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A criminal's medal: John Pilger on rewarding Israel

As deserving as Blair, Howard and Uribe are of the Bush freedom medal, others cry out for a place in history.

On 13 January, George W Bush presented presidential “medals of freedom”, said to be America’s highest recognition of devotion to freedom and peace. Among the recipients were Tony Blair, the epic liar who, with Bush, bears responsibility for the physical, social and cultural destruction of an ­entire nation; John Howard, the former prime minister of Australia and minor American vassal who led the most openly racist government in his country’s modern era; and Alvaro Uribe, the president of Colombia, whose government, according to the latest study of that murderous state, is “responsible for more than 90 per cent of all cases of torture”.

As satire was made redundant years ago when Henry Kissinger and Rupert Murdoch were ­honoured for their contributions to the betterment of humanity, Bush's ceremony was, at least, telling of a system of which he and his freshly minted successor are products. Although more spectacular in its choreographed histrionics, Barack Obama's inauguration carried a similar Orwellian message of inverted truth. The continuity between the two administrations has been as seamless as the transfer of the odious Bono's allegiance, symbolised by President Obama's oath-taking on the steps of Congress - where, only days earlier, the House of Representatives, dominated by the new president's party, the Democrats, voted 390-5 to back Israel's massacres in Gaza.

The supply of American weapons used in the massacres was authorised previously by such a margin. These included the Hellfire missile, which sucks the air out of lungs, ruptures livers and amputates arms and legs without the necessity of shrapnel: a "major advance", according to the specialist literature. As a senator, the then President-elect Obama raised no objection to these state-of-the-art [sic] weapons being rushed to Israel - worth $22bn in 2008 - in time for the long-planned assault on Gaza's fenced and helpless population. This is ­understandable; it is how the system works. On no other issue does Congress and the president, Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, give such absolute support. By comparison, the ­German Reichstag in the 1930s was a treasure of ­democratic and principled debate.

Listen to newsreaders use pejoratives for Palestinians, calling them militants when they are resisters to invasion

This is not to say that presidents and members of Congress fail to recognise the Israel "lobbyists" in their midst as thugs and political blackmailers, though they never say so in public, because they fear them. For their part, the Israelis' current, phoney "unilateral ceasefire" in Gaza is designed not to embarrass, not yet, its new man in the White House. Obama's single acknowledgement of the "suffering" of the Palestinians has been long eclipsed by his loyalty oaths to Tel Aviv (even promising Jerusalem as Israel's capital, which not even Bush did) and his appointment of probably the most pro-Zionist administration for a generation.

As deserving as Blair, Howard and Uribe are of the Bush freedom medal, others cry out for a place in their company. With the assault on Gaza a defining moment of truth and lies, principle and cowardice, peace and war, justice and injustice, I have two nominees. My first is the government and society of Israel. (I checked; the freedom medal can be awarded collectively.) "Few of us," wrote Arthur Miller, "can easily surrender our belief that society must somehow make sense. The thought that the state has lost its mind and is punishing so many innocent people is intolerable. And so the evidence has to be internally denied."

The bleak irony of this should be clear to all in Israel, yet its denial has emboldened a militarist, racist cult that uses every epithet against the Palestinians that was once directed at Jews, with the exception of extermination - and even that is not entirely excluded, as the deputy ­defence minister, Matan Vilnai, noted last year with his threat of a shoah (holocaust).

In 1948, the year Israel's right to exist was granted and Palestine's annulled, Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt and other leading Jews in the United States warned the administration not to get involved with "fascists" such as Menachem Begin, who became an Israeli prime minister.

