Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Cleaning Up by Letting Go

(This isn't directly related to the overall "theme" of the blog, but I find it relevant in its own way... judge for yourselves :)

Sometimes it's really interesting what you learn by realizing how far you had to come.

With a few days left before I set out on my little adventure I've taken it upon myself to start taking care of my odds and ends about the house. Cleaning up my boxes in the attic, tidying the chaos in the basement, going through all those filing cabinets and desk drawers in my bedroom. I started (sort of) with the basement, which quickly dead-ended me. I moved on to the attic, which nearly immediately exhausted me (not to mention nearly froze me to death). A few days ago I opened my bottom desk drawer and realized that I had been unable to actually open it without some kind of minor rearrangement/organizational surgery for at least two years. So I set about cleaning it out. There were hoarded haiku from middle school, homework from tenth grade algebra, tacky stationary with fluffy cats and frouffy quotes inside which I would assuredly never use. I pulled out the recycling bin and got to work.

About two hours later I was surrounded by piles of old photos, old letters, and homework from who-knows-when which was immediately relegated to the bin. Let me just say, I was a huge nerd when I was a kid.

I saved e v e r y t h i n g . I mean, papers from sixth grade about A Tale of Two Cities? Poems I wrote as an anxious and lame seventh grader? Doodles from high school? My old planners? I mean really? The realization I came to after all this was that for whatever reason, these were all things I thought one day I would like to see. That I would need to be reminded of every competition I was in as a musician, every certificate I won for Best Math Student or Best Lead Actress in high school, that I indeed earned As in a bunch of classes in eleventh grade. What I didn't see at the time I was hoarding all this rubbish was that one day, in several years, I would have forgotten about all this stuff. I would remember the plays and the books and the performances, don't get me wrong. But all the little insignificant things that seemed so huge during those years fell away, and it didn't occur to me at age 13 (for whatever/ obvious reasons) that this would happen.

However, I'm glad I saved all those things. Finding all those little insignificant bits showed me that I have grown up at least a little, that I have learned at least a few things in my life. What's more important, it showed me that I have the potential for growth and for learning. I'd like to think that I haven't stopped yet. And hopefully in ten years when I stumble upon all the tosh I've saved up again, it will be electronic and I can just push "Delete" instead of having to carry it all down to the recycling bin.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Countdown, Again

So here I am, marked at the two week countdown again. As if foreseeing my arrival, Israel declared a "unilateral" ceasefire this morning. We'll see how this goes.

I'm back to double checking my flight itinerary, what I have on the packing/already packed list (I mostly didn't unpack from my originally schedule departure time), what else could I add that I didn't think of beforehand?

I'm still nervous, though maybe less so than beforehand. I had a few dreams about being in places besieged by missiles and bombs. I ascribed them to having read to many news articles and having seen too many videos and photographs. I'm feeling better than I did before the original departure time, but we'll see how I feel in a week and a half.

So yes, here we are again. I promise to keep you all informed, but I make no promises as to my own preparedness.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Fighting the Good Fight?

In the last week or two I have spent hours reading news. Don't get me wrong, in the weeks and months before that I also spent huge amounts of time scrolling through various newspapers, news aggregators and portals, blogs, and so on. However with oodles of free time since December 29 there has been even more time frittered away with newspapers in hand, internet pages open, and radio news blaring.

In this time I have accrued a certain dislike for news article comments. Every site seems to have them... the Seattle Times, the New York Times, YouTube of course, the Huffington Post... everyone. Now the nerdy, "plugged-in" portion of my personality finds this great - I can respond to anything I want! On the other hand, it becomes this sickening addiction where you end up reading all kinds of horrible things, like "Israelis are the new Nazis," "anti-Zionism is the same as anti-Semitism," and so on. I mean, all kinds of ignorant, hateful, racist, or just plain uninformed garbage. It gets really overwhelming, honestly. And depressing.

