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End Both Occupations


Soldiers ripping walls apart with bullets, destroying buildings, killing families – all as they search for ‘terrorists.’ Men and boys picked up by soldiers, thrown into make-shift prison facilities for weeks, months, without communication with their families, without charges, without a trial. Families detained at checkpoints, held back by barbed wire, cement blocks, and tanks, held back in their own cities. Journalists harassed, threatened, and killed. The U.S. media ignore the deaths of all but the soldiers. Millions lack basic services, with the future looking dimmer. Throughout, the violence against the occupiers is presented by the occupiers as separate from the occupation itself. And, throughout, the bill for the occupation comes from U.S. tax-payers.

Iraq? Or the Palestinian Territories?

It is difficult to differentiate. The U.S. occupation of Iraq and the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip become more similar daily, and the occupations themselves are linked.

View from the occupied lands

How are they similar? The most glaring similarity is the physical occupation itself: 140,000 U.S. troops (and 11,600 British troops, and a scattering of smaller troops from other countries) occupy Iraq; tens of thousands of Israeli troops occupy the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (leaving out the Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights and the Lebanese Cheba’a Farms). (Note: no record of the exact number of the Israeli occupation forces is released by the Israeli government.) These troops bring with them their armament, tanks, helicopters, and their trigger-easy soldiers.

• The Iraqi dead / the Palestinian dead don’t matter – to the occupiers

In both Occupied Iraq and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the people themselves, and specifically their deaths, are of little significance to the occupiers.

“We don’t track them. They don’t count. They are not important.” Such was the reply from a U.S. Defense Department official to Helen Thomas’ question, “How many Iraqis have been killed in this war?” (1) As in the occupied Palestinian Territories, Iraqis have been killed at vehicle checkpoints and killed in their homes in night-time raids. (2)

Eighteen-year-old Farah Fadhil was killed by a grenade thrown by an American soldier through the window of her apartment. Marwan Hassan was shot, unarmed, as he ran to look for his brother amidst the one-sided shooting. The U.S. Occupying Forces had thought “fedayeen” were in the building.

And in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, it is the same story. Eleven-year-old Thaer Syuri was killed when Israeli occupying forces surrounded and opened fire at an 8-storey apartment building. Israeli occupying forces claimed that Palestinian gunmen were hiding in the residential building. (3)

Same story.

And just as the U.S. media are encouraged to count each U.S. death, the U.S. media ignores both the deaths of Iraqi civilians, “who are as uncounted as their names have been unacknowledged,” (4) and Palestinian civilians, whose deaths are dismissed and regarded as a ‘calm’ in violence. (5)

• The journalists don’t matter either

The policy towards journalists in both U.S.-occupied Iraq and Israeli-occupied Palestinian Territories is the same: Shoot first and ask questions later, if at all.

In Iraq, the U.S. occupying forces have deliberately targeted journalists – as when the Pentagon authorized 10 strikes against “media facilities,” (6) thus killing Tarek Ayoub in the well-identified Baghdad office of Al-Jazeera, and killing Taras Protsyuk and José Cousu in the Palestine Hotel, the base for many foreign media. The occupation forces have also carelessly killed – shooting Mazen Dana, allegedly confusing his camera for a rocket propelled grenade launcher.

And in the nearby occupied lands of Palestine, journalists have been beaten, threatened, harassed, censored; media outlets have been targeted and destroyed; and broadcasting equipment seized and confiscated. (7)

Journalists Nazeh Darwazi and James Miller were shot and killed by Israeli occupation forces, and their killings swept aside as easily (8) as the killings of Ayoub, Protsyuk, Cousu, and Dana.

Since no one is punished for these killings (which are, at best, gross acts of negligence), how can journalists feel safe? Or, are the occupiers – both Israeli and U.S. – intentionally building a climate of fear to prevent media coverage of human rights violation perpetrated against civilians?

• No Trials. No Charges. Only Detentions.

Hundreds, thousands, of men and boys are detained, interrogated, tortured, and mistreated in secret detentions, in a secret location, without access to lawyers, judicial review, or even communication with their families.

