Advancing peace, avoiding war, and preserving international alliances: Priorities for success in the international campaign against terrorism

On December 4, 2001 Israel launched one of its most aggressive strikes ever against the Palestinian Authority. The death count was low in comparison to the death toll following other Israeli military actions against the Palestinians. There was only one 15 year old killed, and 150 other Palestinians wounded. As tragic as that is, the death of one young man was a relief, considering that 5 children, ages 4-14 had been blown to bits just days earlier by a booby trap set by the Israeli Defense Force in an open field in Gaza. This particular site, an open field in a Gaza refugee camp, was selected by the IDF as an appropriate place to set a deadly trap for Palestinians, due to its strategic location. The open field is near an illegal Israeli settlement.

On December 5th, Amnesty International issued a statement, which reads in part, “A policy of reprisals against the entire population for attacks by armed groups violates international human rights and humanitarian law standards.” Mary Robinson, head of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, condemned Israel’s bombings for “terrorizing and terrifying the civilian population.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres claims these strikes were merely a warning to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, that if he does not get serious about rounding up militants suspected of terrorism, Israel is ready to take stronger steps in its efforts to end Palestinian attacks, including redeployment into Palestinian controlled areas. Many, including Arafat, are not convinced that Israel’s sole objective is to end terrorism. Yasser Arafat, according to an article posted by Knight Ridder Newspapers citing an Arafat interview with CNN, believes Israeli Prime Minister Sharon is trying to undermine him. This same article says that Arafat fled to an underground bunker, successfully escaping injury as Israel pounded buildings inside Arafat’s compound using American made F-16’s and Apache helicopters. Although Arafat is obviously in trouble, even with Palestinians who have lost confidence in his ability to stand up to Israel, the strategy that Israel is employing to rid itself of Arafat and the PA may have much further reaching consequences than merely the collapse of the Palestinian Authority and its leadership.

Whereas many may assume that the issues at play are clear, and that Israel is within its right to strike back at Palestinians following a weekend of Palestinian bombings, the people of the Arab and Muslim world might disagree. As unaccustomed as we are to caring very much about what Arabs and Muslims think, what they think about Israel continuing to violently impose its will and might in pursuit of Palestine, may determine the success of the Bush Middle East anti-terrorism coalition, making their sentiments worthy of our consideration.

Just last week King Abdullah of Jordan issued a statement advising the world that the Middle East “streets” as they are being called, are restless. Already heartbroken and confused by conflicting messages being transmitted by U.S. actions in Afghanistan, fiery Bush administration oratory, and a media that seems to take pride in spreading fear through an already traumatized society with threats of attacks on Iraq, Somalia, and as of last week, possibly Palestine, the people of the Arab/Muslim world may have had just about enough U.S. pontification, and may be ready to put pressure on their already shaky governments to end support for what is being sized up as a U.S. war against Arabs, Muslims and Islam.

Arab/Muslim support may not appear to be very significant considering that not a single Arab or Muslim government has sent any troops into Afghanistan to fight along side American and Northern Alliance soldiers in the dangerous and mountainous Afghani battlefields. Only Turkey, who enjoys a cozy military alliance with Israel, has thus far volunteered. Yet, Muslim and Arab governments have assisted both here and abroad with U.S. intelligence gathering and have answered the U.S. call to freeze assets and take other measures to pressure al-Qaeda and the Taliban into non-existence. This cooperation is not so much a testament to the spirit of cooperation held by the dictators and monarchs of the Arab/ Muslim world, but it is more a testament to the goodwill of the Arab/Muslim people toward what they sincerely believed was a worthy cause. Although media reports circulated after the September 11 attacks that Palestinians and other Arabs celebrated the attacks, the truth is that the majority of Muslims and Arabs, even though they may have felt that United States foreign policies in the region created an atmosphere that made it possible for an Osama bin Laden to find supporters to assist him in his so-called jihad, most did not support the argument that the tragedy could be justified. Muslims and Arabs had their own reasons for remaining silent as the United States targeted and went to war against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, even though most feel that the United States has yet to make the case that bin Laden was in fact behind the Sept. 11th attacks, and that Taliban unwillingness to hand over bin Laden was an act of war against the United States.

Muslim and Arab people have remained pretty much silent as the media in the West enjoys an unprecedented free for all of braggadocio, religious fanaticism, and racism. U.S. Senators and Congressmen have taken turns appearing on various talk news programs to speculate on which Arab or Muslim country will be the next to be bombed, and how many Arabs and or Muslims have been rounded up, and how many more we need to round up to make our fear quota. How many Muslims and Arabs must we round up and detain before we will feel safe? Hitler died with the answer to that question hidden somewhere in the dark corners of his rabid mind, so we perhaps will never know the answer, and that’s scary. Influential and intelligent people that no one would ever expect to digress to the level of racial and religious bigotry that has been demonstrated since the attacks on Afghanistan began have libeled Islam, Muslims and Arabs to an unbelievable extent. Things that have been said publicly about Islam, Muslims and Arabs could never be said publicly about Judaism, or Jews, or Israel, even though Israel has killed more Palestinians in its 53 years of Palestinian occupation than were killed in either the Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, or the World Trade Center Bombings, or the Murrah Building bombing in Oklahoma or even the attack on the Pentagon. They have tortured, dispossessed, assassinated, and threatened not only Palestinians, but Arabs, Muslims and anyone else who they feel threatens the fantasies of the American Jewish settlers who dream of a “Jewish only state” in the midst of Arab and Muslim lands. It’s not the dream that most Arabs and Muslims oppose, but the evil that these people are willing to carry out due to their apparent belief that certain evils are necessary if the dream is to be fulfilled.

