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imperialism & war

Thoughts on the Gaza War

A brief discussion of the political, economic, and psycho-social motives behind the Gaza War, and about becoming a partner for peace.
For weeks I've been flooded with emails from both sides regarding the war in Gaza. The emails from Left groups tell me to don a keffiya and demonstrate on behalf of the Palestinians, to condemn Israel for war crimes and murder, and to urge the U.S. government to cut off military aid to Israel. Emails from relatives tell me that Israel is merely defending itself against an ongoing bombing campaign by Hamas. My reaction to this virtual deluge is to want to throw up. Personal Experiences Before commenting on the present situation, I'd like to share some of my experiences. In 1984, I went to Israel for the first time. I traveled alone from one end of the country to the other, staying in the homes of friends and in cheap hostels, and also visiting the West Bank. What I saw was a country so small I could walk across its midsection in a day. Every time I entered a public building, supermarkes included, my purse was searched for weapons and bomb materials. On the buses, I practically tripped over Uzis leaning against the thighs of khaki-clad soldiers. They frightened me, but everyone else seemed to think the presence of so many loaded machine guns was as normal as sunshine. Then I visited Yad Vashem - the Holocaust Museum. I had read about the Holocaust since childhood, and thought I was pretty well inured. But what I saw there - in particular, one photo taken by the Nazis themselves - burned into my memory forever. I won't even attempt to describe it; I can't bear to think of it without breaking down. When I walked out of there, I understood the guns. I wanted one too. I disagreed with Israeli policy then and now, but I understood it in my gut. I sat in the road with a group of Palestinian laborers, who shared their lunch with me. They spoke bitterly about how the Israelis treated them. A doctor who later treated me for a minor complaint made bitter, racist remarks about the Arabs. A friend took me to the base of the Golan Heights and told me how the Syrians used to drive their tanks to the edge of the cliff and lob shells into Israeli villages below. For this reason, she said, Israel had to annex the Golan. At the end of my stay, a friend rushed me to the airport. We were late - I had perhaps five minutes to clear security and get on the plane. While I was waiting in line, I saw a well-dressed Palestinian couple. An Israeli soldier was examining their luggage. He held an object which I thought might have been a metal detector -- it was shaped like a policeman's baton - and ran it slowly through the woman's underpants. His statement was clear to all - "I can rape your wife and you are helpless to do anything about it." This too is burned into my memory: the cruelty of the gesture, the distress on the Arabs' faces, and everyone else walking by, indifferent. To my everlasting shame, I did not have the courage to intervene. I was afraid to miss my plane, to challenge an armed soldier in a foreign country. Insulting someone is... a grave sin. Our sages compare insulting someone to murder. "If someone insults another person in public, it is as if he has shed his blood" (Bava Metzia 58b). Furthermore, the Gemara teaches, "One should rather let himself be thrown into a fiery furnace than expose another to public shame."(http://www.jewishpress.com/pageroute.do/32821) What kind of sin is it when you insult or humiliate a whole nation? During those years, I was a student teacher at San Francisco State. One day my master teacher drew me aside and asked me, "Do you think Israel has the right to exist?" As a Jew and the child of survivors of numerous pogroms, I can't help but hear this as questioning my own right to exist. Since the interlocutor was my boss, I answered calmly, "Why shouldn't it?" He replied, "Because it is a settler state." "What state do you live in?" I asked. He understood immediately, and he was not ready to give his nice home in the Berkeley hills back to the Native Americans. "But the U.S. has been here for 200 years." "If Israel manages to survive for 200 years, will it have earned the right to exist?" He was silent and walked away. But the sad truth is that all nations exist because they are prepared to defend themselves by force of arms, because they are under the protection of another armed state, or because they make themselves useful to their neighbors, which amounts to the same thing. They do not exist because it is morally right for them to do so. I visited Israel again 10 years later. Things had not changed for the better. The Present Conflict The present must be understood in historical context. I don't intend to review the entire grim history; suffice it to say that I think Israel has taken a horribly wrong path. It started when the early Zionists put forth the slogan, "a land without a people for a people without a land," as though the Arabs who had lived in the area for generations didn't exist. It continues with the treatment of those Arabs who are nominally Israeli citizens, but who are deprived of benefits, which are contingent upon army service. Of course - Catch 22 - only Jews can serve in the army. And now it has come down to trapping 1.5 million Palestinians in a strip so narrow you could walk across it in an hour and a half, and starving and bombarding them. But then, my relatives ask, "What choices did the Israelis have, surrounded by nations that have refused to recognize its existence and continue to call for its destruction?" What do you do when a government-appointed Egyptian preacher says, with respect to Jews, "God has inflicted the Muslim nation with a people whom God has become angry at and whom he cursed so he made monkeys and pigs out of them. They killed prophets and messengers and sowed corruption on Earth. They are the most evil on Earth." (NY Times, 1/9/08) There are plenty of religious nuts in Israel as well. During one of my trips there, I spoke with a woman in the office of a group dedicated to rebuilding the Temple of Solomon, and no doubt offering animal sacrifices. The group plans to rebuild it on the original site. The only problem is that the third holiest shrine in Islam sits there, the Dome of the Rock. "You can't tear that down," I said. "The whole Muslim world will unite to destroy you." "God will defeat them," she replied, with the serene eyes of a fanatic. A few weeks ago opposing demonstrators in South Florida - Jews and Muslims - screamed at each other. A nephew sent me a film clip of a Palestinian woman shouting, "Back to the ovens!" (I wonder who she was, and if some of her relatives were killed by Israelis.) My nephew's comment was, "This is what we have to deal with," as though she represented the entire Muslim world. I responded to him with an article about Jewish and Muslim