Thursday, February 12, 2009

Thoughts on the Israel/Palestine Conflict

Normally when I read rabidly pro-Israel letters to the editor in local newspapers, I ascribe them to a large and vocal group of misguided people overdosing on mainstream media a la Fox News and/or rigid religious sentiment. These people are earnest, and in my view somewhat harmless and predictable. In our great country, the right to spout off without encouraging violence and besmirching someone's character is absolute, but the latest spate of one-sided apologistic letters coincident with Israel's latest firebombing of Gaza, part and parcel of the low level of discourse on the Israel/Palestine conflict in America, contained some of the most overly simplistic, trite, offensive and rightfully dishonest statements that I have ever seen in support of Israeli aggression. It was as if the Israeli Government Press Office wrote the letters. I honestly couldn't believe the editor would allow the use of the word “barbarians” in reference to Hamas and the Islamic world on the editorial page. Since when do we as a society use the term barbarians to describe people fighting for their political rights in their own lands? Are we still living in Roman times, when anyone not like you are considered barbaric and undeserving of humane treatment? In any case, it was quite a low blow. Would you allow a comparison of Israel's treatment of Gaza to the Nazi treatment of the Warsaw Jewish ghettos, where resistance to racist oppression was met with cruelty and death. People of far great intellectual strength have made the comparison, but I am sure the Keystone Cops of Middle East Diplomacy seen on these pages would have cried foul and probably call me an anti-Semitic misanthrope or some such nonsense.

I would like to now attempt to blow holes in the common arguments many Israel supporters made during the last Israeli onslaught. First off, I'll say I count myself among supporters of Israel – I have travelled there numerous times, in both Palestine and Israel, and I find the peoples there welcoming and gracious, despite the tense and violent political climate under which they're forced to live. The first argument: What if Mexico or Manitoba, Canada or some such adjacent province, launched missiles at American towns? Shouldn't we respond too like the Israelis? The argument is based on the faulty assumption that the peoples of Manitoba or Mexico are living under the same set of circumstances as Gazans. Why would Canadians or Mexicans attack us? America hasn't kept them under siege for 5 years. We haven't killed their elected leaders with bombs that result too often in civilian death and massive property damage. America hasn't gone around the world pressuring leaders to boycott the elected municipal leaders of Manitoba or Mexico, and we haven't played patty-cake with vital fuel, food and medicines that need to flow into the area for the needs of the people. My point is, if we had treated our neighbors like this for a long time, and these neighbors got fed up and fight back, we have mostly ourselves to blame for Mexican or Canadian missiles. And Israeli harassment of the Palestinians during its brutal multigenerational occupation breeds nothing but contempt and animus.

It wouldn't mean we shouldn't or couldn't respond to Canadian and Mexican attack. The right to self-defense among nations is generally accepted but is no way absolute, especially if another way to a ceasefire is present. And in the case of Israel/Palestine, there are numerous UN Security Council Resolutions in play, frameworks of agreement left over from the waning days of the Clinton Adminstration, the Oslo Accords, the Geneva Memorandum written by leading Israeli and Palestinian academics and diplomats, and the 2002 Saudi Peace Plan, endorsed by the Arab League, that crystalized the essence of the Arab view of Israel: they are ready for normalized relations with the Jewish State, across the Arab world, in exchange for just peace made with the Palestinians involving a two-state solution roughly along the 1967 Green Line borders. All these frameworks and understandings could coalesce into a durable peace. The Arab World including the Palestinians are ready to recognize Israel culturally and economically, but not while Israel keeps terrorizing Palestinians in their own homes and villages. Seems reasonable enough.

This conflict between Israel and the Palestinians cannot be solved by military means. If military might could solve it, then the Israelis would have won a long time ago, decisively. The IDF is a killer machine, albeit sometimes undisciplined, that can “fold, spindle and mutilate / those unbelievers from a neighboring state” with the best of them. It's a political conflict that needs to be solved by political agreements mediated by devoted, competent peacemakers who understand both sides equally and sympathetically. Wildly waving the flag of one side in a conflict that honestly has no first tier security significance for Americans (remember, Israel's security needs and American security needs are distinct), aside from the evidence that American complicity in Israeli aggression does create anti-US sentiment throughout the world, is juvenile and simplistic. Hamas doesn't plot and conspire to kill Americans, as far as I know, they plot and conspire to kill and maim Israelis, soldiers and civilians also, in their retrograde war against Israeli occupation.

So the Mexican-USA / Gaza – Israel analogy is ridiculous, and anyone making it is hereby christened an ignorant partisan. Another empty argument: Israel left Gaza completely in 2005, and the Gazans responded with rockets. This is a common strain from Israeli-apologists, and it's bogus. The era of Hamas rockets came after Ariel Sharon's last gasp as the Israeli leader – known for his violent, deadly outbursts on the battlefield against innocent Arab civilians - enacted his unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. The world was supposed see this stroke of Sharon's gesture in a positive light, as if the Israelis made great sacrifices in leaving Gaza. They shouldn't have been there in the first place, first of all, and when they finally adhered to handpicked portions of UN Security Resolutions relevant to the Israel/Palestine conflict and left Gaza, they forgot to leave behind the keys to the great wall that imprisons this coastal strip. It's not a withdrawal when you remain in control of all border crossings, airspace, sea lanes, and when you exploit unhindered access to Gaza neighborhoods by air, land and sea with high-tech weaponry. Israel never withdraw from Gaza, they created the largest open air prison in the world, and bombed and strafed the region endlessly ever since their unilateral folly of withdrawal. Ariel Sharon's actions underscore the abject futility of unilateralism in this conflict and only lend support of face-to-face negotiations between parties, including Hamas, in this age-old war over land.

President Bush's only righteous action he accomplished in the region is the encouragement and assistance given to the Palestinians in holding parliamentary elections in 2006. By all accounts, it was the freest and fairest election the Middle East had ever seen. Pity he didn't respect the results of the election when Hamas won a majority in parliament. Most likely through pressure by highly vocal minority groups in this country, our former President once again squandered an opportunity by ignoring the will of the Palestinians and refusing to give Hamas a chance to govern. Boycotts began, international aid was withdrawn, and the Palestinians were left to wonder about America's fealty to democratic values. The loser party, Fatah, couldn't tolerate the results either and with assistance from Israel and America attempted to wrest power from Hamas in Gaza. Another failure of American/Israel policy ensued – this American/Israel sponsored civil war between Palestinians - and Hamas was left in total control of the Gaza Strip with a solid undercurrent of support in the West Bank where Fatah, the remnants of the PLO, assumed power.

It's not suprising why Hamas won. They have had a long history of providing vital services for the largest number of Palestinians. Hamas created and maintained schools, medical clinics, religious services in the communities they held sway, and they had a reputation for honesty in the courts and municipalities. People I have spoken with on the streets of Ramallah put more faith in Hamas-sponsored judicial appointments in the court systems than they did in Fatah-loyalists manning offices in the government buildings.

More later . . . . .

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