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Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Bush's delusions die in Gaza

It was a heart-wrenching story. Hundreds of thousands of people, trapped for endless years in an open-air jail and recently subjected to an airtight siege, blew up their prison wall and poured out to freedom.

A 24-year-old man named Fares Al-Ghoul talked to the Chicago Tribune. "It was like a dream," Al-Ghoul said. "Suddenly in the morning we found out that we could travel. Everybody started to rush to the border, and I found my way inside. We walked a few kilometers but we were not tired. I was ready to continue walking forever. I wanted to explore everything. It was a taste of freedom."

Freedom. It's the ultimate American ideal. It's what George W. Bush says he launched his "war on terror" to defend. But because this is Gaza, and the people are Palestinians, their freedom isn't worth defending. Al-Ghoul is not going to walk forever, or even for more than a few days. He and the rest of his fellow prisoners are going to go back to their jail. And we're going to forget about them.

America can't deal with the Gaza breakout, because it shows that Gaza is a jail that we own the key to. The crisis undercuts our simplistic narrative about the Middle East. If the noble "war on terrorism" turns out to include keeping a million and a half people locked up indefinitely, it's better not to think about it. The inmates should just return to their cells, behave themselves, and wait for further instructions. If it takes 40 more years for them to get out, so be it.

"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" "Something there is that doesn't love a wall." Ronald Reagan's famous injunction to Mikhail Gorbachev and Robert Frost's line speak to something deep in the American conscience. But when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that conscience is asleep. Even the sight of hundreds of thousands of desperate people, one-fifth of Gaza's entire population, rushing out to buy oil and medicine and cement doesn't awaken it.

Of the mass breakout, the Associated Press wrote, "It ... reminded the world that 1.5 million Gazans, many already bitterly poor, cannot remain locked up indefinitely." It may have reminded the world of that, but it certainly didn't remind America. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice blamed Hamas for the crisis and issued a call to deal "creatively" with the situation, a response the respected moderate Lebanese commentator Rami Khouri called "an ethical weapon of mass destruction." "Why 'creatively'? Is this a kindergarten finger painting class?" Khouri wrote. "Why not deal with the Gaza situation on the basis of more compelling adult criteria, such as legality, legitimacy, and humanity?" The Washington Post ran an editorial that attacked Hamas for derailing the peace process, belittled Palestinian suffering (it referred to a "humanitarian crisis" in scare quotes), scolded Gazans for "blowing up international borders," and concluded by testily demanding that they stop making trouble and wait for the "peace process" to go forward (that is, go back to jail and wait for another few decades). The Congress and the presidential candidates, Democratic and Republican, ignored the Gaza crisis, or weighed in with predictably pro-Israel statements. More