Monday, June 30, 2008

Pentagon fights EPA on pollution cleanup

Pentagon fights EPA on pollution cleanup

Chemicals dumped at bases deemed threat to public health, environment

By Lyndsey Layton

The Washington Post

updated 4:37 a.m. ET, Mon., June. 30, 2008

WASHINGTON - The Defense Department, the nation's biggest polluter, is resisting orders from the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up Fort Meade and two other military bases where the EPA says dumped chemicals pose "imminent and substantial" dangers to public health and the environment.

The Pentagon has also declined to sign agreements required by law that cover 12 other military sites on the Superfund list of the most polluted places in the country. The contracts would spell out a remediation plan, set schedules, and allow the EPA to oversee the work and assess penalties if milestones are missed.

The actions are part of a standoff between the Pentagon and environmental regulators that has been building during the Bush administration, leaving the EPA in a legal limbo as it addresses growing concerns about contaminants on military bases that are seeping into drinking water aquifers and soil.

Under executive branch policy, the EPA will not sue the Pentagon, as it would a private polluter. Although the law gives final say to EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson in cleanup disputes with other federal agencies, the Pentagon refuses to recognize that provision. Military officials wrote to the Justice Department last month to challenge EPA's authority to issue the orders and asked the Office of Management and Budget to intervene.

Unprecedented stand

Experts in environmental law said the Pentagon's stand is unprecedented.

"This is stunning," said Rena Steinzor, who helped write the Superfund laws as a congressional staffer and now teaches at the University of Maryland Law School and is president of the nonprofit Center for Progressive Reform. "The idea that they would refuse to sign a final order — that is the height of amazing nerve."

Pentagon officials say they are voluntarily cleaning up the three sites named in the EPA's "final orders" — Fort Meade in Maryland, Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida and McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey.

Fort Meade borders residential areas in fast-growing Anne Arundel County ; Tyndall and McGuire are in less-populated regions. At all three sites, the military has released toxic chemicals — some known to cause cancer and other serious health problems — into the soil and groundwater.

But the EPA has been dissatisfied with the extent and progress of the Pentagon's voluntary efforts.

Fines could come next

"Final orders" are the EPA's most potent enforcement tool. If a polluter does not comply, the agency usually can go to court to force compliance and impose fines up to $28,000 a day for each violation.

Cleanup agreements drafted by the EPA for the 12 other sites contain "extensive provisions" that the Pentagon finds unacceptable, officials said.

Congress established the Superfund program in 1980 to clean up the country's most contaminated places, and of the 1,255 sites on the list the Pentagon owns 129 — the most of any entity. Other federal agencies with properties on the list include NASA and the Energy Department, but they have signed EPA cleanup agreements without protest.

The law was amended in 1986 to stipulate that polluting government agencies should be treated the same as any private entity. During the 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush pledged to direct all federal facilities to comply with environmental laws and "make them accountable."

Cooperation varies by branch

In dealing with cleanup efforts, some military branches have been more cooperative than others. The Navy has signed cleanup agreements for all of its Superfund sites, whereas the Air Force has not signed one in 14 years.

But Superfund sites are only one aspect of the Pentagon's environmental problems. It has about 25,000 contaminated properties in all 50 states, and it will cost billions and take decades to clean them up. The Pentagon has a tremendous financial stake in not only how the sites are cleaned but also in which chemicals the government characterizes as toxic.

Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is investigating the Pentagon's compliance with environmental regulation. He said it is evading the law through political maneuvers.

"I find it troubling, not only that the Department of Defense is in flagrant violation of final orders issued by the EPA, but that DOD is now attempting to circumvent the law and Congress' intent by calling on the Department of Justice and the Office of Management and the Budget to intervene," he said in a statement. "The EPA is the expert agency charged by Congress with enforcing our environmental laws, and the Administration needs to allow them to do their job to protect the public health and safety."

EPA spokeswoman Roxanne Smith said final orders were issued because the agency is worried about drinking water and soil contamination at Fort Meade, Tyndall and McGuire. "Under DOD's management, some of these sites have languished for years, with limited or no cleanup underway," she said.

Other examples of Pentagon resistance to the EPA include its successful effort this year to get greater influence in the process the agency uses to analyze the risks of industrial chemicals. Congressional Democrats, environmental groups and the Government Accountability Office have criticized the change.

The Pentagon has also fought EPA efforts to set new pollution standards on two toxic chemicals widely found on military sites: perchlorate, found in propellant for rockets and missiles, and trichloroethylene (TCE), a degreaser for metal parts.

TCE is the most widespread water contaminant in the country, seeping into aquifers across California, New York, Texas, Florida and elsewhere.

More than 1,000 military sites are contaminated with TCE.

