Friday, May 05, 2006

Israel & Palestine - my twopennyworth

Keefieboy's Democracy entry generated a very serious debate on the rights and many wrongs of the Israel/Palestinian situation. Now I’d like to add my thoughts, but Keefieboy’s had enough, so I’m putting it on my blog. I hope that's ok?

Bandicoot said: I’m a bit disheartened at how other bloggers seemingly decided to stay out of this (assuming anybody is reading our posts).... [W]ith very little chance that either one of us would experience a dramatic change in their minds and stands......... I believe we’re testing our ideas in a public forum of sorts, as we argue back and forth, forcing us and others to think and rethink this stuff. This I thought would’ve attracted few more people to participate, but unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be the case.

Bandicoot and Tim - I for one have 'stayed out of this' because I have nothing to contribute except cheers for the fact that you both speak so thoughtfully and passionately from your own knowledge and understanding of a situation which matters to me, but also baffles me.

The books you quote, Bandicoot, are not in local bookstores as far as I am aware; and to find for myself the sites you cite (!) takes me through so many hideous, heartbreaking, rage-filled propagandist sites for both sides that I quit. I have followed your debate to learn, and have not interrupted because I didn't want to distract. I suspect that there are many more like me.

Keefieboy said: maybe I don't really know anything about Hamas. I think that not many of us foreign nationals do, really, beyond the balaclavas and bombs.

For my part, I knew nothing about Hamas's grassroots community work, their hands-on support for families living for years with unimaginable, and largely unreported, deprivation, until the election campaign began, and it was mentioned in a TV report on Hamas's appeal. To me, they were desperately misguided extremists; by no means justified in their suicide bombs, but a predictable product of generations of repression, and the extinction of hope for any kind of normal life through any other means. To Palestinian voters, however, they were a group with a track record of social action, and an alternative to a regime whose complacency, croneyism and corruption had long since leeched its credibility.

Anonymous said: People are being killed daily, prohibited the right to learn, to eat well. [W]here are the human rights now?

Bandicoot referred to: Israel’s policy of demolishing the homes and bulldozing the livelihood of thousands of Palestinian families.... of detaining Palestinians indefinitely without trial, wide-spread abuse and racism... and officially-sanctioned torture and assassination, and made what to me seems the obvious point that: Decades of daily humiliation, routine violation of basic human rights, and systematic brutality will not produce a nation of Buddhas! People who knew the reality of the Occupation, including many foresighted Israelis, warned repeatedly that the gross injustice of Israel’s military rule will only degrade the humanity and morality of both occupier and occupied. Their words couldn’t have more prophetic.

Tim Newman responded with: I flatly refuse to view the deliberate mass murder of civilians by terrorist militias in any context. It is inexcusable, period. echoing Keefieboy's any 'political' organisation that uses violence as a means to an end is a terrorist organisation in my book. That includes the likes of the IRA, ETA, Tamil Tigers etc. They may have legitimate arguments and claims, but bombing innocent people is 100% not the way to pursue those arguments, as both the IRA and ETA have now conceded.

Yes, it's inexcusable, and, as everyone eventually concedes, ineffective. Except: governments which use terror often win, at least for a time.

It's a matter of resources, ruthlessness, and connections. If you've got a big 'defence' budget; a social control network in which intelligent, educated and amoral strategists work with ambitious career executives to control and direct education, the judiciary, national media, international lobbyists, and the energies of large numbers of well-armed, semi-literate, underpaid, testosterone-fuelled sociopaths whose idea of a good day's work, or a good night off, includes rocket attacks, kidnap, rape, massacre, looting and arson; coupled with the de facto support of other governments either reluctant to criticise for fear of jeopardising their own interests; or defeated by the compexity or longevity of the situation - well, you have a very strong hand against internal dissent (or should I say ‘democracy’?).

A hand like that, well-played, can keep a system, incumbent or dynasty in power for a very long time. Stalinist Russia, Maoist China, Ceauşecu, Amin, Mugabe, Pinochet etc. etc. etc.

