The fighter plane is the quintessence of modern civilisation, the modern goddess. It is the product of the collective input of all the sciences and the neutralisation of all morals and values. In it converge the laser, micro-optics, microelectronics and high-tech aerodynamics, allowing for precision flying, hairline fine guidance, dead-on targeting and surgical destruction. It is hygienic and ultra-precise and its factories, hangars and assembly plants are as tall and spacious cathedrals. These planes are only manufactured in the most industrially developed states, assembled by huge corporations whose employees inhabit equality-oriented societies and receive high salaries. They can only be piloted by highly qualified individuals. They are simultaneously the product of absolute individualism and institutionalised collective labour. The employees who contribute to their manufacture embody societies that have achieved much; they are the elite, a cut above the rest, the chosen ones, the new Aryan race.
As with any goddess of consumerist society it has a built-in obsolescence; a new plane has to be produced every two or three years in order to keep up with demand, incorporating the latest technological developments and scientific discoveries in order to preserve her superiority over the gods of other people.
The fighter plane makes the immoral moral. It soars above good and evil, a celestial goddess with an insatiable thirst for sacrificial tribute. The pilot does not see the blood; he doesn’t see the bayonet or the bullet piercing through the body of the victim. He does not get dirty because he does not have to crawl. Or see the eyes of his victims. Nor does he break the commandment thou shalt not kill. All he does is press a button from a long way away.
All the victims hear is the screech of the oncoming missile. Then the world shakes around them and they topple over, without so much as swaying. Perhaps they feel excruciating pain before passing into nothingness. All people are helpless before the fighter planes; no father or mother can protect their child. Children are torn to pieces, or buried beneath the rubble of buildings that collapse with an echoing groan that blends with the sound of limbs being torn. Stones, planks of wood, shreds of steel crash into human bone and pulverise skulls — all in the twinkling of an eye.
Meanwhile, from up there in the pilot’s seat, all that can be seen are a plume of smoke and a cloud of dust. “Mission accomplished,” radios the pilot to the base, as he executes a neat turn overhead in skies beyond the sea of morals. Then he lands, jumps out of the plane and heads to the barracks, helmet tucked under his arm like a motorcyclist. He goes for coffee in the cafeteria, exchanges jokes with his fellow pilots, with the female staff on the base, and with the mechanics who will be getting his plane ready for another sortie of death. Then he heads home. On his way he listens to some music, clowns around with some children and, maybe, engages in a conversation about politics. He might be earnest, or indifferent or incensed. He could be a leftist or a rightist, in support of gay rights or against them, a self- acclaimed dove or a rabid hawk. But these are not the criteria that qualified him to push the button. All such thoughts and criteria fade i! nto meaninglessness in the religion of the fighter bomber.
The peoples of the world are divided into the haves and have-nots of F-15s and F-16s.
The haves are divided into countries that own these planes and countries that are possessed by them. The Arabs are divided not only into the have-nots, but those who don’t have and yet have made the planes into golden cows.
These fighter planes are omnipresent. They can be visible or invisible. But there is no escaping their venom, nowhere to hide from their missiles. The planes remain in the air but their missiles will swoop down on the passengers of a fleeing car, a bus, an ambulance, and they will bore through the ceilings of bunkers and shelters until they reach the tender bodies within. Human flesh stands no chance against a missile flying toward it from a fighter plane. The body stands naked before the goddess who roams the heavens as edifices of stone and reinforced cement crumble before her.
The planes wreak massive destruction, but they cannot resolve the battle against those who have right on their side. To do that the goddess’s followers have to fight a ground war. But once the inhabitants of that civilisation start fighting on the ground, they start to die and begin to cry. This phenomenon has given rise to a curious belief, which is that while their soldiers have the right to kill, others do not have the right to kill their soldiers, even in war. This is why when one of their soldiers is struck they are overcome by shock and why when their armies suffer a defeat at the hands of the forces of the weak and oppressed they take it as an affront to the prestige of their army and their military superiority. At such a point Israel stealthily withdraws the ground forces and unleashes the F-16s to bomb “terrorist” locations, be they homes or villages. It is a cowardly and vindictive way to behave, open to those who possess an air force which en! able them to become arrogant airborne tyrants. On the ground they are human beings like everyone else: fragile and brittle. But in the air, with the protection of their goddess, they can stomp around, invisible to the naked eye but certain to make their thunder heard as they pass overhead, taking full advantage of the fragility of those who are left on the ground without planes, and even those who have taken refuge in the holes in the ground. They avenge themselves not just because they have the will to do so — they hold no monopoly on will — but because their goddess makes it possible for them to do so.
