And Linked Genocides: Iraq And Palestine
by Edward S. Herman
January 20, 2003
Remember the optimistic forecasts of a dozen years ago that in a post-Soviet world, without the bitter conflict of two competing systems, and with the triumph of the liberal capitalist West, we would soon see the spread of peace, tolerance and prosperity? The reverse has happened: corporate concentration and globalization, and the aggressive projection of the now uncontained military power of the United States, have helped erode democratic substance and increase inequality, conflict, ethnic cleansing and open warfare on a global scale.
What is truly remarkable, however, is that in this New World Order, genocide, supposedly something the world community would "never again" allow to happen after the horror of the Nazi Holocaust, has become more commonplace, in process today in two separate but neighboring locales, with the two politically linked to one another. It is also notable that these parallel and mutually-supportive genocides are being implemented by the superpower that claims to be a repository of a higher morality, and by its Israeli client, widely regarded in the United States as a "light unto others" (Anthony Lewis), and whose Jewish citizens are heirs of the victims of the Nazi genocide.
In these ongoing genocides the United States has been the dominant factor, carrying out one of them directly and facilitating the second by aid to, and protection of its implementer. It has pressed the "sanctions of mass destruction" that have decimated the Iraq population, and it is preparing for a war of aggression against that victim state and populace that should add to an already immense death toll. Israel, on its side, has been engaged in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians for half a century, with crucial U.S. economic and military aid and diplomatic protection, but it has stepped up its cleansing pace under the protection of George Bush and the "war on terror." The United States uses Israel as its proxy to help it maintain domination in the Middle East and for other services, and Israel uses the United States to help it pursue a "redeeming the land" from non-Jewish inhabitants in the occupied territories.
For Israel, Iraq has been a rival local power that it is happy to have its protector destroy and occupy, and as noted by numerous Israeli and other commentators -- but ignored in the U.S. mainstream media -- under the cover of the war which the United States is preparing to unleash, Israel will be able to ethnically cleanse the occupied territories more rapidly. This possibility is under active discussion in Israel itself. The two genocides are also linked by the close connection between the military establishments of the two states, and by the force of the powerful pro-Israel lobby in the United States, which advances Israeli interests by pushing for U.S. aid and protection to Israel, and, currently, by pressing for a war against Iraq, which again will serve Israeli interests. This lobby has not only helped control media debate and made congress into "Israeli occupied territory," it has seen to it that numerous officials with "dual loyalties" occupy strategic decision-making positions in the Bush administration (see Kathleen and Bill Christison, "A Rose By Another Name: The Bush Administration's Dual Loyalties," Counterpunch, Dec. 13, 2002).
The word "genocide" has been used too freely in modern times, and as in the case of "terrorism," it is applied with the double standard that is so familiar and so integral to the Free Press's propaganda service. William Safire states that "our patrol of a no-fly zone in Iraq...protects Iraqi Kurds from genocide" (The New York Times, Feb. 26, 2001), but Safire would never suggest that the Turkish Kurds need protection from genocide, let alone Iraqi civilians subjected to U.S.-sponsored sanctions, bombings, and prospective massive attack. The word was used frequently by the mainstream media in reference to Serb actions in Kosovo, and earlier to their operations in Bosnia; but as regards U.S. policy toward Iraq or Israeli actions in the occupied territories, on the rare occasions when the word appears it is always something that only Arabs and other foreigners allege. For example, "genocide" was used in The New York Times 85 times in application to the Serbs in Kosovo in 1999, 16 times in Op-Ed columns; but the word shows up only nine times in reference to Israel in 1999, never in an editorial or Op-Ed column, and always referring briefly to allegations by non-Americans.
