The Morass in the Middle East
Thanks to Richard Falk and The Nation for daring to defy the
party line in the American media when it comes to Middle East coverage
["Ending the Death Dance," April 29]. Keep up the good work.
YUSUF A. NUR
Except for its criticism of the Bush Administration, Richard Falk's
article contains more sophisticated nonsense than almost anything I've
read. Bush is wrong, Sharon is wrong and Arafat stands by as young women
prostitute themselves as mass murderers. Meanwhile, Falk and The
Nation raise sophistry to new heights.
Even in the Arab press it would be hard to find such distortions,
misleading statements and open justification of suicide bombers as are
in Richard Falk's article. For example:
(1) Falk justifies suicide bombers as the "only means still available"
for the Palestinians. One can only react to such an endorsement of
suicide bombers with outrage.
(2) Then he equates the suicide Passover bombing at Netanya with the
Israeli incursion in the West Bank. The Israeli incursion may have been
wrong, but not all wrongs are moral equivalents. The suicide bombings
have no possible justification and are sheer terror.
(3) Falk says Arafat did not opt for terrorism. What a distortion.
Arafat's history of terrorism, from hijacking in 1968 to Munich in 1972
and thereafter is documented beyond contradiction. Has Falk forgotten
Arafat's financial support for and public tribute to "martyrs"?
There are numerous other distortions in the article, but worst of all is
Falk's blatant justification of suicide bombers. Just what is Falk's
affinity for terrorists?
JEROME J. SHESTACK
Richard Falk says, "surely the United States is not primarily
responsible for this horrifying spectacle of bloodshed and suffering."
Such a view is typical of coverage of the conflict across the spectrum
of the US press, from left to right. If we look solely at the
actions of the United States, it is clear that this country is
backing the occupation of Palestine with great vigor and enthusiasm.
Last December, the Defense Department signed off on a sale of fifty-two
F-16 fighter jets and 106 million gallons of jet fuel to Israel through
the Foreign Military Sales program, earning Lockheed Martin $1.3 billion
and Valero Energy $95 million.
If this doesn't constitute a green light to Prime Minister Sharon for
the siege of Ramallah, then it certainly enables it. There is some
controversy over whether Iran is backing the Palestinian Authority with
military aid; it's beyond dispute that Israel is armed to the teeth with
US-made weapons. If President Bush is genuine in his call for an Israeli
withdrawal, then he should suspend military aid to Israel immediately.
Of course the violence is not beyond our control.
Senator Jesse Helms, once head of the Foreign Relations Committee,
stated in 1995: "Israel is at least the equivalent of a US aircraft
carrier in the Middle East." There is no mystery here. Israel's military
aggression guarantees the maintenance of US global domination. As long
as we keep silent about the crimes committed in our name, Palestinians
and Israelis alike will continue to die.
Richard Falk begins on a false premise and goes downhill from there.
He claims simplistically that many analysts fault Arafat and the
Palestinians because Ehud Barak at Camp David made an offer Arafat
should have accepted. Actually, the argument is not that Arafat should
have accepted the offer but that Arafat should have negotiated and made
a counteroffer. Any counteroffer at all would have been welcome.
Instead, Arafat made a fool of Barak and President Clinton and crushed
the hopes that political moderates in Israel would be the driving force
for peace. Falk treats the most significant gesture on Israel's part
toward peace as rather trivial and similarly downplays Arafat's present
attempt to make Israel bargain against itself through targeting innocent
women and children.
Falk apparently feels that sophisticated people will agree that the
Palestinians have no choice but to send suicide bombers into churches
and marketplaces. However, there are certain tactics that cannot be
rationalized as part of a bargaining process. The Palestinians can
bargain by using publicity, civil disobedience, general strikes,
boycotts, marches and other peaceful methods to help obtain their goals
and popularize them. Instead, they violate the most fundamental notions
of civilized behavior. No one can endorse wholeheartedly Israel's
fiercely violent response. However, we can understand it and agree that
it is necessary for the self-defense of its citizens.
EDWARD C. SWEENEY
Richard Falk ignorantly states that the Oslo agreements concerned 22
percent of the original British Mandate over Palestine, leaving 78
percent to Israel. The original mandate over Palestine also included
what is now Jordan, which was essentially created by Winston Churchill
when the British client Sharif Hussein was booted out of Mecca. Will
Falk say next that the Six-Day War was a war of Israeli conquest? Or
that there was a Palestinian national consciousness in 1948? You should
JEFFREY A. GOLDMAN
New York City
Thank you for Richard Falk's bold and clear analysis of the current
morass in the Middle East, which provides some much-needed corrections
to the mainstream media's narrative of the Israel-Palestine conflict. It
was high time someone pointed out that Sharon is at least as much an
obstacle to peace as Arafat.
Indeed, nothing in Sharon's career, or in his actions since his visit to
the Temple Mount, suggests that peace is remotely a priority for him.
His only goal is to expand Israeli settlements so that the prospect of a
contiguous, viable state within which Palestinians can live in dignity
becomes ever more slim. He is basically continuing the same colonialist
project that he helped initiate as agriculture minister.
It is amazing that in this country, for the most part, people react with
such horror to the suicide bombings (which are indeed deplorable) but
take no notice of the Israeli settlements. The settlements are the
original violence to which all Palestinian action is a retaliation. To
pretend that violence originates with the Palestinians and that Israel
only retaliates out of necessity is a grotesque reversal of causality.
One hopes that Falk's bold piece will give at least a momentary pause to
many who are otherwise committed to perpetuating the official lies.
