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June 11, 2004

US, Israel Caught in Traps


by Murray Polner

Did American soldiers killed and maimed in Iraq, and Israeli soldiers killed and maimed in Gaza and the West Bank, die for nothing? Americans are dying now because of ideologues and zealots. Israeli soldiers are dying for settlements and unattainable goals. Both are trapped.

Take the United States, for example, bogged down in a war and occupation that should never have happened. The Bush administration and its amateurish, rigidly ideological neoconservatives and Christian right have recklessly dug a dark, apparently inescapable pit.

Anthony Cordesman, the astute military analyst of the Center for Strategy and International Studies, in his oral testimony to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month, put it perfectly when he condemned the "illusions" of the influential and incompetent neoconservative living-room warriors who listened to no one but themselves. And much as the arrogant neoliberals of the '60s brought us Vietnam and all those war dead and wounded in body and mind, ardently pro-Likud neoconservatives have now gotten us into a lethal and unwinnable situation.

Armed with scads of money from ultra-right-wing billionaires, neocons believed they alone possessed the absolute truth. Long before 9-11 they urged an invasion of Iraq, and spread fabrications about Saddam's possession of WMDs and his alleged connection to al-Qaeda rather than looking soberly at the true source of terror, namely Osama's fanatics.

So sure of themselves, without so much as a fleeting doubt, neocons famously believed the pending invasion and subsequent occupation would be a "cakewalk" and invading troops as sure to be greeted with cheers and flowers. Dissenters were denounced as virtual traitors and un-American. The unreflecting President Bush bought their line, and his father's conservative skeptics like Brent Scowcroft were shown the door. No one paid attention to warnings that the war and its attendant resentments and hatreds might create a thousand clones of bin Laden.

The Israel-Palestinian conflict is, however, quite another thing. Despite Israel's intimate ties with the White House and neoconservatives, its war remains a mutual tragedy of disastrous proportions since whole populations are endangered. The conflict's legacy will fuel and sustain Palestinian hatred of Israel and Jews for generations.

Israel's vaunted military is as frustrated and stymied as America's, trapped in a cycle of tit-for-tat violence with no end. Its politicians are as impotent as America's. Indeed, the recent savagery in Gaza may be among the worst. "Pointless destruction," a Ha'aretz editorial said when news of the brutalizing of the people of the Rafeh refugee camp arrived. Children were killed and wounded in the assault, innocent people saw their homes smashed and then left homeless, and even the tiny Gaza zoo, once a haven for kids, was wrecked because of weapons supposedly being shipped through tunnels and the suddenly discovered need to widen the Philadelphi Route dividing Palestinian Gaza from Egypt. Meanwhile, the murders go on.

"Death and destruction and more death and destruction," rightly says the Israeli Gershon Baskin, co-director of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information. "Palestinians kill Israelis and Israelis kill Palestinians and [there is] no end in sight."

Shouldn't we ask Israelis if there are no limits to cruelty against the innocent even when you say you are defending yourself? The same question needs to be asked of Arafat and Hamas, both seeking revenge rather than justice or a solution.

Both sides assert a claim of moral legitimacy but only on their own terms. Neither deals with the carnage brought about by their actions. Asserting the right of self-defense and liberation, each is blind to the other. This mutual madness goes on, resisted, thankfully, by Israel's best – resisting reservists and pilots, high school students, conscientious objectors and the more than 150,000 Israelis who recently turned out in Tel Aviv to cry out "Enough."

Of course, it would be wonderful if more Palestinians also said "Enough," but the fourth most powerful military state in the world is the occupying power, with its conscript army, sophisticated weaponry and store of nuclear arms. Genuflecting mainstream American Jewish organizational bureaucrats are mute, fearful of offending Bush's Washington or having its wealthy donors snubbed by whoever is in power in Jerusalem. And opportunistic and pusillanimous American politicians, who rarely fail to flaunt their everlasting and profound "love" for Israel, are afraid to speak publicly about the latest outrage against Palestinian innocents. Heaven forbid there should ever be a searching, even heated public debate about the U.S.-Israeli-Palestinian relationship in the Congress and White House without organized Jewry charging critics with anti-Semitism.

Since both sides are ensnared in their mutual fear and loathing, there is no way out but painful compromise. And that will never happen unless the United States – despite its failures in Iraq – under a new, more realistic presidential administration, begins playing the central role as a trusted, impartial neutral, shepherding a reasonably fair agreement favoring neither side.

Of course it won't be easy. It may even be impossible. But the alternative is to maintain the status quo and continue endlessly with killing and revenge killing. Tit-for-tat. n

Reprinted from The Jewish Week with permission of the author.

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Murray Polner is the author of No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran and most recently co-authored Disarmed and Dangerous, a biography of Daniel and Philip Berrigan.

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