Peace in the Middle East?

A fog of rhetoric has impeded clear public vision of the latest Middle East war. Israeli spokespeople and White House echoers punctuate “explanatory” sentences with the “t” word, to connote the root of current evil, and the necessary violent remedy as well: more terrorism, directed by the state of Israel. The barrage of words and images syncopates with the barrage of bombs and rockets. The cacophony of babble tends to erase precedents and obscure facts: Palestine, not terrorism, remains the central conflictive issue in the area.

On July 22, as Israel invaded Lebanon to crush the “Hezbollah terrorists”­ momentarily turning attention away from the “Hamas terrorists”–former Irgun warriors unveiled a plaque “commemorating the attack on the King David hotel in Jerusalem on July 22, 1946. On that day the Irgun ‘resistance’ to British rule in Palestine detonated a bomb inside the hotel.” 91 people died, including 28 British subjects. (Harry de Quetteville, Telegraph July 22, 2006)

“The Hebrew Resistance Movement” ops planted explosives in the hotel basement, claiming to have warned the hotel’s occupants to leave. For unknown reasons the hotel remained full when the bombs exploded. A mistake; regrettable! Indeed, the Israeli government has continued to regret subsequent civilian killings. These unintentional mistakes have cost thousands of mostly Palestinian lives. By late July, Israeli bombs on Lebanese cities produced more deaths and almost a million refugees–another regrettable but necessary consequence of the war on terrorism.

The media barrage of carnage reports from Lebanon and Israel–where Hezbollah rockets did considerably less destruction–obscures causes and possible solutions to the new Middle East war. Indeed, as the TV public wrung its collective hands in despair, none other than George Bush offered a way out. For W, the solution appeared as obvious.
“See?” he poked British Minister Tony Blair at the St. Petersburg G-8 summit, “what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing that shit, and it’s over.”

He didn’t explain “they” or “shit.” Nor did Bush seem aware that his recent epiphany on shit stopping clashed with his February 2005 epiphany after the assassination of Lebanese politician Rafik Hariri. Bush accused Syria of killing Hariri and demanded Damascus remove its forces from Lebanon. In his latest spiritual flash, Bush now apparently wants Syria to re-intervene in Lebanon to stop shit. (A UN investigation under Serge Brammertz found no evidence implicating Syria.)

Was Bush only kidding around? NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote that Bush “turns summit meetings into fraternity parties.” At this kegger he even managed to give action–an unexpected back rub — to German Prime Minister Angela Merkel, who proved by her negative body language that for all her conservatism, she was not a sorority girl.

World leaders may demean Bush’s intellect, but not ignore US power, despite its seemingly capricious zig zags. In 1982, with US backing, Israel ousted the PLO from Lebanon. In the interim, a Hezbollah militia arose to fill the military vacuum.

In 1985, at the height of the Lebanese civil war and Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, the Lebanese Christians asked Syria to send troops into southern Lebanon. The Israeli government responded with outrage. Defense Minister Shimon Peres “demanded that Israel deliver an ultimatum to the Syrians, to prevent them from reaching the Israeli border.” Israeli journalist Uri Avneri recalls how “Yitzhak Rabin, the Prime Minister, told me then that that was sheer nonsense, because the best that could happen to Israel was for the Syrian army to spread out along the border. Only thus could calm be assured, the same calm that reigned along our border with Syria.”

Rabin, however, did not follow the dictates of his own insight. The consensus at the time would not permit Syrian troops to mobilize near the Israeli border. Unlike Hezbollah, the Syrians, suggests Avneri, “are cautious, they do not act recklessly.” Israelis might recall that under the misty cloud created by the utterance of the “t” word, there lies a cauldron of ugly facts. For 18 years, Hezbollah inflicted serious casualties on Israeli occupying forces as Israel unsuccessfully tried to “stabilize” Lebanon by creating a loyal puppet government. Even after they withdrew, the Israeli military made plans for another invasion. The expected “provocation” occurred on July 12 when Hezbollah fighters killed eight Israel soldiers and abducted two others near the Lebanese-Israeli border.

