Sunday, September 25, 2005

Iraq, Vietnam and Martin Luther King

Support for the Anglo-American war on Iraq must now rank as one of the most comprehensively humiliated political positions in recent history. The original reason given for the invasion, essentially self-defence, was always ludicrous. But even the details of that "thin" justification - the supposed WMD threat - have now been dragged through the mud and exposed by the declassified record as a PR stunt "got up" by the aggressor nations to sell the "inevitable" war. (quoting the views of the British Foreign Secretary and other senior officials).

The subsequently altered official justification - humanitarian intervention - was as plausible as the supposed military threat Baghdad posed to London and Washington. The nations that backed Saddam whilst he committed all his worst atrocities, that killed over a million Iraqis with sanctions, half of those children under five, had in fact, we were told, intervened in Iraqi affairs out of altruistic concern for its people. Those nations invaded Iraq, killing according to the best estimates well over 100,000 people, in order to bring that country prosperity, freedom and all the other rewards of western benevolence that the third world has enjoyed over the past five centuries. With the added element of the occupier's sheer incompetence (resulting in one of the great military fiascos of modern history), the welfare of Iraqis progressed even beyond the levels one could have expected. Anarchy, terrorism and counterinsurgency warfare ran riot. Child malnutrition and infant mortality rocketed (from the level that killed half a million infants under sanctions) as sewage flowed in the streets and the economy collapsed. Iraqis were rounded up and subjected to vicious sexual torture, often in the prisons of the coloniser's former client dictator. Iraqis can at least console themselves with their new found right, wrested from the occupiers, to vote, in unmediated elections where campaigning is impossible for politicians whose hands are bound by the occupiers in any case. This right may even be exercised by those lucky enough to dodge gangs of kidnappers, terrorist explosions, the occupier's bullets and the foreign airforce that still bombs Iraq's towns and cities. This is the result of two and a half years under the protective wing of the US and its British lapdog.

Plainly fresh reasons for the colonisation of Iraq are required. Now we are asked to believe that the occupation must continue until order is restored, as though the disease will, at some future date, magically transform itself into the cure. Sectarian killings and general lawlessness, we are warned, will overrun the country if our troops are not on hand to save the Iraqis from themselves. This of course ignores the fact that these very things have come to pass already in the new Iraq which we have generously created. Withdrawal will come, our leaders promise, when the security is restored, when the occupation has precisely the opposite effect from the one it has had since 2003, or put more simply, when hell freezes over. Though with the end so tantalisingly close, we might ask why permanent military bases are being constructed by the colonists, and what precisely this has to do with Iraq's supposed independence and the victorious withdrawal we always envisaged.

We must accept that there will always remain a few liberal apologists for the ongoing slaughter, brave contrarians who stubbornly reject the confusing influence of the facts. Leaving such people aside our role must now be, as those ultimately responsible for the actions of the aggressor governments, to exact the political costs of any continuing failure to withdraw. In doing so we might take our cues, and our inspiration from another movement of another time, but one with some striking similarities to our own.

In April 1967, exactly one year before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King rose at Manhattan's Riverside Church to deliver a blistering attack on the Vietnam war. He said that the US was in Vietnam, not to liberate it, but "to occupy it as an American colony". He roundly condemned his government as "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today". The Vietnamese, he said, "must see Americans as strange liberators", describing the US record of denying their independence, including support for "one of the most vicious modern dictators, our chosen man, Premier Diem...Now they languish under our bombs and consider us, not their fellow Vietnamese, the real enemy....They watch as we poison their water...They wander into the hospitals, with at least 20 casualties from American firepower for each Viet Cong-inflicted injury. So far we may have killed a million of them, mostly children...How can they trust us when now we charge them with violence after the murderous reign of Diem, and charge them with violence while we pour new weapons of death into their land?....Now there is little left to build on, save bitterness. Soon the only solid physical foundations remaining will be found at our military bases...We must speak for them and raise the questions they cannot raise. These too are our brothers".

But then King went further, identifying the war as "but a symptom of a far deeper malady...[part of] pattern of suppression". He warned that "We will be marching and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy...When machines and computers, profit and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered". Describing "the Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them", King warned that "a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death".

On the weekend when a resurgent US anti-war movement marched on Washington, with parallel demonstrations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, London and Rome, we might recall the efforts, and the victories, of that previous anti-war movement, of which King was a part. Public anger and political pressure played no small part in the US retreat from Indochina. Vietnam went on to become a byword in the political lexicon for military and political disaster. Two years after King's speech, around 70% of Americans had come to see the war, not as "a mistake", but as "fundamentally wrong and immoral". Iraq is not Vietnam. But it is a war of aggression, waged clearly for greed, not liberation, and a bloodbath for which we bear the ultimate responsibility. The political conditions now exist, more so than at any previous point, for us to inflict upon the individuals and the system responsible the most ignominious defeat they have suffered for 30 years.

As King said, "If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight....Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we [say] the struggle is too hard? Will we send [the victims] our deepest regrets? ...The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history."

Thursday, September 15, 2005

George Galloway and the anti-war movement: contaminating the brand?

British MP George Galloway starts his US speaking tour this week, promoting his book “Mr Galloway Goes to Washington”. Since a great many of my readers are from the US I thought I'd update and re-post an article I wrote on Galloway during the UK general election campaign. Here it is...
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Residing as they do outside of the privately-owned mainstream of media debate, progressives are presented with a range of serious challenges in respect of communicating their opinions to the rest of the public. Privately-owned media act as a distorting filter, excluding vast swathes of rational thought from publicly expressible opinion wherever those rational thoughts contradict private interests. Within this framework, easily defensible statements will be held up to ridicule and rebuke because they are made only on grounds of rationality, and not within the assumptions preordained by the natural bias of private interest, to which rationality must be subordinate.
In the past its been necessary to defend progressive figures, for example Noam Chomsky during the Faurisson affair, when rationally supportable statements they make have fallen foul of these obstacles. That defence, in turn, has been hindered by the same obstacles. But it was right to defend those people in those cases, no matter the difficulties. Free and open discussion of the facts is the oxygen of progressive politics. Progressives should not fear such a discussion, and when others do they should draw the appropriate conclusions. Equally – both in terms of the principle of defending the truth and the practical consideration of credibility - progressives should be rigorous in satisfying themselves of the moral case before mounting such defences. The faults within, or absence of, such a case can cause serious and unnecessary damage to the ability of progressives to communicate with the largely apolitical masses.
In London, the parliamentary seat of Bethnal Green and Bow is held by anti-war candidate George Galloway, representing the left-progressive party Respect. Galloway is one of the British anti-war movement’s leading figures and ought to be one of its greatest strengths. He is one of the best public speakers of his generation. He is a political veteran; knowledgeable, battle-hardened and experienced. Respect’s manifesto is decidedly lacking in material that any progressive can readily disagree with, and appears to offer a fresh start to those who reject the Thatcherite consensus.

