How angry America gets when it attacks people and those people resist!
-----------Osama bin Laden, December 1998
How can they hope to be blessed with security while they are dishing out destruction, devastation, and murder on our people in Palestine and Iraq?
-----------Osama bin Laden, December 16, 2004
He dates his political awakening to 1973, when a U.S. airlift helped Israel turn the tide in the so-called Yom Kippur War. Egypt and Syria had overrun Israeli defenses and its vaunted Bar-Lev line at the beginning of the war, leading a stunned Tel Aviv to hint that it might resort to nuclear weapons if the U.S. didn't save the day for the Jewish state. When Washington's intervention helped deal the Arabs another bitter defeat, fifteen-year-old Osama stopped watching cowboy shows, refused to wear Western clothes (except at school, where it was required), and "would sit in front of the television and weep over the news from Palestine." [Lawrence Wright, "The Looming Tower - Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11."]
The immediate cause of the war was Israeli "development" of the Northeastern Sinai, which involved the forcible removal of Arab farmers from their lands. U.S. support for Israeli annexation of large parts of the Occupied Territories and its refusal to respond to Anwar Sadat's peace overtures, made war inevitable. For bin Laden, it made sympathetic consideration of Western culture impossible.
It was the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, which killed 20,000 people, overwhelmingly civilians, that planted in bin Laden the seed of revenge. In a November 2004 video he recalled the carnage, the "blood and severed limbs, women and children sprawled everywhere. Houses destroyed along with their occupants and high rises demolished over their residents . . ." He longed to strike back. "As I looked at those destroyed towers in Lebanon, it occurred to me to punish the oppressor in kind by destroying the towers in America, so that it would have a taste of its own medicine and would be prevented from killing our women and children. On that day I became sure that the oppression and intentional murder of innocent women and children is a deliberate American policy."
A decade before the release of this video, bin Laden had been stripped of his Saudi citizenship (1994) for his continued harsh criticism of the Saudi royal family. He wrote a letter to the Chief Mufti, the foremost juridical authority in the Kingdom, calling his endorsement of the 1993 Oslo Accords an "astonishing juridical decree," a betrayal of the word of God and the community of the faithful. Like millions of other Arabs, bin Laden was anguished at the contemptuous treatment Palestinian Arabs continually received at the hands of the West, and saw no reason why it should continue.
Bin Laden's letter argued flat out that the Jews that came to Palestine were not indigenous to the region: "The current Jewish enemy is not an enemy settled in his own original country fighting in its defense until he gains a peace agreement, but an attacking enemy." The only proper course of action, therefore, was to wage jihad, both for the sake of God and "so that Palestine may be completely liberated and returned to Islamic sovereignty." The Oslo Agreement, which nullified Palestinian national rights, converting the PLO to a municipal authority, was a patent fraud: ". . . the alleged peace that the rulers and tyrants are falling over themselves to make with the Jews is nothing but a massive betrayal, epitomized by their signing of the documents of capitulation and surrender of the Holy City of Jerusalem and all of Palestine to the Jews, and their acknowledgement of Jewish sovereignty over Palestine for ever."
In a March, 1997 interview with Robert Fisk of the London Independent, bin Laden again made clear that Israel was a primary grievance. Referring to the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia the year before, he said: "The explosion in al-Khobar did not come as a direct reaction to the American occupation, but as a result of American behavior against Muslims, its support of Jews in Palestine and of the massacres of Muslims in Palestine and Lebanon - of Sabra and Chatila and Qana - and of the Sharm el-Sheikh conference." Sabra and Chatila was a 1982 massacre of over a thousand Palestinian refugees by Israel's Phalangist Christian allies in Lebanon; Qana was a U.N. base attacked by Israel in 1996, in which roughly a hundred Lebanese were killed; Sharm el-Sheikh was an "anti-terrorism" conference in which Bill Clinton accused Hamas and Hizbollah of terrorism but said nothing of Israel's far greater violence. Events like these merged Israel and the U.S. in bin Laden's mind. ""For us there is no difference between the American and Israeli governments or between the American and Israeli soldiers."
Four months after the 1998 attacks on the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which Bin Laden disclaimed responsibility for, he returned to the theme of the betrayal of Palestine: "Every time a king meets a president they say they have 'discussed the Palestinian issue,' but over half a century a clear picture has emerged: they have abandoned the mujahidin in Palestine. . . they have given a guilty verdict on those lions whose fathers and brothers have been killed, imprisoned, tortured, and persecuted . . . . I don't know what people are waiting for after this clearest of betrayals, and after the shameful way in which the Arab rulers have acted in the interests of the Jews or America."
