The Cage of Occupation

As a natural rebel who thought that childhood, with its restrictions, was an ailment which had to be endured in order to enjoy the real art of independent living, I strongly empathize with those poor souls subsisting under the yoke of occupation.

‘Occupation’ is a word, which trips off the tongue with ease but how many of us actually stop for a few moments so as to put ourselves in the place of a Palestinian or an Iraqi? Most of us in the West live reasonably well ordered existences whereby we breakfast, travel to the workplace, and enjoy the evenings and weekends with family and friends, and vacation in salubrious spots of our choosing.

Imagine that ‘breakfast’ and ‘lunch’ consisted of a piece of bread washed down with a cup of sugary tea because you couldn’t afford anything more. Dinner is perhaps a loaf with cheese and olives. You didn’t have any work, either because you were subject to travel restrictions, curfews, checkpoints, etc., or there was no work for you to go to.

You might like to run away but there is nowhere to run. The borders are closed. And even if they were opened, there is no country, willing to take you. Your only entertainment is mulling over grievances with friends in a café, each more miserable than the other.

Imagine that every time you stepped out of the door you were faced with a foreign army in full military get-up, tanks, armored personnel carriers while attack helicopters circled overhead from time to time.

How would you feel if upon every occasion you wanted to visit your sister in the next town, you had to queue for hours in your car and be strip-searched, often made to stand with your hands on your head up against a wall, or to kneel on the ground at the whim of the occupiers?

Imagine if someone were to insult you or molest your wife, you had to bite your lip for fear of losing your life.

Besides the fact that your mother and sister could be afraid to go out after so many reports of rape or that your father felt unable to leave the house because of armed looters, which is the case in Iraq, wouldn’t you feel a gnawing humiliation to see the enemy’s nationalistic graffiti scrawled on the walls of your town hall and worse, its flag being hoisted in your town square? Wouldn’t it hurt you to witness your children deprived of an education because either the schools were closed or lawlessness was rife?

Perhaps, worst of all, take a look at your own son, daughter, niece or nephew and imagine that while they did their homework or were in the midst of watching their favorite cartoon, your home was turned into a blazing inferno, and the little ones were stripped of most of their flesh, or without arms or legs. Imagine that you tried to take that child, screaming in pain, to the nearest hospital but that could offer neither pain-killing drugs nor a needed operation because there was no electricity and no water even to wash away the blood. How angry would you be? How desperate?

Occupation is reducing adults to children, nay beasts locked up in cages. In time, even lions or bears go mad, especially if the cage is small enough and without any form of mental stimulation. They pace up and down or tear their claws on the bars. An occupied people, on the other hand, invariably turn to protest marches and violence, it is then that we conveniently call them ‘terrorists’.

Most of us can’t or don’t want to imagine any of the above. Our lives are too far removed from the ordinary people of Palestine or Iraq. They speak a different language, some of them dress differently, they eat different food and, what’s more, they are thousands of miles away.

We stuff them in little boxes in our minds labeled ‘Islamists’, or ‘Arabs’ or ‘backward third world nationals’. In reality, the Palestinians and the Iraqis are the most educated of all Arabs and for decades their brightest and best have worked overseas as teachers, professors, scientists and doctors.

A saying goes: Palestinians write, Lebanese publish and Iraqis read.

We are all children of the creator, and we should surely think ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ when we see a people struggling against poverty and suffering under the oppression of a foreign power. But, sadly, few of us see it that way.

Western leaders dehumanize individuals, who legitimately fight against the occupation of their country, even though theirs is a right enshrined in the United Nations Charter. It doesn’t matter who they are or what they have done, they are all ‘terrorists’, cowardly terrorists. They are to be hunted down, vilified, despised and eradicated from the face of the earth. How convenient for the occupying powers!

We all sympathize with the victims of what is called terrorism. We can all share in the pain of their families and friends who ask: ‘Why?’ ‘Why did this happen to my son, my brother, my sister?’ ‘What kind of monstrous barbarians did this?’

But the fact is, we don’t really want to know. We just want the terrorists destroyed. We want our revenge. This is because we have been taught that terrorists are sub-human psychopaths who enjoy murder for murder’s sake and who want nothing more out of life than an escalator to death.

Not only are the terrorists downgraded into lesser mortals, their cause is rendered non legitimate and/or completely ignored.

The causes of terrorists are often valid, it is the heartless way they promote those causes which is wrong. But however bloody their actions, this still should not invalidate the genuine injustices faced by their compatriots.

We’ve seen how this worked earlier this week when three suicide bombers attacked Israeli towns within 48 hours, giving Ariel Sharon the perfect pretext for not flying to Washington to discuss the ‘Roadmap’. As the West Bank and Gaza are entirely closed up, our media concentrates on the victims of terrorism, not on the victims of occupation.

