As a zone of ongoing, large-scale bloodletting Darfur in the western Sudan has big appeal for US news editors. Americans are not doing the killing, or paying for others to do it. So there’s no need to minimize the vast slaughter with the usual drizzle of “allegations.” There’s no political risk here in sounding off about genocide in Darfur. The crisis in Darfur is also very photogenic.
When the RENAMO gangs, backed by Ronald Reagan and the apartheid regime in South Africa were butchering Mozambican peasants, the news stories were sparse and the tone usually tentative in any blame-laying. Not so with Darfur, where moral outrage on the editorial pages acquires the robust edge endemic to sermons about inter-ethnic slaughter where white people, and specifically the US government, aren’t obviously involved.
Since March 1 the New York Times has run seventy news stories on Darfur (including sixteen pieces from wire services), fifteen editorials and twenty-one signed columns, all but one by Nicholas Kristof. Darfur is primarily a “feel good” subject for people here who want to agonize publicly about injustices in the world but who don’t really want to do anything about them. After all, it’s Arabs who are the perpetrators and there is ultimately little that people in this country can do to effect real change in the policy of the government in Khartoum.
Now, Gaza is an entirely different story. The American public as well as the US government have a great deal of control over what is happening there. And it is Israel, America’s prime ally in the Middle East that is, on a day-to-day basis, with America’s full support, inflicting appalling brutalities on a civilian population. To report in any detail on what’s going on in Gaza means accusing the United States of active complicity in terrible crimes wrought by Israel, as it methodically lays waste a society of 1.5 million Palestinians. Of course the death rate is a fraction of what’s alleged about Darfur, but all the same, we are talking here about a determined bid by Israel, backed by the U.S. and E.U. to destroy an entire society.
I wan’t at all surprised there was a sharp swerve in emphasis towards Darfur at about the time of the Kerem Shalom attack and the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit in Gaza in June of this year. By the time Israel’s campaign of destroying Lebanon got under way this summer (a campaign intricately linked to the Palestine issue), Darfur was hotter still as a distracting topic.
Where is Kristof? Couldn’t he trade at least one of his Darfur columns for one on Gaza’s suffering? Maybe he is deferring to Thomas Friedman, who owns the Middle Eastern turf on the NYT op-ed page the way Kristof owns chunks of Africa.
Israel’s soldiers are not going to march into Gaza and truck all the inhabitants away. The strategy is simply to make the place into a garbage dump picked over by destitute people. The current ceasefire will do nothing to relieve the siege imposed physically, financially, commercially by Israel, the U.S. and the E.U. Israel and its accomplices are sentencing Gaza’s occupants to a living death in situ, with actual death meted out each day to “terrorists” and those unfortunate enough to be in the line of fire, like the family in Beit Hanoun or the school teacher by the minibus filled with children (a near miss).
As Gideon Levy wrote in one of his many searing reports in Ha’aretz, the Israeli army “has been rampaging through Gaza-there’s no other word to describe it-killing and demolishing, bombing and shelling, indiscriminately”. When my brother Patrick was there in September he reported in The Independent that “Israeli troops and tanks come and go at will. In the northern district of Shajhayeh they took over several houses last week and stayed five days. By the time they withdrew, 22 Palestinians had been killed, three houses were destroyed and groves of olive, citrus and almond trees had been bulldozed. Fuad al-Tuba, the 61-year-old farmer who owned a farm here, said: ‘they even destroyed 22 of my bee-hives and killed four sheep.’ His son Baher al-Tuba described how for five days Israeli soldiers confined him and his relatives to one room in his house where they survived by drinking water from a fish pond. ‘Snipers took up positions in the windows and shot at anybody who came near,” he said. “They killed one of my neighbors called Fathi Abu Gumbuz who was 56 years old and just went out to get water.'”
The sound that Palestinians most dread, Patrick wrote, “is an unknown voice on their cell phone saying they have half an hour to leave their home before it is hit by bombs or missiles. There is no appeal.”
The Israelis have destroyed 70 percent of the orange groves; stopped the fishermen from going out in their boats, destroyed the central power station. More than 50 percent of the population is out of work, and per capita income is less than $2 a day.
Jennifer Loewenstein, of the Middle Eastern studies program at the Unversity of Wisconsin at Madison, has visited Gaza many times and written powerfully about it on the CounterPunch website. She wrote to me last week, “If people received genuine information about Gaza they would also be appalled-and that’s of course why they don’t get any real information about it from getting out. In addition, if the Israeli blockade of virtually all human traffic into Gaza were to end and more visitors could actually get in, more people-including freelance journalists-would be outraged, or stunned into disbelief at what Israel with US and EU backing has done to that miserable strip of land. Again, that’s why the Israeli-imposed human blockade persists. And while diplomats, UN and international aid workers and a few others do get in, the fact that most of them utter not a peep about this ongoing crime against humanity suggests in the most sinister way that they will continue not to utter a peep when things get worse.
As Loewenstein concluded: “Servility to power doesn’t get more insidious or malignant than this.”
Hitchens Study Group Probes Policy Options for Bedraggled Warmonger
We hear indirectly that Christopher Hitchens, as seemingly impervious to reality as his hero George Bush, is at last beginning to ponder how to extract himself from the Iraq mess. The usual unreliable sources claim a plaintive phone call from Hitchens to his friend Martin Amis, brooding on his dilemma.
Others have already fled the burning deck of Bush’s Mission Iraq. The Neocons are trying to regroup, amid plaintive squeals that George Bush had not the intellectual mettle nor moral fiber for the great task they charged him with. The thousands of liberal intellectuals who either openly or tacitly backed the venture have long since sidled towards the exits, albeit without a word of remorse or self criticism.
Hitchens has been a full-bore supporter of the war, summoned to the White House days before the invasion to preach the morality and assured success of the cause. Since those days he has stumbled from one fox hole to the next. The early howls of triumph and exultant paragraphs about troops being garlanded with flowers have given way to more sterterous rationales, before a final stand on Kurdish soil. His recent book on Tom Paine (which according to a devastating review in the London Review of Books (is extensively plagiar … –er– indebted to an earlier work by John Keane) is dedicated “by permission” to the Kurdish president Jalal Talabani). No more talk from Hitchens of democracy and freedom further south amidst the Shia and the Sunni.
But defiant wagging of the Kurdish flag won’t suffice for long. A special Hitchens Study Group is being convened to evolve policy options for the beleagured scrivener. Among the options on the table:
Hitchens should redeploy immediately over the horizon to the United Kingdom, be recommended for a peerage by the expiring Blair and take his seat in the House of Lords.
Hitchens should publish a vast essay of plaintive self-justification in Vanity Fair and then retire for a period of seclusion in the Betty Ford Clinic.
Hitchens should approach Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel, ask for his column back and carry on.
Note: An earlier version of first item in this column ran in the print edition of The Nation that went to press last Wednesday.