Visions Of Life
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2003-04-01 18:14:31 (UTC)

Iraq and Palestine

War in Iraq and Israeli occupation: A devastating resonance
Ali Abunimah and Hussein Ibish, The Electronic Intifada,
28 March 2003

US AH-64 Apache combat helicopter. (DoD)
For all the physical devastation being produced by the war
in Iraq, the political and diplomatic damage to the region
and American foreign policy may be even more profound.
Indeed, less serious attention seems to have been paid to
the requirements of rebuilding political relations than
repairing the infrastructure and society of Iraq.

This conflict is further poisoning the already noxious
political atmosphere between Arabs and Americans. It has
intensified dangerous feelings of humiliation and outrage
among the Arab public, while paranoid rhetoric about
Western attacks against Islam is spreading from the
religious fringe to the mainstream.

Our government's failure to secure authorization for this
war from the United Nations Security Council, largely
dismissed as an unfortunate but minor detail here at home,
has had a profound impact throughout the world. Almost no
one in the Arab world accepts the administration's stated
concerns about either Iraqi weapons of mass destruction or
the brutality of the Saddam Hussein dictatorship. The
consensus is that long-term American domination of the oil-
rich Persian Gulf region is the actual aim. As a result,
while most Americans see ourselves as liberators, near-
universal Arab perception is that ordinary Iraqis are
fighting courageously against incredible odds to defend
their homeland. The profound Arab sense of violation
trumps particulars about who is in charge of Iraq, even
the reviled Hussein.

Dismissing these perceptions as ridiculous is a childish
response to a fundamental political reality. Even more
unhelpful are projections of our own fantasies onto the
blank screen of a public opinion we fail to comprehend,
imagining Arabs being overjoyed at the "liberation" of
Iraq or "shocked and awed" into a terrified docility.

Vastly different images on American and Arab television of
the war are feeding these profoundly divergent
interpretations of its meaning.

Americans have been mainly treated to cheerful dispatches
from embedded journalists and singularly uninformative but
upbeat Pentagon briefings. Arab channels are filled with
sullen images of Iraqi women and children lying in
hospitals. Arab TV stations repeatedly aired footage of
dead and captured U.S. troops, images angrily rejected by
most American outlets.

The apparent American missile strike Wednesday on a market
in Baghdad, killing at least 14 civilians, dominated media
around the world, including the British press, but was
barely mentioned on American news channels that morning.
Arab stations displayed the dead and dying.

This hemorrhaging of alienation and hostility between Arab
and American societies must be staunched. The dangers it
poses are all too obvious.

What is absolutely required to mitigate existing tensions
and the further damage being done by the war in Iraq is
for the United States to take the lead in finally
resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Every opinion poll, survey and serious analysis regarding
public opinion in recent years demonstrates that the
Palestinian plight is by far the most important issue in
every state and among every segment of society throughout
the Arab world. All developments in international
relations including the Iraq war, for good or ill, are
seen through this lens.

For almost three years Arabs have been subjected to daily
images of Palestinians being killed by Israeli occupation
forces in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
They see the United States not only doing nothing to stop
this, but continuing to supply Israel with high-tech
weapons, particularly Apache attack helicopters. Now they
see those same Apache helicopters bringing war to Iraq.

The spectacle of an American occupation of Iraq may
dovetail in the minds of many with the ongoing Israeli
occupation of Palestinian lands, and be seen as an
American extension in Iraq of what Israel is doing to the

This double-image can only lend a sudden and undeserved
credibility to hysterical voices, such as Osama bin
Laden's, which rant about a generalized assault
by "Crusaders and Jews."

Not only has the Bush administration thus far failed to
register the urgency with which Israel's occupation needs
to be brought to an end, it has steadily drifted toward an
ever deeper identification with the government of Israeli
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Such a situation cannot
continue without disastrous consequences.

It is essential that our government move quickly and
decisively to ensure that Israel's colonial occupation is
ended, and that the United States is seen as a driving
force in freeing the Palestinian people. Without this step
it may be impossible to convince most Arabs that American
foreign policy has anything to offer them other than war,
occupation and humiliation.

This effort must be serious and sustained, and requires
far more than unpublished road maps and unelected prime
ministers of non-existent states.

Without a complete and final end to Israel's occupation,
no amount of success in post-conflict Iraq will mean
anything positive for the region, and no substantial
healing of the wounds can begin.

Ali Abunimah is co-founder of and
Hussein Ibish is communications director for the American-
Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. This article first
appeared in The Chicago Tribune on 28 March 2003.