In the late 1990s, EPA scientists found TCE to be much more toxic than earlier believed. In 2001, the EPA prepared tougher new drinking-water standards for TCE to limit human exposure, but the Pentagon challenged those standards and took its case to the White House. The process ground to a halt; seven years later, the EPA still has not issued new TCE limits.

Since Bush took office, one military site has been added to the Superfund list — the Navy bombing range at Vieques Island , off Puerto Rico .

The site was added after the Puerto Rican governor exercised a federal statute to force its placement on the list.

Push from Maryland

Maryland has been pushing the EPA to add Fort Detrick in Frederick County to the Superfund list. This month, the state sent a forceful letter to the EPA, suggesting it would follow Puerto Rico 's strategy. On Thursday, the EPA informed Maryland that in September it will recommend Fort Detrick be added.

Shari T. Wilson, Maryland's secretary of the environment, said the state needs the Superfund designation because of the Army's erratic efforts to clean up Fort Detrick, which for decades served as the service's center for development of chemical and biological weapons. She said the state wants an independent agency that is focused on public health to oversee the effort and hold the Pentagon accountable.

In 1992, the state found chemical contamination in private wells just outside Fort Detrick . Under a voluntary agreement with the state, the Army removed chemical-soaked earth and rusting drums filled with toxins, set up monitoring wells and connected nearby residents to the city water supply.

Two years later, TCE was detected in a spring outside the base — the first time it was noticed beyond the facility's boundaries. State officials say that the presence of TCE in the aquifer is a serious concern but that they do not think the contamination poses an immediate health threat.

For nearly 10 years, Maryland has asked the Pentagon to analyze the extent and spread of groundwater contamination, a study that will happen as a matter of course if it is added to the Superfund list.

"It's frustrating," Wilson said. "We need to move ahead and take the steps necessary to ensure for the public the groundwater is protected."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company


© 2008

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center , 325 E. 25th St. , Baltimore , MD 21218 . Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

[Alert] Israelis assault award winning Palestinian journalist

[Alert] Israelis assault award winning Palestinian journalist

GAZA CITY, Jun 28 (IPS) - Mohammed Omer, the Gaza correspondent of IPS, and

joint winner of the 2008 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, was

strip-searched at gunpoint, assaulted and abused by Israeli security officials

at the Allenby border crossing between Jordan and the West Bank on Thursday as

he tried to return home to Gaza .

Omer, a resident of Rafah in the south of Gaza , and previous recipient of the

New America Media's Best Youth Voice award several years ago, was returning

from London where he had just collected his Gellhorn Prize, and from several

European capitals where he had speaking engagements, including a meeting with

Greek parliamentarians.

Omer's trip was sponsored by The Washington Report, and the Dutch embassy

in Tel Aviv was responsible for coordinating Omer's travel plans and his

security permit to leave Gaza with Israeli officials.

Israel controls the borders of Gaza and severely restricts the entrance and

exit of Gazans allegedly on grounds of security.Human rights organisations

accuse the Israelis of using security as a pretext to apply collective

punishment indiscriminately.

While waiting in Amman on his way back, Omer eventually received the requisite

coordination and security clearance from the Israelis to return to Gaza after

this had initially been delayed by several days, he told IPS.

Accompanied by Dutch diplomats, Omer passed through the Jordanian side of the

border without incident. However, after arrival on the Israeli side, trouble

began. He informed a female soldier that he was returning home to Gaza . He was

repeatedly asked where Gaza was, and told that he had neither a permit nor any

coordination to cross.

Omer explained that he did indeed have permission and coordination but was

nevertheless taken to a room by Israel 's domestic intelligence agency the

Shin Bet, where he was isolated for an hour and a half without explanation.

"Eventually I was asked whether I had a knife or gun on me even though I

had already passed through the x-ray machine, had my luggage searched, and was

in the company of Dutch diplomats," Omer said.

His luggage was again searched, and security then proceeded to go through every

document and paper he had on him, taking down the names and numbers of the

European parliamentary officials he had met.

The Shin Bet officials then started to make fun of the European parliamentarians, and mocked

Omer for being "the prize-winning journalist".

The Gazan journalist was repeatedly asked why he was returning to "the

hell of Gaza after we allowed you to leave." To this he responded that he

wanted to be a voice for the voiceless. He was told he was a "trouble-maker".

The security men also demanded he show all the money he had on him, and

particular attention was paid to the British pounds he was carrying. His

Gellhorn prize money had been awarded in British pounds but he was not carrying

the entire sum on him bodily, something the investigators refused to believe.

After being unable to produce the prize money, he was ordered to strip naked.

"At first I refused but then I had an M16 (gun) pointed in my face and my

clothes were forcibly removed, even my underwear," Omer said.

At this point Omer broke down and pleaded for an end to such treatment. He said

he was told, "you haven't seen anything yet." Every cavity of his body was searched as one of the investigators pinned him down on the floor, placing his boot on Omer's neck. Omer began vomiting, and fainted.

