Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
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When the army of Nicaragua attempts to drive U.S. proxy forces from the national territory, sometimes crossing over an unmarked border into the areas of Honduras that have long been ceded to the contras under American dictates, the chorus of abuse over this violation of the sanctity of borders is dramatic in its intensity. We may ask the usual question: is this common refrain based upon a firm commitment to law and the sanctity of borders, or on the doctrine that no country has the right to defend itself from a U.S. assault? The latter is clearly the operative principle. That this is so is demonstrated by the reaction to Nicaragua's efforts since 1981 to pursue the peaceful means required by law to reconcile differences, settle conflicts, and arrange for international supervision of the borders. Other tests yield the same conclusion.
After one such border incident in March 1988, the editors of the Toronto Globe and Mail observed that when Nicaraguan forces cross "the border in hot pursuit of the contras," "the United States responds only selectively to this supposed outrage, the deciding factor apparently being whether a contra vote is imminent," as in this case, when "Mr. Reagan was revving up to ask Congress for renewed aid to the rebels." They add that the peace agreement signed by Honduras "forbids Honduras or any other country to give aid to foreign insurgents such as the contras," and it is far from clear that Nicaragua is in violation of international law in "crossing the border in hot pursuit of contras," apparently penetrating a few kilometers into southern Honduras where the contras had established their bases after expelling thousands of Honduran peasants. It is U.S. policy, not Nicaraguan defense of its territory, that "exhausts outrage," or would, the editors continue, "if it were not for the extraordinary suffering U.S. policy causes in the region."2 An insight foreign to the Free Press south of the Canadian border, which also cannot permit itself to perceive that what is clearly in violation of international law is the U.S. support for the contra forces attacking Nicaragua from foreign bases. The reigning dogma holds that the United States stands above the law, free to use violence as it pleases, and that this is just and right. Correspondingly, the media avoid repeated Nicaraguan offers to have the border monitored by international authorities, always dismissed by the U.S. for the obvious reasons; and little notice can be given to the World Court's demand that the U.S. cease its aggression and observe its treaty obligations, or its endorsement of Nicaragua's call for reparations from the world's most pious advocate of the rule of law.
The response to the Nicaraguan incursions has been considerably more selective than the Globe and Mail indicates, as revealed by Israeli operations in southern Lebanon at exactly the same time (see pp. 00f.). The reaction to these events can be gauged by a review of New York Times reports.
On March 12, Israeli planes bombed Palestinian refugee camps near Sidon, unreported. On March 18, a sentence in an article on another topic noted that "Israeli warplanes struck targets in Lebanon southeast of Beirut,...apparently in reprisal for a small-scale rocket attack on northern Israel." A few days later, Israeli troops joined South Lebanon Army mercenaries in attacks north of the "security zone," also unreported. On March 24, the Times carried a brief notice of another attack, reporting that fifteen people were killed or wounded according to Lebanese police. Others were "feared buried under the rubble," some killed when "the planes returned and dropped more bombs...while relief workers were digging through the debris" of the first wave of attacks, a standard device to augment casualties. The March 24 report also gave the first passing mention to the March 12 bombing. An Israeli attack the following day near Sidon with five casualties merited twelve lines. On March 31, a brief notice reported five killed and several houses set ablaze in an Israeli attack on another village north of the security zone under cover of a heavy artillery barrage, as Lebanese Muslims were observing a general strike in support of Arabs commemorating Land Day in Israel.3
Wire services added a few details to this casual record, reporting that victims of the March 23 attack included four children aged seven to ten who were hospitalized with "critical wounds," and that most casualties were attributed to the third round of bombing, during relief operations. They described the "smoke and dust" that "engulfed" four villages after the raids the following day and reported nine killed, bringing the total killed for the year in Israeli air strikes to forty-seven. In the March 30 attack, at least seven more were killed, including two Egyptians and three Lebanese civilians. "Dozens of mortar shells and rockets crashed in and around the market town of Nabatiyeh" and four nearby villages, badly damaging at least fifteen houses, while "Israeli helicopters strafed the rugged territory with machine guns during the withdrawal."4
Nothing remotely comparable happened in Honduras. Israeli forces were not engaged in hot pursuit, but were moving beyond the "security zone" that Israel has virtually annexed in southern Lebanon, controlled by Israeli forces and a terrorist mercenary army. The right of annexation, and of destruction and killing beyond its borders as well, is granted to Israel by virtue of its status as a leading U.S. client state. The significance of the alleged concern over the sanctity of borders is dramatically revealed.
