There are three words or phrases that are not permissible in the U.S. mainstream media in application to the Israel-Palestine conflict: racism, ethnic cleansing and international law. This follows from the deep, deep bias of the media favoring Israel and hostile to the Palestinians. The evidence of Israeli racism is overwhelming, and criticism of that racism is a commonplace in Israel, but it is suppressed here. Israel is explicitly a “Jewish state,” with special rights inhering in Jewishness, including the right to occupy land; it has engaged in a long-term systematic expropriation of Palestinian land and demolitions of Palestinian homes strictly for Jewish-settler benefit; and its occupation has long been characterized by brutal maltreatment of Palestinians, who have been publicly described by Israeli leaders as “lice,” “grasshoppers,” “two legged animals,” and numerous other epithets.
New York Times favorite Michael Ignatieff explained why the Serbs were ready to kill Albanians in Kosovo: “The reason is simpleâ€¦only in Serbia is racial contempt an official ideology” (NYT, Nov. 21, 1999). This, however, is a blatant lie as Albanians have never been subjected to officially-sanctioned discrimination in Belgrade, and Milosevic and other high Serbian officials have never described Albanians as “lice” or “grasshoppers.” But Ignatieff would never say that “racial contempt is an official ideology” in Israel, although the facts in that case would warrant such a statement. Lies regarding the official enemy; lies-by-silence on the racism of the beloved client, is standard mainstream media policy, and we can readily understand why Ignatieff was recently selected as a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine (and why he is head of a human rights center at Harvard University).
The phrase “ethnic cleansing” was used lavishly by the mainstream media to describe Serb policy in Kosovo, although this also was a lie: there was a brutal civil war during which the Albanians were often treated very harshly, and large numbers fled-many forced out-during the 78-day NATO bombing war in 1999. But they were never driven out to make way for Serb settlers, as Palestinians have been removed for Jewish settlement over many years and on a large scale. In fact, Israeli policy in expropriations, demolitions and removal provides a perfect model of ethnic cleansing-but the phrase is never applied to the Israeli case by U.S. reporters, pundits and editorial writers. The direct lie in the one case, lie-by-silence in the other, is absolutely standard media procedure.
Reference to international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention are also not permissible in mainstream media discussions of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Such references would be awkward because as an occupying power Israel is obligated to protect the Palestinians, and under the Fourth Geneva Convention , to which Israel and the United States are signatories, Israel is forbidden the taking over of land and displacing of the local inhabitants. In short, the settlements on the West Bank and Gaza and takeover of a large part of East Jerusalem are gross violations of international law. The solution for the Free Press is lie-by-silence.
One other issue off the media agenda is the decades-long U.S. government support for Israeli ethnic cleansing, in opposition to an almost unanimous global consensus, showing this country to be a pro-Israel protagonist rather than an “honest broker.” The United States regularly vetoes any condemnation of Israel in the UN or any attempt to bring monitors into the area to protect the Palestinians from assaults by the powerful Israeli army. It has also armed Israel and given it massive resources to fund its military establishment, which has permitted and protected the settlements and the associated ethnic cleansing. The ideological bias in the U.S. media is so profound that anyone supplying arms to the Palestinians is supporting “terrorism,” whereas the U.S. supplying arms to the ethnic-cleansing state that over the years has surely killed a dozen Palestinians for every Israeli killed is normalized as aiding “self defense.” (The “crisis” in recent years results from the fact that that ratio has fallen to three to one.)
The root of the conflict is the occupation: its cruelties and oppression and steady expropriations and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in violation of international law. (Even in the 22 percent of Palestine left to the Palestinians after the 1967 war, by the end of the Oslo “peace process” in 2000, some 42 percent of the West Bank land and most of its water has been taken over by the Israelis and settlers; in Gaza, one third of the land was seized for the benefit of 7,000 settlers, leaving the remaining two-thirds for over a million Palestinians.) From these oppressions and expropriations arose a Palestinian resistance, that was largely nonviolent through the first intifada (1987-1991), during which few Israelis but over a thousand Palestinians were killed; but the resistance resorted to suicide bombers in the second intifada.
Virtually all independent and many Israeli analysts recognize that the suicide bombers reflect the “bottomless despair” of the Palestinians–to quote the words of former Shin Beth head Ami Ayalon–finally striking out in response to “a systematic process of demolition of Palestinian private and public property, and mass expropriation of Palestinian land on behalf of the settlersâ€¦[involving also] prolonged curfews, road-blocks, humiliations, beatings, military invasions of densely populated areas, detentions of thousands without trial under sub-human conditions, obstruction of access to work, medical care, schools and universities, and a host of other means” (quoting a recent Urgent Appeal signed by 153 Israeli academics, but unmentioned in the New York Times).
In short, Israeli “insecurity” has increased as a direct result of Israel’s merciless and illegal ethnic cleansing that, of course, made for far greater Palestinian insecurity. But in the remarkable propaganda system of the United States there is no recognition of Palestinian insecurity-that word is reserved for the painful and serious, but far smaller, victimization of the people of the ethnic-cleansing state.