It is also notable that the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY, or Tribunal) has used the word genocide freely, with Milosevic and numerous others indicted for allegedly carrying out that crime. In 1996 Radovan Karadzic was accused of "genocidal intent" based in good part on a statement he made in 1991 calling on Alija Izetbegovic to recognize the Bosnian Serb desire to remain in Yugoslavia -- Karadzic said "do not think that you will not perhaps make the Muslim people disappear, because the Muslims cannot defend themselves if there is a war -- How will you prevent everyone from being killed in Bosnia-Herzegovina?" Although this muddled sentence was made as a warning to avoid a war, it was presented by the Tribunal as serious evidence of genocidal intent. U.S. warnings that it might "end states" harboring terrorists, and scores of Israeli statements dehumanizing their victims and expressing an intent to displace or otherwise get rid of non-Jews in Eretz Israel are treated differently in the West.
Arguably, policies that carry state terrorism to the point of mass killings for political ends and "deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part" (Article 2(c) of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide), constitute genocide. The sanctions policy carried out against Iraq, which was installed following the destruction of major civilian facilities affecting health and nutrition during the 1991 Persian Gulf war, would seem to meet that condition of genocide, and the imminent war against the crushed populace will reinforce this conclusion. The 1991 destruction of the water and sewage systems were clearly understood by U.S. officials to threaten civilian health; one Defense Intelligence Agency document of 1991 states that "Conditions are favorable for communicable disease outbreaks, particularly in major urban areas affected by coalition bombing" (Thomas J. Nagy, "The Secret Behind the Sanctions: How the U.S. Intentionally Destroyed Iraq's Water Supply," The Progressive, September 2001). Numerous U.S. and British interventions in the sanctions process since then have prevented their repair, as well as denying other aid to the suffering civilian population (Joy Gordon, "Sanctions as a Weapon of Mass Destruction," Harper's Magazine, Nov. 2002). Among many similar statements by high-ranking U.S. officials, Robert Gates stated in 1991 that "Iraqis will be made to pay the price while Saddam Hussein is in power." That is, this has been intentional mass killing with no apparent limit until the objective of "regime change" is achieved.
The numbers killed in Iraq have already been impressive: estimates run from 1-1.5 million, about half small children. Back in 1996 Madeleine Albright conceded on national TV that 500,000 children might have died as a result of sanctions, but she said this was "worth it." Karl and John Mueller, writing in Foreign Affairs ("Sanctions of Mass Destruction," May/June 1999), concluded that the sanctions had killed more Iraqis than had been killed by "all the weapons of mass destruction in human history." Needless to say, the numbers killed by the sanctions tower above the totals in Bosnia, that were greeted with horror in the West as a clear case of genocide (the numbers killed there were almost surely under 60,000, although the Bosnian Muslim estimate of 200-250,000 was taken as gospel by David Rieff et al. [see Diana Johnstone, "Fools' Crusade," 53-55]). The UN now estimates that a U.S. war could place 10 million Iraqis in further jeopardy, especially in light of their dependence on government aid for survival and the likely effect of the war on transport and communication.
Thus, it must be regarded as one of the miraculous achievements of war-supportive propaganda that the U.S. media have not only kept this 12-year ongoing genocide out of sight, but have also made the U.S. concern for removing Saddam and getting rid of his "threat" into a great moral crusade -- the United States as benevolent genocidist! The media describe U.S. patience as exhausted with the bad man -- who had been supplied with weapons of mass destruction by the United States (and Britain), and who had used them only under U.S. diplomatic protection in the 1980s. Perhaps the Indonesian media in the years of Indonesian genocide in East Timor (1975-80) made Indonesia into a moral force doing its noble duty in preventing infidels from taking power in the victim state. They couldn't have surpassed the performance of the Free Press, which has literally hidden an ongoing genocide in the process of helping its leaders prepare the public for war -- and for an add-on genocide.
Israel's genocidal policies have been advancing slowly but surely, as the Israelis have been engaged in a long-term process of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in order to "redeem the land" for Jews. This has been the clear aim from Theodore Herzl in 1895 -- "the process of expropriation...must be carried out discretely and circumspectly" -- to Ariel Sharon in 1998 -- "Everything we don't grab will go to them." The victims have resisted, mainly by peaceable means, as in the first intifada, where more than a thousand Palestinians were killed by the ethnic cleansing state. But then, in intifada 2, the even more desperate Palestinian population resorted to suicide bombing violence. Peaceable means had achieved nothing -- the UN and "international community" had failed over the course of decades to end the relentless ethnic cleansing. Intifada 2 has produced an Israeli escalation of violence and a new structure of genocidal thought within Israel on policies of immiseration and "transfer," that threatens further advances in "deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its destruction, in whole or in part."