A reign of terror is generally more effective if it's managed quietly, through a system in which people are ‘re-educated’ à la USSR or China or simply 'disappear' à la Latin America. You can get away with that for decades, generations even, especially if you’re big. Blatant massacre à la Janjaweed Militia tends to stir international outrage, but if you don’t mind, then it don’t matter. Political assassination by helicopter gunship à la Israeli Army also upsets people, even your friends; but if your ‘friends’ are rather nervous of the potential political fall-out from falling out with you – you can probably get away with that sort of thing for decades too.

Amnesty International and the United Nations do their best and have their successes, but velvet and rose revolutions may only be possible when a weaker dynastic or political generation coincides with the emergence of an individual who can unite and inspire a population otherwise numbed by oppression.

Candidates for this position should offer a broad education; good health; integrity, vision and moral and physical courage; charisma; emotional stamina for the long haul through national optimism, triumph, impatience and disillusionment; a gift for detail; recognition of their personal limitations; the ability to recognise and retain honest and talented colleagues; bone-deep belief in social justice, the rights and responsibilities of the electorate; and no dynastic ambitions whatsoever. Those afflicted by inferiority, persecution or messianic complexes, or a belief that what this country needs is military discipline, need not apply.

Long term political stability and economic development, in a social and political environment which respects individual freedoms, are far more difficult to achieve if the population has been denied proper nutrition, healthcare, education and employment opportunities for more than a generation. If, in addition to this, funerals have been a regular part of their community life for as long as they can remember, in communities where everyone is related to almost everyone else by blood or marriage, the emotional under-swell is unfathomable and, it seems to me, one of the greatest obstacles to social cohesion and stability. The sad, sad, ultimately hopeless need to make sense of violent death, to believe that someone precious ‘did not die in vain’, to use a hackneyed phrase, lies weeping in the way of any peace process, but most especially after ‘civil’ war.

How does either side forgive? How can you call it ‘quits’, shake hands, and start again? Those bastards killed your husband, your wife, your mother, your cousin, your eighteen month-old grandson. Because of them your daughter does not speak anymore, your four year-old draws nothing but APVs and explosions, your eleven-year old is more interested in throwing stones at soldiers than playing football, and your sixteen year-old has a look in his eyes that makes your heart go cold.

Melodramatic? Composite. And real.

Where does forgiveness start?
What do we do with the primal need to make someone pay?
How do we trust people who would do what these people have done: these Palestinians, these Israelis, these Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, insurgents, Americans, British, Tamils, Basques, these government forces?
Why should they have their independence, their territory, their self-determination, their theocracy, their democracy, their international support, their reconstruction grants, their control of oilfields, gas reserves, water supplies, fertile land?
Why should they get what they want when we have suffered so much, and been condemned because we had to fight for our survival as human beings?

To outsiders what looks like a bloody-minded rage for revenge, an irrational, barely human, urge in those people to perpetuate a cycle of death, begins to look a little different if someone of ours comes home in a box, if at all, after a landmine, a drive-by shooting, a suicide bombing. Then, what price forgiveness, justice, a rational appraisal of the most positive way forward?

To return to Tim: I flatly refuse to view the deliberate mass murder of civilians by terrorist militias in any context. It is inexcusable, period. Putting such acts into context gives them a veneer of acceptability that I do not believe they should ever be granted.

I agree that it’s inexcusable, but I think that we do have to recognise context, not to impart any spurious respectability, but to acknowledge the agony and desperation that produce these inexcusable actions, because it seems to me that that’s part of how we can contribute to any peace process.

Part of the difficulty facing foreign diplomatic agents in the Middle East is the perception that we’re all part of the Greater United States, and Zionists to boot. Of course, this is the line that Ahmedinejad, Osama bin Laden and Al Zarqawi promote, and which is probably peddled assiduously in Islamist mosques throughout Asia, the Middle East and the parts of Europe where Muslim immigrants are evidently nursing grievances of their own.