In Iraq, it is the underground airport prison, the most feared prison under the Saddam Hussein regime. No visitors allowed; only workers from the International Committee for the Red Cross can visit the detainees, on the condition that they do not disclose their findings. (9)

In Israel, it is Facility 1391, a secret military base, where an untold number of Palestinian detainees and suspects are held. “A situation under which people are detained in a secret location,” writes the Public Committee against Torture in an open letter to the Israeli government, “a place unsupervised by the relevant authorities, human rights organization, the courts, a place to which attorneys representing detainees have absolutely no access is a reality known to us from dictatorial regimes where all-powerful dictators hide their opponents away in unknown detention camps.” (10)

It is also known to us from occupying powers, cloaking themselves in “liberation” and “security” rhetoric.

• And the people suffer

Widespread unemployment – reaching 60% in both Iraq and the Palestinian Territories, lack of clean water, limited access to hospitals, shortages of necessary goods – like food and medicine, limited mobility within their own cities and neighborhoods – all these, and much more, are the direct consequences of the occupation, in both Iraq and the Palestinian Territories.

All the while, the resistance against the occupation is viewed as “terrorism” and the occupiers themselves are presented as victims.

All the while, the occupiers continue creating “facts on the ground.” The Israelis build Jewish-only settlements and an Apartheid Wall, and directly steal land and water resources from the Palestinians. The U.S. administration constructs a new system in Iraq – new laws, a new bank, new contracts – to privatize Iraqi resources, thus building an economic barrier between Iraqis and Iraq. (11)

And, for both occupations, it is the U.S. taxpayers who are covering the costs: $6.3 billion annually to fund the Israeli occupation (12), and more than $73 billion – thus far – to fund the U.S. occupation. Bush has requested an additional $87 billion in war spending.

Views from within the empire

• No benefits without costs

Both occupations impact the future expansionist plans of the occupier. For the U.S., control of this expanded territory would have significant consequences on the U.S. Empire. The US since 1945 has been in a race to control the world’s resources before other imperialists seize control, all part of a race of imperialists to establish complete domination by making sure indigenous people don’t control their own resources, often through violent pacification.

Controlling Iraq would serve as leverage in its competition with the other major global players – China, Russia, Europe – for land, oil, and geopolitical gains. Furthermore, after the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. has increased its strength in pressuring (controlling) Iran and Syria, and in pushing its influence further in the region.

Simply because such is the plan does not ensure its fulfillment. Due to the increasing financial costs – which, if Bush achieves his request, could reach $160 billion – and the growing loss of U.S. soldiers’ lives from the occupation, all amidst the rising unemployment rates and cuts in state budgets across the U.S., the occupation of Iraq could, at the least, cost Bush the presidency, and, at most, weaken the U.S. Empire, halting it in its expansion and cutting it down.

Similarly for Israel, occupation of the lands seized in 1967 lead it closer to its dream of a Greater Israel, and of increasing its status as a regional superpower. However, such plans do not come easily. Voices from within the Zionist structure are recognizing that the occupation of Palestinian lands comes at a heavy internal cost. In a much-publicized editorial, Avraham Burg, speaker of Israel’s Knesset from 1999 to 2003 and former chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, referred to Israel today as resting “on a scaffolding of corruption, and on foundations of oppression and injustice.” Burg spoke of the choices: Greater Israel or democracy, not both. (13)

Both occupations cannot be sustained without a considerable financial and human drain on the occupiers. And, in the long-run, both occupations simply cannot be sustained without a significant internal transformation of the occupiers themselves.

• The majority pay for the benefits of the minority

Some of the major beneficiaries of the occupations in Iraq and the Palestinian territories are the U.S. military corporations and the industries that support them. Since 1995, Israel has purchased $8,740,912,427 worth of weapons from the U.S. Another $4,595,350,000 has been allocated for weapons sales to Israel. In totality, the U.S. military industrial complex has won more than $13 billion in contracts and sales to Israel – in the past eight years alone! (14) The $73 billion spent and the requested additional $87 billion on the Iraq war will be mostly divided between supporting the U.S. military and giving millions of dollars in direct profits to U.S. corporations in the misnamed reconstruction effort in Iraq.

But what about the Israeli and American populations, corporations aside? Domestically, who benefits from the occupation of foreign lands?