In that vein, I received a particularly nasty comment on my Facebook site the other day from an acquaintance who lives in the Midwest. Here is the bulk of it:

...Just because Palestinians don't have an army, or any way to defend themselves doesn't mean they don't deserve to die.... Palestinians teach their children and women how to kill themselves in order to kill as many Jews as possible. They are trying to create a second holocaust and they must be stopped. To say that Israel broke the cease-fire is to live a life of complete ignorance. We withdrew from Gaza in 2005, uprooting 1000s of Jewish families and leaving behind hundreds of synagogues which have since been destroyed in an attempt for peace. After the withdrawal, LONG before November 2008 Palestine continued firing rockets into southern Israeli cities. They have created child martyrs, used Mosques to store rockets and have used NO discretion whatsoever when firing rockets into schools, public areas, parks, and synagogues, killing men, women, children, and even their own Palestinians.

Aside from the obvious contradictions (they wouldn't have had to "withdraw" from Gaza if they hadn't illegally seized it in 1967; firing into public areas, places of worship, schools, and killing women and children are all things which have also been done in immense scale by the IOF; etc), the most sickening part of this message was the first sentence: "Just because [Palestinians] have [no] way to defend themselves doesn't mean they don't deserve to die." So, the argument here seems to be that all Palestinians conduct themselves in the manner listed above, and as such all deserve to be killed.

Now, even if it were true that all Palestinians commit the crimes listed above (which it is unquestionably not), it seems to me that that is an extremely bizarre sentiment coming from someone tossing around words like "holocaust." Furthermore - and more importantly - by condoning violence against civilian populations, one opens the door to all kinds of moral problems. If indeed entire populations, including women and children who are non-combatants and therefore innocents, are permitted to be exterminated based on the crimes of a small minority, then where does that leave Israel? Its moral high ground surely cannot be wiping out the Palestinian people simply for the crime of being born Palestinian. And to indict an entire population for being of a particular race, ethnicity, or religion... well, need I state the obvious?

On a larger scale of course than any personal harassment I may receive, there is the Giyus group. Essentially this allows you to download a piece of software (Megaphone) which informs you of articles on the web about Israel. Then, armed with this information, you spam the website with pro-Israel propaganda. On a similar note I found this article online today about Israel's foreign ministry's involvement in a similar scheme: Hasbara Spam Alert. It seems that picking fights with strangers over the internet is the new battlefield of public media.

So the question becomes, how does one respond, if at all? I personally chose not to respond to the person who "facebooked" me, knowing full well that internet arguments tend to look like this:

Maybe I should have said something. Maybe I should calmly cite a bunch of facts and dates. On the other hand, he has obviously already made up his mind that I'm the one living a life of "complete ignorance," so why burst his bubble?

In any case, with all this reading of news and its apparently never ending ensuing commentary, I have to say that I really don't know what the best thing to do is. At this point I'm picking my battles, trying to educate when possible (though mostly trying to stay out of the cantankerous crossfire), and hoping that sometime soon, someone wiser than me will have some advice. Because I'll tell you, when up against what seems to be an insurmountable wall, I'm feeling a little ill-equipped.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Israel in Gaza: Three Wrong Arguments

by Howard Schweber for The Huffington Post.

Two days ago, a resolution of support for Israel jointly sponsored by Sen.Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was adopted in the Senate by unanimous consent. The resolution includes an uncritical recitation of some classic elements of the basic AIPAC-fueled neo-Zionist pro-Israel narrative that has dominated American national political discourse since the 1980s. The "Whereas" section includes:

"Hamas was founded with the stated goal of destroying the State of Israel . . . Hamas has refused to comply with the requirements of the Quartet (the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations) . . . in June 2006, Hamas crossed into Israel, attacked Israeli forces and kidnapped Corporal Gilad Shalit, whom they continue to hold today . . . Hamas has launched thousands of rockets and mortars since Israel dismantled settlements and withdrew from Gaza in 2005 . . ."

The Reid/McConnell resolution is a perfect articulation of one voice in the American debate over Israel's actions in Gaza. The unanimous support the resolution received demonstrates just how difficult it is to break into the scripted narratives that dominate at the level of elite political discourse; it is amazing that in a country that polls show to be deeply divided over Israel's actions, two days after 10,000 Israelis protested against their own government's actions in Tel Aviv, and after everything that has happened in the last eight years, nonetheless there is not a single voice in the U.S. Senate being raised to question the official story being peddled the Bush administration and its neoconservative allies. It's enough to make one think that Walt and Mearsheimer might have been on to something (if only they hadn't said it so badly.) Meanwhile, Obama has remained mute, while the Bush administration has taken its usual line of supporting anything the Israeli government chooses to do, including the exercise of America's veto power in the UN Security Council - one last finger in the world's eye before leaving office.