From Anonymous: Why do you look at dead Israelis and read their stories, but not even spare a moment to learn all the stories behind Palestinian deaths?

With respect, not true, or at least not entirely.

These stories are in the papers, and on the Internet, and people read them.

International channels and newspapers do generally aim for balance. Owners’ political agendas affect the appointment of editors, which of course affects both what is reported, and how it is reported. BUT – (big but!) we have a choice of newspapers in all the major languages, and these days, a remarkable number of people are fluent in two or more languages. There are British papers I would not use to line the garbage bin with, but others I trust and greatly enjoy. I make a point of following domestic and international news stories on both British and American news channels, not just to rule out editorial bias, but also to get the mood of the society they are reporting from and to. (The US is as foreign to me as any other country.) And I’m basically quite lazy about this: many more non-Arabs and non-Muslims try very hard to get to the truth; and to be fair, the reputable western national dailies aim to provide that, along with balanced editorial comment and background information.

No, not everyone reads deeply or regularly – but many do, because we want, we need, to know, to try and figure out what’s going on. Why else would we blog about all this? Why have Tim and Bandicoot gone back and forth on this for days on end? I quoted Bandicoot on that at the outset: we’re testing our ideas in a public forum of sorts..... forcing us and others to think and rethink this stuff..

Sure, there are racist bloggers, but they tend to limit themselves to pathetic kneejerk insults in other people’s comment blogs. I think you, Tim and Bandicoot are better than that. I know I try to be.

The creation of the State of Israel through the breathtakingly arrogant meddling of the United States, Great Britain et al, was a colonialist’s solution to an ancient wrong – the deportation of the Jews and erasure of their homeland, as an entity, by the Romans; plus an ongoing injustice – the anti-semitism which has pervaded European society since the Middle Ages; and of course, a specific disaster - what we would now term a crime against humanity, i.e. Hitler’s attempts to finish what the Romans started, by erasing the entire race of Judah from his patch. Iran and the Arab nations can dispute all they wish, but the Holocaust happened, and 6,000,000 Jews were exterminated. Accepting that is not a step towards accepting that what was done to Palestine was justified.

The Holocaust did not, and does not, excuse the displacement of 300,000 Palestinians to make room for a new State of Israel. Nor the subsequent actions of the Israeli government as quoted by Bandicoot. It is bitterly ironic that Jews, Arab Muslims and Arab Christians were rubbing along quite comfortably until then. Live and let live.

I also find it ironic that, at a point when Crusades, anti-Jewish legislation, Jew-baiting, and pogroms were receding into history, (salutary examples of our inexhaustible ability to make scapegoats of others); just as America was benefiting from the culture and skills of the second-and third- generation descendants of 19th and 20th Century refugees from European anti-Semitism; and the Wandering Jew of legend was discovering that the New World, the Land of the Free, might just possibly be his Promised Land too; when Europe and America was awash with guilt about what had been allowed to happen in Germany and Poland, and Jewish stock had probably never been higher (Er, no, I don’t imagine for a second that we were all about to live happily ever after in harmonious diversity. Come on!!) – at this point, in a mess of good intentions, political expediency, moral cowardice and paternalistic WASP blindness to the reality and validity of foreign cultures, Uncle Sam and his buddies orchestrated a folly only Dubbya could surpass.

We all live with the legacy of that decision. The world hugs itself with fear. But what’s done is done, and Israel is a sovereign state. Nor is that going to change, in my estimation.

When, in 1967, Israel’s Arab neighbours surrounded her and attempted to wipe her off the map, she fought back with everything she had, beat them off, and has continued to hold them off ever since.

Throughout history, the Middle East and North Africa have seen migrations and invasions, and the rise and fall of cultures. In modern times, English is spoken widely in the Middle East; many citizens of post-colonial North Africa are bilingual in Arabic and French, Portuguese or whatever; and there is other evidence of European influence; even so, no European country has successfully conquered any of these Arab states, or displaced their culture or religion. Arab society is built on community, and a sense of community is built on generations of continued occupancy of land. People are connected through their relationships with each other and their land. From this they draw their sense of who they are. Real estate is a western capitalist concept. Land is different. People hold onto their land.

