March 2011, Week 4


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Fri, 25 Mar 2011 19:48:41 -0400
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In the Face of Genocide, 'Non-Intervention' Is a Dirty

by Uri Avnery

 ON THURSDAY EVENING I could not think of anything
except Libya.

First I heard the blood-curdling speech by Muammar
Qaddafi, in which he promised to occupy Benghazi within
hours and drown the rebels in a bloodbath.

I was extremely worried and extremely furious with the
international community and especially with the US,
which had wasted days and weeks of precious time with
empty phrase-mongering, while the dictator reconquered
Libya bit by bit.

Then there was the almost incredible sight of the UN
Security Council convening within the hour, dispensing
with speeches and unanimously adopting the resolution
calling for military intervention.

The scene that ensued in Benghazi's central square and
broadcast lifve on Aljazeera reminded me of Mugrabi
Square in Tel Aviv on November 29, 1947, just after the
United Nations General Assembly had adopted the
resolution on the partition of Palestine between a
Jewish and an Arab state. The feelings of Joy and
relief were palpable.

THE HESITATION of the United States and other countries
to intervene militarily in Libya was scandalous. More
than that - it was monstrous.

My heart is with the Libyan people. (Indeed, in Hebrew
"libi" means "my heart".)

For me, "non-intervention" is a dirty word. It reminds
me of the Spanish civil war, which took place when I
was very young.

In 1936, the Spanish republic and the Spanish people
were viciously attacked by a Spanish general, Francisco
Franco, with troops imported from Morocco. It was a
very bloody war, with untold atrocities.

Franco was decisively aided by Nazi Germany and Fascist
Italy. German Air Force planes terrorized Spanish
cities. The bombardment of the town of Guernica was
immortalized in a painting by Pablo Picasso. (The story
goes that when the Nazis occupied Paris a few years
later, they were outraged by the painting and shouted
at Picasso: "Did you do that?" "No," he answered
quietly: "You did!")

The Western democracies adamantly refused to help the
republic and coined the term "non-intervention". Non-
intervention meant in practice that Great Britain and
France did not intervene, while Germany and Italy did,
and did their worst. The only foreign power to help the
beleaguered democrats was the Soviet Union. As we
learned much later, Stalin's agents exploited the
situation in order to eliminate their fellow fighters -
socialists, syndicalists, liberals and others.

At the time, it looked liked a clear fight between good
and absolute evil. Idealists from all over the world
joined the International Brigades of the republic. If I
had been only a few years older, I would without doubt
have volunteered, too. In 1948, we sang with gusto the
songs of the International Brigades in our own war.

FOR SOMEONE who was alive at the time of the Holocaust,
especially for a Jew, there can be no doubt at all.

When it was over, and the awful extent of the genocide
emerged, there was an outcry that has not yet died

"Where was the world? Why did the allies not bomb the
railway lines leading to Auschwitz? Why did they not
destroy the gas chambers and crematoriums in the death
camps from the air?"

These questions have not been satisfactorily answered
to this very day. We know that Anthony Eden, the
British foreign minister, asked President Franklin D.
Roosevelt: "What shall we do with the Jews [who manage
to escape]?" We also know that the allies were mortally
afraid to be seen as conducting the war "for the Jews",
as Nazi propaganda proclaimed from morning to evening.
Indeed, the Germans dropped leaflets over American
positions in Italy with the picture of an ugly,
crooked-nose Jew dilly-dallying with a blond American
woman, with the caption: "While you are risking your
life, the Jew is seducing your wife at home!"

Using military force to prevent the Nazis from killing
the German Jews - as well as the Roma - would
definitely have constituted interference in the
internal affairs of Germany. A very strong case could
have been made that it was not the business of other
countries, certainly not of their armed forces.

Should it have been done? Yes or no? And if the answer
is yes, why does it apply to Adolf Hitler and not to
this little Fuehrer in Tripoli?

THIS, OF course, leads us straight to Kosovo.

There the same question arose. Slobodan Milosevic was
committing an act of genocide - driving out a whole
people, committing barbarities along the way. Kosovo
was a part of Serbia, and Milosevic claimed that it was
an internal Serbian affair.

