The Middle East in December 2001: Peace and Provocation

Jogen starts the ball rolling:

I read this two days ago and I thought it was particularly galling and vicious. Interesting to see the responses as well.

The article and the response.

Richard responds:

This is a re-print from a right wing Jewish publication. Salon can count me out. This indicates that they are no better a source for news and comment than the post. I wrote and told them so. The article is shocking in it's mentality. I shall hope Salon goes the way of other dot coms.

I just wanted to add some information regarding what she has said and why I see this as bad journalism.

Dan wrote:

Vincent goes overboard in her condemnation of entire arab peoples.

She does not go far enough in characterizing the danger of fundamentalism. She omits the ultra-right in israel and elsewhere from her taxonomy of people who do not share "our values".

To say her diatribe is half-baked is to say that it needs more time to cook. One could boil her most salient points down to a few:
1. The arab world does not want israel to exist. Anymore or ever.

The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river.

The Palestinians can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an independent and sovereign state. Thus, for example, in matters of foreign affairs, security, immigration and ecology, their activity shall be limited in accordance with imperatives of Israel's existence, security and national needs.

2. The acts of terror committed by both sides in the mideast conflicts can be distinguished by their motive. From the palesitinian side, see #1. From the israeli side, see "self-defense".

I propose that "self-defense" is correct when in quotes. Israel acts as a provocateur often enough and has an objective of undermining the PLO, fractionalizing Palestinian administration in order to further it's Zionist goals which leave no room for a Palestine.

3. We have tolerated and (in real ways) encouraged dissent and even violent protest over the #1 issue. "Free" speech (for some definition of "free") is one of the few uniquely western ideas.

The British did not regard Palestine to be occupied by people of importance when they started allowing immigration to these lands and assisted in removing people from their homes. Israel carries on this policy today. This will create violent protest anywhere in the world such a thing happens.

4. When the bluff was called (by an israeli offer of 98% of the "occupied territories"), it wasn't even considered by the palestinian authority.

Israel refuses the right of return for refugees at the cessation of hostilities. This is a major sticking point with the Palestinians. Many documents attest to the forcing of Palestinians out of their villages and country. Israel claims these people left voluntarily and cannot come back.

Also the maps need to be looked at to see what Israel would give back. They were keeping out important Palestinian places.

What this means to me is that the PA is not serious about peace. My further analysis is that, given the divisions within the palestinian people (muslim/christian, law-abiding/terrorist), there isn't likely one authority that could speak for them.

What they want is something they can't have: the elimination of the state of Israel.

They want the elimination of Israel like Israel wants the elimination of Palestine. The far right believes in occupying all of Eretz. The Oslo accord says Israel will refrain from that goal.

Dan responds:

That there is a difference in values between the average westerner and the folks who strap the bombs on can hardly be that controversial. I think her analogies to animals were racist. And inaccurate, as anyone who's seen a bear revel in orgiastic glee in a whale carcass can testify to with wide eyes. We are all animals.

Much more controversial are her glancing blows against islam. Historically islam was not opposed to judaism. There are many records of jewish communities in muslim countries, allowed not just to practice their religion, but to participate in public life, often to a greater degree than in christian nations.

It would be easy to say that islamic fundamentalists and the violent strain of islam they propound are our enemies. What needs to be said, however, is that the enemy is an ideology: fundamentalism. In all its guises and venues.

For my money (early warning for ironic phrasing), fighting over how to organize your government or economy (the same thing) has to be tolerated. History teaches us that not all resistance movements are wrong-headed.

But those who would kill over religion must be eliminated.

So says me.

Richard cites:

Camp David Peace Proposal of July, 2000 Frequently Asked Questions (by PNT) - Media Monitors Network.url

Dan responds:

As a statement of the palestinian position, it's a fine read. However, just like diplomacy, it has little to do with reality.

Personally, I'm in favor of a Palestine. But I wouldn't have to live next to it. I can see why some israelis might be against it (given the sentiment among many palestinians against israel).

I don't begrudge the palestinians the right to struggle for their self-determination. I believe point #3 in the prior email is about just such an attitude. Vincent pointed out correctly that if israel really wanted to destroy the palestinian people, it could have.