Subsequent developments merely confirmed the point, as have the Israeli bombings in Lebanon since the early 1970s. In October 1988 Israeli bombing attacks killed fifteen and wounded thirty-five, police reported. According to police, most of the twenty wounded in the Bekaa valley town of Mashgara were civilians in a clinic, including Lebanese physicians and nurses. "Wailing women beat their chests while workers pulled victims from the rubble of Hezbollah's clinic." "The raids were apparently to avenge seven Israeli soldiers killed in a suicide car bombing earlier this week" by a Lebanese Shi'ite -- a bombing inside Lebanon, where soldiers of the occupying army were providing support for the mercenary force employed to control the so-called security zone. The State Department spokesman "called for an end to violence between Israel and Lebanon," a balanced and judicious assessment.5
A few days later, with no pretext, Israeli planes bombed the Mieh Mieh refugee camp near Sidon, wounding forty-one people, according to police; "a family of six and three other persons were missing and feared dead under the rubble." The raid hit a "battered Palestinian shantytown." In the attack on Mieh Mieh and two villages, seventeen were reported killed. Meshgara was again hit by "heavy barrages of shellfire, from artillery batteries stationed inside Israel." The same villages and others were attacked a few days later, killing four and wounding twenty-two. Palestinian refugee camps and other targets were attacked by Israeli helicopter gunships shortly after, including the shop of a boat dealer who was "thought to have rented two motorboats to Palestinian guerrillas and suspected of selling spare parts to the guerrillas." Israeli bombing of the Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp later in November, unreported to my knowledge, killed six Palestinians, including a woman and her four-year-old daughter who were buried in the rubble. "Police said smoke billowed from the teeming camp as ambulances raced from Sidon to evacuate casualties" from this bombing "as the country marked the 45th anniversary of its independence from France." Other raids near Sidon killed five and wounded fifteen, including nine civilians. The last of these, on November 25, was the twenty-third Israeli air strike on Lebanon through November, bringing the toll for 1988 to 119 killed and 333 wounded.6
The final police count for the year was 128 killed and 356 wounded in Israeli air attacks on Lebanon in 1988, continuing right through the period when Arafat's every gesture and phrase was being scrutinized to determine whether he really meant to renounce terrorism.7
During the same period, Israel stepped up its terrorist activities within the "security zone" as well. Wire services reported that at least 76 people were deported from the region by Israel's terrorist mercenaries in January 1989, and that an "uproar" was caused in Israel when a Norwegian officer of the UN forces patrolling the region compared the Israeli practice of expulsion to the methods used by the Nazis in trying to expel Jews from Norway under occupation; no uproar was caused by the expulsions, either in Israel or in the country that funds the operations. Julie Flint reported in the Guardian (London) on the expulsion of dozens of old men, women, and children from the town of Shebaa, because of "their refusal to support the Israeli-controlled South Lebanon Army" (SLA), the victims said. Norwegian troops tried to prevent the expulsion by blocking the main street with a jeep, but it was "crushed" by an SLA armoured car. Israeli troops "stormed the town before dawn, seized 48 people from their beds, drove them out of the region and blockaded the town," informing villagers that "the siege will be lifted only when they agree to form a `co-ordination bureau' and join the SLA." Israeli troops surrounded the town, "depriving its inhabitants of food for refusing to cooperate with the Israeli-sponsored local administration, a UN source said." Ten percent of Shebaa's 15,000 people have been "forced into exile" by such practices. Young men are informed that they "have to be soldiers with the SLA or we will cut off your town." Deportees report that the headmaster of a school was "bruised and beaten" while detained by the Israeli army for refusing to collaborate. Another victim reported electric torture on the fingers and testicles. A woman expelled with her eight children reports that "Israeli troops stormed the house at five in the morning. They took the children out in their night clothes, though it was bitterly cold. They put us in a jeep, covered us with a tarpaulin and drove off. Later, we were all put into a truck. My husband's father and mother were there. He is 90 years old." UN spokesman Timur Goksel reports that "Most of those expelled were women and children" and the Norwegian UNIFIL commander condemned the explusions as "inhuman acts." Israel reacted to the protests only by continuing the expulsions. The director of political affairs at the Lebanese foreign ministry said that the Lebanese "fear that Israeli policy in the occupied south may aim at gradually emptying that area of all those who oppose Israeli hegemony over that zone, and that it may turn into a sort of creeping Israeli colonization."8
These events, sometimes reported, elicited no response apart from occasional expressions of regret over the "violence between Israel and Lebanon." The reaction to PLO bombs in Israel, or Nicaraguan efforts to drive U.S. proxy forces from their territory, is slightly different.
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1 Addendum to p. 52.
2 Editorial, Globe and Mail, March 18, 1988.
3 AP, March 17; Alan Cowell, Jerusalem, NYT, March 18; UPI, Boston Globe, March 20; NYT, March 24; NYT, March 25; AP, March 24; NYT, March 31, 1988.
4 UPI, BG, March 24; AP, March 24; UPI, BG, March 31, 1988.
5 AP, BG, Oct. 22, 1988 (my emphasis); NYT, same day.
6 AP, BG, Oct. 27; NYT, Oct. 27, Nov. 2, Nov. 7; AP, Nov. 22, 25, 1988.
7 AP, NYT, Jan. 12, 1989, a brief note reporting new raids "aimed at pre-empting attacks on Israel," the army said.
8 AP, Feb. 1, 5; Julie Flint, Guardian (London), Jan. 26, Feb. 9; Jim Muir, Christian Science Monitor, Feb. 9, 1989.