When he came round his eyelids were being forcibly opened and his eardrums

probed by an Israeli military doctor, who was also armed. He was then dragged

along the floor by his feet by the Shin Bet officials, with his head repeatedly

banging on the floor, to a Palestinian ambulance which had been called.

"I eventually woke up in a Palestinian hospital with the doctors trying to

reassure me," Omer told IPS.

The Dutch Foreign Ministry at the Hague told IPS that Foreign Minister Maxime

Zerhagen spoke to the Israeli ambassador to The Netherlands and demanded an


The Dutch embassy in Tel Aviv has also raised the issue with the Israeli

Foreign Ministry, which in turn has promised to investigate the incident and

get back to the Dutch officials.

Ahmed Dadou, spokesman from the Dutch Foreign Ministry at the Hague told IPS,

"We are taking this whole incident very seriously as we don't believe

the behaviour of the Israeli officials is in accordance with a modern


"We are further concerned about the mistreatment of an internationally

renowned journalist trying to go about his daily business," added Dadou.

A spokeswoman at the Israeli Foreign Press Association said she was unaware of

the incident.

Lisa Dvir from the Israeli Airport Authority (IAA), the body responsible for

controlling Israel 's borders, told IPS that the IAA was neither aware of

Omer's journalist credentials nor of his coordination.

"We would like to know who Omer spoke to in regard to receiving coordination to pass through Allenby. We offer journalists a special service when passing through our border crossings, and had we known about his arrival this would not have happened.

"I'm not aware of the events that followed his detention, and we are not responsible for the behaviour of the Shin Bet."

In the meantime, Omer is still traumatised and in pain. "I'm struggling to breathe and have pain in my head and stomach and will be going back to hospital for further medical examinations," he said.(END/2008)

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center , 325 E. 25th St. , Baltimore , MD 21218 . Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

John Horn | Oliver Stone's "W"

There are 206 days until Jan. 20, 2009.

t r u t h o u t | 06.30

Oliver Stone and "W.," a Story of President Bush

Sunday 29 June 2008

by: John Horn, The Los Angeles Times

The openly political director goes where some fear to tread.

Shreveport, Louisiana - It's a conversation any father and son might have - a quick chat about baseball, families and world affairs. But when the speakers are President George H. W. Bush and his son George W. Bush, even a seemingly innocuous conversation can suddenly carry great weight, especially when Oliver Stone is at the controls.

With sweat cascading down his face on a steamy June night in Louisiana, the Oscar-winning director was directing James Cromwell (playing the elder Bush) and Josh Brolin (starring as President Bush) through a critical moment in "W.," Stone's forthcoming - and potentially divisive - drama about the personal, political and psychological evolution of the current president. Although the father-son patter was ostensibly friendly, the subtext was anything but, hinting at the intricate parent-child relationship that Stone believes helps to explain George W. Bush's ascension.

While the Bushes in this scene from 1990 were talking about the Texas Rangers (of whom George W. once owned a share) and Saddam Hussein (against whom George H. W. was about to go to war in Kuwait), there was much more at stake, as Stone and screenwriter Stanley Weiser saw the fictional conversation unfolding.

"You need to back him down and take him out - like you did Noriega," George W. tells his father about Hussein. The elder Bush wasn't sure he was going to be that rash. "You know I've always believed in leaving personal feelings out of politics," the 41st president told his son. "But Saddam - this aggression cannot stand. Not gonna allow this little dictator to control 25% of the world's oil."

As the architect of the outspoken dramas "Platoon," " Salvador ," "Wall Street," "Born on the Fourth of July" and "JFK," Stone stands apart as one of the most openly political filmmakers in a business where it's usually the actors who wear their beliefs on their sleeves. A longtime backer of Democratic candidates (recent donations include a gift to Sen. Barack Obama), Stone is either the oddest person to chronicle the life of the current president or the most inspired.

Whatever the verdict, the marriage of director and subject has left nearly as many people running for the sidelines as wanting to be a part of the director's undertaking.

Indeed, "W.'s" combination of story and filmmaker and the poor track record of recent biographical movies scared off at least three potential studio distributors and any number of actors, including, initially, star Brolin, and even Major League Baseball, which declined to cooperate with the production.

Yet as Stone guided Cromwell and Brolin across Shreveport 's Independence Bowl stadium, doubling for the Rangers' home field, it was possible to see that "W." could be, in a complicated way, sympathetic.

The father was belittling a son, George H. W. cautioning George W. to stick to simple things: "Maybe better you stay out of the barrel," the senior Bush told his son, and leave the family's political legacy to younger brother Jeb. "Well, son, I've got to say I was wrong about you not being good at baseball," the father ultimately said, tossing him a scrap of a compliment.

The future president didn't quite get what the reproving "barrel" idiom meant, but he realized his father didn't respect him. Brolin took in the snub, but then his bearing grew determined: George W. would have to prove himself beyond anyone's imagining.

