Like the Cyclops in the tale of Ulysses, Israel is striking at its enemy in blind fury.
Israel's latest military offensive in the West Bank, code-named Defensive Wall, was met with fierce armed resistance, as Palestinians fought house to house and sometimes hand to hand to repulse the reconquest of their towns, villages and refugee camps. Some of the young defenders are guerrillas from new Palestinian militias forged by the intifada, others are Palestinian Authority police officers and many are both.
"This is our Karameh," said one in Jenin. Karameh, a village on the East Bank of the Jordan River, is the site of a battle fought between the Israeli army and Palestinian guerrillas in March 1968. Although the army took the village, the heroic resistance put up by the Palestinians consecrated Yasir Arafat and his Fatah movement as the undisputed leadership of the Palestinian cause. One year later Arafat was elected chairman of the PLO. He converted the movement from a front for Arab regimes into an authentic representative of Palestinian nationalism.
Many believe a similar changing of the guard has occurred during the eighteen months of the latest uprising, with leadership gradually passing from a Palestinian Authority that once ruled over the Palestinian areas to armed and cross-factional militias that now, alone, defend them. Formed in the uprising's first months as a defense against army and settler incursions, Fatah-led militias like the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) in Gaza and the Al Aqsa Brigades in the West Bank have seen their power and legitimacy soar in inverse ratio to the collapse of the PA's governing and military institutions after a wave of Israeli assaults. As a result, former officers in PA police forces have swelled the militias' ranks.
This transformation has accelerated during Ariel Sharon's premiership. Following his election in February last year--and with Arafat's oblique blessing--the Palestinian armed factions united behind one policy: to destroy Sharon by creating a "balance of terror" with the occupation, a phrase borrowed from Hezbollah's triumphant resistance to Israel's occupation in south Lebanon. "We have to convince Israelis that whatever else Sharon brings them, it won't be security," says Jamal Abu Samhandanah, a PRC leader.
The strategy has exacted a brutal toll. Nearly 2,000 Palestinians and 400 Israelis have been killed in the current conflict, as Sharon's exclusively military solutions went from bombardment to reoccupation, and Palestinian resistance went from guerrilla warfare in the occupied territories to suicide bombings in Israel, executed recently as much by Fatah as by the Islamists of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
The politics of Palestine's new young guard is as inchoate as the local militias that it comprises. But it opposes the PA-Israeli security cooperation and US-led diplomacy of the Oslo peace process, favoring instead armed struggle and alliances with the Arab world, including the million or so Palestinian citizens of Israel. One militia leader in Bethlehem said the most suitable response to Israel's current assault would be "resistance in Israel's cities and mayhem from the Galilee to Cairo."
Overwhelmingly from village and refugee backgrounds, the young guard is critical of PA mismanagement and corruption and of an Oslo leadership they believe reaped the spoils of the peace process without delivering on Palestinian aspirations to statehood, independence and Israeli withdrawal. But they are loyal to Arafat, and rarely more so than now: The army's siege on the Palestinian leader's compound in Ramallah is seen as a symbol of the plight of every Palestinian. "We think Arafat and all the leaders around him compromised too much in the negotiations. But as long as Sharon acts against him, we will be with Arafat. We will not let Israel decide the Palestinian leadership," says Samhandanah.
The young fighters are positioning for leadership in the post-Arafat era, whether this comes through his natural demise or through forced removal by Israel. The contours of the contest are already clear: between the historic Oslo leadership that seeks a negotiated settlement courtesy of US and international intervention, and a resistance vowing that the intifada will end only with independence, even if that means the destruction of what is left of the PA. Arafat has maintained his leadership by balancing between the two wings; he will side with the winner, say Palestinian analysts.
If Sharon succeeds in reimposing military rule throughout the occupied territories, the Palestinian national leadership will revert to what it was after Karameh, this time laced with a strong Islamist current. It will be young, underground, armed, refugee-based, perhaps more democratic and certainly more radical. It will take the Palestinian-Israeli conflict back three decades, and perhaps further.
As the Israeli army continues the second week of its military reoccupation of the Palestinian-controlled towns of the West Bank, a group of internationals is playing a role of solidarit
What does it mean to be Jewish?