In Iraq, Shiite leaders are calling for a Jihad against the occupying Western powers who promised democracy and delivered anarchy instead. We hear the word ‘Jihad’, immediately think of 9-11, and suddenly 65 per cent of the Iraqi population become ‘terrorists’ in our eyes.

The only ‘crime’ of the Chechens is to want their own state, but they too are now considered by Russia and much of the world as ‘terrorists’. We can say the same of the people in Aceh and of Eta, the Basque movement, which seek their own autonomy.

When Lebanon’s Hizbollah, meaning ‘Party of God’, drove the Israelis out of southern Lebanon, again its members became ‘terrorists’ and joined the White House blacklist. It doesn’t matter that Hizbollah, in fact, gives alms to the poor, provides education and medical care to those in need and, often free housing to the homeless, it is still considered by Washington as a terrorist organization.

The truth is Hizbollah has never carried out ‘terrorist’ activities outside of its region of interest. Once the Palestinians get their state, the Israelis pull out of the Shiba Farms, and a peace agreement is drawn up between Israel and Syria, Hizbollah would relinquish its weapons and become a political party like any other.

What this means, of course, is that disenfranchised, dispossessed and oppressed peoples have little or no recourse to self-determination after the breakdown of diplomacy. These groups are not possessed of military might. They don’t have sophisticated weaponry, or bunker busting bombs and F16s. They don’t have long-range missiles, aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines or weapons of mass destruction.

States with advanced killing machines, pilots who drop bombs scrawled with childish messages of death, are not called terrorist states even when their victims are women and children, as was often the case in Afghanistan and Iraq and is daily the case in Palestine. America calls itself a ‘liberator’. Israel calls its bloody handiwork ‘self-defense’. Indonesia and Russia claim that they are fighting terrorism.

If we attempt to think laterally for just a moment, we can see that the peoples of Palestine, Iraq, Aceh and Chechniya are the real victims and those countries, which seek to deprive those people of the basic human right of ‘freedom’ are states which use terror to enforce their will.

Why is it that an individual who blows himself up along with others is called a ‘coward’ while a pilot, who drops his murderous payload from the safety of 30,000 feet is designated a ‘ brave hero’? I’ll tell you why. The pilot is considered ‘one of us’.

There is a moral equivalence here but we can’t see this because we have been indoctrinated to believe that anything perpetrated by our own government is right and just, while anyone who opposes our leaders is intrinsically ‘bad’.

For all our superficial veneer, we are still tribal. We care only about our village, our town, our city, our country, and our football or baseball team. We wave our flags with vigor, wear our own flag pins with pride and boast about our own way of life even though few of us have tasted any other or even traveled beyond our own borders. We neglect to reflect upon the fact that we are products of an accident of birth.

We forget that the Master Builder of the Universe created a world without borders, without passports. We forget that we live on one planet in the same one constellation. We forget that we flourish under the rays of the same sun, breathe the same oxygen and share the same hopes and dreams.

We cannot excuse the killing of another human being and we cannot justify it but if we were really honest and impartial, killing is killing whoever does it. Whatever the method used, the result is the same ­ people hurt, maimed or murdered.

Even if we use the flawed argument that the end justifies the means, when it comes to Iraq the motive for the invasion was the eradication of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Thus far, there aren’t any. So what does this make us, if not citizens of states which used ‘shock and awe’ to further their own agendas?

We can’t even say with all honesty that we improved the lot of the Iraqi people, many of which now say that they were better off under Saddam Hussein when at least they enjoyed the basic essentials of life, even if being a dissident exacted harsh penalties.

As things stand, there is infighting among the Arabs and the Kurds of northern Iraq, the Shiite leaders of the south and in Baghdad are calling for an Islamic state, the Pentagon is still backing Ahmed Chalabi, an embezzler sentenced to hard labor in Jordan, while the Christian minority wonders whether the future of Iraq will be bleak, forcing their women to wear the chador, and the bars and cinemas to close. Crime has increased 20-fold and in Baghdad alone 240 civilians have been killed, many by trigger-happy teenage U.S. soldiers. Should we be proud of such chaos, elicited by our illegal invasion?

The only people who will benefit from the occupation of Iraq are members of Iraqi opposition groups who are positioned to grab power in a vacuum, those in the U.S. administration with links to multi-nationals already handed lucrative reconstruction contracts, and eventually oil companies.

Israel, too, stands to benefit with an oil pipeline from Mosul to Haifa and the absence of a major foe in the region, gives the Israeli leadership extra clout when negotiating with the Palestinians. Iraqi Jews are already demanding recompense for property confiscated when they quit Iraq post 1948.

The ordinary American and British people have little to gain from the crazed adventurism of their governments. Taxpayers will be subsidizing the occupation, perhaps for years to come. They have already paid billions for bombs and missiles. Strange, that further billions, even trillions are required for reconstruction, the U.S. and Britain are going around with their begging bowls, asking those countries which did not support the war, such as France, Germany and Russia, to dig deep into their pockets.

