What Price Israel?
In the aftermath of 9/11, the people of the United States and their institutions struggled against dismptive forces. The nation was suddenly at war. Muslims and people of Arab ancestry found themselves constantly on the defensive as racial and ethnic profiling became facts of life. So did long lines at airports and anxiety about where terrorists may strike next. Spending for military purposes soared, plunging government surpluses into red ink. Funds for education and social services were cut.
Some people considered these disruptions to be byproducts of the U.S. government's decades-long blind support of Israel, but most Americans were not even aware of the nature and extent of this support. For many years, U.S. financial support for this small nation amounted to an annual minimum of $3 billion. During the Clinton administration the annual outlay exceeded $4 billion.
Money was only part of United States' support for Israel. The U.S. government often donated additional military weapons and material. In its diplomacy, it almost always sided with Israel, even when the American position was opposed by almost every other nation.
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This deep attachment to Israel began as soon as the state came into being fifty-four years ago. Backed by a small but passionately committed minority of Americas Jews, augmented later by growing groups of fundamentalist Christians, the lobby of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) steadily strengthened its manipulation of U.S. political institutions into unconditional support of Israel's subjugation of the Palestinian people and the forcible takeover of Arab land. This transition occurred with little awareness by the American people, except those of Arab ancestry and Muslim affiliation.
Throughout the years, Americas national leaders acted as if they were oblivious of the violations of international law perpetrated against the Palestinians by every Israeli government since the creation of the Jewish state. With only two brief exceptions years ago when the U.S. government sold military aircraft to Saudi Arabia, Israel's lobby always got what it wanted.1
After 9/11, lobby influence was nowhere more apparenr than on Capitol Hill. Even as evidence of worldwide outrage against U.S. complicity with Israel's assault on the West Bank and Gaza mounted, a large majority of members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate remained beholden to AIPAC. They blocked any fair and open discussion of the U.S. national interest on Middle East policies, giving their allegiance on these issues to AIPAC, rather than to their home constituencies.
In the spring of 2002, when Israel's invasion of the West Bank was in full force, lobby influence remained so overwhelming that almost the entire membership of Congress approved what I believe to be the most biased resolutions on the Middle East in the institution's history. As discussed earlier, similar resolutions in both chambers heaped unstinting praise on the Israeli aggressors and harsh blame on Palestinian victims. In the House, only 21 of the 435 members voted no. Dr. James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, while deploring the spectacle, noted that several House members voted present and others did not vote. Still others announced their opposition, then, incredibly, voted yes. I found the voting record depressing, but Zogby cited a silver lining: "My estimate is that about 100 members displayed their opposition in one way or another. I interpret the vote as a sign of rising opposition to U.S. Mid
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die East policies."2 In the 100-member Senate, Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) and Ernest Hollings (D-SC) provided the only negative votes.
No one in Washington was surprised by this legislative outrage, because every Congress since the administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower proceeded with a similar disregard of reality. It was simply the latest evidence that Capitol Hill is truly Israeli-occupied territory. Members of Congress are well informed about the ttue interests of the United States in the Middle East, but they are so intimidated they obey lobby direction. Based on my long, intimate experience in the Capitol Hill legislative process, I believe that most of those who cast affirmative votes on the resolutions privately resented being pressured by AIPAC and were embarrassed by having to vote against U.S. interests. Scores of times over the years, I have sat in committee and in the chamber of the House of Representatives as my colleagues behaved, as an undersecretary of state once described them, like "trained poodles" jumping through hoops held for them by AIPAC.
By voting affirmative on the biased resolutions in 2002, members of Congress ignored the centrality of the Palestinian plight in the hearts of many millions of people throughout the world, including Muslims and Arabs, who are closely linked across borders by religion and race. Also deeply distressed were millions of other people of conscience, many of them Christians and Jews. I estimate that at least 1.5 billion people rated the fate of the Palestinians and the religious shrines in Jerusalem as issues that towered in importance over all others, including Bush's war on terrorism. They blamed the catastrophe in the Middle East on the United States as well as on Israel. But only a tiny band among America's elected leaders seemed to care—or know.
