An American-Palestinian Reflection on 9/11

Ten years after September 11, 2001, we still have the choice of continuing the same policies that lead to war and conflict or to insist on human rights and hold violators accountable.

September brings back memories of atrocities ranging from the massacres of Palestinians in Jordan September 1970, to the CIA’s involvement in the coup that installed General Pinochet in Chile (9/11/73), to the massacre of Sabra and Shatila on 15 September 1982, and to the attacks of 11 September 2001 on the US (my second home). These tragedies are demonstrably intertwined beyond the coincidences of date and they each claimed the lives of hundreds of civilian victims. I was with my late father during the first two of these four events and his pain at hearing and seeing the news of these events on TV remains etched in my memory. In Mid September 1970 and after some Palestinian groups acted in ways that threatened his Hashemite rule in Jordan, King Hussain declared martial law and sent his tanks to the refugee camps. Routing the PLO out of Jordan meant "collateral damage" (the term Israel and the US use) of massacres of hundreds of Palestinians. Horrific stories of atrocities are recorded. Two years later, a CIA-led coup d’état against the democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende succeeded to place a right-wing dictator by the name of Pinochet in power. It was on September 11, 1973, that the government was toppled and Allende was assassinated. The US-supported reign of terror that followed against the Chilean people left thousands of murdered. Thousands were tortured and thousands disappeared.

Ten years later, the US-supported Israeli army invaded Lebanon June 1982 to route the PLO out of Lebanon. The invading army pounded cities and refugee camps and killed thousands of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians. Under a deal arranged by Israel’s patrons in Washington, the PLO was forced out of Lebanon on 1 Sept. 1982 in exchange for promises that refugees would not be harmed. US promises were not kept and Israel was given US weapons and diplomatic cover to commit further acts of violence. A ruthless General known to Israelis as the bulldozer (because nothing stood in his way) commanded Israel’s invading army. On 11 September 1982 he announced that the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila had 2000 "terrorists" and unleashed mercenaries to do his ghastly deed. The 150 Phalangist killers who went into the camps on September 15 not only received Israeli salaries and weapons but a direct Green light (the camp was surrounded by Israeli soldiers, and Israeli floodlights allowed continuation of the massacre throughout the night). For 40 hours straight, women were machine-gunned, children’s throats were slit, and elderly men were hacked to death. Estimates of the number of victims ranged from 750 (Israeli figure) to 2500 (Red Cross figure).

I was living near New York on 11 September 2001. The horror was felt first because for many of us, friends and relatives were in New York City and we were very worried for them and for the country as a whole. The attacks also killed many Arabs and Muslims. Immediately, the Zionist strategy was developed and implemented to blame Arabs and Muslims and use the attacks to bolster Israeli colonial activities. Some 2000 Palestinian civilians were killed by Israeli forces in the two years that followed the attack (and the Palestinian groups killed over 500 Israelis in retaliation). Later, the commission of inquiry into the events hid many facts; the most important of which is what any crime investigator asks about– the real motive of the crime. US policy in support of apartheid Israel was (and to a large extent continues to be) a taboo subject. But the official attempts to stifle discussion and force the US public to be consumers rather than citizens largely failed. (Bush’s speech after the events told citizens to simply go shopping and leave things to him and his government). People actually had a gut feeling that there are things they are not being told and they looked for sources of information.

Our activism before 2001 for Palestinian human rights meant that we were in the spotlight (both in the negative and positive sense) after the attacks. Just in the six months after the horrific attacks, I gave over 40 lectures and interviewed and appeared in media over 50 times. More than any other time in my life in the US, I experienced directly both the goodness of the US public and the treachery and meanness of those who only cared for Israel. In my upcoming book about my life in the US, I devote some pages to describe these things. Both the kindness and curiosity of average US citizens and the attacks carried on us by those in the political Zionist camp. We were subjected to email spams, computer hacking, mail fraud, FBI investigations that came from Zionist sources, physical and verbal attacks, and to deluge of letters calling us names (from terrorists to anti-Semites) sent to media, politicians, and even our academic colleagues. Not only did we weather that but we got strengthened in our resolve and much of it backfired on the aggressors and gained us even more sympathy among the American public.

Here we are 10 years after 11 September 2001 and we still have choices. Thanks to US/Israeli miscalculations and stupidity, Iran is stronger than ever as a regional power. The dictatorial governments of the friends of Israel are toppled by popular revolt (Egypt, Tunisia) or about to be toppled (Yemen). Others in the so-called "moderate" camp have been weakened or had to reassess their positions (Jordan, the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah). And while the US policy tried to balance things by working to remove dictators who are less friendly to it (Gaddafi in Libya and Assad in Syria), the outcome is far from certain (and people there may still get to decide).

But there are also other changes related to the stupidity of US/Israeli policies after 11 September 2001. Israeli forces executed nine Turkish citizens (one of them also US citizen) in a humanitarian ship in international waters and Israel refused to apologize. Turkey now expelled the Zionist ambassador and cut trade and military ties with Israel. Egyptian activists managed to enter the Israeli Embassy in Cairo and the staff had to flee with the ambassador on his way to Tel Aviv. The carrot and stick approach with the Palestinian authority was used successfully in the past to force compliance with US and Israeli demands. Now it seems to have begun to fail. David Hale and Tony Blair failed to get their way as spokespersons for Israeli policy to force a retreat in the issue of going to the UN to recognize a Palestinian state in the 22% of historic Palestine that was occupied in 1967. They are now trying to get a language that abrogates Palestinian rights (especially the right of return).

Thus, at the 10th anniversary of the attacks on 9/11, questions abound about how Israel and neocons took US policy in the past 10 years in directions that strengthened adversaries, promoted war, wrecked the American economy, and destroyed the sympathy and solidarity shown by people around the world to the US. Ten years after September 11, 2001, we still have the choice of continuing the same policies that lead to war and conflict or to insist on human rights and hold violators accountable.

On this sad anniversary, the US government can no longer afford to remain a vassal and occupied country whose congress stands obediently to applause a war criminal like Netanyahu. People shake their heads as they see 81 US Congressmen and Congresswomen take a propaganda trip to Israel during their August recess instead of spending the time dealing with the economic destruction in their own districts caused in part by the lobby that paid for their trip. People wonder how a proud country like the US could allow Israel to get away with attacking a US ship in international waters killing 28 US servicemen. How could this government then appoint lobbyists for Israel as US ambassadors to Israel (e.g. Martin Indyk) and US envoys to the Middle East (e.g. Dennis Ross)? Is it any wonder that we now learn that previous US Secretary of Defense Bill Gates had big differences on issues of policy? Many US officials now speak out while still in office not just after they leave office. It is urgent and critical.

On this sad anniversary, there are a lot of "what if" scenarios being discussed and healthy reflections around the world. For example, what if the US and Israel obeyed international law? What if we did not illegally invade and occupy Iraq and Afghanistan? What if Israel was forced to comply with UN resolutions on withdrawal from illegally occupied areas and forced to allow the ethnically-cleansed Palestinians to return to their homes and lands? In short what if we did not send the message that might makes right but rather that rights make things right? Would that not have been the most rational response to extremists whether they are wearing Turbans or wearing Kippas or wearing crosses?