Sunday, December 02, 2012

A step forward for Palestine

I have to declare myself somewhat surprised and rather buoyed by the news that United Nations voted this week, and by a considerable margin, to promote Palestine to the status of a non-member observer state. It seems the long-awaited emergence of the other country created by the UN in 1948 onto the world stage at last, if only as an understudy.

It comes, at last, as the world saying to Israel that it is sick of the ceaseless encroachment on borders that were already beyond the pale when they were "settled" in 1967. That it's tired of seeing Israel content to treat the Palestinians as we are constantly reminded the Germans were content to treat the inhabitants of the Krakow and Warsaw ghettos prior to 1943. That's it's had enough of the hypocrisy of the slogan "never again" when it should apply to everyone but in practice is clearly meant to apply only to one nation, one tradition, and one people; the rest be damned.

I hold no truck with the idea that the objections or even the militancy of Palestinians gives Israelis any such right to treat them this way. Let us remember most of the Jews living in what was till 1948 the mandate of Palestine have chosen to move there, and that in doing so, they were displacing people who had lived there, as a people, back into antiquity as ancient as their own. Can anyone with even in inkling of conscience deny that Palestinians are as prone as anyone else to object to that kind of treatment, particularly when it's done on the basis of "scriptures" that are not their own, but someone else's?

I'm truly glad that the world has finally said the time to back off and let the two parties work it out is past, and that principle demands some justice for the Palestinians that will not be forthcoming without the kind of demands it once brought to bear on South Africa, Indonesia, and, yes, perhaps even Serbia. And I'm truly disappointed that the Tory government of my country, elected by 2/5 of its people, has rendered Canada one of the bare handful of countries to vote against the measure, and mark us down forever in history on the wrong side of the issue as the champion the strong against the weak, and the remorseless over those they have disposed. It is a truly black mark on the reputation of this government and the country it has the privilege to speak for in the world.

5 comments:

Scott Palmer, Ph.D. said...

You argued the case very well, though I can't agree with all of your points.
I confess at the outset that I am not an impartial observer of the conflict. As a Jewish American with friends in Israel, I must be loyal to my friends and co-religionists. From my friends, I also hear on a personal level how they see the conflict and how much they feel threatened by the Palestinians. So I must try to support Israel at the same time as I support a just and peaceful resolution.

Together with 78 percent of Israelis, I support giving the Palestinians their own state. The Israeli government's occupation and restrictions on Palestine are inconsistent with the most fundamental principles of Judaism: that all people are children of God, and that justice is one of our highest duties.

That said, the borders and rights of a Palestinian state must be consistent with the reasonable -- I emphasize "reasonable" -- security needs of Israel. Both sides have suffered in the conflict. Both sides have zealots who believe that the land (including all of Jerusalem) is theirs by Divine right. Both sides have haters who wish harm to the other side. To resolve the situation, both Israel and Palestine must stand up to their own fringe elements and make compromises that neither side wants to make.

I cannot agree with your suggestion that Israel's treatment of the Palestinians is comparable to Nazis' treatment of the Jews: even the most bellicose Israelis don't want to exterminate the Palestinians. I agree that both the Israeli and Palestinian governments should avoid needless bloodshed and provocations, and I agree that Israel could do more, faster, to reach a peaceful settlement. But it takes two.

barefoot hiker said...

Hi, Scott,
I’m reluctant to respond because I know feelings are high about this matter. I was reluctant even to post. And then I thought, why in the world should I be? These are my opinions, formed over 25 years of watching the Intifada—which slowly changed my mind on the matter—and I have a right to express them (which I do not suggest you take issue with). And I think they need to be.

I understand that making a direct comparison to Nazi Germany is highly offensive to the sensibilities of some, possibly most Israelis and even Jews at large. It should be. But the point is, if the shoe pinches, that ought to be a sign it’s time to reflect.

I agree with you that it’s in no way official policy of the state of Israel to exterminate the Palestinians. (One should hope so!) This is why I made mention of 1943. It was in the spring of that year that the Krakow and Warsaw ghettos were liquidated. Prior to that, they were small enclaves, supposedly run by the people living in them, but whose movement in and out and communications with the world were strictly controlled, who were required to carry identity documents at all time, whose territory and homes were subject to oversight and intrusion by a foreign power. Palestinians under occupation being walled in just as Jews in Polish ghettos under occupation were. Laws that require the permission of the state for Palestinians to live with their Israeli spouses (typically ethnically Palestinian) being upheld, this very year, by the Supreme Court of Israel. We hear reports of roads Palestinians are not allowed to travel in occupied territories: determined by license plate rather than a yellow star stitched on one’s sleeve. At least some of those measures have nothing to do with young men firing homemade rockets out of the Gaza Strip. I have a hard time pretending not to sense the reek of the Nuremberg Laws in such measure. If anyone objects that they’re “not as bad”, remember that this is with the world watching. It’s fair to ask what measures might be too extreme if we looked away.

I’ve read that one of the reasons Israel rejects the promotion of Palestine to statehood at the UN is that it now possible for Palestine to appeal to the World Court and charge Israel with crimes against humanity. Why should this be a problem for Israelis, though, if they honestly don’t believe that’s even in issue? Could it be because they recognize that “humanity” just might? Well, again, that should be a wake-up call.