"Israel-like Bombings Possible"
As the anniversary of 9/11 approached, neither the Congress nor the administration of President George W. Bush had awakened to these realities. Despite large protest marches in many countries, including the United States, and warnings of unprecedented severity from moderate leaders in the Middle East, the president and his chief advisers seemed unaware of grievances that prompted the protests. Instead of seeking
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out, identifying, and correcting errors and oversights in U.S. policy, they seemed totally focused on the possibility of further terrorism. Administration officials warned publicly—almost daily—of terrorist attacks against America that they deemed to be imminent. One morning, my hometown newspaper carried the headline "Israel-like Bombings Probable," and USA Todays front page shouted: "Suicide bombs expected in USA. FBI chief calls such attacks 'inevitable.'" The news reports, like many others, contained not a word about the possibility that wrong policies of the U.S. government might be at the root of violence.
In late May, Bush summed up his worldview in an interview with Tom Brokaw, news anchor for NBC television: "This war is good versus evil, freedom versus tyranny." To Palestinians writhing under Israel's brutal occupation, his summation was outrageous and absurd. How could they be expected to believe that Bush stood for freedom and against tyranny when they knew from firsthand experience that the U.S. government consistently supported, year after year, the tyranny being inflicted on them?
To many of the victims of Israeli violence, Israel and the United States were the Middle East's "axis of evil." They knew that Israel, a nation of only six million people, could not have maintained its own brand of anti-Palestinian apartheid without the massive backing of Bush and every other president since John F. Kennedy.
Asked by Brokaw when the war on terrorism would end, the president replied: "When they don't want to hurt us any more." His words had a hollow ring to survivors of the military onslaught that had occurred a month earlier when Israeli forces, using bullets, bombs, tanks, and gun-ships donated by the U.S. government, brought death and destruction on a massive scale to the Palestinians in the Jenin refugee camp and the beleaguered cities of Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Nablus.
In this information age, it was a supreme irony to find the commander in chief of the world's remaining military superpower, as well as most U.S. citizens, out of touch with reality in the Middle East and worldwide anti-United States fervor. I cannot believe that Bush would have spoken as he did, making no reference whatsoever to grievances against U.S.-Israeli policies, had he comprehended the depth and breadth of worldwide resentment against the United States bias in Middle East policy.
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Public opinion is not the only issue politicians must consider, but no politician can wisely ignore it. Bush should have known that the tide of wotld opinion was rising powerfully and fiercely against him and that, within the United States, the people supporting Israeli policies were actually a minority of the total population. A poll by Zogby International reported that 58 percent of Americans wanted the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza to end. Only 28 percent supported it. The same poll showed 71 percent supporting a Palestinian state.3
Clean Slate on Middle East Policy
When George W. Bush arrived at the Oval Office in January 2001, he had a reasonably clean slate on which to write Middle East policy. Although he catered to religious conservatives in his campaign, Bush had no apparent obligations to the pro-Israel lobby. In Colin Powell, he had a secretary of state who was experienced in United States and Middle East politics and respected worldwide. Bush could have wisely—and understandably—announced that the Middle East policies he'd inherited from previous administrations needed review and revision. He could have cleared his administration of complicity in Israeli misdeeds by announcing that he would establish policies to advance the security and well-being of Palestinians as well as Israelis.
Instead, twenty months into office, the Bush administration's only positive step toward evenhanded justice in the Middle East occurred when Powell announced the administration's support for an independent Palestinian state. The statement could have been presented as a major advance in policy, but instead it was cast only as a vague vision, a vision that would soon become more vague.