It seems to me that the insertion of Israel into Palestine is both the exception to and a confirmation of this precept, and the key to the Palestinians’, and their neighbours’, inability to oust the Israelis (disregarding US economic, technical and diplomatic support) lies partly in the fact that some of the pre-Israel population was Jewish, and this was indisputably their land.

More important though (in my opinion), is the concept of ‘The Promised Land’ among the diaspora, and the fact that, as contemporary expats and first generation immigrants do everywhere, they kept their sense of self in foreign countries by retaining their customs and culture. Had they fully integrated into European life as immigrants eventually do, embracing their new home, things might have been very different; but having lost their actual country, and finding themselves the despised ‘killers of Christ’ in Europe, perhaps the only way to hold on to their identity and self-respect was to hold on to the culture that bound them together. A defence mechanism which only further emphasised their difference in aggressively Christian Europe, both before and after the Reformation.

Emotionally, spiritually, culturally, home was Palestine. And so in 1948, having had absolute proof that anti-semitism was alive and well in the modern world, Jews did not head for Israel as invaders or colonists: they went home. Being loathed and despised by their neighbours, being legislated against, insulted and assaulted, was nothing new. The Wandering Jew had returned to the Land of Israel, promised to Moses by God, and, by God, would stay.

Palestine belongs to the Palestinians.
Israel belongs to the Israelis.
Sixty years of Israeli oppression have not altered Palestinian determination to get their homeland back.
Sixty years of Palestinian resistance culminating in the Intifada have not changed Israeli determination to hold on to their homeland.

Both sides have committed disgraceful crimes for which their God will no doubt hold them to account. But if both sides are prepared to spend 60 years in a living hell of bloodshed, fear and mistrust, to bring up embittered children brutalised by modern guerrilla warfare, to face international condemnation for their actions, and can still square their consciences with their God, then it seems to me that neither is ever going to move out.

There will be no weary surrender from either side, and neither will ever – ever – know peace and freedom unless they are brave enough, strong enough, godly enough, to agree to disagree, to hammer the swords into ploughshares, and to develop as fair a division as possible of that stretch of land into two parallel states.

It is going to be very very hard. For many, compromise betrays the efforts of those now dead; but surely intransigence condemns the living to lifelong misery and fear, and betrays those not yet born.


Anonymous said...

Its me, I saw your "Invitation" on Keefieboy's blog and decided to come take a look.
Well it seems more of (Don't you dare come to my blog) But i still came anyways.

(Sure, there are racist bloggers, but they tend to limit themselves to pathetic kneejerk insults in other people’s comment blogs.)

Where you by any chance referring to me?

I liked your post way better than Keefieboy's. You seem to take both prespectives and a fair comparison between different points of view. Thank you.

I would prefer however to stay Anonymous so I cant really be publishing of my Blog since its not about Palestine in any way. Keefie; however, has motivated me to start a Palestinian-based Blog which I will hopefully have done soon.

MamaDuck said...

Hi there Anonymous (May I call you An?!) and thank you very much for coming, and reading all that! I didn't set out to write an epic, and half-wondered if anyone would read it all!

Two things, though.

Firstly,how does my straightforward hopeful invite turn into a contemptuous "Invitation"? Why should you or anyone else think that? Why would I write a blog, if not to be read, or specifically invite you unless I wanted your input?

And as for implying that you're racist, well, I'm quite stunned. If I'm going to slap someone I'll do it then and there, not invite you to my house, show you my CD collection, and then sock you on the nose!

At least you came, yeah? So shall we just take it slowly?!

