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February 14, 2008

Bringing Down the New Berlin Walls


by John Pilger

The recent breakout of the people of Gaza provided a heroic spectacle unlike any other since the Warsaw ghetto uprising and the smashing down of the Berlin Wall. Whereas on the occupied West Bank, Ariel Sharon's master plan of walling in the population and stealing their land and resources has all but succeeded, requiring only a Palestinian Vichy to sign it off, the people of Gaza have defied their tormentors, however briefly, and it is a guarantee they will do so again. There is profound symbolism in their achievement, touching lives and hopes all over the world.

"[Sharon's] fate for us," wrote Karma Nabulsi, a Palestinian, "was a Hobbesian vision of an anarchic society: truncated, violent, powerless, destroyed, cowed, ruled by disparate militias, gangs, religious ideologues and extremists, broken up into ethnic and religious tribalism, and co-opted [by] collaborationists. Look to the Iraq of today – that is what he had in store for us and he nearly achieved it."

Israel's and America's experiments in mass suffering nearly achieved it. There was First Rains, the code name for a terror of sonic booms that came every night and sent Gazan children mad. There was Summer Rains, which showered bombs and missiles on civilians, then extrajudicial executions, and finally a land invasion. Ehud Barak, the current Israeli defense minister, has tried every kind of blockade: the denial of electricity for water and sewage pumps, incubators and dialysis machines and the denial of fuel and food to a population of mostly malnourished children. This has been accompanied by the droning, insincere, incessant voices of western broadcasters and politicians, one merging with the other, platitude upon platitude, tribunes of the "international community" whose response is not to help, but to excuse an indisputably illegal occupation as "disputed" and damn a democratically elected Palestinian Authority as "Hamas militants" who "refuse to recognize Israel's right to exist" when it is Israel that demonstrably refuses to recognize the Palestinians' right to exist.

"What is being hidden from the [Israeli] public," wrote Uri Avnery, a founder of Gush Shalom, the Israeli peace movement, on 26 January, "is that the launching of the Qassams [rockets from Gaza] could be stopped tomorrow. Several months ago, Hamas proposed a ceasefire. It repeated the offer this week... Why doesn't our government jump at this proposal? Simple: to make such a deal, we must speak to Hamas... It is more important to boycott Hamas than to put an end to the suffering of Sderot. All the media cooperate with this pretense." Hamas long ago offered Israel a ten-year ceasefire and has since recognized the "reality" of the Jewish state. This is almost never reported in the west.

The inspiration of the Palestinian breakout from Gaza was dramatically demonstrated by the star Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Aboutreika. Helping his national side to a 3-0 victory over Sudan in the African Nations Cup, he raised his shirt to reveal a T-shirt with the words "Sympathize with Gaza" in English and Arabic. The crowd stood and cheered, and hundreds of thousands of people around the world expressed their support for him and for Gaza. An Egyptian journalist who joined a delegation of sports writers to FIFA to protest against Aboutreika's yellow card said: "It is actions like his that bring many walls down, walls of silence, walls in our minds."

In the murdochracies, where most of the world is viewed as useful or expendable, we have little sense of this. The news selection is unremittingly distracting and disabling. The cynicism of an identical group of opportunists laying claim to the White House is given respectability as each of them competes to support the Bush regime's despotic war-making. John McCain, almost certainly the Republican nominee for president, wants a "hundred-year war." That the leading Democratic candidates are a woman and a black man is of supreme irrelevance; the fanatical Condoleezza Rice is both female and black. Look into the murky world behind Hillary Clinton and you find the likes of Monsanto, a company that produced Agent Orange, the war chemical that continues to destroy Vietnam. One of Barack Obama's chief whisperers is Zbigniew Brzezinski, architect of Operation Cyclone in Afghanistan, which spawned jihadism, al-Qaeda and 9/11.

This malign circus has been silent on Palestine and Gaza and almost anything that matters, including the following announcement, perhaps the most important of the century: "The first use of nuclear weapons must remain in the quiver of escalation as the ultimate instrument to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction." Inviting incredulity, these words may require more than one reading. They come from a statement written by five of the west's top military leaders, an American, a Briton, a German, a Frenchman and a Dutchman, who help run the club known as NATO. They are saying the west should nuke countries that have weapons of mass destruction – with the exclusion, that is, of the west's nuclear arsenal. Nuking will be necessary because "the west's values and way of life are under threat."