Stone said it's part of what drove the younger Bush into the White House: to show his doubters wrong. "Someone who could step into that path and out-father his father," Stone said in his air-conditioned trailer during a break in filming. Racing to film, edit and release the film before the November election, Stone was not always getting five hours' sleep. Even though it was nearly midnight and the crew was just finishing its lunch break, the 61-year-old director grew increasingly animated talking about "W."

"I love Michael Moore, but I didn't want to make that kind of movie," Stone said of "Fahrenheit 9/11." "W.," he said, "isn't an overly serious movie, but it is a serious subject. It's a Shakespearean story.... I see it as the strange unfolding of American democracy as I have lived it."

Stone, Brolin and the filmmaking team believe they are crafting a biography so honest that loyal Republicans and the Bushes themselves might see it. Given Stone's filmmaking history, coupled with a sneak peek at an early "W." screenplay draft, that prediction looks like wishful thinking.

Still, it's a captivating challenge: Can a provocateur become fair and balanced? And if Stone is, in some way, muzzling himself to craft a mass-appeal movie, has he cast aside one of his best selling points?

Locating an Inner Voice

Dressed In a suffocating Rangers warmup jacket earlier on that scorching June day, Brolin kept running into an outfield wall, trying to make a heroic catch as part of the film's baseball-oriented fantasy framing device.

Stone worried the leap wasn't quite athletic enough and chose to add the baseball's falling into Brolin's mitt through visual effects - allowing the "No Country for Old Men" star to throw himself into doing everything else.

Brolin spent countless hours studying the president's speech patterns and body language but said he wasn't trying to concoct a spitting-image impression, which ran the potential of becoming a "Saturday Night Live" caricature.

"It's not for me to get the voice down perfectly," the 40-year-old Brolin said, even though he came close. More important, the actor said, was to unearth Bush's inner voice - "Where is my place in this world? How do I get remembered?"

Like other actors approached for the film (including Robert Duvall, who was asked but declined to play Vice President Dick Cheney), Brolin had more than vague misgivings about starring in "W." He was, in fact, dead set against it. "When Oliver asked me, I said, 'Are you crazy? Why would I want to do this with my little moment in my career?'" Brolin recalled. Then, early one morning during a family ski trip, Brolin read Weiser's original screenplay, which covers Bush from 1967 to 2004. "It was very different than what I thought it would be," Brolin said, "which was a far-left hammering of the president."

Brolin said many friends still weren't buying it. "There were a lot of people I tried to get involved, who were very, very reluctant to do the movie," Brolin said. In addition to Cromwell, the cast includes Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush, Richard Dreyfuss as Cheney, Toby Jones as Karl Rove and Scott Glenn as Donald Rumsfeld.

While noting Bush's low approval ratings (23% in a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll released this week), Brolin, like Stone, said "W." isn't intended to kick the man while he's down. "Republicans can look at it and say, 'This is why I like this guy,'" Brolin said. "It's not a political movie. It's a biography. People will remember that this guy is human, when we are always [outside of the movie] dehumanizing him, calling him an idiot, a puppet, a failed president. We want to know in the movie: How does a guy grow up and become the person that he did?"

Stone, who was briefly a Yale classmate of Bush, is clearly no fan of the president's politics but said he's amazed by the man's resilience and ambition. The movie is basically divided into three acts: Bush's hard-living youth, his personal and religious conversion, and finally his first term in the Oval Office.

"He won a huge amount of people to his side after making a huge amount of blunders and really lying to people," the director said. What further fascinates Stone is Bush's religious and personal conversion: a hard-drinking C student who was able to become not only Texas governor but also the leader of the Free World.

"We are trying to walk in the footsteps of W and try to feel like he does, to try to get inside his head. But it's never meant to demean him," Stone said.

The movie has hired a former Bush colleague as an advisor, and labored to get the smallest details right. For all the historical accuracy, though, "W." is clearly a work of fiction.

"We are playing with our own opinions and our own preconceptions of him," Stone said. "This is his diary - his attempt to explain himself."

A Project Gains Priority

This wasn't the movie Stone was supposed to be making. Instead of "W.," the film was going to be "Pinkville," a look at the Army's investigation into 1968's My Lai massacre in Vietnam .

Only days before filming was set to begin, with many sets already built and department heads in place, "Pinkville" star Bruce Willis pulled out of the film last fall, unhappy with a script that couldn't be rewritten because of the writers strike. Stone flirted with casting Nicolas Cage in the lead role, but enthusiasm from United Artists - whose war movie "Lions for Lambs" had just flopped - had waned on fears that "Pinkville" was too violent.

At the same time, Stone had been working on the "W." script with screenwriter Weiser, the author of Stone's 1987 hit "Wall Street." Stone was at first worried the topic was almost too timely - "When I made 'Nixon,'" the director said, "he had died."