When there was a worldwide outcry, President Bill
Clinton decided to bomb installations in Serbia in
order to induce Milosevic to desist. Nominally, it was
a NATO action. It achieved its goal, the Kosovars
returned to their homeland, and today we have the
independent republic of Kosovoa.

At the time, I applauded publicly, to the dismay of
many of my leftist friends at home and all over the
world. They insisted that the bombing campaign was a
crime, particularly since it was conducted by NATO,
which for them is an instrument of the devil.

My answer was that in order to prevent genocide, I am
ready to make a pact even with the devil.

This goes for today, too. I don't care who puts an end
to Qaddafi's murderous war against his own people, and
especially to the bombing raids of his air force. The
UN, NATO or the US alone - whoever does it, may they be

A few days ago, on a day when Qaddafi's pilots were
killing Libyans as usual, I read an article by an
American journalist I like and appreciate very much.
She ferociously attacked the idea of the US enforcing a
no-fly zone over Libya, especially since the abominable
Paul Wolfowicz was advocating it.

It seems that this has become a domestic American
affair. While the extreme right (called for some reason
"conservative") - tea partiers, neo-cons and such -
advocate the non-flying zone, politically correct
"liberals" (another of these curious terms) oppose it.

People are being killed by a ruthless, half-mad
dictator, a whole country is going down the drain -
what the hell has that got to do with domestic American
politics? And why have my friends been maneuvered into
the wrong corner?

BARACK OBAMA was again at his best, saying all the
right things and doing the wrong - or doing nothing at

He told Qaddafi to go, and then looked on passively as
the tyrant, instead of going anywhere, terrorized his
people. His Secretary of Defense told everybody what an
incredibly difficult operation enforcing a no-fly zone
would be, his generals warned against taking on another
war they are unable to fight. The almighty United
States of America looked like a has-been power, unable
to mount even the smallest military operation against
the negligible air force of a tin-pot dictator. Any
Israeli air force commander would have finished the job
by lunchtime.

We are not the policeman of the world, American
politicians argued. But that is exactly what a
superpower is - power brings responsibility.

The pitiful sight of the Obama administration
throughout this crisis shows that the US is no longer a
superpower, just a big power anxious to keep its oil
supplies safe with the help of assorted kings and
emirs. Coming after its abject capitulation to the
Israeli right-wing lobby and its veto of the Security
Council resolution against the enlarging of the
settlements, the conclusion is sad indeed.

Cynics will say that the Americans really desire to
keep Qaddafi, so that he can go on delivering the oil,
much as they support the autocrats of Saudi Arabia and
Bahrain who are crushing their peoples and continue to
deal with the oil as if it were their private property.

"Non-intervention" turned the Spanish people over to
the tender mercies of Franco, and protected Hitler at
the most sensitive stages of his preparation for war.
Direct intervention, on the other hand, sent Milosevic
to the war criminals' prison.

I WANT to make my position on this perfectly clear.

The doctrine of non-intervention into the internal
affairs of other countries when matters of genocide and
mass killings are concerned is dead and should be
buried, before the corpse starts to stink to high

At this point in history, it is the duty of all nations
to prevent systematic atrocities committed by a
criminal government against its own citizens. This duty
falls on international institutions like the UN, but
when these fail, as they so often do, the duty falls on
individual nations or groups of nations. To its credit,
the Arab League, comprising 22 Arab nations, did come
out unequivocally for military intervention against
Qaddafi - though not against other Arab tyrants, some
of whom voted for the resolution.

Centuries ago, it was accepted that every nation is
responsible for the capture and trial of pirates,
irrespective of where and against whom their crimes
were committed. This principle should be applied now to
crimes committed by regimes against their citizens.
Muammar Qaddafi should be caught and put on trial.

Humanity is moving towards a civilized world order.
Non-intervention is the very opposite.]

Thursday's hurried Security Council resolution was a
historic step in this direction. In my imagination I
saw French planes rolling off the airstrips minutes
after the votes were counted. That has not happened.
But Libya is saved and Qaddafi's fate is sealed.

In international parlance, non-intervention has indeed
become a dirty word.


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