Galloway caused a sensation in the US in the spring of 2005 when he clashed with Republican Senator Norm Coleman at a Committee hearing in Washington over Galloway's alleged role in the oil-for-food scandal. The protective bubble of post-9/11 deference around the US government was emphatically broken by the combative MP as he tore into the bloody record of his accusers, comparing in damning terms his stance on Iraq to theirs and that of their colleagues. His performance was greeted with euphoria and adulation in many parts of the US left. In September 2005 he began a tour of the US, promoting his book “Mr Galloway Goes to Washington” and speaking in major cities across the country.
Galloway is the sort of figure that is bound to fall foul of the media framework described above. Sure enough, few articles about him rise above a petty level of scorn and condescension. He was hauled over the coals by the British media, and expelled from the Labour Party for pointing out that since the Iraq invasion was illegal, Iraqi troops attempting to repel the invasion were the only side fighting legally, and that British troops could legitimately refuse to obey their orders. This bald statement of fact had serious moral implications for UK Government policy. Rather than consider those implications, much less be shamed by them, Galloway’s enemies accused him of treason. His conclusion was rational, but not acceptable to state-private interest. In his career, Galloway has come out on top of several legal battles against his more cynical detractors, among them the Daily Telegraph, The Christian Science Monitor, and his recent electoral rival Oona King.
However, some of Galloway’s controversial statements have been genuinely problematic. Galloway's opponents never fail to remind us of his most controversial hour. In a meeting with Saddam in January 1994 Galloway said to the dictator “Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability”.
There can hardly be any question that, standing alone, these words sound appalling. Since that meeting Galloway has said of the statement, “Yes, I regret that very much”. He has said that he should have used the “old-fashioned Scottish word ‘yoos’, rather than ‘you ’,” to show his tribute was to the people of Iraq, and not to their oppressor. He has not explained, as far as I’m aware, why one would address the people of Iraq as “Sir”.
Galloway’s supporters point out that at the time he was involved in a dialogue with Saddam intended to mitigate the effects of sanctions on the Iraqi population and to decrease the chances of further armed conflict with the west. These are goals it would be hard not to support, and if swallowing one’s pride and allowing the preening butcher some flattery would help in that respect…..well, greater crimes have been committed. But, whatever gains Galloway made must be balanced against the damage the controversy did to the reputation of a movement that was building pressure on the UK Government’s Iraq policy, and with which Galloway was, and is, associated. Was the flattery unavoidable? Was it necessary to present an open goal to anyone looking to paint opposition to the UK’s Iraq policy as support for the dictator? There are plenty of icons on the anti-war left - Pilger, Chomsky etc. – whose dedication is unquestioned and who have managed to struggle through their whole careers without ever saluting the courage, strength and indefatigability of a mass murderer. At the very least this raises serious questions about Galloway’s political judgement.
Another of Galloway’s more problematic statements is reported to have come in an interview with the UK's Independent on Sunday.
""He’s a hero. Fidel Castro is a hero."
He's a dict. . .
"I don't believe that Fidel Castro is a dictator."
I honestly can't think of anything to say to this.
"Fidel Castro is a great revolutionary leader. But for 40 years or more of siege, undoubtedly Cuba would have developed, democratically speaking, differently. But when the enemy is at the gates, spending billions to destroy the revolution, you have to accept that there will be restrictions on political freedoms in a place like Cuba."
You've met El Presidente, I take it
"Yes. Magnificent. He’s the most magnificent human being I’ve ever met." "
There’s no doubt of the social benefits that many of the Cuban people enjoy, as compared to many of their regional neighbours, and this achieved under siege from the greatest power in history. Writing in the UK Guardian in July 2003 Seamus Milne noted that, “Cuba has achieved first world health and education standards in a third world country, its infant mortality and literacy rates now rivalling or outstripping those of the US, its class sizes a third smaller than in Britain - while next door, in the US-backed "democracy" of Haiti, half the population is unable to read and infant mortality is over 10 times higher…it has sent 50,000 doctors to work for free in 93 third world countries and given a free university education to 1,000 third world students a year”. Had Cuba not repelled the sinister advances of its American suitor the island’s people might well have suffered the gruesome fate of others in the region; countries like El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Panama where US-backed state terror of various descriptions inflicted bloodbaths reminiscent of the conquistadors’ worst excesses.
But Castro’s regime is still responsible for human rights abuses which are in no way excused by the far worse crimes of his enemies. Amnesty International reported in March 2005 that people “imprisoned for peacefully expressing their beliefs and opinions… [had been] handcuffed and kept in tiny "punishment cells" infested with rats and cockroaches. …Prison guards reportedly stamped on the neck of Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, causing him to pass out during a beating last November while he was handcuffed. Another man, Luis Enrique Ferrer Garcia, was reportedly stripped and beaten by guards. …[The men] were arrested for “offences” such as publishing critical articles or communicating with human rights groups”.
As Galloway points out, Cuba is a nation under siege. When Britain curtailed its civil liberties during World War II there was a decent justification for those measures under the circumstances. But is it strictly necessary, in the interests of defending one’s country, to stamp on someone's neck for “peacefully expressing their beliefs and opinions”? And can the man ultimately responsible for such abuses seriously be described, quite unambiguously, as “a hero… the most magnificent human being I’ve ever met”?
An extremely strong case can be made for saying that, on balance, Cuba is comparatively better off under Castro than as a US client state. But this contrasts with Galloway’s choice of terminology. The word “hero” is an unambiguous one, the term “most magnificent” a superlative; an absolute. If Galloway’s defence of Cuba is, like Milne’s, the result of a balanced cost/benefit analysis, then its seriously undermined by his use of language. Beyond the distorting prism of the mass media lies a public that Galloway must communicate with. Its had to see how bombastic, self-indulgent soundbites like this can help.
Similarly, this exchange came in a 2002 interview with the Guardian: “"I am on the anti-imperialist left." The Stalinist left? "I wouldn't define it that way because of the pejoratives loaded around it; that would be making a rod for your own back. If you are asking did I support the Soviet Union, yes I did. Yes, I did support the Soviet Union, and I think the disappearance of the Soviet Union is the biggest catastrophe of my life. If there was a Soviet Union today, we would not be having this conversation about plunging into a new war in the Middle East, and the US would not be rampaging around the globe."
For genuine progressives there is a rather more straightforward answer to the question “Are you on the Stalinist left?”. The answer would be “No, don’t be ridiculous. Stalin was a mass murderer” (Hence the “pejoratives” loaded around the term ‘Stalinist’). Noam Chomsky demonstrated how to approach such questions when he said “If the left is understood to include 'Bolshevism,' then I would flatly dissociate myself from the left. Lenin was one of the greatest enemies of socialism, in my opinion, for reasons I've discussed”.
The last sentence of the quote suggests that what Galloway might have meant to say was that “on balance, despite the hideous crimes it committed, one could argue that the Soviet Union at least restricted the designs of US imperialism, and was of course instrumental in defeating Nazism”. The rationale and the balance of the various factors involved would have been apparent, even if one disagreed profoundly with the conclusion. But that’s not what he said, and if that's the point he was trying to make then his attempt was profoundly inept. The statement “I did support the Soviet Union, and I think the disappearance of the Soviet Union is the biggest catastrophe of my life” is unequivocal. It’s a quote that’s just aching to be taken out of context. In fact, its very hard to avoid at least the suspicion that it wasn’t taken out of context at all. If it wasn’t, then its odious in the extreme. No one should have the slightest trouble in recognising the evils of American imperialism without then supporting the blood-soaked dungeon that was the Soviet Union because it supposedly acted as a counterweight.
Nor does this statement square with another statement Galloway made, where he proclaimed that, “The difference between me and Mr Bush and Mr Blair is that I am against all dictatorships all of the time, not just some dictators some of the time”.