Aside from that announcement, the Bush response to Israeli-Palestinian turmoil consisted entirely of periodic demands that violence— especially Palestinian violence—must end so that political negotiations could resume. To Palestinians and their supporters, the call for negotiations was more of the same old delays. For years, Palestinian and Israeli officials engaged in protracted discussions that served only Israel's colonial interests, giving the Jewish state more time in which to continue the illegal expansion in number and size of Jewish settlements on Arab land. A major new usurpation occurred in rhe spring of 2002,
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when the Israeli government quietly began seizing Palestinian land to create "buffer zones" for the purported protection of Israelis living in the settlements.4
Jimmy Garter's Advice
In April 2002, Israeli Prime Minister Sharon buried the prospect of renewed negotiations by launching a war of death and destruction in Palestinian territory, in defiance of Bush's public demand that Israeli forces withdraw immediately. In a remarkable commentary, published the same month in the New York Times, former president Jimmy Carter cited the threat of cutting aid as a tactic that Bush could use to secure Israeli cooperation. Carter wrote:
There are two existing factors that offer success to the United States. One is the [Arms Export Control Act] requirement that American weapons are to be used by Israel only for defensive purposes. It is certainly being violated by Israel in the recent destruction of Jenin and other cities and villages. Richard Nixon used this requirement to stop Israel's military advance, led by Ariel Sharon, into Egypt in the 1973 war. I used the same demand to deter Israeli attacks on Lebanon in 1979. [A full invasion was launched by Ariel Sharon after I left office.] The other persuasive factor is approximately $10 billion in American aid to Israel. President George Bush, Sr., threatened this assistance in 1992 in an effort to halt the building of Israeli settlements between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Carter noted that the steps he recommended did not encroach on the sovereign territory of Israel. They related only to lands that are recognized as Palestinian by international law.5
In the spring of 2002, despite the gathering worldwide storm of protest that followed the massacre at Jenin, Bush did not act on either of Carter s recommendations. Instead of issuing an ultimatum to Sharon, Bush ducked a showdown with both Sharon and Congress. On NBC's Meet the Press, Powell lamely acknowledged that the administration had no intention of cutting aid to Israel in any respect or degree.
As a side note, I mention my own experience with the Carter administration in its response to the Arms Export Control Act. In 1980, while still in Congress, I contended that Israels use of U.S.-donated arms against the occupied territories and against Lebanon violated the Act,
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and I demanded that the administration halt aid to Israel. I noted that four years earlier, the United States, citing the same Act, had suspended aid when Turkey, a U.S. ally in NATO, invaded Cyprus. After weeks of prodding, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance sent me a letter of response, in which he admitted only that that Israel "may have violated" the Act.
A Missed Opportunity
As a Republican who worked vigorously for George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential campaign, I applauded him for publicly demanding in March 2002 that Sharon end his war on Palestinians, but I became distressed at his failure to back up the demand with responsible and effective action. With scores of lawyers on his staff, Bush was surely informed about his options under the Arms Export Control Act.
Imagine what might have transpired had Bush halted aid to Israel. Bush had full authority to act without consulting Congress; all he had to do was sign a document called a presidential determination. At that point at least, he had already made up his mind that Sharon's war should end, and any fair-minded observer would have agreed with former President Carter that Israeli forces were using U.S.-supplied weapons for purposes other than legitimate self-defense. If Bush suspended aid, pro-Israel members of Congress would likely protest, but given the presidents authority to veto legislation and his high popularity, he could have marshaled sufficient public support, I believe, to head off a showdown with Congress or to prevail if one occurred.
Had Bush announced the suspension of aid, it would have been the most significant decision in U.S. Middle East policy in nearly a half-century. The U.S. government—and the American people—would suddenly be liberated from the burden of their subservience to Israel for the first time since 1967.
Consider the likely impact this would have had on world opinion. The spectacle of the world's military superpower being thoroughly manipulated by a small nation of six million people would have vanished like a bad dream. The many millions of people worldwide who have been dismayed and outraged at America's subservience to Israel would have rubbed their eyes in disbelief. Instead of hanging Bush in effigy and burning American flags, they would be proudly waving the
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flags and dancing in the streets. The most threatening foreign grievance against the U.S. government would subside.
Instead of engendering such welcome change, Bush again rolled out the White House red carpet for Ariel Sharon and called him a "man of peace." Shortly thereafter, in an act of exquisite acquiescence, the president signed an appropriation bill that gave Israel a bonus of $200 million in addition to its usual grant of $3 billion from the U.S. Treasury. Incredibly, the $200 million reimbursed Israel for the cost of the invasion that Bush had denounced.