One example of the extremism that is becoming characteristic of the war against terrorism was the shut down of the Muslim charity Holy Land Foundation. Over the years Holy Land Foundation, which is led by Palestinian Americans, has fought unsubstantiated accusations levied against it by the pro-Israel lobby, which accuses the Foundation of raising money in America to be funneled into Palestine to fund suicide bombings. For the better part of the past seven years, following the release of the documentary “Jihad in America,” this organization has been under intense FBI observation and scrutiny. It is hard to imagine that the Foundation would be able to carry out the illegal activities that supposedly led to its closure and seizure of its assets while under this scrutiny. Never the less, their offices were closed, their funds seized and computers and other office fixtures impounded, giving the impression that the United States is not only fighting its own suspected enemies, but those of Israel as well, and this will exacerbate ill will in the Muslim/Arab world, and limit the United State’s ability to guide the Palestinians and Israeli’s to a sustainable peace, while clouding the United States previously clear objectives in the war against terrorism, which up to this point have been shared objectives.

Those who consider the closing of Holy Land Foundation an important first step in the United State’s newly enlivened role as Middle East peace maker, should also consider that Jewish charities, though they raise money and fund the building of illegal settlements in Palestine and Israel, a recognized barrier to peace in the region, have never been denied their constitutional right to carry out fund raising in the United States in support of their foreign interests. Our government has never addressed their support for illegal settlement building, and our government has never taken steps to curtail their monetary support for this illegal activity. Such inconsistencies feed the impression that the United States is biased and incapable of addressing objectively the issues that must be resolved if real peace is to take root in the region. This coupled with the overall anti-Muslim and anti-Arab tone of the media and some of our public officials, threatens to undo important inroads made by the Bush administration to restore the United State’s credibility among Muslim and Arab people both here and in the Muslim and Arab world.

How many Christians, or Arabs, or Muslims, or others do you think could get an article published in a major national newspaper that calls every member of a single faith “terrorists”? Who would be foolish enough to say publicly that there is a brand of “Judaism” that is at war with America and perhaps the entire world? Well, imagine that everyday, this is being said at least once about Arabs and Muslims and Islam, and its being broadcast throughout the world. If, as many say, the “ugly American” was the real target September 11th, they might be accused of not being a good citizen, or a patriot. Yet, there is a brand of patriotism that says that America must be great, and that it is the humility and the graciousness of her people that make her great, and not how many Taliban we can kill in a day, or how many Muslims and Arabs we can arrest, or deport, or even whether or not we support Israel unconditionally. There is a brand of patriotism that says that no foreign or minority religious, or political interest should ever cause us to take a wrong step backwards and to become a nation that is no longer free, but guided by the fears being inspired in us by a people who live in fear because they have guilt, and who hope to convince us that we should share not only their guilt, but also their seemingly unappeasable fear. There is a brand of patriotism that makes it a duty to caution the nation against such things.

The Muslim/Arab “street” is awakening, and Israel and its demands on U.S. politicians is what are rousing it from its centuries old sleep. Not only are Muslims and Arabs growing weary of Israel’s attempts to capitalize on their suffering, but people throughout the world who are watching as this cabaret plays itself out, are also awakening to the ugliness of the Zionist’s reaction to September 11th, and their singular objective, pursued at the entire world’s expense; demonize Islam, and Muslims, re-deploy into Palestinian controlled territory, and hold peace hostage until we all either loose the will for justice, or have suffered enough Zionists media propaganda that we forget entirely what justice is. If Israel is not convinced to restrain its desire for redeployment into Palestinian controlled areas, and to tone down its rhetoric, and if pro-Israel pundits in America do not reacquaint themselves with our cultural and legal etiquettes and ethics that guide and temper public debate, and if our politicians do not remember that they have an obligation to keep America free and independent we will loose the war against terrorism. Our nation is at war because we must fight to protect something that is worth fighting for. But we must hate it, and we must not allow the ease with which we have learned to kill the weak cause us to become lovers of killing the weak wherever they might be.

The United States must play it’s role as an honest broker in the region genuinely, and its role as leader of the free world carefully, and conscientiously. Our leaders must make it a priority to let our Muslim and Arab friends both here and abroad know that America is great because we are fair, we take objective and balanced approaches to issues, that we can be trusted, and that we are capable of restraining our friends as well as our enemies. Many have suggested that Islamic militants began attacks to thwart peace. I disagree. As unfortunate as it is that young men kill themselves to make a point, the truth is that we only turn our attention to Palestine when we are directly involved in peace making, meaning that Palestinians only get our attention when we are taking steps towards peace. It is my opinion that young men blow themselves up in Palestine to prove to us that we don’t care, because if we did, we would do something positive to change a situation that causes young men to feel that they cannot be free except in death, and so they must die without hope, or a chance to be free. If enough young Muslim and Arab men adopt this fatal idea, we will have lost the war, not only against terrorism, but also most importantly, against the evils that lead to terrorism. This will not happen so long as the United States maintains the status quo, and so long as it allows Israel to take advantage of it. This point was illustrated by Ariel Sharon on October 3rd when he lashed out at Shimon Peres for warning him of American pressure during a cabinet meeting saying, “Don’t worry about American pressure on Israel, we, the Jewish people, control America, and the Americans know it!”

The writer is director for Public Affairs at the United Association for Studies and Research (UASR), a Washington, DC area Islamic think tank.