Massacre Or Not?
It Depends On Which Side Of Washington's Ledger You're On

by Stephen Gowans

May 6, 2002


In 1999, Serb police alerted the media of an impending arrest of a man accused of murdering a police officer. The arrest would take place in Racak, a Kosovo village, known as a Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) stronghold. The KLA had been labelled a terrorist organization by the US State Department a year earlier, reviled for running drugs and under suspicion for its connections to Osama bin Laden. As the Serb police approached Racak, international observers watched from the surrounding hills. Entering the village, the Serb police immediately came under fire from KLA guerillas. The police returned fire, while a TV crew filmed the firefight.

The next day William Walker, the US ambassador to Yugoslavia, led the press back to Racak. Laid out in a shallow trench were the bodies of dozens of ethnic Albanian civilians. Walker said the Serb police had cold-bloodedly massacred the civilians the day before, shooting men, women and children at close range.

Not long after, NATO forces began a 78-day bombardment of Yugoslavia, in which hundreds, if not thousands of civilians were killed, and thousands more permanently injured. Racak was said to be a precipitating event. The bombing campaign -- a massacre itself -- was said to be necessary to stop future Racaks.

A few weeks ago, another massacre took place. This time in the West Bank.

The West Bank is not, contrary to what many North Americans believe, part of Israel. But that hasn't stopped Israel from occupying it. Or attacking its cities and towns and refugee camps.

Those who live in the Jenin refugee camp were displaced from their homes when Israel was created in 1948. Others took up residence in the camp when Israel expanded its borders in the 1967 war. In defiance of international law and various UN resolutions, Israel hasn't let the refugees of Jenin return to their homes. Instead, the refugees wait in despair, in poverty, for justice. And when they can wait no longer, they strap bombs to their chests.

Ethnic Albanian Kosovars who fled their homes, or were driven from them, were allowed to return. They haven't been forced to live in squalid camps, waiting for justice.

But with Israel, exceptions are made.

Martin van Creveld, Israel's leading military historian, knows this. Van Creveld says Sharon's plan is to "drive Palestinians across the Jordan;" in other words, to ethnically cleanse the occupied territories. The result -- unremarked upon by van Creveld -- would be the completion of the Zionist project: all of historical Palestine for the Jews. (1)

"Some believe," van Creveld writes, "that the international community will not permit such an ethnic cleansing. I would not count on it. If Mr. Sharon decides to go ahead, the only country that can stop him is the United States."

This, sadly, is true. Israel's repeated expression of contempt for human rights, for international law, for the international community, goes on under the aegis of its protector, the United States, itself, equally contemptuous of human rights (Camp X-Ray), international law (the bombing of Afghanistan and countless other places), and the UN (the bombing of Yugoslavia, to mention but one brazen instance.)

The US, van Creveld predicts, will let Israel go ahead. And who, honestly surveying the history of the US-Israeli relationship would doubt him?

Return to Jenin.

The IDF, the Israeli army, didn't invite the media to witness its operation to "destroy the terrorist infrastructure" in the Jenin refugee camp. On the contrary, the IDF prevented the media from recording what was going on.

And international observers didn't watch the IDF carry out its operations. There are no international observers in the occupied terrorizes, even though the Palestinian Authority has repeatedly asked that international observers be deployed, and the international community has demanded it. Israel won't consent, and Washington doesn't insist on it. Instead, Washington pays for the tanks and F-16s and tanks and bulldozers that Israel uses to massacre refugees.

The UN's Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen was shocked when he saw what the IDF had done in Jenin. "This is horrifying beyond belief," he said. A "blot that will forever live on the history of the state of Israel." For daring to criticize Israel -- the country that must never be criticized, no matter what depths of depravity it sinks to -- Roed-Larsen has been vilified by the Sharon government. (2)

Peter Hansen, Commissioner General of the United Nations Relief and Works for Palestinian Refugees, said, "I have never seen such a human tragedy as that I saw in Jenin. A Swiss seismic expert who accompanied me to Jenin was also shocked and even said he had never seen such a destruction in any part of the world for decades. I think that such massacres will never be wiped out of the human memory and their effects will be remembered by several Palestinian generations." (3)

And now Israel won't consent to a UN inquiry into what happened in Jenin, playing its usual trump card: "The whole world is out to get us. It always has been."

Compare that to the fate of Yugoslavia, and its former leader, Slobodan Milosevic. Milosevic is being tried before a UN tribunal for murder, genocide and crimes against humanity.

His country was devastated by 78-days of NATO bombing

The media were at Racak. Milosevic allowed international observers into Kosovo, not an occupied territory, but a province of Serbia. He asked that a UN force be deployed. And Milosevic is reviled as a brute, strongman, murderer, and ethnic cleanser.

