There’s a prevailing idea that the Middle East and its history is nothing but a quagmire of conflicts and wars too ancient and complicated for all but the most scholarly. This simply isn’t true, and 9 times out of 10 it’s just a flimsy excuse for one’s ignorance on the people and politics of civilization’s cradle. The truth is, the Middle East isn’t anymore complex than any other part of the world, and by the end of this post, I’m hoping to have proven that.
This is as simple as it gets, people.
Let’s talk about a little stretch of beach called Gaza.
A fifth of the size of Los Angeles, and with a population of 1.7 million, the Gaza Strip is the world’s largest open-air prison.
That’s right, a prison. We can call it a “territory” or a “reservation” or dress it up any number of ways- at the end of the day, a gigantic holding cell is all that it is.
Gaza has been beleaguered since 2007, when Hamas was elected into office. In spite of being dubbed by its supporters as the “only democracy in the region”, Israel nevertheless promptly blockaded the territory by both sea and land, and has since enacted what amounts to nothing less than a siege.
Let me explain what we’re talking about here.
Gazans, if lucky, get electricity for 8 hours of their day, and are unable to import anything without the consent of the Israeli state. Many items have been out-rightly banned for Gazans, such as:
- Concrete and construction materials
- Pasta and tomato paste
- Batteries for hearing aids
- Fishing Rods
- Soccer Balls
- Musical instruments
- Clothes and shoes
- Children’s Toys
- And much, much more…
Fishermen have been repeatedly targeted by the Israeli navy, and international attempts to provide Gazans with the humanitarian aid they so desperately need have been met with deadly violence. 2010 saw attacks by Israel on both the Rachel Corrie and the Mavi Marmara– attacks which left nine unarmed activists dead and dozens injured. All for the supreme sin of having attempting to bring help to an imprisoned people.
Of course, this, one of the greatest human rights violations of the 21st century, has been overwhelmingly ignored by those in power, and this isn’t just the result of pressure from lobbies within this country or from right-wing and Christian Zionist groups. This blind support for Israel’s barefaced Bantustan is everywhere in American politics, with even speculated 2016 presidential candidate Hilary Clinton offering unwavering support to the siege.
Gazans are given “warnings” to evacuate, but exactly where are they supposed to evacuate to? With one of the densest populations on the planet, there’s an average of over 10,000 Gazans living in a single square mile. Israel’s “surgical strikes” have all the precision of shooting fish in a barrel. Already, there are 159 reported Palestinian deaths, with over 1,000 injured. You simply can’t equate the pitiful rocket fire from Hamas with this kind of wholesale slaughter.
Heck, even Irsraeli civil rights groups are agreeing that the blockade is nothing but collective punishment on the Palestinians.
And again, all of this arises from the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli boys hitchhiking in June. Although no Palestinian group claimed responsibility, and no evidence has yet to be produced by the Israeli state, hundreds of Palestinians were arrested and six were killed by the state response. Taking their cue from their own government, a group of settlers kidnapped a 17-year-old Palestinian boy, tortured him, and then burned him alive. How many arrests were made over that?
Now as always, there’s going to be folks, plenty of ’em, who’ll be sanctimoniously lamenting the situation, saying that “both sides are wrong”, and that “We should all just try to get along!”.
There are not always two sides to every issue. Not ever conflict is equally in the wrong. It’s people like this- the smug and the self-congratulatory- who prevent justice from being done in Palestine and countless places around the world. These are the same sniveling, laodicean cowards who urged “compromise” during the civil war and “patience” during the struggle for civil rights. It’s easy, it’s noncommittal, and it’s killing people.
The lines could not be more clearly drawn people.
You’ve been given the facts- do something about ’em.
Hamas is TRYING to kill civilians. The fact that Israel is able to prevent them from doing so most of the time doesn’t justify them doing it.
The fact that Hamas rockets are “pitiful” is a good thing. It means fewer human beings on at least one side of this fight are getting killed.
