George W. Bush did Ariel Sharon a big favor when he declared, with typical intellectual deliberation and subtlety, that the world was made up of good people in civilized countries and evildoers who resort to terror.
The Israeli leader lustily seized the moment of moral absolutism, using the word terror numerous times in virtually every speech since. Finally, he thought, Americans will understand what we go through every day.
Israeli media and lobbyists wasted no time in moving into high gear, using a combination of empathy and barely-cloaked racism to win over Americans and their globally dominant leaders.
We are fundamentally a freedom-loving, peace-seeking, civilized nation that shares common values with the West, wrote Reuven Koret in Israelinsider, an online newsmagazine. Not all Israelis are good people and not all Muslims or Arabs or Palestinians are bad. But look at the harsh reality ? when thousands of Americans die an awful death, when the United States is humiliated, we don’t burst into song and dance, shoot guns in the air and pass around sweets.
Sharon’s appropriation of the terror versus civilization framework was effective, if lacking in originality. The American media, seemingly of the opinion that journalistic objectivity was a pre-Sept. 11 idea, clamored aboard. That some Palestinians used terror was enough to identify the Palestinians as the evildoers in this case. Every suicide bombing was shown as the tragedy it was. Personal stories were told and families were interviewed. But every Palestinian death was a number at the end of a story, if mentioned at all.
Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said “No just cause can be advanced by terror.” Subsequent events proved his statement time and again. Suicide attacks have damaged the Palestinian cause as a diplomatic and public relations catastrophe more than they have damaged the Israeli cause as a morale-crushing human tragedy.
However, although a just cause cannot be advanced by terror, the fact that some use terror does not necessarily render the cause itself unjust.
Despite the reprehensible means employed by some Palestinians, the justice of the Palestinian cause is clear to most of the world. Every year the U.N. passes a series of resolutions critical of the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, and of Israel’s disregard for Palestinians human rights.
Nearly all these resolutions are opposed by only two nations in the General Assembly ? the United States and Israel. And all of them are ignored by Israel, with U.S. support.
When Israel became a home for the uprooted Jews of Europe following World War II, the Palestinians bore none of the guilt but all of the burden. 750,000 people were either forced from their homeland or left in fear. As difficult as it would be for the Palestinians to simply forget and move on if left alone, Israel made it virtually impossible for them to find a future by continuing to chip away at their territory and to humiliate their citizens.
Israel claims that all of the land it has occupied since its founding was taken in defensive wars. But a defensive war becomes offensive when, after defending your own territory, you go on to take your opponents. Would the Algerian revolution have been considered defensive if Algeria then took over France?
Ironically, Israel’s current incursion, named Operation Defensive Shield, is taking place entirely on Palestinian territory. The intifada has involved three to four Palestinian deaths in defense of every Israeli victim.
Sharon’s disregard for the humanity of the Palestinians has finally offended the United States. It appears that demolishing homes with the occupants inside, killing men with their hands up to surrender and shooting at journalists and protesters who courageously bear witness to the carnage all land on the wrong side of Bush’s good and evil checklist.
Almost everyone agrees that terror is bad. What many in this country fail to acknowledge is that terrorists are not the only source of terror. Severe poverty and hunger from economic sanctions are terror, falling bombs are terror, and for Palestinians, Israeli F-16s and shoot first, ask questions later policies are terror.
Whether such actions can ever be justified is debatable, but whether those on the receiving end are terrorized is not.
Nations and people that point this out are often maligned as moral relativists, but what is more relativistic than thinking that what is wrong for a person to do is okay for a nation or an army to do?
Every human being is worthy of respect, freedom and self-determination. If the United States is truly guided by morality, it will defend the internationally recognized rights of the Palestinian people, as well as the Israelis right to live without fear. On this subject, it is not hard to tell right from wrong.
Brach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.