organizations in south Florida who met the next day to talk about what they could do to stop the violence. I haven't heard back from him. The bombardment of Gaza is bad enough, but the Israeli policy that I find inexcusable, unforgivable, is the starvation of children. I remember too well what my mother (who survived hunger and pogroms) taught me: "All I know about politics is what every mother knows, that every child should have enough to eat." On the other hand, I can't excuse or trust much of the Left in this country. The Left has been pro-Palestinian and against Israel for all the decades that I have been politically active. But where was the Left during Black September, 1970, when Jordan slaughtered thousands of Palestinians? There was no outcry. In 2002, Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco decided to boycott Israeli goods, in solidarity with the Palestinians. Why didn't it boycott American goods in response to our invasion of Iraq? Why didn't it boycott goods made by other countries, e.g. China, which oppressed its own workers and was occupying and oppressing Tibet? At the time, "worker/owner Cyrus Heiduska explained that China sells too many products, and often much cheaper than goods from other countries." (San Francisco Chronicle, 12/5/02) This kind of Left politics leaves a dirty taste in my mouth. Perhaps it's less about standing by the oppressed and more about posturing self-righteousness - and anti-Semitism. The Future Israeli politics are an arm of U.S. policy. Wayne Madsen notes that, "The... Israeli assault on Lebanon was stage-managed between the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and neocons in the Bush administration." (See http://www.rense.com/general72/sisie.htm.) Zbigniew Brzezinski, former US national security advisor, says: These neocon prescriptions, of which Israel has its equivalents, are fatal for America and ultimately for Israel. They will totally turn the overwhelming majority of the Middle East's population against the United States. The lessons of Iraq speak for themselves. Eventually, if neocon policies continue to be pursued, the United States will be expelled from the region and that will be the beginning of the end for Israel as well. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nathan-gardels/beginning-of-the-end-for-_b_26247.html) Prof. Juan Cole discusses neocon influence on US and Israeli policy in "Neoconservatism dies in Gaza" (http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2009/01/08/gaza/index1.html): The neoconservatives had prided themselves on their macho swagger, their rejection of namby-pamby Clintonian multilateralism, and on their bold vision for reshaping the Middle East so that the Israeli and American right would not have to deal with existing reality... . The ancient Greek poet Bion said that boys cast stones at frogs in sport, but the frogs die in earnest. The neoconservatives were the boys, and the people of Iraq, Israel, Palestine and Lebanon have been their frogs. The biggest danger facing the United States is that... the neoconservatives will somehow find a way to survive the Bush administration, and continue to influence American foreign policy. Israeli policies are more likely to bring on another Holocaust, rather than avert one. Israel can't continue on its present path for very long, because sooner or later Muslim nations will get nuclear weapons. All it will take is one suicide bomber with a suitcase full of uranium in downtown Tel Aviv. There is no easy resolution. A Palestinian state comprised of the West Bank and Gaza is not viable - it is even less viable than a divided Pakistan was. The land does not have enough resources to support a rapidly-growing population. The residents of Gaza survive on foreign aid. The West Bank has the ability to feed itself, but only for now. Israel isn't all that viable either. At present, "[Israel] imports over 90 percent of its cereals, 70-80 percent of its fish and beef, and half of its pulses, oilseeds and nuts. [Ha'aretz, 5/4/08]" The same article suggests that in the future, Israel will have to rely more on local potatoes, fruits, and vegetables, and on small-scale organic gardening. Nonetheless, its population is growing as well. Sixty percent of it is desert and, despite the dreams of the early Zionists, it can't be made to bloom for very long - the environment is slowly being destroyed by the increasing demand for water. Israel has fought Syria and the Palestinians over the limited water supply, and per Newsweek (1/3/09) "the water wars were one of the key factors in the establishment of the PLO in 1964." Global warming will only make things worse in that part of the world. There is also the matter of recently-discovered natural gas fields off the coast of Gaza, with a minimal value of $4 billion. Naturally, the Palestinians want to exploit those fields and benefit from the revenue. Equally naturally, the Israeli government doesn't want a cent of it to go to Hamas, which has sworn to destroy Israel. Much of the engine behind this conflict is not politics, but economics - a war for increasingly limited resources. A Partner for Peace I can't count the number of times I've heard the Israeli claim that "there is no partner for peace." But there are thousands of us - refuseniks in Israel, Arabs like Mona Eltahawy (see her articles at http://www.monaeltahawy.com/). Mostly the media ignores us, and our voices are drowned by gunfire, the screams of the wounded, and the shouts of the self-righteous. Or we remain silent, for fear of being condemned by our own kin. Let me speak only for myself, then. I will not go out on demonstrations under a Palestinian banner, nor an Israeli one, and yell slogans condemning the other side. I can't ally myself with any group that isn't willing to discuss intelligent solutions. These solutions must take into account the economics of the area, because there is no security without food and water. I am dubious about the usefulness point of calling on Congress or President Obama. Congress has shown us where it stands by its recent vote on the subject. Obama has taken on a raft of neocons as his advisors. The U.S. government and the military-industrial complex are enormously invested in continuing the current policies. They aren't likely to listen to the people, any more than they did when we demonstrated against the Iraq War - or when over 90% of us told them not to use our tax money to bail out Wall Street. I will stand with the south Florida Jews and Muslims who want an end to the violence, and who will put aside the impulse to seek revenge for past injustices. Given the history and the circumstances, I am not very optimistic. Still, I believe that a movement of citizens meeting together, hundreds and thousands of groups of people willing to lay down their arms and talk, offers us the only hope. I want to be a partner for peace.

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