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What is the fundamental difference between Slobodan Milosevic and Ariel Sharon? The former is on trial for war crimes, while the latter still leads an occupying army.
History will record April 11, 2002, as a day of enormous significance in the effort to achieve the rule of law in the conduct of international affairs. It marks the day the Treaty of Rome, establishing an International Criminal Court, was to be ratified by sixty nations, thus triggering the establishment of the global tribunal with jurisdiction over those who commit war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide. Tragically, instead of submitting the treaty to the Senate for ratification, George W. Bush would strike our name from the treaty altogether. In a press conference two weeks before the sixtieth nation deposited its ratification, the Administration's ambassador-at-large for war crimes, Pierre Prosper, made it clear that the President is still a hostage to the reactionary sponsors of the misnamed American Servicemembers Protection Act. This act would allow the United States to invade The Hague, presumed seat of the new tribunal, to "free" any American brought before the bar of international justice. In addition, any existing military assistance program to a non-NATO country that is "a party to" the ICC would be suspended.
The ambassador refused to deny that the idea of unsigning the treaty is under active consideration and review. Mere contemplation of such a course of action is bad enough, but active consideration at a time of war is almost beyond belief. We were isolated from virtually every democratic nation with our vote against the ICC on July 17, 1998, when the ICC treaty was adopted by a vote of 120 to 7. Since then it has been signed by our closest allies, including every NATO country but Turkey and all members of the European Union.
The twentieth century was the bloodiest in human history, with a total of 174 million people killed in genocide and mass murders. If there was ever a moment when a US President should demonstrate his fealty to the abiding principles of law and justice, now is that moment. No President has ever revoked the signature of a former chief executive on a treaty by unsigning it. If Bush carries out this unprecedented action, prodded by the right wing of his party, his capitulation will not only dismay our friends and delight our enemies but also strip us of any ability to negotiate changes to the treaty we might validly seek to make. And as we mute our response to the call for a worldwide embrace of the rule of law, we traduce one of the most important principles of American democracy.
In the last days of March, at the end of a five-day voyage with seven fellow members of the International Parliament of Writers (IPW) through the battered archipelago of reservations that make up the Palestinian territories, I met for breakfast at the King David Inter-Continental Hotel in Tel Aviv with two young
leaders of the so-called refuseniks, the members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) who have publicly declared their refusal to serve in the occupied territories. These men are not peaceniks or pacifists; they're not of the left or veterans of the now-demoralized Israeli peace movement; and they are certainly not cowards. They are Zionists, university-educated, articulate, patriotic sons of Israel, and their stand has become in these terrible dark days the most serious challenge that anyone has put to Israel's moral credibility from inside the family.
We met alone and at their request. They wished to meet with me, they said, because of my role as president of the IPW and leader of the delegation, but mainly because they had learned from the Internet that I was an American who had been involved in the anti-Vietnam War movement in the 1960s and '70s. They wanted avuncular advice from someone who, in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was thought likely to identify with their decision to stand apart from their nation's oppressive policy against the Palestinian people. This conversation took place two days after the sickening suicide bombing of the Passover celebration in Netanya, north of Tel Aviv, and a day before Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared PLO chairman Yasir Arafat his "enemy" and launched Operation Defensive Shield with a brutal assault on Ramallah. The young men knew that everything was now about to get much worse for both the Palestinians and the Israelis, and they needed to decide what to do next. My advice was simple: Make it a single-issue movement; broaden your base to include women and men from every rank and Israelis of every type; and keep it in the family. Then speak truth to power.
At this writing, there are 404 refuseniks, with ten or more joining their ranks every week. Events of early April may accelerate that rate, or they may have the opposite effect. We cannot know. I asked them what had moved them to separate themselves from their brothers and sisters in the IDF and invite rage and confusion from their fathers and mothers and prison sentences from their government. What had made them willing to be called at best naïve and at worst cowards and self-hating Jews? For this is indeed what these young men face daily in the Israeli press and in their homes. Their eyes were opened, and their minds were changed, they said, when they were assigned to duty in the West Bank and the other Palestinian territories. There they saw everything that I and my fellow writers in the IPW delegation had seen in the preceding five days as we traveled from Tel Aviv to Ramallah, passed through the cities and towns of the West Bank and descended into Gaza, where we visited the refugee camps, gazed mournfully on the violent destruction of whole neighborhoods and villages, witnessed the deliberate, calculated humiliation of the checkpoints and saw for the first time the appalling scale, dominance and encroachment of the Jewish settlements.