The unanimity in the branches of the U.S. government may be a source of encouragement to the Olmert government in these last ten days before a new administration. Today (Saturaday, Jan. 10) IAF planes dropped leaflets warning Gazans of a "new phase in the war on terror" and warning that Israel will "escalate" its ground operations; among other things, this is a clear indication that Israel does not particularly feel the much-ballyhooed international "pressure" for a cease-fire. But the unanimity in the U.S. government is not borne out in public discussions, where the debates are furious and loud. Those debates are also frequently pointless. Pointless because one thing that anyone following those debates will have noticed is that most of the time the various sides do not bother to refute one another's claims. Quite often the explanation is simple: the other sides' arguments are so obviously, patently wrongheaded that they must not be meant sincerely, and therefore do not warrant any response. That observation probably makes the following exercise futile, but here I go anyway. Here are three claims that are central to the pro-invasion narrative that is encompassed in the Senate resolution, and just a few of the objections that should be raised whenever these arguments are heard.

Claim 1:
Israel disengaged from Gaza and removed its settlements. In response, the people of Gaza elected a Hamas government and since then rockets have been continually launched into Israel. By the same token, when Israel left Lebanon, Hezbollah moved in. This proves that Israel had no choice but to attempt to destroy or substantially weaken Hamas on the ground in Gaza, and demonstrates the futility of trading land for peace.

The assertion that Israel has ended its occupation is extremely debatable; among others, it is debated by Human Rights Watch. Israel controls Gaza's northern and eastern border crossings, its access to the sea, and its airspace. Israel has shut down Gaza's port and destroyed its airport, ended its fishing industry, and controls the flow of electricity and oil, food and medicine, and even money into the territory. With the cooperation of Egypt, Israel continues to control who enters and exits Gaza; since the election of Hamas Israel has used that power to place Gaza under a state of siege resulting in dire humanitarian conditions in an already impoverished territory that has struggled for decades under the burden of absorbing huge numbers of refugees from Israel. Even prior to the siege, the Israeli Air Force demonstrated its continued ownership of the skies over Gaza by sending jets to produce sonic booms over Gazan cities, a gesture apparently with no purpose other than to harass the local population (also used in Southern Lebanon following Israel's "withdrawal"), a gentle reminder to people on the ground that they sleep at night only if Israel chooses to let them do so. People say that Israel "withdrew" from Gaza as though Gaza had been left autonomous and independent and free from Israeli control and interference; nothing could be further from the truth.

Moreover, to describe a "withdrawal from Gaza" is to artificially divide the Palestinian territories. The withdrawal of the settlements from inside Gaza was accompanied by massive acceleration of settlement construction in the West Bank; most observers have concluded that Sharon's motivation was precisely to free up resources for that purpose. Israel has been absolutely relentless in the expansion of those settlements, along with everything that goes with them; the checkpoints, "whites only" roads, the military incursion in 2002, and the separation wall.

From the Palestinian perspective, the statement that Israel withdrew from Gaza and was not rewarded with peace is almost incomprehensibly dishonest; Palestinians and Arabs in other countries I have spoken with assume that people making that argument are speaking with utter self-awareness of the cynicism of their argument. If you stick a knife in my chest and another one in my foot, then you pull out the one from my foot but drive the one in my chest even deeper, do not expect me not to kick you with my foot that is still bleeding from the wounds you have inflicted. Peace between Israel and Palestine may indeed come through a series of steps, but the framework of understanding cannot be one that separates Gaza from the West Bank, as though being allowed free access to Khan Younis somehow makes up for being cut off from Jerusalem.

Claim 2:
Israel has been subject to constant rocket attacks. What would you (addressed to an American) do if rockets were falling on your city? And what about Gilad Shalit, who has not even been allowed to be seen by visitors? What would you do if this had happened to America?