An interesting side note on the Nairobi Embassy bombing concerns a young Arab questioned by F.B.I. investigator Stephen Gaudin. Identifying himself as Khaled Saleem bin Rasheed from Yemen, he shouted at Gaudin: "You want to blame this (bombing) on me? It's your fault, your country's fault for supporting Israel!" Livid at the death toll, he asked Gaudin: "Why did these people have to die? They had nothing to do with the United States and Israel and Palestine!"
In a statement faxed to Al Jazeera on September 24, 2001, bin Laden excoriated USrael hypocrisy in waxing moralistic on the issue of human rights while it was engaged in wholesale killing in Iraq and Palestine: "Until this point, a million innocent children have been killed in Iraq . . . As I speak, Israeli tanks and bulldozers are going in and wreaking havoc and sin in Palestine - in Jenin, in Ramallah, in Rafah, in Beit Jala . . . . and we do not hear anyone protesting or even lifting a finger to stop it." He insisted on reciprocal security or none at all: "I swear by God Almighty Who raised the heavens without effort that neither America nor anyone who lives there will enjoy safety until safety becomes a reality for us living in Palestine and before all the infidel armies leave the land of Muhammad." The U.S. response came two weeks later, when the White House announced that it had asked the five major U.S. T.V. networks to censor footage of al-Qaeda. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice "urged all the American network chiefs not to screen videos of Bin Laden."
In a October 21, 2001 interview with Al Jazeera reporter Taysir Alluni in Afghanistan, bin Laden expressed outrage that President Bush and Colin Powell had promised in their first few months in office that "they would move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and that Jerusalem would be the eternal capital of Israel." Asked about the justification for killing innocent civilians, Bin Laden condemned Washington's selective and self-serving morality: "Whenever we kill their civilians, the whole world yells . . . . and America starts putting pressure on its allies and puppets. . . . What about the people that have been killed in our lands for decades? . . . Who said that our blood isn't blood and that their blood is blood? . . . More than 1,000,000 children died in Iraq, and they are still dying . .. . Everyday in Palestine, children are killed . . . . How is it that these people are moved when civilians die in America, and not when we are being killed everyday?" Near the end of the interview he returned to the constant killing in Palestine: "By what right are our families in Palestine denied safety? The helicopters hunt them while they are in their homes, while they are amongst their women and children; everyday the bodies and wounded are removed."
In an interview published in London's Al Quds on November 12, 2001, bin Laden explained that, "The United States and their allies are killing us in Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir, and Iraq," so "that's why Muslims have the right to carry out revenge attacks on the U.S.." He added that the democratic nature of the U.S. government implicated all Americans in such crimes. "The American people should remember that they pay taxes to their government and that they voted for their president. Their government makes weapons and provides them to Israel, which they use to kill Palestinian Muslims. Given that the American Congress is a committee that represents the people, the fact that it agrees with the actions of the American government proves that America in its entirety is responsible for the atrocities that it is committing against Muslims. . . . The onus is on Americans to prevent Muslims from being killed at the hands of their government."
In a statement recorded for release to Al Jazeera in December 2001, bin Laden reiterated his claim that the 911 attacks were retaliation for the West's injustices against Muslims worldwide. Once again, he drew attention to Palestine: "Our terrorism against America is a praiseworthy terrorism in defense against the oppressor, in order that America will stop supporting Israel, who kills our sons."
In a letter to the American people on October 6, 2002, bin Laden posed the question, "Why are we fighting and opposing you?" He answered succinctly: "Because you attacked us and continue to attack us." He again drew special attention to Palestine. "The creation and continuation of Israel is one of the greatest crimes, and you are the leaders of its criminals. . . . The creation of Israel is a crime which must be erased . . . The British handed over Palestine, with your help and your support, to the Jews, who have occupied it for more than 50 years, years overflowing with oppression, tyranny, crimes, killing, expulsion, destruction, and devastation." He rejected out of hand tortured Zionist justifications for taking control of the land: "It brings us both laughter and tears to see that you have not yet tired of repeating your fabricated lies that the Jews have a historical right to Palestine, as it was promised to them in the Torah." Debate, he noted, is not tolerated, as "anyone who disputes with them on this alleged fact is accused of anti-semitism." But the Zionist legend claiming justification for Israel "is one of the most fallacious, widely-circulated fabrications in history," since "the people of Palestine are pure Arabs and original Semites." Therefore, "it is the Muslims who are the inheritors of Moses (peace be upon him) and the inheritors of the real Torah that has not been changed," so "if the followers of Moses have been promised a right to Palestine in the Torah, then the Muslims are the most worthy nation of this."
