What Israel has done

Edward Said

Despite Israel's effort to restrict coverage of its destructive invasion of the West Bank's Palestinian towns and refugee camps, information and images have nevertheless seeped through. The Internet has provided hundreds of verbal as well as pictorial eyewitness reports, as have Arab and European TV coverage, most of it unavailable or blocked or spun out of existence from the mainstream US media. That evidence provides stunning proof of what Israel's campaign has actually - has always - been about: the irreversible conquest of Palestinian land and society.

The official line (which Washington has basically supported, along with nearly every US media commentator) is that Israel has been defending itself by retaliating against the suicide bombings that have undermined its security and even threatened its existence. That claim has gained the status of an absolute truth, moderated neither by what Israel has done nor by what in fact has been done to it. Phrases such as "plucking out the terrorist network", "destroying the terrorist infrastructure" and "attacking terrorist nests" (note the total dehumanization involved) are repeated so often and so unthinkingly that they have given Israel the right to destroy Palestinian civil life, with a shocking degree of sheer wanton destruction, killing, humiliation and vandalism.

There are signs, however, that Israel's amazing, not to say grotesque, claim to be fighting for its existence is slowly being eroded by the devastation wrought by the Jewish state and its homicidal prime minister, Ariel Sharon. Take this front-page New York Times report, "Attacks Turn Palestinian Plans Into Bent Metal and Piles of Dust," by Serge Schmemann (no Palestinian propagandist) on April 11: There is no way to assess the full extent of the damage to the cities and towns - Ramallah, Bethlehem, Tulkarm, Qalqilya, Nablus and Jenin - while they remain under a tight siege, with patrols and snipers firing in the streets. But it is safe to say that the infrastructure of life itself and of any future Palestinian state - roads, schools, electricity pylons, water pipes, telephone lines - has been devastated.

By what inhuman calculus did Israel's army, using dozens of tanks and armoured personnel carriers, along with hundreds of missile strikes from US-supplied Apache helicopter gunships, besiege Jenin's refugee camp for over a week, a one-square-kilometer patch of shacks housing 15,000 refugees and a few dozen men armed with automatic rifles and no missiles or tanks, and call it a response to terrorist violence and a threat to Israel's survival? There are reported to be hundreds buried in the rubble, which Israeli bulldozers began heaping over the camp's ruins after the fighting ended. Are Palestinian civilian men, women and children no more than rats or cockroaches that can be attacked and killed in the thousands without so much as a word of compassion or in their defence?

And what about the capture of thousands of men who have been taken off by Israeli soldiers, the destitution and homelessness of so many ordinary people trying to survive in the ruins created by Israeli bulldozers all over the West Bank, the siege that has now gone on for months and months, the cutting off of electricity and water in Palestinian towns, the long days of total curfew, the shortage of food and medicine, the wounded who have bled to death, the systematic attacks on ambulances and aid workers that even the mild-mannered Kofi Annan has decried as outrageous? Those actions will not be pushed so easily into the memory hole. Its friends must ask Israel how its suicidal policies can possibly gain it peace, acceptance and security.

The monstrous transformation of an entire people by a formidable and feared propaganda machine into little more than militants and terrorists has allowed not just Israel's military but its fleet of writers and defenders to efface a terrible history of injustice, suffering and abuse in order to destroy the civil existence of the Palestinian people with impunity. Gone from public memory are the destruction of Palestinian society in 1948 and the creation of a dispossessed people; the conquest of the West Bank and Gaza and their military occupation since 1967; the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, with its