James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Our distorted view of the Mideast

Two old friends and I were talking of many things a few days ago, as we do at least once every two weeks, and the subject of Israel's invasion of Lebanon came to the fore.

The topic was less than a minute old when one of the friends, recognizing from my first sentence that I am not an enthusiastic backer of whatever Israel's militarists choose to do to their neighbors, became red-faced, loud and angry.

“Every damned Arab in the world, or almost every one, wants nothing less than the total destruction of Israel,” he insisted, and said it again to make sure I understood. And, he said, still loud and angry, Israel had to be created where and when it was, because “where else could you put...where else could the Holocaust survivors have gone?”

That friend is on almost all topics a progressive. He believes in single-payer health care (and has suffered under our present nonsystem), he believes in unions and has devoted much of his time, without charge, over several years to the cause of protecting pensioners and pension plans from grasping corporate executives and their political toadies. He stands powerfully against our invasion of and occupation of Iraq, and for a raise in the minimum wage. In the 50 years we've known each other, he's never displayed the least sign of racist attitude.

He blew up at the suggestion that Israel's actions in the current mayhem and in past conflicts are less than entirely honorable. He has absorbed the widely held American belief in Israel as perpetual victim and Arab peoples as lesser beings devoted mostly to terrorism.

I was so astonished that I could not answer; any argument obviously would have been useless. I simply changed the subject, to the relief of our other old friend.

(The other old friend in the conversation is Jewish, by the way. He's also a critic of Israel's penchant for militarism and mistreatment of its Palestinian citizens and Arab neighbors.)

Later, I thought about that question: Where could “we” have “put” the Holocaust survivors – oops, that is, where could they have gone?

On the drive home, having recovered from my initial shock, several answers occurred to me: How about Germany? Or England? England would have been good. Or France, or Poland or, or, or....
How about the United States of America? We had lots of room in the 1940s and '50s and plenty of work for hard-working and, in many cases, well educated people.

Well, obviously Germany wouldn't have worked. It was in too big a mess, and the emotional hangover was going to last at least through another couple of generations, probably three or more generations.

But the other countries?


Nobody wanted an influx of Jews, and that very definitely includes this country, the aristocratic leaders of which regarded the Jews already among our citizens with barely concealed disdain.

Do you older people remember?

It was a rare thing that a Jew in America was allowed into the highest levels of government or corporate leadership. The “best” clubs including civic clubs, didn't accept Jews as members in most regions of this country. “Jew” jokes were as common as “nigger” jokes, and some politicians made careers by hinting about Jewish conspiracies to take over the country. My beloved city of Minneapolis was, into the 1950s, a center of anti-Semitic activism, though the crazies who engaged in that crap were recognized by the great majority of citizens as crazies.

In any case, there was a movement among the world's Jews going back to the early 1900s to create a Jewish state in Palestine. So at the end of World War II, the powers of the time, principally Britain and the United States, decided it would happen. (Britain which had colonial interests in Palestine, agreed to that much earlier, but stalled for decades.)

The history from 1948 to now is complicated, and much of the truth has been obscured by lies, double dealing and worse from both sides. But this much must be recognized as true by anyone who spends a reasonable amount of time digging through the facts, myths and propaganda: The new country treated the Palestinians as subhuman. Israel's founders decided before World War II that the Arab population had no rights, individually or collectively. That is documented by their own writings. And from 1948 onward they forced people off lands and out of homes they had occupied for centuries.

The men who led Israel in its first years as a state sometimes said out loud that they didn't give a damn what happened to any Arab. From the beginning, villages were destroyed, houses razed or simply taken away and handed over to Jewish immigrants.

Israel is not a land born in purity.

And I'm sorry, but the line that the lands “historically” -- meaning in Biblical times – belonged to the Jews doesn't wash. There's hardly a country in the world, maybe not any, that didn't at some time in history “belong” to someone other than its present chief occupants.

(An interesting little aside: Some of the Israeli leaders that Americans of my generation, including me, believed were heroes of the stature of Gandhi, originally intended to take over Jordan and a large piece of southern Lebanon, too. We weren't told that. Could be that some present leaders still secretly harbor those dreams. We have megalomaniacs leading our government; who can say with certainty that their allies in Israel are any more sane?)

My point here is that a great many Americans – probably a large majority – believe that Israel has an absolute right to do what it will in the Mideast, and that Palestinians and the country's Arab neighbors are somehow illegitimate and even somehow less than human – mere savage animals trying to terrorize the innocent people of Israel.

There's plenty of terrorizing of innocent people going on in the area, but it's coming from both sides, and always has.

It is past time that we got a more balanced and much truer picture of what brought the Mideast to its present terrible condition. Though the Israeli leadership and our own awesomely stupid national leadership can't grasp the simple fact, there is no hope for peace until and unless the facts finally are faced and some level of equity is achieved.


