Letter from and to America

Israeli tank on the hills around Ramallah, September 1996, when I was a resident of the town. (Nigel Parry)


Observing Israel’s propaganda campaign to deflect the current international spotlight away from its brutal military operation in Rafah, I am struck by the sheer scale of the lie and the blatantly premeditated campaign to cloud the issue instead of dealing transparently with the obvious and undeniable abuses.

Even the hapless United States administration — whose contentedly culturally-ignorant and amoral soldiers were violating the human rights of Joe and Jane Iraqi long before the abuse in Abu Ghraib came to light — has enough of a clue when finally caught red-handed to understand that the only way out of the mess was to begin a process of prosecuting those responsible.

With so many people in the United States discovering 20/20 hindsight in the wake of 9/11 and beginning to travel along a path of understanding that America’s foreign adventures in the Middle East may have had more than a little to do with that horrible day, it is amazing how little attention the national news media gives to international, iconic, militant-rallying conflicts such as that between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

What is happening in Rafah that is so wrong, from the point of view of those who follow the conflict closely, is not limited to a single demonstration in which Israel used tanks and helicopters provided by US military aid for crowd control. The dark horror in Rafah has been unfolding on a daily basis for decades, yet a viewer will get no sense of this from the contextless US media.

It is a rare day indeed when CNN, Fox, and MSNBC relents from force-feeding us utterly useless and sensationalist images. How many days of coverage did we endure of Janet Jackson’s Superbowl titty escape? How much more obsessive courtroom stalking of the latest celebrity caught feeling or chopping someone up will we have to witness? Nightly, we are forced to watch a stream of ill-informed and loud-mouthed pundits shouting and screaming about the issue of the day, typically arriving at the studio without even one single fact in tow.

This crass, dumbing-down of the apparently compliant American public by these information gatekeepers is not just something Europeans began smirking at when the US started exporting cable TV news and talk shows that confirmed all their prejudices. At this critical time in human history, the shallowness of what passes for ‘news’ in America is really a form of cultural suicide — a decision to embrace ratings-friendly tabloid entertainment for profit instead of giving the next generation the gift of an informed understanding of our role in the world that may very well keep them and us free and alive in the years to come.

While we still have a choice, many in the Middle East are already walking along paths defined for them by foreigners. Yet things change very quickly. If America continues to practice repression in Iraq and continue — against all common sense — to arm the death cult of Israeli expansionist ideology, it will not be long before we have more to worry about than kung fu and box cutters in economy class. That which we feed will ultimately find us.

While racial profiling might seem a quick fix to those in power in the short term, you’re only ever one Oklahoma City-type act carried out by people other than Arabs “on behalf of” Iraq or Palestine before every citizen is a suspect. And while White America may be tolerant of abusive security measures that are currently primarily aimed at Arabs, it really won’t take that much before we all find ourselves in the same boat. There are an increasing number of fucking angry people out there, and once you factor in that 2% of any population are dangerously, barking mad and hovering on the edge waiting for the straw that breaks the camel’s back, it’s only a matter of time.

Think the Patriot Act is intrusive? Try a battle tank at the end of your street. Post 9/11 we have already seen this in some US cities. When I visited Washington D.C. in Summer 2003, there were several tanks lining the highway to the airport. When those in power are as reactionary, as opportunistic, and as blinded by an overpowering sense of entitlement as the Bush administration had proven to be, you’re only ever a couple of days away from that Holiday in Cambodia that the Dead Kennedys sang about.

Fascism and abusive regimes don’t just happen to brown people. Just half a century ago white Europeans were killing each other in the tens of millions. Paying attention to what is being done in your name is as important and basic a survival skill as are locking your front door at night and not going away with strangers when you’re a child. For some people, it’s too late, the tanks are already there, but you still have a choice to stop the militaristic focus of American foreign policy and replace it with something humane, that generates goodwill.

When I first visited Rafah refugee camp in 1989, there had been clashes between young Palestinians and Israeli occupying troops the night before. That day, as we drove through the camp with the United Nations to a meeting with doctors and nurses in a tiny 2-room clinic, one of the ones that is no doubt today being characterised as a “hospital” by the international media, we were filled in on the developments.

Even that long ago, it was a common Israeli practice to summon the men in the refugee camp, confiscate their ID cards, and force them to paint over grafitti or move rubble barriers in the road in the wake of clashes. As we were leaving the camp, later that day, Israeli troops had rounded up a group of young men and were forcing them to do exactly that.

The look in the eyes of the young Palestinians as our bus slowly drove by their impromptu chain gang on the narrow dirt road was chilling. The deliberate non-expressions they wore on their faces as they tried to complete the task without arising the ire of these teenagers with guns caused another part of my portion of our baseless inherited faith in humanity to die.

One of the Israeli soldiers took a mighty kick at one of the Palestinians as we passed, of course so that we would see it. He hit the back of the minivan with his fist as we pulled away in a cloud of dust and smiled, shouting “Welcome to Israel!”

Israel is currently demonising the people of Rafah in the press, as terrorists and violent people committed to the destruction of Israel — a notion that is practically impossible, laughable, and humbling if you ever spend time in Rafah with its people who, in spite of every justifiable reason I can think of, persist in doing exactly the opposite.

Kill your television news and seek out alternative media sources, spend some time reading the weekly compilation of human rights abuses produced by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and imagine you’re there and how you would react in that situation — before you don’t have to. And then speak out — disagree with your Congressional representative’s position on Israel.

Common sense says it’s time to disassociate, as we did with South Africa during Apartheid. Your government’s support for present day regimes such as Israel — which rules and oppresses 3 million people who did not elect it — can only lead to a future filled with more instability than ever.

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  • BY TOPIC: Israel’s “Operation Rainbow” in Rafah, Gaza

    Nigel Parry is one of the co-founders of the Electronic Intifada and, while he tries to pay attention and does what he can to inform others, definitely would prefer a future watching reruns of Stargate SG-1 and The Daily Show to tossing molotov cocktails at tanks that may one day turn up at the end of the road where he lives in St. Paul, MN.