Far from being the terrorists of the world, the Islamic peoples have been its victims

<em>Terror in America</em>

If the attacks on America have their source in the Islamic world, who can be surprised? Two days earlier, eight people were killed in southern Iraq when British and American planes bombed civilian areas. Not a word appeared in the mainstream media. An estimated 200,000 Iraqis, according to the Health Education Trust, died during and in the immediate aftermath of the slaughter known as the Gulf war. This was never news that touched public consciousness in the west. At least a million civilians, half of them children, have since died in Iraq as a result of a medieval embargo imposed by the United States and Britain. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, the mujahedin, which gave birth to the fanatical Taliban, was largely the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency; the terrorist training camps where Osama Bin Laden, "America's most wanted man", allegedly planned his attacks, were built with American money and backing. In Palestine, the enduring illegal occupation by Israel would have collapsed long ago were it not for American backing.

Far from being the terrorists of the world, the Islamic peoples have been its victims - that is, the victims of American fundamentalism, whose power, in all its forms, military, strategic and economic, is the greatest source of terrorism on earth. This fact is largely censored from the western media. That Tony Blair, whose government sells lethal weapons to Israel and has sprayed Iraq and Yugoslavia with cluster bombs and depleted uranium and was the greatest arms supplier to the genocidists in Indonesia, can be taken seriously when he now speaks about the "shame" of the "new evil of mass terrorism" says much about the censorship of our collective sense of how the world is managed. One of Blair's favourite words - fatuous - comes to mind. Alas, it is no comfort to the families of the thousands of ordinary Americans who have died so terribly that the perpetrators of their suffering may be the product of western policies.

I was writing about Palestine and censorship when the attacks in America took place. A friend, a distinguished American photojournalist, told me how he had stood up at a debate on media censorship in New York the other day and asked why Israel's oppression of an Arab nation, a construct of American power, was not recognised in American political life and the media. He was called an anti-Semite. It is not quite as bad in this country. The censorship is more subtle: the collaborative silence of the Jewish establishment, together with the BBC's promotion of moral equivalence between oppressor and oppressed while adhering essentially to Israel's and CNN's news agenda. The Times, says its former Middle East correspondent Sam Kiley, routinely censored his reports in Israel's favour.

It is left to a courageous few to tell the truth. Among them are two Israeli dissidents: the poet and novelist Yitzhak Laor and the journalist Amira Hass. With the recent death of the indomitable peace campaigner Israel Shahak, they represent an endangered species in their own country. In the current issue of New Left Review, Laor exposes the liberal Zionists "whose voices are heard over and over again". The notion that there is real difference between the Israeli Labour Party and Likud has been their constant refrain and central to coverage of Israel in Europe and America, often presented in the foreign media as "the contrast between peace and war".

There was no choice between Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon. Barak's peace proposal, as Laor points out, was "the lying sales-talk of all those who marketed a shopping list for the Palestinians that offered them '90 per cent' of the West Bank: that is, 90 per cent of what would be left of it after Israel kept its expansion around Jerusalem, its military roads and bases, its settlements . . . What is unthinkable is to envisage them as citizens of their own country, capable of travelling from place to place within it without countless roadblocks (which Barak's map granted them for ever)."

Barak's "peace" was given a lot of fanfare in Britain. The Guardian published an effusive article by the Israeli novelist Amos Oz, who is often misrepresented as a dissenter. Oz anointed Barak with "Ben-Gurion's courage": a name that every Palestinian has cause to revile. "Barak didn't release one Palestinian prisoner during the 18 months of his premiership," writes Laor. "He didn't dismantle one settlement. On the contrary, during his short career the greatest expansion of the settlements occurred."

Laor quotes the philosopher Menachem Brinker, another "reasonable" voice of the Zionist left. "Israel cannot under any circumstances," wrote Brinker, "accept the Palestinian demand regarding its legal and moral responsibility for the departure of the Palestinian refugees. What the Palestinians are demanding is a matter for historians, not for politicians . . . a question for Benny Morris [the Israeli historian]." Laor describes this as an example of "the racism of Zionist intellectuals". So the refugee camps, he writes despairingly, "are not a political issue. They are material for [Jewish] scholarship . . . There is no Palestinian voice even in examining the 'historical question'."

Amira Hass writes a column in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz. In 1993, she went to live in Gaza. Her subsequent book Drinking the Sea at Gaza (Hamish Hamilton, London) is brilliant, evocative truth-telling that, at last, makes one proud to be a journalist. I urge New Statesman readers to buy this book. Hass describes the everyday suffering of an occupied people with facts she has witnessed and felt: the terrorism and destruction of families, the casual vandalism by the army, the capricious and vicious policies, such as "closure", imprisoning a whole society at a stroke, and the heartache and anger of those who must live within a few miles of the ruins of their homes, unable even to touch the ground, let alone go home.

How eloquently she describes the big Israeli lie: "Inherited and manipulated fear, the perception of oneself as the perennial victim, and the primordial Jewish dread of the gentile are projected on to the other people who live in the same country. In this light, all Palestinian behaviour is explained in terms of past Jewish experience, and Islamic religious texts and manifestations are interpreted accordingly, as the expression of fanatics only."

As she points out, Hamas, representing the kind of fanaticism that may have caused the carnage in America, did not exist until Israel's outright rejection of a Palestinian state. She devotes a page to a map of Palestinian communities destroyed by the Zionists, given Israeli names and occupants. To study it sends a chill; it could be Poland or Sudetenland 62 years ago. Hass does not spare Yasser Arafat and his acceptance of the fakery of the American-designed Oslo Accords: his failure to stop Jewish settlements, to negotiate the release of Palestinian prisoners and ease the Palestinians' chronic economic reliance on their colonial oppressor, while ensuring freedom of movement and business opportunities for his own elite. "By creating such divisions and dependency, Israel has ensured Palestinian complicity with separation, an extremely sophisticated method of restraint reminiscent of apartheid."

Amira Hass's mother, Hannah, was marched from a cattle train to Bergen-Belsen on a summer's day in 1944. "She saw these German women looking at the prisoners, just looking." Her daughter regards "looking from the side" as despicable. Those Europeans and Americans who have looked at the suffering of the Palestinians "from the side" and have accepted the equality of oppressor and oppressed while allowing the lessons of the Holocaust to serve only the oppressor, should heed her words, now that the daily horror has come home.


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 17 September 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The end of the open society?