Israeli leaders have condemned the nascent Palestinian reconciliation, considering the possible participation of Hamas members in any government to be unacceptable because of the party’s history of terrorism. To the great surprise of no one, American politicians have been competing for press attention to parrot the same line. What if Palestinian leaders, and our own Congress, did likewise, and demanded that Israel bar from elective office any member of a political party with a history of engaging in or supporting terrorism?
Of course, a full recital of Israeli attacks on civilians would fill a multi-volume treatise, but let’s content ourselves with a thumbnail sketch. First, consider Labor, the most liberal/left of Israel’s major parties. Anyone who supported the great peacemaker and Nobel laureate Yitzhak Rabin would be barred.
Rabin proudly boasted that as a young army officer in July, 1948, he executed Ben-Gurion’s order to ethnically cleanse the villages of Lydda and Ramle, forcing tens of thousands to march many miles in stifling summer heat to areas Israel did not (yet) claim as its own territory. A significant number did not survive. In 1987-88, as Defense Minister, Rabin ordered his troops to break the bones of children caught hurling stones toward well-protected soldiers who were defending Israel’s “right” to violate international law. In 1993, as Prime Minister, Rabin launched Operation Accountability, indiscriminately bombing civilians in southern Lebanon with the intent of killing enough of them to cause hundreds of thousands to flee northward in panic to send a signal to the Lebanese government.
Co-Nobel Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres, as Prime Minister in 1996, implemented a very similar operation, Grapes of Wrath. As long time leaders of the Labor Party, Rabin and Peres’s history of attacking civilians disqualifies all of their supporters from public office.
What about Kadima? The party was founded by Ariel Sharon, who commanded the 1953 massacre of scores of innocent civilians in the Jordanian village of Qibya (on the orders of the god-like Ben-Gurion). In 1982, Sharon, as Defense Minister, personally commanded Israeli troops on their rampage through Lebanon, slaughtering up to 20,000 civilians, apparently setting the Israeli record for personal responsibility for mass murder. His role in smiling benignly on the Sabra/Shattila massacres was merely bloody icing on his blood-soaked cake.
Then there’s Likud, whose founding members included Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, unapologetic and unashamed practitioners of terrorism for many decades, rewarded for their efforts with election to the highest office in the land.
How long must we wait before we hear Gary Ackerman or Ileana Ros-Lehtinen articulate their actual position, which is that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East that is free to elect terrorists? If Israel were to implement the same standards of disqualification-for-terrorism on its own politicians that it demands of the Palestinians, there would be virtually no one left to run the government.
Wait a minute, what about MK’s Ahmed Tibi and Hanin Zouabi?
TEL AVIV — Thousands of Israelis, escorted by the Israeli army, entered the village of Kifl Haris in the northern West Bank Thursday night to pray at the site revered by Jews as the tomb of the Joshua, Israeli media reported.
To mark the anniversary of his death, mass prayer services were held in the Salfit district Palestinian village at midnight, in a ceremony organized by settler groups.
Israeli news site Ynet said an Orthodox Jewish man who bought a nargila pipe from a Palestinian shop in the village, was greeted by angry shouts from Israelis, saying “don’t buy in Arab shops.”
Israel’s Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger addressed the worshipers, calling for greater access to Jewish religious sites, and urging settlers to coordinate their visits with the Israeli army, following the death of an Israeli settler on Sunday after a group of Jewish worshipers snuck into Nablus without coordinating with Palestinian or Israeli security.
“Every Jew has a right to visit Joseph’s Tomb but it must be coordinated with the security forces. Take great care of your souls,” Metzger was quoted saying by Ynet.
“I call on government ministers to allow more people to enter the site, not just once a month, especially as this is stipulated in all the agreements.”
Settler leader Gershon Mesika held up Joshua as an example to Israelis, Ynet reported, saying “Sever the hand of any person who lifts it against a Jew. Our leaders must learn from Joshua’s power and decisive way.”
