Targeting Arafat

For aficionados of CNN and Fox News, where the dictum of how a question always presupposes its answer rules supreme, the time has come to face up to a query: How has Bush’s pre-emptive strike doctrine changed the low-end of international relations?

First of all, the term ‘pre-emptive’ should not be allowed to rhyme too strongly with ‘preventive’. For decades the US has impressed the world with its claims on technological superiority in information gathering. The world now knows that to be a half-truth. The pre-emptive strike doctrine, without due legal and diplomatic legitimacy, professes to be based on the transparency and certainty ensured by such information acquisition. Yet due to national security constraints, that information cannot be shared with the general public, a swishy mass of folk in which enemies easily prosper.

At least that’s what Washington and other capitals would have us believe. They plead their case even as the information on why pre-9/11 intelligence investigations on terrorist ploys against the US were botched-despite the handsome remuneration received by FBI and CIA agents and their counterparts. Then again, for lack of opening your files to the public, you can just blame the Canadians.

The list of the Bush administration’s murders of international leaders has grown. It has also fostered copy cats. Clone among clones, it is hardly surprising that Ariel Sharon’s cabinet no longer sees any need to hide its broader strategy. With Powell in Baghdad, and at least some of the world focused on the failing WTO trade summit in Cancun, and with no Hamas attacks on the horizon, Sharon’s team had to stay on TV. On Thursday, his Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom declared the cabinet to have decided to “remove” Yasser Arafat.

Recall that General Ariel Sharon, unlike Arafat, was held indirectly responsible by an Israeli commission of the Sabra and Shatila massacres. Over 800 Palestinian refugees, living in squalor on the outskirts of Beirut, were found dead, and over 1200 are still missing. They were slaughtered by Christian Maronite Phalangist militia, led by the notorious Elie Hobeika on September 16-18, 1982 under the observing eye of the IDF. Israel had invaded Lebanon at the time and hard barely stopped pounding Beirut with daily bombing. Ariel Sharon was Minister of Defense. He had planned and directed operation “Peace for Galilee”, the result of which was Arafat and the PLO’s forced exile to Tunis.

Faced with mass demonstrations in Israel and the results of the Kahan Commission, Sharon resigned in 1983. Internationally, the Kahan Commission was seen as too tepid in its final conclusions. Richard Falk, professor of international law at Princeton University, interviewed by the BBC’s Panomara program in June 2001, explained: “Sharon’s specific command responsibility arises from the fact that he was Minister of Defence in touch with the field commanders, that he actually was present there in Beirut, that he met with the Phalange leadership and it was he that gave the directions and orders that resulted in the Phalange entering the camps in September.” Falk concluded: “I think there is no question in my mind that he is indictable for the kind of knowledge that he either had or should have had.” Also on the same program, former Chief Prosecutor to the International War Crimes Tribunal for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, Judge Richard Goldstone agreed that: “. . . in the case of Sabra and Shatila, clearly the Kahan Commission found that very serious crimes had been committed and I have no doubt any decent person would regret the fact that not a single criminal prosecution followed.”

Could anyone from outside of Israel have intuited Sharon’s return to politics in the guise of Prime Minister? Only the most doom stricken, for only they could imagine the horror the world would have to get used to under his rule. As predicted, Prime Minister Sharon went on to destroy Oslo, invade the occupied territories, increase and intensify illegal settlements, and trigger Hamas’s ire by assassinating its leaders, to say nothing of giving Orthodox Jews free sway over transforming the liberal principles of governance in the Holy Land. Hamas would of course retaliate savagely by waging a desperate suicide terror bombing campaign against the Israeli State and civilians. In the meantime, the IDF kept making martyrs of child stone throwers, thus ensuring many Intifadas to come.

There has never been any illusion that Israeli voters, in fear and desperation, had consciously elected a mass murderer to govern them. Were one to demure by claiming Sharon had no direct blood on his hands, one could not help but recall the Nuremberg war crime trials. They exposed the moral fraudulence behind the oft repeated refrain diligently uttered by Nazi commissars and leaders according to which they were only following orders to shed blood, but that they themselves were innocent from it. The supply chain of state-sponsored terrorism hides behind a vanished economy of commands and orders.

Too many wars, far too many massacres have passed to keep repeating that it is nothing but a short-sighted masquerade to allot individually committed murders with more guilt than those done under a State’s legitimacy. No, an individual stabber or psychopath is not worth a dime of guilt compared to a State leader who is given the men, weapons and wherewithal to shed blood all in the name of ever higher ideals: the Party, the People, the Nation, the State, God himself. His crime is even greater in terms of moral outrage, for those in power owe their respective nations the example shown in the behavior worthy of statesmen.

What’s been more typical recently is quite the opposite, a descent into hell. Bush’s pre-emptive strike doctrine has made it possible for democratically-elected governments, like Israel’s and his own, to put a price on the head of state leaders. It is a sickening sight how Sharon’s cynicism destroyed the conciliatory work of Mahmud Abbas by choosing single-handedly to exterminate the Hamas leadership–all justified with respect to the twin adjudicators: God and America’s War on Terror. How to defuse Hamas’ rampage was a decision to be taken TOGETHER by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, for the founding of a Palestinian State is a decision Sharon’s colonial regency and racist policies can only achieve through self-dissolution and fostered partnership.