For the Israelis, the settlers receive disproportionately greater aid than the rest of the Israeli population. For example, according to a 2002 report by the Israeli ‘Peace Now’ organization, in 2001 alone, Israel budgeted at least $533.6 million for settlers (who comprised 2.9% of all Israeli residents) and the settlements, of which at least $440.5 amounted to surplus expenditures that would have not been made if the settlements did not exist. These findings are only a partial reflection of spending for Israeli settlers. More specifically, Israeli settlers receive benefits from subsidized housing that they could otherwise not afford. As reported by the Foundation for Middle East Peace (15), most settlements have been classified as “Area of National Priority–A,” which entitles them to the most generous benefits, or “Area of National Priority–B,” which confers a lower level of benefits. The list of incentives applicable to A- and B-status settlements includes subsidies for housing ($5700 – $8600 grants plus soft loans; 75% – 100% subsidies on development costs), education (90% subsidies for pre-school), teachers (75% subsidies of tuition for further study; 80% subsidies for rental housing), and social workers (75- 100% subsidies for travel), 5 – 10% income tax reductions, and 35-40% subsidies of the cost of new hot houses for vegetables and flowers.

In light of the economic crisis that Israel has been in for years, even from a ‘mainstream’ point of view, this spending on a small segment of the Israeli population has quite severe repercussions on the rest of the Israeli population, apart from the effects on the Palestinians, which are, of course, infinitely worse.

In the U.S., arguably none of the poor are benefiting, while it is predominately the middle-class and the lower-income classes that are paying the bill and paying with their lives. While the budget for the military and the war increases, state budgets across the country suffer dramatic fiscal crises, and social services – from educational to health care needs – are cut. The ones most affected: low-income communities and communities of color (i.e. African-Americans, Native Americans/American Indians, and Latin-Americans).

Within the military itself, it is low-income and people of color communities that pay the price. The increased military budget and increased spending on the war in Iraq has not translated to increased spending on the soldiers in the front-lines or the veterans who have returned from the war. Furthermore, although the U.S. military is commonly presented as an ‘all-volunteer’ army, since military service is not compulsory, the U.S. military is disproportionately comprised of low-income communities, who join the military because no other job or educational opportunities are available, and people-of color communities. In addition, for the first time, the Pentagon has gone beyond recruiting poor communities to join the military; now, the Pentagon is actively recruiting a certain ethnic community to join the military. As reported in The Independent (UK), “senior Pentagon officials have identified Latinos as by far the most promising ethnic group for recruitment, because their numbers are growing rapidly in the US and they include a plentiful supply of low-income men of military age with few other job or educational prospects. Recruitment efforts have also extended to non-citizens, who have been told by the Bush administration that they can apply for citizenship the day they join up, rather than waiting the standard five years after receiving their green card. More than 37,000 non-citizens, almost all Latino, are currently enlisted. Recruiters have even crossed the border into Mexico – to the fury of the Mexican authorities – to look for school-leavers who may have US residency papers. … Latinos are already doing the most dangerous combat jobs in disproportionate numbers.” (16)

When we compare who is paying for this occupation with their lives and with their meager incomes to who is benefiting from this occupation, the result is clear: the poor are killing and dying for the benefit of the rich in the U.S. In just one awarded contract for work in Iraq, for example, Halliburton, which was ties to non-other than the U.S. Vice President, was promised $490 million in taxpayer-funded profits. (17)

As many similarities exist between the two occupations, there remain significant and important differences.

• Difference in presentation in the U.S.

Although the mainstream U.S. press presents both occupiers as victims of resistance, and presents the resistance itself as committed by irrational or religiously-extreme men, the mainstream U.S. media does refer to the U.S. occupation in Iraq as an occupation, but does not typically use the term ‘occupation’ in reference to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

>From a quantitative examination of U.S. mainstream press from September 3 to 10, 2003, only 28% of articles about the Gaza Strip and 16% of articles about the West Bank included the term ‘occupation,’ while 93% of articles about Iraq included the term ‘occupation.’ (18)

Will the U.S. press continue to refer to the U.S. occupation in Iraq as an ‘occupation’ or will the presentation of false peace agreements and the passing of time change the presentation in reference to Iraq as it has changed the presentation in reference to Palestine?

• Difference in objective

The most important difference is the objective itself.