"Dehumanization on a Vast Scale"
Why, in the wake of 9/11, did no one ponder the question "why?" Why did America and its leaders remain silent about Arab and Muslim grievances?
Perhaps it was partly, if not mostly, because Muslims are often considered "different," if not dangerous, by the general public—most of whom, I must add, have never knowingly met a Muslim or read a verse from the Qur'an. In research done for my book, Silent No More, I learned that Muslims were unfairly linked with terrorism long before 9/11. Misperceptions of Muslims as being less than human were nurtured by heavy television coverage of the suicide bombings in Israel that were carried out by individual Palestinian Muslims, while scenes of Palestinian suffering and death seldom reached American homes. Few Americans seemed aware that Palestinians had no weapons to defend themselves against heavily armed Israeli forces marauding through the West Bank and Gaza.
From its founding in 1948, Israel's government has treated Palestinians as inferior human beings that it was entitled to subjugate. Years ago, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir even denied that a Palestinian nationality existed. Her denial buttressed the fiction that Israel came into being in 1948 in "a land without people," a false notion that has been kept alive ever since in Israeli schoolbooks. Even the Palestinians, who can vote in Israeli elections, are set apart from Jewish citizens: Their cars display distinctive license plates. They are denied important social services. They have difficulty buying any real estate and, in effect, can live only in
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restricted residential areas. They are rarely able to secure construction and remodeling permits, while Jews receive them without delay.
This process of colonial domination and intellectual brutality advanced the destruction of the Palestinian national identity in the perception of the American people: Palestinians are not viewed as human beings struggling for freedom; they are portrayed as anti-Jewish terrorists who hate freedom. Columbia University professor Edward Said, born in Palestine, called Israel's treatment of Palestinians "dehumanization on a vast scale." He added, "The intellectual suppression of the Palestinians that has occurred because of Zionist education has produced an unreflecting, dangerously skewed sense of reality in which whatever Israel does it does as a victim. . . . This has nothing to do with reality, obviously enough, but rather with a kind of hallucinatory state that overrides history and facts with a supreme unthinking narcissism."6 By helping Israel subjugate Palestinians, the U.S. government advanced this dehumanizing process. The president frequently expressed concern about security for Israelis but never about security for Palestinians. This bias reinforced the notion among Americans that, because Palestinians are ungovernable radicals, the Istaeli government must impose harsh treatment in order to keep them under control. Uri Avnery, an Israeli peace activist and former member of the Israeli Knesset, concluded that the real aim of Sharon's March 2002 invasion of the West Bank was nothing less than "the destruction of organized Palestinian society itself."7
The U.S. media played a role in America's failure to explore and address Arab grievances. After 9/11, several television commentators tejected as "appeasement of terrorists" steps that would take Arab grievances into consideration. Their reasoning for this was the invariably uttered sound bite: "That is exactly what the terrorists want us to do." To the commentators, responding to legitimate grievances would be tantamount to caving in to the enemy. Except for a few dissenting voices, the misinformed American people seemed to agree.
The additional fear of being marked as anti-Jewish was another reason that Arab grievances were ignored. Any gesture of fairness to Arabs would be widely misconstrued as hostility toward Israel, and this, in turn, would lead to accusations of anti-Semitism. Speaking up for Arab rights could lead to all kinds of personal losses—businesses, friendships,
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even social standing. Almost everyone could find an excuse to stay quietly on the sidelines.
The Roots of Terrorism
U.S. complicity in Israel's illegal behavior began in earnest in 1967, when Israel, with the clandestine cooperation of President Lyndon B. Johnson, accelerated its takeover of Arab land. Following these conquests, Israel's U.S. lobby pressured the U.S. government into giving ever-increasing amounts of money and armaments, as well as unconditional political support, to the state of Israel. Lirtle pressure was required. Conscious of the threat of being labeled anti-Semitic, members of Congress almost always cooperated.
