I am not on anyone's payroll, nor do I occupy public office. I am here because I weep for my beloved America. Our nation is in grave peril. The challenge is great, but success is attainable. I want to bestir you to help.
First, a word of introduction. In my 83 years, I have had unique experiences--a veteran of 22 years in Congress and 65 years a champion of civil liberties for all humankind. In World War II, I experienced war close-up. A few weeks after the Japanese surrender, my Seabee battalion was in Japan. I took a side trip to Nagasaki where two months earlier, an atomic bomb incinerated 60,000 human beings.
I deplore anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry. My proudest moments in Congress were voting for civil rights legislation in the 1960s.
I believe deeply in the Rule of Law, not war. In Congress, I offered Rule of Law proposals that would stop the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and later the war in Vietnam. Still later, I urged the Saddam regime in Iraq to place its boundary dispute with Kuwait before the International Court of Justice. Each resolution urged the parties to agree in advance to accept the rulings of the court. No one would listen. The wars went forward--bloody, costly, searing experiences for many people in many lands. Now America is starting its own wars.
We are bogged down in guerilla wars we inflicted on two countries. Did we learn nothing in Vietnam? We forget that guerillas almost always prevail--even against the mightiest, high-tech armies.
Other fundamental questions go unanswered. Why did we invade Iraq? Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and posed no threat whatever to the United States. Why?
Another why: Why was America the target of terrorists on 9/11? To my knowledge, our government has never tried to find the answer. What brought this holocaust to our shores? Were there deeply-felt grievances we left unattended? Did America do something that provoked fiery retribution?
Foreigners now see us as an imperial nation bent on the military domination of the Middle East and beyond. Our acts of war have torn two nations asunder. In both, our military forces still battle to subdue the insurgents who want us out.
In the name of national security, our government scuttles the doctrine of national sovereignty, the bedrock of the legal rights of nations for more than three centuries. Our government no longer reserves war as an instrument of last resort. We plan more wars. Will Iran be next? Then Syria? Pray to God the answer will be no.
Abroad, our officials detain hundreds of suspected insurgents and, sadly, they stoop to torture in the interrogations. Now they have shifted the main camps for detainees from Guantanamo to Afghanistan, a change that places them beyond the reach of the U.S. judicial system for protecting civil liberties. What has happened to the rule of law?
In both Iraq and Afghanistan, we have built permanent military bases, creating local fear that U.S. forces will never leave.
Imagine the impact of all of this on people abroad, especially in the Middle East. To them, the U.S. government emerges as the latest imperial world power. In Iraq, the only substantial U.S. support comes from Great Britain, the world's greatest imperial power in the last century, the government that created, manipulated and then betrayed Iraq in the 1920s. No wonder insurgency continues.
America has become the self-appointed world policeman. The world needs a policeman, but no nation-state should attempt to fill that role. World policing is the proper and urgent responsibility of a strong well-equipped multinational organization. But instead of striving to create such an organization, President Bush has nearly trivialized the UN out of existence.
At home, precious civil liberties are suspended. Our government asserts the right to imprison anyone it perceives to be a threat to U.S. security, any place and any time. Hundreds of Muslims are rounded up for questioning and for detention on flimsy charges or no charges at all.
These arrests stir unwarranted public fear of Islam. According to recent polls, 25 percent of the American people believe Muslims are anti-American. Forty-four percent believe they encourage violence--nearly double the percentage of a year ago. Forty-six percent want the civil liberties of U.S. Muslims restricted. A Protestant clergyman wrote to me the other day, declaring that all Muslims should be evicted from America. Muslims actually make great contributions to the betterment of America. A California Muslim recently received the Nobel Prize in physics.
After discarding one premise after another, the president now trumpets the Iraqi war as urgently needed to bring democracy and freedom to Iraq. Ponder this question: Could President Bush have rushed Congress and the American people into a bloody, $200 billion war in order to bring freedom and democracy to the Iraqi? Of course not. That justification would be rejected as preposterous.
Invading Iraq was the worst folly in American history. As a grim testament, more than sixteen hundred caskets containing youthful remains have been shipped from Iraq to their grieving families in America. Wounded fill military hospitals. Thousands of families in America and many more in Iraq are blighted forever.
