Most of the people who peruse this blog, or my former one, are well aware that I am not a knee-jerk, pro-Israel person. I support the idea of a Palestinian state, and lament not only how Israel treats Palestinians under occupation, but how it treats its Arab citizens (some 20% of the total Israeli population), non-Orthodox Jews, and immigrants to its shores. That said, I also find the Palestinian leadership to be odious, especially in that it perpetuates the refugee lifestyle that has persisted 60 years after the State of Israel was founded. I also resent the misuse of history by both sides. Each side takes its own narrative that, while in some cases at least based on truth, is inherently false.
On the Israeli side, there are the “historical claims” that the Palestinians simply didn’t exist before 1948, that Jews have an inherent right to the land without having to share, and that Arabs largely left the area on their own accord thinking they’d return after the invading Arab states pushed the Jews out to the sea in 1948. The reality is that Palestinian Arabs and what were then Palestinian Jews did indeed coexist, albeit imperfectly, before 1948. While Jews were indeed present in that area for centuries, so were other peoples, and one could argue that the claim to that land based on history is no more valid than the claim that Spain should be given to Muslims or that Afghanistan should be ceded to Chinese Buddhists, all because at one time they ruled that territory. And Israeli historians have confirmed that in many cases, Arabs were very much driven from the land during the 1948 war.
But let’s look at the competing Palestinian claims. I’ve heard it said that things were fine until Israel took over additional territory in the 1967 war, that it’s all about land, and even that there was no Jewish presence in Palestine/Israel until the late 19th Century. The reality, again, is much different. There was certainly terrorism on both sides before 1967; indeed, the first acts of terrorism were generally carried out by Arabs against Jewish populations (eg, Hebron, 1929). And while land discrepancies are certainly part of the problem, the conflict goes deeper than that, and even involves religion (Hamas, for example, is a religious organization as well as a political one). Finally, the archeological evidence more than supports the historical record that Jews were inhabitants in that part of the world for many, many centuries, regardless of how many times some Palestinians try to deny it.
There is genetic evidence that there is really no significant difference between Palestinians and Israeli Jews. Yet they continue to battle to the death in the mistaken belief that there is a military solution to their conflict. There isn’t; all that keeps happening is more of the same: death, destruction and bitterness. One of the core issues is the fact that both sides simply don’t respect one another as human beings. To the Palestinians, the Israelis (whether Jewish, Druze, Bedouin, etc.) are aggressors, occupiers and terrible people, period. To the Israelis, the Palestinians are terrorists, are subhuman, are just outright bad. Neither group wants to deal with the other, but even when Israel puts up barriers to ignore the other side, the other side finds a way to peek in and stir up trouble. It should also be noted that Israel’s barrier is not at all equitable; rather than demarcate the current border between Israel and the West Bank, it wanders, causing major difficulties and burdens to the native Palestinian population. Add to that the reprehensible actions of many Israeli settlers, some of whom believe god gives them the right to all of that land, and you have significant hurdles for any compromise.
So both sides are right. And both sides are terribly wrong. Right now, it can be argued that Hamas is the cause of the current strife in Gaza by lobbing Qassam missiles into Israel proper. Hamas is also arguing that they did not violate the expired ceasefire, that Israel struck first. I think it’s irrelevant who started this. I’d rather hope that people are working on determining how to end it.
Israel’s response, as it often is (cf. Lebanon 1982, Lebanon 2006) is disproportionate. Certainly, one can’t expect a 1:1 response, but while Qassam missiles are disruptive, they are rarely lethal (only a handful of people had died in Israel from these missiles in all of 2008 until the current hostilities started up) because they are homemade and very inaccurate. Killing almost 400 people, many of them civilians, because of a small number of deaths and some property damage is like napalming someone’s house for stealing a loaf of bread. This breeds longtime resentment and, ultimately, terrorism. True, Israel withdrew from Gaza a few years ago, which seemed like the right thing to do. But it still controls Gaza in terms of its airspace, its offshore coast and its borders. If Israel wants to prevent electricity from reaching Gaza, it can and does. If it wants to embargo goods to Gaza, it can and does. Locked in this population-dense prison, it’s not surprising that some people will fight back, even if it constitutes terrorism. I’m not justifying terrorism; there is no justification for terrorism, whether committed by Palestinians or the Irgun/Lehi during the years running up to 1948. But clearly, the absence of a solution, of hope, does push many people towards terrorism and violence.
So I think Israel is wrong. I understand the frustration with the missiles falling into Southern Israel on a daily basis. I agree that any nation has a duty to protect its people. But there’s a difference between acting to stop a threat and taking actions that kill a great number of people, leading to a cycle of violence that will result in the deaths of many more people until the leaders finally figure out a way to stop the violence while saving face. That’s what happened in Lebanon two years ago, and that war clearly did nothing to help Israel, but rather emboldened Hezbollah and Iran. I’m not sure anyone needs a repeat of the same thing this time around. Our government supports Israel, but we need to regain the position of being an honest broker for peace. Because the Bush Administration only rarely criticized Israeli actions, it makes it much harder to argue that Israel should “behave itself.” Until we provide some tough love towards Israel, nothing will change.
I get criticized a lot for not being “rah rah Israel” like many would have me be. I’ve been miscast as similar to Noam Chomsky (who, while I don’t always agree with him, is a brilliant mind and at least tries to offer his alternative viewpoint in a productive fashion) or Jimmy Carter (whom I’d respect more if I didn’t feel he was very one-sided on the Palestinian side; no side has the monopoly on truth or justice). I actually think I’m really in the middle. I don’t agree with those who feel it is wrong to criticize Israeli actions. I also don’t agree with the “blame Israel first” crowd. So I can’t please anyone.
I don’t agree that one shouldn’t criticize Israel. I expect better from Israel than I do many other countries, so when I’m disappointed, I feel it necessary to express it. Israel has done some terrible things, just as the US has done terrible things (Tuskeegee, genocide against the Indians, starting a war in Iraq, dropping two nuclear bombs on civilian populations, Vietnam, etc.). Just because I criticize my own country doesn’t mean I’m a lousy American. Criticizing Israel for its horrible actions as an occupier and land usurper doesn’t mean I’m a lousy Jew.