The Religious Consultation
on Population, Reproductive Health  and Ethics

 revisiting the world's sacred traditions


Remembrance As Nonviolent Resistance

Forbidden Memories as National Policy in the United States and Israel

By Daniel C. Maguire, Marquette University (


Prime Minister of Israel Ariel Sharon, May 2003: "You cannot like the word, but what is happening is an occupation-to hold 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation. I believe that is a terrible thing for Israel and for the Palestinians…It can't continue endlessly."

George Orwell: "He who controls the past, controls the future; and he who controls the present, controls the past."

George Orwell, "Political language…is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."

The military historian, Sir B. H. Liddell Hart says: "In no field has the pursuit of truth been more difficult than that of military history."

German philosopher Heinrich Heine: "Whenever they burn books they will also, in the end, burn human beings." (Suppressing memories is like burning books. When you suppress memories, you end up burning human beings.)

Professor of Jewish Studies Marc Ellis: "History sneaks up on the powerful."

Robert MacAfee Brown: "War is the coward's escape from the problems of peace."

My final Keynoter is a ten year old Afghan boy, Mohammed Noor. At the beginning of the American invasion of Afghanistan, this boy was having his Sunday dinner when an American bomb hit his home. He lost both eyes and both hands. Did President Obama forget about him when he ordered tens of thousands more military killers into this boy's tortured country?

Planned Oblivion

In 1882, 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, i.e. 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. And with a purpose.

Forgetting becomes 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.

Suppressed memories have evil offspring. As true memory is erased, fictive memory takes its place. 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. Republican 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 comfort-especially white American male comfort-had 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 people" provided the consoling mythology. As American Jewish scholar Marc Ellis says, unlike that popular myth, "Israel did not have a virgin birth."

Propaganda is a form of manipulative fiction. It requires selective amnesia. Remembrance is non-violent. And remembrance is the only way to fight the violence of suppressed memories and self-serving myths. Inconvenient truths, once remembered, have prophetic power but have to be shouted from the rooftops to end the malignant silence.

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 US taxes and receives ten million dollars a day in aid. In a concrete symbol of this unique relationship, the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC is the only edifice on the Washington Mall not dedicated to events and persons in American history. 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. Closer to reality would be the following seven unflattering, generally unmentioned, but unmistakable similarities between Israel and the US.

1) Both nations were founded on ethnic cleansing, the Indians for the US, the Palestinians for the Israelites. 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 25,000,000 acres of Indian land to be sold to Europeans and Americans to pay for the war. Like Israel's "settlements," this was land forcibly stolen from the indigenous peoples.

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, in what the Israelis call the War of Independence, and what the Palestinians call Al Nakba, "the Catastrophe," some 700,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes. Al Nakba led to "the cleansing (i.e. killing and expulsion) of at least 86% 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.

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 hands 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."

Not all Israeli Jews are blinded by these myths of modern Israel's 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 Palestine's original Jews, even though they later converted to Islam.

3) Both the United States and Israel claim that 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 Charter's 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 saying that Palestinian refugees violently removed from their homes should be allowed to return. It also is in violation of the 1967 UN Resolution 242 citing "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 and an unspecified pandemic "terrorism" for the US.

4) Both the US 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.

5) Both make claims of moral unimpeachability by virtue of their very identity. 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, any criticism of Israeli policy is branded as anti-Semitic. Jews who criticize Israeli policies are dubbed "self-hating Jews." (I would see them as justice-loving and peace-loving Jews.)

6) Both the United States and Israel preach nuclear disarmament while armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons. Both are like the village sot preaching sobriety.

7) Both the US and Israel use strategic amnesia as policy to cover over inconvenient imperial, expansionist, and genocidal truths.

I now turn to examples of this enforced forgetfulness.

The United States of Amnesia

The US 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 provoked conflicts when we wanted war. We remember nothing of war as persistent failure. Prior to the Washington black wall Vietnam memorial, American memorials were triumphalist. The gore and blood were buried under monuments of feigned glory. The antidote to this long-tenured denial is remembrance.

Howard Zinn strips away the fog and distorted memory of America's 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 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 dead and a dictatorship in North Korea and 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 Canada won Independence without bloody revolution. 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 you 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. 600,000 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 making a Hitler almost inevitable.

And what about Hitler and what about Rwanda? Militarists always return to the charge that non-violence 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.