So did the executive branch. Professor Noam Chomsky, who deserves recognition as the longest-standing Jewish American defender of Palestinian rights, believes the U.S. administration is guilty of "unilateral rejectionism," opposing any measures that could be viewed as anti-Israel. He believes the bureaucracy is a self-starter in this respect and needs no prodding. He contends that, in recent years, the U.S. government has acted on its own in providing decisive support to Israel's policies, under which "Palestinians have suffered terror, destruction of property, displacement and settlement, and takeover of basic resources, crucially water."8
Chomsky may be right in his assessment of the executive branch, but the intimidation factor is alive and well on Capitol Hill, where most members, while privately resenting the pressure, dutifully toe the Israeli line. If voting were kept secret, I am confident that aid to Israel would have long ago been heavily conditioned—if not terminated—in both chambers.
In the Oval Office, recent misleading influences on Middle East policy have come from several sources. The most influential group consisted of Republican members of Congress and orher party members whose main concern was Bush's election to a second term as presidenr. They welcomed support from all possible groups, especially the politically astute pro-Israel clique.
Another group consisted of staff members who felr constrained to defend the behavior of the state of Israel at all costs. This group included
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several Jews and fundamentalist Christians. The fundamentalists, often identified as right-wing Christians, were a major element in Bush's election to the presidency. Combined, the Jewish and fundamentalist Christian elements constituted less than 20 percent of the U.S. population, but they occupied positions of influence in Washington out of proportion to their numbers. Nevertheless, they still far outnumbered the ardently pro-Israel groups in the rest of the world.
Surprisingly, the White House staff, as well as the rest of the executive branch, was almost devoid of Muslims, a voting bloc that overwhelmingly supported Bush in his election to the presidency in 2000. In the balloting, Muslim voters gave Bush a national plurality estimated at two million. In Florida, the state that ultimately provided the electors that put Bush in the White House, an estimated 90 percent of Muslim voters cast their ballots for Bush. His plurality among Muslims was more than ninety thousand. Remarkably, twenty-six thousand of that plurality came from first-time voters.
Agha Saeed, who engineered the national bloc voting for Bush, summed it up: "U.S. Muslims crossed the political Rubicon. They formed a new coalition of voters." In the White House, Bush and his political lieutenants did not seem to notice.9 As they planned Bush's reelection campaign in 2004, they could not count on bloc support from the Muslim community.
The third group consisted of gatekeepers, staff members whose duties included shielding the president from unpleasantness and limiting his appointments to people who would tell him what he wanted to hear.
These combined influences kept the president and top members of his team dangerously isolated from the real America—and the realities of the Middle East. Only a handful of major U.S. periodicals provided balanced coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Knowledgeable viewers searched in vain for balanced reporting of Middle East events on television.
Arafat Gets Good Press—Briefly
The bias in reporting is intensified by public relations firms employed by pro-Israel groups. They closely monitor U.S. news coverage of Middle East events and react quickly and effecrively when reports surface that are unfavorable to Israel.
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News about the Middle East is informally but effectively censored before being broadcast or published in the United States. In contrast, some of the Hebrew press in Israel has been publishing unbiased, vibrant coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict. For years before his death, in an effort to fill the void in America, Israeli peace activist Israel Shahak distributed a monthly English-language digest of news and commentary that was published in Israel's Hebrew newspapers.
Even the venerable Associated Press is not immune to pro-Israel intimidation. In late May 2002, a report written and dispatched by Associated Press veteran State Department reporter Barry Schweid was quickly modified after a flurry of telephone protests. The original version reported, accurately, that "the State Department recently informed Congress that there was no clear evidence that Yasser Arafat or other senior officials of the Palestine Liberation Organization ordered or knew in advance of terror attacks on Israel." Jewish groups angrily protested that the report wrongly portrayed Arafat as innocent and demanded that it be revised to drop the implication. Schweid told a caller that his office was "swamped" with protests. He said one of them, Representative Tom Lantos (D-CA), was "near hysterics" in demanding a "less innocent" portrayal of Arafat. Because of the protests, Schweid recalled the original dispatch and substituted a revised version. Evidently the revision did not satisfy Lantos and others, as two more versions followed, each portraying Arafat more guilty than those before.10
Partners in Awful Carnage
Due to this type of censorship, the American people hardly noticed the whirlwind of anti-American protests that swept much of the world in the spring of 2002. In many countries, government officials and common people alike expressed outrage when the United States did nothing to halt Israel's onslaught against Palestinians in the West Bank. The outrage prompted millions of people to join protest marches, many bearing posters lamenting the brutality of Israeli military forces, some burning Sharon and Bush in effigy, and others desecrating the flags of both nations.
