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Deep in the Heart of Gaza

In his 1953 Pulitzer Prize-winning antiwar play, “The Teahouse of the August Moon,” playwright John Patrick created the fictional village of Tobiki on the island of Okinawa in post-World War II Japan.

 

Representing the Allied occupying forces, Col. Purdy is charged with implementing Plan B to teach the conquered Japanese democracy; restructure the economic and educational systems; and establish an American-style community.

 

As per Purdy’s orders, a school was to be built in the shape of the Pentagon where the Ladies’ League for Democratic Action would meet to hear lectures on democracy. Capt. Fisbee’s orders were to “fire up the natives with the spirit of occupation” or, as he put it, “I am going to spread the gospel of Plan B.”

 

The most poignant comment of the play is uttered by Col. Purdy: “My job is to teach these natives the meaning of democracy, and they are going to learn democracy if I have to shoot every one of them.”

 

Instead of a school, the erected structure is converted to a teahouse.

 

Just over a half-million American and Allied forces were called on to pacify Japan, an island nation with a homogeneous culture and some 25,000 square miles smaller than Iraq.

 

At the end of an abysmal eight-year presidency, it is important to take stock of the administration’s failures in the Near East as well as question outgoing President Bush’s goal to “bring democracy to the region.”

 

When no weapons of mass destruction were discovered after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the administration’s propaganda machine went into full action: Saddam Hussein gassed his own people. We went into Iraq to get rid of al-Qa’ida. It is better to fight them over there than here; we want a regime change. We want to bring democracy to the Middle East. This was fed to a nation seething with anger in a post-9/11 world.

 

Donald Rumsfeld was so cocksure that Iraqis “will greet us with rice and flowers” that he forced out Gen. Eric Shinseki for suggesting that several thousand troops were needed to pacify Iraq. Less than 140,000 brave men and women were given the nearly impossible task of pacifying Iraq, a country that is bitterly divided along ethnic and religious lines.

 

In addition to Iraq, credit another foreign policy catastrophe to this administration. When Bill Clinton left office, he left his successor with a solid framework for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Instead of admonishing Ariel Sharon for his provocative 2000 act on the Temple Mount, Bush supported Sharon’s scheme to do away with his nemesis, Yasser Arafat. Over a period of six years, and with billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars and diplomatic cover by the Bush administration, the Israel Defense Forces dealt one blow after another to every Palestinian institution (painstakingly cobbled by Clinton) in the West Bank and Gaza.

 

After Arafat’s humiliating death, the administration thought it was closer to achieving democracy in the Middle East. With Bush’s blessings and support, Mahmoud Abbas was groomed to succeed Arafat. To give legitimacy to Abbas, in 2006 Bush called for an immediate election in the West Bank and Gaza. Pleas from regional and international leaders imploring him to delay the elections went unheeded. Observers from all sides argued that Abbas’ corrupt party would handily lose the election to Hamas.

 

The Decider would not be deterred. Ready or not, the elections were to be held. My hunch is that because in 2006 the number of U.S. casualties was very high in Iraq, Bush hoped to score points for his democracy plan. And, of course, Hamas stole the election—fair and square. Instead of democracy, the result was theocracy.

 

To de-legitimize and remove Hamas from office, the Israelis, with U.S. blessings, imposed a 1 1/2-year blockade of Gaza. In barely the combined area of Little Rock and North Little Rock, 1.5 million Palestinians, 90 percent of whom are refugees, have been subjected to targeted extra-judicial assassinations by helicopter and land incursions, mass arrests and rendition, and denial of medicine, food and fuel.

 

Every aspect of daily life has been disrupted. The psychological terror caused by sonic booms as a result of the daily low-flying IDF jet fighters has caused insomnia, sustained psychological trauma and bed-wetting in children as old as 17, miscarriages and a high rate of premature births. With a 70 percent unemployment rate, starving people have been scouring garbage dumps for food.

 

So severe has the situation been that John Dugard, the U.N.’s special observer on human rights, has decried “the carefully managed strangulation of Gaza in full view of an uncaring world.” To which Dov Weisglaas, an Israeli official, proudly stated, “The idea [behind the siege] is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not make them die.”

 

Recently, Bush awarded the Israelis $30 billion.

 

American politicians have been arguing that if America were hit by Katyushas from Mexico or Canada, we would attack these countries just as Israel has been hitting Gaza. The question is, if Americans had been squeezed into a hermetically sealed Florida and denied food, medicine, fuel and freedom of movement, would we not hit the perpetrator with missiles?

 

Col. Purdy had no need to “shoot everyone” to win the hearts and minds of the natives to teach them democracy. Elated at the power of Juicy Fruit gum, chocolate and cigarettes for winning the day, he and subordinates teach the natives how to sing “Deep in the Heart of Texas”—right smack in the pentagon-shaped teahouse.

 

Why do they hate us? “The coyotes wail along the trail/the doggies bawl and bawl and bawl/deep in the heart of Texas.”

 

Mr. President, heckuva big mess you’re handing over to your successor.

 

A native of Jerusalem, Palestine, Raouf J. Halaby is a naturalized U.S. citizen. A member of FirstBaptistChurch in Arkadelphia, Halaby teaches English and art at OuachitaBaptistUniversity at Arkadelphia. This column first appeared in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.