Our delegation had traveled to the Middle East from four continents: From Africa came the Nigerian Nobelist Wole Soyinka and the South African poet and memoirist Breyten Breytenbach; from China, the dissident poet Bei Dao; from Europe, the Spanish novelist Juan Goytisolo, Portugal's Nobelist José Saramago, Italian novelist Vincenzo Consolo and the French writer and secretary general of the IPW, Christian Salmon; and from North America, myself, a novelist of the United States. We came in response to a plea from one of IPW's founding members, the great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, to express our solidarity with him and his fellow Palestinian poets and writers whose living and working conditions have increasingly come to resemble house arrest. The International Parliament of Writers is not a human rights organization or an NGO; it is simply a loose collective of poets and storytellers committed to aiding in as concrete a way as possible our fellow writers who find themselves under physical threat or political control because of their work as writers. Darwish and his colleagues, most of them based in Ramallah and elsewhere in the Palestinian territories, have for a year and half been enduring conditions that we believe are intolerable, conditions that must be condemned by those of us who are free.
By the same token, in expressing our solidarity with Darwish and his colleagues and in bearing witness to their intolerable circumstances, we were expressing solidarity with the people whose daily lives and history are celebrated in the poetry and stories of the Palestinian artists. To stand beside Neruda is to stand beside the Chilean people; to celebrate Whitman is to celebrate the American people. Governments and politicians, I'm sorry to say, usually have to look out for themselves. We came to the Palestinian territories, therefore, to see with our own eyes and hear with our own ears what was happening to the Palestinian people.
And so we passed with them through the checkpoints, alongside old women with groceries; pregnant women and mothers with babies; somber, frightened schoolchildren; men and women going to work or coming home from their jobs in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and all of us forced to walk a half-mile in the hot sun by heavily armed, stone-faced Israeli soldiers. We entered the narrow streets and open-sewer alleys of Ramallah, and viewed dumbstruck the wantonly destroyed homes and public buildings in the refugee camps of the West Bank and Gaza. We listened to students and faculty sustaining against nearly overwhelming opposition their beloved university at Bir Zeit, and saw, with dismay, the looming, rapidly expanding settlements. We witnessed firsthand the abject poverty and powerlessness of the majority of Palestinians. Grim statistics gained a human face. Hopelessness and suicidal desperation exposed its roots.
One evening in Ramallah, after a dinner hosted by Darwish and other members of the city's intellectual and artistic community, I strolled with the Palestinian novelist Izzat Algazawi to a high ridge behind our hotel and looked out on the broad, moonlit valley below. My companion pointed out Jerusalem, barely seven miles in the distance, glowing like the center of the universe, the glittering capital of all the world's religious dreams, it seemed. Closer to hand was a Jewish settlement, looking like a suburb of Denver. With its smartly laid-out streets and mini-malls, multistory dwellings and apartment complexes, its postmodern infrastructure up and running, all of it brightly illuminated by a grid of streetlights, it seemed to have been placed intact and overnight onto the rocky hillside by a flotilla of gigantic spaceships. Below the settlement, not quite adjoining it, an Israeli military encampment was laid out with geometric precision like a game board, observation towers at the corners, barracks and storage depots placed strategically between the towers, searchlight beams sweeping the grounds inside the compound and patrolling the rugged, rock-strewn, moonlit terrain beyond. And further down, in the shadows adjacent to the city of Ramallah, was a cluster of darkened, mostly cinderblock cubes, a refugee camp, and the only light coming from down there was the pale moonlight reflected off the corrugated iron roofs. Jerusalem, the settlement, the military post and the refugee camp--all four washed by the same moonlight, all four visible from the same point on a nearby ridge in Ramallah, but none of them visible to each other.
At his request, we met with Arafat in his now-shattered compound, knowing that to some at home we would look like a bunch of Jane Fondas hugging Ho Chi Minh. Even so, we were not concerned with public relations and felt no particular need to appear "evenhanded" in our inquiry. Nonetheless, we also met with Israeli writers and peace activists. Wole Soyinka and I sat with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, at his invitation also, and listened to his version of the events in the Middle East since 1947. This is a perspective, however, the Israeli perspective from right to left, that we in Europe and the United States have no difficulty obtaining daily from our popular media. The Palestinian perspective is not so easily accessible.