This fascism, which was not often flouted openly, was the harbinger of Likud and Kadima. These are today "mainstream" political parties, whose influence, in the treatment of the Palestinians, covers a national "consensus" - that is the source of the present terror in Palestine: the brutal dispossessions and perfidious controls, the humiliation and cruelty by statute. The mirror of this is domestic violence at home. Conscripted soldiers return from their "war" on Palestinian women and children and make war on their own. Young whites drafted into South Africa's apartheid army did the same. Inhumanity on such a scale cannot be buried indefinitely. When Desmond Tutu described his experience ?in Palestine and Israel as "worse than apartheid", he pointed out that not even in white supremacist South Africa were there the equivalent of "Jews only" roads. Uri Avnery, one of Israel's bravest dissidents, says his country's leaders suffer from "moral insanity": a prerequisite, I should add, for the award of a Bush freedom medal.

My other nominee for a Bush freedom medal is that amorphous group known as western­­ ­journalism, which has always made much of its freedom and impartiality. Listen to the way Israeli "spokespersons" and ambassadors are interviewed. How respectfully their official lies are received; how minimally they are challenged. They are one of us, you see: calm and western-sounding, even blonde, female and attractive. The frightened, jabbering voice on the line from Gaza is not one of us. That is the sub­liminal message. Listen to newsreaders use only the pejoratives for the Palestinians, describing them as "militants" when they are resisters to invasion, even heroes, a word never used.

Mark the timeless propaganda that suggests there are two equal powers fighting a "war", not a stricken people, attacked and starved by the world's fourth-largest military power and which ensures they have no places of refuge. And note the omissions - the BBC does not preface its reports with the warning that a foreign power controls its reporters' movements, as it did in Serbia and Argentina, neither does it explain why it shows only glimpses of the remarkable coverage of al-Jazeera from within Gaza.

There are, too, the ubiquitous myths: that Israel has suffered terribly from thousands of missiles fired from Gaza. In truth, the first homemade Qassam rocket was fired across the Israeli border in October 2001; the first fatality occurred in June 2004. Some 24 Israelis have been killed in this way, compared with 5,000 Palestinians killed, more than half of them in Gaza, at least a third of them children. Now imagine if the 1.5 million Gazans had been Jewish, or Kosovar refugees. "The only honorable course for Europe and America is to use military force to try to protect the people of Kosovo . . ." declared the Guardian on 23 March 1999. Inexplicably, the Guardian has yet to call for such "an honorable course" to protect the people of Gaza.

Such is the rule of acceptable victims and unacceptable victims. When reporters break this rule they are accused of "anti-Israel bias" and worse, and their life is made a misery by a hyperactive cyber-army that drafts complaints, provides generic material and coaches people all over the world on how to smear as "anti-Jewish" work they have not seen. These vociferous campaigns are complemented by anonymous death threats, which I and others have experienced. The latest tactic is malicious hacking into websites. But that is desperate, since the times are changing.

Across the world, people once indifferent to the arcane "conflict" in the Middle East now ask the question the BBC and CNN rarely ask: Why does Israel have a right to exist, but Palestine does not? They ask, too, why do the lawless enjoy such special immunity in the pristine world of balance and objectivity?

The perfectly spoken Israeli "spokesman" represents the most lawless regime on earth, ­exotic tyrannies included, according to a tally of United Nations resolutions defied and Geneva Conventions defiled. In France, 80 organisations are working to bring war crimes indictments against Israel's leaders. On 15 January, the fine ­Israeli reporter, Gideon Levy, wrote in Ha'aretz that Israeli generals "will not be the only ones to hide in El Al planes lest they be arrested [overseas]".

One day, other journalists and their editors and producers may be called on to not only explain why they did not tell the truth about these criminals but even to stand in the dock with them. No Bush freedom medal is worth that.

John Pilger, renowned investigative journalist and documentary film-maker, is one of only two to have twice won British journalism's top award; his documentaries have won academy awards in both the UK and the US. In a New Statesman survey of the 50 heroes of our time, Pilger came fourth behind Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. "John Pilger," wrote Harold Pinter, "unearths, with steely attention facts, the filthy truth. I salute him."

This article first appeared in the 26 January 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Nixon went to China... Will Obama go to Iran?

The Prime Minister still has questions to answer about his plans for Syria

Cameron needs a better plan for Syria than mere party-politicking, says Ian Lucas.

