U.S. pro-Israel policy fuels anti-American sentiment

Lebanon and Syria 2004

By Mark Bowden

June 10, 2009

The politically correct greeting to American visitors in the Arab world these days seems to hedge all bets about this region's future relationship with the United States.

``We love Americans, but we hate American policy'' rolls easily off the tongues of people who feel the highly Islamic Arab counties have been treated unfairly and characterized inaccurately by U.S. intervention in what has to be one of the most tumultuous regions on the globe.

This mantralike statement was often the first thing said to a dozen American journalists who recently met with government and religious leaders, education and cultural officials in Lebanon and Syria to learn more about the Arab perspective on conflict in the Mideast.

In short order, it was crystal clear to the visitors that while the war in Iraq may be a hot spot, the real source of anti-American heat is the Israeli occupation of Palestinian and Syrian lands.

``We're against the policies of the American administration,'' said Sheikh Hassan Izzedine, a spokesman for the Islamic militant group Hizballah, or Party of God.

``The U.S. is bringing upon itself the anger and hatred of the people of this region because the American government is not even-handed, because it does not respect the feelings and traditions of this region,'' he said at a meeting in a ragged building of the party's headquarters in a Beirut suburb.

Later, at another location in the suburb, Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, spiritual leader of Hizballah, reinforced the sheikh's sentiments.

``We distinguish between the administration and the people. We would like to be friends with the American people.

``When I study Bush's mentality, he regards himself as the second-coming of Christ. He believes God has sent him to the earth to rule.

``I believe he should be sent to some psychiatrist before the election. With all respect, we believe in helping troubled people,'' the Arabic-speaking Fadallah said through a translator.

Izzedine and Fadlallah may seem to represent the extreme views, but that's not the case.

Across town at American University of Beirut, where classic liberal-arts thinking prevails, students, faculty and administration are drawing the same conclusions.

``Never in the 44 years I've studied the Mideast have I seen the anti-American sentiment so high,'' notes AUB President John Waterbury. ``The quality of the relationship is at its lowest level.''

What is driving America's credibility to bedrock in the Middle East?

Beyond what is seen as an unjustified U.S. war against Iraq and now the likely occupation of Iraq; beyond the U.S. troops' abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners of war; beyond the recent U.S. economic sanctions against Syria; even beyond the perceived American arrogance is the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, growing tension in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and the perceived contradictions and double standards in America's Mideast policy.

Critics of the United States may be comparing apples to oranges, but you have to remember that their world was turned upside down five decades ago with creation of the Israeli state. Their anger is fanned by incessant televised images of the Palestinians' struggle for survival.

They ask, for example, why the United States wants to rid the region of weapons of mass destruction, but has not forced Israel to scrap its nuclear bomb. They ask why, if the United States doesn't approve of nation-building, it's OK for Israel to occupy Palestinian homelands. They wonder how the United States can justify the liberation of the oppressed Iraqis and Kurds but stand by while Israeli forces kill Palestinians or make them homeless. The list goes on and on.

Rami Khouri, executive editor of the Daily Star, an English-language newspaper in Beirut, sums it up this way:

``Palestine and Iraq may be two very different issues for Washington, but for Arabs -- and most of the rest of the world, I think -- see these as two sides of the single problem of American policy in the Middle East,'' he told the U.S. journalists.