What Israel has been able to get away with is stunning. First, it is an openly racist state, explicitly designed for Jews, with others automatically second class citizens -- a "Herrenvolk democracy" ruled by a "master people," says Baruch Kimmerling, a sociologist at the Hebrew University in Tel Aviv. If Jews were treated in France as Israel's Arab citizens have been treated in Israel there would have been a huge international outcry about antisemitism and racism, and France would have been condemned and ostracized. Israel is the only nation privileged to be a racist state, able even to give Jews abroad more rights in Israel than indigenous Arabs.
Back in 1999, Harvard "human rights" professor and newly appointed New York Times Magazine regular contributor Michael Ignatieff, explained why the Serbs could be expected to kill Albanians at Racak: "The reason is simple...only in Serbia is racial contempt an official ideology." This was a straightforward lie: Belgrade was a multi-ethnic city and Albanians living there were not subject to discrimination, and in his famous 1989 speech in which he allegedly proclaimed nationalist-ethnic superiority, Milosevic said that "Yugoslavia is a multiethnic community, and it can survive only on condition of full equality of all nations that live in it." No statement conflicting with this one can be found in his speech, and nowhere does he proclaim ethnic superiority or an intent to ethnically cleanse. On the other hand, you will find no statement like Milosevic's from Ariel Sharon, or from the late Yitzhak Rabin for that matter, but you can locate dozens expressing racial contempt and an intention to ethnically cleanse. But Michael Ignatieff has not yet found these worthy of attention as he channels his human rights concerns elsewhere, and dissembles in the process.
Second, Israel has long been able to ethnically cleanse and settle its privileged people in the occupied territories in violation of the claimed Western moral aversion to ethnic cleansing, the consensus of the world community, and international law. The phrase "ethnic cleansing," like "genocide" used freely by the media to describe Serb operations in Bosnia and Kosovo, is almost never applied to Israel's operations in the occupied territories, although the phrase is far more applicable there than in the Balkans (for data, see my "Israel's Approved Ethnic Cleansing, Part 3," Z Magazine, June 2001). In Bosnia you had an ugly 4-5 year war for territorial control that involved ethnic cleansing among three competing parties, with the supposedly weaker party (the Bosnian Muslims) given major aid by NATO, Saudi Arabia, and the mujahidin -- whereas Israel ethnically cleanses a virtually unarmed populace, with massive U.S. military aid, over decades. In Kosovo there was only a civil war (though supported from the outside) -- and the Serbs were never pushing out Kosovo Albanians to make way for Serb occupancy. By contrast, in the territories occupied by Israel, the ethnic cleansing is very clearly to make way for settlements by the "chosen people." Only Palestinian homes are demolished and only their olive and fruit trees uprooted by the thousands.
Once again, we find that Michael Ignatieff came through with great indignation at Serb expulsions in Kosovo, based again on a lie: Ignatieff stated that "Milosevic decided to solve an 'internal problem' by exporting an entire nation to his impoverished neighbors...a final solution of the Kosovo problem." He neglected mentioning that the exodus of Albanians occurred only AFTER NATO began its bombing war; that the KLA was working in coordination with NATO during this war and that Serb attacks and expulsions were concentrated in strong KLA areas and can therefore be explained by military demands and strategies; and that a higher percentage of Serbs than Albanians fled during the bombing war. But again, while indignant in his dissembling about Serb expulsions, Ignatieff is silent about the Israeli ethnic cleansing that is real, open and purposeful; a case also where there are ongoing discussions of "exporting an entire nation" to Israel's impoverished neighbors. Ignatieff has found that carefully channeled indignation in accord with the state agenda pays off, and that even lying in the cause entails no penalty.
