Come On Down for Your Freedom Medals

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On 13 January,
George W. Bush presented "presidential freedom medals,"
said to be America’s highest recognition of devotion to freedom
and peace. Among the recipients were Tony Blair, the epic liar who,
with Bush, bears responsibility for the physical, social and cultural
destruction of an entire nation; John Howard, the former prime minister
of Australia and minor American vassal who led the most openly racist
government in his country’s modern era; and Alvaro Uribe, the president
of Colombia, whose government, according the latest study of that
murderous state, is "responsible for more than 90 per cent
of all cases of torture."

As satire was
made redundant when Henry Kissinger and Rupert Murdoch were honored
for their contributions to the betterment of humanity, Bush’s ceremony
was, at least, telling of a system of which he and his freshly-minted
successor are products. Although more spectacular in its choreographed
histrionics, Barack Obama’s inauguration carried the same Orwellian
message of inverted truth: of ruthlessness of criminal power, if
not unending war. The continuity between the two administrations
has been as seamless as the transfer of the odious Bono’s allegiance,
symbolized by President Obama’s oath-taking on the steps of Congress
— where, only days earlier, the House of Representatives, dominated
by the new president’s party, the Democrats, voted 390—5 to
back Israel’s massacres in Gaza. The supply of American weapons
used in the massacres was authorized previously by such a margin.
These included the Hellfire missile which sucks the air out of lungs,
ruptures livers and amputates arms and legs without the necessity
of shrapnel: a "major advance," according to the specialist
literature. As a senator, then president-elect, Obama raised no
objection to these state-of-the-art [sic] weapons being rushed to
Israel — worth $22 billion in 2008 — in time for the long-planned
assault on Gaza’s fenced and helpless population. This is understandable;
it is how the system works. On no other issue does Congress and
the president, Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals,
give such absolute support. By comparison, the German Reichstag
in the 1930s was a treasure of democratic and principled debate.

This is not
to say presidents and members of Congress fail to recognize the
Israel "lobbyists" in their midst as thugs and political
blackmailers, though they never say in public, and indeed disport
themselves at Zionist fund-raisers and on paid-for trips to the
object of their ardor. But they fear them. As eyes welled on 20
January for the first African-American president, who remembered
Cynthia McKinney, the courageous African-American Congresswoman,
the first to be elected from Georgia, who spoke out for the Palestinians
and was duly driven from office by a Zionist smear campaign? For
their part, the Israelis’ current, phony "unilateral ceasefire"
in Gaza is designed not to embarrass, not yet, its new man in the
White House, whose single acknowledgment of the "suffering"
of the Palestinians has been long eclipsed by his loyalty oaths
to Tel Aviv (even promising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which
not even Bush did) and his appointment of probably the most pro-Zionist
administration for a generation.

As deserving
as Blair, Howard and Uribe are of the Bush Freedom Medal, others
cry out for a place in their company. With the assault on Gaza a
defining moment of truth and lies, principle and cowardice, peace
and war, justice and injustice, I have two nominees. My first is
the government and society of Israel. (I checked; the Freedom Medal
can be awarded collectively). "Few of us," wrote Arthur
Miller, "can easily surrender our belief that society must
somehow make sense. The thought that the State has lost its mind
and is punishing so many innocent people is intolerable. And so
the evidence has to be internally denied."

The bleak irony
of this should be clear to all in Israel, yet its denial has emboldened
a militarist, racist cult that uses every epithet against the Palestinians
that was once directed at Jews, with the exception of extermination
— and even that is not entirely excluded, as the deputy defense
minister, Matan Vilinai, noted last year with his threat of a shoa