How long can pernicious myths persist? Richard Falk writes, "It was
Sharon's own provocative visit to the Al Aqsa Mosque that started the
second intifada." This is a blatant deception. On December 6, 2000, the
semiofficial Palestinian daily newspaper Al-Ayyam reported as
follows: "Speaking at a symposium in Gaza, Palestinian Minister of
Communications, Imad Al-Falouji, confirmed that the Palestinian
Authority had begun preparations for the outbreak of the current
intifada from the moment the Camp David talks concluded, this in
accordance with instructions given by Chairman Arafat himself. Mr.
Falouji went on to state that Arafat launched this intifada as a
culminating stage to the immutable Palestinian stance in the
negotiations, and was not meant merely as a protest of Israeli
opposition leader Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount." Why does
Falk ignore the damning statements of a Palestinian government official
in an article that purports to get at the reality behind the image?
Thank you for Richard Falk's intelligent and balanced piece, which
places blame and responsibility for the madness in the Middle East right
where it really belongs--with Sharon. I am sick of the lies that assault
us endlessly in the nonexistent daily "news." Sharon is a butcher and an
intransigent, blind criminal whose actions could easily cascade into
World War III and destroy everyone on earth just to fulfill his own
sick, narcissistic sense of destiny. The parallels to Hitler are now
Superb! If only all American media had the guts to address the blatant
hypocrisy and bias the US government employs when dealing with the
Israel-Palestine crisis. Richard Falk has done an outstanding job of
delineating the injustices perpetrated by the Israelis and has revealed
another side to the story that should be reported on a far greater
I anchor my response in a personal observation. My whole intention in
"Ending the Death Dance" was to focus on the need for a fair solution
that brings peace and justice to both peoples. As a Jew I am profoundly
concerned with the future and well-being of the Jewish people. To
consider me "a self-hating Jew" because I am critical of the Israeli
government or of certain interpretations of Zionism is absurd, as if
being an opponent of the Vietnam War made me "a self-hating American"!
The most vital premise of democracy and cosmopolitanism is that
conscience trumps both obedience to the state and tribal loyalties, and
that international law should be respected to the extent possible,
especially by one's own country.
The harsh tone of the critical letters reveals a partisan unwillingness
to engage in serious dialogue; denunciation and distortion takes the
place of argument and discussion, thus reinforcing the gathering gloom
about how to resolve the Israel-Palestine struggle. Take Jerome
Shestack's provocative assertion that my analysis displays a "blatant
justification of suicide bombers" and an "affinity for terrorists."
Could I have been clearer than to assert early in the piece that what I
write is "not in any way to excuse Palestinian suicide bombers and other
violence against civilians"? Far from any alleged affinity for
terrorists, I condemned all forms of terrorism, and avoided the
distorted effects of treating only antistate violence as terrorism and
regarding state violence as "self-defense" and "security." As I argued,
George W. Bush has contributed mightily to this lethal distortion of the
meaning of terrorism by the way he phrased the post-September 11
campaign against global terrorism.
I essentially agree with Edward Sweeney's point that Arafat is to be
faulted not for rejecting the Barak/Clinton proposals but for his
lamentable failure to explain the grounds of his rejection and, even
more, for his failure to produce a credible counteroffer, providing the
Palestinians and the world with an image on behalf of the Palestinian
Authority of a fair peace. Arafat remains an enigmatic figure, as
disappointing to militant Palestinians who feel shamed by their leader's
deference to Washington as he is enraging to those who expect the
Palestinians to accept Israeli occupation of their territories without a
whimper of resistance.
Jeffrey Goldman's comments about the British Mandate of Palestine and
its relation to modern Jordan are confusing and wrong. The part of the
original Palestine Mandate that has been the scene of the
Israel-Palestine struggle has nothing to do with the sovereign territory
of Jordan. Jordan occupied the West Bank during the 1948 war, and
administered the territory until 1967, when Israel became the occupying
power as a result of the Six-Day War, but with the understanding
unanimously backed by the Security Council in famous Resolution 242 that
Israel was under a duty to withdraw "from territories occupied in the
recent conflict." The US government has all along backed this 1967
resolution as the starting point for any vision of peace between the two
My point was different and, I feel, important. By removing pre-1967
Israel from the Oslo negotiations, the Palestinians were conceding 78
percent of the territory of the Palestine Mandate partitioned by the UN
in 1947, leaving 22 percent available for a potential Palestinian state
(that is, 5,897 square kilometers versus Israel's 20,235 square
kilometers) and making the presence of more than 200 armed settlements
in the West Bank protected by IDF forces radically inconsistent with the
agreed goal of a viable Palestinian state. There is a second Palestinian
concession that should also be taken into account: In contrast to the
modern belief that legitimate sovereign states should be secular,
without religious or ethnic identity, the Palestinian leadership has not
questioned the Jewish identity of Israel even though it means that the
Palestinian minority of over 1 million will remain second-class Israeli
citizens indefinitely and that any Palestine that emerges will be an
ethnic state whether the Palestinians desire it or not. Israel has not
even contemplated comparable concessions to Palestinian aspirations.
Finally, Jordan Green's argument that the US government has seen Israel,
at least since 1967, as a strategic partner in the Middle East is
pushing against an open door. My only point was to stress that in the
setting of the conflict with the Palestinians, it is Israel that makes
the decisions on how to pursue peace and security, and although backed
to the hilt by Washington, "primary responsibility" lies with Israel.