By Lawrence DiStasi
For many years now, and increasingly these days, this has been the question of questions. Israel, a nation that routinely violates United Nations resolutions, a nation that maintains a brutal occupation of an indigenous people, depriving that people of almost every human right-this nation of Israel is and has for over fifty years been given full and unqualified support by the United States.
This is a United States that professes to be in favor of self-determination for all peoples, that routinely offers sympathy and empathy and military aid for such nations in their struggles for "freedom." And yet there persists the fact of US support for Israel that in dollars alone has amounted to some $109 billion over the last fifty years.
As an example of such support, when Israel invaded its neighbor Lebanon in 2006, the US House of Representatives voted 410 to 8 for a resolution fully backing a month of bombing and ground attacks that destroyed much of a sovereign, defenseless nation from air, land and sea, including the deliberate targeting of civilians. Here is an eyewitness report given to British journalist, Robert Fisk, describing the ordeal of a Lebanese family fleeing for their lives in a pickup truck-27 people, 20 of them children-towards the sea patrolled by Israeli warships:
According to Mohamed's son Wissam, Ali - whose elderly mother Sabaha was sitting beside him in the front - turned to the children with the words: "Get out, all you children get out and the Israelis will realize we are civilians." The first two or three children had managed to climb out the back when the Israeli warship fired a shell that exploded in the cab of the pick-up, killing Ali and Sabaha instantly. "I had almost been able to jump from the vehicle -- my mother had told me to jump before the ship hit us," Wissam says. "But the pressure of the explosion blew me out when I had only one leg over the railing and I was wounded. There was blood everywhere."
Within a few seconds, Wissam says, an Israeli Apache helicopter arrived over the vehicle, very low and hovering just above the children. "I saw Myrna still in the pick-up and she was crying and pleading for help. I went to get her and that's when the helicopter hit us. Its missile hit the back of the vehicle where all the children were and I couldn't hear anything because the blast had damaged my ears. Then the helicopter fired a rocket into the car behind the pick-up. But the pilot must have seen what he was doing. He could see we were mostly children. The pick-up didn't have a roof. All the children were crammed in the back and clearly visible." (9/30/06 Independent/UK)
This is the type of Israeli behavior that receives the near-unanimous approval of the United States Congress-not least by supplying those Apache helicopters. From this we can only conclude that the members of Congress must be quite confident that their votes, likewise, have the blessing of a large majority of the American people.
And again, the question is, Why? Why, that is, aside from the well-known mythologies: that Israel is a tiny David defending itself against the far more numerous Arab Goliaths which surround it, and which are determined to "drive it into the sea;" that Israel is a popular democracy, trying to remain free among nations that are ruled by cruel Arab tyrants and terrorists; that Israel shares our values-including our Judeo-Christian heritage of the primacy of the individual as opposed to "Oriental" notions of the individual as meaningless; or that Israel represents an indispensable ally in the cauldron of competing hatreds that is the Middle East, its support a matter of geopolitics and US self-interest; or that support is driven by the "Jewish lobby," a combination of lobbyists and pundits dispensing not only largesse to lawmakers who tow their line, but also the threat of certain defeat for lawmakers who dare to criticize our ally, Israel.
All of which arguments, either alone or together, fail to fully explain the attraction. To the contrary, geopolitically, United States support for Israel grows more self-destructive with each year, first, as oil-rich Arab nations increasingly find it difficult to justify to their restive populations their willingness to remain American allies in the face of the perceived brutality and injustice of Israel; and second, as America's unqualified support for Israel compromises the "war on terror" by fueling the flames of hatred against the US and the West.
What, then can possibly explain this? How can one understand the persistent American support for policies that come with such a heavy cost?
The key, it seems to me, lies in the past. I mean the real past, not the mythologized past, and the parallels that lie in the founding of both nations.
Consider Israel first. Though most Americans probably accept the myths perpetrated by Leon Uris in his novel, Exodus, the truth is something quite other.
The land of Palestine was not, in May 1948 at Israel's founding, the mythologized "empty desert" made to bloom by Israeli settlers. Rather, it was a land occupied by indigenous Arabs-farmers, tradesmen, village dwellers, artists, teachers-for countless generations. In 1919, for example, Jewish immigrants amounted to only 10% of the residents of the land called Palestine that had been placed under British mandate after World War I. And that mandate to the British was mainly designed to ensure that the 90% majority Palestinian people achieved self-determination.
One qualifier, deriving from England's Balfour Declaration of 1917, added that there should be a "Jewish national home" in Palestine, but the mandate also noted that "nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine..."