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah claimed the two captured soldiers should signify a negotiated prisoner exchange. “No military operation will return them,” Nasrallah told a July 12 news conference in Beirut. “The prisoners will not be returned except through one way: indirect negotiations and a trade.”

This incident, according to Gilad Atzmon, led to the elaboration of a new “Hebraic arithmetic laws. For 2 kidnapped Israeli soldiers who are still kept alive, 500,000 innocent Lebanese civilians are displaced. For 2 abducted Israeli soldiers, Lebanon, a sovereign state, is brought back down on its knees. Its civil infrastructure is ‘gone’. Some of its capital’s residential quarters and southern villages are already wiped out. Indeed, ‘two equals half a million’ is the new arithmetic the Israelis insist upon imposing on the region.”

US TV viewers have not seen this Israeli point of view. But approximately one billion Arabs see daily images of Israeli brutality in Palestine, a land stolen from Arab people. On Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, they watch graphic examples of suffering in Gaza. Arabs understand that the US campaign for democracy in the Middle East means that if the “wrong” party prevails, Washington won’t recognize the power of the ballot. Since Hamas carried the “terrorist” label, Bush agreed that the Israelis should nullify the elections by force in Gaza.

While US TV tends to elicit empathy with Israelis who have lost loved ones or homes, Arab TV portrays a heroic Hezbollah and its images bring forth sympathy for Palestinian and Lebanese victims of Israeli bombings. The US media uncritically accepts Bush’s version of Syria as a source of terror. In the Arab world, Syria has emerged as the place that offers refuge to more than 100,000 Lebanese fleeing from Israeli aggression. On top of that, Syria has taken in some 450,000 escaping Iraqis.

Americans, thanks to their media, have bought the line that evil Syria and “nuclear Iran” are the twin sources of Middle East evil, as if they control the behavior of Hezbollah militants living in southern Lebanon.
Media rhetoric, like that of the White House, focuses on terrorism. Fox news makes it sound as if for decades Israel has had to use disproportionate violence on Palestinians. Israel “had” to build a wall to keep terrorists out. In fact, Palestinian casualties far outnumber Israeli dead and wounded. But dead and wounded terrorists don’t count.
As the US military experiments in Afghanistan and Iraq worsen, and Bush uses the “t” word even more frequently than in the past, the real source of Middle East conflict remains the same. Israel remains intransigent about Palestine and about Syria’s Golan Height which Israel occupies in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions 224 and 338.
The Israeli government never tires of seizing opportunities to break Palestinian will, usually with the claims that it is defending its own security. It rained more bombs and rockets on Gaza just before it invaded Lebanon. It withheld water and medicine from the people there.

The Arab world watched this. When Hezbollah attacked, many Arabs saw this as an act of solidarity with Palestinians.

They did not believe that Israel marched into Lebanon, bombed and shelled civilian targets, mostly in poor Shi’ite areas, just to get two soldiers released. When Ms. Rice left Lebanon in late July, she did not demand that Israel cease its destruction campaign. Instead, the United States rushed a fresh bomb supply to the Israeli Air Force.

This has converted US policy to “democratize” the Middle East into a sick joke. At a July 25 press conference, with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who offered solidarity to the Lebanese people, standing next to him, Bush responded to a reporter’s question about Hezbollah.

“The terrorists are afraid of democracies,” Bush declared. “And what you’ve witnessed in Israel, in my judgment, is the act of a terrorist organization trying to stop the advance of democracy in the regionPeople fear democracy if your vision is based upon kind of a totalitarian view of the world. And that’s the ultimate challenge facing Iraq and Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories, and that is, will the free world, and the neighborhood, work in concert to help develop sustainable democracy?”


Perhaps, Bush needs a sticker pasted on his forehead. Every time he looks in the mirror he would see, “It’s the occupation of Palestine, stupid!”

SAUL LANDAU is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. His forthcoming book, A Bush and Botox World, will be published by CounterPunch Press this fall.



SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.