Anyway, good luck with your blog. I get a great deal of pleasure - and probably some therapy!! - from writing mine; and it's been a treat to read other people's responses, and to go visit their blog. There are so many interesting and lovely people out there, and now I get to meet them. I often feel quite isolated, being so far away from my family, and generally too tired from work (which I love) to maintain a social life, and blogging has begun to soothe that feeling. Even if I don't meet my correspondents in person, we have a sharing of minds and experiences, the opportunity for debate, and a a really silly haiku party going on! Yay! And I only started this a month ago, almost to the day.

And my blog isn't about Palestine either. It's about what I think, and what I feel, and the situation in Palestine/Israel is part of that.

I grew up with the 'Northern Ireland situation' making the nightly news for years on end, and the apparently endless bombings, kneecapping, tarring and feathering in a mess of religion and politics.

There would be reports of people from both sides - often people who had lost their own children - working together to bridge the gap, to promote what they all had in common - families they loved, jobs they needed, and such a desire for a 'normal' life - to encourage dialogue and forgiveness.

But with every killing or assault, there would be furious speeches, cold threats, revenge attacks, and some group phoning a newspaper to claim responsibility. I think, in the end, it has only really stopped because everyone is so desperately tired of misery and fear; and because long years without any kind of progress have persuaded the leadership in various factions that all that intimidation and speechmaking and bloodshed has not achieved anything, and is not going to achieve anything either.

For some people, accepting compromise after decades of fighting for their goal seems like a betrayal of the thousands who died along the way. Others don't want to give up the passion and purpose of armed struggle in favour of voting for what you want; and the boring ordinariness of normal life.

But it sounds as if the silent majority have become the quietly relentless majority who say 'Enough!' and that there is a very strong possibility of an end to bloodshed, and the beginning of learning how to live without fear.

Every struggle is different, but suffering is suffering, no matter who you are or where, and in what century, you suffer.

No-one is ever fully satisfied, at the time, with a peace bought by negotiation and compromise with sworn enemies. But it's usually the only way to get peace, when neither side is strong enough to crush the other. But this, I think, is where people show their courage, even their nobility; because their generation will never be free of the grief and mistrust engendered by so much pain and loss, but they know that through their restraint, and their focus on rebuilding, their children - or at least their children's children - will know peace, ordinariness, and a life lived without fear.

OK, my dinner's ready. Bye for now.

Keefieboy said...

Anon: looks like your paranoia is coming along just fine. You claim to have been reading my blog for a long time, so you'll probably know that I am a Libran, and fairness is my middle name. I can always see numerous sides to any story. But I do have a cut-off point, and that is triggered when innocent people get killed. I know that there are many regimes around the world who go in for killing innocent people, and Israel is undeniably one of them. But I wasn't talking about Israel.

All I said on my blog was that I considered Hamas to be a terrorist organisation (in line with what most of the rest of the world thinks). Actually that's overstating it - what provoked your ire was this sentence: "In Palestine the terrorist Hamas organisation won". I probably thought about that sentence for less than a nanosecond when I wrote it, but for the life of me I can't see anything wrong with it. In the context of my article there's no need for me to say 'oh, and by the way, the Israelis are a bit nasty too'.

But if you seriously think that Hamas has a cat in hell's chance of improving the life of Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza, well, you're already seeing they haven't. My article was about how the Middle East is not grown up enough to deal with democracy properly. Palestine is a glaring case in point: given the choice been an acceptable and progressive option, and an unacceptable terrorist organisation that is shunned by the rest of the world, the Palestinians went and voted for the latter. If I was a psychologist I might be able to explain to you why that happened, but I'm not, and all I can see now is that Palestinians committed a form of mass suicide.

Anon: get this into your head: terrorists NEVER win. You do not achieve your goals by killing innocent people. It's very simple really.

Anonymous said...

Mamduck: Thank you very much for the warm and friendly welcome. Sorry for the misunderstanding! Great blog!

Keefie: (Looks like your paranoia is coming along just fine.)
Thank you for being so polite.

When Palestinian children grow up to find their father dead, their uncle handicapped and their brothers wounded and scarred. They wont rush down to the street and sing Christmas carols.