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The Morass in the Middle East | The Nation

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The Morass in the Middle East

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The Morass in the Middle East

Shreveport, La.

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Letters submitted by our readers are read and published in the magazine.
Richard Falk
Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law and practice at Princeton University, is the United Nations Human...

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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


Dundee, Mich.

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.

MIKE NIEMANN


Philadelphia

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


Durham, NC

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.

JORDAN GREEN


Wayne, Pa.

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


Chicago

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 be embarrassed.

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.

ANIS AHMED


Washington, DC

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?

DANI SCHWARTZ


Pensacola, Fla.

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 unavoidable.

CAMERON McLAUGHLIN

Austin, Tex.

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 scale.

SHANNON KENNEDY


FALK REPLIES

Princeton, NJ

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 peoples.

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.

RICHARD FALK

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