Despite that, despite several partition plans offered by both the British (the Peel Plan of 1937; the White Paper of 1936), the UN (several plans by UNSCOP, the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine) and the United States-plans which offered two-state solutions which partitioned the original land of Palestine into a Jewish state and a Palestinian state (the latter usually being significantly larger to reflect the overwhelming advantage in population held by Palestinians, at least 65% even as late as 1948)-the Zionists in control of Jewish policy chose war as their opportunity to seize the vast majority of Palestine.
This was done in conventional battles, but also in terrorist attacks that were designed, via a well-known strategy called Plan D, to terrorize Palestinian civilians into fleeing. In the almost total absence of a competent Arab fighting force, and aided by the outright betrayal of the Palestinian people by Arab leaders such as King Abdullah of Jordan, the Zionist strategy worked.
Massacres of whole villages such as Dir Yassin created fear and terror in the Palestinian population, and in the end, some 750,000 Palestinians fled from their villages, villages which were then seized by Jewish forces and either obliterated, or completely occupied by Jewish immigrants pouring from Europe into the newly declared state. Tellingly, that new state, and its constitution, never declared what its boundaries were, this in order to adhere to the original Zionist intention, i.e. that the Jewish state was, sooner or later, to be comprised of all of Palestine.
But how could a new Jewish state take all of Palestine? What of the Palestinians? Zionism has always been very clear about this: the Palestinians would have to go. There is voluminous historical evidence to support this fact. To cite only a few cases:
In 1948, David Ben-Gurion said, "We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation, and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population. (Edward Herman, "Benign Ethnic Cleansing," www.Znet.com 8/9/06)
At about the same time, Menahem Begin, future Prime Minister of Israel and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, put it in even stronger language: "The partition of the Homeland is illegal. It will never be recognized. The signature of institutions and individuals of the partition agreement is invalid. It will not bind the Jewish people. Jerusalem was and will forever be our capital. Eretz Israel [the Land of Israel] will be restored to the people of Israel. All of it. And forever." (Noam Chomsky, The Fateful Triangle, p. 161)
In 1998, prime minister Ariel Sharon made clear that despite much hoopla about peace agreements in the years from 1948 to the century's end, nothing had changed: "It is the duty of Israeli leaders to explain to public opinion, clearly and courageously, a certain number of facts that are forgotten with time. The first of these is that there is no Zionism, colonization or Jewish state without the eviction of the Arabs and the expropriation of their lands." (Herman, op cit.)
And as recently as May 24, 2006, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said this to a joint session of the US Congress: "I believed and to this day still believe, in our people's eternal and historic right to this entire land." (Herman, op cit.)
But, one must ask, how could presumably rational people believe they could get away with such open and massive theft? The answer must lie in what Edward Said called the most sophisticated propaganda machine ever assembled, a machine that began its work very early to denigrate Arabs, to slander Palestinians, to deny their very existence. For example, in October of 1947, American rabbi and Zionist leader Abba Hillel Silver said: "There has never been a politically or culturally distinct or distinguishable Arab nation in Palestine. Palestine dropped out of history after the Arab conquest." (UN Weekly Bulletin, Oct. 14, 1947, p. 477.)
Golda Meir, the much venerated Israeli prime minister, in 1969, repeated the same notion: "It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist. (London Sunday Times, June 15, 1969)
In his Memoirs, David Ben-Gurion repeated the theme, with variations, noting that the Palestinian had no "emotional involvement" with the land of Palestine, for "Why should he? He is equally at ease whether in Jordan, Lebanon or a variety of places. They are as much his country as this is. And as little." (Ben Gurion, Memoirs, p. 118)
And if denying the reality of the Palestinians were not sufficient to justify taking their land, then some more vivid epithets about their level of humanity could always be employed. So we hear the likes of Menahem Begin (the same Menahem Begin who, during the 1948 war, led the Irgun in its infamous massacre of some 200 men, women and children at Dir Yassin) referring to Palestinians as "two-legged beasts."
Other officials have referred to Palestinians as "cockroaches," "lice," "grasshoppers," a "cancer," and other terms to dehumanize them. Most telling of all, perhaps, is Rabbi Yaacov Perin's statement that "One million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail." (Herman, op cit.)
Finally, there is the widespread and self-justifying myth that by taking Palestine from its original, backward inhabitants, Israelis were and are "redeeming the land." This is a justification that is meant to recall the Bible's account of the Jewish expulsion of the Canaanites and Philistines. Though the original, secular Zionists placed little faith in religion per se, they were not averse to using the Bible as a holy precedent for expelling the Palestinians from the "historic" land of Israel.
