Two Occupations, Same Goal, Similar Characteristics
August 11, 2005
WILPF National Congress
A year ago last spring, during the same week that Israeli forces were attacking a Gaza refugee camp, bulldozing buildings, ripping up water pipes and power lines, and killing civilians, American forces were laying siege to Iraqi cities. The tanks and helicopter gun ships were identical. The rubble left by the bombs looked the same whether it was in Rafah or Karbala. The faces of Iraqis and Palestinians mourning their dead showed the same grief. Last may there was a front page article in the Times describing a U.S. bombing attack on an Iraqi village the day before that had killed 45 people while they were celebrating a wedding. Next to it was a picture of a man standing in the ruins of a house in Gaza holding his dead child in his arms. The child and several others were killed when an Israeli tank fired into a crowded street. The picture fit both news stories.
In Israeli-occupied Palestine a 26-foot wall protects Jewish settlers from the Palestinians whose land thy have taken. In Baghdad, a 12-food wall, at least 10 miles in circumference, protects Americans inside the “Green Zone” from the people whose country they have invaded. The similarity between the two occupations is surely not lost on people in that part of the world who see the United States and Israel as allies in a joint effort to dominate the Middle East and control its most precious resources, oil and water. A Baghdad resident living next to the wall said “We are the new Palestine.”
Bush responded to the attack on the World Trade Center in September 2001 by declaring a ‘global war on terror” Three weeks later Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wrote an op-ed column for the New York Times in which he predicted that this war could go on indefinitely. On October 19, 2001, Dick Cheney said, the war on terror was the “new normalcy”.
The “war on terror” has since morphed into a “global struggle against violent extremism”, but it still means the Bush Administration is free to attack anyone anywhere in the world whom it regards as threatening to American interest or the interests of our allies.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon immediately signed onto Bush’s war, Just after September 11, he called our attention to “our common plight”, and said “The suicide bombers of Bin Laden, the Hamas terror, the terror used by the Palestinian Authority, and the involvement and support of Saddam Hussein in the Palestinian terror…are all one indistinguishable part of the axis of evil which threatens peace worldwide”. In fact, the only real connection between these groups is that they oppose the presence of American forces in Muslim countries, and Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.
The Bush Administration quickly listed Hezbollah and Hamas as terrorist organizations, and accused Israel’s chief adversaries, Syria and Iran, of supporting terrorism. In February 2002 Israel received the first of a fleet of American-made advanced F-16 warplanes capable of reaching Iran. On the same day Israeli tanks and helicopters were bombarding Palestinian towns and refugee camps, senior U.S. officials were meeting in Washington with Israeli military officers and diplomats to discuss ways to strengthen Israel’s military readiness.
The Bush-Sharon partnership seems a natural. Both men see the world as divided between friends and enemies. They both favor confrontation over engagement and negotiation. They both regard firepower as an effective instrument of diplomacy. And they both share the vision of a global American empire, with Israel as a powerful partner.
Ever since Jimmy Carter, it has been official American policy to maintain a permanent military presence in the Gulf region and thereby assure continued access to its oil. The United States now consumes one out of every 4 barrels of oil produced worldwide. But Bush and the neoconservatives want more than just access. As Bob Herbert recently wrote in the New York Times, the whole point of overthrowing Saddam Hussein was to “establish a long-term military presence in Iraq to ensure American domination of the Middle East and its oil reserves.” The thinking in Washington was that if America can control the production, distribution, and price of oil it can face down any potential economic or military rival.
Israel is a useful as well as a sympathetic ally in this enterprise. It is a lucrative market for American-made bulldozers, jet bombers, and helicopters, and the Israelis in turn sell us advanced missiles. Israel also provides Washington with intelligence on neighboring Arab states, especially Syria and Iran. During the run-up to the Iraq invasion there was a direct line between Sharon’s office and the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans, which is a small group of policy makers and analysts close to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. The OSP’s purpose was to come up with evidence that Saddam Hussein had links to Al Qaeda and possessed weapons of mass destruction, and Israel helped provide it. Most of the information churned out by the OSP was dubious but it served to justify an attack on Iraq, which was all that mattered.
