Terrorism, Justice and You

While the 9/11 Commission disbanded after the release of its report on July 22, ten former commissioners have announced the creation of the 9/11 Public Discourse Project (PDP). Over the next year, the PDP plans to “reach out . . . to communities around the country, encouraging a national conversation” on “how the lessons learned from the terrorist attacks can be used to shape public policy.”

In “9/11 Panel Members Form Group to Press Recommendations,” the New York Times mentions only the “central” one, “to establish the position of national intelligence director.” The same can be said about a recent discussion in the New York Review of Books. But the report’s recommendations go beyond the overhauling of intelligence agencies.

In Chapter 12.3 [.pdf], “Prevent the Continued Growth of Islamist Terrorism,” subheading”Engage the Struggle of Ideas,” the report notes that “support for the United States has plummeted” among Arabs and Muslims. To win their hearts and minds, “the U.S. government must define what the message is, what it stands for. We should offer an example of moral leadership in the world, committed to treat people humanely, abide by the rule of law, and be generous and caring to our neighbors. . . . To Muslim parents, terrorists like bin Laden have nothing to offer their children but visions of violence and death. America and its friends . . . can offer these parents a vision that might give their children a better future.”

The next paragraph ends “it is a simple fact that American policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and American actions in Iraq are dominant staples of popular commentary across the Arab and Muslim world. That does not mean U.S. choices have been wrong. It means those choices must be integrated with America’s message of opportunity to the Arab and Muslim world. Neither Israel nor the new Iraq will be safer if worldwide Islamist terrorism grows stronger.”

It appears that communities across the country are being asked to examine whether our Israel and Iraq policies evince “moral leadership,” a commitment to “treat people humanely and abide by the rule of law!” Israel and Iraq!

Here in Madison, in January 2003, Dave Cieslewicz was one of the politicians who “boldly joined in declaring that Bush should not wage a unilateral, preemptive war with Iraq in their name,” as The Capital Times put it. In April 2004, now mayor, he opposed a resolution declaring Rafah (Gaza Strip) to be Madison’s eleventh official sister city because “that gets us into discourse about Middle East politics.”

(The Capital Times [TCT] is Madison’s “Local Progressive Newspaper.” Many of its editorials, and columns by associate editor John Nichols, are posted at Common Dreams. Nichols is also Washington correspondent for The Nation.)

TCT criticized the mayor for not trying to work out a compromise resolution, but there is ample evidence that it isn’t eager to discuss “Middle East politics” either.

For example, when Kerry and Nader appeared here the same day, it sagely advised that “instead of trying to tear Nader down personally or politically, Wisconsin Democrats – and their national cohorts – ought to try borrowing a few of his ideas.” First on the list of ideas Democrats should borrow is to oppose the Iraq war. Absent from the list is “replace the Washington Puppet Show with the Washington Peace Show.”

What Nader means is that instead of taking marching orders from the Israeli government and pro-Israel lobbyists, the White House and Congress should start listening to peace advocates. “Congress” includes the Democrats, and in an Democracy Now interview, Nader says of Kerry’s position paper (“Strengthening Israel’s Security and Bolstering the Special U.S.-Israel Relationship”), “that’s an example of a puppet.”

In that paper, Kerry takes pride in having co-sponsored a resolution expressing solidarity after Israel had “launched Operation Defensive Shield to root out Palestinian terrorists and dismantle the Palestinian infrastructure” in the spring of 2002. TCT said then the same thing Nader is saying now. It praised the “handful” of Congress members who “rejected political calculation,” who refused to take “the easy way out” and endorse “Sharon’s incendiary policies.” It didn’t use the word “puppet,” but disagreement doesn’t explain why it left “Washington Peace Show” off its list of worthy ideas.

Russ Feingold and Paul Wellstone were among the 98 senators who “endorsed Sharon’s incendiary” “dismantling [of] the Palestinian infrastructure.” Many Midwestern progressives regard them as heroes, but acknowledge that nobody’s perfect. After all, Wellstone voted for the PATRIOT Act and Feingold voted for Ashcroft. For some reason the irresponsible, atrocious Israel solidarity vote doesn’t register, it just doesn’t count. It’s as if there’s a crazy aunt in the closet everyone’s agreed not to mention. So there’s a little quirk in the system, we’ll just have to live with it, even our heroes are going to kneel before “the Special Relationship.” This mindset has to be overcome. As Peter O’Toole told Anthony Quinn in Lawrence of Arabia, “nothing is written.”

TCT celebrates Kofi Annan’s recent “bluntness” regarding the illegality of the Iraq war and scorns the Bush administration’s retaliatory “spin doctoring.” But when the International Court of Justice, “plainspoken,” “speaking with the utmost clarity,” ruled 14-1 that Israel’s separation wall is illegal and “both the Bush administration and leading Democrats, including Senators John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, mindlessly rejected the decision,” TCT celebrated nothing and scorned nothing.

In the middle of the Rafah sister city debate, Israel committed atrocities there, earning it condemnation even from the UN Security Council. TCT‘s firm responses focused on whether such criticism amounts to “an attack.” Yes, it’s worthwhile to try to reach “honest friends of Israel” and yes, Israel jeopardizes its own security, but what about U.S. security? TCT has recognized the invasion and occupation of Iraq as a bonanza for “al-Qaeda” recruiters, yet hesitates to consider a deadly Israeli assault with U.S.-provided weapons in the same vein.

In the 468 columns editor Dave Zweifel and John Nichols have written for TCT since Jan. 1, 2003, 127 contain the word “Iraq” and three the word “Israel.” Two of those three were the most fleeting of references. Nichols hasn’t mentioned “Israel” once this year in 82 tries. It’s as if Iraq and “the Middle East” exist on different planets in different dimensions.

In the ICJ decision on the separation wall, issued two weeks before the 9/11 Commission Report, the dissenting judge, the American, agreed with the majority that international humanitarian law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention, is applicable to the occupied territories and “must there be faithfully complied with by Israel.”

Illegal according to the Fourth Geneva Convention are not only Israel’s settlements, but also its practices of removing Palestinians to jails in Israel, restricting their movement via closures and checkpoints, humiliating them, subjecting them to collective punishment, bulldozing their homes and orchards, randomly shooting them in their homes or streets, “targeting” them for assassination, denying them basic health and educational services and denying them the right to self-determination.

To get an idea of how relentless and pervasive Israel’s trampling of the Fourth Geneva Convention is, one could do worse than take fifteen minutes a day to check the list of “news briefs” maintained by International Middle East (sigh) Media Center. Your 9/11 Commission expects it of you.

Yes, the Commission has affirmed what peace and justice activists have long maintained regarding what constitutes patriotic duty. God bless the Public Discourse Project and may progressives have the strength to ensure that the recommendation that Middle East policy be rooted in morality, the rule of law, and humanity comes to the fore in communities across the country next year. That’s the Middle East, which includes Israel and Iraq. This year, the Madison city council narrowly decided that discussing Israel/Palestine was inappropriate, but the PDP begs to differ.

(Some progressives prefer to work through their own institutions. In what may be viewed as an alternative or supplement to the PDP, I notice that Voices in the Wilderness and Justice Not Vengeance are initiating the Counter Terror: Build Justice 2005 campaign.)