As Respect's MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, George Galloway stands on a platform of democracy, social justice and human rights. The values that underpin the Respect manifesto and the policies set out there give much reason to conclude that he does not support the horrors of the Soviet Union, the human rights abuses committed by Castro’s regime, or genuinely salute the courage, strength and indefatigability of the mass murderer Saddam. One might consider the numerous statements he has made condemning Saddam and the many other statements he has made in defence of these decent values and principles. One might compile a list of Galloway quotations in this vein that far outnumber the ones discussed at length here, and one might look at that balance sheet to give us the true measure of the man. But having done this one might still have to conclude that his taste for rhetorical bombast makes him – and therefore his views, his party and any movement associated with him - more vulnerable than need be the case. One might still have to conclude that he advances into the minefield of privately-dominated mainstream opinion with a bulldozer, rather than with the sure and deliberate steps necessary to communicate his message. One might have to wonder to what extent the benefits of having his sometimes eloquent voice speak for the anti-war movement might be offset by some future clumsy and ill-judged statement that causes the considerable moral capital of our platform to depreciate unnecessarily as a result.

The danger is that Galloway's presence on the anti-war platform plays right into the hands of critics who would paint the movement as being made up of dupes and apologists for tyranny. With figures such as Cindy Sheehan, Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein articulating our position in the public domain, do we need to take the risk of embracing Galloway? And with the bloodbath in Iraq worsening by the day, can we afford to?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

After the flood

The horror stories coming out of New Orleans are not for the faint-hearted. With the very worst of the survivors' ordeal now coming to an end, albeit very gradually and very belatedly, the wider picture is beginning to emerge.

Writer and activist, Rahul Mahajan, gives by far the best commentary I've read anywhere on the disaster. A short yet comprehensive view from a global and historical perspective, searing in its cold-eyed anger.

That anger is by no means restricted to the American liberal-left. The US corporate media, usually as craven and reverential as medieval courtiers, especially during the "war on terror", appear to have been briefly re-acquainted with their critical faculties. Using an surprising and uncharacteristically strong turn of phrase, the New York Times editorial writers laments that the US may well be "stuck with leaders who neither know, nor care, how to lead".

Because the bottom line is that, whilst the hurricane itself could not have been avoided, measures that could have been taken before and after the event, measures that would have saved lives, were not taken by those responsible. In fact such measures were sometimes actively counteracted by the federal government. As former Clinton aide, Sidney Blumenthal, points out: "In 2001, FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] warned that a hurricane striking New Orleans was one of the three most likely disasters in the U.S. But the Bush administration cut New Orleans flood control funding by 44 percent to pay for the Iraq war. A year ago the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed to study how New Orleans could be protected from a catastrophic hurricane, but the Bush administration ordered that the research not be undertaken."

More on this from the UK's Independent: "No one can say they did not see it coming," reported The Times-Picayune from New Orleans this week. The newspaper published a five-part series predicting the disaster five years ago. Officials and experts last week wearily recalled their attempts to make the government take action. "It's frustrating to have planned, begged and pleaded that this could happen," said Walter Maestri, emergency management director of the now submerged Jefferson Parish. "They would say, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah.' Well it's here now."

Federal spending on flood control in south-east Louisiana has been cut by almost half since 2001, from $69m (£34.5m) per year to $36.5m. Funds for work at Lake Pontchartrain, the source of the flooding, have fallen by nearly two-thirds over three years, from $14.25m to $5.7m. As a result, work on New Orleans' east bank hurricane levees stopped last summer for the first time in 37 years.

The US Army Corps of Engineers, which maintains the levees, requested $27m this year for hurricane protection around the lake. President Bush tried to cut this to $3.9m, although Congress allowed $5.7m. The President also tried to cut $78m to improve drainage and prevent flooding in the city to $30m, though Congress passed $36.5m. A $14bn longer-term project to restore marshes was cut to $570m.

Mr Maestri, the Jefferson Parish emergency director, added: "It appears that money has been moved in the President's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq. I suppose that's the price we pay."
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In fact the frenzied budget-slashing (save for the security services) is part of a general right-wing distrust for "big government" of which Bush's regime is but the most extreme example so far. Money for public projects was instead handed to the wealthy in tax cuts, as the Republicans asset-stripped the public sphere and their corporate sponsors pocketed the gains. So, without the nanny state to cramp their entrepreneurial spirit, the sick, the old, and those too poor to afford transport when the order came to evacuate New Orleans were left, literally, to sink or swim. Somehow, the dynamism of the private sector failed to respond to the opening up of a new market in emergency mitigation created by Hurricane Katrina. It seems that there are some jobs that only government can do. Rarely can the advocates of "small government" amongst the kleptocratic classes have looked so callous than when faced with these, the gruesome consequences of their greed. Rarely can their right-wing "libertarian" cheerleaders have looked so irredeemably stupid.

(Incidentally, it should be noted that opponents of "big government" tend to clam up on the subject when it comes to subsidies for arms manufacture and related industries, arms exports underwritten by the state, socialising the costs of motoring and other pollution, subsidies for agriculture, no-bid contracts to private firms for public works on risk-free terms...in these and countless other examples the nanny state is embraced whole-heartedly by the pioneers of the free market....but this topic deserves a separate discussion of its own).

Benefactors such as Afghanistan and Sri Lanka have been offering the impoverished US Government their assistance.

BBC television news, in a depressingly boneheaded piece at the weekend, described attempts to hold those responsible to account as "the blame game". This trite bit of mediaspeak might have been better employed, if it must be used at all, to describe Washington's shameful attempts to shove the blame anywhere but the place where the buck stops: at the President's desk. The Nation editor, Katrina vanden Heuvel, lists those in the Republican's buck-passing crosshairs: the city, the media, the locals, the victims.....

The Republicans' fellow travellers and voter base on the religious far-right have their own views on what others might see as a horrendous tragedy. Rev. Bill Shanks, pastor of New Covenant Fellowship of New Orleans, is full of Christian love and rejoicing in God's mercy: "New Orleans now is abortion free. New Orleans now is Mardi Gras free. New Orleans now is free of Southern Decadence and the sodomites, the witchcraft workers, false religion -- it's free of all of those things now," Shanks says. "God simply, I believe, in His mercy purged all of that stuff out of there -- and now we're going to start over again".

The political consequences could be dire for a US President caught in a pincer between his inept handling of Katrina, which at times verged on the politically autistic, and the surge of popular opposition to the ongoing conflict in Iraq.