Israel’s Minister of Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Yuli Edelstein and four Knesset members attended the ceremony, which was for the first time marked as a official state event, the far-right Israeli news agency Artuz Sheva reported.
The agency quoted MK Danny Danon drawing on the story of Joshua, saying “We are standing by the tomb of Joshua son of Nun, conqueror of the land. We do not need to fear the word ‘conquer’ — there is no shame in conquering the land.”
A call for “million-man” marches in support of the Palestinians has been made by Egypt’s Coalition of the Youth of the Revolution. The first march, to be held in Alexandria on 13 May, will also demand the opening of the Egypt-Gaza border for food, medical and humanitarian aid; marchers will head for the Israeli Consulate in the city.
According to the Egyptian newspaper Al-Shorouk, the protests will put pressure on the Zionist state by demanding that the Egyptian government stops exporting natural gas to Israel, as the Israelis use it to produce military equipment used against Palestinians. The protesters will also call for a review of the Camp David accords to remove the inbuilt favouritism towards the Zionist state.
The youth coalition said that it will coordinate with various political groups to prepare a number of aid and medical convoys to be sent to Gaza. Care will be taken to ensure that the protests are peaceful, especially any which gravitate towards the Rafah border crossing.
There is a risk, said a spokesperson, of a confrontation between the Egyptian Army, which is protecting the national borders, and the revolutionaries. Such a confrontation would distract participants from their main objective, which is “to pressure the ruling regime in Egypt to take a decisive stance on the issue of exporting natural gas to Israel, which can be important in weakening Israeli military power”.
Having laughed off Libyan government peace feelers, Official Washington is now beating the drum for a new round of “shock and awe” bombings and close-combat air strikes to “finish the job” of ousting Col. Muammar Gaddafi.
Typically, this Washington debate is being framed as a series of choices for President Barack Obama and NATO: one, abandon the current campaign of air strikes and let Gaddafi prevail; two, continue the conflict at its current pace and accept a stalemate; or three, commit more military resources to “win.”
The neoconservative-dominated opinion circles of Washington are almost unanimous in their determination to push Obama and NATO to adopt option three. It is a consensus not seen since almost all these same Serious People supported George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, which started off with the “shock and awe” bombing that was supposed to solve everything.
Left out of today’s Libyan debate is any consideration of building on the African Union’s proposal for a ceasefire and a transition to democracy with Gaddafi on the sidelines. Gaddafi’s embattled regime agreed to those terms, but the plan was spurned by anti-Gaddafi rebels and doesn’t even rate a mention when the “options” are listed in the Big Media.
Besides taking a page from Bush’s “shock and awe” playbook, the Smart Talk in Washington also suggests modeling “regime change” in Libya after NATO’s bombing of Serbia in 1999.
Those NATO strikes against the capital of Belgrade inflicted hundreds of civilian deaths, with estimates ranging from about 500 to more than 1,200, including the killing of 16 people working at the Serb TV station.
NATO generals justified their bombing of Serb TV on the premise that “enemy propaganda” is a legitimate target in wartime, even if the station’s personnel were unarmed and defenseless. Since then, the intentional targeting of civilian TV and radio stations has become part of Western military doctrine when trying to overthrow Arab and Third World regimes.
The Serbian model is now being applied to Libya with the blessings of senior military officials who participated in that campaign. For instance, Gen. John P. Jumper, who commanded U.S. Air Force units over Serbia, told the New York Times that bombing high-profile institutional sites in Belgrade proved more effective than the destruction of Serbian tanks and other military targets.
“It was when we went in and began to disturb important and symbolic sites in Belgrade and began to bring to a halt the middle-class life in Belgrade, that [Serbian President Slobodan] Milosevic’s own people began to turn on him,” Jumper said.