Where is this threat coming from? "Over there," say the generals.

Where? In "the brutal world."

On 21 January, on the eve of the NATO announcement, Gordon Brown also out-Orwelled Orwell. He said that "the race for more and bigger stockpiles of nuclear destruction [sic]" is over. The reason he gave was that "the international community" (basically, the west) was facing "serious challenges." One of these challenges is Iran, which has no nuclear weapons and no program to build them, according to America's National Intelligence Estimates. This is in striking contrast to Brown's Britain, which, in defiance of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has commissioned an entirely new Trident nuclear arsenal at a cost believed to be as much as £25bn. What Brown was doing was threatening Iran on behalf of the Bush regime, which wants to attack Iran before the end of the presidential term.

Jonathan Schell, author of the seminal Fate of the Earth, provides compelling evidence in his recently published The Seventh Decade: the New Shape of Nuclear Danger that nuclear war has now moved to the center of western foreign policy even though the enemy is invented. In response, Russia has begun to restore its vast nuclear arsenal. Robert McNamara, the US defense secretary during the Cuban crisis, describes this as "Apocalypse Soon." Thus, the wall dismantled by young Germans in 1989 and sold to tourists is being built in the minds of a new generation.

For the Bush and Blair regimes, the invasion of Iraq and the campaigns against Hamas, Iran and Syria are vital in fabricating this new "nuclear threat." The effect of the Iraq invasion, says a study cited by Noam Chomsky, is a "sevenfold increase in the yearly rate of fatal jihadist attacks."

Behold NATO's instant "brutal world."

Of course, the highest and oldest wall is that which separates "us" from "them." This is described today as a great divide of religions or "a clash of civilizations," which are false concepts, propagated in western scholarship and journalism to provide what Edward Said called "the other" – an identifiable target for fear and hatred that justifies invasion and economic plunder. In fact, the foundations for this wall were laid more than 500 years ago when the privileges of "discovery and conquest" were granted to Christopher Columbus in a world that the then all-powerful pope considered his property, to be disposed of according to his will.

Nothing has changed. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization and now NATO are invested with the same privileges of conquest on behalf of the new papacy in Washington. The goal is what Bill Clinton called the "integration of countries into the global free-market community," the terms of which, noted the New York Times, "require the United States to get involved in the plumbing and wiring of other nations' internal affairs more deeply than ever before."

This modern system of dominance requires sophisticated propaganda that presents its aims as benign, even "promoting democracy in Iraq," according to BBC executives responsible for responding to skeptical members of the public. That "we" in the west have the unfettered right to exploit the economies and resources of the poor world while maintaining tariff walls and state subsidies is taught as serious scholarship in the economics departments of leading universities. This is neoliberalism – socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor. "Rather than acknowledging," wrote Chalmers Johnson, "that free trade, privatization and the rest of their policies are ahistorical, self-serving economic nonsense, apologists for neoliberalism have also revived an old 19th-century and neo-Nazi explanation for developmental failure – namely, culture."

What is rarely discussed is that liberalism as an open-ended, violent ideology is destroying liberalism as a reality. Hatred of Muslims is widely advertised by those claiming the respectability of what they call "the left." At the same time, opponents of the new papacy are routinely smeared, as seen in the recent fake charges of narcoterrorism against Hugo Chávez. Having insinuated their way into public debate, the smears deflect authentic critiques of Chávez's Venezuela and prepare the ground for an assault on it.

This is the role that journalism has played in the invasion of Iraq and the great injustice in Palestine. It also represents a wall, on which Aldous Huxley, describing his totalitarian utopia in Brave New World, might have written: "Opposition is apostasy. Fatalism is ideal. Silence is preferred." If the people of Gaza can disobey all three, why can't we?


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  • John Pilger was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He has been a war correspondent, film-maker and playwright. Based in London, he has written from many countries and has twice won British journalism's highest award, that of "Journalist of the Year," for his work in Vietnam and Cambodia.

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