Bringing Down the New Berlin Walls

The recent breakout of the people of Gaza provided a heroic spectacle unlike any other since the Warsaw ghetto uprising and the smashing down of the Berlin Wall. Whereas on the occupied West Bank, Ariel Sharon’s master plan of walling in the population and stealing their land and resources has all but succeeded, requiring only a Palestinian Vichy to sign it off, the people of Gaza have defied their tormentors, however briefly, and it is a guarantee they will do so again. There is profound symbolism in their achievement, touching lives and hopes all over the world.

“[Sharon’s] fate for us,” wrote Karma Nabulsi, a Palestinian, “was a Hobbesian vision of an anarchic society: truncated, violent, powerless, destroyed, cowed, ruled by disparate militias, gangs, religious ideologues and extremists, broken up into ethnic and religious tribalism, and co-opted [by] collaborationists. Look to the Iraq of today — that is what he had in store for us and he nearly achieved it.”

Israel’s and America’s experiments in mass suffering nearly achieved it. There was First Rains, the code name for a terror of sonic booms that came every night and sent Gazan children mad. There was Summer Rains, which showered bombs and missiles on civilians, then extrajudicial executions, and finally a land invasion. Ehud Barak, the current Israeli defence minister, has tried every kind of blockade: the denial of electricity for water and sewage pumps, incubators and dialysis machines and the denial of fuel and food to a population of mostly malnourished children. This has been accompanied by the droning, insincere, incessant voices of western broadcasters and politicians, one merging with the other, platitude upon platitude, tribunes of the “international community” whose response is not to help, but to excuse an indisputably illegal occupation as “disputed” and damn a democratically elected Palestinian Authority as “Hamas militants” who “refuse to recognise Israel’s right to exist” when it is Israel that demonstrably refuses to recognise the Palestinians’ right to exist.

“What is being hidden from the [Israeli] public,” wrote Uri Avnery, a founder of Gush Shalom, the Israeli peace movement, on 26 January, “is that the launching of the Qassams [rockets from Gaza] could be stopped tomorrow. Several months ago, Hamas proposed a ceasefire. It repeated the offer this week . . . Why doesn’t our government jump at this proposal? Simple: to make such a deal, we must speak to Hamas . . . It is more important to boycott Hamas than to put an end to the suffering of Sderot. All the media co-operate with this pretence.” Hamas long ago offered Israel a ten-year ceasefire and has since recognized the “reality” of the Jewish state. This is almost never reported in the west.

The inspiration of the Palestinian breakout from Gaza was dramatically demonstrated by the star Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Aboutreika. Helping his national side to a 3-0 victory over Sudan in the African Nations Cup, he raised his shirt to reveal a T-shirt with the words “Sympathise with Gaza” in English and Arabic. The crowd stood and cheered, and hundreds of thousands of people around the world expressed their support for him and for Gaza. An Egyptian journalist who joined a delegation of sports writers to Fifa to protest against Aboutreika’s yellow card said: “It is actions like his that bring many walls down, walls of silence, walls in our minds.”

In the murdochracies, where most of the world is viewed as useful or expendable, we have little sense of this. The news selection is unremittingly distracting and disabling. The cynicism of an identical group of opportunists laying claim to the White House is given respectability as each of them competes to support the Bush regime’s despotic war-making. John McCain, almost certainly the Republican nominee for president, wants a “hundred-year war”. That the leading Democratic candidates are a woman and a black man is of supreme irrelevance; the fanatical Condoleezza Rice is both female and black. Look into the murky world behind Hillary Clinton and you find the likes of Monsanto, a company that produced Agent Orange, the war chemical that continues to destroy Vietnam. One of Barack Obama’s chief whisperers is Zbigniew Brzezinski, architect of Operation Cyclone in Afghanistan, which spawned jihadism, al-Qaeda and 9/11.