The U.S. occupation of Iraq is colonial and old-fashioned: conquer the population; change the laws; increase foreign access to their resources; influence their future; construct the infrastructure – in its many contexts – to suit foreign, not domestic, interests; appoint a government and set up plans for future leadership that will have divisive impacts on the population; and then depart, leaving a smattering of military bases and long-standing impacts. (19) This kind of occupation has been repeated throughout the world, from the French and British occupations of the Arab World, the many European occupations of Africa, the British occupation of India, and so on.

In occupied Palestine, the objective is different and significantly more horrific. The Israeli military bases and military power are not designed solely to conquer the indigenous population per se, but to expel, subvert, and ghettoize. The 1967 Israeli occupation cannot – and must not – be examined in isolation of its history; to understand the objectives of the current objective, one must remember the objective of the Zionist dream itself: to create a country exclusively for Jews on the land of Palestine.

A fuller comparison between occupations is the Israeli occupation of Palestine to the European occupation of the Americas.

Conclusion

Similarities and differences not withstanding, the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories feed into each other, each occupation supporting the other. The conquest – or, attempted conquest thus far – of Iraq and the 36-year occupation of the Palestinian Territories support both the U.S. and Israeli occupiers’ plans for further domination, further subjugation.

Similarities and differences not withstanding, the demands in both situations are the same: an end to the occupations, an end to the racist nature that contributes to these policies, and an end to the silence of too many communities that allows these policies to continue.


(1) “Who’s Counting the Dead in Iraq?” By Helen Thomas. Miami Herald. September 5, 2003.

(2) “Farah tried to plead with the U.S. troops but she was killed anyway.” By Peter Beaumont. The Observer (UK). September 7, 2003.

(3) “Hebron: Israeli military operation leaves one child dead and two wounded.” Palestinian Committee on Human Rights (PCHR). Report. September 9, 2003 (4) “Farah tried to plead with the U.S. troops but she was killed anyway.” By Peter Beaumont. The Observer (UK). September 7, 2003. (5) “Palestine: Journalists Find ‘Calm’ When Only Palestinians Die.” Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting . Media Advisory. August 22, 2003. (6) “ ‘Dumb’ bombs used to topple Saddam.” By Mark Forbes. The Age (Australia). June 3, 2003. (7) “IPI Releases Updated Report on Press Freedom Violations in Israeli/Palestinian Conflict.” International Press Institute. June 13, 2003. (8) “Israeli army’s attitude: Regret, but no real enquiries and certainly no one punished.” Reporters Without Borders. July 30, 2003. (9) “Status of detainees remains unclear.” By Sarah Smiles. Baghdad Bulletin. June 24, 2003. (10) Letter from the Public Committee Against Torture to the Israeli Government. September 4, 2003. (11) “Reconstructing or Deconstructing Iraq”. By Rania Masri. Al-Adab Magazine. http://www.adabmag.com/Issue%207-8-2003/p.8.htm; and (2) Campaign to Stop the War Profiteers and End the Corporate Invasion of Iraq. Institute for Southern Studies. www.southernstudies.org

(12) SUSTAIN (Stop U.S. Tax-Funded Aid to Israel Now!). www.sustaincampaign.org

(13) “A Failed Israeli Society is Collapsing.” By Avraham Burg. International Herald Tribune. September 6, 2003.

(14) “Arming the Occupation.” Report by the Institute for Southern Studies. May 2003. Contact rania@southernstudies.org for copies and details.

(15) http://www.fmep.org/1197.html#settlements

(16) “Pentagon targets Latinos and Mexicans to man the front lines in war on terror”. By Andrew Gumbel in Los Angeles. September 10, 2003. The Independent (UK).

(17)For more information on the contracts, refer to www.southernstudies.org/campaignpage.asp

(18) A Lexis-Nexis quick search was used for obtaining the data. Thanks to Joyce Karam for her assistance.

(19) “Reconstructing or deconstructing Iraq?” By Rania Masri. Al-Adab Magazine. July-August 2003.

[originally for Al-Adab Magazine. A shorter version is published in the SUSTAIN newsletter. See: www.sustaincampaign.org]

Rania Masri, rania@nc.rr.com, is program director at the Institute for Southern Studies (www.southernstudies.org), which launched the ‘Campaign to Stop the War Profiteers and End the Corporate Invasion of Iraq’

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