Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Negotiating Partner

James Baker was feeling sorry last Sunday for Israel because Israel had no negotiating partner in her search for peace. Speaking to Fareed Zakaria on GPS, Baker pointed out that the Palestinians are now divided. What can Israel do? Hamas now governs in Gaza, the PA rules in the West Bank. Poor Israel. Disappointed again. No chance for peace.

Of course, it never crosses Israel’s mind to lift the siege on Gaza. Even materials needed to rebuild those 22,000 buildings destroyed by Israeli planes and tanks are not allowed in.

Freezing settlement construction and reducing the pain caused by the wall snaking throughout the West Bank would be a step toward a reasonable peace. It might even help if Israel ceased assassinating Palestinian leaders.

I wish Baker could see that it’s not the lack of peace partners, but Israel’s determination to create “facts on the ground,” and its brutal occupation that complicates any step toward peace.

Who in the world could think that Israel is the least bit interested in peace when every day more and more Palestinian land is confiscated, olive trees are uprooted, homes are demolished and young Palestinians are imprisoned? Netanyahu openly declares his opposition to any Palestinian state and Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s Foreign Minister, threatens to wipe Palestine off the map. On assuming office Lieberman announced the Mideast peace process was dead.

Henry Siegman, Director of the U.S./Middle East Project in New York, writes:

It is now widely recognized in most Israeli circles – although denied by Israel’s government – that the settlements have become so widespread and so deeply implanted in the West Bank as to rule out the possibility of their removal (except for a few isolated and sparsely populated ones) by this or any other government unless compelled to do so by international intervention, an eventuality until now considered unlikely.[1]

He adds:

Israel has crossed the threshold from “the only democracy in the Middle East” to the only apartheid regime in the Western world.

Israel does need to negotiate, but Israel’s battle is with itself. Is Yahweh Israel’s God or is the State of Israel Israel’s God? And the Jews of the world need to choose between upholding the high ethical standards of Judaism or forfeiting its moral values in support of the continued brutality of the State.

I wish Zakaria had challenged James Baker’s bias and asked about the suffering of the Palestinians, but I guess in the American media it is not to be.

Thomas Are
February 26, 2010

[1] Henry Siegman, Imposing Middle East Peace, The Nation, January 25, 2010., p.18.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My Thanks to Ben

Several weeks ago, my new friend, Ben, who was actually a U.S. Congressman from 1967 to 1975, handed me a book. Ben is a self-described conservative who comes across to me as one who would rather blow up a Muslim nation than talk with it. He is Mr. Military with strong opinions. Upon leaving congress, Ben chaired the Heritage Foundation for six years. So, you can understand my surprise when he handed me THE CLASH OF FUNDAMENTALISMS saying, “This is a great book.” Below is my response.

To my new friend Ben,

You are right about the Book, THE CLASH OF FUNDAMENTALISMS

I immediately had two surprises:
(1) I was surprised that I had not known about or read this book, and
(2) I was surprised that you had known about and read this book.
Just goes to show how easy it is for me to be wrong.

There is so much in this book that I appreciate that I hardly know where to begin. However, here are some gleanings which I wish the American public had a chance to know. In fact, I believe that we need to know if there is to be peace in the Middle East.

In his Introduction to the paperback Edition, Tariq Ali says:

My argument that the most dangerous “fundamentalism” today – the “mother of all fundamentalisms” is American imperialism – has been vindicated over the last eighteen months. (p.xiii).

Of course, this was written in 2002, when 9/11 was still strong in his mind. Looking toward the buildup of our invasion of Iraq, he asked:

Why is the current regime in the United States so determined to wage this war? There are three major considerations. The first is that Iraq, a major oil producer remains outside of the control of the United States. The second is the size of the Iraq’s army – it is now the only force in the region that could threaten Greater Israel. And third, to wean the pro-Zionist Jews away from the Democrats… the Christian fundamentalists of the Republican Party make no secret of their unflinching support for every Israeli atrocity. After all, the Old Testament decrees that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jews. (p. xv)

Responding to Tom Friedman’s comment, “I have no problem with a war for oil,” Ali writes:

In reality, Friedman did not need to stray as far as East Asia to discover a rogue state that is currently far more dangerous than Iraq. There is a perfectly good example of one in the Middle East and not so far from Iraq. This is a country that regularly invades neighboring states, defies UN Security Council Resolutions, occupies territories that it was not legally permitted to steal, treats the inhabitants of these territories as if they were Untermensch and possesses an arsenal of nuclear and chemical weapons. Israel, however, is the great untouchable of American politics. After 11 September, both Congress and the Senate agreed to resolutions giving the Israeli regime a blank cheque approving all its future actions in advance… The result of all this is a tame US media which barely reports the daily suffering of the Palestinians. (p. xvii)