In 1948, the
year Israel’s right to exist was granted and Palestine’s annulled,
Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt and other leading Jews in the United
States warned the administration not to get involved with fascists
like Menachem Begin who described the Palestinians in the way the
Nazis used untermenschen — as "animals on two legs."
He became prime minister of Israel. This fascism, which was not
often flouted openly, was the harbinger of Likud and Kadima. These
are today "mainstream" political parties, whose influence,
in the treatment of the Palestinians, covers a national "consensus"
that is the source of the terror in Palestine: the brutal dispossessions
and perfidious controls, the humiliation and cruelty by statute.
The mirror of this is domestic violence at home. Conscripted soldiers
return from their "war" on Palestinian women and children
and make war on their own. Young whites drafted into South Africa’s
apartheid army did the same. Inhumanity on such a scale cannot be
buried indefinitely. When Desmond Tutu described his experience
in Palestine and Israel as "worse than apartheid," he
pointed out that not even in white supremacist South Africa were
there the equivalent of "Jews only" roads. Uri Avnery,
one of Israel’s bravest dissidents, says his country’s leaders suffer
from "moral insanity": a prerequisite, I should add, for
the award of a Bush Freedom Medal.

My other nominee
for a Bush Freedom Medal is that amorphous group known as western
journalism, which has always made much of its freedom and impartiality.
Listen to the way Israeli "spokespersons" and ambassadors
are interviewed. How respectfully their official lies are received;
how minimally they are challenged. They are one of us, you see:
calm and western-sounding, even blonde, female and attractive. The
frightened, jabbering voice on the line from Gaza is not one of
us. That is the subliminal message. Listen to newsreaders use only
the pejoratives for the Palestinians: words like "militants"
for resisters to invasion, many of them heroes, a word never used,
and "conflict" for massacre. Mark the timeless propaganda
that suggests there are two equal powers fighting a "war,"
not a stricken people, attacked and starved by the world’s fourth
largest military power which ensures they have no places of refuge.
And note the omissions — the BBC does not preface its reports with
the warning that a foreign power controls its reporters’ movements,
as it did in Serbia and Argentina, neither does it explain why it
shows but glimpses of the extraordinary coverage of al-Jazeera from
within Gaza.

There are the
ubiquitous myths, too: that Israel has suffered terribly from thousands
of missiles fired from Gaza. In truth, the first homemade Qassam
rocket was fired across the Israeli border in October 2001, and
the first fatality occurred in June 2004. Some 24 Israelis had been
killed in this way, compared with 5000 Palestinians killed, more
than half of them in Gaza, at least a third of them children. Now
imagine if the 1.5 million Gazans had been Jewish, or Kosovar refugees.
"The only honorable course for Europe and America is to use
military force to try to try to protect the people of Kosovo …,"
declared the Guardian on 23 March, 1999. Inexplicably, the
Guardian has yet to call for such "an honorable course"
to protect the people of Gaza.

is the rule of acceptable victims and unacceptable victims. When
reporters break this rule they are accused of "anti-Israel
bias" and worse, and their life is made a misery by a hyperactive
cyber-army that drafts complaints, provides generic material and
coaches people all over the world on how to smear as "anti-Jewish"
work they have not seen. These vociferous campaigns are complemented
by anonymous death threats, which I and others have experienced.
Their latest tactic is malicious hacking into websites. But that
is desperate, since the times are changing.

Across the
world, people once indifferent to the arcane "conflict"
in the Middle East, now ask the question the BBC and CNN rarely
ask: Why does Israel have a right to exist, but Palestine does not?
They ask, too, why do the lawless enjoy such immunity in the pristine
world of balance and objectivity? The perfectly-spoken Israeli "spokesman"
represents the most lawless regime on earth, exotic tyrannies included,
according to a tally of United Nations resolutions defied and Geneva
Conventions defiled. In France, 80 organizations are working to
bring war crimes indictments against Israel’s leaders. On 15 January,
the fine Israeli reporter, Gideon Levy, wrote in Ha’aretz
that Israeli generals "will not be the only ones to hide in
El Al planes lest they are arrested [overseas]."

One day, other
journalists and their editors and producers may be called upon to
not only explain why they did not tell the truth about these criminals
but even to stand in the dock with them. No Bush Freedom Medal is
worth that.

22, 2009

was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He has been
a war correspondent, filmmaker and playwright. Based in London,
he has written from many countries and has twice won British journalism’s
highest award, that of "Journalist of the Year," for his
work in Vietnam and Cambodia. His new book, Tell
Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and Its Triumphs
, is
published by Jonathan Cape in June.

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