And the Lord said unto Joshua:
“See, I have given into thine hand Jericho, and the king thereof, and the mighty men of valour.
“And ye shall compass the city, all ye men of war, and go round about the city once. Thus shalt thou do six days.
“And seven priests shall bear before the ark seven trumpets of rams’ horns. And the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the trumpets…”
…[A]nd it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.
And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword…
And they burnt the city with fire, and all that was therein. Only the silver, and the gold, and the vessels of brass and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord.
And Joshua saved Rahab the harlot alive, and her father’s household, and she dwelleth in Israel even unto this day; because she hid the messengers, which Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.
It is destructive power that fills them with pride … the sort that comes before the fall. The death of a child, two children, three; the death of a woman or two; the destruction of an ambulance — when does brute force against innocent people become unacceptable? Thirty children? Fifty? In front of the cameras? How many when there are no cameras at hand? At what point do the scales tip? Cameras, incidentally, do not transmit the putrid odor of bodies crushed beneath the rubble.
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when the cup slips out of the hand of an Arab or western official as he stares at the television screen. Which image of dying children got through to him? Did his mouth drop agape as his cup crashed to the floor? Did he choke on the food he was eating? Does he think that he should have listened to his aides sooner and called for an immediate ceasefire? Does he groan at the horror of the crimes committed by Israel or slump in despair at Israel’s folly in forfeiting yet another opportunity?
Israel was built on targeting civilians. In 1948 it targeted them in order to displace them and usurp their land. It targeted entire villages that it alleged were fedayeen — resistance fighter — bases. The “strategy” was founded upon two tenets: the need to deter civilians from supporting the resistance, which is to say to repress the expression of any political or social position, and the need to feed and quench the Israeli thirst for revenge. This two- pronged military creed was epitomised by Unit 101, led by Ariel Sharon in the early 1950s. It raided villages, blew up houses and slaughtered the residents. Among the most notorious fruits of this philosophy were the massacres of Qubya, Nahalin and Al-Bureij in the fifties, and the massacres of Jabalya, Beit Hanoun, Al-Shajaiya, Qasba in Nablus and Jenin in more recent times. To perform these deeds Israel needed butchers, though it called them “legendary warriors”. It was a hands-on approach. It did n! ot involve F-16s. With these all that are needed are spoiled youths of the appropriate religious affiliation and with their hearts set on an American consumerist lifestyle.
Israel is deliberately targeting civilians in Lebanon, capitalising on an expedient moment. Its aims are to punish anyone who might have supported the resistance, to displace civilians northward in order to aggravate sectarian tensions in the country and to quench its barbaric thirst for revenge. The current attack, in all its ferocity and with its toll of innocent victims, was planned well in advance, with malice aforethought. Israel is a terrorist state. The diabolical logic of this state is actively supported by another terrorist state led by George Bush, a very dangerous, pathologically violent and sadistic man surrounded by a gang of cool and calculating Machiavellians and apologists for state terrorism. They ardently believe that civilians who don’t own fighter planes are so far down the rungs of the ladder in the survival of the fittest that if they die well that’s their own fault, a result of their own lack of realism.
This logic has one flaw that makes it unpardonable, a curse that will haunt that civilization, a permanent indictment of its control of the skies: how can children be expected to be “realistic”? How can anyone blame them for their own death?
It is wrong to sing the praises of dead children as if they were heroes, a disgrace to put their bodies on display. These children were not warriors. They were not in the resistance. They did not die in order to achieve a victory for others who didn’t die and who hadn’t put their lives on the line. These children died because they couldn’t escape in time or manage to hide from the planes. They are the victims of the criminally barbaric civilization of fighter planes. Their murderers must be brought to account and the resistance against the aggression must be sustained.
AZMI BISHARA writes for Al-Ahram, where this essay originally appeared.