A few pages over, still in the Introduction, he writes:

If the Untied States had been serious in its oft-stated desire to stop the flow of recruits to organizations like al-Quida, it would have concentrated on ending the occupation of Palestine. Ariel Sharon has been supported by Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld in his attempt to obliterate the political identity of the Palestinians … the blank cheque given to Israel by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives is without precedent in recent history…Sharon does not even try and conceal the fact that his aim is a major ethnic cleansing (“transfer”) of the Palestinians from the West Bank. Gaza will be transformed into a modern equivalent of an Indian reservation. Thus he is pursuing with direct physical force and by making everyday life unbearable for the Palestinians living in the occupied territories.
(p. xxiii)

This was written in 2002, but little has changed. He warns:

We have to move beyond the simplistic argument that “they hate us because they’re jealous of our freedoms and our wealth.” This is simply not the case.
We have to understand the despair, but also the lethal exaltation, that drives people to sacrifice their own lives. If Western politicians remain ignorant of the cause and carry on as before, there will be repetitions. (p.3)

When I have said things similar to this, people have accused me of “Wanting America to be attacked again.” It seems to me, the only Congress person who gets it is Dennis Kucinich.

Ali is right when he says that at the creation of the state of Israel:

Palestinians became the discarded offspring of history. (p. 89) From the moment of its foundation, the Zionist leaders of Israel were determined to depopulate the country.. Palestinians were a non-people. (93). In 1938, Ben-Gurion defended the concept of “compulsory transfer” to the Jewish Agency Executive and argued, “I favour partition of the country because when we become a strong power after the establishment of the state, we will abolish partition and spread throughout all of Palestine. (p. 94).

Describing the Six Day War,

I saw the photographed children who had suffered napalm burns, but this was a stateless people ignored by the Arab world and left to rot. In the West few politicians knew or cared. Riddled with guilt for the Judeocide of the Second World War, they turned a blind eye to Israeli atrocities…At the Civil Hospital in Damascus I saw further evidence of chemical weapons. Several patients had been burnt by napalm. We were told of the disappeared doctors, of how the Israelis had captured five doctors in the medical tent on the front and shot them dead. (p.123)

I remember preaching about the abuse of the Shah. It helps to understand the takeover of our Embassy to read:

Systematic torture and corporal punishment, prohibited in Iran from the early Twenties to the late Sixties, had returned under the shah. His secret police, Savak, became notorious throughout the world, mentioned each year as gross violations of human rights and dignity by Amnesty International. (p. 135)

And it seems that we never stopped bombing Iraq:

In August 1999 the New York Times reported: American warplanes have methodically and with virtually no public discussion been attacking Iraq. In the last eight months, American and British pilots have fired more than 1,100 missiles against 359 targets in Iraq. In October 1999 American officials were telling the Wall Street Journal they would soon run out of targets – “We’re down to the last outhouse.”… Blockade by land and sea has caused still greater suffering… people are denied the basic necessities of existence, its soil is polluted by uranium-tipped warheads. (p. 145)

Ali questions the motive for invading Iraq when there is:

Israel – a state founded on an original process of ethnic cleansing – had long defied UN resolutions mandating a relative equal division of Palestine, repeatedly seized large areas of neighboring territory, and was in occupation not only of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the Golan Heights, but a belt of Southern Lebanon at the time. Far from resisting this expansionism, the United States continue to support, equip and fund it. … Washington supervises the reduction of the Palestinians to a few shrivelled bantustans at Israel’s pleasure. … Iraq’s seizure of Kuwait was not in the West’s interest, since it posed the threat that two thirds of the world’s oil reserves would be controlled by a modern Arab state… (p.147)

He sums up his book by quoting Isaac Deutscher:

A rational relationship between Israel and Arabs might have been possibly if Israel had at least attempted to establish it… Israel never even recognized the Arab grievance. From the outset Zionism worked towards the creation of a purely Jewish state and was glad to rid the country of its Arab inhabitants. No Israeli government has ever seriously looked for any opportunity to remove or assuage the grievance. They refused even to consider the fate of the huge mass of refugees unless the Arab states first recognized Israel, unless, that is, the Arabs surrender politically before starting to negotiate. (p. 402)

Ben, this author makes arguments that I have been spouting for twenty five years. Thanks for putting me on to this book. You are right. It is a great book.

Your new friend, TOM

Ben’s response to me was. “I did not mean to imply that I endorsed this book. I just thought you would like it.” The more we talked, the more certain I was that he had not read it. But, I did and I am glad.

Thomas Are
February 17, 2010