Said "W." producer Moritz Borman: "He wasn't sure. He worried, 'Is there enough material about Bush? Or will there be more once he's out of office?' But then a slew of books came out."

Soon after "Pinkville" imploded, Stone returned to "W.," and by early 2008 he was convinced it was not only the right time to make the movie but also imperative the movie hit theaters before the next presidential election, because its impact would be greatest then, when everybody was obsessing over our next president. But that early release date created a post-production timetable that would be half of Stone's most hurried editing schedule. Before he could set up his cameras, Stone and his team first had to answer a key question: Who in the world was going to pay for it?

"You put the two names together - Bush and Stone - and everybody had a preconceived notion of what the film would be. But look at ' World Trade Center ,'" Borman said of Stone's commercially successful 2006 movie about two Port Authority policemen rescued from Sept. 11 rubble. "There was an uproar when it was announced and then, when the movie got closer to release, the very people who protested it preached from the pulpit that it was a film that had to be seen."

Still, Borman and Stone knew few studios would commit to the movie, especially given the desired October 2008 release date, because studios often plan their release schedules more than a year in advance. What they needed was an independent financier, someone not afraid of challenging material - a person like Bill Block.

Block had formed QED International in 2006 as a production, financing and sales company interested in the kind of highbrow drama that studios increasingly shun. Block saw in "W." not a troublesome jeremiad but a crowd-pleaser, and QED colleagues Kim Fox and Paul Hanson quickly assembled the "W." deal.

"What Oliver is making is a splashy, commercial picture," Block said. "This is not a static biopic. It's kinetic."

In addition to footing the film's $30-million budget, QED also raised money to underwrite its prints and advertising costs upon release. Any distributor committing to "W.," in other words, would have no money at risk: It could release the film, take the distribution fee of about 15% and move on. "I think it's a no-brainer," Stone said. All the same, "W." could spark a potential inferno inside the White House. "You never know exactly why" a studio rejects a movie, Stone said, while noting that all the major studios are small cogs in global conglomerates. "But at the highest levels, it didn't pass. Some would say it's too much of a risk and too much of a hot potato politically." Stone declined to name names, but two people close to the film said among those considering but passing on the film were Paramount, Warner Bros. and Universal.

Harvey Weinstein's Weinstein Co. aggressively pursued the "W." deal, but QED, Borman and Stone picked Lionsgate Films in part because of its strong balance sheet. Also, because it's not part of a larger studio, Lionsgate is one of the only truly independent distributors left.

Lionsgate worried about fitting "W." into its October schedule and has discussed a post-election release if the film isn't ready in time. But whenever it comes out, the company is ready for any backlash - after all, it's the distributor of the "Saw" and "Hostel" films.

"To the extent there is going to be heat," said Joe Drake, president of Lionsgate's motion picture group, "we can take the heat. That won't be a problem."

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Palestine in the American Imagination

Religion, Politics and Media: Palestine in the American Imagination


The Counterpunch

June 21-22, 2008

As Palestinians hurriedly buried their loved ones in the Gaza Strip following a deadly Israeli onslaught, which further contributed to Gaza’s worst humanitarian crisis since 1967 [1], US and Israeli celebrities rallied at a Los Angeles benefit concert for the Israeli town of Sderot, located near the border of Gaza. [2] Hollywood movie stars Sylvester Stallone, Jon Voight, Valerie Harper and comedian Larry Miller mingled with Israeli celebrities such as singer Ninet Tayeb and others. Children from the Israeli town of Sderot , which received the lion’s share of homemade Palestinian rockets, were cheerful nonetheless. Song and dance, interrupted occasionally by solemn messages of support delivered via satellite by both Republican and Democratic Presidential candidates, replaced the cries of sirens the images of huddling families in the town’s shelters. It was a bittersweet moment, that of solidarity, a renewal of the vow made too often, that Israel’s plight is that of America, and Israel’s security is an American priority, and, indeed, ‘God loves those who love Israel’.

Welcome to America’s parallel reality on Israel and Palestine, barefaced in its defying of the notions of commonsense, equality and justice, ever-insistent on peeking at the Arab-Israeli conflict from a looking glass manufactured jointly in the church, in the Congress and in the news room, where the world is reduced to characters interacting in a Hollywood-like movie set: good guys, well groomed and often white-skinned vs. bad guys bearing opposite qualities.

One may become accustomed to watching, reading and listening to the chorus of support that America – its politicians, most of its mainstream media and a large conglomerate of its churches and clergies – tirelessly offer Israel . But one must never dismiss such support, as typical, expected or, as some of Israel ’s supporters would put it, ‘special’ and ‘historic’. As simplistic and naןve in its articulation as the so-called pro-Israeli sentiment in the United States may be, in actuality, its intricate manifestation of political, religious, and cultural factors are as old, in some way, as the United States itself. To understand these factors, some deconstruction is in order. This article merely aims at shedding light at some of these factors and the history behind them.