The U.S. response consisted of little-noticed "advisories" urging Americans abroad to hunker down and be alert for anti-American vio
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lence. That was all. Not a hint that anyone in power in Washington recognized the possibility that U.S. policies were highly provocative.
Osama bin Laden's Motives
In his televised address to Congress after 9/11, President Bush dismissed the attacks as pure evil, planned by ex-Saudi Osama bin Laden, perpetrated by other Saudi dissidents, and motivated by their envy of the freedoms that the American people enjoy. He ignored two facts: First, that while people in countries more accessible to terrorists than the United States enjoy the same freedoms as Americans, only the United States suffered a major onslaught. Second, despite America's shortcomings, U.S. citizenship and the liberties it conveys remains a primary dream of millions of people worldwide, not a motive for terrorism. For example, hundreds of Saudis have happily gained U.S. citizenship, and many others are waiting in line.
Bin Laden's motives were plainly displayed on the Internet. In 1999, the PBS Frontline television series broadcast a documentary called The Terrorist and the Superstar. It was based on a lengthy filmed interview of bin Laden, in which he castigated the United States for supporting Israel's subjugarion of the Palestinian people. The full text of the interview was placed on the Internet. The documentary brought to viewers samples of bin Laden's anti-American rhetoric, but not his impassioned statement of Arab grievances against the United States. The broadcast alleged that he played a major role in the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, explosions that were fatal to U.S. personnel and many local citizens. It also examined the U.S. tetaliatory bombing during the Clinton administration of Sudan and bin Laden's base of operations in Afghanistan.
In the documentary, bin Laden cast the peaceful religion of Islam in a false mold, calling on Muslims to make war on America and "kill Americans where they can and when they can." The documentary's producers made bin Laden seem all the more maniacal by omitting two important parts of his taped interview: In the first, bin Laden made his statement of grievances, condemning the U.S. government for its longstanding complicity in Israel's history of repression of the rights of Palestinians. In the second, bin Laden modified his call to kill all Americans, this time limiting his target to U.S. military personnel.
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By omitting these statements from the broadcast, the producers left television viewers wondering what, if anything, triggered bin Ladens fiery verbal assault. Those who objectively examined the full text of the interview on the Internet after watching the televised broadcast could not escape the conclusion that the producers censored bin Ladens statements in a way that shielded U.S. aid to Israel—and Israel itself—from criticism.
I found other examples of censorship. In March 2002, CNN broadcast a taped commentary in which bin Laden strongly criticized the U.S. government, listing the same grievances he had stated in the PBS documentary interview. CNN rebroadcast the bin Laden commentary several times during the next few hours, but in each rebroadcast, bin Ladens complaint about U.S. aid to Israel was omitted. The omission may not have been an intentional act of censorship, but the effect was the same: U.S. aid to Israel was spared notoriety.11
"Unrelenting Israeli Terrorism"
A few days after 9/11, Secretary of State Colin Powell came close to linking the assault to the plight of Palestinians. When asked by a reporter why America is hated in the Arab and Muslim world, Colin Powell stated that it is "due to the Palestinian crisis." This comment, coming from America's senior foreign policy officer, should have triggered immediate congressional hearings to seek elaboration from Powell, as well as commentary by other experts in foreign policy.12 The hearings might have led to an examination of U.S. responsibility for the Palestinian plight. There was no follow-up on Capitol Hill, in the media, or elsewhere.
