Journal of Religion,
Conflict, and Peace, Spring, 2010
Ethical Critique of the United States-Israel Alliance
By Daniel C. Maguire
He who controls
the past, controls the future; and he who controls the present,
controls the past. George Orwell
War is the cowards
escape from the problems of peace. Robert MacAfee Brown
You cannot like
the word, but what is happening is an occupationto hold
3.5 million Palestinians under occupation. I believe that is a
terrible thing for Israel and for the Palestinians
continue endlessly. Prime Minister of Israel Ariel Sharon
designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and
to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. George
In no field has
the pursuit of truth been more difficult than that of military
history. Military historian Sir B. H. Liddell
Whenever they burn
books they will also, in the end, burn human beings. German
philosopher Heinrich Heine
History sneaks up
on the powerful. Professor of Jewish Studies Marc Ellis
In 1887, in a speech
at the Sorbonne, Ernest Renan observed that forgetting
is a crucial factor in the creation of a nation.
In creating a national unifying narrative, certain difficult memories
of unseemly events have to be erased. As Renan said, this will
even include the wholesale slaughter of certain ethnic and religious
groups within the claimed national borders. This violence must
be whitewashed off the screen of public consciousness. There are
many tricks on the way to planned oblivion. Nations specialize
in those tricks regarding state-sponsored violence, that is, war,
with the inevitable mayhem that war entails. The ugliness of state-inflicted
slaughter does not fit comfortably into any national narrative
and so every nation spins its own self-serving Aeneid. Neither
the government nor the people can face with candor the horrors
wreaked by their wars. So we forget with a vengeance
with a purpose.
policy, a systematic, enforced effort to suppress the memory of
inconvenient past events or to spin them into mythic euphemisms.
All nations do this but here I am looking at two nations, the
United States and Israel, both of whom see themselves as distinguished
by a kind of moral exceptionalism and impunity. There are many
other unique linkages between the United States and Israel which
I will stress in the following.
have evil offspring. As true memory is erased, fictive memory
takes its place. Even genocide can be forgotten. The United Nations
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
defines genocide as the commitment of certain acts with
intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial
or religious group as such. That certainly describes the
American deadly assault on Native Americans and on African Americans.
When Americans forget the double genocide that marked their birth
as a nation, the fictive memory of self-made men takes
its place. The Indian hunter and the slaver are replaced by the
fictional Horatio Alger, who made it on his own with his wit and
grit. Senator Chauncey M. Depew, speaking at Vanderbilt University
shortly after the abolition of slavery, put it this way: We
have become a nation of self-made men
the same open avenues,
the same opportunities which [Commodore Vanderbilt] had before
him are equally before every other man. Notice: no classism,
no racism, no sexism, no slavery, no genocide. All of those supporting
foundations of white American comfortespecially white American
male comforthad become forbidden memories.
In a similar feat of
amnesia, modern Israel and many Jews worldwide forget that 700,000
Palestinians were driven from their homes to make room for Israel.
Myth has replaced fact. A fictive memory of a people without
a land coming to a land without a people provided
the consoling mythology. As American Jewish scholar Marc Ellis
says, unlike that popular myth, Israel did not have an immaculate
Propaganda is a form
of manipulative fiction. It requires selective amnesia. Prophetic
remembrance is nonviolent. Prophetic remembrance is the only way
to fight the violence of suppressed memories and self-serving
myths. Inconvenient truths, once remembered, have prophetic power
but they have to be shouted from the rooftops to end the malignant
Israel and the United
States: A Special Relationship
Israel and the United
States have a unique relationship, one so close that Israel has
been called the 51st state, a privileged state that pays no U.S.
taxes and receives ten million dollars a day in aid, more than
any other country, except perhaps Iraq. The prime alleged reason
for this intimate bonding is a shared commitment to democracy,
with Israel being, allegedly, a bastion of democracy in a hostile
Middle East. As ever in statecraft, the alleged is rarely the
real. (If Israel insists that it is a Jewish state,
it would thus be defining itself as an ethnocracy, not as a democracy.)
A realistic appraisal of the U.S./Israel alliance would face with
prophetic courage the following seven unflattering, generally
unmentioned, but unmistakable similarities between Israel and
the United States. Not recognizing these fatal similarities increases
security risks for both the United States and for Israel since
it ignores flaws and biases in the alliance. Severe criticism
is a service to both nations. The acknowledgment of guilt is the
beginning of wisdom and the first step to peace.
1. Both nations were
founded on ethnic cleansingthe Indians for the US, the Palestinians
for Israel. As an early American critic, Sylvester Judd, put it
in 1842, The people of this country would not be taxed without
representation. They did not tax the Indians without representation,
but exterminated them and planted themselves in their territories.
In one example, to pay for the Revolutionary War, early America
expropriated twenty-five million acres of Indian land to be sold
to Europeans and Americans to pay for the war. Like Israels
settlements, this was land forcibly stolen from the
The foundations of
the United States, however, rest on a second genocide. Early American
economic success depended upon its African slave base and the
effective caste system that produced the American apartheid still
evident in the ghettoes and barrios of American cities.