This malign circus has been silent on Palestine and Gaza and almost anything that matters, including the following announcement, perhaps the most important of the century: “The first use of nuclear weapons must remain in the quiver of escalation as the ultimate instrument to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction.” Inviting incredulity, these words may require more than one reading. They come from a statement written by five of the west’s top military leaders, an American, a Briton, a German, a Frenchman and a Dutchman, who help run the club known as Nato. They are saying the west should nuke countries that have weapons of mass destruction – with the exclusion, that is, of the west’s nuclear arsenal. Nuking will be necessary because “the west’s values and way of life are under threat”.

Where is this threat coming from? “Over there,” say the generals.

Where? In “the brutal world.”

On 21 January, on the eve of the NATO announcement, Gordon Brown also out-Orwelled Orwell. He said that “the race for more and bigger stockpiles of nuclear destruction [sic]” is over. The reason he gave was that “the international community” (basically, the west) was facing “serious challenges”. One of these challenges is Iran, which has no nuclear weapons and no programme to build them, according to America’s National Intelligence Estimates. This is in striking contrast to Brown’s Britain, which, in defiance of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has commissioned an entirely new Trident nuclear arsenal at a cost believed to be as much as £25bn. What Brown was doing was threatening Iran on behalf of the Bush regime, which wants to attack Iran before the end of the presidential year.

Jonathan Schell, author of the seminal Fate of the Earth, provides compelling evidence in his recently published The Seventh Decade: The New Shape of Nuclear Danger that nuclear war has now moved to the centre of western foreign policy even though the enemy is invented. In response, Russia has begun to restore its vast nuclear arsenal. Robert McNamara, the US defense secretary during the Cuban crisis, describes this as “Apocalypse Soon.” Thus, the wall dismantled by young Germans in 1989 and sold to tourists is being built in the minds of a new generation.

For the Bush and Blair regimes, the invasion of Iraq and the campaigns against Hamas, Iran and Syria are vital in fabricating this new “nuclear threat”. The effect of the Iraq invasion, says a study cited by Noam Chomsky, is a “sevenfold increase in the yearly rate of fatal jihadist attacks”.

Behold NATO’s instant “brutal world”.

Of course, the highest and oldest wall is that which separates “us” from “them”. This is described today as a great divide of religions or “a clash of civilisations”, which are false concepts, propagated in Western scholarship and journalism to provide what Edward Said called “the other” — an identifiable target for fear and hatred that justifies invasion and economic plunder. In fact, the foundations for this wall were laid more than 500 years ago when the privileges of “discovery and conquest” were granted to Christopher Columbus in a world that the then all-powerful pope considered his property, to be disposed of according to his will.

Nothing has changed. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation and now Nato are invested with the same privileges of conquest on behalf of the new papacy in Washington. The goal is what Bill Clinton called the “integration of countries into the global free-market community”, the terms of which, noted the New York Times, “require the United States to get involved in the plumbing and wiring of other nations’ internal affairs more deeply than ever before”.

This modern system of dominance requires sophisticated propaganda that presents its aims as benign, even “promoting democracy in Iraq”, according to BBC executives responsible for responding to sceptical members of the public. That “we” in the west have the unfettered right to exploit the economies and resources of the poor world while maintaining tariff walls and state subsidies is taught as serious scholarship in the economics departments of leading universities. This is neoliberalism — socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor. “Rather than acknowledging,” wrote Chalmers Johnson, “that free trade, privatization and the rest of their policies are ahistorical, self-serving economic nonsense, apologists for neoliberalism have also revived an old 19th-century and neo-Nazi explanation for developmental failure – namely, culture.”

What is rarely discussed is that liberalism as an open-ended, violent ideology is destroying liberalism as a reality. Hatred of Muslims is widely advertised by those claiming the respectability of what they call “the left.” At the same time, opponents of the new papacy are routinely smeared, as seen in the recent fake charges of narcoterrorism against Hugo Chávez. Having insinuated their way into public debate, the smears deflect authentic critiques of Chávez’s Venezuela and prepare the ground for an assault on it.