A fair point, to be sure; rocket attacks are an act of war, and Israel has a right to defend itself. The problem is that Israel's blockade of Gaza is also an act of war, and Palestinians have the same right of self-defense. To focus only on the rockets coming into Israel is like describing the Battle of Britain as "British planes attacking German planes"; it's not technically inaccurate, but as a description it is incomplete to the point of complete distortion. When we are asked "what would you do if rockets from Canada were landing in Minnesota" we should also ask "what would you do if a foreign power - or two foreign powers, acting in cooperation -- had cut off all access to your country and was slowly starving your population in order to compel you to get rid of your elected government?"

Ending the siege has been Hamas' main and constant demand. When the truce began on June 19th Israel permitted increased importation of food, but still only to about 20% of normal levels. The UN's Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Robert Falk, has reported levels of hunger inside Gaza that rival those of the poorest sub-Saharan nations and has called the Israeli siege a "crime against humanity." In November, Israel launched two military attacks that effectively ended the truce and led to the resumption of rocket attacks; nonetheless in December Hamas offered to extend the truce if Israel would only lift the siege. Israel was not interested; thereafter Hamas increased the intensity of the attacks, culminating in a barrage the week of Christmas that prompted the initiation of Operation Cast Lead (although, as I have pointed out in an earlier post, that operation had been planned for months).

The point of the siege all along was to inflict misery on Gaza in order to turn them against their government, an act of collective punishment designed to turn Gazans against their government. In 2006 Dov Weisglass, an adviser to Ehud Olmert, was quoted in The Guardian explaining the plan: "the idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet." The technical name for a strategy of imposing fear and misery on a people until they turn against their government is "terrorism"; to repeat myself, Palestinians have the same right of self-defense as Israelis. Nor is the blockade Israel's only act of aggression in Gaza. Throughout the period since the supposed withdrawal, Israel has launched thousands of artillery and rocket attacks into Gaza, along with periodic military operations. In the four years prior to Operation Cast Lead, those attacks resulted in 1,339 deaths among Gaza's people. How would we Americans react to those figures, or their proportional equivalents?

But it is probably the appeal to the case of Gilad Shalit that rings the most hollow, and sounds most completely cynical to Palestinians. According to B'Tselem, Israel currently holds more than 8,200 Palestinian prisoners, many of them arrested and held without charge, others tried in military courts on the basis of secret evidence that the "defense" is not allowed to see in "trials" that may last five minutes. According to Defense of Children International, in 2007 alone, Israel imprisoned some 700 children, in violation of international law. And Israel frequently denies visiting privileges to its prisoners.

Ten years ago Ehud Barak, the most decorated soldier in Israel's history, famously observed that if he had been born a Palestinian he would have been a terrorist. That was long before the siege of Gaza; for a Gaza resident who has lived through the past year, taking up arms against Israel and supporting violent resistance is not only entirely understandable, it appears positively reasonable. Would Americans really overthrow our own government -- even a government we might initially have opposed -- to end a siege or the threat of attack by a more powerful enemy? Is that how Americans, and Israelis, have responded in the past?

Claim 3:
Hamas is a radical organization whose stated goal is the destruction of Israel and whose leaders have made various inflammatory statements in the past indicating a complete unwillingness to recognize Israel's legitimate rights. Any "truce" agreement is merely an excuse to prepare for future conflict, and should be ignored. Hamas cannot be dealt with because its radical ideology precludes rational bargaining or recognition of mutual self-interest; consequently, Hamas must be destroyed. Any steps that work toward the destruction of Hamas are thus defensive acts by Israel, and any offers by Hamas should be disregarded on the theory that by definition they cannot be sincere.

There is an element of perfect circularity to this argument - we do not talk to Hamas because we assume that Hamas is incapable of talking, which we know to be true because we have never talked with them - but of course the real question is what to make of the characterization of Hamas in the first place.

Hamas was formed at the outset of the First Intifadah in direct response to Israeli occupation, just as Hezbollah was formed in response to Israel's invasion and subsequent occupation of Southern Lebanon. From the outset, Hamas offered itself as an alternative to Fatah as a movement that was right there on the ground (unlike Fatah, whose leadership was safely ensconced in Tunis at the time), as a movement that would provide social services (schools, health care, aid to the poor), was free of the massive corruption that marked Fatah operations . That's why the people of Gaza elected Hamas to office, to nearly everyone's shock, when offered the chance to hold reasonably free elections.