In an ethnic cleansing
parallel to the American experience, in 1948 some 700,000 Palestinians
were driven from their homes in what the Israelis call the War
of Independence and the Palestinians call Al Nakba, the
Catastrophe. Al Nakba led to the cleansing (i.e.,
killing and expulsion) of at least 86 percent of the indigenous
Palestinian population that lived in the area that would become
Israel and the erasure of at least 531 of their villages and towns,
with the explicit goal of creating an exclusively Jewish state
in the same area. As with the Indians in America there
was, thus, a racist base for this cleansing. The extirpation of
one ethnic group to replace it violently with another ethnic group
is ethnic cleansing and a crime against humanity. It cannot be
dismissed as simply a war where one side won and the other lost
and to the victors belong the spoils, since the explicit
goal was the removal of one ethnic group and the planting of another
in its place, a crime that continues in the ongoing appropriation
of Palestinian land and homes, euphemized as settlement.
2. Both Israel and
the United States claim religious warranty for their existence
and expansionism. Both imagine a God who was into real estate
distribution, a God who handed out parcels of land with a perpetual
deed. Israel is seen as the promised land chosen by
God for the Jewish nation. Early America saw itself as the
new Zion, the new chosen people with a manifest destiny
to expand. Pity those who had lived on those lands for centuries.
Religiously enforced nationalism breeds fanatical claims and arrogance.
As the poet Alexander Pope put it: the worst of madmen is
saint gone mad and nationalism, as Arnold Toynbee insisted,
is always religiously tinged as national perceived needs are sacralized.
Not all Israeli Jews
are blinded by these myths of modern Israels innocent birth.
Israeli historians like Simba Flapan, Benny Morris, Avi Shlaim,
Ilan Pappe, Marc Ellis, Michael Lerner, and others have written
honest studies of the expulsion of the Palestinians. Most recently
Dr. Shlomo Sand, a son of Holocaust survivors, and professor at
the University of Tel Aviv argues that the Jews who settled modern
Israel may not descend from the Palestinian Jews of the Roman
era, but that the Palestinian Semites locked into Gaza and the
West Bank might have a better claim to being the actual descendants
of Palestines original Jews, even though they later converted
to Islam. Sand also disputes the myth of the exile
of Jews in 70 CE and the corollary myth of the right to
3. Both the United
States and Israel claim their special security needs justify violence,
unchecked militarism, torture, violations of human rights and
international law, and imperial expansion. The United States violates
the UN Charters proscription of preemptive wars by engaging
in vigilante wars. It employs occupation, torture and rendition
as security needs. Israel stands in violation of the 1948 UN Resolution
194, which says Palestinian refugees violently removed from their
homes should be allowed to return. It is also in violation of
the 1967 UN Resolution 242, which cites the inadmissibility
of the acquisition of territory by war after Israel tripled
its size in the six day war. This resolution was reinforced by
Resolution 338 in 1971.
Both the United States
and Israel claim unique victimhood. Both make strategic use of
recent tragedies to claim the immaculate conception of their expansionist
policies, the Holocaust for Israel and 9/11 for the United States.
Both rely on an open-ended, unspecified pandemic terrorism
to explain their militancy. The cry of victimhood and insecurity
rings hollow when the United States is the strongest military
power in the world and Israel possesses the fourth strongest military
and is ranked as the sixth strongest nuclear power, although Israel
refuses to admit the open secret of its nuclear weaponry, and
the United States compliantly blesses that concealment.
4. Both the United
States and Israel are sacrificing their original idealism at the
altar of empire. Early Israel birthed ideals of justice and peace
that inspired Christianity and Islam and found their way into
the constitutions of many modern states and international law.
That great moral history has gone sour. The United States is no
longer a city built on a hill to edify the world, and modern Israel
is no longer a representative of prophetic Judaism, which was
to be a light to all nations. The great Jewish theologian Abraham
Heschel feared at the founding of Israel that the state of Israel
could end up in exile from Judaism as state needs trumped the
rich Tsedaqah tradition of Judaism.
5. Both the United
States and Israel define their national identity in morally normative
terms. Illustrative of this, the erstwhile House Un-American Activities
Committee was predicated on American as a moral norm,
so that to be un-American would be evil, making you liable to
criminal prosecution. In a similar way, criticism of Israeli policy
is regularly branded as anti-Semitic. Jews who criticize Israeli
policies are dubbed self-hating Jews. Interestingly,
there seems to be more freedom to criticize Israeli policies in
Israel than in the United States, but in both countries criticism
is resisted in the name of patriotism and security.
6. Both the United
States and Israel preach nuclear disarmament while armed to the
teeth with nuclear weapons, the United States being the prime
possessor of these weapons of mass destruction and Israel coming
in at sixth place. Both are like the village sot preaching sobriety.
Both ignore the fact that their possession of nuclear weapons
makes this lethal power the coin of the realm and stimulates other
nations, such as Iran, to seek the same.
7. Both the United
States and Israel use strategic amnesia as policy to cover over
inconvenient imperialist, expansionist, and genocidal truths.
It acts as cover for all six of the just listed unflattering similarities.
The United States
I now turn to examples
of this strategically enforced forgetfulness. The United States
forgets its long romance and early marriage to state-sponsored
violence (i.e. to war). The long tenured American pretense is
that we have only gone to war reluctantly. We forget how we repeatedly
provoked conflicts when we wanted war. Howard Zinn stripped away
the fog and distorted memory of Americas wars.
In each case we thought
our cause just, but in each case war was the wrong solution. In
1898 Spain was oppressing Cuba so we went to war and then we took
over the job of oppressing Cuba. We also picked up the Philippines,
Cuba, Puerto Rico and Guam in the process.
North Korea was invading
South Korea. There was a dictatorship in North Korea and a dictatorship
in South Korea, so we went to war. The result? Two to three million
people dead and a dictatorship in North Korea, a dictatorship
in South Korea, and an unending presence of American soldiers
in South Korea. The Revolutionary War that gave us independence
from England is hallowed in song and festival, but it is not clear
that violence was the only or most efficacious way to solve conflict.