Religion Meets Politics – Old and New

“They own the [Holy] land, just the mere land, and that`s all they do own; but it was our folks, our Jews and Christians, that made it holy, and so they haven`t any business to be there defiling it. It`s a shame and we ought not to stand it a minute. We ought to march against them and take it away from them.” -- Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer Abroad, 1894.

Americans are commonly accepted for being more religious than their Western counterparts, whether in Canada or in Europe . After all, the American Dream was largely initiated by what is widely interpreted as a religious pilgrimage on board the Mayflower in 1620. The history of colonization of the American continent, of course, goes back to earlier years; nonetheless, it was that particular ‘pilgrimage’, in cultural consciousness, that defined the historic relationship between the immigrants from Europe and the so-called New World . One rather significant omission which often occurs is the recognition of the many nations in the new physical landscape, which in fact existed.

Although the Native Americans’ plight has received a somewhat fair share of deserved analysis, I mean to emphasize here an important component that makes their story most relevant to my argument. Native Americans were dismissed as non-existent, were seen as an obstacle to the harbingers of civilizations, and, when they were recognized as an entity, political or cultural, it was meant merely to juxtapose their backwardness, their irrelevance, their savageness, with the progressiveness, the relevance and the civility of the newcomers.

They too, the immaterial ‘Indians’ may have merely owned the land (although Native Americans didn’t believe in such a concept to start with), but it’s “our folks, our Jews and Christians, that made it holy.” The religious aspect of colonization is significant in the sense that it validates the cruelty of the physical uprooting, the massacring and the dismissal of entire races. “Where a command and a faith are present, in certain historical situations conquest need not be robbery,” Martin Buber wrote once. [3] If God, particularly the American God, justifies such acts, who are we, mere mortals, to defy His will? America was and remains in the minds of some, a Holy Land, with many of its towns bearing the name Salem, just like city of Jerusalem, occupied and illegally annexed by Israel . Such notions as legality and illegality might be relevant to the United Nations (itself rendered irrelevant once by US President George W. Bush himself) [4], but among large circles of American religious institutions, these notions are extraneous to the point of ridicule.

But there is more, of course, to the ‘special relationship’ that justified Israel’s robbery of Palestinian land in an American religious, political and intellectual landscape than their combined search for a holy land and their textual, often selective interpretations of the Old Testament.

In 1879, a scale model of the Holy Land known as the Palestine Park was constructed on Lake Chautauqua , New York by Reverend John Heyl Vincent. J. A. Miller explains, Palestine Park was a “visual aid for the legions of Sunday school teachers who flocked to the Chautauqua Institute to bone up on biblical history and geography.” It was the “first ever example of a theme park, a quintessential American construct.” [5] It featured: “…a life-size Tabernacle built to the specifications given in Exodus, a pyramid, a model of Jerusalem, and a small scale replica of the biblical Holy Land itself - complete with a ten-foot-long Dead Sea, a smaller Sea of Galilee, and markers for important biblical sites - landscaped into the rocky terrain of the shoreline …which serves as the Mediterranean Sea.” [6]

The Chautauqua Institute was established five years before the Park, and “spawned hundreds of ‘assemblies’, throughout America , their popularity lasting until radio and cinema decimated their customer base.” That customer base was not only large, but influential, for it included such luminaries as “Amelia Earhart, Helen Keller, Thomas Edison, George Gershwin and at least nine presidents. Ida Tarbell, famed muckraker of Standard Oil, happily recollected cavorting on Palestine Park ’s Mount Hermon as a girl.” [7]

Miller argues, that although there were many smaller precursors on American church grounds, “ Palestine Park is the iconic example of what geographer John Kirtland Wright called geopiety, ‘a deep religious devotion to a vision of the Holy Land concocted from a ‘curious mix of romantic imagination, historical rectitude, and attachment to physical space’.” [8] He proceeds, “Geopiety is a particularly Protestant obsession originating in England in the 16th century and culminating in the Balfour Declaration. Long before Herzl revved up the Jewish branch of geopiety, the Archbishop of York pugnaciously encapsulated the concept in 1875: “Our reason for turning to Palestine is that Palestine is our country. I have used that expression before and I refuse to adopt any other”. [9]

While these roots continued to be firmly planted, newer religious phenomena helped contribute to that construct, thus widening the parameters of the Park to include a larger segment of American society, using television as the new and relentless platform. Welcome to the Armageddon-seeking American Evangelicals. While the advocacy for Israel by various evangelical churches is both bizarre – since the ultimate objective of this crowed is the annihilation of most Jews and the conversion of some as prerequisites for the Rapture – and widely acknowledged, their influence on the political culture of America is not equally recognized. Pastor John Hagee, for example, a “televangelist to 99 million viewers and pastor of the 18,000-member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, established Christians United for Israel (CUFI) in 2005 following the publication of his book, ‘The Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World.’ Hagee envisions CUFI as the Christian version of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israel lobby whose political clout has significant influence on US foreign policy in the Middle East .” [10]