One Jewish leader said that, after the 1967 war, Israel should not return the lands it had conquered (and still occupies to this day) "because wars of conquest were mandatory in Jewish tradition in order to redeem the Holy Land" (Donald H. Akenson, God's People: Covenant and Land in South Africa, Israel, and Ulster, Cornell University Press, 1992, p. 321).
Noam Chomsky has cited the journal of a West Bank settlement to give us an equally shocking example: citing the Jewish authority Maimonides, the writer notes that Gentiles are "a people like a donkey," that "conquered" peoples "must not raise their heads in Israel but must be conquered beneath their hand...with complete submission," and that "in a divinely-commanded war [milhemet mitzvah] one must destroy, kill and eliminate men, women and children." (Chomsky, op cit, p. 124, citing Yedidia Segal in Nekudah, Sept. 3, 1982.)
Thus, Israel has long and consistently employed the notion of a Jewish "divine right" to the historic land of Israel (inconveniently called "Palestine" on pre-war maps) to justify the theft of that land, and the oppression and expulsion of its people.
And it is this that lies at the core of America's otherwise astonishing acceptance and approval of such a theft. For at the root of America's founding, its founding myth, lies the same notion of divine writ sanctioning a similar theft, oppression and ethnic cleansing. I am referring, of course, to the by now well-known, though not universally accepted idea that the European settlers who journeyed to the North American continent after 1492 did so not as peaceful pilgrims, but as invaders implementing the large-scale expulsion and decimation of the indigenous peoples who lived there. And the same kinds of divine justification, often referencing ancient Israel as precedent, were offered to rationalize and valorize that theft.
Listen to a few of the statements made by early colonial officials, most of whom believed they had been ordained and guided by God to the New World.
John Winthrop of New England: "We shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.
Alexander Whitaker of Virginia: "God hath opened this passage unto us, and led us by the hand unto this work."
Samuel Langdon in 1788: "We cannot but acknowledge that God hath graciously patronized our cause and taken us under his special care, as he did his ancient covenant people."
Thomas Jefferson himself, hardly a conventionally religious man, used the same kind of imagery in his 1st Inaugural: "I shall need... the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our fathers, as Israel of old, from their native land and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessities and comforts of life." (this and previous three quotes from Conrad Cherry (ed.), God's New Israel: Religious Interpretations of American Destiny (Prentice Hall, Inc., 1971).
By contrast, the Native Americans who had occupied the land for millennia were denigrated in every way possible, beginning with the notion that they were children, not the children of God, but of Satan. They were "savage and brutish people," unskilled in all the arts of agriculture, industry, culture and civilization. They lived in squalor, hardly separate from nature at all, at home even in dense forests which everyone knew to be the domain of diabolical powers. To eject them from such places, English settlers used every means including purchase, trickery, and outright seizure.
For example, if an Indian in Boston were found to have violated one of the Puritan laws, he was made to pay restitution by surrendering land, with the result that numerous colonists made real estate fortunes in this way. But most land was simply seized by colonists-land abandoned by the many Indians who died from diseases to which they had no immunity (smallpox most conspicuously), or who fled due to warfare. The original New England Charter of 1620 offers vivid testimony to the former. First, the condition of the land under the Indians is noted as empty-"those deserts" by which the new settlers ... Hope thereby to advance the in Largement of Christian Religion, to the Glory of God Almighty, as also by that Meanes to streatch out the Bounds of our Dominions, and to replenish those Deserts with People governed by Lawes and Magistrates, for the peaceable Commerce of all..."
Then it is noted that God's favor for what the settlers have done and will do to the Natives, can be accurately gauged by the appearance of "...a wonderfull Plague, together with many horrible Slaugthers, and Murthers, committed amongst the Sausages and brutish People there, heretofore inhabiting, in a Manner to the utter Destruction, Deuastacion, and Depopulacion of that whole Territorye, so that there is not left for many Leagues together in a Manner, any that doe claime or challenge any Kind of Interests therein, nor any other Superiour Lord or Souveraigne to make Claime hereunto, whereby We in our Judgment are persuaded and satisfied that the appointed Time is come in which Almighty God in his great Goodness and Bountie towards Us and our People, hath thought fitt and determined, that those large and goodly Territoryes, deserted as it were by their naturall Inhabitants, should be possessed and enjoyed by such of our Subjects and People as heertofore have and hereafter shall by his Mercie and Favour, and by his Powerful Arme, be directed and conducted thither."
