The arch-terrorist Bin Laden had the temerity to hijack the Palestinian cause in his latest diatribe. This strategy was adopted by Saddam Hussain before resulting in heavy losses to the Palestinian cause. But even before Bin Laden latched onto this strategy, a Zogby poll among Americans showed that support for Palestinians dropped precipitously following the September 11 attack. Part of this is due to a well-planned media campaign for public opinion initiated by Israel and its supporters and estimated to cost 100 million dollars. It is not surprising then that you notice Israeli leaders everywhere commenting on terrorism, trying to equate Arafat with Bin Laden, and repeatedly referring to videos of cheering Palestinians (cheering scuds falling on Tel Aviv or the terror attack in the US).
For decades, Palestinians faced incredible odds telling their story or explaining their views even though this issue is central to the perception of the US among people in the Middle East. The brutality of Israeli occupation and colonial practices was actually beginning to be acknowledged. Jews in the US were also beginning to question Zionist ideologies and apartheid policies of the state of Israel. Ardent Israeli government supporters were beginning to go on the defensive rather than their usual offensive. Then comes Bin Laden and everything changed September 11. Is it any wonder that many Palestinians believed the spreading rumor that the Israeli intelligence was behind the attack on the US? Afterall, a frenzy of propaganda ensued to quickly take advantage and it was led by known Israeli apologists (Will, Saffire, Buckely, Friedman etc.). A whole gamut of Israeli leaders followed before the cameras as “experts” and it helped increase the rising anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment in teh US. They included Barak, Netenyahu, Sharon, Peres, and many of their disciples. Those interviewing them from Larry King to Dan Rather did not bother to ask such obvious questions like:
History provides good lessons. One need not go as far back as the decimation of millions of native Americans in the name of progress and Christianity, or the persecution of Indian Hindus and Budhists in the name of progress and Islam, or the more recent displacement of two thirds of the native Palestinians in the name of progress and Judaism,. Nor does one need to discuss the effect of the continuing US led sanctions that have so far killed 1 million Iraqi civilians; to which Madeline Albright stated: “we think it is worth it”. More proximately, one needs to ask questions as to why are we the ones who supported the Mujahidin (those who engage in Jihad) in Afghanistan against secular or communist forces. Why is it that no congressional investigation is now planned to explore our government’s role in creating this “menace” we call Bin Laden and the Taliban,, our role in training and arming them (in bases even in New Jersey), our role if failing to detect and thwart their plans, and then our strategy in addressing this threat via an open-ended “war on terrorism.” Afterall, asking questions about US foreign policy in the Middle East can and should be done by an enlightened society while remaining patriotic and condemning terrorism.
There are so many questions to be raised ranging from our support of the Saudi regime (a regime even more suppressive than the Taliban in its treatments of women, non-Saudis, and non-Muslims) to our contradictory support of Kurds (we support them in Northern Iraq while funding Turkey to bomb them). Who really benefits from our policies promoting militarism and propping despotic, racist, and dictatorial regimes? As the largest exporter of weapons in the world (many come back to be used against us), is the US foreign policy advancing peace? Who is being hurt by these policies and what is our long-term plans? Most of all, we should ask tough questions about how to improve the lot of the average taxpayers, how to decrease poverty around the world, how to resist racism and intolerance, and how to protect our fragile ecosystem. Those who rely on army generals, politicians, or stock analysts to give us the answers, improve our lives, or make us safe maybe sadly disappointed. It behooves each of us to seek the answers ourselves.
(Dr. Mazin B. Qumsiyeh is Chair of the Media Committee, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition)