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January 22, 2009

Come On Down for Your Freedom Medals


by John Pilger

On 13 January, George W. Bush presented "presidential freedom medals," said to be America's highest recognition of devotion to freedom and peace. Among the recipients were Tony Blair, the epic liar who, with Bush, bears responsibility for the physical, social and cultural destruction of an entire nation; John Howard, the former prime minister of Australia and minor American vassal who led the most openly racist government in his country's modern era; and Alvaro Uribe, the president of Colombia, whose government, according the latest study of that murderous state, is "responsible for more than 90 percent of all cases of torture."

As satire was made redundant when Henry Kissinger and Rupert Murdoch were honored for their contributions to the betterment of humanity, Bush's ceremony was, at least, telling of a system of which he and his freshly-minted successor are products. Although more spectacular in its choreographed histrionics, Barack Obama's inauguration carried the same Orwellian message of inverted truth: of ruthlessness of criminal power, if not unending war. The continuity between the two administrations has been as seamless as the transfer of the odious Bono's allegiance, symbolized by President Obama's oath-taking on the steps of Congress – where, only days earlier, the House of Representatives, dominated by the new president's party, the Democrats, voted 390-5 to back Israel's massacres in Gaza. The supply of American weapons used in the massacres was authorized previously by such a margin. These included the Hellfire missile which sucks the air out of lungs, ruptures livers and amputates arms and legs without the necessity of shrapnel: a "major advance," according to the specialist literature. As a senator, then president-elect, Obama raised no objection to these state-of-the-art [sic] weapons being rushed to Israel – worth $22 billion in 2008 – in time for the long-planned assault on Gaza's fenced and helpless population. This is understandable; it is how the system works. On no other issue does Congress and the president, Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, give such absolute support. By comparison, the German Reichstag in the 1930s was a treasure of democratic and principled debate.

This is not to say presidents and members of Congress fail to recognize the Israel "lobbyists" in their midst as thugs and political blackmailers, though they never say in public, and indeed disport themselves at Zionist fund-raisers and on paid-for trips to the object of their ardor. But they fear them. As eyes welled on 20 January for the first African-American president, who remembered Cynthia McKinney, the courageous African-American Congresswoman, the first to be elected from Georgia, who spoke out for the Palestinians and was duly driven from office by a Zionist smear campaign? For their part, the Israelis' current, phony "unilateral ceasefire" in Gaza is designed not to embarrass, not yet, their new man in the White House, whose single acknowledgment of the "suffering" of the Palestinians has been long eclipsed by his loyalty oaths to Tel Aviv (even promising Jerusalem as Israel's capital, which not even Bush did) and his appointment of probably the most pro-Zionist administration for a generation.

As deserving as Blair, Howard and Uribe are of the Bush Freedom Medal, others cry out for a place in their company. With the assault on Gaza a defining moment of truth and lies, principle and cowardice, peace and war, justice and injustice, I have two nominees. My first is the government and society of Israel. (I checked; the Freedom Medal can be awarded collectively). "Few of us," wrote Arthur Miller, "can easily surrender our belief that society must somehow make sense. The thought that the State has lost its mind and is punishing so many innocent people is intolerable. And so the evidence has to be internally denied."

The bleak irony of this should be clear to all in Israel, yet its denial has emboldened a militarist, racist cult that uses every epithet against the Palestinians that was once directed at Jews, with the exception of extermination – and even that is not entirely excluded, as the deputy defense minister, Matan Vilinai, noted last year with his threat of a shoah (holocaust).

In 1948, the year Israel's right to exist was granted and Palestine's annulled, Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt and other leading Jews in the United States warned the administration not to get involved with fascists like Menachem Begin who described the Palestinians in the way the Nazis used untermenschen – as "animals on two legs." He became prime minister of Israel. This fascism, which was not often flouted openly, was the harbinger of Likud and Kadima. These are today "mainstream" political parties, whose influence, in the treatment of the Palestinians, covers a national "consensus" that is the source of the terror in Palestine: the brutal dispossessions and perfidious controls, the humiliation and cruelty by statute. The mirror of this is domestic violence at home. Conscripted soldiers return from their "war" on Palestinian women and children and make war on their own. Young whites drafted into South Africa's apartheid army did the same. Inhumanity on such a scale cannot be buried indefinitely. When Desmond Tutu described his experience in Palestine and Israel as "worse than apartheid," he pointed out that not even in white supremacist South Africa were there the equivalent of "Jews only" roads. Uri Avnery, one of Israel's bravest dissidents, says his country's leaders suffer from "moral insanity": a prerequisite, I should add, for the award of a Bush Freedom Medal.

My other nominee for a Bush Freedom Medal is that amorphous group known as western journalism, which has always made much of its freedom and impartiality. Listen to the way Israeli "spokespersons" and ambassadors are interviewed. How respectfully their official lies are received; how minimally they are challenged. They are one of us, you see: calm and western-sounding, even blonde, female and attractive. The frightened, jabbering voice on the line from Gaza is not one of us. That is the subliminal message. Listen to newsreaders use only the pejoratives for the Palestinians: words like "militants" for resisters to invasion, many of them heroes, a word never used, and "conflict" for massacre. Mark the timeless propaganda that suggests there are two equal powers fighting a "war," not a stricken people, attacked and starved by the world's fourth largest military power which ensures they have no places of refuge. And note the omissions – the BBC does not preface its reports with the warning that a foreign power controls its reporters' movements, as it did in Serbia and Argentina, neither does it explain why it shows but glimpses of the extraordinary coverage of al-Jazeera from within Gaza.

There are the ubiquitous myths, too: that Israel has suffered terribly from thousands of missiles fired from Gaza. In truth, the first homemade Qassam rocket was fired across the Israeli border in October 2001, and the first fatality occurred in June 2004. Some 24 Israelis had been killed in this way, compared with 5000 Palestinians killed, more than half of them in Gaza, at least a third of them children. Now imagine if the 1.5 million Gazans had been Jewish, or Kosovar refugees. "The only honorable course for Europe and America is to use military force to try to try to protect the people of Kosovo …," declared the Guardian on 23 March, 1999. Inexplicably, the Guardian has yet to call for such "an honorable course" to protect the people of Gaza.

Such is the rule of acceptable victims and unacceptable victims. When reporters break this rule they are accused of "anti-Israel bias" and worse, and their life is made a misery by a hyperactive cyber-army that drafts complaints, provides generic material and coaches people all over the world on how to smear as "anti-Jewish" work they have not seen. These vociferous campaigns are complemented by anonymous death threats, which I and others have experienced. Their latest tactic is malicious hacking into websites. But that is desperate, since the times are changing.

Across the world, people once indifferent to the arcane "conflict" in the Middle East, now ask the question the BBC and CNN rarely ask: Why does Israel have a right to exist, but Palestine does not? They ask, too, why do the lawless enjoy such immunity in the pristine world of balance and objectivity? The perfectly-spoken Israeli "spokesman" represents the most lawless regime on earth, exotic tyrannies included, according to a tally of United Nations resolutions defied and Geneva Conventions defiled. In France, 80 organizations are working to bring war crimes indictments against Israel's leaders. On 15 January, the fine Israeli reporter, Gideon Levy, wrote in Ha'aretz that Israeli generals "will not be the only ones to hide in El Al planes lest they are arrested [overseas]."

One day, other journalists and their editors and producers may be called upon to not only explain why they did not tell the truth about these criminals but even to stand in the dock with them. No Bush Freedom Medal is worth that.


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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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