Now, Jumper said a similar approach is being pursued in Libya. This week, NATO planes bombed Libya’s capital of Tripoli briefly knocking Libyan TV off the air and blasting Gaddafi’s personal residence (although NATO insisted that the raid wasn’t an assassination attempt, wink-wink).
In other words, the anti-Serb air campaign, which was estimated to kill four Serb civilians for every Serb soldier slain, is now becoming the model for NATO’s military strategy in Libya.
Contradicting a Mandate
One might think the application of the Serbian model to Libya would raise red flags in the U.S. news media since it suggests that NATO may end up killing large numbers of civilians under a United Nations mandate to protect civilians.
However, led by the Washington Post and the New York Times, major U.S. news outlets have ignored this obvious contradiction. Instead, there’s a renewed excitement over the prospect of a new “shock and awe” bombing of an “enemy” country that’s been stripped of its air defenses.
In influential U.S. opinion circles, it’s pro-war propaganda all the time. Indeed, the New York Times seems to publish only editorials and essays favoring an expanded conflict.
Dominating the Times op-ed page on Tuesday was a call from retired Army Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik to “finish the job” in Libya.
Dubik, who served in the Iraq War and is now a senior fellow at the Institute for the Study of War, framed the debate in a way to make escalation and victory the only “responsible” choice. He also projected a long-term U.S. and NATO presence in Libya after Gaddafi’s defeat.
“If Colonel Qaddafi falls, the United States and NATO will have a responsibility to help shape the postwar order, including providing security to prevent a liberated Libya from sinking into chaos,” Dubik wrote. “Washington must start planning and preparing for this complex and expensive contingency and muster the substantial political will required to see it through.”
In other words, we’re looking at another U.S./NATO occupation of a “liberated” Arab or Muslim country.
What’s also clear from the U.S. news coverage is that the Times editors and other opinion-shapers are engaged in Dubik’s important first step, building the “political will” for this new war and future occupation by excluding any serious questions about the wisdom of the desired course.
The Times on Wednesday published another pro-war op-ed – focusing on Gaddafi’s supposed failure to provide quality milk to his countrymen. Meanwhile, there has been zero reexamination of a key rationale for U.S. participation in the war, Gaddafi’s alleged guilt in the Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.
“The blood of Americans is on [Gaddafi’s] hands because he was responsible for the bombing of Pan Am 103,” declared Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, after a recent trip to rebel-held Benghazi during which McCain joined the call for a larger U.S. military role.
The Times and other leading U.S. news outlets also treat Libya’s guilt as a flat fact, but the case actually remains murky.
In 2001, a Scottish court did convict Libyan agent Ali al-Megrahi for the bombing which killed 270 people. But the judgment appears to have been more a political compromise than an act of justice. One of the judges told Dartmouth government professor Dirk Vandewalle about “enormous pressure put on the court to get a conviction.”
Megrahi’s conviction assuaged the understandable human desire to see someone punished for such a heinous crime, albeit a possibly innocent man.
Reopening a Terror Case
In 2007, after the testimony of a key government witness was discredited, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission agreed to reconsider the conviction as a grave miscarriage of justice. However, that review was proceeding slowly in 2009 when Scottish authorities released Megrahi on humanitarian grounds, after he was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer.
Megrahi dropped his appeal in order to gain the early release, but that doesn’t mean he was guilty. He has continued to assert his innocence and an objective press corps would reflect the doubts regarding his conviction.
The Scottish court’s purported reason for finding Megrahi guilty – while acquitting his co-defendant Lamin Khalifa Fhimah – was the testimony of Toni Gauci, owner of a clothing store in Malta who allegedly sold Megrahi a shirt, the remnants of which were found with the shards of the suitcase that contained the bomb.
The rest of the case rested on a theory that Megrahi put the luggage on a flight from Malta to Frankfurt, where it was transferred to a connecting flight to London, where it was transferred onto Pan Am 103 bound for New York, a decidedly unlikely way to undertake an act of terrorism given all the random variables involved.