Journalist Max Blumenthal took his cameras to the CUFI’s Washington-Israel Summit held in July 2007, in Washington DC . The result was a documentary entitled, “Rapture Ready: The Unauthorized Christians United for Israel Tour.” It opens with a dialogue with former Republican House Majority Leader Tom Delay, who was asked how important is the Second Coming is in his support of Israel. “Obviously, it is what I live for. Really, I hope it comes tomorrow. Obviously, we need to be connected to Israel to enjoy the Second Coming of Christ.” [11]

Robert Weitzel reports, “John Hagee is not without fawning friends in Washington . Presidential hopeful John McCain made a campaign stop at the Summit and admitted to the audience that, ‘It`s very hard trying to do the Lord’s work in the city of Satan . . .’ House Minority Whip Roy Blunt followed McCain to the podium and assured the faithful that ‘This is a mission, this is a vision that I believe is a vision for God`s time.’ Senator Joe Lieberman was there and described Pastor Hagee as an `Ish Elokim,` a man of God. Never one to be left out of a well-attended Christian Right convocation, President Bush sent his best wishes, ‘I appreciate CUFI members . . . for your passion and dedication to enhancing the relationship between the United States and Israel . Your efforts set a shining example for others . . .’ [12]

Popular Culture

To examine the relationship between political and religious cultures and the popular culture in America is not an easy task, since the relationship is neither one-way nor linier. However, those preaching their version of God, aspiring to hold on to their political powers, understood well how to communicate their messages to the general public. Pop cultures are hardly shaped by polemics, reason and dialectics but by rather seemingly simple and indirect gestures that overtime ingrain lasting impressions. Combined with an already existing bias regarding Palestine , as disseminated by religious and political institutions, popular culture is constantly bombarded with positive imagery and language depicting Israel , and negative representations of Palestinians.

In popular sitcoms such as Friends, Malcolm in the Middle and others, references are quite often made of Israel . One of Friends’ main characters, Chandler , had an Israeli girl friend, attractive and funny. When it was time to break up, he feared that her fighting skills, obtained during her service in the Israeli army would make such a task too difficult. That image of Israel , and the Israelis, being funny, attractive and fearsome is recurring in American television. Palestinians on the other hand are mentioned, sporadically (outside the evening news), and almost always in a negative light. I was up for a big surprise watching an episode of American Dad, one of the most watched animation programs following the Simpsons. The show comes across as progressive, in a roundabout sort of way. A young boy, one of the show’s main characters, was frustrated by the fact that he couldn’t figure out how to operate a homemade rocket. “If a five year old Palestinian boy can do this, so could I.” In another segment, another reference was made to the “anti-Zionist Aryan brotherhood,” an imaginary group that equates an anti-Zionist affiliation to white supremacy. Many such references are made on American television as well as the big screen. However, I will focus the remaining part of the article on media language and its contribution to the manufacturing of an alternative, convenient reality regarding the Middle East, but Israel and Palestine in particular.

Media Language

In the competitive world of media today, swift and conveniently selective reporting is of prime importance. GoogleNews, for example, claims to scan 4,500 news sources, of which only a few are highlighted as main stories. There are thousands of similar services, all competing to produce a story in the fastest time. Thorough - and thus slower - reporting is relegated and crucial information often appears too little too late.

The corporate media’s depiction of the Gaza story, following Hamas’ election victory in January 2006, and which culminated in the clashes between Fatah and Hamas and the latter’s capture of Gaza in June 2007, was reduced to a few typical headlines, depicting Palestinians as unruly, uncivilized, criminal and unpredictable (thus incapable of being a trustworthy peace partner, as often parroted by Israel.)

The imprisonment of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza – where a humanitarian crisis, unemployment and poverty are still underway – should have been depicted first and foremost as a humanitarian disaster compelled by an Israeli siege. The dates related to the successive stages of the siege should follow a line of political, not ‘security’ logic. Any reasonable timeline of recent events could easily verify that (the formation of the Hamas government in March 2006, the ousting of the pro-Israeli Palestinian security apparatus in June 2007 and so on being followed by dramatic Israeli moves to tighten the siege on Gaza, Hamas’ stronghold).

But little of that seemed relevant to the way the Gaza story was amply reported. Like the Iraq story, where the two main trusted sources are the occupation and its puppet Iraqi government, any story of relevance to Israel and Palestine has to be validated by the official Israeli source and to a lesser but growing extent by their allies among Palestinians. The rest are ‘extremist’, radical and hell-bent on the destruction of the ‘Jewish state.’ Note how the Jewishness of Israel is often emphasised whenever the word ‘destruction’ or similar words are infused.

