Quick: what's depicted in the picture below?
A mosque in...Fallujah? Najaf? Mosul? Right idea, but wrong war. This is actually a picture I took in a mosque in the Jenin refugee camp in April of 2002, just a little over a week after the Israelis finished their murderous assault there. The Israelis had used this mosque as a sniper nest, since it was on the high ground overlooking the center of the camp. Just like the U.S. marine firing from a Fallujah mosque in the photo at left (from an article in the New York Times; thanks to zeynep for the pointer). As I've watched the news coverage from Fallujah, the similarity has been striking for me; it feels like it's 2002 again and I'm back in the West Bank, walking through mounds of rubble and shattered glass that used to be homes.
People in the Middle East know all too well images like the one above from Jenin, and Nablus, and Hebron, and other Palestinian cities. And when they see the images that are coming now from Fallujah, I have no doubt that they think of Jenin, and Nablus, and Hebron, and other Palestinian cities--just as I do. They see the American (or is it Israeli?) soldiers attacking the Iraqis (or is it Palestinians?). The analogy is unavoidable.
But this isn't just a misguided conflation based on surface resemblances; rather, it's reality finally being made manifest. Palestinians have long had no choice but to accomodate ludicrous notions of the U.S. being an "honest broker" for peace--as though any rational person who's aware of the facts could consider the U.S. a disinterested observer, with no bias toward either side--but they know exactly who it is that's financing Israel's crimes against them, and that those crimes are in fact a join U.S.-Israeli project. Still, in the Occupied Territories the U.S. role is always one step removed, and obscured by endless clouds of diplomatic smoke. In Iraq, though, the mask is finally off. The U.S. is doing the killing directly now, using some of the experience gained by its client state to carry out the same kind of destruction.
I'm reminded of the fact that Colin Powell would not go to Jenin in 2002, and in fact delayed his arrival in Israel to give the Israelis enough time to finish their atrocities in Jenin and in other West Bank cities--but the U.S. military was there, and was taking careful notes. Their interest obviously wasn't just academic; after all, Donald Rumsfeld was calling for the invasion of Iraq just hours after 9/11, and so in April of 2002 there was a pressing need to prepare for the upcoming urban warfare in Iraq (the formal plans to attack Iraq were drawn up just six months later, in October of 2002, even as the Bush administration was claiming to be giving the inspections and diplomatic process time to work). In other words, the U.S. had no interest in putting any pressure whatsoever on Israel over the atrocities in Jenin and elsewhere--but they were eager to see just how effectively the Israelis could kill Palestinians in close quarters urban combat, since they knew they'd soon be doing the same kind of killing in Iraq.
The result is that in the perception of many people around the world, the distinctions between the U.S. and Israel are all but gone. IDF units demolishing huge swaths of the Gaza Strip and U.S. aircraft, artillery, and troops laying waste to Fallujah are just two different manifestations of a singular policy. And the consequences of this perception for U.S. citizens--both those who support what's being done and those who don't--will be devastating.