Concealing the crimes of the powerful


The bloodiest day in the 17-month Intifada, with more than three dozen Palestinians killed as the price Israel exacted for the deaths of five settlers, and my newspaper runs the story, not on the front page, where it belongs, but on page 10, where it’s more likely to be overlooked..

Last week a dozen American soldiers were killed in Afghanistan and the story ran on the front page. Worst day of the war, we were told. That thousands of Afghans, who have nothing whatever to do with al-Qaeda or the Taliban, have already experienced their worst day of the war, unremarked upon and unnoticed, gave the headline a surreal — if not racist — quality. The deaths of occupiers are mourned, pored over, sanctified, “justifiably” avenged; the deaths of the occupied are shuffled to the back of the newspaper.

“The day’s carnage began in the early hours of the morning, when a Palestinian suicide attacker walked into the Gaza Strip settlement of Atzmona, throwing grenades and spraying automatic fire.”

Five Jewish students at a religious college died, along with the Palestinian suicide attacker.

“Israel forces later entered the nearby village of Khousza to search for militants and weapons. Firing from helicopter gunships and tanks, they killed 17 Palestinians.”

A suicide bomber attacks a settlement. The settlement is illegal. “Retaliatory military strikes” are launched, but against who? Not against the perpetrator. He’s dead.

We’re told Israeli forces (an occupying army, but that’s not what it’s called in deference to concealing the crimes of a Mideast ally) enter a nearby Palestinian village to search for militants and weapons. How? By firing from helicopter gunships and tanks.

How a search can be conducted by lobbing shells and spraying the occupants of a village with machine gun fire isn’t made clear, or questioned. But this wasn’t a search for guns and militants, and it wasn’t a retaliatory strike against the attack’s — already dead — perpetrator. It was collective punishment, illegal under international law (like the occupation, but who’s pointing that out?), and the object was clear: To attack Palestinians — any Palestinians — not for what they did, for those who died didn’t attack the village, but for who they are.

“Israeli helicopter gunships struck in towns and refugee camps in other parts of Gaza and the West Bank,” killing more. More collective punishment. Attack settlers, and we’ll kill you at random. Because you’re Palestinians.

The Nazis, who occupied Belgrade, had a similar way of dealing with the partisans who resisted. Every time a German was killed, the Nazis rounded up dozens of Serbs and killed them in retaliation. Attacks us, and we’ll kill you at random. Because you’re Serb.

On page 13, beside a drawing of an Arab hurling a bomb at a target with a Star of David bulls-eye, a columnist asks, “How can Israelis ever make peace with people who believe their fundamental crime is being Jews?”

Israeli president Moshe Katsav seconds this, uttering words as vile and racist as anything the Chancellor of a Western European powerhouse once did: “Each Palestinian baby, when he was born, he took with the milk of his mother incitement against the Jews.” They hate us because we’re Jews. It’s the Israelis’ equivalent of Washington’s “no moral equivalence.” Our murder of innocent civilians, our violations of international law, our aggression, our building of weapons of mass destruction, our war crimes, can’t be criticized. There’s no moral equivalence. Why not? Because we say so. And so the matter is dropped, explored no further, in deference to concealing the crimes of the world’s only superpower.

Military occupation in defiance of international law. Ethnic cleansing. Illegal settlements. Refusal to recognize Palestinians’ right of return. Human rights atrocities. Extrajudicial assassinations. Sabra and Shatila. Nine-hundred, a thousand Palestinians dead in the last 17 months, (no one knows the precise number.) Collective punishment. And it’s said Palestinians suckle anti-Jewish incitement at their mothers’ teats, that they attack because they hate Israelis for what they are, not what they’ve done.

Dozens of Palestinians, who didn’t attack Atzmona, died for who they are, and still Israelis debase their persecution through the ages by using it a shield behind which to behave as Nazis, to murder, to enact racists policies, to ethnically cleanse, to occupy, to practice collective punishment.

So what, on this bloodiest day of the Intifada, appeared on the front page? A story we’ve heard before. A leader, this time Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, who “casts back to an era of anti-imperialism and Marxism” is accused of stealing an election, while his opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, who was caught on videotape discussing a plot to assassinate Mugabe, is lionized. He “appears to be awake to world economic realities.” Tsvangirai’s plotting, his threats of violence and insurrection, his ties to London are brushed aside or ignored, in deference to concealing the crimes of the IMF’s man in Harare.

Mr. Steve Gowans is a writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.

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