Today, Hamas is a complex movement that contains both radical ideologues and more moderate figures in positions of leadership and relies on Iran for its support, but it is also a political party that maintains its popular support by effective governance. That alone demonstrates a capacity for pragmatism, but beyond that the fact is that Hamas' leadership offered Israel a long-term truce in 2004 in exchange for Israel's withdrawal from the occupied territories. Hamas subsequently confirmed that they would accept any peace agreement for a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, provided that it was ratified by a popular referendum. In both instances, Israel was not interested, as Israel was not interested in securing a cessation of rocket attacks in return for lifting its blockade, nor in the 2002 Saudi plan offering recognition by the 22 Arab governments of the Arab League - which endorsed the plan in 2007 -- in return for withdrawal to the same 1967 borders.

Israel, in other words, has no interest in a return to the 1967 borders: both at Annapolis and elsewhere, Israel has made it clear that it intends to keep large chunks of the West Bank that contain the settlement blocs around Ariel, the line of settlements stretching out to Maale Adumim and beyond, and especially the ring of settlements that cut Jerusalem off from the rest of the West Bank. In other words, the invasion of Gaza is one more illustration of the fact that Israel prefers to preserve its expansionist ambitions rather than seek peace at both the tactical and the strategic levels. No truce that might curtail or end the rocket fire if it requires lifting the siege that Israel believes will eventually bring the Palestinians in Gaza to their knees begging to be allowed to accept a leadership of Israel's choosing. And no peace deals of the kind that were once reached with Egypt and Jordan if the price is giving up Greater and exclusive ownership of Jerusalem.

But the intransigence of Israel's three no's - no negotiation with Hamas, no recognition of Hamas, no peace with Hamas -- is never part of the conversation. Hamas is criticized in the Reid/McConnell resolution for its failure to accept the Quartet Roadmap terms for negotiations in 2003. That criticism is somewhere between ironic and hypocritical given that Israel has never defined the borders within which it is supposed to be recognized, has never offered to forego its own violence, and especially given that the Sharon government declared its own list of 14 points of reservation the Quartet proposal's terms at the time they were first announced.

Ultimately, though, "radicalism" of Hamas -- whether in itself or as compared to the equivalent "radicalism" of Israel's positions -- is beside point. The real point is that the correct question is not whether Hamas' leadership hates Israel and seeks its destruction. The real question is whether Hamas' leadership would be able to secure popular Palestinian support for such a program, just as the real question in the broader War on Terror was never why Al Qaeda hates America, it was always why Al Qaeda's hatred of America sold as well as it did in so many places. The Israeli siege of Gaza has ensured that violence will remain the only plausible apparent option, a conviction that can only be made stronger by the more than 700 dead, thousands wounded and the effective destruction of the civilian infrastructure. Israel's actions strengthen the most radical elements within Hamas by making their claims plausible: that Israel will never permit a free and independent Palestinian state, will never permit Palestinians to live in peace, cannot be trusted to keep any promise or to deviate from the most extreme positions articulated by its past and present leaders . . . in other words, precisely the brush that supporters use to tar Hamas.

And Hamas is not the end of the devolutionary line. Israel supported Hamas to weaken the control of the secular Fatah; today as Israel seeks to weaken Hamas a group called Palestinian Islamic Jihad is emerging. Israel's unwillingness to deal with Hamas is based partly on its ties to Iran; Israel's actions are making it increasingly impossible for moderate Arab states and the Palestinian Authority to join in denouncing Hamas -- as was the case in the first days of the air operation -- with the result that Iran's position vis a vis the Arab League is strengthened, at least temporarily. The satisfaction in being proven correct is grim comfort in the case of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Claim 4:
Doing nothing was not an option, and you can't come up with anything better.

Actually, it's not at all difficult to come up with "something better" than the pointless and ultimately self-defeating infliction of death, destruction, and human misery on a captive population. But that is the subject for another post.

We are in the final, bloody days of the most disastrous U.S. administration of the modern era. The failures of this administration began right at the beginning when President Bush announced a U.S. policy of disengagement from the Israel-Palestine conflict. There is a new president coming in, with a new administration and a new Congress. Reports suggest that elements in the Obama administration are open to talking with Hamas. The Bush administration's policy of disengagement followed by enablement has been no favor to Israel or the Palestinians; let us hope, for all our sakes, that the new administration can initiate a new, more thoughtful discussion.

