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Letter from London


The war against Slobodan Milosevic was clearly lost when the London

papers ran a front-page photograph of Defence Secretary George Robertson in Italy aboard a

warplane. This isn’t a war, it’s a photo op for politicians who have never seen

battle. With friends like British prime minister Tony Blair and his comic book hero, Bill

Clinton, Kosovo’s Albanians will be lucky to find tent space in exile. Those who have

survived Serbian pogroms are making their way to Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania, while

NATO aircraft overhead do nothing to stop the Serbs from making them permanent refugees.

In 1948, the Palestinians made a similar trek to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Gaza, while

the Arab armies watched them.

The Palestinians could have warned the Kosovar Albanians about

allies who bluster and bomb, but either cannot or will not defend them from dispossession

and destruction. The Arab states promised the kind of support NATO is giving the

Albanians: that is, the kind guaranteed to antagonise their enemies into expelling them

once and for all. Seven Arab states declared war on the new state of Israel in May 1948.

"Then," the Palestinian writer Constantine Zurayk noted, "when the moment

arrived, the fire proved to be low and dull, the steel and iron, rusty, bent and

susceptible to quick damage and disintegration, and the bombs, hollow, empty and

harmless."

NATO’s bombs are not harmless, but they are doing no harm at

allto the Serb forces attacking Albanians.

The Arab leaders of 1948 were bullshit artists, who raised the

Palestinians’ hopes only to let them down. What is NATO doing to prevent the

dispossession of the new Palestinians of the Balkans? Bombing from the relative safety of

the skies and seas. If that fails, and it is failing, they’ll bomb again.

The Kosovar Albanians, like the Arabs of 1948 Palestine, are the

majority population in their disputed land. As the Arabs were, they are peasants without

the weapons to resist a minority population that demands all the land for itself. The

Palestinian Arabs should have sought a realistic agreement with the Zionist settlers, but

the braggadocio of the Arab governments let them believe they would prevail without

compromise. Arab newspapers were crying for Israeli blood, and Islamic demonstrators as

far away as Singapore demanded justice for Palestine’s Arabs. No Arab leader had the

courage to announce the simple fact that they could not beat the Israelis. Instead, seven

Arab states declared war on a new country they could not defeat. The Arab armies never

fielded more than 40,000 poorly-trained troops against Israel’s 60,000 well-armed

fighters. Jordan had already made a secret agreement with the Israeli leadership to

partition the country. Most serious Israeli historians now confirm that the Haganah and

other Jewish forces used the Arab invasion as cover to expel most of Palestine’s

Arabs.

Kosovo’s Albanians are suffering the same fate for the same

reason. Much of the British and American press was screaming for war against the brutal

Slobodan Milosevic. Blair and Clinton were glad to oblige – so long as no one from

NATO got hurt. The air war is as effective in protecting them as the Arab invasion of

Israel was in saving Palestine’s Arabs, but London and Washington will not admit it.

Here are the myths Clinton and Blair are asking us to believe: that

Milosevic will cave into NATO; that the Albanians are going to return home; that they will

again be a majority in Kosovo; that Albanian refugees will not destabilise their

neighbours as the Palestinian refugees did in Jordan in 1970 and Lebanon in 1975; that the

war is somehow both legal, despite the UN Charter, and right, despite the destruction of

Albanian Kosovo, the Serbian opposition to Milosevic and the fledgling Montenegran

independence movement.

The British government’s overseas development minister, Clare

Short, assures an incredulous British public that the Serbs will allow the refugees to

return. What will Britain and the US do if Milosevic doesn’t? Bomb him? How many of

Bosnia’s Muslims have returned to their homes near the mass graves of Srebrenica

since Dayton?

Meanwhile, the BBC has reverted to its traditional role of trying to

suppress news that might distress the folks at home. The award-winning BBC radio

journalist Tim Llewellyn, who was threatened with death by the Syrians in Beirut in the

late 1970s, returned from Belgrade just before the bombing with a report on the daily

lives of ordinary Serbs. When the bombing began, the BBC killed his story. Llewellyn,

outraged, publicly accused the BBC of cowardice and censorship. The state-run corporation

became even more cowardly, backing down by running his report late at night. It did not

list the report, as is customary, in the newspaper guides and edited in a historian who

put the report into "perspective" by saying how awful the Serbs were. The BBC

could teach Milosevic about propaganda.

Meanwhile, Tony Blair’s government complains – much as the

US did when CNN’s Peter Arnett stayed in Baghdad in 1991 – that the BBC’s

distinguished correspondent John Simpson is reporting unfairly from Belgrade. He is one of

the few reporters to have stayed behind there, at risk to himself. He is telling his

audience what all of us who have reported from the foreign capitals (Tripoli, Beirut,

Baghdad et al) the US has targeted: bombs kill people and force them into the arms of, in

this case, the dictator whom they would gladly have strangled until the US started a war

and made him a patriot.

Never mind that the US in 1946 wrote and signed the Charter of the

United Nations that made such attacks illegal. But, for God’s sake, don’t

consign the Kosovar Albanians to the fate of Palestine’s Arabs: to be forgotten by

the West, despised by their host populations and dreaming forever of returning their lost

orchards, farms and cities. Will they be consoled by the sight of a British Defence

Secretary in the grounded cockpit of a warplane in Italy, looking like a toy soldier?

© Charles Glass 1999

Charles Glass is a journalist

 

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