Asian funds & US economy
WHILE the real motive of the US war on Iraq remains highly controversial, every major step being taken to conduct the war is no less contentious. If the political dispensation to be put in place in Iraq after the war is to be the model of how the US may make other Arab countries, too, democratic it is not going about it in an acceptable manner.
It has been stated by President Bush and his defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld that the post-war interim administration in Iraq would be American. And the deputy secretary of defence Paul Wolfowitz says the US military administration in Iraq would last for more than six months.
It took more than six months for an interim government to come up after the first Gulf war in Northern Iraq. And the situation in Baghdad or a government for the whole country now is a more complex affair, he says. And the man chosen to be the interim governor or civil administrator Jay Garner says he hopes to be in his job for less than a year.
Garner is a highly controversial figure in the Arab world. He is a former US lieutenant general of the US army who is a missile defence contractor with close links with Israel. He was acting governor of Northern Iraq after the first Gulf war in 1991. And in the year 2000 he signed a statement with more than 40 US officers and former prominent officials praising the Israeli army’s “remarkable restraint” in handling the Palestinian unrest.
The US has also the problem of deciding which free Iraqis and Kurds should be associated with the interim administration. The Pentagon has its own favourites, so has the State Department, and enabling them to sell themselves as genuine Iraqi leaders to the people is a tough job.
Meanwhile the US Congress has approved a budget of 80 billion dollars for the war to aid countries in the region and for domestic security needs, instead of the 74.7 billion dollars which Bush had initially asked for. Statements in Congress show the administration has understated the expenditure if the total cost is counted and the total may come up to 200 billion dollars. Such happenings in a war economy in the US are quite common, more so when the US moves as many as 300,000 troops half way around the world.
The House of Representatives has also approved a proposal that the US money should not be spent on companies from countries, which opposed the war, like France, Germany and Russia. The Bush administration is reported to be unhappy with such a stipulation, which the Senate did not come up with. Hence at the stage of reconciliation of the two resolutions, the House stipulation may be dropped, leaving it to the Executive to exercise its options in this regard.
As far as the secretary general of the UN Kofi Annan is concerned, the legitimacy of the new regime in Baghdad will be a major issue. He wants a significant role for the UN if not the central role he had earlier pleaded for. A key role for the UN in post-war reconstruction would also mean that contracts for reconstruction work after the war could be given on merit or on a non-discriminatory basis. In that case, there will be little grievance of excessive US dominance in this regard.
The fact is that President Bush is a self-willed leader who tends to go his own way aided by hawks like his defence secretary Donald Rumsfield and vice-president Dick Cheney. And that unilateralism has to be reduced in the post-war period if not in war.
But the US could argue that since it is spending its own money on reconstruction in Iraq, it can choose its own contractors. But the fact is that massive destruction in Iraq has also been caused by the US planes by dropping heavy, highly lethal bombs; by the rain of its missiles and tanks as in Central Baghdad. So it has to pay the cost of repair and reconstruction instead of asking the world to pay the enormous bills.
There is a significant difference between the first Gulf war of 1990-91 and the present war. The first war had the UN sanction following the occupation of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein’s forces. So other countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Japan shared the heavy cost of the war as well as the cost of reconstruction.
But in the present war the US aided by Britain, went ahead after brushing aside the UN Security Council’s plea to give more time to the weapons inspectors. And the post-war administration in Baghdad too, is to be largely American. So America has to pay the cost of the war and do post-war reconstruction.
What Afghanistan shows is that it is easy to topple a regime but difficult to instal an acceptable and effective successor. More than a year has passed but the Hamid Karzai regime has not been able to strike deep roots and win over other factions. The US regime in Baghdad may face a similar crisis for long, more so if the US leadership is too self-willed.
As result of the war and the cost of reconstruction the US budget deficit may rise by 500 billion dollars. It seems the large surpluses of the Clinton era are over. And the US budget is not expected to balance itself until 2012. But in spite of the heavy loans to be secured over the next few years the total of the debt is not expected to be more than three per cent of the US GDP which is a small burden on the US economy because of its large size.
