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IUK: Fisk - Last colonial war - River of victims runs through another war
By Robert Fisk

5/12/2001 12:41 am Wed

Robert Fisk: This terrible conflict is the last colonial war

'Arafat used to make the same expressions of grief when his gunmen murdered innocent Lebanese'

04 December 2001

Can Ariel Sharon control his own people? Can he control his army? Can he stop them from killing children, leaving booby traps in orchards or firing tank shells into refugee camps? Can Sharon stop his rabble of an army from destroying hundreds of Palestinian refugee homes in Gaza? Can Sharon "crack down" on Jewish settlers and prevent them from stealing more land from Palestinians? Can he stop his secret-service killers from murdering their Palestinian enemies - or carrying out " targeted killings", as the BBC was still gutlessly calling these executions yesterday in its effort to avoid Israeli criticism.

It is, of course, forbidden to ask these questions. So let's "legalise" them. The Palestinian suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Haifa are disgusting, evil, revolting, unforgivable. I saw the immediate aftermath of the Pizzeria suicide bombing in Jerusalem last August: Israeli women and children, ripped apart by explosives that had nails packed around them - designed to ensure that those who survived were scarred for life.

I remember Yasser Arafat's grovelling message of condolence, and I thought to myself - like any Israeli, I guess - that I didn't believe a word of it. In fact, I don't believe a word of it. Arafat used to make the same eloquent expressions of grief when his gunmen murdered innocent Lebanese during that country's civil war. Bullshit, I used to think. And I still do.

But there was a clue to the real problem only hours after the latest bloodbath in Israel. Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, was being questioned with characteristic obsequiousness on CNN about his reaction to the slaughter. Nothing, he said, could justify such "terrorism", and he went on to refer to the plight of the Palestinians, who suffer "50 per cent unemployment". I sat up at that point. Unemployment? Is that what Mr Powell thought this was about.

And my mind went back to his speech at Louisberg University on 20 November when he launched - or so we were supposed to believe - his Middle-East initiative. "Palestinians must..." was the theme: Palestinians must "end the violence"; Palestinians must "arrest, prosecute and punish the perpetrators of terrorist acts"; Palestinians "need to understand that, however legitimate their claims" - note the word "however" - "they cannot be... addressed by violence"; Palestinians "must realise that violence has had a terrible impact on Israel". Only when General Powell told his audience that Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza must end, did it become clear that Israel was occupying Palestine rather than the other way round.

The reality is that the Palestinian/Israeli conflict is the last colonial war. The French thought that they were fighting the last battle of this kind. They had long ago conquered Algeria. They set up their farms and settlements in the most beautiful land in North Africa. And when the Algerians demanded independence, they called them "terrorists" and they shot down their demonstrators and they tortured their guerrilla enemies and they murdered - in "targeted killings" - their antagonists.

In just the same way, we are responding to the latest massacre in Israel according to the rules of the State Department, CNN, the BBC and Downing Street. Arafat has got to come alive, to get real, to perform his duty as the West's policeman in the Middle East. President Mubarak does it in Egypt; King Abdullah does it in Jordan; King Fahd does it in Saudi Arabia. They control their people for us. It is their duty. They must fulfil their moral obligations, without any reference to history or to the pain and the suffering of their people.

So let me tell a little story. A few hours before I wrote this article - exactly four hours after the last suicide bomber had destroyed himself and his innocent victims in Haifa - I visited a grotty, fly-blown hospital in Quetta, the Pakistani border city where Afghan victims of American bombing raids are brought for treatment. Surrounded by an army of flies in bed No 12, Mahmat - most Afghans have no family names - told me his story. There were no CNN cameras, no BBC reporters in this hospital to film the patient. Nor will there be. Mahmat had been asleep in his home in the village of Kazikarez six days ago when an bomb from an American B-52 fell on his village. He was asleep in one room, his wife with the children. His son Nourali died, as did Jaber - aged 10 - Janaan, eight, Salamo, six, Twayir, four, and Palwasha - the only girl - two.

"The plane flies so high that we cannot hear them and the mud roof fell on them," Mahmat said. His wife Rukia - whom he permitted me to see - lay in the next room (bed No 13). She did not know that her children were dead. She was 25 and looked 45. A cloth dignified her forehead. Her children - like so many Afghan innocents in this frightful War for civilisation - were victims whom Mr Bush and Mr Blair will never acknowledge. And watching Mahmat plead for money - the American bomb had blasted away his clothes and he was naked beneath the hospital blanket - I could see something terrible: he and the angry cousin beside him and the uncle and the wife's brother in the hospital attacking America for the murders that they had inflicted on their family...

