Bitter, bitter tears
Why many in the Arab world have come to hate
the US so much
New Internationalist magazine, November 2001
Ali Helou, 25, looked over his shoulder as he led his nine-months
pregnant young wife, Amineh, over the hills leading to Lebanon.
Unbeknown to him, it would be the last time he would see his home.
It was 1948 and Jewish troops hoping to establish the state of
Israel in Palestine were shelling Arab villages, forcing residents
to flee. Only a few kilometres away from the Lebanese border Amineh
gave birth under an olive tree. Eight months later, at a refugee
camp in Lebanon, the baby contracted typhoid and died. The couple
joined the more than 800,000 Palestinians packed into refugee
camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt believing their exile
would only last a few weeks.
But on 14 May 1948 - hours before the British mandate was
to expire in Palestine - the state of Israel was declared. Just
12 minutes after the British mandate ended, US President Harry
Truman recognized the newly created country. The move shocked
the Arab world - and planted the first seed of hatred against
Some 53 years later, America itself came under attack. It
was deplorable and horrific. But it was also a wake-up call. Those
53 years of uncontrollable rage culminated in one message: US
Government you're hated.
Successive US governments must have known about this pan-Arab
rage which has been boiling for years. They must have realized
that it was their unflinching support for Israel which fed the
fury. And yet their foreign policy in the Middle East remained
largely unchanged. If anything, America's ties to Israel seemed
to grow stronger - so much so that some in the Arab world could
no longer see a difference between the two states.
'America has been very heavily associated with the Israeli
position irrespective of whether it is rooted in international
law or not,' explained Chibli Mallat, a professor of international
law. 'The veto of the US at the Security Council consistently
favours Israel - often in a way that puts Israel and the US on
one side and everyone else, including western European governments,
on the other.'
United Nations Resolution 194, which was issued in 1948, stated
that Palestinian refugees should be allowed to return home or
be given compensation and UN resolution 242 demanded the return
of the territories which Israel captured during the Six-Day War
in June 1967. Both remain unfulfilled, ignored by Israel and the
US aid and weapons continue to make their way to Israel, which
receives more than five billion dollars in aid annually. But even
this is not all: a Congressional Research Service report states
that from 1994 to 1998, Israel received $29 billion from the US
in waived loans.
For its part, Israel is free to spend the aid as it pleases
- the only condition attached to the money earmarked as military
aid is that about 75 per cent of it has to be spent in the United
Artillery-shell casings have become traditional umbrella stands
in many Arab homes. And there on the side of the shell - fired
courtesy of Israel - is a familiar phrase: 'Made in the USA'.
Arabs cannot forget America's green light for the Israeli
invasion of Lebanon in 1982 which led to the deaths of 20,000
civilians, the crippling siege of Beirut and an occupation that
only ended in May last year. On 16 September 1982, the Israeli
army cordoned off the Sabra and Chatila camps, fired flares at
night to illuminate the skies and authorized the entry of its
Lebanese Christian militia ally. Up to 2,000 Palestinians were
butchered. The US condemned the massacre but failed to insist
on an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon.
Instead, within a few months, the USS New Jersey, a World
War Two battleship, was firing dozens of 40 millimetre shells
into the mountains above Beirut, destroying houses and villages.
That action, coupled with general resentment about America's
unwavering support for Israel, led to devastating suicide attacks
on the ~ US embassy in Beirut in April 1983, _ ~ in which 63 people
were killed, and on the US Marine barracks, in which 241 American
Many Arabs condemn US Middle East policy as operating in double
standards. The US turned a he blind eye to Israel's invasion and
occupation of Lebanon, but mounted an international coalition
to oust Iraq from Kuwait when oil supplies were threatened. There
is the matter of America's veto of UN resolutions against Israel,
sometimes in opposition to the rest of the world. When Hizbullah
used to fire its antiquated World War Two rockets across the border
at Israeli troops (usually in retaliation for the killing of Lebanese
civilians), it was described as 'terrorism'. But when Israeli
artillery guns shelled a UN base in south Lebanon in 1996, killing
over 100 civilians, it was accepted as a 'mistake'. It's considered
unacceptable for an Arab or Islamic nation to develop a nuclear
bomb yet perfectly acceptable for Israel to have 300 nuclear weapons.