Sharon, whose history as a war criminal is well documented, prevents the media from covering Israel's operations in occupied territory which the UN has long called for Israel to quit, refuses to allow international observers, and blocks a UN inquiry. And George W. Bush calls Sharon a man of peace.

The differences -- stark and disturbing -- don't stop there. There are compelling reasons to believe a massacre happened at Jenin, despite Israeli denials. The tell-tale signs are overwhelming: Israel's drawing a curtain around the camp while the operation was in progress; its intransigent refusal to allow an inquiry; the harrowing testimony of those who fled the camp; reports from UN workers and others.

By contrast, the Racak massacre, part of The Hague Tribunal case against Milosevic, probably didn't happen, and yet, was the ostensible basis for destroying a country and undermining those inside it who opposed Washington's imperial designs on the Balkans.

The international observers present on the date of the attack reported no massacre of civilians. The TV crew that was present didn't capture a massacre on film (but did capture a firefight between the police and the KLA.) And the forensic pathologists who investigated the incident on behalf of the European Union later wrote that there was no evidence of a massacre, and that the forensic evidence was consistent with the dead being fallen KLA fighters, not Racak civilians. The United States, it seems, was looking for a pretext to intervene militarily, and was willing to jump at (if not collude in) a KLA fabrication.

How is it that a massacre that probably happened can be largely sloughed off, while a massacre that probably didn't happen, can set in motion a 78-day air war, the ouster of a president, and a tribunal at The Hague?

As always, it simply depends on which side of the US ledger a country is on. Israel facilitates the pursuit of US imperial ambitions in the Middle East, so its immense crimes are overlooked. Yugoslavia, with its largely socialized economy and refusal to join NATO, gets in the way. As a result, it no longer exists.

Take another case: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (wrong side of the ledger: too independent) and Pakistan's military dictator General Musharraf (right side of the ledger: pliable and subordinate.) Chavez, who was elected and has found his government under threat for pursuing policies intended to benefit the majority (a rarity in Venezuela), is portrayed as a would-be dictator with a regrettable cavalier disregard for democracy, while Musharraf who seized power in a coup is "backed to the hilt by his new-found allies in the US State Department, who remain appreciative of his decision to back the US-led war of terrorism." (4)

Musharraf has just held a sham referendum to seek a mandate for his continued dictatorial rule. Opposition parties were barred from campaigning, Musharraf counted the votes, and the referendum question never asked directly whether Musharraf should stay on in power, only whether his reforms were approved of. Washington, which raised a stink about electoral irregularities in Yugoslavia under Milosevic, Belarus under Lukashenko, and Zimbabwe under Mugabe, uttered not a word about Musharraf's sham. Nor did Tony Blair, who portrayed himself as a champion of democracy in insisting election monitors oversee the last elections in Zimbabwe, work himself up into high dudgeon over this "assault on democracy." Instead, he remained tight-lipped, perhaps even pleased, his passion for democracy tempered by "geostrategic considerations."

As for America's steadfast allies in the Middle East -- Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait -- the issue of stolen elections will never arise: there are no elections to steal. Nor are human rights a big deal in these oil monarchies, something you would never know the way the State Department carries on about Cuba. The absence of multi-party elections will invite a highly visible rebuke every year, but chop off the hands of those who steal a loaf of bread and who notices?

Cuba, of course, long ago figured out that it was going to get a raw deal from Washington when it decided Cubans shouldn't bear the brunt of the country's long domination by the US. Pillage, rape, burn; ethnically cleanse, murder; commit war crimes; seize power by coup; throw people into concentration camps; it doesn't matter, as long as it's done in the name of free enterprise. That's Castro's blunder. All would be forgiven, the absence of multi-party elections overlooked, the human rights abuses ignored, if only Castro could see his way to turning the Cuban economy over to US multinationals...again.

Oil rich monarchs who tolerate no elections, let alone multi-party elections, military dictators who back American wars of conquest, and brazen war criminals of the Sharon stripe, will continue to enjoy the high esteem of Washington, and therefore of the American media, and therefore of the American people.

Some day the outrageous hypocrisy of US governments and the country's servile media will be perceived, the mountains of bullshit behind which base and inhumane schemes are pursued will be penetrated. Some day. We can only hope.

· · · · · ·


1.  Sharon's plan is to drive Palestinians across the Jordan, The Telegraph (UK), April 28, 2002  (back)

2.  Justin Huggler and Phil Reeves, What really happened when Israeli forces went into Jenin? Independent (UK), April 25, 2002  (back)

3.  The Globe and Mail (Canada), April 25, 2002.  (back)

4.  The Globe and Mail (Canada), April 29, 2002.  (back)


Letters to the Editor (added May 20, 2002)


Stephen Gowans is a writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.

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Published May 6, 2002
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