It’s kind of ridiculous to say that fights should be “proportional.” Do we demand that when police – an element of state power – go up against criminals that the action be “proportional” and that it’s not fair when the police SWAT team have body armor and combat rifles and the criminal only has a pistol? Do we demand that the criminals must kill as many civilians or police for it to be “justice”? Of course not.
We don’t want fair fight. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are the ones responsible for escalating the conflict by firing rockets into civilian places. It is GOOD that their rockets are pitiful. Why is that?
It’s NOT that Hamas are exercising “restraint.”
It’s that Israel has spent masses of effort and money on missile defense, on shelters, and on the blockade that you hate. The same blockade that keeps various random items out is mostly there to prevent Hamas and Islamic Jihad from smuggling in weapons and missile components, and turning their “pitiful” missiles into non-pitiful weapons that will kill dozens or hundreds of Israelis.
Hamas would like to build better rockets. Then instead of their “pitiful” rockets killing a few random Israelis, they could kill lots of them.
(Or, maybe they could try a means of “resistance” other than firing off rockets and suicide bombers. Perhaps if they did that, the entire world would support them, the way it supported Gandhi and Mandala. Also, perhaps if they did that, Israel would stop shooting back, the way it did when Egypt brokered a peace treaty yesterday, and Israel stopped – until Hamas began firing rockets again).
Look at northern ireland. Justified grudges too – but eventually the IRA realized they had to face reality, and that reality was that they could not have everything they wanted through violence.
Imagine if Gandhi had relied on rockets and suicide bombers. Would India have been free sooner? If Mandala had refused to talk and instead insisted on the return of all of South Africa to the blacks, had encouraged the more violent elements of the ANC (and some were pretty tough) to do their best to randomly attack whites, would Aparteid have ended sooner?
By supporting the Palestinians whose leadership in Gaza makes the attempt, however, “pitiful” to achieve resistance by the random murder of civilians through rocket fire into populated areas, you are preventing the Palestinians from developing their own Mandala or Gandhi, and resulting in decades of further suffering.
Because a weaker side can only win when it is morally justified and makes the stronger realize this. And the mass of Israelis will not feel unjustified in striking back when the weaker side can only say “we’re TRYING to kill you, but aren’t yet strong enough to do so properly.”
This isn’t a game or a movie. Rooting for Hamas as the underdog – the side that can’t kill as efficiently – doesn’t make them them the heroes. Yes, ordinary Palestinians are suffering. And as long as Hamas are in charge, the people they support and voted into power, they do bear responsibility for being led by people whose goal is to kill. The fact that they don’t do it as well as their enemies doesn’t make them righteous, and until they stop trying to kill and start talking peace, they will never save their people. And neither will you.
Interesting that you reference Gandhi and Mandela, both of whom were adamant supporters of the Palestinian struggle for freedom. As far as the violence on the part of Gaza goes, I’d have to point out again that these were touched off by the mass arrests (and several killings) of Palestinians by the Israeli state over a crime that has yet to produce any leads. Not to mention the Palestinian teenager kidnapped and burned to death by a group of Israeli settlers.
We’re not talking about two evenly matched nations fighting here- the so-called conflict is just a genocide. I wouldn’t expect the Palestinians not to militantly resist Israel anymore than I’d expect Jews in WWII Germany not to militantly resist the Nazis.
Indeed. I think both would be appalled at what Hamas has done.
Mandala supported the kind of liberation struggle that sometimes had to be fought with means other than words .. but not futile gestures that lead to more death and suffering, or suicide bombs, or random attacks on innocents.
Your world war II analogy is problematic. Look. Wars do occur. The struggles that led up to the 1948, 1967, and 1973 wars had blame on both sides. Both sides employed terrorists and irregulars. For various reasons, Israel came out on top. In most wars, there are winners and losers.
At that point the civilian population pushed off their land and their allies can do one of two things.
First, they can move somewhere else, accept some degree of compensation and international help, and retreat to the land of nearby allies and ethnic kin.
This is what happened in most past wars. It even happened in Canada, when the British part of North America accepted refugees – the United Empire Loyalists – from the United States rebellion, after they lost and were driven from their lands by the “patriots.” It happened in World War II, when after the war ended there were huge territorial changes – millions of Germans, for example, were pushed out of areas that were claimed by Russia, Poland, and other states after Germany was defeated.