Already, in the year before shots were fired at Lexington and
Concord, farmers had thrown the British out in Western Massachusetts
without firing a shot. The American Indians do not celebrate the
Revolutionary War. In the Proclamation of 1763, England drew a
line and said colonials could not go westward into Indian territory.
After the war that line was erased and genocide and the American
settlement process began.
The Civil War ended
slavery but other nations ended slavery without slaughter. Six
hundred thousand people died in the Civil War, equivalent to five
million today, and amputated limbs filled the bloody fields severed
from bodies without benefit of anesthesia. Did the Second World
War end fascism? Did it end militarism, imperialism? It did end
fifty million lives and inaugurated nuclear weaponry. The idea
that only war could stop Hitler ignores the peace-making failure
that ended World War I and contributed in some ways to the development
But What about Hitler
One of deepest convictions
that grips our imagination with steely claws is the belief that
the bullet is the final arbiter. When the ultimate push comes
to the ultimate shove, sound the trumpet, bring on the Marines.
Did not even Gandhi say that if there were only two choices in
the face of evil, cowardice or violence, he would prefer violence?
Militarists always return to the charge that nonviolence would
not have stopped Hitler. Rwanda, they note, was where we should
have gone to war to stop genocide, but we failed to do so.
However, and this is
key, there is a third option. It is called peacemaking. The poets
of early Israel imagined it. Isaiah 32:17 put it in nuce: it is
justice, not war, that brings peace. Peacemaking is intelligent
politics, an exercise in pre-emptive nonviolent power that defuses
tensions before they erupt into mayhem. The Rwanda story is illustrative.
A multidiscilplinary group of experts put it this way: Had
there been international determination to make the Arusha peace
accord workhad there been an amnesty provision in the agreement;
a demobilization plan; a genuine attempt to deal with the refugee
problem; radio broadcasts to challenge the views of extremists;
humanitarian coordination; provision of adequate policing; resources
such as riot gear, maps, up-to-date information, early warning
systems linked to institutions that could initiate preventative
nonviolent action; and a culture of accountability and strong
international institutionsthe genocide would have been prevented.
The failure in Rwanda was a failure of politics, the result of
a lack of faith in and commitment to the slow and unglamorous
work of nonviolent political action.
Military options only
seem morally compelling because of a host of lost opportunities.
The reparations imposed on Germany after World War I helped to
make a Hitler possible. With more certainty it can be stated that
wars become likely because nations have no effective Department
of Peace working to spot and defuse tensions. American vigilante
wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan are waged because
we forget the historic breakthrough made in the United Nations
charter. Richard Falk writes: World War II ended with the
historic understanding that recourse to war between states could
no longer be treated as a matter of national discretion, but must
be regulated to the extent possible through rules administered
by international institutions. The basic legal framework was embodied
in the United Nations charter, a multilateral treaty largely crafted
by American diplomats and legal advisers. Its essential feature
was to entrust the Security Council with administering a prohibition
of recourse to international force (article 2, section 4) by states,
except in circumstances of self-defense, which itself was restricted
to responses to a prior armed attack (article 51),
and only then until the Security Council had the chance to review
action, coordinated by the UN, could also address internal problems
of nations when crimes against humanity are ongoing, as in Darfur
and Zimbabwe at this writing. Articles 43 and 45 of the UN charter
provide for this, though there has been little political will
to intervene. This use of the United Nations, when in place and
organized, would also act as a deterrent and would buttress resolutions
of the Security Council just as the presence of a well organized
police force deters crime within a nation.
We forget. And this
conniving forgetfulness allows us to think war inevitable.
We are fond of thinking
that we go to war as noble, reluctant chivalrous Galahads
responding to moral need. We forget out inveterate habit of faking
crises to find an excuse for the war. Nafeez Ahmed writes that
American wars have been justified on the basis of either
[our] provocations or fabrications of attacks on U.S. symbols
of power. The systematic use of this strategy
that it is, indeed, intrinsic to the structure of U.S. decision-making.
Historian John C. Miller
traces this use of provocation to justify war back to Sam Adams.
In his Stanford University Press book, Sam Adams: Pioneer in Propaganda,
Miller shows that Boston revolutionaries under the leadership
of Sam Adams provoked the British into the Boston Massacre,
the shooting of five Americans. Adams plastered the town with
posted noticessupposedly from the British!that the
British troops were about to attack the people. This precipitated
chaos that led to the shooting incident. Adams then said the massacre
was proof that there was no alternative to war.
That became a mantra of American policy used by every president
in all of Americas wars.
The American public
was averse to going to war at the beginning of World War II. Robert
Stinnett, a naval officer in that war, earned ten battle stars
and a Presidential Unit Citation. After seventeen years of archival
research, gathering over 200,000 documents and interviews, he
concluded that the United States deliberately provoked the attack
on Pearl Harbor to rally Americans to war. That thesis may be
too broad to sustain and scholars have challenged it. What is
a fact is that there was an Action Proposal from Lieutenant
Commander Arthur McCollum, dated October 7, 1940, urging eight
actions to provoke Japan to attack. All eight were, in fact, executed,
and Japan did attack. Roosevelt, like Sam Adams, had his excuse
for war. He gave his day of infamy speech. Stinnetts
book is entitled Day of Deceit.
It is now widely conceded
that the Tonkin Bay attack by North Vietnam on August 4, 1964
(used by Johnson to get Congress to pass the Tonkin Bay Resolution),
never happened just as Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction.