This is what Bridget Johnson wrote in the Los Angeles Daily News, chastising the United Nations’ Human Rights Council for its condemnation of Israel’s siege on Gaza: “There was zero mention of Hamas` continued rocket attacks on Israel -- which preceded the cut-off of supplies that has caused such an uproar -- or Hamas` refusal to renounce violence against and attempted destruction of the Jewish state.” [13] The claims were preposterous – especially that of a small group’s ‘attempted destruction’ of a country saturated with nuclear arms. The words ‘destruction’ and ‘Jewish state’ are simply passed as an innocent ‘opinion’, read by millions of Americans. There are many notable omissions as well. Hamas has repeatedly called for a mutual ceasefire, that was also repeatedly rejected or simply ignored by Israel . The siege followed the democratic election of Hamas, not the rocket attacks. Also conveniently missed is the disparity between the numbers of Israelis killed as a result of the Palestinian rockets – 10 in six years of violence – and Palestinians killed by Israeli ‘retaliation’ - over 120 Palestinians in Gaza alone within 9 days, starting February 27. [14]

The killing of any civilian anywhere is tragic, but the facts are rarely contextualised by the media. This is only the tip of the iceberg since human suffering cannot only be measured by those who die, but also those who continue to live in perpetual torment. For Johnson, this is irrelevant, since this is not about right and wrong, but a war of language. To win the war, one must have command over language – and the way it’s manipulated – and access to platforms that reach the largest number of readers. An easy recipe to victory in this non-conventional war is an intentional mix of terms as Islamic extremism, al-Qaeda, Hamas, Jewish state, security, existential threats, right to exist, juxtaposed with images or clips of angry Palestinian youth burning Israeli and American flags, ‘side-by-side’, and you will have an American public and government standing in eternal solidarity with Israel .

While most US politicians are self-seeking, power hungry and would do whatever it takes to be elected, the average American, unlike what it may seem, is not born ‘pro-Israel’, and ‘anti-Palestinian.’ Most Americans are pro-the-manufactured, yet misleading images of Israel reach their homes through television, wait at their doorsteps in the morning and confront them through the web. Israel has mastery over the language of the Western media, which, again, helped create a parallel reality that has little correlation to the real world, that of facts, numbers and actual events. That alternative universe only exists on the pages of New York Times, the images of CNN, and the blabber of Fox News ‘experts’. According to that narrative, Palestinians, are irrational, suicidal, demonic, mad, extremists, self hating, and all the rest.


There is no serious, equitable debate regarding Palestine and Israel in the US media, nor any other cultural, political and religious circles. If the existing narrative is to be called a debate, then it’s one with an imagined, not real, language, almost entirely irrelevant to the realities in Palestine and Israel . It’s one that is largely predicated on a narrow minded, apocalyptic religious discourse which for decades has found itself an accepted point of departure for most politicians, even those who falsely pose as liberals. Between the two discourses, that of misguided religious fantasies and pandering politicians, there exists enough room for alternative narratives. Unfortunately, that space is too overwhelmed by cultural misconceptions, institutional bias and deliberate confusion, introduced and instilled deliberately by media producers, pundits and the other manufactures of American popular culture. Until the gatekeepers of pop culture in America are seriously challenged, Palestine will continue to reside in the American imagination as a battle between good and evil, a ‘Holy Land’ that must be wrestled from the hands of those who might have owned the land, at one point, but now, they “haven`t any business to be there defiling it.”

Ramzy Baroud is an author and editor of His work has been published in many newspapers and journals worldwide. His latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People`s Struggle (Pluto Press, London).

(This article was first published in the Palestine Internationalist Journal, Volume 3 Issue 3, Apr 2008 – South Africa )


[1] Gaza humanitarian Crisis `Worst Since 1967’, MSNBC.

[2]) U.S. , Israeli Stars Rally at L.A. Benefit Concert for Sderot.

[3] Martin Buber, On Zion :The History of an Idea, 1974, p. 146

[4] Matthew Rothschild, Bush Trashes the United Nations. The Progressive, April 2003.

[5] J. A Miller, Palestine Park , The Palestine Chronicle,,

[6] Timothy Beal, Roadside Religion, 2005, p. 28

[7] J. A Miller, Palestine Park , The Palestine Chronicle,,

[8] Timothy Beal, Roadside Religion, 2005, p. 28

[9] Issam Nassar, “In Their Image”, Jerusalem Quarterly, October 2003

[10] Robert Weitzel, Children of Palestine and Israel : Cannon Fodder for the Rapture, The Palestine Chronicle,

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid

[13] Bridget Johnson, The U.N. can learn something from Rambo. The Los Angeles Daily News.

[14] Aljazeera, Hamas sets terms for Israeli truce.;

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center , 325 E. 25th St. , Baltimore , MD 21218 . Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs