Washington's lethal double standards
It is high time the US began addressing the Palestinian cause,
and showing equal respect for Palestinian life at a time when so
much of it is being cut short by American weaponry funded by the
American taxpayer would be a good place to start, says Mouin Rabbani.
Ramallah, April 23
The United States is correct to insist that there can be no justification
for the deliberate and indiscriminate use of violence - i.e. terrorism
- against civilian non-combatants in political conflicts. Yet in
West Asia it has honoured this principle mainly in the breach, and
applied it in a manner at best laughable.
A particularly instructive example was provided this month, on
April 12. From Jenin in the West Bank, incontrovertible evidence
of the largest Israeli bloodbath since Sabra Chatilla began to emerge
despite Israel's systematic efforts to conceal the atrocity from
the media. Later that afternoon, a Palestinian woman detonated herself
in central Jerusalem, killing six Israeli civilians and wounding
approximately 60 others. The only suspects in Jenin are the Israeli
political leadership and military. The Jerusalem attack was carried
out by a militia loosely affiliated with the Palestinian Authority.
Given that dozens and probably hundreds of Palestinian civilians
have been killed in Jenin - Israel remains determined to prevent
us from finding out exactly how many - the very minimum a rational
observer would have expected from the US would be a sharp condemnation
of both events, an unambiguous US demand that both the Israeli and
Palestinian leaders explicitly condemn the terrorist acts perpetrated
by their own citizens, and an equally strong appeal to Ariel Sharon
and Yasser Arafat to punish those responsible to the fullest extent
of the law.
What transpired instead was shocking even by the double standards
the current administration has accustomed us to. On the one hand
the Bush administration repeatedly and vociferously denounced the
terrorist attack in Jerusalem, demanded that Arafat explicitly condemn
it as well, and at a time when the Palestinian security forces were
being systematically destroyed by Israel and could not even issue
a parking ticket - ordered these forces to take immediate action
against Palestinian militant organisations. And lest there be any
doubt that Washington held the Palestinian leader personally responsible
for not having prevented the attack, Secretary of State Colin Powell
- in the full knowledge that what little remains of Arafat's office
is surrounded by dozens of Israeli tanks and that he cannot even
flush the toilet without Israeli consent - abruptly postponed a
planned meeting with him.
In its approach to Israel, the US was a little more forgiving.
In fact, "Jenin" failed to grace the lips of even a single
American official. Not only did Washington refuse to condemn the
atrocity, it failed to even recognise that one had been perpetrated,
or to more diplomatically request that unconfirmed but disturbing
reports be promptly investigated. Indeed, on 12 April the White
House would not go beyond praising Sharon as "a man of peace,"
whereas Powell made it a point to "welcome" Israel's ongoing
West Bank offensive.
Terrible as the Jerusalem suicide bombing undoubtedly was, its
victims were either dead or hospitalised by the time Washington
reacted. Many in Jenin were by contrast still bleeding to death
from treatable wounds under the rubble on account of the continuing
Israeli siege, which included a systematic denial of medical care
and even water. This made Washington's see-no-evil approach to Sharon's
work in progress nothing short of lethal.
Lest there be any misunderstanding, America's divergent reactions
to Palestinian organisational and Israeli state terrorism this past
Friday is no recent development. Throughout the past 18 months of
conflict, the US has condemned each and every killing of an Israeli
civilian, and more often than not also the death of Israeli soldiers
on active duty in occupied territory. At the same time, it has not
once - I repeat, not in a single instance - explicitly condemned
the killing of a Palestinian civilian. This despite the fact that
many more Palestinian than Israeli civilians have been killed, that
most Palestinian casualties have been civilians, and that voluminous
evidence produced by local, Israeli and international human rights
organisations conclusively demonstrates that many if not most of
these have been victims of the deliberate and indiscriminate Israeli
use of force.
It appears to be the current position of the Bush administration
that an Israeli soldier killing Palestinians inside a West Bank
refugee camp is engaged in legitimate self-defense, a Palestinian
police officer shooting back at him a terrorist, and his dead parents
and children the victims of their own leadership rather than of
those who shoot, shell, and kill them. With its appalling disregard
for Palestinian life, the US has cavalierly squandered the sympathy
it garnered in the region in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks.
American credibility in the region is also at a point immediately
adjacent to absolute zero. Palestinians and other Arabs have watched
with a mixture of contempt and amusement as President Bush successively
gave his unconditional support for Israel's current offensive, appealed
for a withdrawal "as soon as possible", called for it
to be implemented "without delay", with a menacing scowl
stated "I meant what I said", finally authorised Powell
to use the words "now" and "immediately," and
the following morning allowed the Secretary of State to take satisfaction
with receiving no timetable at all from Sharon. A number of Arab
commentators claim that the US' West Asia policy is again being
held hostage by Tel Aviv. Most recognise that if Washington genuinely
wanted Israeli forces out of Palestinian cities, they would simply
It does not take an expert to understand that there is no military
solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that removing Arafat
from the scene will under the best of circumstances have no impact
at all on the level of violence, and that terminating what UN Secretary
General Kofi Annan terms the "illegal occupation" of Palestinian
territory by Israel will in conjunction with a just settlement of
the refugee question bring it to an immediate end. Indeed, it is
high time for the US to begin addressing the Israeli causes of this
conflict with the same zeal it has approached its Palestinian symptoms.
Showing equal respect for Palestinian life, at a time when so much
of it is being cut short by American weaponry funded by the American
taxpayer, would be a good place to start.
(Mouin Rabbani is director of the Palestinian American Research
Center in the West Bank town of Ramallah)