Howard Schweber is the Associate Professor of Political Science and Law at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

See the original article on The Huffington Posthere.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A Real Pro-Israel Policy Helps Palestine, Too

The Israel–Palestine conflict isn’t inevitable. Here’s how both sides could gain by building on their common interest for peace and fairness. The United States still holds the key.

Peace between Israelis and Palestinians is possible—Israeli security and Palestinian rights are not mutually exclusive, but rather each is impossible without the other.

The Palestinian Authority and virtually all the Arab states are now on record expressing their willingness to recognize Israel and to provide security guarantees in return for a complete Israeli withdrawal from Arab lands conquered in the June 1967 war. This would leave the Palestinians with just 22 percent of historic Palestine. Nonetheless, the U.S.-backed Israeli position is that the Palestinians should be allowed an independent “state” on even less territory and only in a series of non-contiguous cantons surrounded by Israel and with the Israeli government controlling the air space, water resources, and the movement of people and goods.

Unlike some earlier periods in Israel’s past, the country’s survival is no longer at stake. The Israeli military is far more powerful than any combination of Arab armies. Despite the threat of periodic shelling and suicide bombings from Islamic extremists, most Israelis are relatively secure within their country’s internationally recognized borders. Where Israeli soldiers and civilians are most vulnerable is in the occupied Palestinian territories. In these areas, illegal Israeli settlements and roads—reserved for Jews only—create an apartheid-like situation, and make it extremely difficult for Israeli forces to defend against a population angry at the occupiers who have confiscated what is often their best land. Israel would be far more secure defending a clearly defined and internationally recognized border than an archipelago of illegal outposts within Palestinian territory.

It is the ongoing Israeli occupation and colonization of the West Bank, along with the siege of the Gaza Strip, which creates the hopelessness and desperation that breed extremist violence. Only when the occupation ends will the threat from Palestinian terrorism finally have a realistic chance of being controlled.

U.S. policy in this troubled region has become increasingly controversial, but it should not be criticized as being too “pro-Israel.” U.S.-backed Israeli policies are not only jeopardizing the human rights of their Arab victims, they are hurting Israel’s legitimate interests as well.

“Peace” proposals that allow Israel to annex large swathes of occupied Palestinian territory—like those the Clinton administration pushed at Camp David in 2000 and the Bush administration has been supporting subsequently—cannot provide rights or security to either side. A truly pro-Israel policy would maintain the U.S. commitment to the security and well-being of the Jewish state, but would insist that Israel end its occupation, withdraw from its illegal settlements, and allow for the emergence of a viable, contiguous, independent Palestinian state.

This may require that the United States apply pressure—such as withholding military and economic aid—if the Israeli government continues to violate its obligations under international humanitarian law. Such aid does not help Israel much anyway. Indeed, most of the more than $2 billion in annual “military assistance” to Israel amounts to a credit line to American arms manufacturers and actually ends up costing Israelis two to three times that amount for personnel, training, and spare parts. The additional $2 billion in U.S. economic aid is little more than the interest Israel is required to pay American banks from loans for previous arms purchases.

Many of those in Washington who call themselves supporters of Israel are supporting Israel’s hawks who are making the country more dependent upon the United States. This increases Israel’s vulnerability by preventing it from recognizing its natural alliance with the world’s Afro-Asian majority. Within Israel, there is a solid progressive minority that supports the necessary compromises for peace and a similar-sized militaristic minority that does not. Most Israelis are in the middle and, as Israeli scholar and peace activist Galia Golan describes it, “They will lean left when Israel is feeling pressure from the United States but lean right in situations like today when there is no U.S. pressure.”

The combination of Israeli technology, Palestinian entrepreneurship and industriousness, and Arabian oil wealth could result in an economic, political, and social transformation of the Middle East. This would be highly beneficial to the region’s inhabitants, but not necessarily to powerful U.S. interests who benefit from the current policy of divide-and-rule. An Israel at peace with its neighbors would be far less likely to be willing to serve as a reliable ally in support of U.S. hegemonic designs in this critical region.

