Last month the US vetoed a UN resolution condemning the assassination of Shaikh Ahmed Yasin. MUZAFFAR IQBAL examines the reasons for the US’s support for Israel...
The debate on the veto had been going on for two days. Country after country, the representatives of China, Russia, France, the Philippines, Angola, Chile, Pakistan, Spain, Algeria, Benin and Brazil condemned the assassination of Shaikh Ahmed Yassin by Israeli forces, while those of Brazil, Britain and Germany listened in diplomatic silence. The absurdity and futility of the whole exercise was etched on every face, because everyone knew how the debate would end. Thus when John Negroponte, US ambassador to the UN, got up, there was a lull in the room. Calling the resolution “one-sided”, he did what the US has done 78 times before: vetoed it. A barrage of criticism followed in the world press. Headlines flashed, protests were made, and then later events pushed the assassination of the Shaikh aside, and Palestine continued its downward spiral as one of the worst state-organised oppressions ever in human history.
This latest use of its veto power to shield Israel is, however, only a small diplomatic action by the United States; the reality is that, for all practical purposes, the state of Israel is an extension of the US: an extension created, supported and protected for a definite purpose that is unspoken but fully understood. By president after president, the “special relationship” with Israel has been kept alive and strengthened. (See the inset for the statements of US presidents about Israel.) What makes this relationship special? What binds Israel to the US? Why are the two countries allied in this special way?
There is an official answer to these questions, which relies heavily on the theme of common values and interests. The state of Israel is the only state in the Middle East where democracy, freedom and individual rights exist, so goes the official line, and therefore the US is bound by its own values to support Israel. This version points out that although Israel is geographically in a region dotted with underdeveloped dictatorships, within half a century it has emerged as an advanced nation with all the characteristics of Western society. This commonality is also based on racial lineage; a large proportion of Israel’s populace went there from Europe or North America. And finally, there is the commonness rooted in the Judaeo-Christian heritage.
All of this is true. The only problem is that the state of Israel has been established in the wrong place: it does not belong to the Arab lands; as an outpost of the Western civilization, it is an anomaly created by force and kept alive by force. Even Oriental Jews feel like misfits in this Israel. The history of this state shows clearly that since its implantation in the heart of the Arab world, there has been a clear design and purpose for its existence. Furthermore, its existence has only been made possible by violence, with the support of the US and its allies. This support is like the umbilical cord of this implantation: the day this lifeline is cut, the state will collapse. But this lifeline will not be cut, we are told by president after president. Why?
The answer is obvious: Israel is an extension of the West into the Muslim heartlands. This is why it has so much in common with its parent civilization. Israel not only serves the purposes of the West, but is also itself a part of the Western alliance against Islam and Muslims that came into existence after the second world war (1939-45) as a result of an implicit understanding between the United States, Britain and France–an understanding that partitioned the world into three blocs: the West, the Soviet and the Muslim. Britain and France, as major economic and military powers, “owned” much of the world before the rise of the US, but they relegated their dominions to the US willingly enough for a share in future profits, and to continue to enjoy the fruits of this understanding.
Muslims are an emotional people, and that their emotions are tied to certain places and events.
One of the most important lessons that Britain and France learnt from their colonial experiences was that Muslims are an emotional people, and that their emotions are tied to certain places and events. Thus, in order to keep them “under control”, they must never be allowed unfettered access to the places that work most effectively on the Muslim imagination. There are three such places on earth: Makkah, Madinah and Jerusalem. This insight was passed on to the US when it took on its task of shackling Muslims. Makkah and Madinah could not be occupied directly without creating havoc, and so had to be “managed” by means of a client-state. This client-state, known as Saudi Arabia, has successfully limited Muslim activities in these cities.
The case of Jerusalem was different because of its Jewish and Christian associations and significance. So a daring attempt was made to occupy this area by establishing a proxy state. The Muslim reaction to the creation of zionist Israel, and later its brazen occupation of Jerusalem, was within “manageable” limits. This success created the awareness that there is no danger in allowing Israel a free hand in Palestine, all of which is marked as Israel’s potential territory.