Finally, Michael Klare examines what impact the serious damage to the US’ domestic oil production in the Gulf of Mexico may have, particularly on its military and foreign policy:

"If recent US behavior is any indication, the Bush Administration will respond to this predicament by increasing the involvement of American military forces in the protection of foreign oil potentates (like the Saudi royal family) and the defense of overseas oil installations. American troops are already helping to defend the flow of petroleum in Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Republic of Georgia, Colombia and offshore areas of West Africa, producing an enormous strain on the Pentagon's finances and capabilities. In addition, plans are being made to establish new US bases in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, two promising producers, and in the oil-producing regions of Africa. (See Klare, "Imperial Reach," April 25, 2005.) Given the need for even more foreign oil, these plans are likely to be accelerated in the months ahead. This means that the United States will become even more deeply embroiled in foreign oil wars, with an attendant increase in terrorist violence. "

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Democracy and the rule of law: the Iraqi alternative to US occupation

Whatever opinion they hold of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, most people in the UK and the US at least claim to want to see that country governed by democracy and the rule of law, and free from sectarian and ethnic division. To judge the value of those claims, witness the sheer indifference politicians and the media in those two countries have shown to an independent Iraqi initiative created to achieve those very goals: the Iraqi National Foundation Conference.

The INFC describes itself as an umbrella group "composed of academics, professionals, community leaders, religious scholars and veteran moderate Arab-nationalist politicians. It straddles sectarian and ethnic divides, and attempts to formulate the widest platform possible". In the face of growing societal division, it has revived inter-communal prayers, the hallmark of the 1920 revolution against British colonial rule. Membership is open to anyone who will subscribe to its minimum points of unity: withdrawal of the occupying forces troops and opposition to any division of Iraq on an ethnic or sectarian basis. The INFC does not enjoy the publicity enjoyed by the Indian Congress Party before independence, or the African National Congress during apartheid. But when people who oppose the occupation are asked what they would favour instead, the INFC may well provide some of the answers. Certainly the anti-war movement in the US and the UK should see building substantive links with the group as an urgent and immediate priority.

Two high-level representatives of the INFC - Media Coordinator, Saad Jawad and General Secretary, Sheikh Jawad Al Khalisi - visited the UK this week. On Wednesday 5 September they spoke to a group of anti-war activists about the desperate situation in Iraq, and the solutions that their group was proposing. Since the western political classes have conducted a long debate over the past few years on what is best for the future of Iraq without substantially involving any actual Iraqis in those discussions, the rest of this article will simply relate the words of the INFC representatives at the London meeting.

Saad Jawad said that the occupation was effecting the "demolition" of Iraq. He said that before the war, western journalists had asked him why he thought the US wanted to invade. He would offer two reasons: oil and enhancing Israel's security. The journalists would laugh and say that there was a lot more to it than that, for example democracy, human rights and so forth, which gave Saad Jawad his turn to laugh. Now, he feels that the position they took at the time has been demonstrated to be the more accurate.

Saad Jawad said that the US has consistently interfered in the workings of the new government. It stood in the way of that government's formation for three months after the election, and then gave it just three months to draft a permanent constitution under its supervision. In addition, we have heard Hilary Clinton saying that Ibrahim al-Jaafari can not be accepted as Prime Minister and George Bush saying that there will be no Islamic state in Iraq, so one can see clearly that any "democratic" choices that Iraqis make are assessed strictly in terms of what is acceptable to Washington.

Saad Jawad also alleged that oil exports from Iraq are not being recorded, that the counters at oil drilling stations are turned off, and that in effect, the country's natural resources are being plundered.

Sheikh Jawad Al Khalisi began by saying that the western media ought to be covering this independent project for Iraq's future. For him, the phrase "the new Iraq" is a misnomer. Freedom, democracy and human rights do not exist in this "new Iraq". Even Iraq's new government understands that it is the occupier that pulls the strings. The occupation works by division, along sectarian and ethnic lines, for example through the Transitional Administrative Law imposed by the US, or through the effects of US military actions. Since divisions preclude a unified Iraqi response to occupation, one can say that there is essentially no Iraqi state or government in existence. Furthermore, the new constitution does not reflect the interests of Iraqis. It is devised to entrench and exacerbate division, and as such could well pave the way to civil war. The referendum on the constitution is not internationally organised or monitored, and thus is illegitimate. It is also illegitimate because it comes as the result of the illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq.

Iraq is without democracy and human rights. But it is also without even the most fundamental necessities required for a basic standard of life to exist; things Iraqis once took for granted, such as sanitation and security. To overcome the present situation Iraq must return to legality; a legality arising from the will of Iraqis. The UN has recognised this, but the US does not. There are great dangers in continuing with the occupation because of the divisions it imposes on Iraq: dangers to the country, and dangers to the wider region. The INFC's solution is an independent, pan-Iraqi plan for the nation's future, in accordance with international law and under UN auspices.

The Sheikh told the group a story that might offer some hope for the future, as talk of civil war continues to grow. Last week, several hundred Shia pilgrims in Baghdad were killed in a stampede sparked by rumours of a suicide bomber in their midst. The worst of the carnage occurred on a bridge over the river Tigris between Sunni and Shia districts. A railing broke and many people fell into the river and drowned. An Iraqi champion swimmer - a Sunni - was on the scene and managed to save six people who had fallen from the bridge. He then saw a seventh, a Shia woman, but was unable to save her, and they drowned together. This, the Sheikh said, was already becoming a symbol for Iraqis, who want societal divisions to be overcome at this critical and violent time. Many people from Falluja gave blood to help the victims of the stampede, so hope for enduring Iraqi unity can be drawn from this story.

The INFC representatives were asked why the constitution could not be accepted as it is and the principle of legal precedent used to build upon it. Saad Jawad's response was twofold. First, why should we Iraqis, who gave the very concept of written laws to the world, adopt a constitution that was essentially written for us by the US? To impress them? To show that we are civilised? Secondly, is it advisable for us to use legal precedent to build on a foundation, the current draft constitution, that is itself fundamentally flawed? Sheikh Jawad Al Khalisi underlined this point. He said that as he understood it, a precedent is a legal step taken in the absence of a specific law. But the constitution is based upon illegality, and sound legal precedents cannot be made upon such a basis. The UN Secretary General has said that the invasion of Iraq was illegal. The legality of the war has been questioned by a great many international lawyers, many of them British. The constitution is not only based on illegality, but flows from political power, and is designed to serve those ends.

The INFC representatives were asked what steps had been taken to work with the UN. Sheikh Jawad Al Khalisi said that the INFC has been in contact with the United Nations since June 2004, before the so-called "transfer of sovereignty" from the occupiers to the interim Iraqi government. At the time, the INFC put it to the UN that it should be the UN that controls and administers the transitional process. Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN representative in charge of drawing together the interim administration at the time, agreed with the INFC proposals, but he was removed from the scene and the US instead dictated the course of events. Iyad Allawi was imposed as interim Prime Minister by the US, against Brahimi's wishes. Before the January 2005 elections, the INFC told the UN that, in order for it to participate, the elections should be held within the context of an international legal framework and under international observation. Failure to meet these basic conditions made the elections illegitimate, and this applies to the forthcoming constitutional referendum and the subsequent parliamentary elections as well.

