Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law and practice at Princeton University, is the United Nations Human Rights Rapporteur in the Occupied Territories and a member of the Nation editorial board. He is the author of many books, including The Costs of War: International Law, the UN, and World Order After Iraq.
Disengagement represents a dangerous step backward in the struggle to find a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians and leaves many core issues unresolved.
Never before has a war aroused this level of protest on a global scale--first to prevent it, then to condemn its conduct.
An institution representing citizens, not states, would advance world
Pre-emptive war flagrantly contradicts the UN's legal framework.
As a healthy response to the Bush Administration's war policies, the
number of people taking to the streets in protest is increasing with
each step toward war.
One year later, September 11 has certainly lived up to the early claim
of being a transformative moment, at least for Americans.
The American Constitution at the very beginning of the Republic sought
above all to guard the country against reckless, ill-considered recourse
to war. It required a declaration of war by the legislative branch, and
gave Congress the power over appropriations even during wartime. Such
caution existed before the great effort of the twentieth century to
erect stronger barriers to war by way of international law and public
morality, and to make this resistance to war the central feature of the
United Nations charter. Consistent with this undertaking, German and
Japanese leaders who engaged in aggressive war were punished after World
War II as war criminals. The most prominent Americans at the time
declared their support for such a framework of restraint as applicable
in the future to all states, not just to the losers in a war. We all
realize that the effort to avoid war has been far from successful, but
it remains a goal widely shared by the peoples of the world and still
endorsed by every government on the planet.
And yet, here we are, poised on the slippery precipice of a pre-emptive
war, without even the benefit of meaningful public debate. The
constitutional crisis is so deep that it is not even noticed. The
unilateralism of the Bush White House is an affront to the rest of the
world, which is unanimously opposed to such an action. The Democratic
Party, even in its role as loyal opposition, should be doing its utmost
to raise the difficult questions. Instead, the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, under the chairmanship of Democratic Senator Biden, organized
two days of hearings, notable for the absence of critical voices. Such
hearings are worse than nothing, creating a forum for advocates of war,
fostering the illusion that no sensible dissent exists and thus serving
mainly to raise the war fever a degree or two. How different might the
impact of such hearings be if respected and informed critics of a
pre-emptive war, such as Hans von Sponeck and Denis Halliday, both
former UN coordinators of humanitarian assistance to Iraq who resigned
in protest a few years back, were given the opportunity to appear before
the senators. The media, too, have failed miserably in presenting to the
American people the downside of war with Iraq. And the citizenry has
been content to follow the White House on the warpath without demanding
to know why the lives of young Americans should be put at risk, much
less why the United States should go to war against a distant foreign
country that has never attacked us and whose people have endured the
most punishing sanctions in all of history for more than a decade.
This is not just a procedural demand that we respect the Constitution as
we decide upon recourse to war--the most serious decision any society
can make, not only for itself but for its adversary. It is also, in this
instance, a substantive matter of the greatest weight. The United States
is without doubt the world leader at this point, and its behavior with
respect to war and law is likely to cast a long shadow across the
future. To go legitimately to war in the world that currently exists can
be based on three types of considerations: international law
(self-defense as set forth in Article 51 backed by a UN mandate, as in
the Gulf War), international morality (humanitarian intervention to
prevent genocide or ethnic cleansing) and necessity (the survival and
fundamental interests of a state are genuinely threatened and not really
covered by international law, as arguably was the case in the war in
With respect to Iraq, there is no pretense that international law
supports such a war and little claim that the brutality of the Iraqi
regime creates a foundation for humanitarian intervention. The
Administration's argument for war rests on the necessity argument, the
alleged risk posed by Iraqi acquisition of weapons of mass destruction,
and the prospect that such weapons would be made available to Al Qaeda
for future use against the United States. Such a risk, to the scant
extent that it exists, can be addressed much more successfully by
relying on deterrence and containment (which worked against the far more
menacing Soviet Union for decades) than by aggressive warmaking. All the
evidence going back to the Iran/Iraq War and the Gulf War shows that
Saddam Hussein responds to pressure and threat and is not inclined to
risk self-destruction. Indeed, if America attacks and if Iraq truly
possesses weapons of mass destruction, the feared risks are likely to
materialize as Iraq and Saddam confront defeat and humiliation, and have
little left to lose.
A real public debate is needed not only to revitalize representative
democracy but to head off an unnecessary war likely to bring widespread
death and destruction as well as heighten regional dangers of economic
and political instability, encourage future anti-American terrorism and
give rise to a US isolationism that this time is not of its own
We must ask why the open American system is so closed in this instance.
How can we explain this unsavory rush to judgment, when so many lives
are at stake? What is now wrong with our system, with the vigilance of
our citizenry, that such a course of action can be embarked upon without
even evoking criticism in high places, much less mass opposition in the
Fighting terrorism requires new thinking but not a US imperial role.
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.