One day, I suspect, Mahmat's relatives may be angry enough to take their revenge on the United States, in which case they will be terrorists, men of violence. We may even ask if their leaders could control them. They are not bin Ladens, Mahmat's family said that - "We are neither Taliban nor Arab" - but, frankly, could we blame them if they decided to strike at the United States for the bloody and terrible crime done to their family. Can the United States stop bombing villages? Can Washington persuade its special forces to protect prisoners? Can the Americans control their own people?

The river of victims runs through another war

War on terrorism

By Robert Fisk in Chaman

04 December 2001

The river of Afghan men, women and children who pour through Chaman's border wire is a Cinemascope obscenity.

First, they need to state their reasons for entering Pakistan to a soldier sitting atop a concrete bunker. Then they have to produce documents at the border gate. Then they have to face the press.

The television cameras move like beetles through the mob of refugees, selecting a man who dares to speak, who saw a body hanging in the main square of Kandahar, a man who - in a second - becomes the centre of an ever-growing amoeba of wires and lenses and notebooks and video cassettes.

"It was the body of an American soldier,'' he says suddenly and the agency boys stop writing. Another man is cornered by television crews from Japan, France 2 and Catalan television. He doesn't speak Japanese or French or Catalan - indeed, the "Catalan" reporter turns out to be a Basque - but the Pakistani translator bellows questions about the body in the Kandahar square. "He was a young man,'' the Afghan replies warily. "He was tortured and killed before they hanged him up. He was a friend of Mullah Hakzar.''

The story becomes clearer. Mullah Hakzar was the Taliban Interior Minister in Kabul before he changed sides. His friend - the hanged man - was allegedly found with a GPS positioning device, enough to condemn him as an American spy.

His fate, of course, is important to us. It is further proof of the ruthlessness of the Taliban, our enemy in the War for Civilisation, of their cruelty and their despair. A truck driver who has lost two family members in American bombing attracts fewer cameras. Not a single photographer bothers with an old Afghan man I find resting in the broken metal chair of the chief immigration officer.

He is wearing an odd pair of shoes, the toes of the right shoe pointing to the sky. The reason is simple: only a wooden stump emerges from his right trouser leg. It somehow adheres to the shoe but upends it the moment the weight of his body is applied. The left shoe is flat on the ground. Above it stands a bright pink plastic leg with a wooden foot which fits the shoe, a hairless, feminine prosthesis.

I try to talk to this sweating, bearded, legless man but he will not respond. He is gritting his teeth with pain but he could talk if he wanted to. How did he lose his legs? His eyes move towards the dustbowl of Chaman with its packed, filthy, Dickensian streets and he stands up, swaying, and begins to stump off down the road between lines of barbed wire. The cameramen ignore him. They know he is the victim of another war, of landmines - there are 20 million in Afghanistan - laid by the Russians who are our new allies in the War for Civilisation. He knows that too. He will not talk to me and, after a few moments, I realise he is right not to talk.

The crowds still gather on the other side of the wire. The Pishin Scouts allow photographers to snap pictures. We stand there, focusing on the tractor-load of children, the elderly man lying on sacks on a truck, the Afghan girl - perhaps five years old - who is begging from a soldier. But we cannot absorb the sheer mass of people. They came like this when the Russians invaded in 1979 but somehow they have become too familiar - banalisť as my friends from France 2 would say - in history. Vietnam 1972, Palestine 1948, Poland and Germany 1945, France 1940. The poor, dispossessed and the terrified are background material.

An old couple arrive in wheelbarrows. The man hunched in one, the woman - head lolling out of the bucket - in the one behind, each pushed by two grinning, laughing youths who shout to the journalists and cruelly point to their charges. Had the couple been able to walk, we would have ignored them. But an elderly man and woman in wheelbarrows is too good a picture to miss.

Not so the white-haired man who stared at me with his left eye until I was forced to look at his right eye, a nightmare socket, a tissue of skin criss-crossed with tiny red scars. No photos of this Cyclops in rags.

From all over the countryside, there come stories of villages crushed by American bombs; an entire hamlet destroyed by B-52s at Kili Sarnad, 50 dead near Tora Bora, eight civilians killed in cars bombed by US jets on the road to Kandahar, another 46 in Lashkargah, 12 more in Bibi Mahru.

We are not supposed to know the details of these deaths. "Investigation?" the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, roared at a press conference last week, claiming he knew nothing of Amnesty International's call for an inquiry into the Mazar-i-Sharif prison massacre. "I can think of a dozen things people can inquire into in Afghanistan."

So can I. There's the hanged man in Kandahar. Then there's the sweating man with no legs. And the begging five-year-old. And the old couple in the wheelbarrows and the awful Cyclops with the pustulant right eye and the dead of Takhte-Pul and Kili Sarnad and Lashkargah and Bibi Mahru and the whole, swelling mass of humanity standing in the squalor of Chaman. Not to mention the slaughter at Mazar-i-Sharif. And the War for Civilisation.