Death Squad Democrats
By Stephen Zunes August 2001


Last Tuesday, Israeli forces murdered Isaac Saada outside of his home in Bethlehem. He was the father of ten and a beloved teacher at Terra Sancta, a Roman Catholic school in that West Bank city. Saada was actively involved with the peace education program of the Israeli-Palestinian Center for Research and Information. The day he was buried, he had been scheduled to take part in a joint seminar with Israeli teachers on improving understanding and cooperation between the two peoples.

The Israeli government claimed Saada was a Hamas terrorist. Everyone who knew this gentle teacher knows that is false, yet the U.S. media repeated the lie that he was among four Hamas terrorists killed by rocket fire from an Israeli helicopter. The helicopter and missile were supplied to Israel by the United States at U.S. taxpayer expense. The Bush administration, with support of leading congressional Democrats, supports increasing military aid to the Israeli occupation forces responsible for the death of Saada and hundreds of other civilians in the past year. Some victims of these Israeli death squads were indeed terrorists. Many, like Isaac Saada, were supporters of peace.

There have also been Israeli civilians killed since the outbreak of fighting last September, through terrorist bombings in Israeli cities and ambushes against settlers illegally squatting on Palestinian land in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. However, these have been through radical Islamic groups over which the Palestinian Authority has little if any control. By contrast, most of the Palestinian civilians have been killed by the occupation forces of the government of Israel, armed and financed by the U.S. government.

Immediately after Saada’s murder, I called over two dozen Congressional offices, all of them liberal Democrats who belong to the Progressive Caucus and the Human Rights Caucus. None of them were willing to condemn Israel’s death squads, and none were willing to support suspending military aid to Ariel Sharon’s government–or even to send international monitors to enforce a cease fire and protect the civilian population. Nor were they willing to criticize Israel’s ongoing violations of the Geneva Conventions or other international human rights treaties as documented by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other human rights organizations, including the Israeli group B’tselem. These same House members are all on record, however, condemning the Palestinian Authority for violence against Israeli occupation forces.

During the 1980s, erstwhile liberals who provided the necessary votes to advance the Reagan administration’s policies in support of the murderous junta in El Salvador became known as “death squad Democrats.” That same label can now be applied to the Democrats who support President George W. Bush’s policy of support for Ariel Sharon.

Isaac Saada was well-respected for his efforts to teach young people to love and work for peace. He was often heard saying that the worst thing that could happen to the Palestinian people would be if they filled their hearts with hatred. This man of peace has now been silenced. President Bush and his Democratic supporters have blood on their hands.

The Bush administration, to its credit, has condemned the Israeli government’s use of extra-judicial killings. However, in a recent interview, Senator Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, defended Israel’s use of these assassination squads. That the Democrats would choose as their chief foreign policy spokesman someone who not only rationalizes such severe human rights violations, but also places himself to the right of even the Bush administration is indicative of how limited the foreign policy debate has become in Washington. (Stephen Zunes < > is Middle East/North Africa editor and senior policy analyst for the Foreign Policy in Focus Project. He is an associate professor and chair of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco.) to receive weekly commentary and expert analysis via our Progressive Response ezine. This page was last modified on Wednesday, April 2, 2003 2:42 PM Contact the IRC’s webmaster with inquiries regarding the functionality of this website. Copyright © 2001 IRC and IPS. All rights reserved.

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