Now what is to happen to Iraqi oil? The damage to the oil wells and the oil industry has been contained by the Americans to the extent that it could meet the cost of reconstruction. Iraqi oil production now is around 2.5 million barrels a day, which makes Iraq the second largest producer after Saudi Arabia. If the oil wells are rehabilitated and reorganised, production can go up to 4.5 million barrels. And if more oil wells are developed and the industry expands, production can go up to 6 million barrels, exceeding the current Saudi Arab output under the OPEC quota-sharing arrangement.
If the Iraqi oil output goes up steadily, as expected, the world supply of oil will increase substantially and oil prices would come down for the betterment of the global economy, which can be helpful for oil-importing countries like Pakistan.
But which western oil companies would get the contracts to develop the Iraqi oil industry remains to be seen. But we do need an oil supply less amenable to frequent manipulations in output and prices, and is traded like any other major commodity in the world.
Some critics of the US say Washington has gone to war in Iraq to control its oil supply and manipulate it in a manner profitable for it economically and politically. Some say it has gone to war to save the slipping dollar and strengthen it vis-a-vis the euro, while the yen no longer encroaches on the domain of the dollar.
Yet another argument advanced is that Bush has gone to war to acquire legitimacy for his administration which had a narrow win in the elections and pave for the way for winning the next presidential election in 2004. There may be an element of truth in all these assertions. But the war will have a varying impact on the Muslim world, and the Arab world in particular which has perceived the very small regard the US has for the Muslim world and how ineffective the Muslim world is against a very powerful country, particularly the lone superpower aligned with Israel with its secret drives for supremacy in the region.
While the Muslim states may not act against the US openly on political or economic fronts, their people may disfavour American goods and services in a quiet manner. And they may prefer going to other countries than the US for their holidays. And they may quietly withdraw a part of their investments from the US and the West in general, and invest some of that in Muslim countries like Pakistan and Malaysia.
Total Arab investment in the West at present is estimated to be about 200 billion dollars. Even if one-fourth of that is diverted to Muslim countries like Malaysia and industrial development of the Middle Eastern countries, they can become self-reliant. Muslim countries, particularly the Arab states, have to do some serious re-thinking after the war and strive for new policy formulations and act on them. Muslim countries have also to endeavour to make themselves more democratic and give their masses fundamental rights.
The richest country in the world, the US has now a trade deficit of 496 billion dollars and a current account deficit of 503.3 billion dollars, and a budget deficit of 3.1 per cent of its GDP.
And with its licence to print the world premium reserve currency the world covers its deficit annually to the extent of 500 billion dollars. Most of those funds go from Asia. Japan has a foreign exchange reserve of 440 billion dollars, China 270 billion dollars and Hong Kong 113.7 billion dollars. Much of this reserve is kept in US treasury bonds at very low interest. And America knows for sure a great deal of the Asian reserves will be kept in the US and a considerable part of that is money stolen from Asia by anti-social and criminal elements or tax-dodgers. The US gains by all such funds.
Of course, a large part of this money may now be kept in the euro. And still the dollar may have the lion’s share of the Asian reserves. Japan’s share of the world’s reserve is 19.3 per cent. China’s 11.3 per cent, and Taiwan’s 6.8 per cent.
But keeping in view the growing US unilateralism both in war and peace, it is imperative for the Asian countries to reconsider whether they should keep a large part of their foreign exchange reserves in the US, more so when the US economy is now shaky and its economic recovery has been too weak and subject to shocks and surprises. The reserves are kept there on the assumption that the US represents global consensus and has enough regard for the will and wishes of its global partners. It is time for Asia to rethink its financial strategy in terms of self-interest and long-term good and stability. A self-willed super-power and global consensus do not go together in fast-changing modern world.
Locked in mortal combat?
IN an interview published in the Hindustan Times, Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha has once again lashed out at Pakistan as a “fit case” for pre-emptive action. Only a week ago, he had reminded the world in another interview that India’s case for launching pre-emptive strikes against Pakistan was stronger than the American one in Iraq.
There is hardly anything new in Mr Sinha’s latest diatribes. But read together with New Delhi’s systematic coercive diplomacy since 9/11, the alarming frequency with which these bellicose statements are emanating from across the border should alert Islamabad to the fatal dangers inherent in the continued use of violence as an instrument of foreign policy.