So there it is. Settlers knew God approved of their invasion, their settlement, their slaughter of these "savage and brutish people," because he was helping to destroy, devastate and depopulate them by means of a wonderfull plague-the same kind of divine judgment meted out in the Bible to the enemies of those first Israelites in their quest to redeem the old Jerusalem.
This same rationale for continuing to push westward, and continuing to conquer and destroy the retreating Native Americans, was used by American settlers and politicians throughout the 19th century and beyond. It was called manifest destiny then, first voiced in 1845 by an editor named John L. O'Sullivan in his Democratic Review: "Our manifest destiny [is] to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions."
The phrase has a secular sound, but the sentence in which it is packed invokes the old providential sanction-the whole continent having been "allotted" to Americans, who clearly have the God-given right to multiply and settle and civilize all of it. In so doing, of course, God implicitly authorizes his chosen people to remove anyone or any group that happens to be standing in the way. So though O'Sullivan ends with a paean to progress and freedom ...we are the nation of progress, of individual freedom, of universal enfranchisement. This is our high destiny, and in nature's eternal, inevitable decree of cause and effect we must accomplish it. All this will be our future history, to establish on earth the moral dignity and salvation of man -- the immutable truth and beneficence of God. For this blessed mission to the nations of the world, which are shut out from the life-giving light of truth, has America been chosen...
he makes plain that those poor retrograde nations, including the hapless and savage people who have long occupied the continent "shut out from the life-giving light of truth," must either join with the irresistible, civilizing American tide, or perish beneath its all-consuming wave.
This was made plainer as the 19th century progressed. Americans first took by force or settlement or treaty all of the rest of the continent, forcing its indigenous peoples-those who managed to survive, that is-onto remoter and remoter reservations.
Then it extended its destiny (usually by landing the marines) to its nearby neighbors-the nations of Central America and the Caribbean first, but reaching as far as the Philippines and beyond. Of course, all of this was done to "bring about progress and democracy for backward people" in nations like Cuba and Puerto Rico, Haiti and Nicaragua and Honduras, so that they might enjoy the benefits of civilization.
And if they somehow missed this, if they instead sensed what President Taft admitted in 1912-that "the whole hemisphere will be ours in fact as, by virtue of our superiority of race, it already is ours morally"-then they would just have to be instructed in more muscular ways, via pre-emptive wars, invasions, and engineered coups.
Thus we return to the widespread American inclination to accept without question all Israeli rationalizations for their right to steal a whole country. It is simply a repeating of an all-too-familiar sanction, a God-given sanction, for European Jews to "redeem the land" once misnamed Palestine. It is simply a matter of parallel logic: that the indigenous Arabs, like the indigenous Native Americans, should have no authentic right to a land they merely occupied and did nothing to develop. It is simply a question of superior right, both in the sense of a title attested to by an unimpeachable source, the Holy Bible, and in the sense of rightousness, of an inherent, naturally-ordained, racially and morally reinforced right. A right reserved by the only true God for the only truly "civilized" peoples, those emigrating from Europe-peoples related, after all, to those early American forebears whom God had previously guided across the Atlantic so they could "discover" and "redeem" in his name another entirely empty "new world" and save its satanic inhabitants from degradation and perdition.
Must not all true Americans hold these notions to be self-evident? Part of the divine plan? They must. For to question them, to, even for a moment, step back and look at them objectively and notice the arrogance and racism and theft and wholesale exploitation and slaughter they entail, would be to watch in horror as they collapse of their own cruel and deluded and criminal weight.
To see that the rape of the north American continent by successive waves of European colonizers was just as abominable as the rape of Palestine by the European Jewish movement known as Zionism. Just as racist. Just as cruel. Just as outrageous and illegal and unjustifiable in any world in which the word justice has the slightest meaning.
And so most Americans do not question. They do not read. They do not notice the lies and evasions and self-justifications in their own histories, or in the histories of Israel. They simply nod their heads and agree that this never-ending conflict must be due to the terrorists, to the flaws in the Arab mind, in the Muslim religion, to something in the middle eastern air. And give their approval to a continuing abomination that must inevitably, and sooner now rather than later, result in some very bitter chickens coming home to roost. As a December 3, 2006 Los Angeles Times article, "Middle East Allies Near a State of Panic," concluded: "Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, warn(ed) that the Middle East was becoming "an abyss.... The region is facing real failure."
If the abyss (in all its senses: primal chaos, the bottomless pit, hell itself) is indeed at hand, it would constitute the ultimate reversal: rather than a writ issued by God leading to redemption, the warrant under which both Israel and America have established their dominion would be seen, truly, as having issued from Satan himself.