Now that U.S. forces are battling in Iraq, America's most critical problem is lack of trust. Iraqis have many reasons to question our real intentions. Here are just a few:
At the end of the 1991 Gulf War, the first President Bush urged the Iraqis to overthrow Saddam. This prompted a strong uprising, but the U.S. government refused to provide support in any form. This refusal cleared the way for Saddam to use helicopter gun-ships to slaughter dissidents by the hundreds.
For a decade after the Gulf War, U.S. fighter planes enforced severe sanctions that led to immense civilian suffering, including the death of at least a half-million Iraqi infants.
Beginning with the devastating "shock and awe" assault, our military forces leave much of Iraq in rubble, including the great historic city of Fallujah,
Are more wars ahead? The administration now cites Iran as a threat to U.S. security, a warning as hollow as the earlier one that cited Iraq as an imminent threat.
I use plain language. I may say things that you will not like, but in these perilous times, I feel I must speak the truth, as I know it to be.
America was once revered worldwide. Now America is reviled--yes, reviled worldwide--and especially in the Middle East. We seem unaware of that grim reality.
We also ignore the dangerous reality that U.S. Middle East policy is not designed by U.S. officials. It is the creation of two religious communities here in America, communities that have attained great political power.
If we are to emerge from peril, we must face openly and critically the role of these religious groups in the formation of vital foreign policy. If we keep tip-toeing around the truth, we risk still greater peril to our nation.
I use plain language. For over 35 years, our government has engaged by proxy in what must be described as a war of territorial conquest undertaken by the State of Israel. We continue this proxy war, and beginning three years ago we started our own non-proxy wars, using our own military in direct invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Both invasions can be traced to our government's passionate attachment to Israel.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a profound statement two years ago when she was national security adviser to the president. She said the United States has an Israel-centric foreign policy. She was correct in that assessment. Ponder those words: America has an Israel-centric foreign policy.
She did not elaborate, but I will. Zealots among U.S. Jews and conservative Christians have become a political powerhouse. They are aided and abetted unwittingly by radicals who profess to be Muslims, people who engage in reprehensible suicide bombings and thus violate Islamic rules by taking their own lives and the lives of innocent people.
The older pro-Israel religious group is headed by Israel's formal U.S. lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee [AIPAC]. It consists almost exclusively of U.S. citizens of the Jewish faith. My book, "They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel's Lobby," explains in detail the origin, history, and techniques of this lobby.
The other is of more recent origin. It consists of Christians who accept a dangerous interpretation of the Bible's Book of Revelations. This group is enormous. It consists of more than seventy million citizens. Without this group's support, Bush would not have been reelected in 2004.
The two groups make strange bedfellows. Jewish doctrine makes no mention of Jesus Christ, and Christian fundamentalist doctrine predicts the destruction or conversion of all Jews when Jesus returns to earth. But they are bound together by an immediate interest--the survival of a strong, expanding Israel as an essential precondition for the arrival of their own separate messiahs.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews believe their messiah will not come until Greater Israel-- biblical Israel-- comes into being, and that means the annexation of the entire West Bank into Israel proper. They oppose yielding even a square mile for a Palestinian state. They exert political power far beyond their numbers. In Israel, they are the primary force that establishes and expands the Jewish settlements that make the West Bank look like a piece of Swiss cheese, an expansion that goes forward this very day. Fundamentalist Christian groups in America help finance the transfer of the Jews who populate the settlements.
These two U.S. religious groups effectively control America's policies in the Middle East. They are so powerful that Congress dutifully appropriates money without conditions, fulfilling Israeli demands without any serious discussion, much less real debate, about the grave harm this near-total, pro-Israel bias imposes on vital U.S. national interests.
For 35 years, our government has maintained this bias despite Israel's crimes against Palestinians. Long before the first suicide bombing killed and wounded Israelis, the government of Israel inflicted awful brutality on the Palestinian population, and our government did nothing to stop it.
America's massive, unconditional support has encouraged Israel's leadership to defy the rules of international law and the provisions of the United Nations charter by engaging in territorial conquest, assassinations, wholesale destruction of lives, homes, and means of livelihood. People worldwide, especially Muslims, watch this pro-Israel bias with mounting anti-American fury.
If the U.S. government had refused to finance Israel's subjugation of Palestine, 9/11 would not have occurred. Homeland security would today be no problem. There would be no war in Iraq or Afghanistan. Any U.S. president in the last 35 years could have forced Israel to end its occupation of Arab land seized in 1967 simply by suspending all U.S. aid. But none did.
There can be no doubt that Israel is the real reason our forces invaded Iraq. U.S. General Anthony Zinni, for a time the president's special emissary to the Middle East, spoke the truth recently when he said Israel and oil are widely accepted in Washington, D.C., as the real reasons President Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq. And any close observer would know that Israel was by far the stronger of the two reasons.
If our government commits acts of war, God forbid, against Iran and/or Syria, neither of which pose a threat to U.S. security, these wars will be executed mainly to benefit Israel.
How did Israel attain such political power in America? Nearly a half-century ago, free speech about Middle East policy became a casualty on Capitol Hill. Because of pressure from Israel's lobby, criticism of Israeli behavior became political suicide.
The taboo began in the mid-1950s when a small band of U.S. partisans for Israel began to discipline Congress. They had no thought, I am sure, of setting in motion events that would be calamitous, first in the Middle East and later in America. Their goal was to assure the unconditional support of Israel by the U.S. government.
Open discussion--unfettered debate--of Israeli behavior has been non-existent in our government ever since. I have firsthand knowledge, because I was a member of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee for 17 years beginning in 1967 and to this day maintain a close watch on Congress.
But the lobbying was so suffocating, it stifled dissent, any semblance of free speech. It intimidated the entire Congress. It still does. The pro-Israel lobbies defeat legislators who criticize Israel. Senators Adlai Stevenson and Charles Percy, and Reps. Paul "Pete" McCloskey, Cynthia McKinney, Earl Hilliard, and myself were defeated at the polls by candidates heavily financed by pro-Israel forces. Of the victims, only McKinney regained her seat in Congress.
Across America, not just on Capitol Hill, the State of Israel is treated as sacrosanct. It is rare when a word critical of Israel is expressed even in private conversation. With scant opposition, the Congress recently approved resolutions saluting Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon for building high walls and fences that keep Palestinians penned up like cattle on their own land.
The lid on free speech prevails in the media, academia, social circles, and the business community. Most of those who know the truth about U.S. complicity in Israel's misdeeds keep quiet. Almost everyone can provide an excuse for remaining silent. They are afraid-- yes afraid--to speak out. Even when horrible consequences surface, free speech remains off limits.
Terrorism almost always arises from deeply-felt grievances, but in the wake of 9/11, our government has made no effort to recognize legitimate grievances that may have provoked the suicide bombers. The grievances exist, but our government makes no effort to recognize them, much less redress them.
Washington paid no attention recently when Osama bin Laden explained the grievance that led him to plan the 9/11 assault on Manhattan's Twin Towers and the Pentagon. In a televised statement, he cited Israel's massive slaughter of Arabs in Beirut in 1982. In this massacre, Israel used U.S.-donated weapons to kill over 18,000 people--six times as perished in America on 9/11. To add insult to injury, after Israeli ended its bloody rampage in Beirut, the U.S. Congress immediately donated funds to restock Israeli armaments. I know. I was there.
Bin Laden said that when he recognized the U.S. complicity in Israel's slaughter in Beirut, he decided to plan an assault on America as payback. Nothing can justify t9/11. Those guilty deserve severe punishment, but it makes no sense for our government to ignore motivations.
The path to justice is not easy. The lobby's intimidation is pervasive. It even suffocates free speech in houses of worship and great institutions of higher learning. It silences almost all of the many U.S. Jews and Christians who object to the lobby's tactics and Israel's aggression. It silences even U.S. presidents and candidates for the presidency.
Still worse grievances may lie ahead. Prime minister Sharon's decision to withdraw settlements from Gaza and dismantle a few beyond the high walls he ordered built in the West Bank is part of his scheme to annex much of the West Bank. If the buildup and expansion of settlements goes forward, Palestine will be left with its shrunken borders and life support permanently controlled by Israel.