Islamabad’s response to Mr. Sinha’s provocations has been reactive at best. When Sinha placed Pakistan in the same league as Al Qaeda and Iraq, for instance, the foreign office spokesman dismissed his words as the product of “a sick and frustrated” mind. While one can hardly expect a stroke of creative genius from an insular bureaucracy that takes its cues from the military high command, this knee-jerk reaction betrays a larger institutional paralysis in Pakistan. In other words, our establishment was and remains a prisoner of its strategic delusions.
For those who can see, the Indian foreign minister’s frequent snides reflect New Delhi’s recently found confidence in its ability to stretch Islamabad thin on an outdated Kashmir policy. It is time our “real” foreign policy managers realized they are dealing with a changed Indian establishment, one that is far less susceptible to Islamabad’s nuclear bluff as a cover for “bleeding India with a thousand cuts” inside Kashmir. In fact, the military’s Kargil misadventure has pulled New Delhi out of its decade long waffling on Kashmir to openly threaten war on Pakistan, not once but at least thrice in the past year.
Why is India so emboldened in its dealings with Pakistan? Simply because New Delhi sensed the changing tides of international politics and re-calibrated its policies accordingly. In Mr Sinha’s own words, “after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, the world realized the “gravity of the situation” to put pressure on Pakistan to desist from cross-border terrorism.” In sharp contrast, our establishment wilfully ignored the tectonic shifts that were radically altering the world after 9/11. In fact, the warning shots were fired long before.
During the few hours President Clinton spent in Islamabad after his nearly week-long visit to India, the American president had clearly warned Islamabad in his televised address of the dangers of “redrawing boundaries in blood”. It may have worked in the past, jihad was no longer tenable. But even after 9/11, General Musharraf kept drawing pointless distinctions between freedom fighters and terrorists, while denying any infiltration was taking place from Pakistani territory. The rest of the world, including our closest allies, thought otherwise. Between New Delhi’s open hostility and Washington’s no-nonsense warnings, the military establishment eventually promised to pack up its jihad shop, one that apparently never existed, or so we thought.
The initial crackdown on extremist groups and their jihadi militias was little more than a deflectionary tactic. Jihadi groups went underground only to resurface under different names. Their leaders, initially kept under house arrest, have now fully resumed their operational activities. With New Delhi shifting the goal posts every time Islamabad gave in, senior military officials admit they had few other choices but to continue hedging their bets on jihadi groups. Apparently, the commitment to stop infiltration from Pakistani territory was given to Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage on the condition that Washington would help deliver New Delhi on dialogue. That has yet to happen.
In the meanwhile, violence in Kashmir continues to erupt periodically, bringing nuclear India and nuclear Pakistan one step closer to the abyss of an outbreak of hostilities. Widespread perceptions to the contrary, South Asia remains a region less and not more secure with nukes. Worrying still, the more the military’s internal legitimacy (or the ruling BJP’s popularity in India) is strained, the more threats from across the border will attain significance for political gains. In this scenario, fundamentalism on both sides will only flourish making the region more volatile and prone to extremist violence.
With other more important theatres in Afghanistan and the Middle East straining its attention, Washington’s decreasing interest in South Asia means Islamabad and New Delhi will have to manage the simmering Kashmir conflict on their own. What are Islamabad’s options? With India refusing to budge, not too many. The international community’s growing wariness of New Delhi’s aversion to open dialogue with Islamabad could well be the only silver lining for Pakistan. However tempting, this should not be read as an open licence for Pakistan “to get on with it” in Kashmir.
As early as March 27, US Secretary of State Colin Powell and his British counterpart Jack Straw had sternly warned Islamabad “the LoC should be strictly respected and Pakistan should fulfil its commitments to stop infiltration across it... Pakistan should also do its utmost to discourage any acts of violence by militants in Kashmir.”
Our strategic experts can endlessly debate the international community’s tilt in India’s favour. Islamabad can also derive some succour from Washington’s recent rebuke of New Delhi for its attempts to draw parallels between Kashmir and Iraq.