How cool is Jennifer Harbury? She is currently arguing her own case before the Supreme Court, demanding the right to sue the government because, she maintains, its leaders deliberately misled her about the murder of her husband, a Guatemalan rebel leader named Efrain Bamaca Velasquez who was killed in army custody during the counterinsurgency war in Guatemala in the early 1990s.
Harbury has a case. The State Department has confirmed that Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez, who was present during Bamaca's interrogation/murder, was a paid CIA asset. A CIA report alleges that Alpirez did the dirty deed himself. When then-State Department official Richard Nuccio informed Senator Robert Torricelli of that, Nuccio immediately found himself the target of a Justice Department investigation. A federal prosecutor accused him of betraying America by conspiring with Torricelli to blow Alpirez's cover, of destroying CIA officers' careers and of being an agent of the guerrillas. Although the United States offered no official charges or accusations, in a highly unusual move the CIA demanded that the State Department strip Nuccio of his security clearance, thereby depriving him of his livelihood. Harbury endured a thirty-two-day hunger strike to force those officials to come clean. She is now arguing that she could have saved her husband's life through the US court system had she known the truth during the period between his capture in March 1992 and his murder in 1993 or 1994.
A report by the President's Intelligence Oversight Board rejected the charge of deliberate lying by US officials but admitted that if the government had bothered to investigate "when Jennifer Harbury first raised the issue of her husband's fate" in the spring of 1992, the State Department "might have been able at a much earlier date to provide her with useful information." The key word here appears to be "useful."
Warren Christopher, Anthony Lake and the other Clinton Administration officials named by Harbury are probably right when they argue that leveling with her at the time would have made little difference in saving her husband's life. US courts do not have jurisdiction over the Guatemalan military (though US foreign policy officials often do). They also deny that they lied. But for procedural reasons, the ex-officials have to argue that regardless of whether they lied, a US citizen has no legal right to sue a public official who does lie. Solicitor General Theodore Olson filed an amicus brief arguing on behalf of the government's right to lie: "It is an unfortunate reality that the issuance of incomplete information and even misinformation by government may sometimes be perceived as necessary to protect vital interests," he maintains.
This particular case stinks for more reasons than can be precisely counted. In addition to the above, Bamaca was killed by a genocidal government that enjoyed the enthusiastic support of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. This is not only my opinion; it is the view of the Guatemalan Historical Clarification Commission's 1999 report, which condemns the United States for aiding a "criminal counterinsurgency" against the nation's indigenous Mayan population. America's Guatemala policy was anticommunism gone mad.
Moreover, if David Brock is to be believed, Olson is himself tainted by his lies to Congress. According to Brock's Congressional testimony, Olson lied during his confirmation hearings about his role in the Richard Mellon Scaife-funded "Arkansas Project," run out of the offices of The American Spectator and designed to undermine the Clinton presidency by any means necessary. What a surprise, therefore, that he thinks it's OK for the government to lie as well.
But the sorry truth is that the question of the government's right to lie is a lot more complicated than it looks. The Supreme Court has repeatedly enshrined in law the extremely provocative statement enunciated in the aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis by Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Arthur Sylvester: "It's inherent in [the] government's right, if necessary, to lie to save itself." Dishonest officials have stretched the "national security" definition beyond recognition to protect not only thuggish murderers but also narrow political interests. But the principle itself is not wholly unsound. Although lies undermine the confidence in, and practice of, democracy, in the wake of the September 11 attacks, one can imagine circumstances in which a temporary lie might save lives without endangering the Constitution.
The problem is how to set enforceable limits. Government officials lie all the time. And while it is a crime to lie to Congress and to commit perjury, these acts are prosecuted in such a haphazard and nakedly political fashion that they can hardly serve as much of a deterrent. Lawrence Walsh's legitimate prosecutions of Reagan Administration officials who lied about matters of state were mocked by allegedly high-minded pundits like David Broder and George Will and overturned in a cowardly fashion by defeated President George H.W. Bush after the 1992 election.