Despite the extreme clarity of the Israeli ethnic cleansing program the Free Press focuses on the "worthy" victims (Israelis), not on the "unworthy" ones (Palestinians) being expropriated, in accord with their government's agenda. This parallels the press usage of "terrorism" and "retaliation," again in close accord with a political agenda. In Israel itself, resisting army officers, holocaust survivors, and numerous intellectuals repeatedly point to the occupation and ethnic cleansing as the root of the problem: that "Israel is not defending its democracy, but an ethnic- supremacist regime...[that] rules over millions of people under atrocious conditions of blockade and curfew" (Aeyal Gross, Tel Aviv University); and when will the world "stop neglecting the fact that the goal of the Israeli Government is not security, but the continued occupation and subjugation of the Palestinian people?" (Lev Grinberg, Ben Gurion University). Israel's leaders "have built a hothouse for rearing suicide bombers. A person whose beloved brother has been killed, whose house has been destroyed in an orgy of vandalism, who has been mortally humiliated before the eyes of his children, goes to the market and buys a rifle" (peace activist Uri Avneri).
More recently, critical Israeli analysts have been stressing the Israeli leadership plans to accelerate their genocidal operations (Ur Shlonsky, "Zionist Ideology, the Non-Jews, and the State of Israel," University of Geneva, Feb. 10, 2002 -- quotes that follow are from this article). In this analysis, it is recognized that the first order of business is to crush the Palestinian resistance: "The civilian population must be terrorized, assuring maximal destruction of property and cultural resources." Second, in preparation for expulsions like those of 1948, a war must be encouraged. In parallel, "the daily life of the Palestinians must be rendered unbearable: They should be locked up in the cities and towns, prevented from exercising normal economic life, cut off from workplaces, schools and hospitals. This will encourage emigration and weaken the resistance to future expulsions." Third, the Palestinian political class must be eliminated by assassination or expulsions. Fourth, settlement activity must continue and expand to produce facts on the ground.
All of this will stimulate "terrorism" on the part of the victims, but that will be good -- it will sow fear in the Israeli population and play into the hands of the hardliners. Thus, "all the elements are put in place for what Des Forges, in another context, called 'the genocidal campaign.' Further, continued Kamikaze actions and the media coverage they elicit furnish a central element in the struggle to rally world opinion to the Zionist Cause." As this genocidal campaign will cause criticism abroad, despite the efforts of the Western media to put it in the best possible light, Jewish communities abroad must be mobilized to protect the Israeli operations. "In this context it becomes necessary to utilize and in the long run to encourage, the hatred of Jews in Europe and elsewhere in order to create Jewish solidarity with the Zionist project." This will involve casting aside a long tradition of Jewish support for enlightened secular and universalist goals in favor of a parochial purpose that demands backing radical ethnic cleansing and genocide itself, led by Likud leaders like Sharon and Netanyahu.
In short, conditions are ripe for ridding Palestine of its unwanted non-Jewish occupants. The Palestinians in the occupied territories are now regularly treated with contempt, humiliated, and with Geneva Convention violations "committed daily, hourly, even every minute by the Israeli authorities against Palestinians" (Amnesty International, April 2, 2002). They are called "lice," "grasshoppers," "cockroaches," and "cancers that need to be removed," by high officials of the state, with no critical reaction in the West. The Israeli populace has suffered heavy casualties and is fearful and prone to listen to leaders who promise them "security" through more forceful action against the Palestinians.
The surge of suicide bombings has brought into power leaders like Ariel Sharon, with a long record of ruthlessness and anti-civilian violence, perfect to implement an advanced system of ethnic cleansing, including "exporting an entire nation" to neighboring states. The Israeli genocide now under Sharon management has thus far not involved mass killing, although the levels have been impressive (1,200 Palestinians killed and 9,900 injured by Israel Defense Forces in the territories in 2002). The Israeli method has been to make the conditions of life of the Palestinians unbearable, by destroying their infrastructure, reducing them to penury, isolation, humiliation, fear, and hopelessness. This state terrorism is designed to make them subject to easy domination in Bantustans, to induce their "voluntary" transfer, and to ready them for forced mass expulsion.