Each of the eight writers brought his own experience, temperament and political inclination to bear on what he saw and heard, naturally. We had no party line, no official stance or position. In order to imagine the nature of reality for the Palestinians, we needed the quotidian details, the daily particularities of their situation; but we did not need to hear yet another litany of interrupted peace processes, broken treaties, deceptions and rejections in order to get the picture. Analogies and comparisons drawn from what we already knew provided us with insights and gateways to understanding. Soyinka and Breytenbach could see obvious parallels to apartheid in South Africa, as well as the differences. I could make comparisons to the English "settlements" in seventeenth-century Ireland, and note that in North America, after the Europeans militarily overwhelmed the Native Americans, their policy of relocation and containment corresponded in certain distressingly familiar ways to Israel's policy in the occupied territories since 1967. We spoke of parallels to the Balkan conflict and the strategies of ethnic cleansing, to China's treatment of the Tibetans, and so on. One of us, Saramago, even made a comparison to the Nazis' treatment of the Jews (a comparison, incidentally, quickly rejected for obvious reasons by the other members of the delegation).Yet nothing really compared.
And that, of course, is a big part of the problem for every one of us who wishes for nothing more than peace, freedom and security for all Israelis and Palestinians. Nothing really compares. Consequently, peace activists on both sides, intellectuals, academics, poets and storytellers from every nation, and especially those men and women holding the power to make policy for the Israeli government and for the Palestinian Authority--all of us have to go deeper into our imaginations than we have ever gone before. Before anything else, the mindless brutality of Sharon's assault against the people living in the occupied territories and the mind-numbing attacks by Palestinian suicide bombers against the Israelis must be ended. We can't, as usual, turn to the United Nations or the United States or to any other third party--although almost everyone we met on our journey, whether Palestinian or Israeli, believed that a third party was necessary to end the conflict. But that's been tried and has failed too many times.
This is why I felt ever-so-slightly uplifted on my last day in the Middle East, when I met in Tel Aviv with the two young Israeli men who are called refuseniks. Here, I thought, is the only possible way out of this horror. The men and women who make up the occupying army must refuse to serve. Only then will their tragically desperate opposites, the suicidal young Palestinians who believe that they have no meaningful future except as human bombs, begin to believe that their lives might be worth living instead. Only then can the negotiations begin.
On April 3, a high-octane collection of thirty-three conservatives sent George W. Bush a letter urging him to lend Washington's "full support to Israel as it seeks to root out the [Palestinian] terrorist network." These hawks--including William Kristol, William Bennett, Rich Lowry, Martin Peretz and Richard Perle--called on Bush not to force Israel to negotiate with Yasir Arafat and to "accelerate plans for removing Saddam Hussein." They wanted Bush to adopt Israel's offensive as part of his war on terrorism and let Ariel Sharon roll. The next day, Bush replied, sort of, by declaring that Israel should withdraw from the West Bank. He slammed Arafat, but his aides noted that negotiations should resume, perhaps before a complete cease-fire has been achieved.
The hawks were not pleased. Bush's actions were "a show of weakness," says Marshall Wittmann, a signatory to the crush-them-now letter. Other parts of the hard-line pro-Israel coalition were disheartened. The Anti-Defamation League complained, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee protested, "It is no more appropriate to place a time limit on Israel's acts of self-defense than on America's acts in its own defense." Christian right supporters of Israel--many of whom believe that God granted Israel to the Jews and that Jewish control of Israel is a prelude to the Second Coming--had reason to be disappointed. The Rev. Jerry Falwell stated, "I believe Israel must aggressively defend its borders." Americans for Peace Now, however, praised Bush's new stance.
So Bush frustrated key elements of his support base and won huzzahs from peaceniks (even as he winked at Sharon's continuing operations). How did this come to pass? It was not because of domestic pressure. Democrats criticized Bush for not addressing the crisis, but that didn't mean they wanted Bush to lean on Israel. Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, for example, said, "I don't know that the Israeli government has any choice but to be as aggressive as they are." Senator Joe Lieberman remarked, "I believe strongly we should not ask Israelis to stop their war against terrorists until they have achieved greater homeland security." As Bush was pondering what to do, I contacted the Progressive Caucus of the House--no Bush friends there--and asked a spokeswoman if the group was responding to the crisis. "No," she said. Why not? "I don't know." Few if any Democrats were deviating from an Israel-first line. Before heading to the Middle East, Secretary of State Colin Powell remarked that he cared as much about Palestinian rights as Israel's security--a sentiment not echoed by lawmakers, Democratic or Republican.