Two weeks later, James J. David of Marietta, Georgia, a brigadier general in the Georgia National Guard who had extensive experience in the Middle East as a U.S. Army officer, was even more explicit than Powell. In an article, David declared that "the cause of this terrorism is our involvement in and support of the criminal behavior of the Israeli government. You can be certain that you will not hear this accusation from the controlled media, but nevertheless, let the truth be known. . . . The Palestinians and many of their Arab allies have been targets of a half-century of unrelenting Istaeli terrorism. . . . Every Palestinian and Arab is aware that Israel's . . . terror could never have occurred without the
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active financial, military, and diplomatic support of the United States. That is why the Arabs hate us, and that is why they are trying to strike back at us. . . . Striking back at the terrorists is important, but getting to the source of terrorism is even more important."13
Three months later, in a letter to Powell, David wrote: "The United States' generous handouts to the Jewish state have done nothing but bring more turmoil and violence to the Middle East and to the soil of the United States. If America wants peace in the Middle East and is serious about fighting world terrorism, then it's time to get tough with Israel and end all military and economic aid to the Jewish state."14
International Herald Tribune columnist William Pfaff is among the few prominent commentators who promptly called for redress of Palestinian grievances. Two days after 9/11 he wrote: "The only real defense against external attack is a courageous effort to find political solutions for national and ideological conflicts that involve the United States. For more than thirty years, the United States has refused to make a genuinely impartial effort to find a resolution to the Mideast conflict. If current speculation about these attacks is true, and they do indeed have their genesis in the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, the United States has now been awarded its share in that Middle East tragedy."
Charley Reese, a syndicated columnist, expressed a similar theme: "I hope you don't believe the fairy tale that we were attacked because of our wealth or freedom or because someone sitting in a distant cave (with hundreds of millions of dollars in various banks, by the way) was jealous. That is disinformation. We were attacked and will be attacked as long as we support Israel's aggression and occupation of other people and their lands. Personally, I am deeply angered that people I love might die one day just because a bunch of politicians have their hands in the pockets of the Israeli lobby. That is a sordid, stupid, and useless reason for any American to die."15
These were lone voices of reason. The U.S. news media ignored the motivations cited by David, Pfaff, and Reese and focused almost exclusively on the Palestinian suicide attacks that were fatal to Israelis, citing them as fanatical terrorism. There were exceptions. In May 2002, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published Riad Z. Abdelkarim's explanation of why some Palestinians became bombers: "They have decided that as long as Palestinians suffer death, destrucrion, mayhem, displacement, humil-
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iation, so will Israelis—wherever and whoever they may be."16 The same month, Abdelkarim, a California physician, was jailed by Israeli authorities, delaying for ten days his scheduled return home after volunteering medical care to injured Palestinians in the West Bank.
Several years earlier, Israeli lecturer and former Knesset member Nurit Peled-Eichanan blamed the government of Israel when her daughter Smadar, thirteen, was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber: "When you put people under border closure, when you humiliate, starve, and suppress them, when you raze their villages and demolish homes, when they grow up in garbage and in holding pens, that's what happens. Don't blame the extremist group Hamas. We are nurturing the Hamas by what we are doing."17
Amid these mostly bleak clouds, bits of sunshine break through. In addition to the steadily rising political mobilization of Arab American and Muslim American organizations—with the Council of American Islamic Relations leading the way—groups without particular ethnic or national focus became increasingly active in Middle East policy at the national level.
Jerri Bird, the wife of a retired U.S. foreign service officer, divided her waking hours between two related causes: protesting the torture routinely inflicted by Israeli authorities on people detained or jailed; and sponsoring lecture tours across the United States by female trios from Jerusalem. After rearing a family and retiring from a career in educational administration, Bird is pursuing this dual unpaid career with vigor. Much of her energy is devoted to combating the indifference of the U.S. State Department to the torture of U.S. citizens.
She directs her activities from a small office that is headquarters for Partners for Peace, an organization of volunteers that she founded in 1991. The group shares office space with the Council for the National Interest (CNI), a separate activist organization on Middle East policy that I helped to found in 1989. CNI is headed by Jerri's husband, Gene Bird. Partners for Peace functions with only one paid staff member. About three hundred supporrers meet the budget that averages $55,000 a year.
