[spectre] Antidote 15

JSalloum@aol.com JSalloum@aol.com
Thu, 4 Apr 2002 00:15:50 EST

Edward Said
Al-Ahram Weekly Online
14 - 20 March 2002, Issue No.577
AL-AHRAM, Cairo est. in 1875   =20

What Price Oslo?

Due weight given to decades of Palestinian suffering, to the enormous=20
human costs of Israel's destructive policies: this, writes Edward=20
Said, is the only possible framework for negotiations

The television images on Al-Jazeera have been burningly clear. There=20
is a kind of Palestinian heroism in evidence there that makes this=20
the story of our time. An entire army, navy, and air force supplied=20
munificently and unconditionally by the United States have been=20
wreaking destruction on the 18 per cent of the West Bank and 60 per=20
cent of Gaza afforded Palestinians after ten years of negotiations=20
with Israel and the US. Palestinian hospitals, schools, refugee camps=20
and civilian residences have been at the receiving end of a=20
merciless, criminal assault by Israeli troops huddled inside their=20
helicopter gun-ships, F-16's and Merkavas, and still the poorly armed=20
resistance fighters take on this preposterously more powerful force=20
undaunted and unyielding. In the US, CNN and newspapers like The New=20
York Times fail, to their discredit, to ever mention that "the=20
violence" is uneven and that there aren't two sides involved here,=20
but only one state turning all its great power against a stateless,=20
repeatedly refugeed, and dispossessed people, bereft of arms and real=20
leadership, with the aim of destroying this people, "dealing them a=20
terrible blow" as the war criminal who leads Israel shamelessly put=20
it. As an index of how deranged Sharon has become, I might quote here=20
what he said to Ha'aretz on 5 March: "The PA is behind the terror,=20
it's all terror. Arafat is behind the terror. Our pressure is aimed=20
at ending the terror. Don't expect Arafat to act against the terror.=20
We have to cause them heavy casualties and then they'll know they=20
can't keep using terror and win political achievements."
Besides symptomatically revealing the workings of an obsessed mind=20
bent on destruction and sheer, unadulterated hatred, Sharon's words=20
indicate the failures of reason and criticism loosed on the world=20
since last September. Yes, there was a terrorist outrage, but there's=20
more to the world than terror. There is politics, and struggle, and=20
history, and injustice, and resistance and yes, state terror as well.=20
With scarcely a peep from the American professorate or=20
intelligentsia, we have all succumbed to the promiscuous misuse of=20
language and sense, by which everything we don't like has become=20
terror and what we do is pure and simple good -- fighting terror, no=20
matter how much wealth, and lives, and destruction is involved. Swept=20
away are all the Enlightenment precepts by which we attempt to=20
educate our students and our-fellow citizens, replaced by a=20
disproportionate orgy of vindictiveness and self-righteous wrath of=20
the kind that only the wealthy and the powerful, it would seem, have=20
the right to use and act upon. No wonder then that a fourth-rate thug=20
like Sharon feels entitled (by emulation and derivation) to do what=20
he does when in the greatest democracy on earth, laws, constitutional=20
rights, writs of habeas corpus and reason itself are consigned to the=20
rubbish bin in the pursuit of terror and terrorism. As educators and=20
as citizens, we have failed in our mission by allowing ourselves to=20
be bamboozled in this way, without so much as an organised public=20
discussion about a defence budget that has shot up to $400 billion=20
while 40 million people remain without health insurance.
Israelis, Arabs and Americans are told that love of country requires=20
such expenditures and such destruction because a good cause is at=20
stake. Nonsense. What is at stake are material interests that keep=20
rulers in power, corporations making profits, people in a state of=20
manufactured consent, just so long as they don't get up one morning=20
and start to think about where, in this mad technologised rush to=20
bomb and kill, we are going.
Israel is now waging a war against civilians, pure and simple,=20
although you will never hear it put that way in the US. This is a=20
racist war, and in its strategy and tactics, a colonial one as well.=20
People are being killed and made to suffer disproportionately because=20
they are not Jews. What an irony! Yet CNN never refers to "occupied"=20
territories (always rather to "violence in Israel" as if the main=20
battlefields are the concert halls and cafes of Tel Aviv and not in=20
fact the ghettoes and besieged refugee camps of Palestine that have=20
already been surrounded by 150 illegal Israeli settlements). For the=20
past ten years, the great fraud of Oslo was foisted on the world by=20
the US, with hardly an awareness that only 18 per cent of the West=20
Bank were given up, and 60 per cent of Gaza. No one knows geography=20
and it's better not to know, since the reality on the ground is so=20
astonishing, considering the verbal hoopla and self-congratulation.
And that pseudo-pundit -- the insufferably conceited Thomas Friedman=20