But the truth is no one is ready to buy our side of the story on Kashmir. And if this latest Anglo-American statement is any indication, the writing on the wall is crystal clear: forego adventurism and adopt the path of dialogue and diplomacy. We must rethink before it is too late. Is our military establishment capable of “outside the box” thinking? That remains a big imponderable.
Next, urban warfare
THE military situation in southern and central Iraq remains extremely fluid. Three powerful US divisions, the 3rd Mechanized, 1St Marine, and 101st Air Assault, are, at the time of this writing, on the outskirts of Baghdad and have seized its international airport. As of now, the hugely outgunned Iraqis are still fighting back, but just barley.
Unless a military coup against the embattled regime of President Saddam Hussein occurs within the next few days — the heartfelt hope of Pentagon planners — US forces will be compelled to begin urban warfare in Baghdad, a metropolis of five million.
Baghdad is a low, sprawling city, one of the Arab world’s more modern, with few high-rise buildings and wide boulevards and streets. The capital’s open urban architecture and broad thoroughfares make defence more difficult, allows for movement of tanks and armoured vehicles, and will permit invading US forces to chop the city up in sections for easier assault. Extensive aerial mapping of Baghdad and suburbs will lessen the chances that attacking US units will become lost.
Many residences are walled villas, which are far from ideal as defensive positions. The best urban defensive positions are large ruined residential and industrial buildings with extensive cellars, and old areas with narrow warrens of streets.
Over the past three days, US forces have advanced quickly towards Baghdad, encountering little resistance north of the city of Kut, a choke point where in 1916 the Turks defeated an invading British army; or in the gap between Karbala and the outskirts of Baghdad. The abandonment of Baghdad airport by Iraqi forces was curious. The decisive battle US commanders expected with 3-4 Iraqi Republican Guard divisions before Baghdad did not occur — only a series of sharp skirmishes in which hundreds of Iraqis were killed.
It appears main-force Iraq units swiftly pulled back into the shelter of Baghdad rather than staying forward of the city and facing annihilation in the open by the omnipotent US air force. No troops on earth could withstand days of pounding by heavy B-52 and B-1 bombers and strike aircraft using precision munitions, fuel air explosive, wide-area anti-armour weapons, lethal ATCAMS tactical missiles, MRLS rocket batteries, and a deluge of 155mm artillery shells, some with ‘bus’ rounds packed with anti-vehicle/anti-personnel submunitions. In spite of the crushing superiority of US forces, the Iraqi army managed to mount a large number of sharp local counter-attacks. Many were delivered without proper coordination with neighbouring units or supporting artillery, and all were mauled by US warplanes and helicopter gunships, but these bravely delivered arracks were evidence that Iraqi forces still retain elan and some combat capability. How long they can continue fighting under 24/7 air attack, cut off from their bases, supplies, and medical help, remains uncertain. Demoralization must by now be setting in.
Iraq’s only hope of halting the US-British invasion is to hold on in Baghdad and Basra, turning each large beleaguered city into a Stalingrad, as Saddam has vowed. But this alone will not save Iraq from eventual surrender: as in all sieges, ammunition, food and water must eventually run out, and some Iraqi units will lay down their arms. The best way to fight a siege is to attack or harass the lines of communications (LOCs) of the besieging army.
The van of the US invasion force before Baghdad- the three divisions and other brigade-sized units - has left something of a vacuum in its rear. The delayed 4th Mech Divisions is currently disembarking at Kuwait Port and will head north, possible piecemeal, within the next week or so. A US armoured cavalry regiment is following. Their mission is to protect the invasion force’s 350km supply lines back to Kuwait and to finish encircling Baghdad. US Special Forces and British SAS commandos have also been rushed in to guard LOCs.
The US-British deployment in Iraq resembles a mushroom with a very long stalk, with its broad head at Baghdad, and long root-stem in Kuwait. Last week, US Secretary of State Colin Powell used an address to the US Israel lobby, the primary engineer of the US-Iraq war, to threaten war against Iran and Syria, the lobby’s secondary objective. Secretary Donald Rumsfeld echoed Powell’s undiplomatic threats. Interestingly, if war came, a mere 140-km westward thrust by an Iranian army corps along the axis Khorramshahr-Basra- Kuwait would cut off and isolate the entire US-British invasion force in Iraq.
