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Displacement Activity

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Displacement Activity

“What’s emerging is what we need, which is a comprehensive plan, going after the criminal gangs, going after the traffickers, going after the owners of the boats…and stabilising the countries from which these people are coming.” And when you have finished “stabilising” Syria, Somalia and Libya, overthrowing the Eritrean dictatorship, and ending poverty in West Africa, could you drop by and fix my plumbing? Oh, and Yemen. Fix Yemen too.

“These people” are the 1,300 refugees who drowned in the Mediterranean in the past two weeks, the 30,000 who will drown by the end of this year while trying to cross if nothing more is done – and of course, the estimated half million who will make it safely to Italy, Malta or Greece. The speaker was Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, but he was just one voice in the European Union choir

The EU’s leaders were meeting in emergency session because of a public outcry over all the refugees drowning on the crossing between Libya and Italy. These same leaders were responsible for most of the deaths, because last year they ended a very effective Italian Navy search-and-rescue operation and “replaced” it with an EU operation that had a third of the resources and was not supposed to operate more than 50 km off the Italian coast.

So now they had to fix it somehow, but they were all aware that their electorates at home still don’t want millions of migrants flooding into the EU, refugees or not. So they did what politicians do in circumstances like these. They came up with a displacement activity.

The problem, it turns out, is not refugees fleeing from places like war-torn Syria and Somalia, from cruel dictatorships like Eritrea, and from impoverished parts of West Africa. It is the evil traffickers – the new slave-traders, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi called them – who lure the migrants away from their homes and charge them $2,000 per person for a place on a leaky boat to Europe.

Well, of course. Why would anybody want to leave a nice, safe place like Syria or Somalia unless they had been tricked into it by unscrupulous people-smugglers? So if we just break up those criminal gangs, maybe even go into Libyan territorial waters and destroy their boats before they leave the coast, then the demand for their services will vanish. Everybody will stay home, and the problem will go away.

Wait, sorry, we forgot. We have to “stabilise” their countries too. But THEN the problem really will go away, and we’ll all live happily ever after.

Are any of the 28 EU national leaders so naive that they believe this garbage? Of course not. So why are they saying it? Because they, like the people who voted for or against them, are torn between a distaste for seeing innocent people die, and a determination that millions of those innocent people cannot come and live in their countries.

So they want to hide what the policy is really about, and displace the blame for its bad effects (namely a lot of people drowning) on somebody else. Racist and hypocritical, you say, with a bit of Islamophobia thrown in. You’re right about the hypocrisy, but for a lot of Europeans the problem really is the numbers.

There are millions of people living within 1,500 km. of the European Union’s borders who would move there tomorrow if they had the chance, and that’s just the desperate ones who are trying to escape from wars, violent anarchy and extreme repression.

Count in all the others who would just like a chance to make a decent living in a place where corruption is relatively low and the law is usually enforced, and you are probably into tens of millions of potential migrants. Most of them are not desperate enough to risk the trans-Mediterranean route. Make it easier and safer, however, and lots of them would come too.

There are now close to one billion people living within 2,000 km. of the EU’s borders. Thanks to some of the world’s highest population growth rates, that will double in the next 30 years, which virtually guarantees that there will be more civil wars, more failed states and even more refugees. And that’s before you factor in the impact of climate change in the sub-tropics.

The EU’s own population is about 650 million, and it is not growing. So there is deep concern among EU leaders (though many of them don’t want to say it in public) that in ten or ten years they will be facing illegal migration so massive that it would fundamentally change the cultural identity of European countries.

They want to get the new, much tougher policy towards refugees in place now, before the refugees taking the sea route to Europe start coming in even greater numbers, but they don’t want to take responsibility for the deaths that will happen as a result. How to shift the blame? Try this. “It’s not our fault that all those poor people are dying at sea; it’s the fault of the evil people-smugglers.”
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 9 and 11. (“So…numbers”; and “Count…too”)

Displacement Activity

5 October 2003

Displacement Activity

By Gwynne Dyer

Hanadi Tayseer Jaradat, who walked into Maxim’s restaurant in Haifa on Saturday and blew herself up, killing nineteen other people and injuring fifty, was born and raised in the West Bank city of Jenin and never left Israeli-ruled territory in her life. Nobody can cross the heavily fortified border between Syria and Israel except the United Nations team that has observed the demilitarised zone since 1973. So why did Israel ‘retaliate’ for the atrocity she committed in Haifa by bombing Syria for the first time in thirty years?