The Holocaust has become a defining moment for Judaism unlike anything since the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans 2000 years ago. It will shape the personality and direction of Judaism forevermore, and it should. But to my mind, it should have made any fair-minded people who experienced it the first and foremost to oppose any such treatment of anyone, anywhere in the world. Instead, the lesson seems to have been learned that these are the methods by which a nation secures itself in the face of those in its thrall. We’ve spent generations now commemorating the Holocaust while well within the living memory of many of its victims, Israel has ever-increasingly availed itself of its methods to whatever extent it can get away with under the gaze of the rest of humanity. The world is finally garnering the courage to throw off the hair shirt and say plainly that it can no longer accept the disparity between principle and conduct.

Bridgewater said...

Barefoot, your remarks reflect the feelings of everybody I know with regard to the UN vote. With 78% of Israelis favoring the two-state solution as well, one would think it would be a done deal. In his book One Palestine, Complete, Israeli historian Tom Segev challenges the Israeli narrative of victimhood. That's not the same as Jewish victimhood, which of course has been very real over the course of their existence. Palestinian victimhood was, it seems to me, very much like what happened to the people living in North America when the white folks got there: the first Zionists were European Jews with a European mentality, comparatively worldly and well educated, and the people living in Palestine were perhaps viewed in the same way as the whites saw the Indians. The Zionists drove them off, burning their olive groves; sound familiar? The British of course had no right to give Palestine to anybody, but a good case is made for the creation of the Jewish state in a book I'm reading called Savage Continent, about Europe after the War. Dr. Palmer, you clearly are a compromiser. As you have noted, the extremists are controlling events on both sides. Compromise seems unlikely, given the fact that, for both sides, losing face is anathema. Barefoot is right--it's time for some kind of intervention. The US could bring pressure to bear on both sides--the offer of support for a state for the Palestinians, and the threat of withdrawal of foreign aid to Israel--but unfortunately, not gonna happen, for several reasons. For one, the Israel lobby is the tail wagging the US foreign policy dog (and with respect to Israel, the Canadian government is the US's lap dog). Any suggestion that the Israeli government might not be completely in the right is met by accusations of anti-Semitism. Then there's the secret-Muslim-Obama myth--can't offer a scrap to the Palestinians without the religious wingnuts screeching about the Islamist in the White House. And speaking of the wingnuts, their narrative requires unquestioning support of Israel, that their interpretation of end-times prophecy might be fulfilled. Another example of which: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/06/opinion/collins-santorum-strikes-again.html?hp&_r=0 . US internal politics impedes the world's well-being yet again.

barefoot hiker said...

Hi, Bridgewater,

It occurred to me the other day that the colonization of the Americas by Europeans could be evoked. For consistency’s sake, I’d have to take a stand against it the way it played out. Obviously, by modern standards, the only correct way for this to have taken place would have been by Europeans arriving and acclimating to the existing cultures, and possibly modifying them somewhat over time, just as the arrival of Asians in North America is doing today. But I wasn’t there, and I’m not in any position to change that, and things have moved on such that even if I were to hop a flight back to Europe and start building myself a humble little cottage on the land my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was dispossessed of in the Highland Clearances, at this point, I’d wind up in the clink or a padded room, and then the first flight back to the Great White North anyway. Likewise, there’s no point in wishing Israel had been established in, say, Bavaria on land taken from people actually responsible for the Holocaust. Israel is where it is.

While it is heartening to hear, and repeatedly, that the great majority of Israelis are in favour of a state for Palestinians, in practice it hasn’t amounted to much. Netanyahu, whose militant obstructionism of any kind of progress for the Palestinians is plain and unapologetic, was, after all, elected to run the country and stands to be re-elected, too. In reality, the professed sentiments of Israelis amounts to little more than Thomas Jefferson’s guilty conscience and high words about slavery... which did little to benefit the people he owned and continued to do so till the day he died; children of his own, reputedly, among them. If Israelis are sincere, they need to vote for a government that will actually implement the wishes of this 78% on the matter. The fact they finally have, in Mahmoud Abbas, a moderate, sensible counterpart with which to get the ball rolling seems to put the lie to it. How much easier it was when every Palestinian with any kind of power could simply be dismissed as a raving, bloodthirsty, bomb-throwing loon. It was easy then to tell the world, “Well, we’d love to give them a state, but look at their leaders! What would they do with any real power?” But this is the time to put one’s shekels where one’s mouth is.

That is, if one means what one says.

I think that’s why it was so important the vote came out the way that it did. And now, even the countries that voted against it or just washed their hands are beginning to draw lines in the sand as well. North American governments may have toed the Israeli line on statehood for Palestine, but they are publically coming out against the building of more Israelis settlements on yet more stolen land. Shockingly, Britain and France have threatened to break off diplomatic relations with Israel should they go ahead... I never thought I would see that. There is finally a chance for some kind of a real settlement, because the world is finally tired of the excuses, and saying so.

There is no genuine existential threat to Israel. There hasn’t been for a long time. The only credible power in the region that could overrun Israel, Egypt, has honoured a brokered peace with Israel for decades; to the point that it’s become part of the problem for the people of Gaza. While militant Palestinians can certainly trouble Israel, they cannot destroy it. The best way to mollify them is to back off, let them breathe, and start building something they don’t want to risk losing. It’s time.

Frankly, the only surety of peace for Israel in the long run will be to recognize some kind of right of return, and an orderly resumption of some property. It won’t be easy and it won’t be pretty, but if a few million Jews really do want to have a future in the heart of 70 million Arabs, they’re going to have to concede to this reality at some point, it seems to me. And simple justice demands it.

Bridgewater said...

"...[S]ome kind of right of return, and an orderly resumption of some property." Absolutely right. And the sharing of Jerusalem. Israel can be a Jewish state, or a democracy--but not both.