One of deepest convictions that grips our imagination in its 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?

However, and this is key, there is a third option. It is called peace-making. The poets of early Israel imagined it; we read their scriptures but ignore or forget what is there. Peace-making is intelligent politics, and exercise in non-violent power. The Rwanda argument fails to remember the years preceding that eruption of violence. A distinguished group of experts put it this way: "Had there been international determination to make the Arusha peace accord work-had 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 institutions-the 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 unglamourous 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 made a Hitler inevitable. Wars become inevitable because nations have no 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 UN 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 the claim.

Collective, multi-nation 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 do this. This use of the UN, 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.

Reluctant Warriors?

We are fond of thinking that we go to war as noble, reluctant warriors responding to a crisis. We forget out inveterate habit of faking crises to find an excuse for the war. Nafeez Ahmed writes that our wars "have been justified on the basis of either [our] provocations or fabrications of attacks on US symbols of power. The systematic use of this strategy…indicates that it is, indeed, intrinsic to the structure of US 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 notices-supposedly 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 America's 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 10 battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation. After seventeen years of archival research, gathering over 200,000 documents and interviews, he concluded that the US deliberately provoked the attack on Pearl Harbor to rally Americans to war. Although his book has been challenged by some scholars, he does include in his study 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 attacked and Roosevelt, like Sam Adams, had his excuse for war. He gave his "day of infamy" speech. Stinnett's 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 US 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." 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 Stewart's 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. 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. 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 American hypocrisy.

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. Mellon's 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 usually end up getting 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 US 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 "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, what that means is that this nation, which cannot decide whether basic health care is a human right, is spending on kill-power:

77 billion dollars a month

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 seond.

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 spending.

Israel's Enforced Amnesia

As already noted, Israel is our soul mate when it comes to tactically imposed forgetfulness.

Two incidents illustrate how effectively and ruthlessly forgetfulness can be enforced. On June 8, 1967, during Israel's 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 34 American seamen and wounded 171. Consider these well forgotten facts:

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 American 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 an Israeli pilot and Israeli headquarters:

Israeli pilot to ground control: "This is an American Ship. Do you still want us to attack?"

Ground control: "Yes, follow orders."

Pilot: "But sir, it's an American ship-I can see the flag."

Ground control: "Never mind. Hit it"

The Israeli's 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. As the attack raged, seaman Terry Halbardier eventually rigged up a makeshift antenna and signaled the US 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 proportions. 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. 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 from 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. My appeals to Wisconsin Senators Feingold and Kohl receive no reply. Senator Feingold, the maverick in the senate, will take on almost anyone, but not Israel.

The attack on the Liberty should not be allowed to be buried 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 US/Israeli relations in the following years. He wrote: "If America's leaders did not have the courage to punish Israel for the blatant murder of American citizens, it seem 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 burning people.

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 malnourished inmates. The December 2008 attack on Gaza which continued the wrecking of hospitals, sewer systems, schools, water wells, homes, and mosques went unpunished by the Obama administration. Ten million dollars continues to flow daily to Israel from the nation that has become the paymaster for Israel's 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 America's $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; they never will.

Talk of a two state, 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 Palestinians' movement and voting. 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 1.1 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, American-financed apartheid.

Once you burn memories, you end up burning people.

The Murder of Rachel Corrie

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 bull-horn. She saw the Israeli bulldozer which was used to destroy Palestinian homes heading toward the home 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 US State Department wrote to Rachel's family that the investigation by Israel was neither thorough, credible or transparent and the State Department also testified before a subcommittee of the US House of International Relations Committee 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 ignores 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. This is a command that must be disobeyed. The nonviolent, peace-making response to truth suppressed is truth remembered, and remembered out loud…very, very loud.


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 moment President Barack Obama embraces this fanatical 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.

Israel is courting disaster by stubbornly forgetting March 2002. That is when all twenty-two members of the Arab League offered to recognize Israel's 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 Israel's compliance with the United Nations Resolutions 194, 242, 338 and the return to the pre-1967 borders. Hamas has said it will acknowledge Israel's right to live in peace within its pre-1967 borders.

Israel ignores that since it would take away their prime excuse for imperial expansion, 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.

Forgetfulness could 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." Israel's intransigence may provoke a nuclear holocause giving Hitler and evil posthumous victory. Before it is too late, Israel should remember the words of the prophet 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.

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