I don't really need to argue with the many points made. They are true from their perspective. Just as true as the impassioned beliefs held on the israeli side. No amount of haggling over "international law" (and, may I point out from a position of legal education, that there is no universally accepted definition of same) is going to solve this problem.

Jogen and I had a long talk yesterday. I argued that there were times when self-defense was an appropriate goal. Sometimes even more important than trying to take a long-view on making the world a better place.

This is because people who want peace can't always get it.

But people who want war always do.

Consider Mel Brooks' "Space Balls". The evil Dark Helmet tells LoneStar that his shoe is untied. When LoneStar looks down, Helmet attacks and renders him helpless. He then sums up the ultimate moral conundrum:

"So, LoneStar, now you see why Evil will always win. Because Good is dumb."

Dan continues:

Without going into "who started what" (except that Richard is right about forced relocations engendering violent protest almost anywhere), the position of some israelis contra a state of Palestine (enshrined in the current administration's party platform) is not the whole story, and certainly no more reasonable a judgment against israel than Hamas is against Palestinians in general. I certainly hope the american far right isn't held against me. As I know you do.

There is one more seemingly unique western value demonstrated by the israelis that is a mystery to most of the arab world. The concept of representative democracy. Israel elects governments (and has a substantial arab-israeli voter base). Better than that, there have been nearly see-saw shifts from "right" to "left" at the head of that government for decades. Israelis want peace and security. In their hearts they know it is almost impossible, but they pursue it.

Israel's "provocation" and refusal to help create a Palestine should be looked at in context. It's hardly the same as waging war against them. Besides, in response to an enemy who craves your destruction, a little "well, you shouldn't be allowed legitimacy in your hatred of us" is forgivable.

No one can say that if the peace process could have continued it was categorically impossible for israel to allow a Palestinian state. Whereas it's awfully hard to envision widespread acceptance of israel's right to exist among palestinians.

On a much more meta-level: the palestinians got the shaft 55 years ago. The jews have been getting it for a lot longer. They are certainly not the only ones to suffer in history, but have a substantial claim to be "long-suffering". Two wrongs may not make a right, but the creation of a state where jews could gather without having to depend on the kindness of gentiles is an idea whose time had come circa 1945.

I have no emotional or intellectual affinity for judaism, and I believe the world would be better without any religions at all, but these people who don't prosletyze and celebrate intellectual pursuits are unquestionably deserving of a homeland.

Jogen responds:

I think we all agree on this point. But then we can make claims for Native Americans, Roms in Europe, Kurds, Palestinians and almost any other ethnic group currently getting the shaft. Perhaps, one can make the case that Jews most obviously deserve a homeland because of their constant persecution (one could also say the same for The Rom and for Dravidians in India).

But Israel should get NO credit for not annihilating Palestinians. What sort of bullshit is that? Oh well, we must be great because we haven't sent all of you to your deaths? No. What Israel should get credit for is their many attempts at reconciliation and attempts at peace with Palestine. But I for one can't blame Palestinians for their anger and outrage. It's not as if they offered up their land for a Jewish homeland, it was "given" by Europeans and Americans. Why not give up Southern France for a Jewish homeland? Or Denmark?

Blood brings violence. This was started by Europeans, but who will end it?

Don't waste your breath on the Arabs, they have no love for Palestine (whose citizenry is the best educated and most liberal of the Arab peoples). The Arabs have used Palestine as a wedge to continue to plague Israel. The country that wins the cultural battle wins the true war.

Jazz and Louis Armstrong beat the Nazi's bra.

Dan closes with:

Elie Wiesel said, "Don't compare."

That Jews deserve a homeland isn't to say that the other persecuted peoples don't. This isn't about anywhere else but israel (nee palestine).

After long conversation with Richard, I've come to better understand his aim in pursuing the "truth" in the mideast conflict. I respect and admire his desire to have a positive impact on the world. Exposure of hipocracy and bad faith on both sides is one tool in that struggle.

It seems to me this is one of those terrible (yet fascinating, in a stomach-churning way) times when so much is possible and the worst seems sickeningly inevitable. I can't look away, and I can't opt out.

It is just these kinds of dynamics that we must embrace, like the fears of childhood, lest they control us as adults.