This weekend will tell if Iraqi defences are indeed crumbling, as the Pentagon claims, or if the Iraqis can effectively implement Fabian tactics designed to slow down, delay and bleed the invaders. There are at least 30,000 Iraqi regulars and many thousand irregulars with reasonable combat capability clustered in towns bypassed by the US rush to Baghdad: Najaf, Karbala, Nassiriyah, Hillah, Kut, Hindyah and Falluja. Large numbers of intact Iraqi forces are also fighting British invaders in and around Basra, even launching counter-attacks towards Faw and Umm-Qasr.
There is a risk that the garrisons of these strongholds could sally and assault US supply lines and follow-on forces in the rear, though Iraqi command is believed unable to mount a coordinated offensive given its total lack of air cover and badly degraded communications. Iraq has not yet fired most of its tactical ballistic missiles, including over 100 al-Samouds. Its 100-plane air force has simply vanished.
Nevertheless, it seems inevitable that expanding US forces will eventually crush such scattered resistance and occupy Baghdad, swiftly, if Saddam is assassinated and the regime collapses, slowly and bloodily. In the US, big oil, arms dealers, and other corporate cronies of the Bush administration are already flocking like vultures around Iraq’s bleeding corpse, jostling and bribing to get concessions for MobileIraq, BoeingIraq, McDonaldsIraq, HalliburtonIraq, BechtelIraqetc etc. Only Enron and World.com will miss this new Mideast gold rush.
But oil-rich Iraq Inc may not open its doors for business quite yet. Given the fierce resistance mounted by Iraqi soldiers and civilians to the Anglo-American invasion, chances are fairly high that a guerrilla war will flare up once the conventional war ends. Up in the north, the problem of Kurdistan remains unresolved. The two main Kurdish groups want either full independence or total autonomy from any new regime in Baghdad, just as in Afghanistan’s northern Panjshiris, Uzbeks and Tajiks simply ignore the decrees of the US-installed ‘mayor of Kabul,’ Hamid Karzai.
Too much independence-seeking by Kurds threatens invasion by the Turkish army, which already has 10,000 soldiers in northern Iraq. So the US is trying to bribe the Turks to stay out, while bribing the Kurds to stay quiet — no easy task in a land of volatile tempers and ardent nationalist passions.
Meanwhile, Iraq’s Shias, 60 per cent of the population, have not yet shown their hand. Many are fighting hard for Saddam, humiliating administration hard-liners and pro-Israel pundits who had vowed Shias would immediately revolt. Bush administration threats against Iran and its ally Syria will do nothing to bring Iraq’s Shias into the western camp and could very likely turn them into bitter, ferocious enemies, as Israel found when it invaded Lebanon in 1982.
The end game approaches. But how long will it take? Days, weeks, months? People trapped in corners fight hard. But a cruise missiles, American hit squad, or falling brick might do in Saddam Hussein and bring demolished Iraq his US-designated replacement, Saddam II.—Copyright Eric S. Margolis, 2003
The wing of a lost bird
Where should I begin? Because everything said and to be said after tomorrow is not ended by an embrace, nor by a handshake. It does not repatriate the exile. It does not bring rain. It does not fledge the wing of a lost bird, a fallen bird. Where should I begin?”
— Mahmud Darwish, Letter from Home
I WATCHED him as he stood against the silent waters of the Dead Sea, his eyes sheltered from the sun with one hand, his gaze fixed in one direction, beyond the gentle waves licking the salt encrusted shore, beyond the air heavy with longing. In the spring of 1990, the sadness in the air was almost palpable, as if the dreams of an entire nation had been buried beneath the rocky soil of what has been known as the Fertile Crescent, that sliver of land which has seen war and bloodshed for so many centuries now, war based on territorial control, given the guise of divides predicated on ethnicities and faith.
We stood for a while longer at the edge of the Dead Sea between the Kingdom of the Hashemites and the Biblical Judea. I collected sea shells and bits of driftwood, clutching them in my hand, holding on to bits and pieces of a life I had come so close to, but from which I would always remain at a distance, always the outsider, looking in.
