Red Rag Weekly column, 28 August 2013 (English translation 9 September 2013)
Great – there’s war
Meanwhile things are developing much to the satisfaction of the government of Israel. The Israeli and conservative Christian lobby and Israel’s so-called “friends” in Congress have succeeded in goading President Obama into military action against Syria against his will. Israel is playing a cynical game here. From one eye it sheds tears at Assad’s crimes while the other winks in cynical satisfaction at the situation. Nothing is more convenient to the government of Israel than to foster an atmosphere of security crisis, to sow fear among the public and encourage people to equip themselves with gas-masks.
This way they can distract the public’s attention from the economic crisis, the rising price of housing, the high cost of living, cuts to the budgets for children and other such routine hardships. The same government that keeps drilling into our heads about the need to cut, cut, cut, has no trouble coming up with billions to pay for wars of choice.
Crimes of Damascus
What is happening to our Syrian neighbours is horrifying. The slaughter is mutual, both in the name of the Baath as well as by the Jihadists in name of Allah and His Prophet, murdering children and babies, raping women, and worst of all, using chemical weapons. The government of Israel has used chemical weapons, white phosphorus, near civilian populations, and the Supreme Court refused to issue an order forbidding it. Israel is the last one who has the right to speak of the crimes of Assad and his underlings.
Our leaders are doing all they can to involve the USA in the fighting in Syria. The situation in Syria requires international action, but not in form of Tomahawk missiles, which will only aggravate the killing and destruction and inflame the region. We need exactly the other opposite approach: to lower the flames.
That is what a civil war looks like: cruel and ruthless. That is the direction in which we are headed. Those who can flee from the inferno will do so. The neighbouring states of Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq are absorbing millions of refugees. Meanwhile Israel, which is a much richer country, stands aside and clucks its tongue instead of opening the Golan Heights – which let us not forget is part of Syria.
Crimes of Cairo
I was one of those whose imaginations were captured by the mass demonstrations at Tahrir Square to demand the removal of President Hosni Mubarak, whose corrupt authoritarian regime had ruled Egypt for decades. The army stood aside and did not intervene. Mubarak was removed from power and the masses rejoiced. Some time was needed to digest the greatness of the achievement. The army took power temporarily until a new president and parliament could be elected. Surprisingly, counter to the predictions of experts (both with and without quotation-marks), the army chiefs kept their word and prepared Egypt’s first free, secret and multiparty elections. Many saw it as a courageous and nearly miraculous pioneering leap by a Third World society from dictatorship to democracy.
Such miracles are the stuff of legends. The winner in the elections was Muhammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. The process was democratic, but the outcome was catastrophic. Morsi was sworn in as president, which was also a surprise, but he did not conceal his intention to convert Egypt into a sharia state – in effect, a religious dictatorship that would subject the citizenry to the judgment of the sages of Islamic law who would decide what is permitted and what is forbidden.
The liberal secular public was alert to the danger and masses of them thronged to the city streets and squares to demand the removal of Morsi. The president of course refused, for after all, he had been elected legally. The tension continued to rise. That was the signal for the army to seize power again and depose Morsi. The Muslim Brotherhood is indeed a disaster for liberals, so many people saw the military coup as part of a democratic process. But that too happens mainly in legends. Supporters of Morsi also went out onto the streets and squares where their rage overflowed. The army released the safety-catch and acted as is to be expected of a military regime: it opened fire on unarmed demonstrators with live ammunition – a phenomenon well-known to all Israelis from events in the Occupied Territories.
And for their part, the angry crowds immersed in religious extremism did what was to be expected of them: they poured out their wrath on the minority. In Egypt that is the Copts. Churches were looted and burnt, and Copts feared to walk the streets lest they be torn to shreds. And this too is a phenomenon known in Israel. For what do the rampaging settlers do between one little krystallnacht and another? They burn and desecrate mosques. They are cut from the same cloth.
Crimes of Jerusalem
While war-crimes are being committed in Syria and Egypt, Jerusalem is not standing aside. It is an active player in the symphony of war-crimes. Forty-six years of Occupation have given Israel unmatched accumulated experience in shooting at a civilian population. Sometimes the killing is wholesale, on the scale of thousands, as in the Lebanon and Gaza Wars, and sometimes it is retail, as is routine in the Occupation: once they kill somebody in Jenin, a few days later comes the turn of a resident of Hebron, and now three unarmed Palestinians have been killed in the Kalandia refugee camp by the Occupation forces’ fire. Residents of the camp exhibited impressive resistance to the Occupation forces’ invasion of their camp. Like the young David, the resistance used stones in the face of an Israeli Goliath armed with guns. Three civilians were killed. That was the gift from the government of Israel, its army, its ISA and its police to the Palestinians on the occasion of the Jewish New Year. All this in addition to the daily abuse of the Occupation against the Palestinian people.
The poet Dr. Salman Masalha is equally at home in both cultures – the Israeli-Jewish and the Arab-Muslim. A true liberal, he is unsparing in his criticism of both the racist Israeli Occupation and Muslim religious extremism. In an article in Haaretz (27 August 2013) he tells the Arab world to stop blaming the West for all its problems. Although the sun does indeed rise in the east, its light shines in the west. No one is stopping you, he says, from investing in cultural and scientific education, liberating women, separating religion from state, translating the best of global literature and so on. Those who want to run a state and society on the basis of the Qur’an should not be surprised when they fail to emerge from backwardness. That is the essence of Salman’s article and I recommend reading it.
I agree with Salman’s main points, but I would like to add in the margins that the rich culture of the civilized West did not save humanity from atrocities like those that are taking place today in Syria. Accordingly Germany, with its many philosophers, writers and musicians, brought us the Holocaust; the USA, which is usually referred to as the leader of the Free World, destroyed millions of human beings in its wars in Vietnam and Iraq, including chemical weapons because of which children with serious deformities in Vietnam to this very day. We must add to the list the imperialism of the French, British and Belgians which has replaced direct colonial oppression, the poisoned fruits of which are with us to this day, with aid and weapons-sales to corrupt and tyrannical regimes. And moreover the wonderful literary heritage of Russia did not prevent the creation of the Soviet dictatorship, which in addition to internal oppression supported dictatorships all over the world, including Assad’s regime. After all, where did he get his chemical weapons if not from the land of Tolstoy? And Israel too has its place on the list. The enlightened Israeli public has not managed to stop the Occupation and its atrocities. The theatres and concert-halls are full, flights to foreign resorts are packed with vacationers and the routine of the Occupation goes on.
President Obama, who was elected as an enlightened man, a disciple of Martin Luther King, in the fifth year of his presidency finds himself signing undemocratic laws and about to launch new war. The German Green Party was founded on the basis of opposition to nuclear weapons. In 1987 its former leader, Joschka Fischer, signed a petition in support of Mordechai Vanunu and calling for to the government of Israel to rid itself of nuclear weapons within the framework of a disarmed Middle East. But as soon as he became foreign minister he became a good friend of Prime Minister Sharon and promoted the construction of nuclear-missile-carrying submarines for Israel.
An obscurantist kingdom like Saudi Arabia could not survive a single day without support from the civilized West. The appeal to the Arab world to embrace the light that shines in the West, as Salman puts it, is appropriate and correct, but care should be taken to avoid the shadows that accompany the light.
Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent