The real threat to peace in the Middle East

March 12, 1991

By Rob Miller

If you believe the "mainstream" media, the Palestine Liberation Organisation has irretrievably blotted its copybook by supporting Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, while a peace-loving Israel exercised admirable restraint by not retaliating against Iraqi missile attacks.

What has been missing from this campaign — inspired by the US and picked up by its allies, including the Australian government — has been any mention of the PLO's real position on the Gulf War or the atrocities committed by the Israeli army in the occupied territories while the world's attention was focussed elsewhere.

In early February Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans criticised "the PLO's behaviour in consistently defending and associating itself with Iraq's invasion of Kuwait". In fact — along with Yemen, Sudan, Libya, Algeria and Jordan — the PLO called for an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.

The PLO's position was: immediate withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait; immediate withdrawal of all foreign forces from the region and their replacement by an Arab or UN peace force; an international peace conference dealing with the problems of the area; a conference aimed at the removal of weapons of mass destruction from the region; and the implementation of a plan aimed at economic development.

Israeli atrocities

While the US and Australian governments were busy condemning the PLO for a position it did not have, their silence about the crimes being committed by Israel in the Occupied Territories was deafening. The 1.75 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were placed under a blanket curfew from January 17. The curfew only began to be lifted after the fighting stopped in the Gulf in early March.

Palestinians were allowed out of their homes for only two or three hours every three days, leaving them with no source of income and reducing food and medical supplies to a trickle. Israeli forces launched armed assaults that killed two Palestinians, wounded many and led to 15 miscarriages from tear gas attacks. Well over 1000 Palestinians were arrested.

One 24-year-old Palestinian woman was shot with 10 bullets in her face and chest and died instantly. Lubna al-Kadah's crime was to feed her baby on the balcony of her apartment in Nablus. Ibrahim Abu-Jalal was shot dead for stepping out of his home in Gaza, and three-year-old Sabrine Ahmad was shot in the face.

Among those arrested was philosophy professor Sari Nusseibeh, a prominent Palestinian leader and a well-known advocate of Palestinian-Israeli peace on the basis of a two-state settlement. Nusseibeh was arrested and sentenced to six months' jail without trial for "espionage".

No evidence to support the charges was produced, and none is likely to be. The Israelis routinely argue that the evidence against the thousands of Palestinians they have jailed is "classified" and cannot be divulged in court.

With farmers confined to their homes, crops failed all over the Occupied Territories.

The fact that the few hours of freedom were different, with the people of one village (often the women only) allowed out while their neighbours remained confined to their homes, meant that merchants were unable to deliver the available food to most of the towns and villages.

In the areas where the food supply was not yet exhausted, a large number of Palestinians had no money to buy because the curfew also prevented them from earning any income. By late January, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency was warning that Palestinians were on the brink of starvation. Despite many protests, the Israeli government refused to lift the curfew.

Ongoing brutality

Brutality under Israeli military rule has continued for the last 23 years. At the annual meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Ingred Kircher, a representative of Amnesty International, accused Israel of continuing human rights violations in the Occupied Territories.

She reported that at least 14,000 Palestinians had been held in administrative detention without charge or trial since the intifada (uprising) began in December 1987. Since then, "some 700 Palestinians civilians, including many children and young people, have been shot dead by Israeli forces using live ammunition and special types of plastic and other bullets".

She also charged that at least 16 Palestinians had been beaten to death after their arrest, and many more had died after Israeli troops misused tear gas in confined spaces.

But the media remained largely silent: to report that the Israeli government was starving 1.75 million Palestinians, shooting those who stepped outside their homes and carrying out wholesale arrests would have undermined the carefully constructed image of Israeli restraint in the face of Iraqi aggression.

The real links

It would also have drawn attention to the obvious parallels between Israel's illegal occupation in defiance of UN resolutions demanding its withdrawal, and Iraq's occupation of Kuwait. This worried Israel and its allies from the start of the Gulf crisis.

While the US might get away with denying "linkage" while the war with Iraq continued, and even this looked very shaky at times, it would have to be seen to do something about the "Palestinian question" once the war ended. The deliberate distortion of the PLO's position, the media blackout on Israeli repression in the Occupied Territories and the endless praise of Israeli restraint (what could have Israel done to Iraq that the US and its allies didn't do?) all served to weaken the PLO's position and strengthen Israel's.

The main problem for the Israeli, US and Australian governments is that the Palestinians, the Arab people and many other peoples and governments around the world know differently. They know that in November 1988 the Palestine National Council (PNC), the Palestinian parliament-in-exile and highest decision-making body of the PLO, accepted UN resolutions 181, 242 and 338, along with the Palestinian right to self-determination, as the basis for an international peace conference and a two-state solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict.

They also know that the Israeli government rejected this peace initiative, which involved significant concessions on the part of the Palestinian people, and stepped up repression in the Occupied Territories.

The same PNC meeting declared the independent state of Palestine on the basis of UN resolution 181 (the resolution which partitioned Palestine into Jewish and Arab states in 1947), which is the sole legal foundation of Israel and whose acceptance by the PNC is an explicit recognition of Israel. Since November 1988, more than 100 countries have recognised the occupied state of Palestine and established full diplomatic relations with it. Australia and the US are not among them.

UN resolution 242 calls on Israel to withdraw from the territories it occupied in the 1967 war and confirms the right of all states in the area to live in peace and security. Resolution 338 invites the parties of the conflict to negotiate, which must include the PLO since most of the territory occupied is Palestinian territory.

Israel's refusal to abide by UN resolutions, including the one which created Israel in the first place, make it clear which country is the real obstacle to peace in the Middle East.

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