The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project

Madison/Rafah: Little In Common?

Jim Rissman,, July 11, 2004

Senator Edward Kennedy has called the Iraqi prison scandal “the steepest and deepest fall from grace in the history of our country,” “Saddam’s torture chambers reopened under new management.” As a result, “America is being vilified throughout the Middle East and in other parts of the world.”

“Now, the image of America the liberator has been replaced by the image of America the occupier and America the torturer,” writes Michael Lind in the Financial Times. “It will take a generation or more to rehabilitate America’s image.”

Thomas Friedman starts a piece “I have never known a time when America and its president were more hated around the world than today.” Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, a columnist in London, ends one “I have never had so much correspondence from readers openly expressing their loathing for America, for Bush and now, as violently, for Tony Blair, and increasingly for the American people” (The Independent, May 31, 2004).

“To hold on to the essential and humanising distinctions” between people and “their brutish leaders and cruel orthodoxies” can be difficult. “Don’t blame all Americans,” she implores.

Keeping in mind the prospect of “all Americans” being “vilified” for at least “a generation,” consider the assessment of one Michael Mylrea in The Capital Times: “Madisonians have little in common with the people or the city they hope to adopt in the controversial Madison-Rafah sister-city proposal.”

He is reporting from Rafah, “where the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) is conducting an incursion to root out terrorists…Operation Rainbow began May 18th after Palestinian terrorists killed 13 Israeli soldiers.”

Say what? How does he know that the Palestinians who killed the Israeli soldiers are “terrorists?”

He doesn’t, of course, if he was ever aware that “terrorist” is a word with a dictionary meaning, he’s forgotten. As a letter to the editor points out, an article written by a supposed peacenik, while “purporting to discuss the hardships of Rafah…serves as a vehicle to juxtapose the words ‘terror’ or ‘terrorism’ with ‘Palestinian’ 13 times.” Whatever the intentions, the result is “the usual subliminal propaganda.”

Yep, I checked, counting Mylrea’s own usage, his quoting of the Madison Jewish Community Council and a Rafah resident denying he’s one, there are 13 “terrorists.”

The letter reminds me of one I had written in 1993 after Israel had deported 400 Palestinians from Gaza to Lebanon. At a hearing before Israel’s High Court, “the government’s advocate explained that membership in a ‘terrorist organization’ can be grounds for deportation. ‘How many people in Gaza are members of such organizations?’ asked the court. The advocate answered, ‘I think they all are.’”

The point of the letter was that Palestinians “over the years” have been “dehumanised.” The Capital Times titled it “Not all Palestinians are terrorists.”

So, if for at least a generation Palestinians have been “dehumanised” as “terrorists” and for at least a generation Americans are to be “vilified” and “dehumanised” as “occupiers” and “torturers” (not to mention as sex perverts), then it appears that Mylrea is wrong, Madisonians and Rafahites do have something in common. It appears that the people of Madison have something to learn from the experience of the people of Rafah.