grew when the body bags started to arrive. George W. Bush, who supported the war with all his heart, took no part in the fighting. Father arranged a job for him back home. He was just another shirker.

Jefferson again: “Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.”

URI AVNERY has closely followed the career of Sharon for four decades. Over the years, he has written three extensive biographical essays about him, two (1973, 1981) with his cooperation. Avnery is featured in the new book, The Other Israel: Voices of Refusal and Dissent .

 

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URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.

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