Most important, since the occupation and ethnic cleansing are normalized and their results largely suppressed, and the violations of international law ignored, the propaganda system is able to make the causal force in the violence the suicide bombers, who seemingly came out of nowhere in an irrational assault on the peace loving Sharon and Israeli people. This miracle of abortive history was concisely expressed by Paul Berman in his Terror and Liberalism, where he says: “Our current predicament was brought upon us by acts of suicide terrorism”-”we” had no “predicament” prior to those actions, which became a major phenomenon only in 2001! Berman traces the bombers to irrationality and Islam, and expresses amazement that anyone could attribute this development to Israeli oppression. This is amazing nonsense and self-deception, but it is entirely understandable that Berman, like Ignatieff, is a New York Times and mainstream media favorite. He expresses well the deep-seated racist and pro-ethnic cleansing ideology that dominates the Free Press.
.In considering the meaning of the road map we should also consider what its nominal author, George Bush, has done in the past two years leading up to its issuance. Has he shown any sign of siding with the weaker party, sympathizing with its terrible conditions, strengthening it militarily or politically, and recognizing the need for the introduction of justice for the victims of occupation and ethnic cleansing? Quite the contrary. He and his administration quickly welcomed Sharon as a “man of peace” and partner in the “war on terror,” terror meaning retail terror as in suicide bombings. Sharon’s killings, destruction and demolitions of homes and civilian infrastructure, as in the past, are not wholesale terror, but presumably only “retaliation” (i.e., acceptable violence). Bush has only been angry at suicide bombings, not at the more numerous deaths and calamitous conditions brought by Sharon. Correspondingly, the repeated and urgent call by Bush has been for Palestinian restraint and an end to suicide bombings.
Meanwhile, Bush gave Sharon carte blanche in 2001 to invade the West Bank and Gaza cities and engage in virtually unlimited violence against the civilian population of Palestine. He has vetoed any international effort at monitoring or even investigating Sharon’s murderous assaults in Jenin and other civilian sites. He has not interfered in the least with the Sharon government’s vast destruction of Palestine’s civilian infrastructure, its systematic assassinations, its costly and cruel closures, its numerous demolitions of Palestinian homes and markets, or its targeting of journalists and human rights workers. He has sanctioned the beggaring of the Palestinian population and destruction of the facilities necessary for a viable state.
Bush has also not complained about the numerous settlements established on the West Bank over the last two years, or at the construction of a massive wall within Palestine that has deprived many thousands of Palestinians of homes and/or means of livelihood. This wall will constitute a virtual prison surrounding the shrunken territory left for the Palestinians.
In short, Bush has given tacit approval to the Israeli establishment of more “facts on the ground” that have advanced Israeli ethnic cleansing and expanded and intensified deprivation and injustice to the Palestinians. His policies in the two years prior to the announcement of the road map were therefore diametrically opposed to those that would have addressed the issues in the conflict, and, in fact, they greatly reduced the possibility of a just settlement. This is just what we might have expected, given both the composition and base of the Bush team and the nature of the “war on terror.” Bush’s leading advisers in this area, including Wolfowitz, Abrams, Feith, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Bolton are pro-Likud and pro-Sharon hardliners, and the Christian Right support base openly supports Israeli ethnic cleansing. The “war on terror” is a war of the terrorizing strong against anybody who stands in the way, who therefore is named terrorist. The Palestinians, resisting an ethnic-cleansing process long supported by the United States, automatically qualify as targets.
The Road Map: Another “International Community” Copout
These are essential background facts for consideration of the “Road Map.” They tell us in advance that a road map offered by this protagonist and close ally of Israel, who has already helped worsen the situation, will surely not be designed to bring justice to resolving the conflict and is therefore unlikely to end the violence. Why then bother with a road map? One reason is that the United States has reserved to itself the right to intervene in this conflict, and most of the world is highly critical of the U.S. support of Israeli repression and failure to bring peace to the area. Bush may have believed that his carte blanche to Sharon to assault Palestine would bring “peace” through wholesale terror and effective “pacification,” but despite the massive destruction and pain inflicted, the victims continue to resist.
A second and related reason for the Road Map is that Bush made promises to Blair and others to do something constructive to end the Israel-Palestine conflict. A third consideration is that his political fortunes at home demand some action on this front. He has to be able to say that he tried, even if the effort fails and once more he must support Israel against the “terrorists.”
The Road Map was sent by Kofi Annan to the Security Council on May 7, under the title “A performance-based roadmap to a permanent two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Kofi Annan’s cover letter claims that the Road Map was prepared by the “Quartet,” the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the UN. But the document reflects the exact biases that we would anticipate from U.S. authorship, so that here, as in the performance of Annan, the UN, and the Security Council in the “diplomacy” leading up to the U.S. attack on Iraq, the “international community” has deferred to Uncle Chutzpah in dealing with an issue in which Chutzpah should be disqualified for bias (see my “Uncle Chutzpah, on a Rampage, Has ‘Momentum’,” ZNet Commentary, June 25, 2003)..