'The Americans do not care to put in place standards of governmental
behaviour in the region like those they consider important for
their way of life or Europe's,' said Chibli Mallat. 'They gloat
about Israeli democracy without paying any attention to the excesses
of the Israeli Government towards the non-Jews in Israel who are
second-class citizens in the country in ways which would be absolutely
intolerable for any minority in the US.' And while America says
that it stands for freedom, human rights and democracy, it colludes
with Arab governments who represent neither and who often repress
their own people.
'Arabs see the behaviour of America as being at complete odds
with their natural demand for democracy and justice which would
bring a decent way of life for themselves and their children,'
In September 2000, the Al-Aqsa Intifada in the occupied Palestinian
territories erupted. Arabs watched alarmed as Israeli tanks and
missiles claimed an almost daily toll of Palestinian lives. They
waited for a restraining order from the US. None came.
People all over the Arab world demonstrated in the streets
in support of the Intifada. Except for verbal condemnation their
leaders did little to pressure the US into stopping Israel's assaults.
'People perceived their regimes as kneeling in front of the Americans,'
said Suheil Natour, a Palestinian affairs analyst and a council
member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
During the 1990 Gulf War, the US Government secured its position
in the region. Declarations of 'freedom' and 'democracy' didn't
fool the Arab public. 'They are exploiting the wealth of the Third
World, including the Arab world - especially the oil,' said Natour.
'The people see their wealth being robbed by these multinational
companies and funds of the Arab world taken to the American Treasury.'
Meanwhile, 2,000 kilometres away, in a rocky and mountainous
land, a CIA-sponsored militia was mounting a war against the Soviet
Union in Afghanistan. Some 35,000 Muslim radicals from 40 countries
joined Afghanistan's fight between 1982 and 1992. Their leader
was Osama bin Laden.
'He was trained to kill on ideology,' said Ahmad Moussalli,
professor of Political Science at the American University of Beirut
author of several books about Islamic fundamentalism. 'He
and what's known as the Afghan Arabs were trained to fight on
the grounds that the Soviets were unbelievers. Their psyche was
propped up to kill because of a difference in faith.'
In 1991, many of the Afghan Arabs returned home only to find
'infidels' - American troops - in their own holy land, Saudi Arabia.
'It's like if you had a Muslim army surrounding the Vatican -
would the West accept it?' said Moussalli. While the majority
of Muslims interpret Islam peacefully, the Afghani Arabs do not.
'They see America dominating their lives, supporting Israel and
exploiting them,' said Moussalli. 'They think there is no way
of penetrating the system except with terrorism and violence.'
Despite widespread condemnation of the 11 September attacks
in the Arab and Islamic world, leaders know that there is little
they can do to curb their people's anger towards the US. American
rhetoric in the wake of the attacks notwithstanding, the violence
was not against 'freedom' or 'democracy'.
'It's an attack against injustice and the exploitation of
non-Western people,' said Moussalli. 'What do they want? They
want independence from the West as they believe they have been
made subservient. They want Palestinians to be treated like human
beings and to have their own state and they want to establish
an Islamic state.'
Banned from participating in their countries' politics, their
newspapers confiscated and their parties banned, radical groups
have split from the mainstream Islamic movement and turned to
'In the long run this is a symptom of a deeper disease that
has to be treated,' according to Moussalli. 'If you want to eradicate
terrorism you have to understand the root causes of that. You
can repress a people for a decade - even for two or three. But
the time will come when they will go against their regimes and
against those who protect their regimes - the Western powers.'
Reem Haddad is a Lebanese journalist
Central Asia watch