"All the political pressure is on the side of the pro-Israel lobby," says Hussein Ibish of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. A staffer to a Congressman who occasionally voices concern for Palestinians notes, "There are not many of us in Congress." In fact, there are almost none, hardly enough for Bush to worry about. Kristol and neocon writer Robert Kagan claim that Bush caved because he "could not withstand a few days of heckling from the European Union and the New York Times." But once pressure from home and abroad forced a reluctant Bush into action, it could well be that he saw little choice but to press for Israeli restraint and negotiations, for the other option was to back Sharon's offensive. That would have risked rifts between Washington and its allies in Europe and the Middle East, undermining Bush's war on terrorism (and his designs on Saddam Hussein).
Hawkish backers of Israel are nervously watching how far Bush will go to rein in Sharon and restart negotiations. They vividly recall that Bush I opposed $10 billion in loan guarantees to Israel in an effort to force Israel to halt settlements in the West Bank. "There is a division within my camp," says Wittmann. "One school wants to cut the President slack for now, and the other believes Bush is already down the road of policy incoherence." Wittmann is hoping Bush's current stance is "ad-hocism, that his actions come from a desire to impose order upon chaos and out of a fear of destabilization in the Arab world. I'm not divining a long-term foreign policy message out of his handling of the current crisis--not yet."
Bush has not threatened to reconsider the fundamentals of US-Israel relations--such as $3 billion in annual assistance to Israel. The various groups that lobby for the Israeli hard-core retain influence in and out of the Administration. "There will be more Congressional involvement in the Middle East in the coming weeks," says the House staffer. That means further opportunity for pro-Israel hawks to shape the debate and Bush's decisions. Still, against the odds--and campaign donations and political clout--Bush spurned the Israel-all-the-way forces this round. A significant shift or a short-term plan? Bush himself probably doesn't know.
On April 11, as John Anderson notes in this issue, the International Criminal Court was scheduled to go into effect after being ratified by the required sixty nations. Although Bill Clinton signed the treaty, conservatives in Congress have opposed ratification. Now the Bush Administration is reportedly considering "unsigning" the treaty. Such an action would be but one more instance of this Administration's commitment to a reckless, destructive unilateralism.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright liked to say that America was "the indispensable nation." That formulation, however arrogant, at least implied a web of international obligations of which the United States was a part, even if it was sometimes AWOL (e.g., when it failed to support UN intervention in Rwanda). Bush Administration conservatives support a US policy aptly summed up by Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment: "Distrust treaties, increase defenses and assert American authority." State Department planner Richard Haass puts it less crudely: "à la carte multilateralism." National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice set guidelines in the 2000 election: We should "proceed from the firm ground of national interest and not from the interest of an illusory international community."
But the "community" of Arab and European nations that demanded that the Administration intervene in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before it engulfed the entire region was hardly "illusory"--witness Bush's sudden about-face in sending Colin Powell there. Voices from overseas (along with the specter of rising oil prices and falling regimes in Jordan and Egypt) got his attention.
Unilaterally focused on the domestically popular war on terrorism, the Administration had averted its eyes from the pustulating Israel-Palestine sore. As a result, as Richard Falk writes on page 11, Bush overplayed the "antiterrorist card," not only greatly broadening "the scope of needed response" but giving "governments around the planet a green light to increase the level of violence directed at their longtime internal adversaries." None ran with that ball harder than Israel's Ariel Sharon.
Israel-Palestine aside, the Administration's Pentagon-geared, campaign-donor-friendly brand of American unilateralism has had harmful consequences for both national and international "interests." We walk away from the Kyoto Protocol, increasing the danger that oceans swollen by global warming will inundate our coasts. We abandon the ABM treaty, opening the door to a renewed nuclear arms race that makes us less secure. We threaten "rogue states," in the recent Nuclear Posture Review, with tactical nuclear bombs if they misbehave, thus erasing the threshold that confined the use of nukes to self-defense. We claim a military victory over terrorism in Afghanistan but fail to support adequately a multinational effort to provide food and security, protect women's rights and rebuild the nation (see Jan Goodwin on page 21).
The British scholar Timothy Garton Ash complained recently in a New York Times Op-Ed that the United States simply has too much unwonted power and needs a counterweight--a stronger Europe. That may be, but we believe that the American future lies in supporting international norms and treaties and cooperation with other nations--not in projecting military power in pursuit of "interests" while building a garrison state at home.
Israel and Palestine will not find peace until both have security and sovereignty.
Afghan women are free of the Taliban, but liberation is still a distant dream.
Do Not Employ Arabs, Enemies Should Not Be Offered a Livelihood and We Will Assist Those Who Do Not Provide Work For Arabs are just a few of the slogans covering billboards throughout Jerusalem. These placards refer to Palestinian citizens of Israel. One poster even provides a detailed list of taxi companies that employ Arab citizens and companies that don't. Jewish history, it seems, has been forgotten.