Again, we will lie and deceive to make war happen. Conventional
American wisdom tries not to remember this.
There is no irrefutable
proof that the U.S. government provoked the 9/11 attacks. What
is a matter of record is that members of that government planned
a Project for the New American Century, a blueprint for
maintaining global US pre-eminence, precluding the rise of a great
power rival, and shaping the international security order in line
with American principles and interests. This blueprint
said the process would be accelerated if there were a Pearl Harbor
type event. What is also an uncontested fact is that the attacks
were permitted to occur entirely unhindered for over one
and a half hours in the most restricted airspace in the world.
Rigid protocols are in place for the immediate interception of
any plane that is off course. When golf professional Payne Stewarts
plane missed a scheduled turn, heading north instead of south
to Texas, fighter planes were in the air quickly from Florida,
Oklahoma, and North Dakota. We cannot, of course, dismiss the
possibility of sheer incompetence playing a role on 9/11. We do
know that on 9/11 no fighter planes were dispatched until after
the plane hit the Pentagon. That is a fact testified to by
the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Even during our undefinable
war on terror, our amnesia is actively present. (Gore
Vidal says a war on terrorism makes no more sense than a war on
dandruff.) Terrorism is defined as attacking innocent people to
send a message to their government. Hitler did it in Rotterdam
and Coventry and we and our allies joined in from Hamburg to Tokyo.
As Michael Walzer said, terrorism became a feature of conventional
war in World War II.The two greatest acts of terrorism
in history, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were done under
the flag of the United States of America, the nation that is now
sanctimoniously denouncing terror. Amnesia is an effective analgesic
and an essential ingredient of hypocrisy as policy.
When it comes to war,
the US has multiple layers of forgetfulness. We forget that wars
are fought by the lower classes. The upper classes, like five-deferment
Dick Cheney, have other priorities. At the time of
the Revolutionary War, the rich, it turned out, could avoid
the draft by paying for substitutes; the poor had to serve.
The same is true at the time of the Civil War. As Howard Zinn
writes, the wealthy Mr. Morgan had escaped military service in
the Civil War by paying $300.00 to a substitute. So did John D.
Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Philip Armour, Jay Gould, and James
Mellon. Mellons father had written to him that a man
may be a patriot without risking his own life or sacrificing his
health. There are plenty of lives less valuable. We
forget that We the People do not go to war; We the Poor do the
fighting and We the Rich often end up richer.
Marilyn Young, in her
essay Remembering to Forget, looks at an appalling
American atrocity from the Korean War, called by historians the
forgotten war, and shows how it immediately became a
forbidden memory. The massacre at No Gun Ri in Korea, however,
did happen. Korean refugees, who were driven from their homes
by American bombs that had leveled their cities and towns were
herded onto a railroad track, where U.S. planes then began strafing
them. Running for their lives, dragging their children,
abandoning the dead and dying, people took shelter in a culvert
beneath the tracks. American soldiers then opened direct fire
on the people in the culvert. One Korean survivor, Chung Koo Hun,
told a Washington Post reporter that American soldiers then walked
among the wounded, checking every wounded person and shooting
them if they moved.
When this story leaked
out into public view years later, Democratic Senator James Webb,
once Secretary of the Navy, wrote an angry rebuttal in the Wall
Street Journal. Webb regretted that the incident had been dredged
up again and he blamed rapacious lawyers for trying to squeeze
millions out of a long-ago tragedy of the sort that seems always
to accompany battle fought where other people live. As Young
comments, we might well wonder why Americans like to fight their
battles where other people live.
Like a cuckolded lover
who cannot face the fact of betrayal, or like an addict who is
not ripe for recovery, we deny, we insist on forgetting, and we
will keep on paying in blood and money for our addiction to state
sponsored violence. To transpose the words of the Gospel, show
me your budget and I will tell you where your heart is. The Center
for Defense Information notes that the 2008 official budget for
military spending was drastically understated and that the real
figure was over 900 billion dollars when all war expenses were
included. Rounded off, that means this nation, which cannot
decide whether basic health care is a human right, which is falling
behind other nations in child health, education, infrastructure
and science, is nonetheless spending on kill-power:
77 billion dollars
19 billion dollars a week
Over 2 ½ billion dollars a day
Over 100 million dollars an hour
Almost 2 million dollars a minute
And over 31 thousand dollars a second
With just a portion
of that wasted money, all education could be free, health care,
including reproductive health care, could be universal, world
hunger, illiteracy, and thirst could be ended, slums transformed,
and full employment guaranteed as we move from capital intensive
military spending to labor intensive social and green infrastructure
As already noted, Israel
is our imperial soul mate when it comes to tactically imposed
forgetfulness and preference for militarily enforced policies.
In citing these crimes I make no claim that Israel has a monopoly
on criminality in the Middle East. Arab nations have never been
consistent friends of the uprooted Palestinians and the inability
of Hamas and Fatah to form a unified alliance in the face of occupation
is disastrous. The violence of Palestinians, aside from being
useless in the face of Israeli might, shows a serious lack of
awareness among the Palestinians of the uses of nonviolent power.
Still the distinction between the occupier and the occupied is
morally telling and the ability of the occupier to enforce immediate
and long term forgetfulness must concern us.