The sun had begun to set now, its vermilion rays caressing the waters of the Jordan. He turned around towards me, smiled, and said that he would like to bring me here in the evening, when the lights in his hometown of Jericho would be able to guide his vision towards the orchards his family had been forced to leave in 1967. He looked back again, and pointed at the line of trees in the distance: “There, that is where I was born, and that is where I want to die.”
Mohammad Zaki Saleh Darwish did not return to his homeland. His death, in the Libyan desert in April 1992, was covered by the world’s media, frenzied by the fact that the plane which was carrying the entire Palestinian National Council, including its leader, Yasser Arafat, had gone missing in a sandstorm over the Sahara desert. I was unaware at that time, while watching coverage of the search for the missing aircraft that the man I was supposed to marry shortly had gone down with the plane, having lost fuel and direction over hours of drifting in the red sand whipped up by the storm which was to claim his life. I was unaware that the day of his death would mark the beginning of the apocalypse, red sand whipping up the fury of a people dispossessed, a people enraged, a people left deserted in the eye of the storm.
Where should I begin? Where does one begin to tell the story of the many people who have been forced into exile, some made to flee their homeland, others living as aliens within their own home, and still others expecting to pay obeisance to a foreign master? So many kinds of exiles, so many kinds of death: ‘What have we done, Mother, to die twice, once in life and once in death?’ Who has calculated the immense human cost which is undertaken in wars which have been a consequence of agendas of imperialism and hegemonic control of the world’s wealth and resources?
Who has mourned the deaths of the men and women and children who die in defence of their homeland, who has mourned the loss of thousands more exiled, banished, removed forcibly from that homeland? Who has been held responsible for the carnage wreaked on populations all over the world, from Vietnam to Valparaiso, from Algeria to Argentina? And who will exact vengeance for the greed which has destroyed the earth, pummelling it with thousands of tons of explosives, poisoning its air and water and soil with depleted uranium, wiping out the birds which used to sing on the trees now left stunted and burnt in the fields which once grew the harvests and the fruit which sustained the people of these lands? Who will rise to seek justice, who will set the record straight, who will look the enemy in the eye and defeat it, banishing it to the terrible place it inhabits, that living hell of human avarice?
I was a child when I first came across a picture of that venerable relic of the American Revolution, the Liberty Bell. At that time the irony of its British origins and the American struggle against British rule was lost on me. The Americans fought a war to liberate the colonies from British control, proudly proclaiming that the ultimate choice for any patriot worth his salt was between liberty and death.
Today, as the coalition forces head towards their goal to bring the Middle East within its hegemonic designs, crushing everything that dares stand in their way, the alliance of former colony and former imperialist power smacks of the kind of expediency which has nullified universal principles of human behaviour, indeed, of humanity itself.
Where did all this begin, this aggressive scramble for the world’s resources and the markets which would open up within conquered territories, denigrating the people who came under imperial domination, degrading them to live as lesser human beings? How far back does one have to go into the depths of human history to understand the treachery which underscored the conquest of peoples, to see the pattern in the process of colonization which negated the essential right of people to political and economic sovereignty?
Let us not go too far back into history- there have been references already to the sacking of Baghdad in 1258 by the Mongols under the leadership of Hulaqu, who marched on Baghdad with two hundred thousand Tartars. The people of Baghdad put up a brave resistance but it was beyond them to stop this aggression. The Tartars entered the city of Baghdad and occupied themselves with killing for forty days. Rivers of blood flowed as hundred of thousands of people were put to the sword. The libraries were burnt, the canal headworks destroyed and the material and artistic production of centuries was swept away. Iraq became a neglected frontier province ruled from the Mongol capital of Tabriz in Iran.
Centuries later, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire following the end of the First World War, British forces invaded Mesopotamia and occupied Baghdad in 1917. In 1921 the British drew lines across southern Iraq to create Kuwait to prevent Iraq access to the Persian Gulf. At around the same time, in the Fertile Crescent state of Palestine, the Jewish population, which owned only two per cent of the total land of the country, embraced the Balfour Declaration which signified the advent of Zionism, a political movement which seeks to link all Jews by means of ethnic, nationalistic bonds into a worldwide nation, having as its political and cultural centre a state in Palestine to the exclusion of its Muslim and Christian inhabitants.