It’s a good thing for the world that after the American Revolution the loyalists were allowed to settle in British parts of Canada, becoming important part of Ontario. If Britain had behaved like the Arab states had done, the Loyalists would been encouraged instead to live in a squalid sliver of land on the Canadian US border, fire crude rockets into America, as they live in poverty, supported by well-meaning British living in England and Canada who say that they should “retake” parts of America.
The real shame of Palestine is that the Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt (Jordan being a partial exception) utterly refused to offer to take in the Palestinian refugees despite both money and space to do so. Instead, they used them as a political football.
Sometimes you have to look at reality. The insistence that a particular area of land is “Palestinian” and that – contrary to every other refugee crisis in the history of the world – this means that they can ONLY live there is the problem.
And Yes, I would feel the same way if the situation were reversed and the Israelis were the ones who were being maintained in the ghettos and America or Europe refused to take them in.
Remember, hundreds of thousands of Jews once had homes in the middle eastern nations. They too faced prejudices and were forced to leave, leaving behind homes and land. Remember that similar displacements also occurred in other nations – in India and Pakistan, in the 1940s and 50s, when independence and war forced mass exchanges of population. Had India or Pakistan refused to accept the refugees, as the Arabs did, and instead forced them to live in a giant border refugee camp, rather than encouraging them to become citizens of India or Pakistan, we would have a horror like that of Gaza repeated there too, to add to the other problems of that region.
The Palestinian situation is not good. The current hardline Israeli government has indeed played politics with peoples lives and broken some agreements regarding Gaza. However, firing rockets at civilians and inviting retaliation is not the path they should take
I don’t favor nationalism. I am concerned with people. And I think that insisting that Palestine be a state has hurt millions of people forcing them to grow up in terrible conditions that could have been avoided had they instead be treated like other refugees around the world, given aid by their ethnic brethren and emigrated – like millions of other people displaced by war and disaster and poverty and oppression – to neighboring regions, in this case Egypt or Jordan or Lebanon . Instead, by leaving them their, it has helped fuel instability and breed terror that have disrupted these states for generation.
And yeah, if I were in the situation, that’s what I’d want to do. I’d much rather – as my ancestors did – emigrate out of a terrible situation in search of a better life.
Countries that wish to help Palestinians should offer free and open immigration and support to them.
If that had been done for the Jews prior to World War II, we wouldn’ t have this situation in the first place.
Well, here’s my response, and I’ll try to address each point in order.
Firstly, the number of Palestinians who are already refugees ranks at about 5 million, a higher number than are actually living in occupied Palestine. We can bash the surrounding Arab states for not taking in more, but that’s neither here nor there. The question is that of the Palestinians, and for many, living a life of perpetual exile, drifting from camp to camp or relying on international aid, is both immediately humiliating and untenable in the long-run.
We can talk about permanent immigration, but the issue there is that the Palestinians aren’t Syrians, or Jordanians, or Egyptians, or Lebanese. They know exactly where they’re from, and many families still have the keys to their original homes (if you see Palestinian pictures were folks are holding up these hold skeleton keys in the air, that’s the origin). It’d be kinda like the US forcing the Cherokee off of their ancestral lands and then blaming their plight on the Sioux and Cheyenne for not taking ’em in. That aint justice.
The issue isn’t that they can “only” live there, it’s they can never live there. It’s the same principle as segregated buses- there’s nothing fantastic about the front seat, but if you have to give up your seat because of race or religion, then there’s a clear issue. Equality and independence is what this is about.
And I know I said I’d address these in order, but I had to end on this one.