Meanwhile, a fanatical cabal inside the Republican Party and Kenneth Starr's office manipulated these same laws to impeach President Clinton and disarm his popular agenda over a private lie not about a matter of state but a routine case of almost adultery. Given that hundreds of thousands if not millions of Americans have told this same type of lie to protect their families (or themselves) from humiliation, they saw this partisan gambit for what it was, punishing its perpetrators in the 1998 election. But the self-righteous pooh-bahs of the punditocracy--many of whom celebrated the Reagan-era liars and quite a few of whom told their share of adulterous lies--behave as if their hypocrisy were somehow patriotically inspired.
Jennifer Harbury continues to fight not only for justice for her husband but also for a reasonable definition of the government's right to lie. Bully for this brave woman who, despite her personal tragedy, takes democracy more seriously than its alleged protectors. She is a patriot to put the pundits to shame.
Here we are, twenty years on, and the reports of the Israeli army smashing its way through Palestinian towns remind me of what came out of Lebanon as Sharon and his invading army raced north. Israeli troops beating, looting, destroying; Palestinians huddled in refugee camps, waiting for the killers to come.
But there is a huge difference. Twenty years ago, at least for people living here in the United States, it was harder, though far from impossible, to get firsthand accounts of what was going on. You had to run out to find foreign newspapers, or have them laboriously telexed from London or Paris. Reporting in the mainstream corporate press was horrifyingly tilted, putting the best face on Israeli deeds. Mostly, it still is. But the attempted news blackout by the Sharon government and the Israeli military simply isn't working.
Here's Aviv Lavie, writing in Ha'aretz on April 2:
A journey through the TV and radio channels and the pages of the newspapers exposes a huge and embarrassing gap between what is reported to us and what is seen, heard, and read in the world.... On Arab TV stations (though not only them) one could see Israeli soldiers taking over hospitals, breaking equipment, damaging medicines, and locking doctors away from their patients. Foreign television networks all over the world have shown the images of five Palestinians from the National Security forces, shot in the head from close range.... The entire world has seen wounded people in the streets, heard reports of how the IDF prevents ambulances from reaching the wounded for treatment.
As always, there are the courageous witnesses. These days we have the enormously brave young people in the International Solidarity Movement sending daily communications back to the United States that flash their way round the Internet and even translate into important interviews in the mainstream media.
Meet a few of them. Here's Jordan Flaherty, filing this account on Indymedia:
Last night the Israeli Military tried to kill me. I'm staying in the Al Azzeh refugee camp, in Bethlehem, along with about twenty other international civilians. We're here to act as human shields.... On the hill above the camp is an Israeli military sniper's post. To get where we were staying in the village, most of us had to cross this street. It was a quick, low, dash across the street. As I ran, the sniper fired.... The shots began as I came into view, and stopped shortly after I made it to the other side. They were clearly aimed at me. And, by the sound of them, they were close. All night long, there was the sound of gun shots, as the military shot into our village. We stayed clear of the windows.... The guns and bullets were, no doubt, paid for by my tax dollars. Which is, of course, why we are here.
Or Tzaporah Ryter, filing this on Electronic Intifada:
I am an American student from the University of Minnesota. I currently am in Ramallah. We are under a terrible siege and people are being massacred by both the Israeli army and armed militia groups of Israeli settlers.... On Thursday afternoon, the Israeli army began sealing off each entrance to Ramallah.... Those traveling in began desperately searching for alternative ways and traveling in groups, but the Israelis were firing upon them and everyone was running and screaming.... Israeli jeeps were speeding across the terrain, pulling up from every direction and shooting at the women and children, and also at me...
Or the extremely articulate and self-possessed Adam Shapiro, whose testimony ended up in the New York Daily News and on CNN, where he told Kyra Phillips:
This is not about politics between Jew and Arab, between Muslim and Jew. This is a case of human dignity, human freedom and justice that the Palestinians are struggling for against an occupier, an oppressor. The violence did not start with Yasir Arafat. The violence started with the occupation.... Arafat, after every terrorist incident, every suicide bombing, after every action, has condemned this loss of life, of civilian lives on both sides. The Sharon government, sometimes will apologize after it kills an innocent civilian, but it does not apologize for raping the cities and for going in and carrying out terrorist actions, going house to house tearing holes through the walls, roughing up people, killing people, assassinating people.
