Letter from London
The war against Slobodan Milosevic was clearly lost when the London papers ran a front-page photograph of Defence Secretary George Robertson in Italy aboard a warplane. This isnt a war, its a photo op for politicians who have never seen battle. With friends like British prime minister Tony Blair and his comic book hero, Bill Clinton, Kosovos Albanians will be lucky to find tent space in exile. Those who have survived Serbian pogroms are making their way to Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania, while NATO aircraft overhead do nothing to stop the Serbs from making them permanent refugees. In 1948, the Palestinians made a similar trek to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Gaza, while the Arab armies watched them.
The Palestinians could have warned the Kosovar Albanians about allies who bluster and bomb, but either cannot or will not defend them from dispossession and destruction. The Arab states promised the kind of support NATO is giving the Albanians: that is, the kind guaranteed to antagonise their enemies into expelling them once and for all. Seven Arab states declared war on the new state of Israel in May 1948. "Then," the Palestinian writer Constantine Zurayk noted, "when the moment arrived, the fire proved to be low and dull, the steel and iron, rusty, bent and susceptible to quick damage and disintegration, and the bombs, hollow, empty and harmless."
NATOs bombs are not harmless, but they are doing no harm at allto the Serb forces attacking Albanians.
The Arab leaders of 1948 were bullshit artists, who raised the Palestinians hopes only to let them down. What is NATO doing to prevent the dispossession of the new Palestinians of the Balkans? Bombing from the relative safety of the skies and seas. If that fails, and it is failing, theyll bomb again.
The Kosovar Albanians, like the Arabs of 1948 Palestine, are the majority population in their disputed land. As the Arabs were, they are peasants without the weapons to resist a minority population that demands all the land for itself. The Palestinian Arabs should have sought a realistic agreement with the Zionist settlers, but the braggadocio of the Arab governments let them believe they would prevail without compromise. Arab newspapers were crying for Israeli blood, and Islamic demonstrators as far away as Singapore demanded justice for Palestines Arabs. No Arab leader had the courage to announce the simple fact that they could not beat the Israelis. Instead, seven Arab states declared war on a new country they could not defeat. The Arab armies never fielded more than 40,000 poorly-trained troops against Israels 60,000 well-armed fighters. Jordan had already made a secret agreement with the Israeli leadership to partition the country. Most serious Israeli historians now confirm that the Haganah and other Jewish forces used the Arab invasion as cover to expel most of Palestines Arabs.
Kosovos Albanians are suffering the same fate for the same reason. Much of the British and American press was screaming for war against the brutal Slobodan Milosevic. Blair and Clinton were glad to oblige so long as no one from NATO got hurt. The air war is as effective in protecting them as the Arab invasion of Israel was in saving Palestines Arabs, but London and Washington will not admit it.
Here are the myths Clinton and Blair are asking us to believe: that Milosevic will cave into NATO; that the Albanians are going to return home; that they will again be a majority in Kosovo; that Albanian refugees will not destabilise their neighbours as the Palestinian refugees did in Jordan in 1970 and Lebanon in 1975; that the war is somehow both legal, despite the UN Charter, and right, despite the destruction of Albanian Kosovo, the Serbian opposition to Milosevic and the fledgling Montenegran independence movement.
The British governments overseas development minister, Clare Short, assures an incredulous British public that the Serbs will allow the refugees to return. What will Britain and the US do if Milosevic doesnt? Bomb him? How many of Bosnias Muslims have returned to their homes near the mass graves of Srebrenica since Dayton?
Meanwhile, the BBC has reverted to its traditional role of trying to suppress news that might distress the folks at home. The award-winning BBC radio journalist Tim Llewellyn, who was threatened with death by the Syrians in Beirut in the late 1970s, returned from Belgrade just before the bombing with a report on the daily lives of ordinary Serbs. When the bombing began, the BBC killed his story. Llewellyn, outraged, publicly accused the BBC of cowardice and censorship. The state-run corporation became even more cowardly, backing down by running his report late at night. It did not list the report, as is customary, in the newspaper guides and edited in a historian who put the report into "perspective" by saying how awful the Serbs were. The BBC could teach Milosevic about propaganda.
Meanwhile, Tony Blairs government complains much as the US did when CNNs Peter Arnett stayed in Baghdad in 1991 that the BBCs distinguished correspondent John Simpson is reporting unfairly from Belgrade. He is one of the few reporters to have stayed behind there, at risk to himself. He is telling his audience what all of us who have reported from the foreign capitals (Tripoli, Beirut, Baghdad et al) the US has targeted: bombs kill people and force them into the arms of, in this case, the dictator whom they would gladly have strangled until the US started a war and made him a patriot.
Never mind that the US in 1946 wrote and signed the Charter of the United Nations that made such attacks illegal. But, for Gods sake, dont consign the Kosovar Albanians to the fate of Palestines Arabs: to be forgotten by the West, despised by their host populations and dreaming forever of returning their lost orchards, farms and cities. Will they be consoled by the sight of a British Defence Secretary in the grounded cockpit of a warplane in Italy, looking like a toy soldier?
© Charles Glass 1999
Charles Glass is a journalist