George Bush recently said that his War on Terrorism is working, but following the suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Russia and Israel, we can see that this is simply not true.

Just a few days ago, I saw an Iraqi man talking on an Arabic network. He said that he was not willing to live under occupation and he would sacrifice his own life and the life of his son to rid his land of the occupier and at that, he held up a fresh-faced lad of around six years old as if to prove his point.

Was he a would-be terrorist before the occupation of Iraq? No. He was just an ordinary civil servant going about the business of looking after himself and his family.

This is when the realization finally hit me that ‘terrorism’ is a cry from the heart. A plea to the world that it should listen to the legitimate concerns of those in pain. It’s a brutal message that death is preferable to life without hope, life without liberty, and life without dignity.

No young child when asked what they want to be when they grow up says: “Terrorism sounds like an interesting career path. Short maybe but rewarding.” Terrorism is the career of the no-hoper.

What if there was no more occupation? What if everyone on earth enjoyed the basics of security, shelter, clean water, electricity and adequate food? What if we decided to think of ourselves as citizens of one world and removed the barriers in our minds, which keep us from understanding and even befriending people of different colors and creeds?

What if we decided to celebrate our differences instead of our commonalities? What if we truly followed the dictates of our religions, which entreat us to ‘do as you would be done by’ or to ‘treat our neighbors as ourselves’? Would there still be those who would strap on belts packed with explosives? I think not. Militant groups would soon lose their support bases and society would spit them out like a cancer from the face of the earth.

The way that the powers have chosen to fight terrorism is inherently wrong. Al Queda is made up of independent groups with similar ideologies, or so the experts tell us. Its members are scattered all over the world, even in the U.S. and Britain. They are trained to hide in the shadows only to emerge to carry out their heinous deeds. Their only sustenance is their cause. How can we hope to eradicate such nameless, faceless individuals by the use of force when death itself is their beloved friend?

Terrorism is not the disease. Terrorism is a symptom of a disease variously called injustice, oppression and inequality. The way to combat terrorism is to cut the terrorists off from their causes. Without their cause they could not exist. They would find nobody willing to offer them shelter and nobody would supply them with weapons or funds. If they persisted they would simply be criminals and criminals can usually be caught with relative ease. Put out a million dollar reward for a criminal and he will be offered up. Do the same for a terrorist and those who protect him will go on doing so because they share the same pain, the same cause.

The way of George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon is engendering more hatred and more anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism. The world is becoming an ever more dangerous place. They have both lost the plot. After 55 years of bondage, the Palestinians deserve their liberty, their longed-for state. After suffering decades of Saddam Hussein and his vicious regime, as well as three major wars, the Iraqis deserve to find their own route to happiness. Those who stand in their way are inviting terrorism, providing the very soil in which terrorism flourishes.

I am reminded of the old parable, which relates an argument between the sun and the wind. The wind says that he can force a man to remove his greatcoat before the sun. The wind whips up a gale, but the man only pulls his coat ever more tightly around him. When the sun begins to shine, he removes it himself.

If we want to have a world worth leaving to our offspring, then we need to remove our own prejudices, strive to be free of indoctrination and to recognize government propaganda for what it is. We need to look inside ourselves to consolidate our own sense of morality, of right and wrong, and we need to ensure that the coming generations of leaders will be not only strong but also wise and compassionate, instead of egotistical, avaricious and self-interested.

There has to be another way. Let’s hope we find it soon before George Bush’s prediction that terrorists will manufacture a dirty bomb will be self-fulfilling. Nuclear materials have already been stolen from Iraqi facilities, so that day could be soon upon us. We must act now.

The U.S. must get out of Iraq as soon as it can establish an interim representative government made up of Iraqis and law and order on the streets.

Israel must develop the political will to work towards a Palestinian state and to forge peace with its Arab neighbors.

Indonesia should allow the people of Aceh their own autonomy without delay in the same way as the East Timorese received theirs, and Russia should pull out of Chechniya once and for all.

Like an alcoholic, who first has to face the fact that he has a drinking problem, before he can be cured, we have to realize that some Western powers are behaving like rogue states on the principle of ‘might is right’. As we need two hands to clap, so the West needs to recognize its own complicity in terrorism, and its responsibility to put it to bed.

Our powerful Western nations must make the first moves. We must put things right and offer an olive branch to those we have deemed as our foes. Some of you may call this appeasement because this is what we have been taught to think. I call it the only way and the right way in the struggle against terrorism in our time.

Like the lion of Daniel, our nations must be strong but they should also have an inner core of sweetness. If we allow ourselves to become devoid of humanity, then our Western civilisation will implode on its own.