This is the role that journalism has played in the invasion of Iraq and the great injustice in Palestine. It also represents a wall, on which Aldous Huxley, describing his totalitarian utopia in Brave New World, might have written: “Opposition is apostasy. Fatalism is ideal. Silence is preferred.” If the people of Gaza can disobey all three, why can’t we?

John Pilger is an internationally renowned investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker. His latest film is The War on Democracy. His most recent book is Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire (Bantam/Random House, 2006). Read other articles by John, or visit John's website.

3 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Wingnut said on February 17th, 2008 at 8:42am #

    Well said and well thought, John. Sad, but, very accurate. I am an allegiance-unpledged American, and I was VERY disappointed to see the democratically-elected Hamas party… get shoved out-of office by American-led pressures and embargos. So much for promoting democracy, eh?

    With a giant felony pyramid scheme of servitude going, like capitalism, the upper 1/3 of the rat-racing pyramid is “head in the clouds”. And just like the childhood farmyard pyramids, the people on the bottom are GETTING HURT AND KILLED from the weight of the world’s knees in their backs. This is called an “imperialism” as you likely know… and it is due to those upper pyramid-o-servitude “heads in the clouds”… that the rulers/controllers cannot see the pile of dead bodies near the exhaust pipe of their gruesome harvesting machine. Commun’ism and socialism works GREAT in the U.S. military supply system (survival system) and it works great for the USA Public Library System. Ii think we all had better bust the giant pyramid scheme and get back to church playground-grade equality and enforcement thereof. No more working FOR others, only WITH others. And to take it all the way, and since we all see the AmWay (American Way) pyramid scheme symbol on the back of the USA one dollar bill, why not just eliminate economies worldwide? Economies just cause pyramiding, and they are a cancerous growth. Why cheer for cancer growth? WE should eliminate economies, (pricetags, bills, timecards, money, ownership, ranking), minimize the production of luxuries, put all supplies (and luxuries) in moneyless and ownerless repositories ruled by ‘custodians’, and live better (more fair) lives. Do it JUST LIKE the military supply system, where all of mankind and Earthkind are on the same team… and we’re on our way to a pyramid scheme-less, tug-o-war-less, better way of life. Too many USA parents’ traditions, as well as force from free-marketeer pricetags blocking survival goods, are forcing the 18 yr old kids to join the church-o-competing (capitalism) and thus forsaking the church-o-cooperating (Christianity/socialism). I personally prefer communism/community over capitalizing/capitalism. I’m a Christian socialist, and proud of it.

    Nice article, JP! Keep up the excellent work!

    Larry “Wingnut” Wendlandt
    MaStars – Mothers Against Stuff That Ain’t Right
    (anti-capitalism-ists)
    Bessemer MI USA

  2. hp said on February 20th, 2008 at 11:17am #

    Shocking! The Zionist/Jews playing both sides just as they did with the Nazis.
    The so-called innocent unknowing Israeli ‘citizens’ are innocent and unknowing because they choose to be.

