The Politics of Murder
- by Ali Abunimah
(Chicago, July 2002) -- The images of torn and shattered
bodies, the piles of human remains of Israelis and
Palestinians look exactly the same to the naked eye. The
screams of the injured and the cries of the bereaved issue
neither in Hebrew nor in Arabic, but in the universal
language of human anguish and the incalculable pain that
accompanies the death of babies, young children, women, old
men, and other innocents.
Politically, however, the two phenomena are a world apart,
at least if the view is from the White House. While the
killing of Israelis never fails to elicit the strongest and
most vitriolic condemnations from Washington, as well as
expressions of condolences for the families of the lost
individuals, the latest Israeli atrocity in Gaza was termed
"heavy handed" by President Bush's spokesman Ari Fleischer.
This sounds more like a reproach to a mother who disciplined
her child a little too forcefully, than an appropriate
reaction to the deliberate dropping of a one-ton bomb into
the middle of a crowded residential area with the predictable
result that fifteen people, nine of them children, were
killed and more than one hundred injured.
Yet while the cold absence of sympathy for Palestinian
civilians from the Bush White House cannot surprise anyone,
other comments by Fleischer were somewhat more revealing.
Fleischer vigorously contested Israel's claims that the
killing of innocents in Gaza was comparable to the deaths of
civilians from U.S. bombing in Afghanistan.
"It is inaccurate to compare the two, " Fleischer said,
"because the United States, because of an errant bomb, a
mistake in a mission, has occasionally engaged in military
action that we very regrettably included losses of innocent
In the case of the deadly Israeli strike on Gaza City Fleischer affirmed, "This was a deliberate attack on the site, knowing
that innocents would be lost in the consequences of the attack."
Hence, the White House admitted for the first time a fact
that has been apparent to any observer of the conflict since
September 29, 2000: Israel uses brutal military force against
civilian areas with the full knowledge that civilians will
be killed. This has been made plain by every independent
investigation from groups like Amnesty International, Human
Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights USA, B'Tselem and
others, that have examined the high number of civilian dead,
hundreds of them children, the enormous number of people with injuries to their heads and upper bodies from live ammunition,
as well as the phenomenon of firing tank shells into crowded neighborhoods, homes and marketplaces.
Such wanton disregard for innocent life, is the exact moral equivalent of the killing of Israeli innocents in bars,
restaurants, buses and shopping malls, and it violates
international law. It also violates U.S. law. While Fleischer's
criticism of Israel was widely reported in the U.S. media,
the comments of State Department spokesman Richard Boucher
a few kilometers away gained less attention.
Boucher was asked if Israel's use of an American-built F-16
fighter jet in the Gaza attack violated the U.S. Arms Export
Control Act, which prevents recipients of U.S. weapons from
using them for human rights abuses and conquest. Boucher
replied: "As you know, the Arms Export Control Act requires us to do
a report if we believe that US weaponry was not used -- or
if there's a substantial violation of the terms of an
agreement governing the use of US-origin defense articles;
that is, if they're not being used for legitimate self-defense
or internal security. As we've said before, we've not made
such a report regarding Israel's actions."
Pressed as to why the U.S. has not done so after twenty two
months in which barely a day has passed without U.S. weapons
being used to add to the mounting list of Palestinian victims
in the Occupied Territories, Boucher said: "All we've ever really answered in response to these questions
is to note that we have not made such a report, and should
we do so we'll tell you. At this point we haven't."
Why not? The answer of course is painfully obvious if rarely recognized by American commentators. If the United States
examines Israel's use of American weapons, there can be only
two results. The first would be that in order to give Israel
a clean bill of health the State Department investigators
would have to ignore a mountain of evidence that has not
escaped the notice of any one else in the world and now not
even the White House, that Israel shoots always with the
knowledge and sometimes the intent that civilians will be killed. This would make the United States look utterly
ridiculous and make a nonsense of the law. Alternatively,
the U.S. would have to recognize that indeed U.S. weapons
are being used not only to violate human rights, but to
enforce and advance an Israeli project of colonization and
conquest in the Occupied Territories that is the very
antithesis "self-defense." This would entail legal sanctions
under the law that could result in cutting aid to Israel
bringing about a political backlash from Israel's powerful
and intransigent U.S. lobby that few politicians are brave
enough to withstand.
The result is a toothless and contrived outrage in which the
White House occasionally expresses annoyance with Israeli
actions--along with the assurance that President Bush remains
Israel's staunchest backer--while the U.S. ensures that its
own laws that could rein in the very actions it condemns
remain dead letters. If Washington's declarations ever had
the intended effect of pacifying the "Arab street" and
international public opinion, their value as a palliative
has now surely worn off completely. With all hope lost in any international, especially American intervention to end
the conflict, the way is now open for a cycle of revenge and
murder that will make all before it seem tame.
In Israel, meanwhile, even if Sharon continues to crow that
the massacre in Gaza was one of his "greatest successes,"
some of the top echelons are embarrassed and worried enough
by the international reaction that they are beginning to
advance the most ridiculous theses to absolve Israel's
leaders from their personal responsibility for a murderous,
calculated and deliberate operation which was certainly
intended to set the tone for the tenure of Israel's new chief
of staff Moshe Yaalon, and restore to Sharon his flagging
credentials in the wake of his utter failure to stop attacks
by Palestinian militants on Israeli civilians and settlers.
On July 24, Haaretz reported that "the IDF and the Shin Bet
security service opened investigations into the failures of
the Air Force raid. Army Radio said Wednesday that the
investigations would focus on the process that led
intelligence officers to conclude that Shehadeh was alone in
Israeli deputy prime minister Silvan Shalom, surely mindful
of the newly functioning International Criminal Court in the
Hague, added "Anyone who thinks or imagines that the prime
minister, the defense minister, or the army chief of staff
would have decided on and approved carrying out this attack
in this place knowing that this would harm innocent people
simply has no idea what he is talking about."
In recent years the mythic reputation of Israeli intelligence
has been somewhat tarnished. But it does not take world class
spies to know that nowhere, ever, in teeming Gaza City, one
of the most densely overpopulated places on earth is any one
alone in an apartment building. And there is nowhere in Gaza
City, except perhaps on the abandoned and ruined headquarters
of Yasir Arafat that you can drop a 1,000 kg bomb without
hitting and killing innocent people.
Ali Abunimah is the VP of the Arab-American
Action Network and co-founder of the website, Electronic Intifada, which
offers commentaries and stories on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.