What did Bush gain by blowing Saddam’s sons to bits, Apache helicopters evaporating light-mortar fire? Had American military intelligence finally identified Odai and Qusai as sitting atop the WMDs? So far only a worsening situation has arisen, repeatedly denied by all in the American high command save for Paul Bremer himself. Would it be that the information supply chain is also run by a command economy? Certainly, the world lost out on the precious information that Saddam’s sons, were they to have faced trial at the International Criminal Court, would have told.

It’s an entirely other ball game to what appears to be happening in Afghanistan. Ben Laden’s continual flight has indirectly legitimated pursuing the war on terror–despite what Britain’s former environment minister, Michael Meacher, cites in Time, ABC and AP as reporting that attempts to capture the al Quaeda leader were inexplicably thwarted, and seemingly so at the highest levels. So be it, the war on terror’s reach swept up Saddam’s fiefdom. Think of how pleased Khaddafi must be with the UN lifting sanctions against Libya in the midst of this Orwellian Realpolitik­ after all, he had never even been an American pawn!

The abundance and divergence of alternative news sources notwithstanding, some information comes from White House/Pentagon proxy think tanks, proving that the Cheney-Rumsfeld clan had already planned to strike at Iraq before 9/11. Given that the majority of the American population still erroneous believes in a ‘hidden’ connection between Saddam and Ossama, any inculpating clarity simply falls outside of the realm of belief. The X-Files made it clear: the truth may be out there, but it’s only hidden. Then again weren’t the evil doers in that program the FBI and National Security Agency? What a magical tool television indeed is when the same is automatically permutated into being different, and Mommy’s early lessons always return as if in an eternal dream: don’t believe anything you watch on TV.

The thing is that among the awful students who never listened, most of us never realized she meant only TV, and not the press, not investigative reporting, not analysis and not commentary. This is where our chance for clearer news lies.

By yearning for Saddam’s murder, as for Arafat’s, no one can claim that fiercely critical feelings expressed toward America and Americans worldwide is misplaced and a hysterical exaggeration. International norms and standards deserving of a republic have been corrupted by democracies throughout history–this is true. But never have the people had the means to assert themselves more than today to remind nation-states that past behavior cannot stand to legitimate continued bloodshed.

This is what is happening internationally: criticism, calls to responsibility, demands for human–and not infinite–justice. The Anti-American scent leads only to a distorted trail to follow. Like the choir in Ancient Greek tragedy, we commoners ask: What did Saddam Hussein ever do to the US or to Americans in the first place? This is NO plea for Saddam-the record largely details his butchery. But murder can never sufficiently act out our collective denial of the responsibility involved in establishing his violent regime as an ally in the first place.

Arafat is ever further from the mark. No one should be deluded by Bush’s claims to be opposed to this decision. His administration had de facto condemned Arafat long ago by refusing to meet with him as a head of state.

Never an ally of the US, Arafat is more than a man, despite his human failures and administrative mismanagement. Think for a second: Is his record any worse than the American President’s? Arafat is the symbol of the persistence of the bravest, self-sacrificial resistance movement the world has known since World War II. It can only be compared to some of the most desperate colonial wars, for lack of means, in recent history, like the Lakota Sioux, culminating in the 1890 Wounded Knee Creek massacre-a people who live in their own Gaza on Pine Ridge, right in the heart of the USA. Comparisons can also be drawn with South Africa’s anti-apartheid resistance movements, to Hungary’s still-enchained serfs battling through the 1848 war of independence from the Hapsburg Empire, or indeed the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto.

The declared intentions of the Israeli government must immediately be sanctioned in a specific resolution by the United Nations Security Council, despite its ineptness and in spite of its “hypocrisy”. For Shalom’s call to murder is merely a symptom of a general pathological strategy occupying the minds of Sharon’s staff: the forced deportation of all the Palestinians from what remains of their battered lands, who are already being forced to live behind a caged fence. Theirs is a war not only fought against by the world’s technologically most sophisticated army, the US’s very own–Israel is but a miniature version of it, and then some. It is an environmental war, on water; an immigration war, on the refusal to let Palestinians return to their homeland; an employment war, the 39,000 Palestinians still working in Israel in the fourth quarter of 2001 were the lucky ones in the 60% unemployment rate afflicting the Palestinian economy and preventing residents from even spending at home.

The supply chain of state murder, as in its economic principles, produces ever new goods to keep up with changing times. The marketing principles dictating how to keep ahead of the competition converge into the perverted final victory of Bush’s pre-emptive strike doctrine. The concentration camp of Guantanamo Bay and the Israeli government’s open intention to murder the leader of Palestine, Yasser Arafat, are its prime innovations, and for the murderers running the world, its luxury productions.

NORMAN MADARASZ teaches and writes on philosophy and international north/south relations in Rio de Janeiro. He welcomes comments at