Living under elected government, he went on, "the American people have chosen, consented to, and affirmed their support for Israel's oppression of the Palestinians, the occupation and usurpation of their land, and its continuous killing, torture, punishment, and expulsion of the Palestinians." Better choices exist. "The American people have the ability and choice to refuse the policies of their government, and even to change it if they want."
On the matter of violence, he observed that "If Sharon is a man of peace in the eyes of Bush," (which Bush declared he was), "then we are also men of peace. America does not understand the language of manners and principles, so we are addressing it using the language it understands."
In a video dated February 14, 2003, bin Laden warned that "The current Zionist-Crusader campaign . . . is the most dangerous and rabid ever . . . He claimed again that al-Qaeda's violence was merely retaliation, since "we strike them (the U.S.) because of their injustice towards us in the Islamic world, especially in Palestine and Iraq, and their occupation of Saudi Arabia. He observed that the 60 states identified by President Bush as prime targets in his "crusade" against terror pretty much defined the Islamic world. "Is the Islamic world not around 60 states? . . . Did they not say that they want to change the region's ideology, which vents hatred against the Americans?"
In a statement broadcast by Al-Jazeera a month after the Madrid train bombings in 2004 bin Laden accused Washington of "persistently ignor[ing] the real problem, which is the occupation of Palestine," and decried the double standard that allowed U.S. leaders to "indulge in lies and deceit about our right to self-defense," which proved "they have no self-respect." "They show contempt for peoples' blood and minds through such deceit, but it only means that your blood will continue to be shed." He was not too blinded by passion to see the injustice being done to ordinary Americans: ". . . an important truth becomes clear, which is that we are both suffering injustice at the hands of your leaders, who send your sons to our countries, despite their objections, to kill and be killed." He identified a common enemy benefitting from all the carnage: "It is all too clear . . . who benefits most from stirring up this war and bloodshed: the merchants of war, the bloodsuckers who direct world policy. . . President Bush . . . the big media . . . the United Nations . . . These and others are groups who are a mortal danger to the entire world, the most dangerous and difficult of these being the Zionist lobby . . ."
Condemning the transparent fraud of Bush's talk of peace, he asked: "Why hasn't he spoken about the one who slit open the bellies of pregnant women in Sabra and Shatila . . . the 'man of peace' [Ariel Sharon]?" He reiterated that al-Qaeda violence was retaliatory: "We only killed Russians after they invaded Afghanistan and Chechnya, we only killed Europeans after they invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and we only killed Americans after they supported the Jews in Palestine and invaded the Arabian peninsula. . . " He offered to make peace with any state that agreed to leave Muslims alone: "So I present to them this peace proposal, which is essentially a commitment to cease operations against any state that pledges not to attack Muslims or intervene in their affairs . . . It will come into effect on the departure of its last soldier from our lands."
Just days before Bush was re-(s)elected in November 2004, bin Laden released a video telling the American people that its security was in its own hands, that it could achieve safety by reigning in its lawless government. "We have been fighting you because we are free men who cannot acquiesce in injustice . . . Just as you violate our security, so we violate yours. Whoever encroaches upon the security of others and imagines that he will himself remain safe is but a foolish criminal. When disasters happen, intelligent people look for the reasons behind them, so they can avoid them in the future."
Bin Laden's determination to rectify the injustice of dismembering Palestine is apparently not going away. On March 20, 2008 a videotape reputed to be his was aired on Al Jazeera, in which he urged holy war on behalf of the Palestinians. "Palestine cannot be retaken by negotiations and dialogue, but with fire and iron."
"Bin laden accuses pope of 'crusade' in new tape," March 20, 2008 msnbc.com
Bruce Lawrence, ed., "Messages To The World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden" (Verso, 2005)
Lawrence Wright, "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11," (Knopf, 2006)
Alfred Lilienthal, "The Zionist Connection - What Price Peace?" (Dodd, Mead, 1978)
Anonymous, "Imperial Hubris - Why The West Is Losing The War on Terror," (Brassey's, 2004)
Robert Fisk, "The Great War For Civilisation - The Conquest of the Middle East," (Knopf, 2005)
-----Michael K. Smith is the author of "Portraits of Empire" and "The Madness of King George (illustrations by Matt Wuerker,) from Common Courage Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org