Sheikh Jawad Al Khalisi said that the INFC welcomes the support of those in the UK who oppose the war and occupation. He also welcomed the growing anti-war sentiment in the United States, as people there are awaken to the reality of the situation in Iraq. He said that the INFC has handed to the US detailed, formal requests for the withdrawal of its armed forces. Any negotiations or discussion between the US and the INFC must be accompanied by a strict timetable for ending the occupation.

When asked what we in the UK could do to help, Saad Jawad asked that people continue to bring pressure to bear on the UK government, particularly regarding the illegality of the war. A large anti-war demonstration in Central London has been planned for 24 September 2004 and an international peace conference, bringing together US, British and Iraqi groups, will be held at the end of the year. Saad Jawad said that he and the Sheikh would be happy to attend the peace conference, "if we survive".

Friday, September 02, 2005

Israel: Colonialism in the 21st Century (Part 2)

Part 2 – The decolonisation of Gaza: fraud, melodrama and racist double-standards

Many people who watched August 2005's round-the-clock TV coverage of the decolonisation of Gaza might have been forgiven for thinking that Israel hade made what Prime Minister Ariel Sharon described as a "
painful sacrifice" for peace. Of course, within the broader narrative of Israel's colonial record (see part 1 of this article), the notion of a painful Israeli concession to the Palestinians would appear incongruous to say the least. In fact one would not only have to ignore Israel's expansionist past in order to maintain this view, one would also have to ignore the explicitly stated goals of the architects and instigators of the withdrawal themselves.

Profit and loss: the fraud of "withdrawal"

Sharon's adviser, Dov Weisglass, one of the principal architects of the plan, set out government's aims in stark terms during a gloating interview with
Ha'aretz. Recounting the interview, Le Monde Diplomatique noted that "according to Weisglass, Sharon decided to give up Gaza, which he had never considered as a national interest, to save the settlements in the West Bank and, more important, to prevent any negotiated agreement with the Palestinians". Anyone still labouring under the delusion that the Gaza withdrawal was an onerous hardship that Israel had volunteered to bear for the sake of peace, should carefully read Weisglass' exact words:

"There was a very difficult package of commitments that Israel was expected to accept. That package is called a political process. It included elements we will never agree to accept and elements we cannot accept at this time. But we succeeded in taking that package and sending it beyond the hills. You know, the term `political process' is a bundle of concepts and commitments. The political process is the establishment of a Palestinian state with all the security risks that entails. The political process is the evacuation of settlements, it's the return of refugees, it's the partition of Jerusalem. And all that has now been frozen.

The disengagement plan makes it possible for Israel to park conveniently in an interim situation that distances us as far as possible from political pressure. [It] is actually [suspending the political process in] formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that's necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.

It places the Palestinians under tremendous pressure. There are no more Israeli soldiers spoiling their day. And for the first time they have a slice of land with total continuity on which they can race from one end to the other in their
Ferrari. And the whole world is watching them - them, not us. It is making it possible for the Americans to go to the seething and simmering international community and say to them, `What do you want?' It also transfers the initiative to our hands. It compels the world to deal with our idea, with the scenario we wrote.

[Sharon] doesn't see Gaza today as an area of national interest. He does see [the illegal West Bank settlements of] Judea and Samaria as an area of national interest. The withdrawal in Samaria is a token one. We agreed to only so it wouldn't be said that we concluded our obligation in Gaza. In regard to the large settlement blocs, thanks to the disengagement plan, we have in our hands a first-ever American statement that they will be part of Israel. Sharon can tell the leaders of the settlers that he is evacuating 10,000 settlers and in the future he will be compelled to evacuate another 10,000, but he is strengthening the other 200,000, strengthening their hold in the soil. [Sharon] can say honestly that ....out of 240,000 settlers, 190,000 will not be moved from their place. Will not be moved

I found a device, in cooperation with the management of the world [the US government], to ensure that there will be no .... timetable to implement the settlers' nightmare. I have postponed that nightmare indefinitely. Because what I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns. That is the significance of what we did. The significance is the freezing of the political process. And when you freeze that process you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent a discussion about the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package that is called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed from our agenda indefinitely. And all this with authority and permission. All with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress. What more could have been anticipated? What more could have been given to the settlers? They should have danced around and around the Prime Minister's Office."

There is therefore no reason for the Gaza withdrawal to be portrayed as a great and painful concession that Israel is making for the sake of peace. The withdrawal is, as explicitly stated by one of its principle architects, a manoeuvre for victory. Its intention is to deny the Palestinians a state of their own; to deny any reparation or other form of justice to Palestinians that were subject to systematic ethnic cleansing by the state of Israel; and to continue to colonise, in contravention of international law, land acquired by force.

Weisglass makes a half-hearted attempt to justify these cynical tactics on the grounds that Israel does not have a genuine partner for peace in the terrorist Palestinians. But his statement that the Palestinians must "turn into Finns" before Israel negotiates makes plain the fact that, for Israel, Palestinian terrorism presents a political opportunity for victory, not an obstacle to peace. To say that the Palestinians must "turn into Finns" is to say that good behaviour on their part is not a prerequisite to negotiations; it is an irrelevance (as it must be, since negotiations are to be avoided at all costs – an open admission of moral bankruptcy). So there is no need to make the obvious point that only a just settlement between Palestinians and Israelis stands any chance of ending the conflict, and that therefore the Weisglass scheme will in fact guarantee more violence. This is irrelevant, since victory is the aim - not peace - victory at any cost to the Palestinians. Essential to that victory is what Israeli sociologist
Baruch Kimmerling called "the politicide of the Palestinian people, a gradual but systematic attempt to cause their annihilation as an independent political and social entity".

In any event, when discussing the availability of a "serious partner for peace" we should recall that Weisglass' boss, Ariel Sharon, is a man found guilty by an Israeli judicial commission of bearing "personal responsibility" for massacres of civilians in Lebanon, during a
brutal war - provoked by Sharon to avoid a Palestinian "peace offensive", including an offer of a two-state solution - that claimed thousands of innocent lives. The commission (where Weisglass acted as Sharon’s defence attorney) concluded that the then Defence Minister should not be allowed to hold public office again. He got off lightly - not least because he is now Prime Minister) – since under Israeli law a 20-year jail sentence for premeditated murder might well have been more appropriate. Lamentations from such people to the effect that they are lacking a "serious partner for peace" therefore do not raise questions with which we need detain ourselves.

So, enquires into the Israeli government's precise intentions in respect of the Gaza withdrawal are not required, since those intentions have been spelled out unambiguously. Avraham Burg, a former speaker of the Israeli parliament, was simply stating the facts when he said of the plan: "
It is a vast fraud: sacrifice of the unimportant and insignificant settlements in Gaza and in the Sinai approaches in return for perpetuating the wrongs and perversions of the Israeli soul in the heart of Hebron, at Yitzhar, at Beit El.....". And it ought to come as no surprise, and be seen as no contradiction, that Israel has continued to extend its illegal colonisation of the West Bank, that Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics has reported that 3,981 new "housing units" are under construction there, and that Sharon has announced that the Ariel settlement, in the heart of the West Bank, will be "a part of Israel for ever". Indeed the Palestinians would have good reason to ask, as the land grab continues apace, whether they really have a serious partner for peace; or at least they would, if the answer were not patently obvious.

To effect the imposition of the expansionist design, a massive "security fence" - more accurately a giant wall - is being constructed to unilaterally and permanently annex those parts of the occupied territories that Israel finds desirable. As
Noam Chomsky points out "It is a virtual reflex for governments to plead security concerns when they undertake any controversial action, often as a pretext for something else. Few would question Israel's right to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks ...., even to build a security wall if that were an appropriate means. It is also clear where such a wall would be built if security were the guiding concern: inside Israel, within the internationally recognized border, the Green Line established after the 1948-49 war. The wall could then be as forbidding as the authorities chose: patrolled by the army on both sides, heavily mined, impenetrable. Such a wall would maximize security, and there would be no international protest or violation of international law."

But we need waste no more words on the notion that the "fence" is being built in the interest of security, since "when the government of Ariel Sharon finally published its proposed map, it became clear that the wall would cut the West Bank into 16 isolated enclaves, confined to just 42 percent of the West Bank land that Mr. Sharon had previously said could be ceded to a Palestinian state". Thus, once the Israeli wall is constructed, around ten percent of historic Palestine will lie outside of it. Furthermore, "The wall has already claimed some of the most fertile lands of the West Bank. And, crucially, it extends Israel's control of critical water resources, which Israel and its settlers can appropriate as they choose, while the indigenous population often lacks water for drinking.....Israelis now enjoy ample land and fresh water, while.....Palestinians barely survive, their meager water supplies virtually unusable". Generously, "Palestinians in the seam between the wall and the Green Line will be permitted to apply for the right to live in their own homes; Israelis automatically have the right to use these lands".

The International Court of Justice in The Hague concluded that the construction of the wall is
illegal, and that it ought to be dismantled. Israel, of course, ignored the court's decision, since, as David Ben Gurion had said, "the boundaries of Zionist aspirations are the concern of the Jewish people and no external factor will be able to limit them". Not the International Court, not the international community, and certainly not the Palestinians.

Continuing with Israeli unilateralism, the land grab will involve,
according to Sharon and Weisglass, the permanent annexation of the whole of Jerusalem, including the Arab eastern segment. Renowned Middle East scholar Juan Cole points out that "Over time, various subtle forms of ethnic cleansing have been applied to isolate and reduce the Arab population there, making it an increasingly Jewish city. Israelis understandably invest a lot of emotion in Jerusalem as a religious and national symbol, given the biblical stories of David and Solomon. But they are not the only ones to do so. Jerusalem was not founded by ancient Israel, but rather is an ancient Near Eastern city built....by the common forebears of the Jews and Palestinians, who spoke an ancient Semitic language. Muslims held it from the seventh century to 1918, longer than any other group, and revere it as the third holiest city of their faith. In very early Islam, Muslims prayed toward Jerusalem. The Dome of the Rock is a sacred shrine to 1.3 billion Muslims". One can imagine the reaction from Israel and its western allies if a similarly holy Jewish shrine were unilaterally seized by the Palestinians. Sharon and Weisglass' declarations, by contrast, have been met with near silence.

Uppermost in the mind of Israeli policymakers, as well as the 'politicide' of the Palestinians and the systematic theft of their homeland, has been the question of demography - that is to say, the preservation of the ethnic Jewish character of the state of Israel.
Sharon summed up the issue succinctly when he told the nation "Over 1 million Palestinians live [in Gaza], and they double their numbers with every generation". The view of a “demographic problem” is not restricted to the right hand side of the Israeli political spectrum. Shimon Peres, leader of Israel's Labour party, stated bluntly that "we are disengaging from Gaza because of demography". Yossi Alpher, a former adviser to Mr Sharon's predecessor, Labour's Ehud Barak, said: "Demography is the only persuasive rationale for carrying out disengagement unilaterally”.

Daphna Baram, a London based Israeli journalist, explains the rationale, and its considerable penetration into Israeli political culture: "The disengagement from Gaza is considered a step in the right direction because it will cut off about 1.3 million Palestinians from Israel's responsibility [a legal point hotly disputed by the Red Cross], thus improving the demographic balance between Israelis and Palestinians in the territories that remain under Israeli control."

"The nature of the debate on disengagement was highlighted at a conference at Haifa University in April. Its subject was "the demographic problem". Respected sociologists and demographers presented papers addressing the so-called problem. the fact that such a conference theme might in other contexts seem more fit for a fascistic or racist organisation, rather than an academic institute with thousands of Arab students, was ignored."

"The government, for its part, has already started taking "measures" to limit the growth of the Palestinian population in Israel. For many years, Israeli-Palestinians have been prevented....from bringing their spouses (Palestinians from the occupied territories) into Israel, or being able to get them citizenship.....New laws make it practically impossible for non-Israeli spouses of Palestinians to become Israeli citizens. Recently proposed legislation aims to stop all non-Jewish spouses of Israelis from becoming citizens. The idea that people's citizenship can be stripped away if they belong to the "wrong" ethnicity is clearly racist, but it has gained popularity in Israel."

In short, the Israeli government's policies, now being put into effect are, as has been explicitly stated: to destroy the Palestinians ability to function as a political entity, to steal yet more of their homeland in direct and open contravention of the law, and to deny Israeli citizenship to non-Jews in order to preserve a desirable national ethnic character. Since, as Dov Weisglass proudly declares, all this was achieved "in cooperation with the management of the world...with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress" one might expect the colonists and other expansionists to "have danced around and around the Prime Minister's Office". Far from it. For the settlers, the decolonisation of the 1 per cent of historic Palestine that is Gaza, even in this political context, was a monstrous evil beyond all justification.

The melodrama of decolonisation

International 24 hour TV news coverage of the eviction settlers from the illegal Gaza colonies in August 2005 lingered on their wails of anguish and frustration. Their plight was a desperate one indeed. The evicted families were being paid compensation at an average of about
£200,000 plus £300 a month housing allowance for two years; a total cost of around $1bn (£550m). Hotel rooms, rental apartments and mobile homes had been made available in the immediate term by a government agency specially set up to deal with the decolonisation. Also, as prominent Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery pointed out, "without exception settlers knew that they were moving to an area that was conquered in war. In contracts for the sale or rental of land in the occupied territories there was a clause that explicitly stated their temporary nature".

The manner of the colonists’ removal by the security forces was no less savage and unfair.
As The Guardian reported, "Thousands of soldiers were assigned to deliver letters ordering settlers to leave the 21 Israeli colonies in the Gaza Strip and four in the northern West Bank due to be dismantled, but also to offer "love and assistance" to help them leave. "This is a difficult situation for us all," the letters said. "The [Israeli military] and the Israeli police share in the sorrow and pain you are feeling and expressing. Nevertheless we will see this mission to its end, while providing any possible help and assistance"".

The moral dilemma facing Israeli officers charged with enacting the decolonisation was best summed up by one commander quoted in the
Sunday Times: "Normally we would storm a house killing everyone inside, whereas here we have to storm the house and keep everyone alive. It's not an easy job". One sympathises. Quotes of this kind were rare since, as Daphna Baram noted in the case of the debate on demography, "This is an internal Jewish argument. The Palestinians are all excluded". So the contrast between the Jewish and Palestinian experiences of compulsory eviction was rarely drawn; for instance the fact that the Israeli towns of Ashkelon and Ashdod, where many of the Gaza settlers were to be resettled, were just a couple of generations ago the Palestinian towns of Al-Majdal and al-Dalhamiyya.

It is perhaps unsurprising that only
a vanishingly small percentage of illegal colonists were to be evacuated, with kid gloves and at massive expense, from the vanishingly small percentage of historic Palestine that forms the Gaza strip. The penetration of the settler movement into Israeli public life is deep and significant, aside from their wider bi-partisan support. According to Le Monde Diplomatique the settlers "are in high places in the ministries of education, justice and housing, and their presence is felt in departments dealing with the West Bank and Gaza. The Civil Administration is the department within the army responsible for civil affairs in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. It is ... controlled almost totally by settlers. In 1998-2005, 2,500 warrants were issued for the destruction of illegal houses in the settlements, but none was put into effect. Meanwhile the body destroys 300 Palestinian houses each year. "The inspection department is very ideological, very rightwing…" says an ex-officer. "They would turn the lives of the Palestinians into hell and ignore unlawful construction in the settlements." A recent judicial report showed that a network of settlers in departments and ministries has facilitated the construction of more than 110 illegal Jewish outposts since 1998". In addition, the movement has a high profile in the armed forces, where "about 15% of the soldiers in fighting units are national-religious, as are 50% of the low- and middle-ranking officers in some regiments.....the army command has found them to be the most loyal and reliable soldiers, especially in assignments in occupied territories."

So it was perhaps with this desperate position in mind that the settlers portrayed themselves as an much-maligned and oppressed minority, with one anti-decolonisation leader comparing the movement to that of
Martin Luther King. Sadly, for those with delicate constitutions, this was but the beginning of the settler's hysteria. The Guardian gave a taste of the unfolding melodrama:

"
Sarit Cohen knelt down and clawed with her hand into the desert sand surrounding her house. Turning first to the row of policemen on her right and then to those on her left, she let the sand slip through her fingers ….. "You are leaving this sand for the people who are trying to kill us," she wailed to the silent, sombre-faced men who had come to take her away with all the gentleness they could muster.

As the family boarded the bus, a friend of the Cohens and their religious teacher, declared: "This is a beautiful family who has never hurt anybody and had a life project. To give a prize for terror, to show that terror works...."
". The teacher was of course neglecting to recall how the land had been acquired in the first instance.

Protesters adopted slogans such as "
Sharon is a dictator", "Soldier, look into your heart" (since the righteousness of the settler cause required but a moment’s reflection to be recognised), and "Jews do not expel Jews", the pure racism of which requires little comment. The settler leadership, known as the Yesha Council, encouraged evictees to spurn the lavish compensation on offer and move to tent camps in order to portray themselves as refugees, in a grotesque parody of the genuine Palestinian refugees displaced by their colonialist project. One family hung a sign on its door that read: "Soldiers of Zion, you are creating a Palestinian country". A heinous crime indeed; as opposed to the creation of illegal Israeli colonies after the savage and murderous ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population.

A great deal of the protesters were young religious zealots, many wrapped in prayer shawls, sobbing and shrieking. "
I want to die," one screamed as he was hauled away. According to The Guardian, "A girl in her early teens marched up to a policeman and presented him with a teddy bear "Take that home and show it to your children and tell them what a crime you're committing," she said to the policeman's blank stare. Infuriated at his indifference, she started shouting "kapo, kapo", a reference to Jews forced to serve as orderlies in Nazi camps". Extermination camps, to be exact.

The willingness to minimise the Holocaust, and cynically co-opt its horrors as a political tool in defence of privilege and illegality, was by no means the sole preserve of hysterical teenage girls.
At Kerem Atzmona, settlers wore T-shirts with Nazi-era imagery, including stars of David. All over Gaza, Israeli troops were met with shouts of "Nazi" and "Gestapo". One woman, on being reminded that the eviction was the will of the democratically elected government, spat "Even Hitler was elected". Some protesters erected a mock cemetery for "anyone who expels Jews from their homes" containing four graves with names on, including Hitler's, and a fifth grave, as yet unmarked.

"
Our feeling is like this is the start of a holocaust," said Ruthie Harush, a mother of seven. "Didn't the Holocaust begin with Hitler saying he was a democratic leader and soldiers saying they only carried out orders?".

Some of the pain caused by the decolonisation was real enough, as many affected Palestinians could readily attest. In June, as the young zealots were gathering in Gaza to begin their protests, a group of these religious ultras attempted to lynch an Arab man.
Ha'aretz journalist, Nir Hasson was on hand to describe the scene: "I had never been a witness to attempted murder - and that is exactly what a gang of children and youth, residents of the outpost "Tal Yam" attempted on Hilal Majaida yesterday. The IDF and police hoped the matter would die down on its own. But these `campers` were murderous. "He's Arab - we have to kill him". We were a few journalists who came to his aid and rescue. We tried to distance the youths and scream to them that he is injured, that they should leave him be. They laughed, pushed, lifted and threw one more rock. In the end they struck, with one large stone, the head of the injured man. Only then did we pull ourselves together, and began to drag the injured man from there. The settler youth attacked us from the rear.

Someone alerted a paramedic.... He wavered for twenty seconds on whether or not to treat Hilal, and during that time one of the attackers yelled to him: "If you treat him, we'll kill you." He turned with an embarrassed look and left. The injured man lay, blood covering his face, losing consciousness.

The indecision of the paramedic on whether or not to treat the injured man is the irresolution of the residents of Gush Katif, opposite a gang of rioters that has taken control of the ... agenda..... the residents of Gush Katif also don't really want to deal with them, and certainly not to condemn them. "After all, they are coming to help us, even if their way is a bit different
".

Readers will recall from part 1 of this article that Gush Katif, the scene of the attempted lynching, was also the subject of an article on
MSNBC, lamenting the fate of the surf-loving settler children, in mourning for the loss of their beach paradise. Space was not found by MSNBC to cover the attempted lynching, taken up as it was by the "mourning" surfers.

Anger also led to bloodshed in the West Bank, where a Jewish settler shot four Palestinians labourers and injured a fifth. Two of the victims were employees of the shooter.

In the Arab Israeli town of Shfaram, a soldier opposed to the decolonisation shot dead four Arab Israelis. Israel's defence ministry later ruled that the deceased were not victims of "terror" since their killer was Jewish, and so their families are not entitled to the usual compensation for life. The ministry's view was that Israeli law defines terrorism strictly as committed by "organisations hostile to Israel".