-- still has the gall to say that "Arab TV" shows one-sided pictures,=20
as if "Arab TV" should be showing things from Israel's point-of-view=20
the way CNN does, with "Mid-East violence" the catch-all word for the=20
ethnic cleansing that Israel is wreaking on the Palestinians in their=20
ghettoes and camps. Has Friedman (or CNN for that matter) ever tried=20
to point out the difference between an attacking army fighting a=20
colonial war on the territory of the people it has occupied for 35=20
years, and the people defending themselves against that butchery? Of=20
course not, for indeed why should Friedman ever bother to say=20
honestly that there is no Palestinian occupation, there are no=20
Palestinian F-16's, no Apache helicopters, no gunboats, no Merkava=20
tanks, in short, no Palestinian occupation of Israel. So much for=20
Friedman's credentials as an honest commentator and reporter who has=20
utterly failed, in unadorned terms, to explain the US view or to=20
understand the Arab and Palestinian cause. Can he not see that he and=20
his writings are part of the problem, that in their maundering=20
self-justifications and the dishonesty in which he shows no sign of=20
the self- criticism he keeps hectoringly expecting of others, he=20
actually aggravates the ignorance and the misperceptions rather than=20
reducing them? Poor journalist and educator, he.
The picture you get here is that Israelis are battling for their=20
lives instead of for their settlements and military bases on the=20
occupied lands of Palestine. No maps have been run for months in the=20
American media. On 8 March, hitherto the bloodiest day for=20
Palestinians of the 16-month Intifada, CNN's main evening news=20
specified the death of 40 "people" and failed even to mention the=20
death of several Red Crescent workers killed while their ambulances=20
were prevented by Israeli tanks from getting to the wounded. Just=20
"people," and no pictures of the hell they've been living in this the=20
35th year of military occupation. Tul Karm is undergoing a siege of=20
sieges with 24 hour curfews, electricity and water cut-off,=20
systematic round-ups and the removal of 800 young men, the wanton=20
smashing of refugee houses, wholesale destruction of property (and=20
I'm not speaking of nightclubs or sports facilities but of shacks and=20
lean-tos that furnished twice displaced refugees with hovels for bare=20
subsistence) and limitless cases of sadistic cruelty to unarmed and=20
undefended civilians who are pushed and beaten and left to bleed to=20
death, women allowed to give birth to stillborn babies while they=20
wait needlessly at Israeli road-blocks, old men made to strip and=20
take off their shoes and walk barefoot for a gum-chewing 18-year-old=20
waving around an M-16 that my taxes have paid for. Bethlehem, its=20
town center and university destroyed, flattened at 5,000 feet by=20
valiant Israeli bombers swooshing in with their marvelous F-16's=20
which I've paid for too. Balata camp, Aida and Dheheisheh and Azza=20
Camps, the tiny villages of Khadr and Husam, all battered into rubble=20
without even a mention by the US press, whose New York editors so=20
obviously have no problems with it, with a few exceptions here and=20
there. The uncounted dead and wounded, the unburied and unassisted,=20
to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of lives maimed,=20
distorted, catastrophically marked by wantonly caused suffering, all=20
of it ordered at a safe distance from the action in leafy, calm West=20
Jerusalem by men for whom the West Bank and Gaza are distant rat=20
holes filled with insects and rodents that must be "subdued" and=20
driven out, taught a lesson in the accepted jargon of Israel's superb=20
military. On Tuesday, in the biggest attack of all, Ramallah has been=20
invaded and is being ravaged by 140 Israeli tanks, thus completing=20
Israel's re-conquest of the already-occupied Palestinian territories.
The Palestinian people are paying the heavy, heavy unconscionable=20
price of Oslo, which after 10 years of negotiating left them with=20
bits of land lacking coherence and continuity, security institutions=20
designed to assure their subservience to Israel, and a life that=20
impoverished them so that the Jewish state could thrive and prosper.=20
In vain during those 10 years did some of us warn that the distance=20
between the US-Israeli language of peace and the appalling realities=20
on the ground was never bridged, never even intended to be bridged.=20
Words and phrases like "peace process" and "terrorism" took hold=20
without reference to any real referent. Land confiscations were=20
either overlooked or referred to as "bilateral negotiations" that=20
were taking place between a state consolidating its hold on territory=20
it wanted at all costs, and a mediocre set of uninformed negotiators=20
whom it took four years to acquire, much less use, a reliable map of=20
the land they were negotiating over. The worst misrepresentation of=20
all is that in the 54 years since 1948, never has a narrative of=20
Palestinian heroism and suffering been allowed to emerge. We are all=20
depicted as violent fanatic extremists who are little more than the=20
terrorists that George Bush and his cabal have imposed on the=20
