An Ideology of Oppression
Once again, as during the first intifada, the racist colonial occupation stands naked, paid for with U.S. aid and purchased over decades at the expense of Palestinian life, land, and identity and Israeli security and life. As the violence escalates, the profound disparity between the occupier and the occupied becomes ever clearer. Nearly three times more Palestinians than Israelis have been killed in the last 19 months. Now more than ever, decent people must question the talk of violence “on both sides” that is increasingly ill-equipped for concealing that Israel is a state occupying a dispossessed and defenseless people.
As this relationship grows unbearably vivid, it is not surprising that some of the educated classes in the U.S. grow more desperate to reconstruct the ideological framework needed to justify the country’s determining role in maintaining this disparity, much to the misery of Palestinians and Israelis. Overall, this ideological task is transparent. First comes the staid narration of the fall of Oslo because the Palestinians inexplicably refused the magnanimous “Barak Plan” giving the Palenstinians “90 percent of the West Bank.” Obscured are the actual terms of the plan “inexplicably rejected.” A more accurate picture comes from Barak’s chief negotiator at Camp David, Shlomo Ben-Ami. Just before he joined the government he noted that “in practice, the Oslo agreements were founded on a peace resulting in “almost total dependence on Israel,” creating “an extended colonial situation” that was anticipated to be the “permanent basis” for “a situation of dependence.” When the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered a vaguely specified, geographically trifurcated state split into several West Bank bantustans isolated from the Gaza strip, it is hardly surprising that it could not be accepted by the Palestinians or likely anyone who would not be content with what Ben-Ami describes.
The second ideological task of U.S. policy makers is to appropriately narrate unfolding events, beginning with the “motivation” for the invasion: the grotesque Palestinian terrorist atrocity on Passover. Thus, early on in the Israeli assault the New York Times reminded us that “[t]here is no moral equivalence between the indefensible evil of suicide bombings and Israel’s military actions to defeat terror,” somehow forgetting to ask how proportionality and institutional capacity for oppression bear on such considerations. More crucially, it forgot to ask whether the ongoing siege is simply an “action to defeat terrorism.” The systematic nature of the savage assault suggest other explanations, as the prominent Israeli scholar Ze’ev Sternhell observes, writing that the government “is no longer ashamed to speak of war when what they are really engaged in is colonial policing, which recalls the takeover by the white police of the poor neighborhoods of the blacks in South Africa during the apartheid era.”
In keeping with this second task, we can also expect a certain trajectory for the diplomatic narrative, as America’s long-awaited intervention begins today when Secretary of State Colin Powell arrives in Jerusalem. As an example of the one-sided, disingenuous role America has played, take retired Marine General Anthony Zinni’s cease-fire plan that was presented on March 25 and recently leaked. The plan put off negotiations on a political settlement and allowed Israel to continue to attack the institutions of the Palestinian Authority. This plan was unacceptable because if another suicide bombing were to occur, the Israeli assault would escalate as a response to terrorism and intransigence. The Israelis would continue their calls for “Arafat to do more” despite his eroding power as the siege progresses.
With the situation in the occupied territories likely to grow even more intolerable for the Palestinian population, observers in the U.S. not so invested in the task of ideological reconstruction need to question the policies of our own country. Therefore, before we put the “discourse of parity” to rest, we should realize that Israel carries far too much of the blame in these matters. As we look in the mirror, especially as tax day approaches, it should be obvious that more than enough of it might better be laid at our own doorstep, should we continue to let Washington persist in its support of Israel’s racist colonial occupation.
Faisal Chaudhry is a second-year student at Harvard Law School.