For
Uri Avnery, the shooting in Shfaram raised some serious questions: "the murderer was staying in Tapuakh settlement, the snake-pit of the Kach militants, whose murderous character is notorious. The murderer himself was arrested several times in the course of extreme right-wing activities in the past. ....why didn't the army act, in spite of the fact that the commanders of the murderer knew that he had deserted in protest against the disengagement, taking his rifle with him? Indeed, his mother, who foresaw what was coming, bombarded the army with requests to find him and take the weapon away from him.

The Kach group was officially declared a terrorist organization and outlawed some 12 years ago. This means that anyone belonging to it, supporting it or assisting it with money or in any other way, is legally considered a terrorist....[but] for years now, the Kach people have been roving the country without hindrance and have committed numberless outrages against Israeli Arab citizens and inhabitants of the occupied Palestinian territories. [Their slogan is] "Death to the Arabs". [There are] openly Kahanist [Kach] settlements, one of which is Tapuakh [where the murderer had been staying]"

Another important question concerns the connection between the murderer and the opponents of the disengagement, and especially the so-called Yesha Council....the self-appointed leadership of the settlers..[T]he Yesha leaders ...know that if their followers hurt soldiers or police, they will lose whatever public support they have. They preach non-violence in all the media and on every occasion. Their main slogan is "We Love You". .. But anyone watching their [recent]demonstrations on TV saw the Kach people there flying [their] banners. ..... The Yesha leaders seemed to have no objection to their presence.
"

But this was not the approved narrative. That took the form of a great national Israeli trauma whose histrionics were being played out in front of a global TV audience. As the soldiers' loyalty to Israel was questioned by the young religious zealots reciting long religious tracts,
some troops fell weeping into settlers' arms, episodes leapt upon with relish by elements of the Israeli press and government eager to present the spectacle of Israeli suffering to the world. No one was more desperate to show what a "painful [and certainly unrepeatable] sacrifice" this had been that Ariel Sharon; a man personally responsible for massacres of civilians in Lebanon who it seems had suddenly discovered a sensitive side to his personality. "Don't attack the men and women in uniform," he implored the protesters. "Don't accuse them. Don't make it harder for them, don't harm them. Attack me. I am responsible for this." He described the evacuation as "heartbreaking", telling a news conference: "It is impossible to watch this, and that includes myself, without tears in the eyes".

Contrasts between IDF evictions: the Palestinian experience

One doubts that Sharon found it equally impossible to view recent demolitions of Palestinian homes "without tears in the eyes"; despite the fact that those evictions were made without sensitive letters offering "love and assistance" hand-delivered by Israeli troops, buses to relocate the evictees, lavish compensation packages or state-support to find alternative housing. Nevertheless, according to the
Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, 2,897 houses have been destroyed in Gaza alone since 2000, many in the Rafah city and refugee camp. In a report on the demolitions, Human Rights Watch said that "Sixteen thousand people - more than ten percent of Rafah's population - have lost their homes, most of them refugees, many of whom were dispossessed for a second or third time". In these cases the Israeli government did not "allow displaced Palestinians to return, pay reparations to victims, pay to repair unlawful damage, [or] address the emergency needs of the displaced".

Demolitions were justified on the basis of "vague 'security considerations'" but "in most of the cases Human Rights Watch found the destruction was carried out in the absence of military necessity". For example, "the IDF has consistently exaggerated and mischaracterized the threat from smuggling tunnels to justify the demolition of homes... In July 2004, residents discovered and reported ... an incomplete shaft in an empty house. A few days later, the IDF destroyed the house and seventeen other houses nearby, leaving 205 people homeless".

The report focused on one IDF "rampage" in Rafah, during May 2004. After Palestinian fighters destroyed an Armoured Personnel Carrier killing five soldiers, the IDF launched a operation in Rafah that resulted in the demolition of 298 homes. According to the human rights group "the extent and intensity of this destruction …. appears intended as retaliation for the killing of [the] soldiers …, as well as a show of strength".

Initially, "[the] IDF launched a two-day incursion to recover the soldiers' remains....reportedly killing fifteen Palestinians, including one fifteen-year-old. The IDF razed eighty-eight homes .... including houses that ..could not have been used to fire at the APC or the recovery teams". There followed "a major assault called "Operation Rainbow" that [left] thirty-two Palestinian civilians dead, including ten people under age eighteen...The IDF also destroyed 166 houses". During this second operation "the IDF destroyed houses, roads, and large fields extensively.... In areas ...where incursions were not expected, most of the residents were inside their homes as armored Caterpillar D9 bulldozers crashed through the walls. Bulldozers allowed residents to flee but proceeded with the destruction before they could remove their belongings".

The destruction continued. According to the Human Rights Watch report: "the IDF employed armored Caterpillar D9 bulldozers in a manner that was indiscriminate and excessive, resulting in widespread destruction of homes, roads, and agriculture..: Caterpillar D9 bulldozers cleared "tank paths" inside the camp by plowing through blocks of houses as a general precaution against possible attacks with RPGs or roadside bombs, irrespective of the specific threats that international law requires. The IDF also used D9s to destroy homes near suspected smuggling tunnels and in other areas on a preventive basis, not in response to specific threats. Other house demolitions had no discernible reason".

Not content with this, "the IDF used Caterpillar D9s to indiscriminately tear up roads, destroying water and sewage networks, and creating a significant public health risk in an already vulnerable community. In some areas, water shortages forced residents to leave their homes in search of water, putting them at risk of being shot by IDF snipers for breaking curfew. In total, the IDF destroyed fifty-one percent of Rafah's roads...". In addition, "The IDF razed two large tracts of agricultural land, .... bulldozers spent more than two days systematically destroying two large fields of greenhouses".

All of this destruction came, without tears from Ariel Sharon, without lingering TV coverage, including interviews with the victims, beamed around the world by the international news stations. Civilians without influence in the government that was evicting them received no compensation, no warning, no slogans were to be heard saying that "human beings do not evict human beings".......but in truth, and as we can see, comparisons between the eviction of the illegal Israeli colonists and the Palestinian inhabitants of the Rafah refugee camp, both at the hands of the IDF, require no commentary; only that the facts be stated.

A point that does need to be underlined however, is that through all the actions described above, of successive Israeli governments, the Israeli political class, the armed forces and the colonist movement, runs a deep and rich seam of pure and unadulterated racism. The Israeli right to dominate, to steal, to brutalise, to murder and to destroy is absolute. Palestinians, by contrast, have no rights at all. Not to self determination, not to an existence even at subsistence level, not to life itself. Any challenge to this system of values is met with shrieks of righteous hysteria, political manoeuvrings of breathtaking cynicism, and yet more savage violence. It is even permissible to co-opt the horrors of the Nazi holocaust as a political tool, and to trample over the memory of the victims of that bloodbath in pursuit of the racist colonial agenda. Israel will grow inexorably; limited by “no external factor”, as Ben Gurion demanded. The Palestinians are a mere obstacle to this grand project; sub-humans that must stand aside or perish. It cannot be said, even in the 21st century, that the bloody excesses of colonialism are a subject purely for the history books.