Anti-American passions will rise again. The Middle East will again be rocked with violence. The fury of the world community will likely erupt against both Israel and America.
Our president rarely says a sympathetic word about the Palestinians. He often says Israel has a right to defend itself but never mentions the same right for Palestine. Nor does he mention the fact that some Palestinians become suicide bombers because this reprehensible tactic seems to them the only way to fight back.
In Iraq, our biggest problem is lack of trust. The insurgents are mostly people determined to keep America from becoming the latest foreign power to make Iraq a colony. They don't trust our promises to withdraw some years in the future. They want us out, completely out.
We should promise the departure of all U.S. troops and all U.S. contractors by a date certain shortly after the popularly elected Iraqi government takes office. Only those U.S. military units the Iraqi government wishes to stay, if any, will remain. That announcement would help build trust. The prospects are bleak. The president has made no pledge of that sort.
America faces still another awesome peril. Our enormous federal debt and unprecedented negative balance in world commerce place us at the mercy of foreign nations who own hundreds of billions of U.S. dollars and have the ability to destroy our economy at will.
I see only one course of action that can end this multiple peril.
Our president must be persuaded to suspend all aid until Israel behaves. America must cut all ties to Israel's criminal behavior. This is the right thing to do. It is the moral thing to do. It is the legal thing to do. It is completely consistent with the United Nations Charter and provisions of international law. It is demanded by America's great traditions and principles. Any step short of total suspension will not suffice.
If President Bush suspends aid, he will liberate all Americans from further complicity in Israel's misdeeds. He will also assure Iraqis that America has no plan to make Iraq an American colony.
For the first time in years, Palestinians and Israelis alike will have real hope of durable peace and neighborliness. The Israelis must know by now that they cannot achieve security themselves until Palestinians are secure.
Iraq and Palestine are two sides of the same coin. If our government truly seeks justice for the Palestinian people, the Iraqi insurgency will subside. Suicide bombings will fade away. American homes will no longer be permanently blighted by the fate of young people killed or wounded in action.
We can then turn, as Abraham Lincoln might say, to the task of binding up our nation's wounds and achieving and cherishing a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
Can we do it? Are we powerless to change public policy? Is everyone paralyzed by fear of Israel?
Surely, there are people of wisdom and courage in high office who can bring our stumbling president to his senses.
Here is a profound message you should send to the White House and to your elected representatives in the House and Senate: "Suspend all U.S. aid until Israel vacates the Arab land it seized in 1967." Here's the phone number to use: 202-456-1414. Image the impact if this message clogged the phone lines to the White House and to Capitol Hill.
Here is another way you can help that will immediately advance justice in America and beyond. Most Americans mistakenly believe that Muslims condone suicide bombings and other violence, that they worship a strange, vengeful God, that they abuse women, and want to make radical changes in the American system of government. These stereotypes are false, but they are so prevalent they constitute a road block to the reform of U.S. policy. Until the stereotypes are dismissed, they will evoke sympathy for Israel, surrounded as it is by millions of Muslims, people mislabeled as terrorists.
What can you do? You can be a committee of one to demand correction whenever Islam is reported falsely in any media. You can distribute the truth about Islam to your neighbors and other acquaintances. Make copies of Appendix A in my book, Silent No More. I have free templates of this appendix for you to pick up when we adjourn.
Shed your fear of Israel. Its lobbies are not super human. Resolute action for justice can show the lobbies for what they are: groups of misguided people who have, perhaps unwittingly, dishonored their faith by assisting in the massive violation of human rights.
The avenues of influence the lobbies use effectively are wide open to you, every one of you.
Take a cue from Deuteronomy. In it, God instructed Moses: "Seek justice, only justice." Take another from Pope John Paul II: "Be not afraid."
Be not afraid to demand justice in the Middle East. And never give up. The stakes are high. It is not too late. Be not afraid. Never, never give up.
Paul Findley was a Member of Congress from Illinois, 1961-83. He resides in Jacksonville, Illinois. He is the author of five books, including a Washington Post bestseller: "They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel's Lobby."