The Business of War

By Samia Khoury
Thursday, February 20, 2003

My neighbor called me last night to offer his services to pick up the gas masks for us since he was going to get theirs anyway. All he needed was our Identity Cards and the old masks, which we were handed to us during the previous Gulf war in 1991.

Normally I would jump at the idea of somebody running an errand for me and sparing my waiting in a long line. But for some reason I did not feel good about picking up the masks when all the rest of my family and friends in the West Bank were deprived of that protection. Should we be spared the poisonous gas supposedly coming our way from Iraq while my sister and brother and all our people in the rest of the Palestinian Territories should go to blazes?

While our people continue to suffer and undergo a lot of hardships under the Israeli military occupation, we find ourselves caught in another tension out of fear from another Gulf war that is bound to affect our whole region. There is no way you can stop people from panicking. Three people in any neighborhood running out to get the gas masks can create mass hysteria, and the whole neighborhood will be rushing out to get them. A friend of ours told us that his neighbors actually informed him that he should go immediately because that day was the last day for the distribution of the gas masks. He reached the distribution centre almost out of breath only to find out that the information was a false rumor, and that there was no deadline whatsoever.

After hearing his story I could not help but wonder: what a great opportunity for the manufacturers of those gas masks to market their merchandise. What would really happen to their business if there were no wars, or no mass hysteria for fear of a war. Who under normal circumstances would bother to buy a gas mask? Certainly not the consumer society that you would normally find in supermarkets, or in department stores. Maybe the civilians in the Palestinian refugee camps — who continue to be exposed to all sorts of gas bombs by the Israeli military occupation — would be potential customers for such kits. Yet under the circumstances they do not have the privilege of obtaining them. Ironically, though, when the Gulf war in 1991 was at its peak and some Iraqi missiles did reach our region, nobody was exposed to poisonous gas.

As I kept thinking of war as a business, I could not help but recollect an encounter I had many years ago with a gentleman from the Rifle Association. He knew I was involved with the YWCA and was very blunt that he would not support the work of the “Y” because of its World Council resolution on disarmament. These are business people, and they certainly do not want a group of women ruining their business. The YWCA has been avant garde and way ahead of Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair in demanding disarmament from everybody around the world. What would Mr. Bush do with all the armaments that the U.S. has and how are the manufacturers of those arms going to stay in business if wars are not made to erupt here and there every few years?

Actually, I do not see much difference between trading with drugs and arms. One devastates the soul and dignity of people, while the other physically devastates people and their environment. Wars that are waged for vested interests out of greed and out of coveting other countries’ resources are immoral and cannot be justified. In fact no war can be justified, especially nowadays when there is an United Nations body that has a mandate to solve world issues in peaceful ways.

I am sure there are many business people who have integrity and high morals that supersede vested interests. Would not it be great if they could develop a business of peace where world resources can be shared and the money that is spared from wars can be channeled to make the world a safer place for people and the environment? Certainly the homeless and the sick around this world would appreciate an increase in their government’s budgets for social and health services. These people are not only in developing countries, but many of them are on the streets of New York and in the London underground. Children everywhere could do with good schools, parks, public facilities, orphanages and homes. Hospitals and research centres all over the world continue to need larger budgets to fight aids and cancer. If only money would be spent on humanitarian causes.

It is very ironic that the source of the arms of mass destruction that are the focus of this new looming war is the U.S. from its support of Iraq in its war against Iran. We saw this phenomenon in the U.S.’ support of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in their struggle against the Soviet Union. In standing up to the U.S., both regimes — that of Saddam Hussein and that of Taliban — seem to have turned into monsters that the U.S. has no alternative but to destroy. Mr. Blair, the staunch ally of the U.S., in a statement to his Labour Party claimed that he is doing a humanitarian act by toppling down the Iraqi regime. I wonder how Mr. Blair can justify the “un-humanitarian” means and the killing of thousands of people by doing such a “humanitarian” act.

The question is: Why should arms of mass destruction be produced in the first place, and why should some countries have them while others are forced to dismantle them? Who is benefiting from this business? Are arms of mass destruction the real issue in this unwarranted demand for war? The logic that arms of mass destruction can be owned by the U.S. and Israel because they are not dictatorships and have mechanisms to justify their use is absolutely unacceptable. This is the logic of power and hegemony. Even the role of the United Nations has been hijacked by powerful forces. It is rewarding that for a change a European axis of logic and common sense has come out of this crisis to challenge the hegemony of the U.S.

In the Palestinian Territories we have seen too much devastation created by the use of arms supplied by the U.S. to the Israeli Military Forces. The IMF’s occupation — using arms such as the F16, the Apache, the Patriot, arrow missiles, and the Fletcher — continue to be employed against civilians in populated areas of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Yet Israel is not being demanded to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction, and continues to defy all United Nations resolutions, including Resolution 242 to end the occupation. Moreover, it is one of the very few countries in the world not to have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

From Oakland to Bangkok almost 25 million persons were out in the streets of about 600 cities demonstrating against the war, even in major cities whose leaders are supporting this war: New York, London, Rome, Madrid, Melbourne, and Tel Aviv. That was a very clear message to the U.S. president and the U.K. prime minister that there is no justification for waging the war and creating more devastation in the region. War should never be an option. And we Palestinians can vouch for that. Fifty-three years and we are still in the cycle of violence, occupation and war without achieving justice, peace or security.

Let us hope that the voices of those masses around the world will silence the drums of war.


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