Israel also sent military experts to the United States to help train soldiers in techniques the Israeli army uses to control Palestinians, including checkpoints, roadblocks, curfews, and bulldozing trees and houses to allow clear lines of fire. To prepare troops for urban warfare, the Israelis taught them how to avoid the streets by blowing holes through the walls of closely packed houses. The may explain why the Marine attack on Fallujah last fall turned so much of the city into a wasteland. Israelis used the same tactic in Jenin refugee camp in 2002 when it buried scores of people in the rubble of their homes.
The Pentagon also adopted many of Israel’s methods for interrogating prisoners, including hooding, forced nudity; sleep deprivation, tying prisoners in painful positions for long periods, threatening them with dogs, and denying them use of a bathroom.
Bush talks about brining freedom and democracy to the Middle East but his administration has given virtually unconditional support to Israel and its continuing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Bush’s much-publicized roadmap promised the Palestinians an independent state by 2005, but it sidestepped the question of borders. Meanwhile he gave his full endorsement last April to Sharon’s plan to expand the huge West Bank in half. He has exerted no pressure on Israel to stop seizing Palestinian land and diverting Palestinian water. He has made no serious objection to the wall that is swallowing up Palestinian land and that was declared illegal by the International Court of Justice. American money undoubtedly helps pay for it.
So it is no wonder that Arabs see the United States as Israel’s partner in the occupation of Arab land.
Nevertheless, I think it is a mistake to think that Israel is the tail wagging the dog when it comes to U.S. Middle east policy. I would argue instead that the policies of the two governments dovetail. This has been especially true since Bush took office. The top level officials he appointed came to Washington determined to implement plans they had been pushing since the early 1990s-plans that called for ousting Saddam Hussein and turning Arab regimes into pro-West free-market democracies that would no longer pose a threat to Israel. Michael Parenti describes their policy as the desire “to privatize and deregulate the economies of every nation in the world and hoist upon the backs of peoples everywhere the blessings of an untrammeled free market.”
The neocon policy makers promoting this fantasy are not truly pro-Israel—more accurately, they are supports of the Likkud party and its hardline economic and military policies. Several of them served as advisers to Israel’s far right prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996, when they wrote a position paper for him titled: “A Clean Break: A new Strategy for Securing the Realm”. In it they urged the Israelis to downplay peace efforts with the Palestinians and focus instead on ousting Saddam Hussein, whose downfall they predicted would be followed by the rulers of Iran and Syria. One of the authors was Douglas Feith, who became undersecretary of defense under Bush and later supervised our disastrous reconstruction efforts in Iraq; another was David Wurmser, who became the chief adviser to John Bolton at the State Department and is now Dick Cheney’s Middle East adviser. Both are closely associated with other neocon hawks such as Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, and former CIA chief James Woolsey.
Shortly after the March 2003 invasion, Woolsey said Iraq was only the opening chapter in a “Fourth World War,” which would eventually involve Iran and Syria. David Urmesr’s book, “Tyranny’s Ally: America’s Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein,” which as published in 1999, argues that “Pan-Arabic nationalism,” which is exemplified by Saddam Hussein, the rulers of Syria ad Iran, and the PLO, is the chief source of tyranny in the Middle East and of hostility of the West. According to Wurmser, “Razing Saddam’s Ba’athism to the ground will cause our enemies to wilt and promote pro-American coalitions in the region, unravel hostile coalitions, and profoundly frighten those states and factions that have thrived on anti-Americanism”.
He also points out that Iraq “occupies some of the most strategically blessed and resource-laden territory of the Middle East.”
Wurmser’s prediction of what would happen after Saddam Hussein was overthrown sounds demented at this point. Nevertheless the Bush Administrations foreign policy statement titled National Security Strategy of the United State released in September 2003 largely reflected his views. After the strategy paper came out an unnamed administration official commented that Iraq would be the first test of administration policy “but not the last.” The fact that we are already bogged down in two ruinous wars hasn’t stopped administration officials from continue to threaten Syrian and Iran.