I was unfortunate enough to hear our Prime Minister discussing the vexed issue of military action in Syria on the Today programme yesterday. It was a shocking experience - David Cameron simply cannot resist trying to take party political advantage of an extremely serious crisis. It is quite clear that there are massive humanitarian, military and political issues at stake in Syria. A number of international and national powers including the United States and Russia are taking military action within Syria and David Cameron said in the broadest terms that he thought that the UK should do so too.

The questions then arise - what should we do, and why should we do it?

Let me make it clear that I do believe there are circumstances in which we should take military action - to assist in issues which either affect this country's national interest and defence, or which are so serious as to justify immediate action on humanitarian grounds. It is for the Prime Minister, if he believes that such circumstances are in place, to make the case.

The Prime Minister was severely shaken by the vote of the House of Commons to reject military action against President Assad in 2013. This was a military course which was decided upon in a very short time scale, in discussion with allies including France and the United States.

As we all know, Parliament, led by Ed Miliband’s Labour Opposition and supported by a significant number of Conservative MPs, voted against the Government’s proposals. David Cameron's reaction to that vote was one of immediate petulance. He ruled out military action, actually going beyond the position of most of his opponents. The proposed action against Assad action was stressed at the time by President Obama to be very limited in scope and directed specifically against the use of chemical weapons. It was not intended to lead to the political end of President Assad and no argument was made by the governments either in the United States or in the UK that this was an aim. What was proposed was short, sharp military action to deal specifically with the threat of chemical weapons. Following the vote in the House of Commons, there was an immediate reaction from both United States and France. I was an Opposition spokesman at the time, and at the beginning of the week, when the vote was taken, France was very strident in its support for military action. The House of Commons vote changed the position immediately and the language that was used by President Obama, by John Kerry and others .

The chemical weapons threat was the focus of negotiation and agreement, involving Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and his connections with Syria.  The result was that Assad agreed to dispense with chemical weapons on a consensual basis and no military action took place.

David Cameron felt humiliated by this outcome and loses no opportunity to suggest that the decision was wrong.  He is determined that he should revisit the issue of bombing in Syria, though now action there has elided to action against Islamic State. He has delegated Michael Fallon to prepare the ground for a vote on military action in Parliament. Fallon is the most political of Defence Secretaries - before he became a minister he was regularly presented by the Conservative party as its attack dog against Labour. He gives me the impression of putting the Conservative Party’s interest, at all times, above the national interest. Nothing in his tenure at Defence has changed my view of him.

I was therefore very sceptical what when, in September, Fallon suggested that there should be briefings of members of Parliament to inform us of the latest position on Syria. It turns out that I was right - at the Conservative party conference, Mr Fallon has been referring to these briefings as part of the process that is changing minds in the House of Commons towards taking military action in Syria. He is doubtless taking his orders from the Prime Minister, who is determined to have a vote on taking part in military action in Syria, this time against Islamic State.  

If the Prime Minister wishes to have the support of the House of Commons for military action he needs to answer the following questions: 

What is the nature of the action that he proposes?

What additional impact would action by the UK have, above and beyond that undertaken by the United States and France?

What is the difference in principle between military action in Syria by the UK and military action in Syria by Russia?

What would be the humanitarian impact of such action?

What political steps would follow action and what political strategy does the government have to resolve the Syrian crisis?

The reality is that the United States, UK, France and other western powers have been hamstrung on Syria by their insistence Assad should go. This situation has continued for four years now and there is no end in sight.

The Prime Minister and his Defence Secretary have yet to convince me that additional military action in Syria, this time by the United Kingdom, would help to end Syria's agony and stem the human tragedy that is the refugee crisis engulfing the region and beyond. If the Prime Minister wishes to have support from across the House of Commons, he should start behaving like the Prime Minister of a nation with responsibilities on the United Nations Security Council and stop behaving like a party politician who seeks to extract political advantage from the most serious of international situations.

Ian Lucas is the Labour MP for Wrexham.