When the Balfour Declaration was issued in 1917, Britain was not yet in control of the country and, therefore, had no legal right to promise then or thereafter the country of one people to another. Arthur Koestler remarked on this respect that “In the Declaration one nation solemnly promised to a second nation the country of a third.”
The Arab inhabitants of Palestine rejected from the start the British mandate over their country and the policy of the Balfour Declaration which was being imposed on them. They demanded the fulfilment of promises and pledges of sovereignty and independence given to Sherif Hussein of Makkah for the Arab part in defeating the Turks in World War I. Having failed to achieve their objectives peacefully, the Palestinian Arabs resorted to an armed struggle in 1920, finally breaking out into armed rebellion in 1936 which lasted until the outbreak of World War II in 1939.
As a result of the rebellion, the Mandatory Government enacted laws imposing the penalty of death on any person found in possession of fire-arms whether he had used them or not. The law was strictly applied in the case of Arabs, but ignored where Jews were concerned. The government, by its own designs, was left to battle with Jewish terrorists who attacked British installations and personnel with the aim of forcing the British out of the country.
When the Palestine problem came before the United Nations in 1947, the Muslim and Christian indigenous inhabitants of Palestine stood at approximately 1,415,000 people compared to the Jewish population of 700,000. Jewish ownership of land did not exceed six per cent of the total land area. Notwithstanding, the UN General Assembly, by a majority of only one vote, recommended partition, setting aside about 56 per ent of the most fertile and developed lands for the Jewish state, 43 per cent of the less productive land for the Arab state, and less than one per cent for the Jerusalem International Zone. The inhabitants of the Jewish state were to be equally divided into 498,000 Jews and 497,000 Arabs with the Jews owning less than 10 per cent of the land. The Jews were to be the rulers, the Arabs the ruled, the vanquished, lesser citizens, exiled in their own homeland.
What is the process by which one nation can conquer another, pushing the conquered into remote, inaccessible and hostile geographical areas, forcing them to survive in ghettoes, occupying a psychological space reserved for the undesirable, the “other”, the one derided and regarded with contempt? Is it only through the weaponry of war that colonial conquests were effected so brutally and efficiently over the course of the imperial history of the past five centuries? Or was there another dimension to colonial conquests and imperial expansion?
Throughout history, the vanquished have been described as “less than human, inept, filthy, impious, pagan, immoral, dishonest, lascivious, corrupt, and in dire need of civilization.” The British claimed this in India, Africa and the West Indies, the French in North Africa, the Belgians in Congo, the Portuguese and Spanish in Latin America, and the Americans in the country which they conquered and claimed for their own, beginning a process through which they became the new colonizer of the “lesser” human, the one who required the chastening of fire and brimstone, of shock and awe, bolstered in recent days with the simplistic and naive philosophy that in essence, the conquest will eventually appeal to the hearts and minds of the conquered.
And throughout history there has been resistance to the idea of conquest — there have been valiant struggles of people who believed in their own self-worth despite what the colonizer insisted upon through religious and cultural indoctrination. There have been wars waged to resist the destruction of ways of life, to ward off the aggression against political and economic sovereignty.
Throughout history, people have laid down their lives in order to protect their homelands and their convictions — people have faced the wrath of the conqueror without blinking an eye, they have stood steadfast in the face of the greatest might on earth. Throughout the world, people have gone without adequate food and shelter, without health care and education, without security and a sense of the future, neglected by their own rulers who have often been bolstered by imperialists ruling from a distance. For people such as these, facing the technology of aggression is just another side of the war that they have fought for millennium.
For the people of Palestine and now of Iraq, there is no ‘shock and awe’ in facing death which stares them in their faces every day, there is no terror except that of exile, there is no victory except that which enables them to live in justice and security and with hope for a better future within the borders of their own homeland. For the conqueror, the message, which has been spoken loud and clear, is simply this, that no matter what the cost, no matter how painful the death and how agonizing the exile, the objective of all peoples with a sense of rightful belonging is to live and to die on the soil which shelters the bones of their ancestors, for ‘would the evening remember an exile who came here and never returned to his homeland?’