Israel’s attack on what Damascus calls a civilian area and Jerusalem calls a Palestinian training camp was a small action militarily, but it is a very big deal. A thirty-year cease-fire has been breached, and a precipice beckons. Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad, less than three years in the job that his father held for thirty, is feeling deeply insecure. He has a hostile Israel to the west and now a large American army to his east in Iraq, but the elders of the Syrian Ba’ath Party will not forgive him if he appears weak. This could end in a war.

Syria would lose the war, of course, and Assad would likely end up dead, so he will do all he can to avoid it. There may be a few worried neo-cons in Washington, watching the slide in President George W. Bush’s ratings and looking around for another plausible war against a ‘terrorist state’ to mobilise public support for next year’s election, who would be willing to take out an option on Syria, but the smart money in that race is on a US attack on Iran. And Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon probably doesn’t want a war with Syria either. It’s just that he has a problem with Israeli public opinion as a result of the latest terrorist attack.

Sharon has always insisted that Yasser Arafat, the president of the Palestinian Authority and for over thirty years the head of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, is behind the bomb attacks that have killed hundreds of Israeli civilians since the peace process broke down three years ago. After the last big bombing last month, Sharon’s government said that it was considering the expulsion or assassination of Arafat. Now there has been another ghastly slaughter, and a lot of Israelis are waiting for him to put his money where his mouth was.

He would love to, other things being equal, but other things are not. The United States, Israel’s only real ally, does not want the violent upheavals that would ensue in the Arab world if the man who has embodied Palestinian aspirations for decades were murdered or driven into exile. Nor does it necessarily serve Israel’s purposes to destroy the only secular authority in the occupied territories and drive Palestinians into the arms of the Islamists who actually do most of the bombing.

On the other hand, it has long been the doctrine of the hard right in Israel that the very idea of a Palestinian identity is a false construct, artificially created by Arafat and the PLO. If that is true, then eliminating the purveyors of this false identity, Arafat and his old guard, would destroy the identity itself. Palestinians would revert to the narrower clan and tribal loyalties of three generations ago, and Israel would no longer face organised opposition to its designs on Palestinian land.

‘Politicide’, as Israeli academic Baruch Kimmerling defines this fantasy of his country’s extreme right, is a constant temptation to people like Sharon. It argues for the prompt killing of Arafat as soon as the political and strategic situation permits, and the situation will never be more favourable than it is now. However, common sense and the Israeli intelligence services will be arguing strongly that the practical consequence of murdering Arafat would be to turn the Palestinians over to the Islamist organisations that are the main sponsors of the terrorist attacks — so don’t do it.

Back and forth the argument rages, with the hardest of Israeli hard-liners insisting that handing the Palestinians over to the likes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad would not be all that bad. A few more Israelis might get blown up, but it would end once and for all the threat of a compromise peace involving the abandonment of some or all of the occupied territories, for the Islamists are no more interested in that kind of peace than Sharon is. Only he can decide — and he cannot decide.

Ariel Sharon never rose to the highest command positions in the Israeli armed forces, despite his many victorious battles, because his fellow officers judged that he had no feel for deeper questions of long-term strategy. He still doesn’t, and it’s plain that he cannot choose which way to jump. Kill Arafat, strangle what remains of the wretched ‘roadmap’ peace process, and infuriate Washington? Or carry on with the salami tactics that have served him so well so far, expanding the settlements on the West Bank and extending the wall that will ultimately place almost all of them on the Israeli side while talking vaguely of peace?

He wants to postpone the choice, and so to deflect Israeli popular demands for revenge he has engaged in a displacement activity: an unprovoked and unprecedented but essentially meaningless attack on Syria. With any luck, it will remain meaningless. With a lot of bad luck, it could end up as a real war.


To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 6 and 7. (“On the other…don’t do it”)