Megrahi would have had to assume that three separate airport security systems – at Malta, Frankfort and London – would fail to give any serious scrutiny to an unaccompanied suitcase or to detect the bomb despite security officials being on the lookout for just such a threat.
As historian William Blum recounted in a Consortiumnews.com article after Megrahi’s 2001 conviction, “The case for the suitcase’s hypothetical travels must also deal with the fact that, according to Air Malta, all the documented luggage on KM180 was collected by passengers in Frankfurt and did not continue in transit to London, and that two Pan Am on-duty officials in Frankfurt testified that no unaccompanied luggage was introduced onto Pan Am 103A, the feeder flight to London.”
There also were problems with Gauci’s belated identification of Megrahi as the shirt-buyer a decade after the fact. Gauci had made contradictory IDs and had earlier given a physical description that didn’t match Megrahi. Gauci reportedly received a $2 million reward for his testimony and then moved to Australia, where he went into retirement.
In 2007, the Scottish review panel decided to reconsider Megrahi’s conviction after concluding that Gauci’s testimony was unbelievable. And without Gauci’s testimony, the case against Megrahi was virtually the same as the case against his co-defendant who was acquitted.
However, after Megrahi’s conviction in 2001, more international pressure was put on Libya, which was then regarded as the archetypal “rogue” state. Indeed, it was to get onerous economic sanctions lifted that Libya took “responsibility” for the Pan Am attack and paid reparations to the victims’ families even as Libyan officials continued to deny guilt.
Yet, despite these doubts about the Pan Am 103 case, the U.S. news media continues to treat Libya’s guilt as a flat fact.
A Defector Questioned
Earlier this month, there was some excitement over the possibility that Gaddafi would be fingered as the Pan Am 103 mastermind by a high-level defector, former Libyan foreign minister Moussa Koussa, who was believed to be in charge of Libyan intelligence in 1988.
Moussa Koussa was questioned by Scottish authorities but apparently shed little new light on the case and was allowed to go free after the interview. Very quickly the press interest over Moussa Koussa faded away.
Yet, as the clamor now builds in Official Washington for an escalation of U.S. participation in the war – and as the Pan Am 103 case is cited over and over as justification – there has been no serious reexamination of the mystery, only the repetition of Libya’s assumed guilt.
Looking across the landscape of the U.S. news media, it is hard to find any major voice suggesting peace negotiations with Gaddafi’s government or even advocating that the sincerity of its acceptance of the African Union’s plan for a cease-fire and democratic reforms should be put to the test.
Instead, virtually all the talking heads are armchair warriors, with the neoconservative editors of the Washington Post and the New York Times again leading the way by condemning Obama’s decision to minimize U.S. military participation.
“If his real aim were to plunge NATO into a political crisis, or to exhaust the air forces and military budgets of Britain and France — which are doing most of the bombing — this would be a brilliant strategy. As it is, it is impossible to understand,” the Post wrote on April 17:.
“Mr. Obama appears less intent on ousting Mr. Gaddafi or ensuring NATO’s success than in proving an ideological point — that the United States need not take the lead in a military operation that does not involve vital U.S. interests.
“How else to explain his decision to deny NATO the two most effective ground attack airplanes in the world — the AC-130 and A-10 Warthog — which exist only in the U.S. Air Force and which were attacking Mr. Gaddafi’s tanks and artillery until April 4?”
The New York Times has been equally adamant about seeing the AC-130s and A-10 Warthogs put back into action mowing down Libyan troops loyal to Gaddafi. “Mr. Obama should authorize [the ground-attack planes] to fly again under NATO command,” the Times declared on April 14, reiterating a demand that the editors had made just a week earlier.
Yet, if NATO’s real goal is to minimize civilian casualties, Western countries might want to think twice about taking sides in what is shaping up as an ugly tribal war. They might even give peace a chance, rather than replay the civilian bombings in Belgrade or the “shock and awe” over Iraq.