This kind of blatant racism is now common in Israel; it feeds off the widespread fear of suicide bombings, which have also managed to change the Jerusalem landscape. Downtown streets are almost empty, and most businesses have been seriously hurt because of the dramatic decline in clientele. A recent poll suggests that 67 percent of Israelis have reduced the number of times they leave their homes. The only companies that have been thriving in the past months are security firms. Every supermarket, bank, theater and cafe now employs private guards whose duty is to search customers as they enter the building.
One of the effects of this new practice is that profiling has become ubiquitous. Arab-looking residents refrain from using public transportation and from going to all-Jewish neighborhoods and shopping centers. It is not unusual in the city to see groups of Arab men searched at gunpoint by Israeli police, their faces against the wall and their hands in the air.
On the national level, politicians have been exploiting the pervasive fear, using it to foment a form of fervent nationalism tinged with racism. Effi Eitam, the new leader of the National Religious Party, recently approved to become a minister in Sharon's government, has characterized all Palestinian citizens of Israel as "a cancer." "Arabs," he claims, "will never have political rule in the land of Israel," which in Eitam's opinion includes the West Bank and Gaza. Support for Sharon has also risen from 45 to 62 percent following the latest Israeli offensive. The fact that Palestinian citizens, who make up almost 20 percent of the population, adamantly oppose Israel's military assault suggests that only one in five Jewish citizens is against Sharon's war. Most Jews consider themselves victims in this conflict, not aggressors.
The deeply rooted victim syndrome has been manipulated over the past year by the mainstream media in order to rally the public around the flag. For television viewers, Palestinian suffering is virtually nonexistent, while attacks on Jews are graphically portrayed, replayed time and again, thus rendering victimhood the existential condition of Israeli Jews. Radio and television have practically turned into government organs, allowing almost no criticism of Israel's policies to be aired.
It is within this stifling atmosphere that one must understand the slow resurgence of the Israeli peace camp. There are now about 400 new combat reservists who refuse to serve in the occupied territories, joining a similar number of refuseniks from Yesh Gvul ("There Is a Limit"). "We will not go on fighting beyond the 'green line' for the purposes of domination, expulsion, starvation and humiliation of an entire people," the soldiers wrote in an open letter. Since the eruption of the second intifada, eighty-seven conscientious objectors have been incarcerated; thirty-five are currently sitting in jail, more than in any other period in Israel's history.
On April 3, 4,000 Jewish and Arab protesters marched together from Jerusalem toward Kalandia checkpoint, located on the outskirts of Ramallah. The procession was led by women and included four truckloads of humanitarian aid. The demonstrators were stopped by a police blockade only minutes after they set out. As a member of the negotiation team, I was on the police side of the blockade when scores of tear gas canisters and stun grenades were thrown into the crowd. Policemen immediately pursued the protesters, trampling and violently beating them with their clubs. Among the injured were three Arab Knesset members. Later, while waiting for the trucks to return from Ramallah, a police officer explained that a woman precipitated the outburst: "She spat on one of the officers."
The next day, protesters gathered in front of the American Embassy in Tel Aviv to call on the US government to stop Israel's military incursion. The group was mostly composed of Palestinian citizens of Israel, although there were quite a few Jews. Again, the police assaulted the demonstrators, this time because one of them was carrying a Palestinian flag.
Two days later, on April 6, 15,000 people marched from Rabin Square to the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, calling on Sharon to immediately withdraw all military forces from the occupied territories and to restart negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. "The occupation is killing us all!" the demonstrators shouted. Channel 2 spent twenty seconds covering the event; Channel 1, Israel's public station, ignored it.
Not everyone disregarded the protest. Likud Knesset Member Gideon Ezra called upon the secret services to begin monitoring more carefully the activities of leftist organizations and blamed the only two journalists who continue to document what is happening on the Palestinian side--Amira Hass and Gideon Levy--for encouraging the campaign against Israel. Given the increasingly repressive atmosphere inside Israel, it appears that without massive pressure from abroad--not unlike the sanctions imposed on South Africa--Israel will not withdraw from the occupied territories, nor will it cease to oppress and subjugate the Palestinian people.
I really must come to England more often. The last time I was here, in mid-February, Princess Margaret gave up the ghost. And now, even as I step off the wondrous train that connects Paris to London, the flags are hauled halfway down to mark the passing of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, last Empress of India. This was supposed to be a Jubilee year, marking half a century of the present sovereign's rule. But it has been a series of black-draped obsequies so far. And I plan to come back in early June...
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