America is Not a Role Model
by Gideon Levy
Ha'aretz - Israel, April
(World Press Review, (June
Those who trample human rights in Israel
are having a field day: Look at the behavior of the Americans
in Iraq, they say. Every time troops open fire at a checkpoint,
every killing of a civilian, every picture of siege and _ plight,
leads to merriment here. The United States, the cradle of democracy,
the leader of the free world, is behaving like us.
According to one report,"IDF [Israeli
Defense Forces] officers find it difficult to stop smiling"
when they hear the reports of the war in Iraq. From now on, no
one will be able to criticize their conduct in the territories.
The New York Times reported that Israel even hastened to suggest
that the United States learn from its experience in the use of
tanks, helicopters, and bulldozers in the center of cities and
Similar delight has also gripped those
wishing to curb the media in Israel: Look at how America is censoring
the images of the war in its media-no coffins and no prisoners,
how the media have volunteered enthusiastically to enlist in the
war effort. And how they fired the courageous reporter Peter Arnett,
without so much as batting an eyelash, for expressing his opinions
on enemy television.
This keeping in line with the behavior
of the United States is another case of the collateral damage
of this base war. America is not an example for anything. Even
before going to war, there was no way it could serve as a role
model, and going to this unjustified war in Iraq has deprived
it completely of the right to serve as a light unto the nations
and the Jews in upholding freedom, morality, and human rights.
So let us not be quick to conclude that
what America is allowed to do, we are allowed to do, too. Neither
they nor we have the right to kill needlessly, to harm and humiliate
civilians, deprive them of their freedom, starve them, take away
their livelihood and trample on their sovereignty, or to recruit
the media for the war effort.
America, which is fighting an illegal
war, is an occupier in every respect.
Long before the first Iraqi civilian was
shot at a checkpoint, the United States was in no position to
take pride in all its deeds, either at home or externally. Not
all its citizens benefit from the fact that it is a large democracy.
For example, in the past 27 years, 845
people have been executed in the United States, as in the darkest
of regimes, with a clear bias against the blacks. Studies show
a black murderer is 11 times more likely to be executed than a
white person convicted of the same crime. More than one-fifth
of the children in the country that is supposed to be the leader
of the free world live below the poverty line, and 41 million
Americans, among them millions of children, do not have any form
of medical insurance.
Is that the definition of a just society?
Some 3.5 million Americans are registered as homeless, though
the real number is estimated to be twice that many.
A country that launches a war at a cost
of hundreds of billions of dollars when it lacks the ability to
care for millions of homeless people and poor children cannot
consider itself enlightened or a liberator.
Outside its borders, the United States
cannot always serve as a moral model, either. Hundreds of thousands
of people, including many civilians, have been killed and murdered
in the wars and military campaigns it has launched since World
War 11-in Vietnam, Cambodia, and elsewhere-and in the murderous
regimes the United States has brought to power or has assisted.
However, even if the United States had
been a beacon of justice, its decision to go to war in Iraq and
turn its army into an occupying force deprives it of the right
to be considered a paragon. To the remarks of journalist Thomas
Friedman (in an interview with Ari Shavit in Ha'aretz Magazine
over the weekend) to the effect that the American democracy becomes
aggressive when threatened, we should add that democracies cease
to be such when they become occupiers. France, Belgium, Britain,
the United States, and Israel, all of them enlightened democracies,
lost the justness of their cause when they became occupying powers.
That is inevitable.
As soon as the United States starts to
become mired in the occupation, today's enlightened soldiers will
become tomorrow's inhuman troops. They will lose the remnants
of their moral image and will kill, destroy, and abuse. The children
huggers will become the children persecutors, the food distributors
will turn into agents of starvation, the wound healers will block
ambulances at checkpoints, the liberators will become jailers.
Humiliating the occupied and stripping them of their rights will
become the norm.
The liberated Iraqi people will pay in
the form of heavy losses, hunger, and humiliation, even if these
are temporary. And they will not forget. That is the impact of
occupation, whether in the narrow alleys of a Gaza Strip refugee
camp or in the sprawling city of Baghdad.
If there is one lesson Israel can impart
to the Americans, it is that every occupation is appalling, that
it tramples the occupied and corrupts the occupier. If the Americans
pause for a moment to see what is going on in the Tul Karm refugee
camp and in the casbah of Nablus, they will see what they will
soon become. And if Israelis look at what is happening in Iraq,
perhaps they will understand that it is not the Palestinians but,
above all, we who have created the present situation.
An occupier is an occupier, whether he
comes from a democracy that is two-and-a-quarter centuries old
or from "the only democracy in the Middle East."
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