The issue isn’t that Palestine lost a war. Palestine was never a nation to begin with, and the most they had to say in the matter was an overwhelming “No!” in the King-Crane Report that the British did before carving ’em up anyways. The issue is, again, one of racism. If the Palestinians were granted democratic rights as citizens, Israel could not exist- Palestinians simply outnumber Israelis 8 to 1. If the occupied, broken, and literally ghetto-ized Palestinian “territories” (which are in fact managed by Israel) were to become states, they wouldn’t survive, seeing as how all the food, farmland, water, and hospitals have been walled off. What we have is nothing but a bantustan, and it is that which the struggle is directed against. It’s not about a state, it’s about humanity. Again, I’d have to refer you over to my “Shame Day: Zionism” post for a more complete picture of what I’m talking about.
Thanks for addressing the points.
– I agree it’s a complex issue and that racism, or at least nationalism, and concerns over demographics are involved.
– I agree it should be about humanity, not about a state. Unfortunately, Palestinian nationalism and Arab desire for an external enemy keeps the powers involved from solving the problem.
– “We can talk about permanent immigration, but the issue there is that the Palestinians aren’t Syrians, or Jordanians, or Egyptians, or Lebanese.”
They know exactly where they’re from, and many families still have the keys to their original homes (if you see Palestinian pictures were folks are holding up these hold skeleton keys in the air, that’s the origin). It’d be kinda like the US forcing the Cherokee off of their ancestral lands and then blaming their plight on the Sioux and Cheyenne for not taking ‘em in. That aint justice.”
It may not be justice, but it is the right thing to do. Sometimes, as in this case, the desire for “justice” is what leads to continued war and suffering. What is needed is compassion and charity, and good sense.
Remember, about 800,000 to a million Jews were expelled from Arab lands in the same period as the Palestinians. In terms of justice, it might be fair that te Arab states that took over heir homes and properties should have a responsibility to to use that land and property to the Palestinians.
Again, in the 20th century, numerous populations – not just Arabs or Jews l – have been forced by war or ethnic cleansing to leave and settle somewhere else, with the more powerful side being unwilling to compromise. Obviously this is wrong, although sometimes, as is in the case of Israel and Palestine, it is the result of wrongs on both sides (both Israel and Arabs had terrorist gangs, had legitimate goals, and used war).
Obviously the best thing is to prevent ethnic cleansing and war before it happens through negotiations, peace keeping, or intervention.
But after it does happen the humane solution is not to allow a desire for “justice” to allow 700,000-1,000,000 refugees to gradually (thanks to increasing population and further wars over it that leave to more refugees) to become several millions of refugees! That is just sick.
It is to accept the refugees before the problem can fester and if possible arrange compensation. If a fraction of the money spent on war and military aid and civilian aid by all sides had gone to resettlement, the majority of the humanitarian problem would be over by now ( and perhaps “Justice” as a multi-billion dollar monetary settlement could be arranged in international courts with a counting of the costs to both sides and compensation.)
The plight of the Vietnamese boat people are another good and bad example. Total numbers were in excess of the initial Palestinian refugees; many suffered terribly in refugee camps, but over 700,000 were also resettled (over 500,000 in US and Canada).
– the number of Palestinians living as refugees have grown significantly over time. Had the issue been dealt with in the 1950s or even the 1970s through resettlement the problem would be less acute today.
– Problems like Kuwait expelling 200,000 Palestinians as a result of their perceived support of Iraq didn’ t help much. Neither did the civil war (“Black September) in Jordan. Arafat claimed the Jordanese killed 10,000-25,000 Palestinians; the Jordanians claimed 1,000-2,000. I guess other Arabs didn’t listen to calls for “Restraint” when their own interests were threatened by Palestinian desire for resistance. (You can argue that Jordan and Kuwait are puppets of the west, but they were just Arab monarchies attempting to preserve themselves. Even though they helped cause the problem by backing and bankrolling the wars that led to the refugee crisis)
– I’d also point out that Gaza was treated in a pretty shameful way by Egypt in the decades that it exerted control. Had they granted citizenship to those Palestinians who wanted it or fully absorbed Gaza, rather than treating it as a ghetto of their own, things might have been different even if the ’73 war still occurred.
Just to be clear: while I blame Arab governments and Hamas ideologues, I also blame some Israelis, ranging from the hard core present government to sick fanatics who killed the Palestinian teenager or assassinated Yitzak Rabeen or those who enabled and permitted the Sabra massacres.