Ab uno disce omnes,
single incidents, can be illustrative of patterns. There is, of
course, a difference between the immediate coverup of an atrocity
and the forgetfulness that settles in as national attention is
diverted to other matters. However, the coverup bears witness
to the power of remembrance and to the strategic need to not allow
events to take root in the memory of the nation. Three incidents
illustrate how effectively and ruthlessly forgetfulness can be
On June 8, 1967, during
Israels six day war with its neighbors, Israeli naval and
air forces, with full knowledge of what they were doing, attacked
and almost sank an American ship, the USS Liberty. In a relentless
one hour attack, they murdered thirty-four American seamen and
wounded 171. Consider these well forgotten facts, facts that
the survivors of the USS Liberty, whom I have interviewed, are
begging their nation to remember. Israeli reconnaissance planes
flew over the USS liberty every half hour on a cloudless day starting
at dawn. American sailors sun-bathing on deck waved at the Israeli
pilots as they flew over. Nine hours before the attack the Israeli
pilots had identified the ship with its colors aloft as American,
and from its prominent hull markings they were even able to identify
and report the name of the ship, the USS Liberty. Israel also
knew the ship was unarmed, alone, and slow.
The unarmed surveillance
ship was sailing in international waters off the coast of Egypt.
The sailors on board the Liberty were cheering reports of Israeli
victories in the ongoing war. Suddenly in a total surprise, in
the early afternoon, in a carefully coordinated naval and air
force attack, Israeli planes and torpedo boats pummeled the ship
with 821 shells including napalm and torpedoed and almost sank
the ship. Their clear purpose was to sink the ship and leave no
survivors, witnessed by the fact that the Israeli torpedo boats
shot and sank the life rafts put out by the crew of the Liberty.
As recently reported by former CIA officer Ray McGovern, the following
exchanges took place between a horrified Israeli pilot and Israeli
Israeli pilot to ground
control: This is an American Ship. Do you still want us
Ground control: Yes, follow orders.
Pilot: But sir, its an American shipI can see
Ground control: Never mind. Hit it
shot down the American flag. But first, to prevent an SOS going
out they jammed and then disabled the communications antennae
on the deck. The sailors hoisted a larger American flag. That
flag was also riddled with bullets. After an hour of intense attack,
seaman Terry Halbardier eventually rigged up a makeshift antenna
and signaled the U.S. Fleet. When that Mayday signal for help
went out, the Israelis heard it and the relentless one hour attack
stopped instantly. Approaching Israeli helicopters filled with
armed soldiers coming in to finish off the American crew suddenly
retreated when the Mayday alarm went out.
The Israelis immediately
claimed it was an innocent mistake, which is a lie of epic proportion.
At first President Johnson protested and said it was not a mistake
but an Israeli deliberate attack on the US surveillance ship so
that we would not pick up their signals during their very successful
six day war, a war that tripled the size of Israel. However, Johnson,
taken up with his own failing war in Vietnam and under pressure
from his Jewish constituency in the United States, yielded to
the innocent mistake lie and buried the incident in
a rushed eight day inquiry that was haphazardly completed
before all the dead were buried. Members of the surviving crew
of the Liberty were threatened with court-martial and prison
if they so much as mentioned to their wives what had actually
happened. They were enjoined as well from discussing it with one
another.The suggestion was even made at the Pentagon
that we, the Americans, should sink the Liberty in order
that newspaper men would not be able to photograph her and thus
inflame public opinion against the Israelis.There was
more concern for Israel than there was about our own sailors murdered
by the Israelis.
Admiral John McCain,
father of Senator John McCain, was a major figure in the coverup.
He barred investigators from going to Israel to seek interviews
or to view the logs, diaries, or radio communications of the attackers.
The Washington Post called his investigation a shabby coverup.
The truth of the deliberate
attack, the first such surprise attack on an American ship since
Pearl Harbor, was clear at the time. Secretary of State Dean Rusk
fumed over the attack and said it was not an accident. Clark Clifford
said it was inconceivable that it was an accident
given the excellence of Israeli intelligence. Robert McNamara
issued a release from the Department of Defense that the Israeli
claim of an accident was implausible.
Arthur Goldberg, the American ambassador to the United Nations
confided in Mr. Harman (the Israeli ambassador) that the United
States had intercepted the communications of Israeli pilots identifying
the ship as American.
A cursory Israeli investigation
found no fault or even negligence and no one was ever punished.
The lack of punishment was further proof that the Israeli forces
were following orders. Israel offered no records for inspection
of the attack and made no pilots or seamen available for an inquiry.
Israel paid a token reparation. Immediate calls for a congressional
investigation were quashed and the coverup continues to this day.
It is the only such incident of an attack on an American ship
that has never been investigated by Congress. Calls to finally
investigate it while some of the survivors of the USS Liberty
and some of the Israeli attackers are still alive go unheeded.
Members of the US Congress fend off any inquiries on the subject.