Most of the time you open up a newspaper and read a robotic column--as I did the Los Angeles Times's Ronald Brownstein the other day--about Palestinian terrorism and the wretched Arafat's supposed ability to quell the uprising with a few quick words. And then you turn on the NewsHour and there, of all people, is Zbigniew Brzezinski, stating the obvious, on April 1:
The fact of the matter is that three times as many Palestinians have been killed, and a relatively small number of them were really militants. Most were civilians. Some hundreds were children.... in the course of the last year, we have had Palestinian terrorism but we have also had deliberate overreactions by Mr. Sharon designed not to repress terrorism but to destabilize the Palestinian Authority, to uproot the Oslo Agreement, which he has always denounced, in a manner which contributed to the climate, that resulted in the killing of one of the two architects of the Oslo Agreement.
After predictable dissent from Kissinger, Brzezinski went on:
It's absolute hypocrisy to be claiming that Arafat can put a stop to the terrorism.... the fact of the matter is that his ability to control the situation would be greatly increased if there was serious movement towards political process, towards a political settlement and that the United States took the lead.
Between this brisk statement and the eloquent courage of Adam Shapiro and his brave fellow internationalists, the truth is getting out--not fast enough, not loud enough--but better than twenty years ago.
Even as the Middle East plunged deeper into the maelstrom of fear, hatred, violence and despair, recent diplomatic developments, ironically, made the conditions for achieving peace tantalizingly real. Most notable, there was the declaration by the Arab nations meeting in Beirut of their willingness to recognize Israel, after fifty years of denial of its right to exist.
Predictably brushing aside the Arab vision, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon revved up his tanks for a military solution, declaring a "state of war" with the Palestinians and invading the West Bank. Their nation, he told Israelis, is "at a crossroads." So it is. The road down which Sharon is taking them, with a green light from the Bush Administration, leads to more deaths, more brutalizing of civilians, more violations of human rights--and answering violence and anger by the Palestinians, with more suicide bombers making barbarous war on Israeli civilians.
The other road, the road to peace, leads toward the goal, articulated anew in Beirut, of a complete Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, making way for a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem, in return for normalization of relations with the Arab states.
At Beirut, in another step for regional peace, the Arab nations brokered Iraq's recognition of Kuwait's sovereignty, called for an end to UN sanctions, for dialogue between Baghdad and the UN and for the elimination of weapons of mass destruction in the region. Most significant, they expressed united opposition to US military action against Iraq. This move undercut the Bush Administration's political rationale for attacking Iraq and in effect denied it the regional bases and logistical support essential to success in such a war.
Faced with those impediments, the Administration put its Iraq plans on hold and turned to the crisis in the Middle East. But Bush seems more concerned with maintaining the domestic political momentum of his war on terror (just as Sharon is driven by the harder-line challenge on his right from Benjamin Netanyahu) than he is with making the tough political choices that would lead to a just settlement.
Bush still could choose the road to peace, whether or not Sharon takes that same road. He could reaffirm the US commitment to the March 12 UN resolution calling for a two-state solution, adopt the Arab peace scheme as a vision that could give Palestinians hope of an independent state, re-endorse the recent Security Council resolution calling for Sharon's withdrawal from Palestinian cities and dispatch the Secretary of State to the region with a plan that guarantees Israel's security, calls for abandonment of Israeli settlements and the withdrawal of Israel to 1967 borders--a plan backed up by firm promises of monitors and the material and financial resources necessary to make it work.
Does Bush have the courage to take that road--to risk the prestige of his Administration and the resources of the United States in the cause of achieving a just peace? The State Department mildly criticized Sharon's incursion, but Bush seems to be giving Sharon free rein. The only hope is for the thus-far-small opposition in this country to build pressure on him and make clear that Sharon's way condemns both Israelis and Palestinians to more suffering and bloodshed. We in America must add our voices to the burgeoning protests in the Middle East, Europe and Asia and to the eloquent warnings voiced by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Pope John Paul II and other world leaders. Only a US-led third-party intervention can forge a settlement that will end the violence.