Recall that Israel’s settlements, roads for settlers only, and abusive treatments of the Palestinians have been in violation of scores of UN Security Council resolutions and the Fourth Geneva Convention. You might think that a UN-sponsored plan would start with these primary violations, which have not only involved systematic Israeli violence in expropriations, demolitions, removals and abuses of persons but are also the root cause of Palestinian violence against Israelis. Furthermore, a first requirement in assuring respect for the law, as well as obtaining justice, is that the law violators not be allowed the fruits of their illegal actions. And if Palestinian violence will only be surely ended if the land robbers are not allowed to keep Palestinian land stolen since 1967, it should be obvious that getting all the settlers out should be the first and highest priority. But just as the United States has protected Israel’s ethnic cleansing in the past, it aligns itself with Israel now in supporting the robber’s rights to his loot. This perspective dominates the Road Map.
As reflected in the Road Map, the robber-protection plan works this way: dealing with matters like action on the settlements, borders, and assuring “maximal territorial contiguity” of the new Palestinian state are pushed into the future and will be contingent on satisfactory containment of violence and political reform in Palestine. So the main and almost exclusive burden of adjustment in the near term is not on Israel but on the victimized Palestinians. Having just been crushed and left devastated and impoverished by Sharon’s army, with U.S. sanction, the Palestinians must “end violence, terrorism, and incitement through restructured and effective Palestinian security services.” The Road Map only requires the Israelis to “withdraw from Palestinian areas occupied from September 28, 2000,” and to freeze settlement activity. There is no mention of the wall, whose construction is daily expropriating more Palestinian land, or roads or water. There is no mention of East Jerusalem.
The failure to deal directly and immediately with these hard but crucial issues shows the Road Map to be a fraud. Right now, when Bush is at the peak of his powers, is precisely the time when such matters could be dealt with, if there was an intention to deal with them in a manner that would displease Sharon and company. In reality, Israel will never give up the major settlements and the wall except under serious pressure and threat, and the Bush administration will support its refusal. With the wall permitted, imprisoning many of the Palestinians in their steadily shrinking territory, this territory likely to be broken into non-contiguous segments, its people dependent on Israel for water and border access, and with only token armed forces, Palestine will be a Bantustan or series of Bantustans, at best. This has long been a Sharon objective (Gershom Gorenberg, “Road Map to Grand Apartheid? Ariel Sharon’s South African Inspiration,” The American Prospect, July 3, 2003), although his plan is not markedly different from Labor’s Allon and successor plans. The Road Map statement that all their planned reforms will produce an “independent, viable, sovereign Palestinian state” is dishonest.
The Road Map is well designed to allow interruptions in the move from phase to phase so that the later phases are never reached. Recall that the Oslo “peace process” also called for an end to Palestinian violence, which happened, but left final arrangements to a future agreement that never materialized. The U.S.-Israeli arrangements there permitted an accelerated ethnic cleansing in the occupied territories that led to the second intifada. There were always excuses for putting off a final agreement.
That will surely be true of the new Road Map. It does nothing to improve the tragic condition of the Palestinians for the foreseeable future except for a partial calling off of the IDF. The many victims of Israel will not be satisfied to wait indefinitely for justice, and there is good reason to believe that they will be made to suffer further as the wall gets built, roads are extended, and border and other harassments occur. They are still victims of an occupation, that serves the settlers and treats the Palestinians with roadblocks, barbed wire fences, bypasses, a “discrimination that is practiced every day, and every minute of every day…an alienated, burning insultâ€¦familiar to the blacks of South Africa, the blacks of the United States, and the Jews of Eastern Europe” (Amira Hass, “No end to the growing settlements insult,” Haaretz, July 2, 2003).
The land grab continues every day also: hundreds of acres of Beit Eksa and Beit Sourig village land were even seized by Israeli officials for settlements on July 1, in flagrant violation of the new agreement (Chris McGreal, “Israel Defies Peace Plan With Land Grab on West Bank,” Guardian July 2, 2003). There will likely be occasional acts of anti-Israel violence, and Ariel Sharon is a master at the art of provocation to produce reasons for “retaliation” and possible further ethnic cleansing. The Israeli press has featured at least half a dozen cases in the last three years where a prospective cease fire with the Palestinians was aborted by a Sharon-inspired “assassination” attempt. It will be a cakewalk for him to keep the pot boiling so that phases 2 and 3 of the Road Map are never reached.
The outlook remains grim. The Road Map’s only clear design is to end Palestinian violence; that is, pacification in favor of the stronger party. It is an invitation to the Palestinians to surrender and leave their future in the kindly hands of Ariel Sharon and George Bush. This is not promising as Palestinian victimization has been too severe, the inducements offered for surrender are too slight and those kindly hands are not very forthcoming. We are in for further retail and wholesale terrorism, with uncertain, but not happy, future outcomes.