In Israel, Sharon can speak of "taking advantage of the opportunity" presented by a battle in Hebron to "minimise the number of Palestinians living among Jewish settlers," and Benjamin Netanyahu can say "we are going to cleanse the whole area and do the work ourselves" and these statements are kept in the black hole in the Western media (cited only by Henry Siegman in the International Herald Tribune, Jan. 7, 2003) -- while the Yugoslav Tribunal looks desperately for statements like these from Milosevic that would justify his condemnation for "genocide"!
Sharon can escalate his violence because the Bush administration has given him a blank check to ethnically cleanse, if done with moderate discretion. How much discretion is needed will depend on the media's cooperation, and that has been exemplary. In Israel itself, Gideon Levy reports that "If the acts of killing and the arrests are marginally reported by the media, the imprisonment of the entire Palestinian people is continuing uninterrupted and unreported. Whole cities, parts of which lie in ruins, are under almost unceasing curfew; an entire population is unable to move from one village to the next...without the authorization of the occupation army -- but within the Israeli public there is not even an echo of this" (Haaretz, Dec. 20, 2002).
The same low-key reporting characterizes the U.S. media, who have long treated Sharon as a respectable and responsible statesman rather than a world class state terrorist. They do not report on, dramatize with stories of personal suffering, or criticize with any indignation his cruel siege against a virtually unarmed populace, or the enlarging settlements -- and they have never focused on or criticized these for racist discrimination, ethnic cleansing, and illegality. These daily attacks, humiliations, and policies of beggaring the population, have been normalized, placed occasionally on the back pages, as the mainstream media handled reports of Nazi killings of Jews during World War II. The media refuse to address, let alone criticize, the policy intent of the Sharon government, which clearly includes possible "transfer." Henry Siegman states that Sharon has boasted to his inner circle of his new freedom of action, where, in contrast with a year ago his forces "move about as they please throughout the entire West Bank and Gaza, and no one says anything." This sets the stage for the next phase of the genocidal project.
The world community has opposed Israel's policies for decades, but Israel can pursue them because the United States prevents effective action against the ethnic cleanser, and even actively supports its ethnic cleansing. General Assembly votes on action to restrain Israel and to force it to adhere to Security Council rulings usually run about 150 or 160 to 2 or 3. Israel is also in continuous violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits an occupying power from taking over land of the occupied territory and abusing its populace. Israel has long ignored this, with U.S. protection.
The world community has also opposed the U.S.-British-organized Iraq genocide by sanctions and threatened war against Iraq. But here also, the "international community" has done nothing to interfere with the 12 years of sanctions, and has even allowed these partners to use the UN as their instrument of death-dealing. The international community is putting up only token resistance to the planned war of aggression. Kevin Begley comments with some justice that the UN resolution 1441 calling for intensified inspections "is the greatest example of appeasement since Chamberlain gave in to Hitler over Czechoslovakia." Instead of challenging the planned aggression the Security Council has given the United States a UN cover to justify it, with numerous built-in trip-wires for finding "material breaches" and rationalizing war that the Bush administration will take advantage of unless the political cost appears too high.
The media and pro-Israel lobby have played a crucial role in facilitating this double genocide. As noted, the public is unaware of the fact that their government is already responsible for a major genocide in Iraq, as it prepares for the add-on genocide. The victim state is seen as a serious threat to the pitiful giant. As regards Israel, its actions and plans are also kept largely out of view; words like ethnic cleansing and genocide are not used to describe its policies, and in another miracle of Orwellian or even Kafkaesque proportions, the suicide bombings of the primary victims are featured heavily, the systematic reduction of Palestinian life to stone age conditions in the interests of a "Greater Israel" is back page or black hole material. The stage is set for escalated transfer and genocide with the commencement of the add-on genocide against Iraq.
First published in Swans
Edward S. Herman is Professor Emeritus at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
Back to Political Articles