The second method of managing the “Muslim bloc” consisted of the same old, time-honored, tried and tested method: “divide and conquer”. Britain and France realised that within the Muslim world the Arabs have a special position: they are the “neighbours of God and His Messenger (saw)” because Makkah and Madinah are in Arabia, and their mother tongue is the language of the Qur’an, God’s last word and direct speech to mankind. If the Arabs united on the deen of Islam they could create a very strong force that would draw most or all of the Muslim world after it. So it was decided that the Arabs must never be allowed to become a single well-coordinated, well-functioning unit. So kings and amirs were installed in various areas; geographical areas that had always existed as contiguous neighbours at peace with eachother throughout their history were divided into nation-states at war with one another. The Palestinians were deemed to be the most unmanageable population in the whole area, because they were settled, prosperous, and more concentrated in their homeland (and so would find it easier to coordinate their activities), so they were selected for dispossession.
There are also other reasons for the special status enjoyed by Israel in the US; these are quite obvious: the American economy relies heavily on Middle Eastern oil. The only way for it to remain dominant in the world is to have easy and cheap access to this oil. This cheapness and availability can best be ensured by keeping a strong military presence in the region, which is a role Israel fills perfectly. But there is a paradox here: although, for all practical purposes, the state of Israel is the fifty-first state of the US, it cannot be used as a launch-pad for aggression against any Arab state, because such an attack will destroy the pretence of its independence. So the US and its allies will want to avoid this extreme step as long as they can control the region by means of proxy Arab potentates. At present the US control of the Middle East is such that it is unlikely that client-regimes in Kuwait, the Gulf States, Saudi-occupied Arabia, Egypt or Jordan will defy any order, however well it is disguised as a request.
We should also recognise that the US-Israeli relationship has been built gradually over decades with deliberate effort: it is not a fragile relationship, dependent upon the goodwill of any president, or even on Congress or the House of Representatives; it is a relationship with strong institutional roots that permeate the entire fabric of US officialdom. The tentacles of this relationship encompass such diverse areas as agriculture, aviation, education, energy, water, forestry, technology development, university exchange programmes, health, housing and social services.
The US was the first country to recognize Israel, only eleven minutes after it was proclaimed. Since then the two countries have developed a rock-solid friendship that does not depend on the parties in power either in Washington or Tel Aviv, or (more recently) in occupied Jerusalem. Thus there is nothing surprising in the recent US veto. What is surprising, however, is the general failure of the Muslim world to understand either the raisons d’etre of Israel or the consequences of their self-destructive acceptance of the occupation of Palestine (and in particular of Jerusalem).
What is needed, therefore, is a careful, consistent and information-based strategy to raise the Muslims’ consciousness of their predicament. This has to be rooted in Islamic ethics, and can be effective only if its aim is to foster a renewed commitment to Islam by a new generation of Muslims who do not see the struggle of their brethren in faith in Palestine and other regions in isolation. Rather their worldview must be formed by the Qur’anic concept of an ummah: a distinct polity consisting of believers, a polity about which the Prophet of Islam (saw) said that “it is like a single body: when one part is hurt, the whole-body aches.”
The effort to create this new awareness need not be limited to Muslims. There are millions of non-Muslims who have begun to see the situation of the Palestinians as a terrible human tragedy. Their cooperation can generate a global awareness of this crime being committed against a whole people. Thus it is important to strengthen efforts aimed at non-Muslim involvement in the cause of Palestine. By creating momentum for a global movement against state-sponsored assassinations and the illegal occupation of Palestine, Muslims can not only recover Jerusalem, but also break one of the strongest shackles that has enchained them and the deen since the “new world order” emerged after 1945. This liberation can then serve as a stepping-stone for the liberation of Makkah and Madinah. In this way the three cities can regain their rightful position in the ethical, spiritual, social, cultural, political and economic life of humanity in general, and of the Ummah of Islam in particular.