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The 911 Forum – Commentary No.8

“Like a shot heard around the world, like the only piece of news
It choked any other thing that might have spoken true”
‘Josephine’, Paul Kamm and Eleanore MacDonald (Ruby Eyes Publishing)

The mantra is “September 11 changed everything”. But this was, and remains, a lie – unless of course your father or sister or lover died that day in the fires of lower Manhattan, in the Pentagon, or in a Pennsylvanian field. It was a lie, crafted by the speech-makers and deployed with gusto by our politicians and ‘opinion-formers’ in order to create a state of exception – a framework for new colonial expeditions and occupations, and a justification for torture and extraordinary renditions.

In this regard, really nothing changed; just a new chapter in a sorry history of exploitation for profit, and horrendous abuses hushed and excused. September 11 is not just “9/11”; it is also the anniversary of the day in 1973 when the democratic government in Chile was violently toppled in a CIA-sponsored coup, ushering in years of fear and disappearances.

9/11 did not change much in Palestine. When the attacks on the US took place, the Second Intifada was a year old and around 600 Palestinians had already been killed. Just in the first few days of the uprising, the Israeli army fired over a million bullets. Before any suicide bomb attacks in Israel, Palestinians had already faced Israel’s bullets, helicopters, tanks, and missiles.

This grim reality only continued after 9/11. By May 2008, over 5000 Palestinians had been killed since September 2000 – factoring in the population size, the US equivalent would be the violent deaths of 385,000 people (more than 120 ‘9/11’s). In January 2009, Israel devastated the Gaza Strip; whole neighborhoods – in the words of the Red Cross – resembled the “epicentre of a massive earthquake”.

The contrast between the optimism of the Oslo Accords in the mid-1990s and the death and despair of the 2000s seems stark. Yet with regards to the bigger picture, developments in Palestine since 9/11 have been characterized by an acceleration of trends begun the previous decade: principally, Israel’s drive towards separation and the development of the mechanisms needed for maintaining apartheid-style control.

One identifiable impact of 9/11 for Palestine was in terms of public perception in the US, where it became easier to damage the Palestinian struggle by association. It wasn’t by accident that then-Israeli PM Ariel Sharon told then-US secretary of state Colin Powell shortly after 9/11 that “Arafat is our Bin Laden”. Such a conflation flew in the face of the differences between Al-Qaeda and Palestinian groups like Hamas, as well as the fact that the first suicide bombing in Israel took place half a century after Palestinian villages were ethnically cleansed.

Put aside for one moment the security experts, political debate, career pundits, loaded bookshelves, the conferences – and let us remember 9/11’s victims: from the crumbling Twin Towers to a crushed home in Fallujah. This has been a dark decade of suspicion, resurgent colonial instincts, and hooded men in orange jump suits.

But something beautiful also blossomed over the last ten years, a resistance to this darkness and an expression of solidarity with victims of oppression the world over. Connections have been forged, relationships established, with the young leading the way against racism and militarism. Amidst all of this, there has been a significant increase in solidarity with the Palestinians. Anniversaries such as these are times of mourning – but also hope.

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