It is an officially forbidden memory in the United States and
The attack on the Liberty
should not be allowed to be buried, if only for the sake of the
murdered dead and wounded of the Liberty crew. But the attack
on the Liberty was also a symbolic policy-maker. It had disastrous
consequences. George Ball, a former undersecretary of state, said
that the Liberty coverup set the tone for U.S./Israeli relations
in the following years. He wrote: If Americas leaders
did not have the courage to punish Israel for the blatant murder
of American citizens, it seems clear that their American friends
would let them get away with almost anything. And so
we have. And so we still do. Once you burn memories, you end up
The attack on the USS
Liberty is a forbidden memory and forbidden memories have evil
progeny. With ten million dollars of American aid coming their
way every day, Israel has turned Gaza into the largest jail in
the world, with 1.4 million beleagured inmates. The December 2008
attack on Gaza killed 1,417 Gazans, destroyed 3,354 homes, Gazas
only flour mill, 280 schools and kindergartens, U.N. refugee centers,
hospitals, sewer systems, water wells, and mosques and it has
gone unpunished by the Obama administration. This was not a war
since Hamas does not have an army, navy, or air force. Ten million
dollars continues to flow daily to Israel from the nation that
has become the paymaster for Israels crimes. Only twice
did American presidents call a halt to American support for Israeli
expansionism. Eisenhower did it in 1956 when Israel had occupied
Sinai and the Gaza strip. He threatened to halt all foreign
aid and eliminate private tax-deductible donations to Israel if
it did not withdraw and they withdrew. George H. W. Bush
did it in 1989. Jimmy Carter reports: President Bush threatened
to withhold a substantial portion of Americas $10 million
of daily financial aid to Israel unless the settlements were stopped
between Jerusalem and Bethlehem
and Prime Minister Yitzhak
Shamir halted construction. Construction resumed when
Bush Sr. left office and continues to this day as Prime Minister
Netanyahu senses the same reliable old weakness in President Obama.
Impotent pleas to withdraw from illegally occupied land without
financial sanctions will not work. They never have.
Talk of two states,
Palestinian and Israeli, has become a mask. Israel is succeeding
in making it impossible. As Eduardo Galeano writes: Little
of Palestine remains. Bit by bit, Israel is erasing it from the
map.It is becoming a de facto single state on the apartheid
model. In 1999, Ehud Barak, former Israeli Prime Minister, told
The Jerusalem Post that if there were a single bi-national state
there would be no Jewish state unless the Arabs are denied a vote
in what he called an apartheid state. Apartheid,
I submit, is what has happened. Gaza is a prison in shambles;
Israel is tightening its grip on East Jerusalem, limiting the
movement and voting of Palestinians. In May 2008, The Economist
magazine reported that in the West Bank, Israeli settlements
and military zones take up 40 percent of the land. The World
Bank and the BBC reports that the Jewish settlers control 80 percent
of the West Bank water. The 2.5 million Palestinians are divided
into dozens of largely separate enclaves. The Palestinians
inside Israel have long suffered legal and economic discrimination.Note
the words: separate enclaves, discrimination,
"vote deprivation": all of that is the language of apartheid,
The Murder of Rachel
Another more recent
incident is being pushed into the forbidden memory
hole. On March 16, 2003, a 23-year-old American citizen, Rachel
Corrie, as part of a group committed to nonviolence, was peacefully
protesting the destruction of Palestinian homes in Gaza. She had
previously been trying to prevent Israeli forces from destroying
water wells. As in the case of the USS Liberty, this was a cloudless
day. Rachel was fully visible, wearing an orange flack-jacket
and speaking into a bullhorn. She saw the Israeli bulldozer which
was used to destroy Palestinian homes heading toward the house
of the Nasrallah family, occupied by two brothers, their wives,
and five children. The American-made Caterpillar bulldozer had
two occupants in the cab, and nearby there was an armored personnel
carrier observing. Rachel was high enough to look straight into
the cab of the bulldozer and into the eyes of its two drivers.
The bulldozer did not stop. Her fellow workers screamed and waved
their arms, but the bulldozer did not stop. She was run over twice
and killed. She died in the arms of Alice, a Jewish member of
her group from England.
Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon promised President Bush a thorough, credible, and
transparent investigation. As in the case of the USS Liberty,
the investigation concluded that it was simply an innocent accident.
The U.S. State Department wrote to Rachels family that the
investigation by Israel was neither thorough, credible, or transparent,
and the State Department also testified before the Committee of
International Relations of the U.S. House of Representatives to
the same effect. But nothing was done about it. Israel once again
could murder an American citizen with impunity. George Ball was
right, and Congress ignored repeated appeals to investigate.
All who are silent, in the congress and in the citizenry of this
nation, are complicit in this coverup of murder. The command of
Israel and the United States is that the murder of Rachel Corrie
is to be forgotten.
The Attack on the
On May 30, 2010, well-armed
Israeli special forces boarded the lead ship of a flotilla bringing
medical and other urgent needs to a Gaza under siege. The Israelis
killed nine people, one of whom was an American citizen. Turkey
reacted strongly to the killing of their citizens. The United
States showed no comparable indignation at the killing of an American
citizen. Israel refused to have an impartial international investigation
of the event and the United States concurred. George Balls
prophecy is again fulfilled. Israel can kill American citizens
The United States chooses
to forget its imperial past and to ignore its imperial present.
It chooses to forget its passionate commitment to state-sponsored
violence, war, as the final, most trusted arbiter. At this writing
President Barack Obama embraces this long tenured American faith
in violence by trying to kill our way to success in Iraq, Afghanistan,
and Pakistan while spending ourselves to death on more kill-power.
Repeated quagmires in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan have
thus far not been instructive. There is some faint quickening
of what Reinhold Niebuhr called the feeble mind of a nation
going on the United States. Stupidity unmasked is chastening.
It may be beginning in the United States, especially as we watch
China in Afghanistan developing mineral mining in cooperation
with the Afghans while we wage an undeclared war.
The Israeli solution
is clear. It must stop forgetting March 2002. That is when all
twenty-two members of the Arab League offered to recognize Israels
right to exist and have normal relations with Israel. This offer
has since been repeatedly reconfirmed. In April 2002, the
Organization of the Islamic Conference which includes fifty-seven
nations concurred with the Arab League offer, and the Iranian
delegation expressed its full approval. The condition was Israels
compliance with the United Nations Resolutions 194, 242, 338 and
the return to the pre-1967 borders. Hamas has said it will acknowledge
Israels right to live in peace within its pre-1967 borders.