First, the Arab League summit here in Beirut was chaos. Then it was the nearest to Arab unity that the Middle East has seen since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The chaos, of course, was predictable.
The Bush Administration has vigorously and effectively responded to the terrorist attack of September 11. The country seems united behind that effort. Certainly there was no hint of a doubt in the repeated standing ovations Congress gave the President's State of the Union address, including his bold declaration that the war on terrorism has just begun. The President singled out Iran, Iraq and North Korea as the most likely next targets of America's aroused ire against terrorists and governments that attempt to acquire weapons of mass destruction that we, the Russians, the British, the French, the Chinese, the Indians, the Pakistanis and the Israelis already possess.
No longer in government, I do not have the benefit of national security briefings or Congressional committee deliberations. So perhaps instead of making assertions, it may be more appropriate for me to ask some questions that have been on my mind both before and since September 11.
Which course might produce better results in advancing American security? Is it by continuing to boycott, diplomatically and commercially, such countries as Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Libya and Cuba and threatening to bomb them? Or would we be better off opening up diplomatic, trade and travel relations with these countries, including a well-staffed embassy in each? If we are fearful of a country and doubtful of its intentions, wouldn't we be safer having an embassy with professional foreign service officers located in that country to tell us what is going on?
Our leaders frequently speak of "rogue nations." But what is a rogue nation? Isn't it simply one we have chosen to boycott because it doesn't always behave the way we think it should? Do such nations behave better when they are isolated and boycotted against any normal discourse? What do we have to lose in talking to "rogue nations" diplomatically, trading with them commercially and observing their economic, political and military conditions?
Instead of adding $48 billion to the Pentagon budget, as the President has proposed, wouldn't we make the world a more stable, secure place if we invested half of that sum in reducing poverty, ignorance, hunger and disease in the world? We are now twentieth among nations in the percentage of gross national product devoted to improving life in the poor nations. If we invested half of the proposed new military spending in lifting the quality of life for the world's poor we would be the first among nations in helping others.
Is it possible that such an achievement would reduce some of the gathering anger that the poor and miserable of the earth may be inclined to direct at the rich and indifferent? Why does a wealthy zealot like Osama bin Laden gain such a huge following among the poor and powerless of the world? Acting on the old adage "charity begins at home," why not invest the other half of the proposed new money for the Pentagon in raising the educational, nutritional, housing and health standards of our own people?
Our military services are the best in the world. But with a military budget at record levels, do we need to allocate another $48 billion--an amount greater than the total military budget of any other nation? Is not the surest foundation for our military forces a healthy, educated, usefully employed citizenry? And is not the best way to diminish some of the international trouble spots, which might embroil our young men and women, by reducing the festering poverty, misery and hopelessness of a suffering world?
Of course we need to take reasonable precautions in our airports and other strategic points to guard against terrorists or nut cases. As a World War II bomber pilot, I appreciate the role of both tactical and strategic bombing in all-out warfare. But is sending our bombers worldwide in the hope that they might hit terrorist hideouts or such hostile governments as Iraq an effective way to end terrorism? May it not more likely erode our current international coalition, while fanning the flames of terrorism and hatred against us as the world's only superpower, hellbent on eradicating evil around the world?
The Administration now has seventy-five officials hidden in bunkers outside Washington poised to take over the government in the event of a terrorist attack. Is it possible that paranoia has become policy? No such extreme measures were undertaken in World War II, nor in the half-century of cold war between the two nuclear giants, Russia and the United States.
All of us who love this land want our President to succeed. Nothing would give me greater happiness than to see him become a great President. But is it possible that our well-intentioned President and his Vice President have gone off the track of common sense in their seeming obsession with terrorism? Is there still validity to the proverb "whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad"?
For half a century, our priorities were dominated by the fear of Russian Communism--until it collapsed of its own internal weakness. As I listen to the grim rhetoric of Messrs. Bush and Cheney, I wonder if they are leading us into another half-century of cold war, with terrorism replacing Communism as the second great hobgoblin of our age.