When L. Paul Bremer went to Iraq in May 2003 as chief of the occupation authority his primary mission was to turn Iraq into a free market state, whose assets were up for grabs, especially by American oil companies. One of his first acts was to decree that all Iraqi state companies and banks would be up for sale, and that foreign buyers could take 100 percent of the profits out of Iraq. He continued the ban on labor unions that Saddam had imposed. Meanwhile, he wrecked Iraq’s already weakened economy by firing thousands of state employees, and hiring outside firms to provide security and do the work of reconstruction. Several of those contractors were later found to have defrauded the Authority of tens of millions of dollars, but since they’d been paid with Iraqi oil money, they’re exempt from prosecution under the federal False Claims Act.
Given the shambles caused by the war and occupation, foreign firms haven’t been eager to invest in Iraq, but the current strongman in Iraq, Ahmad Chalabi, is a powerful advocate of free-wheeling private enterprise. Chyalabi is the shady Iraqi exile who provided the United States with much of its phony information about Iraq before the invasion and consequently became a favorite of the Pentagon. He was also a favorite of the pro-Israel lobby and a popular speaker at their meetings. In his public statements before the invasion Chalabi promised that a new Iraqi government presumably headed by him, would privatize Iraq’s oil industry and that American companies would have a first shot at it. He promised Jewish audiences that Iraq would start shipping oil from Basra to Haifa.
Shortly after the invasion, the Pentagon flew Chalabi back into Iraq and he is now Deputy Prime Minister and acting oil minister. He is also one of the richest men in Iraq. Although he is now out of favor with the Bush administration because of his alliance with the radical Shiite cleric Muktada al Sadr, he has a lot in common with our ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalizad. Khalizad is a former consultant to Unocal.
But the Bush administration doesn’t have to rely on Iraqis like Chalabi to protect its interest in Iraq. Bush said in a speech in Teas last week that “We’re at war with an enemy that attacked us on Sept. 11, 2001” and pledged that we would go on fighting. The Pentagon hopes to call home some of the 140,000 U.S. soldiers now in Iraq before the 2006 elections, which is why administration officials are frantically pushing the Iraqis to come up with a constitution, but others will remain. There is now a chain of permanent American bases in Iraq, close to the borders of Iran, Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Three large U.S. Military prisons in Iraq are being expanded and a fourth will soon open in order to hold the increasing number of detainees At least 18,000 Iraqis are already in prison.
The occupation of Iraq is certain to continue as long as Bush is in office, and it is just as certain that Israel’s occupation will continue as long as Sharon is prime minister. He visited the huge West Bank settlement of Ariel in late July and made a speech in which he promised that Ariel and the other large settlement blocks would continue to grow “and forever remain an inseparable part of Israel”. It was a statement certain to strengthen the militants claim that only violence will force Israel out of occupied territories.
What this means is that Cheney’s prediction of an endless war on terrorism could become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Robert paper, a political science professor at the University of Chicago, did a study of every recorded terrorist attack between 1980 and 2003 and concluded that “suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation rather than a product of Islamic fundamentalism”
According to Pape it was the presence of thousands of American troops on the Arabian Peninsula in the 1990’s that helped recruit member of Al Qaeda and similar groups, and the American occupation of Iraq is rapidly increasing their membership. He also points out that there were no Palestinian suicide bombings until Israeli settlers began moving into Gaza and the West bank in large numbers.
If Al-Qaeda and Islamic jihad were to disappear tomorrow, new groups would take their place as long as the injustices that perpetuate violence remain. Meanwhile the efforts of the Unit3ed States and Israel to control that part of the world are causing terrible misery to Iraqis and Palestinians and endangering their own citizens. There is no easy solution to the conflicts taking place in the Middle East. But before there can be any solution, both occupations will have to end. I’m proud that WILPF is doing all it can to see that they do.