---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 20 Mar 2002 21:08:38 -0800
From: radtimes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: The times they are a-changin'
The times they are a-changin'
Wednesday, March 20 2002
By Fawaz Turki
The times they are a-changin'. Darn slowly to be sure, but they are
a-changin' nevertheless. What has changed is the limit to which people
in the United Sates and Europe, traditionally the heartland of support
for Israel, would go to indulge this entity and explain away its excesses.
Here's a recap. Soon after the October War in 1973, when it was still
politically incorrect and professionally risky to be even mildly
critical of Israel, I was on one panel discussion at the conference of
the Arab-American University Graduates Association (AAUG) held in
Washington that year.
Also on the panel was Father Daniel Berrigan, one of the two Berrigan
Brothers, whose anti-war activism in he late '60s and early '70s had
made them national figures idealized by what was then called the
Movement. At the AAUG, Father Berrigan was invited to give his views on
the Middle East, with emphasis on the Palestinian problem.
How was this priest, a man noted for his progressive politics, his
support for the civil rights of African-Americans at home and the human
rights of Third World peoples abroad, we all wondered, gong to approach
the sensitive issue of one people sitting in occupation of another? Will
he let it all hang out?
Father Berrigan, perhaps in deference to the temper of the times, walked
on hot coals as he gave a presentation that was barely critical of
Israel's policies, suggesting that "Palestinians have rights too," and,
in an effort to be evenhanded, equally chastised Arabs for refusing to
accept "Israel's right to exist in peace." He gave, in other words, what
would be considered old-hat criticism of Israel that is found in most
mainstream newspapers today.
Still, all hell broke loose, for to criticize Israel and suggest in the
same breath that, horror of horrors, Palestinians have rights too was
not passť in those days. In fact, it was no less than a provocation. And
Father Berrigan paid a heavy price for his pains. The next day,
representatives of the Jewish community went down on the man like a ton
of bricks, identifying him, as Arthur Hertzberg, then president of the
American Jewish Committee, did, as "an old-fashioned anti-Semite."
Commentators in the press dismissed him, at best, as being "misguided"
and, at worst, as a "latent racist."
In no time, this Catholic priest was, as it were, excommunicated.
His name and reputation were besmirched. We stopped hearing from or
about the Berrigan Brothers soon after that. One suspects they had to go
somewhere to hide for shame.
Not quite 30 years on, with its image tarnished, its popularity
dwindling and its credibility in tatters, and with massive defections
from the ranks of once-and-true friends, Israel finds itself on the
defensive against sharp criticism, now verbalized out in the open, for
the unspeakable suffering it progressively has been inflicting on Arabs
all these years. People, in other words, began to ask questions about
who in fact is the bully in this game and who is the underdog; who is
the injured party in this dispute and who is the victimizer.
The questions began, of course, long before the recent assaults on the
West and Gaza: they began, to be exact, with Israel's invasion of
Lebanon in 1982. That was the turning point, when Israel found itself
paying a high price in international support. For there too a massive
force, this one comprising 65,000 troops, invaded the country with the
phantom objective of "destroying the terrorist infrastructure," the same
serviceable words used to justify the invasion of the Palestinian
territories in recent weeks.
There too Israel killed and ravaged with reptilian calm, rounded up
several thousand "suspects" (dumping them at Ansar, a prison camp in the
south) and branded their forearms with numbers. (Yes, the practice began
in Lebanon in 1982, not in Palestine recently.)
There too it wreaked such havoc on the country, in a military campaign
that culminated in the vindictive destruction of the archives the
Palestine Research Center in Beirut, the repository of Palestinian
history in exile that Palestinian researchers had been accumulating for
decades) and the brutal massacre of well over a thousand civilians a
Sabra and Shatilla, that even the most ardent supporters of the Zionist
entity around the world were driven to reassess who, in all honesty,
they had been supporting all along.
Criticism that is objective and factual has a momentum all its own.
Just as the invasion of Palestinian territories in recent weeks was
disingenuously called "Operation Vital Security," the invasion of
Lebanon was, in an equal subversion of language, called "Operation Peace
for Galilee." But we know they failed in Lebanon just as we know, even
before the dust settles on the devastation in the West Bank and Gaza,
that they failed to achieve their goals there too. In both cases, their
offensives did little to impede the ability, to say nothing of the will,
of the resistance to carry on the struggle.
If we learned anything from the confrontations over the last 18 months
we learned to dismiss the myth about Israeli soldiers as a well-trained,
lean, mean, fighting machine. How well-trained could these soldiers be
when seven of them, in one pop, are killed one after another by one lone
Palestinian guerrilla at a roadblock on March 3, who, armed with an
ancient, non-automatic carbine, shot at them for nearly half an hour
before slipping away; or when two of their flagship tanks, the so-called
indestructible Merkava, the pride of the Israeli Army, are blown up by
kids, one in the second week of February and the other most recently in
Gaza? Moreover, we learned that, after decades of asymmetrical losses on
the Palestinian side, the resistance, by sheer dint of the principle
that practice makes perfect, has been able to spread casualties, to say
nothing of dread, more evenly.
Bookended between the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the invasion of
the Palestinian territories in recent weeks, sweeping changes have taken
place in perceptions.
Had Father Berrigan given today the same presentation he had given 30
years ago at the AAU conference, he would have been greeted with yawns,
not accusations of anti-Semitism.
Say a decade from now, in a cumulative process, the international
community will have gotten to a point where it would begin to wonder
what principle -- what purpose -- is served by supporting a rinky-dink
state that debases the notion that all men are created equal, a state
that is destabilizing the whole region, to boot.
Trust me on this one, the times they are a-changin' -- and a-changin' as
we speak. Moreover, as it is noted in our sacred literature, for every
oppressor a day will come.
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