- By Robert Fisk, Middle East Correspondent
- The Independent (UK)
- 13 October 2000
This is a story about lies, bias, hatred and death. It's
about our inability -- after more than half a century -- to
understand the injustice of the Middle East. It's about a
part of the world where it seems quite natural, after
repeatedly watching on television the funeral of 11-year-old
Sami Abu Jezar -- who died two days after being shot through
the forehead by Israeli soldiers -- for a crowd to kick two
Israeli plainclothes agents to death. It's about a nation
that claims "purity of arms" but fires missiles at civilian
apartment blocks and then claims it is "restoring order".
It's about people who are so enraged by the killing of
almost a hundred Palestinians that they try to blow up an
entire American warship.
It's as simple as that. When I walked into the local
photocopy shop yesterday afternoon, the boys there greeted
me with ecstatic smiles. "Did you hear that an American ship
has been attacked?" one of them asked. "There are Americans
dead." All I saw around the room were smiles. In a corner,
on a small television screen, an Israeli Apache aircraft was
firing a missile at Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Gaza.
Seven years ago, CNN showed us the Israeli prime minister
shaking Yasser Arafat by the hand, live on the White House
lawn. Now, live from Gaza, we watch a pilot carrying out an
order from the Israeli prime minister to kill Arafat by
bombing his headquarters.
As usual last night, the television news broadcasts --
those most obsequious and deforming of information
dispensers -- were diverting our minds from the truth. They
did not ask why the Palestinians should have lynched two
Israeli undercover men. Instead, they asked why Palestinian
police had not protected them. They did not ask why a
suicide bomber in a rubber boat should have bombed the USS
Instead, they asked who he was, who he worked for, and
they interviewed Pentagon officials who denounced
"terrorism". Always the "who" or the "what"; never the
It is of course possible that Osama bin Laden, one of the
more recent American hate figures, could have inspired -- by
sermons rather than direct instruction -- the attack on the
USS Cole. Bin Laden's family originally came from Yemen. And
it was Yemen that demanded the right earlier this week to
fly arms direct to the Palestinians of the occupied
territories -- provoked, it seems, by slow-motion footage of
yet another boy, a 12-year-old, dying on top of his father
in Gaza after being shot by the Israelis. Yet many of the
attacks on Israeli occupation forces in Lebanon were carried
out by young men, unconnected with the corrupt Arab
political elite but enraged by the injustice of their lot.
Maybe it was the same in Yemen.
When Yasser Arafat signed the Oslo agreement seven years
ago, only a very few asked how soon this raddled, flawed,
hopeless "peace" would collapse. I thought it would end in
violence because the Palestinians were being forced by
Americans and Israelis to sign a peace that would give them
neither a state nor an end to Jewish settlements on Arab
land, nor a capital in Arab east Jerusalem.
I wrote that Arafat had been turned from
"super-terrorist" into a "super-statesman" but could easily
be turned into a "super-terrorist" again. And so it came to
pass. Yesterday, the Israeli spokesman Avi Pasner shared a
BBC interview with me -- and called Arafat a "terrorist."
Alas, none of it was surprising -- none save our
continued inability to grasp what happens when a whole
society is pressure-cooked to the point of explosion. A
Pentagon official was saying last night the US government
was trying to find out if the attack on the USS Cole was
"related" to "violence" in the Middle East. Come again?
Related? Violence? Who can doubt that the attempt to sink
the Cole and all her 360 American crew was directed at a
nation now held responsible for Israel's killing of scores
of Palestinian civilians? The United States -- despite all
the claptrap from Madeleine Albright about "honest brokers"
-- is Israel's ally.
Ever since Arafat tried to leave the US ambassador's
residence in Paris two weeks ago, the Palestinians have
placed this responsibility on America's shoulders. If the US
wants to go on supporting an ally that shoots down
Palestinians in the streets of the occupied territories,
then the United States will be held to account. And will pay
No, of course this does not excuse the bloodthirsty
killing of armed Israeli agents or the desecration of the
Tomb of Joseph in Nablus, or, indeed, the murder of Jewish
settlers. But the cruelty of the Palestinians can be
explained by the cruelty of the Israelis. The death toll
among Palestinians now is almost exactly equal to that at
Qana in 1996 when Israeli gunners butchered 106 Lebanese
civilians. We called it a massacre. The Israelis said it was
a mistake. True, it's scarcely 5 per cent of the death toll
at the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps, when Israel's
militia allies killed up to 2,000 Palestinian civilians. We
called that a massacre. Israel said this, too, was a
mistake. Like they called the death of two 12-year-old
children and a seven-year-old child and Sami Abu Jezar a
And yesterday -- with no institutional memory to guide
them -- journalists were taking at face value Israel's
extraordinary claim that they fired "only at military
targets", that the civilian population of Gaza had been
"told to evacuate" the areas to be bombed. Do I not seem to
remember how the Israelis said in 1982 that in Lebanon they
"only fired at military targets" -- and left more than
17,000 civilians dead in two months? Do I not recall that
the Israelis ordered the villagers of Mansouri to "evacuate"
before they shelled it in 1996, then attacked their cars on
the road and fired a missile into the back of an ambulance,
killing four children and three women -- the missile made,
of course, by the Boeing company of America?
And was not the CIA supposed to be training the
Palestinian policemen now being derided by Mr Pasner as
"terrorists" (his own country having personally vetted which
of them should carry arms)? And was not the United States
the guarantor and broker of the disastrous Oslo agreement?
So is it really surprising that the Palestinians -- indeed,
the Arabs -- blame the United States for the tragedy
unfolding in the Holy Land?
And is it any less surprising that the Israelis have now
turned on the man with whom they thought they would conclude
a peace that would turn "Palestine" into a Bantustan? The
man who was supposed to "control" the Palestinians, who was
supposed to lock up opponents of the "peace process" --
whether they be peaceful or violent -- is not doing what he
was told. He walked out of Camp David because it was a
surrender too far. So President Clinton blamed him for the
conference's failure -- on Israeli television, of all places
-- and ordered Arafat not to declare a state. Or else.
And now, when two US presidential contenders -- Messrs
Bush and Gore -- try to out-do each other in their love and
loyalty for Israel, can America comprehend what is
I suppose it's the same old story. The Israelis only want
peace. The unruly, riotous, murderous Palestinians --
totally to blame for 95 of their own deaths -- understand
That's what Israel's military spokesman said last night.
Force, he said, "will be the only language they understand".
Which is about as near to a declaration of war as you can