Israel can have peace or expansion; it is currently choosing expansion.
government ignores the back to the 1967 borders solution
since it would take away their prime excuse for imperial expansion
and their claim of unique victimhood and insecurity. Israel even
forgets the words of David Ben Gurion shortly after the 1967 war
when Israel was drunk with military conquest. At a conference
of the Labor Party, Ben-Gurion punctured the euphoria telling
the party that Israel was overextended, that it had bitten off
more than it could handle and that it should return almost all
the conquered territory immediately.
destroy Israel and much of the Middle East. The nuclear genie
is out of the bottle and bombing Iran will not put it back in.
As Marc Ellis says, the scenario of Israel going down and
bringing the middle East down as its last act is hardly far-fetched.
Israels intransigence may provoke a nuclear holocaust, giving
Hitler and evil posthumous victory. Atomic bombs of suitcase size
are available, as are small packages of biological weapons. Against
such weapons the massive military might of the U.S. and Israel
have no adequate defense. The prophet Micah is looking more and
more like a realist. Before it is too late, Israel and the United
States should remember the words of Micah. You cannot build Zion
in bloodshed (Micah 3:10). Zechariah said it also: Neither
by force of arms nor by brute strength would the people
be saved (Zech. 4:6). The United States and Israel, these twinned
amnesiacs, forget prophetic wisdom to their own peril and undoing.
Renan, What is a Nation? in Nation and Narration,
edited by Homi K. Bhaba (New York: Routledge, 1990), 11.
2. On Renans view of a nations need for strategic
forgetfulness, see Alexis Dudden, The Politics of Apology
between Japan and Korea, in Truth Claims: Representation
and Human Rights, edited by Mark Philip Bradley and Patrice Petro
(New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002), 73.
3. Quoted in Individualism and Nationalism in American Ideology,
by Yehoshua Arieli (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1964),
335. On the United Nations definition of genocide, see Everymans
United Nations, 8th Edition, (New York: United Nations, 1968),
4. Marc H. Ellis, Judaism Does Not Equal Israel (New York: The
New Press, 2009), 95. Not all remembrance is benign. There can
be demonic remembrance that can lock persons and peoples into
a defining past and limit growth. Esther Benbassa, in her book
Suffering as Identity: The Jewish Paradigm (London: Verso, 2010),
suggests that is what has happened for many Jews who use the Holocaust.
5. Sylvester Judd, A Moral Review of the Revolutionary War (Hallowell,
Me.: Glazier, Masters & Smith, Printers, 1842), 38.
6. Sylvester Judd, A Moral Review of the Revolutionary War (Hallowell,
Me.: Glazier, Masters & Smith, Printers, 1842), 40.
7. Khali Nakba, Al Nakba of 1948, Just Commentary:
International Movement for a Just World 8, no. 6 (June 2008):
8. Marc H. Ellis, Judaism Does Not Equal Israel (New York: The
New Press, 2009), 91-95.
9. Shlomo Sand, The Invention of the Jewish People (London and
New York: Verso, 2010). See Robert Parry, Ancient Israeli
Myths Deter Peace," Consortium News, 9 July 2009, http://www.consortiumnews.com/Print/2009/070809.html.
On the concept of Jews as a biologically distinct race,
see two books with the same title, The Myth of the Jewish Race,
revised edition, by Raphael Patai and Jennifer Patai (Detroit:
Wayne State University Press, 1989), and The Myth of the Jewish
Race: A Biologists Point of View, by Alain F. Corcos (Bethlehem:
Lehigh University Press, 2005). Both argue against a genetically
distinct Jewish race. For a different view, see Simon N. Herman,
Jewish Identity: A Social Psychological Perspective (Beverly Hills
and London: Sage Publications, 1977).
10. See Jimmy Carter, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid (New York:
Simon & Schuster, 2006), 1-10; 217-47; Jimmy Carter, We Can
Have Peace In The Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work (New York:
Simon & Schuster, 2009).
11. This term is Gore Vidals, Imperial America: Reflections
on the United States of Amnesia (New York: Nation Books, 2004).
12. Howard Zinn, A Just Cause Does Not Equal A Just War,
The Progressive 71, no. 7 (July 2009): 21-23.
13. Stanley Hauerwas, Linda Hogan, and Enda McDonagh, The
Case for Abolition of War in the Twenty-First Century, Journal
of the Society of Christian Ethics 25, no. 2 (Fall/Winter 2005):
31. The Gulf War of 1991 is touted as an exemplary US military
triumph but as Alan Geyer notes, the war was brought on not only
by Saddams blundering aggression but also by the United
States lack of meaningful political memory of its past policies
and actions that contributed to the hostilities, in Just
Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War, edited by Glen
Stassen (Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 1998), 83. The problem
with humanitarian military interventionism is this:
arriving late at a long neglected crisis may create more problems
than it solves, adding another set of belligerents to an already
over-militarized situation, leaving unattended the complex economic,
historical, religious-ethnic, and resource problems that lay at
the root of the unrest, and having no realistic plans for follow-up.
No matter how you describe such interventions the fact remains
that a so-called humanitarian military intervention
is a violent action, and violence, even in the hands of do-gooders,
is a lethal weapon. It is a pathetic substitute for the advance
work of intelligent diplomacy and peacemaking. In many defenses
of military intervention for humanitarian purposes there lurks
our illusory confidence in violence as the old reliable standby,
always waiting there to solve the problems we have helped to create.