* Take a look at how your local corporate media are covering the events in the Mideast. Wednesday morning, my local newspaper, the Star Tribune, had a piece on the front page with a headline saying that the previous day had been deadly for the Israeli military. The story, which jumped inside, dwelt at length on Israeli Army losses, and how Israeli soldiers nevertheless were confident and sure of victory.

There was a very brief mention of the Israeli killing of for UN observers, but no details. There was not one mention of Lebanese civilians being killed, though other media throughout the world had a great deal of information on the slaughter.

If you're getting the same kind of propaganda in place of news, please call or write the offending companies, newspapers, stations. We cannot make rational judgments without honest news coverage.

* I gritted my teeth and watched quite a bit of television coverage Tuesday afternoon and evening, to see how the flapjaws were handling things.

There were mentions of the UN observers being killed by Israeli troops, but it wasn't until I got on to BBC America that I learned that the UN outpost in which the observers were hunkered down was painted a brilliant white, and had the letters UN painted on the sides in huge letters. (BBC showed film.) Nor did I know that the Israeli shelling of the observation post went on from early morning until about 7:30 p.m., and that the post finally was destroyed (again, BBC had film) by an air attack. Nor did I know that the UN had made 10 – yes 10 – frantic pleas to the Israelis to stop the attack.

The bland assertion by the Israeli foreign minister after the attack that the killing of the observers was “not deliberate” cannot be believed by any rational human being who has the facts.

And why do military people kill observers? Yes, of course. Because they are doing something they do not want the world to know.

* For honest broadcast coverage – at least until the politicians shut them up – do listen to National Public Radio. Wednesday's coverage included honest reporting on the devastation among innocent Lebanese citizens, many of whom were, before now, strong advocates of peace with Israel. The coverage also quoted some people as saying that advocacy for peace is over, and given a chance now, they will fight with Hezbollah.

More recruiting for terrorism, free of charge.

* I wish I'd thought of it, and I'm glad she did:

Syndicated columnist Molly Ivins suggested in all seriousness that real, desperate Democrats get into a movement to run Bill Moyers for president.

She doesn't think he has a real shot at the nomination, let alone the presidency, but she does believe a strong effort on his behalf will shake up the Democrats and maybe the country. It might also push some of the known candidates into searching their closets for their courage, she suggested. Of the others: “Every single one of them needs spine, needs courage. What Moyers can do is not only show them what it looks like and indeed what it is, but also how people respond to it.”

John Nichols of The Nation disagreed with Ivins on one point only: rather than viewing it as symbolic, he'd like Moyers to run for real.

Me, too.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The danger of writing about Israel

A note on writing about Israel and its conflicts with its neighbors:

Publishing anything more than superficially critical of Israel in this country is dicey business. It gives rise to some degree of fear, but that very fear and its causes are what make commentaries such as the one below necessary.

Inevitably, someone or even several people will denounce me as an anti-Semite. I will be vilified as a hater of Jews, a liar, a propagandist for terrorists and more, in all likelihood. It has happened before, more to others than to me, but I've seen it and been the brunt of some of it in the past. A friend and colleague shunned me for two or three years because of critical comments I made about some Israeli policy.

That is how critics, not enemies, of Israel have been largely silenced in this country since before Israel formally existed. The real enemies never are silenced, though what they say often is vile and untrue.

I may even lose some friends, whom I cherish. And that is a major reason that honest discourse about the Mideast has been almost absent in this country. We all fear the wrath. Only recently, in private and in on-line discussions among like-minded people have I seen or heard frank criticism of Israel and it's actions – but the discussion thus far is hidden from a wider public.

Anyone who publicly raises tough and serious questions about Israel's actions or leaders inevitably must defend himself/herself against emotional onslaughts. From my reading, I have come to think that critics within Israel – and there are far more than most Americans realize – take less abuse than critics here.

From the perspective of those who support Israel in all things at all times, charges of anti-Semitism are easier and more effective than facing up to the criticisms themselves.

Worse, at least some Jews and a few others with understandably powerful emotional ties to Israel, or at least the myth of Israel, always find themselves wondering about the true feelings of anyone sharply critical of that country. It's a sad fact and a hell of a mess, and most of us who are aware of some hard truths about the country, but who also despise racist and anti-Semitic crap, have been intimidated into keeping our thoughts to ourselves for a very long time.

Anyone who knows me knows a charge of anti-Semitism aimed at me would be absurd, but that won't matter. I can offer undeniable evidence to counter the accusations and it won't matter. There is no effective answer to the charge for those who choose to believe it, which is the reason it is used. Yet we simply must face the truth of the Middle East and Israel. The region can never be healed without that.

To haters on both ends: I'll throw away or delete unread the inevitable charges of anti-Semitism, and the almost as inevitable anti-Semitic hate material that will come my way, so don't bother.