If the United States really wants to be a friend of Israel, the U.S. government must apply some “tough love.” This would entail unconditional support for Israel’s right to exist in peace and security, but with an insistence that Israel uphold its international obligations and withdraw its settlers and troops from the occupied territories. Only then can the violence end and peace become a reality. And only then will the United States be a true friend of Israel.

Stephen Zunes wrote this article as part of A Just Foreign Policy, the Summer 2008 issue of YES! Magazine.

Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco, where he chairs the Middle East Studies program. He is the author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism (Common Courage, 2003) and a member of the advisory board of the Tikkun Community
. www.stephenzunes.org

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Collecting and Processing

The day after my first post here, Israel launched a ground invasion into the Gaza Strip. I got the news via a text message from a friend while standing in line at a grocery store, waiting to buy a bottle of Squirt soda. I spent the rest of the day glued to CNN, MSNBC, and flicking past Fox News out of curiousity. And since then, I've had nothing to say about it. I kept reading the news in the paper, reading Op-Ed articles (which usually only serve to infuriate me), checking the Huffington Post, the New York Times, reading anything I could, waiting for the moment when how I felt about all this would crystallize into something useful and meaningful. The most illuminating thing to me about the last three days is the realization that the moment when all would be come clear is not going to come.

I once read that the only language which Power understands is violence. I must not be part of Power. I don't understand how lobbing rockets or sending jets full of bombs or rolling tanks through neighborhoods will promote peace. I don't understand the mentality behind institutional violence which tells us it will all stop as soon as "they" see the error of their ways. For fighting endlessly without thought for your people. I don't understand the blatant and willful bias of the media, or of people voicing hateful and acidic opinions about things they do not know.

What I am beginning to understand is the feeling of sorrow, of feeling tired, and helpless. Endless war serves only the people in Power - it's what gets them there and it's what keeps them there. And, it keeps us snivelling at their feet, waiting for them to just do something already. But what I have gotten out of the last three days is the reminder that this - the killing, the blood, the blame, the bias - this has got to stop. It will require looking closely at the situation from both sides, and at ourselves and our own prejudices, to get to the bottom of it. People need to stop calling each other "anti-Semites" or "terrorists" or other such names because they don't see eye to eye, but rather must address the wounds on both sides and seek to heal them, rather than salt them. Easier said than done, granted. However, creating more wounds, be it from rocket fire or from ground invasions, will only serve to deepen the divide.

Friday, January 2, 2009

An Awkward Wait

Well, January 2. For those of you in the know, I was supposed to leave for Zebabdeh, Palestine at 6:40 pm on December 29. Though there had been quite a lot of unrest in the Gaza Strip as of late, signs were good that I would be fine for departure for the West Bank as planned. However the morning of the 29th Mary called me and said that the Bishop of Jerusalem himself had recommended that I postpone my trip by at least thirty days. The finer points of the struggle can be found in the Electronic Intifada feed over there on the right hand side of the page, but the long and short of it is that beginning Saturday, Israel launched a series of rocket strikes against the Gaza Strip in retaliation for Hamas' rocket firings into Israel. By Monday morning well over 300 Palestinians had been killed, many of them civilians and children, and over 1400 had been injured, also largely civilians. As a result, there is widespread unrest throughout the Middle East, but the West Bank in particular. As of Monday morning there were rumblings in the streets of Jerusalem (where I was to be staying my first few days and during New Year's), and by Tuesday it became clear that my decision to postpone the trip was a good one, as protests and riots began to break out in Jerusalem and villages further north in the West Bank.

So in the meantime I am resigned to an awkward wait. My flight has been rescheduled for February 1, though there is little to no indication - at least to me - that the situation will have calmed down significantly by then. With no job and a lot of time on my hands, I'm left reading news feeds and pondering the awful silence on the part of the US government during all this.

With hawkish pro-Israel cabinet picks and a lingering non-comittalism on the "Palestinian Question," Obama has avoided the situation altogether. The White House is blaming the Palestinians, despite what many in the human rights activist communities are calling a blatantly lethal and out-of-proportion show of force on the part of the IOF (Israeli Occupying Army). We were promised as a nation to once again become a "beacon of hope" to the world (Obama, Sept 12, 2007), but we can never expect to lead by example as long as we not only allow, but support these kinds of atrocities.