14. Richard Falk, Why International Law Matters, The
Nation, March 10, 2003, 276, 9, 20.
15. These ideas are developed in Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices
for Abolishing War, edited by Glen Stassen (Cleveland: Pilgrim
Press, 1998), 146-55. This is not just a pipe dream:
peace actions. In one year, 1994 for example, there were seventeen
peacekeeping operations to which seventy-six nations contributed.
16. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, The War on Truth: 9/11 Disinformation
and the Anatomy of Terrorism (Northampton, Mass. Olive Branch
Press, 2005), 389.
17. John C. Miller, Sam Adams: Pioneer in Propaganda (Stanford,
Cal.: Stanford University Press, 1936), 166-92.
18. Robert B. Stinnett, Day of Deceit: The Truth about FDR and
Pearl Harbor (New York: The Free Press, 2000). Appendix A gives
the full Action Proposal of Lieutenant Commander Arthur
McCollum, with endorsements by Captain Dudley Knox. Stinnett writes:
Opinion polls in the summer of 1940 indicated that a majority
of Americans did not want the country involved in Europes
wars. Yet FDRs military and State Department leaders agreed
that a victorious Nazi Germany would threaten the national security
of the United States. They felt that Americans needed a call to
19. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, The War on Truth: 9/11 Disinformation
and the Anatomy of Terrorism (Northampton, MA.: Olive Branch Press,
2005), 343. Project for the New American Century is on line.
20. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, The War on Truth: 9/11 Disinformation,
and the Anatomy of Terrorism (Northampton, MA: Olive Branch Press,
21. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, The War on Truth: 9/11 Disinformation
and the Anatomy of Terrorism (Northampton, MA: Olive Branch Press,
2005), 269, 273. Ahmed is quoting Acting Chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff and Air Force General Richard B. Myers and NORAD
spokesman Major Mike Snyder.
22. Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars (New York: Basic Books,
23. Howard Zinn, A Just Cause Does Not Equal a Just War,
The Progressive 71, no. 7, July 2009, 75-76.
24. Howard Zinn, A Just Cause Does Not Equal a Just War,
The Progressive 71, no. 7, July 2009, 249.
25. Marilyn B. Young, Remembering to Forget, in Truth
Claims: Representation and Human Rights, edited by Mark Philip
Bradley and Patrice Petro (Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University
Press, 2002), 11-21.
26. Douglas Strick, Airing an Ugly Secret, Washington
Post, October 27, 1999.
27. Marilyn B. Young, Remembering to Forget, in Truth
Claims: Representation and Human Rights, edited by Mark Philip
Bradley and Patrice Petro (Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University
Press, 2002), 14-15. Multiple other acts of wanton slaughter were
committed by Americans but again swallowed up in the fogs and
fabrications of war.
28.The Defense Monitor, 37, no. 2 (March-April 2008): 1-3.
29. For the latest study of the attack, written by a son of a
survivor of the attack, see James Scott, The Attack on the Liberty:
The Untold Story of Israels Deadly 1967 Assault on a U.S.
Spy Ship (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2009).
30. See Ray McGovern, Navy Vet Honored: Foiled Israeli Attack,
Commondreams, 2 June 2009 , http://www.commondreams.org. According
to Haviland Smith, a CIA officer stationed in Beirut during the
Six Day War, these transcripts were deep sixed because
the U.S. government did not want to embarrass Israel.
31. Ray McGovern, Navy Vet Honored: Foiled Israeli Attack,
Commondreams, 2 June 2009, http://www.commondreams.org.
32. James Scott, The Attack on the Liberty: The Untold Story of
Israels Deadly 1967 Assault on a U.S. Spy Ship (New York:
Simon and Schuster, 2009), 93-94.
33. James Scott, The Attack on the Liberty: The Untold Story of
Israels Deadly 1967 Assault on a U.S. Spy Ship (New York:
Simon and Schuster, 2009), 175-76, 228.
34. James Scott, The Attack on the Liberty: The Untold Story of
Israels Deadly 1967 Assault on a U.S. Spy Ship (New York:
Simon and Schuster, 2009), 197. On statements from Rusk and Clifford
see 87, 100, 159, 193.
35. James Scott, The Attack on the Liberty: The Untold Story of
Israels Deadly 1967 Assault on a U.S. Spy Ship (New York:
Simon and Schuster, 2009), 287.
36. Jimmy Carter, We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land (New York:
Simon & Schuster, 2009), 45-47.
37. Eduardo Galeano, Operation Impunity, The Progressive
71, no. 3 (March 2009):12.
38. Jimmy Carter, We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land (New York:
Simon & Schuster, 2009), 165.
39. Jimmy Carter, We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land (New York:
Simon & Schuster, 2009), quoted on 147-48.
40. Rachel Corrie, Let Me Stand Alone: The Journals of Rachel
Corrie (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2008), ix-xx.; Joel
Kovel, Overcoming Impunity, The Link 42, no. 1 (January-March
2009): 1-11. After writing this article about the USS Liberty
and Rachel Corrie and other Israeli policies, Professor Kovel,
a Jew, was fired from Bard College.
41. Jimmy Carter, We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land (New York:
Simon & Schuster, 2009), xvi, 61, 141-42.
42. Daniel Lazare, The One-State Solution, The Nation
277, no. 14 (3 Nov. 2003): 24-25.
43. Marc Ellis, Judaism Does Not Equal Israel (New York: The New
Press, 2009), 100-01.
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