Facing the truth of Israel

Hezbollah is a terrorist organization.

Israel is a terrorist state.

Those of us who were alive during World War II have so entirely absorbed the knowledge of the evils of Nazism and the horrors Nazis inflicted throughout the world that we shall never forget for an instant until that time when we or our memories no longer exist.

Most powerfully and specifically, the atrocities against Europe's Jews, Gypsies and other, smaller groups, are forever in our minds.

Our horror, anger and disgust, and something of collective guilt, have been absorbed by our children. Those emotions are part of the lore that makes up the core of our understandings and beliefs. Our grandchildren may not feel it as deeply, but they know of it and accept our sense of how it was and what that meant.

Largely because of those powerful emotions, tied to the truth of the evil we beheld, most Americans have supported Israel since its creation in Palestine after the world war.

Our support, our passion even, always has been encouraged by American governments, by politicians, by coming to know survivors of the Holocaust and their children, and by all of our country's news and entertainment sources.

There is hardly an American male of my generation who, as a youth or young man in 1960, did not see himself in his daydreams in Paul Newman's role as the heroic Ari in “Exodus,” the hugely successful film, based on a hugely successful novel about Israel's beginning as a modern country.

But we were conned, and we are being conned, and millions of human beings are suffering because the con continues.

Israel is a terrorist state.

The United States, in its constant, unquestioning and massive support of Israel in all things, is a terrorist state.

We are to Israel what Syria and Iran are to Hezbollah, the only substantive differences being that we've been at it longer and have, or could have, more control over our surrogate terrorists.

Huge financial backing and insanely expensive killing machines and uniforms do not transform terrorists into “soldiers.” Or, as comedian/social commentator George Carlin asked in one of his big-hall appearances: “Why are Israeli terrorists called commandos, and Arab commandos called terrorists?”

What “Exodus” glossed over, and what most Americans have forgotten – those who ever knew -- is that Israel began in terror and that many of its founders were terrorists. They shot and bombed, killed and maimed to back up their demands for a new state in what was Palestine. They have, since the beginning, abused their own Arab citizens.

When we were aware of what they were doing, which was only occasionally, we thought of them in terms of the European partisans of the 1940s who blew up trains and bridges and attacked German barracks to help free their countries from Nazi rule.

Besides, we didn't know a thing about Arabs, who were so often the terrorists' victims, felt no connection to them. They were exotics, not quite real to us. Young Israel drove Arabs from the homes and olive groves they had owned and worked for dozens of generations? Well, the survivors from Europe had to live somewhere.

Our news organizations lied to us about those events and have continued to lie to us for more than 50 years. Mostly they do it through withholding information they think we can't handle or shouldn't have, but which is essential to understanding what happened and what is happening in the Middle East. Sometimes, however, the lies are more active.

I watched a bit of a CNN broadcast Sunday, and had to turn it off; the “news” not only had gaping holes where there should have been facts, but some of the assertions were flatly wrong, as when the talking heads explained that the current violence began when Hezbollah rockets began “raining down” on Israel. The broadcast was thinly disguised propaganda.

Traditionally, our coverage of Israeli-Arab conflicts has been distorted. I was surprised a few days ago to see video of some of the destruction the Israeli military had inflicted on Lebanon. Almost all shown on American television when there is fighting in the area comes from the Israeli side of the conflict. The suffering on the other side usually isn't seen. Give the television people some credit this time, but also note they were able to get into Lebanon because it has been moving toward openness and peace since the long Israeli occupation of much of its territory ended.

On Sunday, the “reader representative” of my local newspaper wrote about how the paper's photo chief had made a great effort to bring the pictures of pain and destruction into “balance” after supporters of Israel had complained that it looked like Lebanon has been harder hit than Israel. Never mind that the damage to Lebanon IS 100 times worse.

Perhaps, for a couple of days anyway, CNN decided to show the pictures of Lebanon because, for awhile, they still tacitly acknowledged that the vast majority of Lebanese and, in fact, the government of Lebanon, had nothing to do with Hezbollah's actions against Israelis. I hope that acknowledgment continues, but I doubt it. I suspect most Americans have yet to realize that the vast majority of Lebanese and Gazans are entirely innocent victims of the Israeli onslaught.

When I say that you must look elsewhere than television or your daily newspaper for a reasonably complete picture of what is happening, I'm not talking about Hezbollah propaganda, but verified facts reported by reliable news agencies. You can get, as I have, some of the facts in the corporate-owned media. The problem is that stories rarely tell anything like a whole story, and a great many of the most telling facts are buried, passed over, treated as unimportant. You also have to look to on-line news operations such as TomPaine.com, Truthout and on-line versions of foreign newspapers. You have to put things together yourself.

For a while now our news outlets have been talking as though the Israeli invasion of Lebanon was begun in response to rockets “raining down” (the almost inevitable phrase) on northern Israel. Totally forgotten is the fact that Israel's massive military strikes originally were justified as a move to recover three captured – sorry, kidnapped – soldiers.

(Originally, you may recall, the soldiers' captors wanted to exchange them for prisoners held by Israel, which holds hundreds of Arabs prisoner, some of them with no more cause than we have for holding many of the people at Guantanamo.)

But even if you believe the new war is about protecting Israeli citizens from haphazard Hezbollah rocket attacks, which began this time only after Israel's military began slaughtering the guilty and innocent alike, the actions of the Israelis make no sense in the context of self defense.

Some basic facts: As of today, as I write this, mainstream media around this country are reporting that to this point, 39 Israelis have died in the fighting and terror actions. In the same period, 375 Lebanese, more than 20 percent of them children, have died. I can't find a figure for the number of Palestinians in Gaza who have been killed, but the last time I saw a number it was substantial.

Of the Lebanese killed, all news agencies agree, a great majority were innocent civilians who had nothing to do with the Hezbollah terrorists. I can find no numbers on the number of people, civilian and combatants, maimed, blinded, broken. Neither are there any numbers on the people whose homes have been destroyed – but the Israeli military has wiped out entire villages and towns, as well as large areas of cities. Leveled them. The news services have reported it, the Israelis proudly acknowledge it.

For a few days, there was criticism in this country because of Israel's “unbalanced” response to Hezbollah. That has faded as Israel and its vocal and intolerant supporters in this country hammered at those who talked that way. There can be no “balance” when you are defending yourself, they roared.

But some of us keep thinking: How is a heavy air attack on civilian refugees crowding a road to the Syrian border self defense? It happened a few days ago, was widely reported, and you heard no apology or explanation from Israel.

How does destroying Lebanon's infrastructure –a major airport (Hezbollah has no air force), electrical production, water plants, mosques -- make Israel and its citizens safer? Much of the damage has been done in areas in which Hezbollah is not known to operate. And, you will see with attentive reading, many of the people killed and places destroyed are merely “suspected” of having something to do with Hezbollah. Many have no connection whatever.

I saw an accusation in a forwarded email from a Lebanese man that the Israeli military destroyed a couple of villages and shot dead every man, woman and child they could hit as the people fled from their ruined homes. I do not know if the accusation is true, but isn't it horrible that it may be? And why do I think it may be? Because there are thoroughly documented cases of the Israeli army committing just such slaughter in the past.

Self defense? The actions against Lebanon, which was growing toward just the kind of peaceful country we and the Israelis claim to want in the region, has people lining up to join Hezbollah, numerous reports from the area say. An article in the Star Tribune here quotes a Lebanese Christian as saying that many of the country's Christians, up to now committed to peace, are so angry that they have become Hezbollah sympathizers.

The insane slaughter, much of it anyway, could have been prevented. In fact, this situation need not have existed at all.

The United States could have stopped it.

Instead, the Bush administration is making an “emergency” rush delivery of precision-guided bombs to Israel, which apparently ran low from bombing the hell out of Lebanese civilians and power plants and such. The Bush people have made clear to Israel and the world that Israel is free to do what it will to its neighbors. We will not interfere until they decide they've killed enough this time.

Understand this: Our basic subsidy to Israel – by far the richest country in the Mideast, even richer than oil-loaded Saudi Arabia – is $3 billion a year. The total, though unknown, is considerably greater. All told, Israel gets 25 percent of all the reported foreign aid dollars this country distributes. That to a country that has a gross national product greater than those of Spain, Ireland and a host of other old countries.

With that kind of support comes leverage, but this country never has dared use the leverage. It's about votes. Our politicians are petrified.

Now we have an Israel gone berserk – not for the first time – and apparently controlled by those whose hatred of Arabs has tipped into madness, leading them to actions that inevitably will bring evil to their countrymen. It is not the first time that the abused have become abusers.

And we have an America ruled by right wing fools who leap at every opportunity to start shooting and who seem to believe that, given enough explosives, they can impose their will on anybody. They do not set the stage for a “new Middle East” as the inane Condi Rice claims; they set the stage for more decades of chaos and mayhem, in the Middle East and probably in this country.

Hatred of this country is increasing at an enormous rate, by the way, as even most of the major corporate news outlets have admitted in recent days.

This is the very definition of insanity.

It could be stopped if our legislators showed any willingness to face up to Israel's supporters in this country and demand that Israel stop the wholesale slaughter. Peaceful coexistence can be brought to reality in that region, but first we have to rein in Israel's militarists, and to do that we have to let our government know that we want an end to the brutatlity, demand it, and show them that we are as determined as Israel's unquestioning supporters.