But I don’t think Israel is acting any differently from most other Western states when faced with similar problems (I’ve already mentioned elsewhere that things like mass arrests are, sadly, exactly what Canada or the UK has done when faced with similar issues in Quebec and Northern Ireland).
All around the world for the last 50 years or so refugees and minorities and the people caught on the wrong side of wars or ethnic/religious divides have been treated badly.
The Israeli situation is special but it is “special” because of racism – the apparent assumption that Israel (being, I guess, western in much of its culture, supported by US aid, and a state of former victims) must “do better” than its Arab neighbors do (despite their generally far more cruel and brutal oppression of Kurds, or Muslim Brotherhood, or Sunnis/Shia).
What’s needed is less racism and shaming, and more practical solutions. The Arab countries need to ask themselves “what would I DO in that situation” – bu t their own answers, as shown in Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, etc. tend to be implicitly “we’d have solved the problem long ago – by brutal massacre and expulsion.” The Israelis need to deal with their own Zionist fanatics in their own ranks who insist on building settlements.
Until that basic hypocrisy is addressed nothing will be done. The arab states will continue to say “it’s Israel’s fault” and the Americans and Israelis will continue to say “it’s the arab’s or terrorists fault”
Well, again, a lot of stuff to cover, so I’ll try to go in order.
First, there’s a lot of mention of the sins of the Arab states. Now I grew up in one, so you’re preaching to the choir, but again, these offenses, no matter how grave, aren’t relevant. Neither are those of the West or of any country, really. The heinous actions of one group don’t excuse the heinous actions of another.
Alternatively, submitting a “lesser evil” doesn’t work either (in a moral sense, anyways). I mean, the deaths and injuries of the Civil Rights movement could’ve been avoided by African-Americans moving en-masse to West Africa. Would some folks who died have lived? Absolutely, but it also would’ve meant the continued existence of a despicable system.
Justice, I say, is the ultimate end. We can talk practicality and expedience, but if these things don’t lead to a more just, equal, and moral world, then I say they’re empty and pointless. “Better to die on your feet than live on your knees” and all that. Heck, to take it from MLK Jr., “Peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the presence of justice”.
Personally (and I think the other writers of the blog would back me up on this one) I’m in favor of the one-state solution as the only just option out there.
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I read your one-state solution post.
I’m afraid that if you think that will work, there isn’t much to talk about, because it’s kind of like saying that a communist party is going to be elected to the US congress and when they do, they will be able to give everyone a guaranteed income and balance the budget.
It’s not going to happen in the real world. It’s especially not going to happen in a real world where you have things like – in democratic France – representatives of the 1.5 million Muslims (themselves often oppressed) launching anti-Semitic attacks on the 500,000 Jews. If that is what Jewish-Muslim relationships are like in a democracy where both are minorities, one can imagine what it will be like in the “One State Solution.”
So I think you’re wasting your time by advocating it, or doing so as mainly a means of propaganda. In the latter case, I think it’s reasonable – it’s a decent tactic as it makes it a nice sound byte, but I think it’s a losing argument except with those who are already on your side.
“Democracy” always sounds good. Tell you what. When all of Canada, including Quebec, merge into one single “one state” province with the same laws, or when all the US states give up their own individual state-based laws, I’ll believe One State will happen in Israel.
Otherwise, I don’t see it happening now. Maybe in two or three generations the demographics will force Israelis to make different choices. But not for quite a while. Moreover, I fear that if a two-state solution is not adopted before that moment the same demographics may lead to worse things waiting.
In the past, I hoped for a two-state solution. Maybe it will happen. These days I kind of feel that the original “three state solution” is the most realistic – either Gaza to Egypt and West Band to Jordan – and let those states grant de-facto independence (like Guam or Puerto Rico if they want) and protect them.
Anyway, good luck! We’ve had a civil discourse on a heated subject, which in time when Palestinians are dying and rockets are flying is something of a success in itself. I probably won’t ever agree with you, but maybe some good people in the middle east will manage to better.