The Israelization Of American Policy
By Marwan Bishara
International Herald Tribune

PARIS -- For the past few months I have watched with bewilderment as America has adopted Israel's mistaken strategy in the Middle East. Will America take as long as Israel to realize that starting a war is nothing like finishing it, and that military occupation does not bring about peace or security?

Two pictures in the International Herald Tribune on the same day, June 16, spoke volumes. One showed an Israeli soldier in Hebron pointing his automatic rifle at civilians with their hands in the air, and another of an American soldier doing exactly the same thing in Falluja, Iraq. If there were no captions, you couldn't tell one photograph from the other.

America, like Israel, is getting increasingly bogged down by an open-ended military occupation, as attacks on its troops continue almost daily in Iraq. The situation has been aggravated by America's break-up of state institutions such as the army, rendering millions of Iraqis unemployed.

Powerful but vulnerable, America and Israel seem to bring out the worst in each other. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, Washington has internalized Israel's claustrophobic view of a world full of hatred and terrorism. Its post-Cold War optimism has given way to vengeful pessimism.

President George W. Bush is walking down Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's path as he uses the dramatic events of the past two years to whip up a new theological patriotism to strengthen his governing base and confront those - mostly Muslims - who "hate us for what we are."

Neither Israel nor America is bothering to ask why the Palestinians and Muslims of the Middle East are carrying out suicide attacks, something not previously seen in Islam or Palestine for the last 14 centuries. Have Israeli military occupation and American military domination transformed Middle East killing fields into fertile ground for hatred and conflict that has taken on a religious fervor?

Instead of extracting the source of tension, Washington has added another occupation to the Israeli occupation. Like pyromaniac firemen, U.S. officials are implementing Sharon's war philosophy of putting out fire with fire.

Israelizing America's war on terrorism means globalizing Sharon's warfare: unprovoked military invasions, covert operations, armed interventions, disproportionate retaliations, extra-judicial assassinations and other measures long considered war crimes and crimes against humanity.

These measures have also proved ineffective. Israel has grown less secure despite its continuous use of force to resolve political disputes.

Today, America risks internalizing the way it fights and those it fights against. As one of Israel's leading military historians, Martin van Creveld, puts it, if you fight the weak for too long, you become weak yourself. Unfortunately, instead of learning from Israel's strategic mistakes, Bush is advising the Palestinians to learn from the lesson of Iraq.

If America continues to Israelize its foreign policy, it will globalize the kind of conflict found in Palestine, with grave consequences not only abroad, but also at home in America.

Israel's experience shows that fear-based national fervor curtails the democratic process, depicting rationalization as justification and tolerance as immoral. Two-thirds more Americans support political assassination today than two decades ago and an increasing number support torture.

Just as there is a diplomatic alternative to Israel's failed policies in Palestine - based on international legality and sustained development, rather than the imbalance of power and exploitation - a better alternative must be found to America's unilateral and muscular foreign policy.

Attaining national security in a transnational world means accepting and respecting interdependence. Once security is understood as a universal right, interdependence becomes a sign of wisdom, not weakness.

If America must draw on another tradition, why not look to the long history of Jewish tolerance and survival, - or to America's own constitutional tradition? It is time to dust off those great documents sitting on the White House shelves.

The writer, who teaches international relations at the American University of Paris, is author of "Palestine/Israel: Peace or Apartheid?"

Copyright © 2003 The International Herald Tribune



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