Lost in the Middle East – Questioning the Status Quo

It sounds like a joke:

Q: What do you get when you rule 3.5 million people and deny them the right to vote, to go where they please, and to adequate access to water; when you frequently destroy their homes so that you can erect domiciles for some other chosen people; and when you routinely kill innocent civilians—including children—among them? 

A: Three-and-a-half million pissed-off people.

Or there’s the alternate punchline: Israel. It’s not funny, of course, because it’s all too true. For decades the Israeli government has seemed genuinely shocked at how much hatred Palestinians harbor toward their oppressors. The Knesset cannot get its collective mind around why world opinion is almost unanimously against them regarding the continuation of settlement-building in the West Bank, even though Israel’s own Supreme Court has ruled that the area is not part of Israel. They can’t figure out why they don’t have peace with the Palestinians.

How dumb can they be?

There is absolutely no doubt that the conundrum of how Israel should handle its security is difficult to resolve. And there’s plenty of blame on the Palestinian side. But it is ludicrous to assert that all hatred for Israel is tied to anti-Semitism or that every Arab in the neighborhood wants Israel to be pushed into the sea.

To be sure, there are more than a few people in the Palestinian territories who hate Jews, who think the Holocaust was either a lie or a good start, who think the State of Israel is illegitimate, who would sooner die than have rapprochement with a Jewish homeland. Rockets don’t lob themselves into Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and those who lob them would be just as happy to kill a mother and her baby as an active Israeli soldier, just as most suicide bombers will board buses and hit cafés at least as readily as they will target military outposts.

But part of Israel’s answer has been to antagonize the entire Palestinian population. They did it in 1982 by presiding over the slaughter of thousands of Palestinian in what came to be known as the Sabra and Shatilia massacre. They did it in 2001 by electing as prime minister Ariel Sharon, the man Israel’s official investigation into the massacre found to bear “personal responsibility.” They did it in 2009 by using white phosphorous in densely populated Gaza areas, including near at least one school. They did it just last month by shooting live bullets at two teenage boys armed only with slingshots. They did it just this month by beating a 15-year-old American protester (the cousin of a murdered Palestinian) past the point of unconsciousness and then lying to the world about what transpired (as video evidence shows). They did it last week by killing four Palestinian children playing soccer on a beach. They did it this week by responding to Palestinian rocket fire—almost none of which has proven deadly to Israelis—with aerial assaults that killed four times as many Palestinian civilians and combatants, a tactic so ineffective that now Israel has moved ground troops into Gaza. Then yesterday they shelled a hospital, killing patients in the midst of surgery and wounding mostly hospital staff.

And then there’s the perennial bugaboo, the single greatest obstacle to the “two-state solution”: the continued building of settlements in the West Bank. The entire world recognizes that the only possible path to peace in the Middle East is the “two-state solution,” with a sovereign Israel and a sovereign Palestine existing side by side. Even Israeli leaders, including current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, often admit as much. But by its actions Israel shows itself unwilling to walk the path. 

“Yesterday the decision by the Israeli government to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem undermines that very trust, the trust that we need right now in order to begin […] profitable negotiations,” said Vice-President Joe Biden in 2010 after Israel announced—on the eve of peace talks—that it was building 1,600 new settler homes in the West Bank. And as The Economist noted two years later after an annoucement of yet more settlements, “The houses Israel keeps on erecting on Palestinian territory are the main reason why so much of the world has lost sympathy for Israel’s cause.”

Now, with yet another two years of settlement-building under its belt, Israel may be on the brink of destroying its only real chance for peace. “With breathtaking self-persuasion,” wrote Chemi Shalev in Haaretz last month, “most Israelis have convinced themselves that the physical, geographic and demographic transformation that has taken place in the West Bank as a result of four decades of Jewish settlement does not constitute a unilateral act that undermines a peace process […].”

Many Americans suffer the same delusion, even though the U.S.—by far Israel’s strongest ally—has unequivocally agreed with the rest of the world community that the settlement-building is a violation of international law. It’s that delusion that paralyzes U.S. lawmakers from taking hard enough of a line on Israel—for example, by imposing sanctions—to compel Israel to change its destructive ways.

The sad irony is that Israel’s destructiveness is also self-destructive. With each settlement built, with every non-combatant killed, Israel injures its own people. And that makes me sadder than you might think. Because I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m Jewish. 

Okay, so I’m not a practicing Jew. And don’t ask me how they made a Gomco camp small enough for my tiny ant penis. But believe me when I tell you that Hitler would have personally driven me to Buchenwald. 

More than that, though, I am sympathetic to persecuted peoples. And for thousands of years the Jews have been persecuted like nobody’s business. You don’t know why there is such fervor for Jews to have and preserve a homeland? Wake up to history.

But Israel’s response to that persecution has been, in part, to engage in a persecution of its own. That persecution is not based in racial or religious hatred, but in an inconvenient truth. When Israel acquired the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the Six-Day War in 1967, it acquired the responsibility of the people living there. The spoils of war sometimes come with a price. 

One way or another, Israel is paying the price. A better purchase would be doing everything it can to bring about a sovereign Palestinian state. If security is the real sticking point, the advantages of a Palestinian state are obvious. Were a sovereign Palestine to attack Israel unprovoked, the world community would get behind Israel’s right to defend itself. But as it is, Israel is an apartheid nation, ruling over millions of people for whom second-class citizenship would be an improvement. 

Hatred for one’s oppressors is natural. No-one should understand that better than Americans. Every July 4th for 238 years the United States has celebrated the violent overthrew of British rule, a tyranny that didn’t approach the level of oppression suffered by the Palestinians. The cololnials got literally up in arms because they were being taxed without government represenation. Palestinians are actively deprived of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Of course they lash out. What do you expect?

This is not to say that any and all tactics against one’s oppressors are justified, but it does offer something in the way of an explanation—especially since the balance of power is almost completely on the Israeli side. For example, take the fact that Hamas has launched over 2,000 rockets during the last two weeks, and yet at press time reportedly only 27 Israelis have been killed in the current conflict—almost all of them military—while 556 Palestinians have been killed, an estimated 70% to 80% of them civilians. (And even if Bibi’s right in saying that Hamas wants and is to blame for the high civilian casualty rate on the Palestinian side, does that somehow justify racking it up? Does anything?)

No doubt some of Israel’s measures against Palestinian militants are justified, pick your favorite human-rights organization—Human Rights Watch, the Red Cross, B’Tselem, the United Nations, Médecins Sans Frontières—and they’ll tell you that Israel routinely commits human-rights violations and war crimes against civilians, actions that don’t fall under the umbrella of self-defense. As Amnesty International puts it in a recent report entitled “Trigger-happy: Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank,” the Israeli military regularly “us[es] excessive force to stifle dissent and freedom of expression, resulting in a pattern of unlawful killings and injuries to civilians. [...] The frequency and persistence of arbitrary and abusive force against peaceful protesters in the West Bank by Israeli soldiers and police officers – and the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators – suggests that it is carried out as a matter of policy.” 

What’s more, it’s a policy that’s not working. So if you support the Israeli government, you are not supporting the Israeli people. Support peace for Israel; do not support the status quo. 

Love and formic acid,

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