JSalloum on Thu, 4 Apr 2002 11:08:01 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] Antidote 15

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

What Price Oslo?

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

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



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