consciousness of a stunned and systematically misinformed population,=20
aided and uncritically abetted by an entire army of commentators and=20
media stars -- the Blitzers, Zahns, Lehrers, Rathers, Brokaws,=20
Russerts, and their ilk. The Israeli lobby is scarcely needed with=20
such faithful disciples trailing happily in its ranks.
But now that the Saudi peace proposal has become the point of=20
discussion and of hope, it is necessary, I think, to put it in its=20
real, as opposed to its supposed, context. First of all, this is the=20
re-cycled Reagan plan of 1982, the Fahd Plan of 1983, the Madrid plan=20
of 1991, and so on: in other words, it follows a series of plans many=20
times put forward which in the end both Israel and the US have not=20
only refused to implement, but have actively torpedoed. The way I see=20
it, the only negotiations worth having should be on the phases of a=20
total Israeli withdrawal and not, as was the case with Oslo,=20
bargaining over what pieces of land Israel was willing very=20
grudgingly to give up. There's been too much Palestinian blood=20
spilled, too much Israeli contempt and racist violence dispensed for=20
any serious return to Oslo-style negotiations brokered by that most=20
biased of honest brokers, the United States. Everyone is aware,=20
however, that the old Palestinian negotiators haven't given up on=20
their dreams and illusions, and that meetings have been occurring=20
throughout the raids and bombings. But I would argue that due weight=20
be given to decades of Palestinian suffering and the real human costs=20
of Israel's destructive policies before any negotiations accord undue=20
status to Israeli governments that have trampled on Palestinian=20
rights the way they have demolished our houses and killed our people.=20
Any Arab-Israeli negotiations that do not factor in history -- and=20
for this task a team of historians, economists, and geographers with=20
a conscience are needed -- are not worth having, just as Palestinians=20
must now elect a new set of negotiators and representatives in the=20
hope of salvaging something from the present calamity.
In short, in whatever meetings that now occur between Israeli and=20
Palestinian representatives, the gravity of Israeli depredations=20
against our people has to be given attention and not simply brushed=20
aside as so much past history. Oslo, in effect, pardoned the=20
occupation, excusing it for all the buildings and lives destroyed=20
over the first 25 years of occupation. After so much further=20
suffering, Israel cannot be excused and allowed to walk away from the=20
table with not even a rhetorical demand that it needs to atone for=20
what it did.
I will be told that politics is about what is possible, not about=20
what is desired, and that we should be grateful to get even a small=20
Israeli pullback. I disagree strongly. Negotiations can only be about=20
when the total withdrawal will take place, not what percentage Israel=20
is willing to concede. A conqueror and a vandal cannot concede=20
anything: he must simply return what he's taken and pay for the=20
abuses that are his responsibility to bear, just as Saddam Hussein=20
should and did pay for his occupation of Kuwait. We are still a=20
considerable distance from that goal, although in the meantime the=20
extraordinary unbowed bravery of all Palestinians in Gaza and the=20
West Bank has in effect politically and morally defeated Sharon, who=20
will lose his seat in the not too distant future. But, that in two=20
decades his armies can invade Arab cities at will, killing and sowing=20
destruction without so much as a collective Arab peep speaks reams=20
for the Arab world's leaders.
Lastly, what the various Arab rulers who are so delicately silent now=20
while Palestine is being raped on TV think they are doing, I don't=20
know, but I can imagine that deep in their souls they must feel no=20
small amount of shame and disgrace. Powerless militarily,=20
politically, economically and above all morally, they have little=20
credibility and no real standing, except as obedient pawns on the=20
American-Israeli chessboard. Perhaps they feel they are playing a=20
waiting game. Perhaps. But they (like Arafat and his men) haven't=20
learned the power of systematically disseminated information as a way=20
of protecting their people from the onslaughts of those who consider=20
all Arabs militant, extremist, terrorist fanatics. The good news is=20
that the time for that sort of irresponsible and contemptible=20
behavior is very short. Will the new generation do any better?
It is for a whole new attitude toward secular education to decide the=20
answer, whether collectively we go down again to disorganisation,=20
corruption and mediocrity or whether at last we can become a nation.


>(If you are calling from abroad, please remember to

>dial 972 and to drop the first zero.  For example,

>Shimon Peres=ED number would be 972-2-6753231)


>Shimon Peres, Israeli Foreign Minister




>Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Israeli Defense Minister





>Yael Dayan





>Colette Avital





>Naomi Chazan





>Ran Cohen




>Tamar Gozansky





>Dan Meridor





>Ophir Pines-Paz





>Mossi Raz





>Yossi Sarid