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In June 2002, Bird was planning the fifth annual U.S. tour of what she calls "Jerusalem Women Speak: Three Women, Three Faiths, One Shared City." The tour group consists of three women who reside in Jerusalem—one a Christian Palestinian, another a Muslim Palestinian, and the third a Jewish Israeli. A different team is fielded each year. They put a human face on the conflict and offer their personal experiences and views of how a real peace can be achieved. Each tour is fast-paced, involving seventy public events within a ten-day period. The tour usually includes visits to ten cities and a minimum of five speaking events each day. The lectures draw large crowds and elicit good coverage by news media, sometimes nationally by CNN and C-SPAN.
Bird's other passion is protesting torture in Israeli jails and prisons. She and her colleagues have found evidence of the mistreatment of at least fourteen U.S. citizens, most of them of Palestinian origin. The efforts of the group may have led to shortened confinement for seven of them.
According to Bird, Israel's U.S. lobby maintains a grip on the U.S. State Department so absolute that Israel is able to torture U.S. citizens with virtual impunity. The June 2002 issue of the Foreign Service Journal featured a lengthy article in which Bird quoted several victims of torture and protested the indifference of U.S. officials. She wrote: "I regard [those who spoke out] as brave, because Shin Bet [Israel's security] officials told them as they left Israel, 'Don't cause us any trouble. Just remember we can get you, no matter where you are.'"
Bird wrote that she has compiled clear evidence that the U.S. government has known for at least twenty-four years that Israel uses torture during interrogations of Palestinians on a wide scale: "The United States had evidence that American children were also subjected to this abuse. Yet, over more than two decades, no effective action has been taken by the United States to halt this practice. Furthermore, the United States took great care to avoid any public admission that Americans had been tortured." Bird quoted Anwar Mohamed, one of the victims: " 'I cannot believe that my government was powerless to take action on my behalf. Is it because I have an Arabic name?'"
According to Miftah, an Arab organization headed by prominent Palestinian educator Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, the Israelis have carried out more than 600,000 arrests or detentions. B'Tselem, an Israeli human
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rights organization, and Miftah agreed that 90 to 94 percent of those detained are tortured. Bird wrote: "Even when the lives of American citizens are at stake, the U.S. does not intervene effectively to safeguard them. How can this be justified?"18
In May 2002, amid a threatening worldwide political storm complicated by the danger of war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, President Bush offered a glimmer of hope on the Middle East front by speaking of Palestinian statehood as a clear objective of U.S. policy.
If he actually meant what he said, Bush became the first president to set a precise U.S. goal of any kind in Middle East peace negotiations. Except for Bill Clinton's commendable farewell message, in which he declared the inevitability of Palestinian statehood, Bush's predecessors never got beyond bland comments that the terms of peace must be left to negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.
In early May 2002, Mirror International reported from Washington that "Bush has made Palestinian statehood central to U.S. policy in the Middle East. He is the first president to explicitly support a [Palestinian] state. Bush has envisioned two states, one Palestinian and the other Jewish, existing in peace side by side." The commentary added: "So ingrained has administration acceptance of Palestinian statehood become that Bush's assistant for national security, Condoleeza Rice, and Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman, made almost matter-of-fact references to Palestine in speeches last week to the American Jewish Committee." During a news conference, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer affirmed the president's support for statehood."
A few days later, Powell mentioned the possibility of a "provisional state," a concept that Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres promptly endorsed. Whether Palestinians will settle for anything less than full Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories remains to be seen. A provisional state might mean nothing more than maintaining the "status quo," with Israel remaining fully in charge of Palesrinian destiny. At the least the Powell-Peres discussion suggested that U.S. commitment to Palestinian statehood was still, one might say, provisional.20
What Price Israel? 5
A month later, it became even more provisional when Bush, in an unpresidential public outburst of personal animus, demanded that Yasser Arafat step down from Palestinian leadership before progress toward statehood occurred.
What Price Censorship?