  3. Mulga Mumblebrain said on February 22nd, 2008 at 6:03pm #

    Pilger reminds me of another great Australian journalist, Wilfred Burchett, reviled in his time by Rightwing liars and homunculi as Pilger is today. You need only mention Pilger’s name, and the vast, scuttling army of neo-liberal, neo-conservative, Market Absolutist and downright nasty arthropods of agit-prop emerge from beneath their rocks to spew venom in his direction. Still, as the same vast horde of invertebrate liars showed in their grotesque regurgitations of bile this week, aimed at another hate-figure for the Murdoch Mediocritters, Fidel Castro, Pilger is in good company. You can tell a man by the character of his enemies, as surely as by the character of his friends.
    The long-term strategy of the global ruling class is, I feel, becoming more plain by the day. It is to eliminate most of the global ‘surplus’ population. By definition those on low incomes are surplus to requirement in a global economy where one’s human value is commensurate with one’s capacity for consumption. The West tolerated large populations of ‘niggers’, ‘savages’ and ‘wogs’ when their labour could be profitably exploited, during colonialism, and later in the era of neo-colonial exploitation under the ‘Washington Consensus’. However, now the global parasite class has twigged to the impossibility of the despised masses ever rising very far up the consumption ladder, as that would bring ecological Armaggedon. To keep billions living in abject squalour, while the elite accumulate trillions, will be practically well nigh impossible. Look at the trouble and expense merely to rob Iraq of its oil and to make an example of the Lebanese and Palestinians for refusing to accept their God-ordained role as ‘ drugged cockroaches in a bottle’. Just as the walls around the Gazans were re-erected by the forces of ‘Western Civilization’ aided by the loathsome Quisling Egyptian dictatorship, so too are walls being erected around the Third World. Behind those walls, the ‘useless eaters’ will be expected to live out lives of suffering and despair. The local comprador class will be expected to keep the rabble in line, in the time-honoured manner of Pinochet, Marcos, Mobutu, Vorster , Sharon et al. Their reward will be the ability to visit the oases of the rich world, even to retire there. Third World elites, the technological and scientific elites the West doesn’t much bother themselves to educate any more, will be harvested from their impoverished homelands, to the benefit of the rich and the detriment of the poor.
    No doubt this will be an unstable world, and the expense of expeditionary adventures like Iraq will prove daunting, hence the promise of ‘pre-emptive’ nuclear war, for purposes of mass culling and to inspire fear in others. Moreover I’m afraid I don’t think the billions spent in the last few years on bacteriological warfare by the US, or the frantic search for ‘ethnically specific’ weapons has all been merely an exercise in disinterested scientific inquiry. I fully expect new diseases, prodigies of genetic manipulation, or derivations of zoonoses discovered by Pentagon financed expeditions to the global ‘hot zones’, to begin working their Malthusian magic in the vast global slums, to the barely disguised satisfaction of the global rulers.
    I believe the mentality of our overlords, and never forget this elite is self-selecting, vigorously rejecting those whose character formations and inclinations are ‘not up to the task’, is quite simple, really. Above all else there exists a tremendous antipathy to others. Whether expressed in racism, class hatred, misogyny or religious intolerance, it provides the parasitic elite with the psychological self-justification to enable their ruthless exploitation of others and the viciousness of the response when the untermenschen resist. Even amongst the elite itself, mutual detestation is rampant. It is evidenced in business competition, the ‘win at all costs’ and ‘winner takes all’ mentality, the identification of business rivals as enemies. There really must be a simple psychological mechanism that explains our species destructiveness and murderousness, and unspeakable tragedies like the fate of the Gazans, suffering the bestial, racially motivated barbarity of a people who should know, better than almost anyone, how vicious their behaviour is.
    It’s not necessary for all people to be driven by intense hatred of other people. Sufficient enough that a system, Market Capitalism, that promotes and empowers the psychopaths, should dominate the world. The mundane, everyday behaviour of business bosses, their greed, ruthlessness and mendacity, let alone the behaviour of their propaganda flunkies in the media, is beneath the dignity of most people. Fortunately for capitalism, not only is there an hereditary ruling class ruthlessly indoctrinated in the prerogatives and visceral antipathies of the ubermenschen’s ideology of perpetual dominance, but recruitment of the appropriately vicious members of the other ranks continues endlessly. With the apparent indifference of the parasite class to catastrophic climate change almost certainly camouflaging a desire to use ecosystem collapse to exterminate vast numbers of poor people (the hidden rationale behind grain for ethanol programs, in my mind) the dreadful apotheosis of Market Capitalism and its fanatical ideology of self-interest and indifference to the suffering of others is upon us.