Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sorry, No Pictures, Lots of Words

Some comments to a previous post about Israel had many points that I thought would be interesting to address in a whole separate post, so here goes. (It will probably all make more sense if you read the other comments along with the original post.)
By "Zionist extremists," I don't mean all Israelis, or even all Israeli military personal/leadership. I do mean those who insisted on creating a specifically Jewish state in a previously occupied territory. That deplorable goal, and the idea that somehow being Jewish made their claims more valid or important than that of those already living there, is the definition of extremist Zionism.

Don't forget that lots of Jews also lived in that "previously occupied territory" and had done so for quite a while.Too many people blindly accept a misrepresentation regarding the demographic shifts in Israel . At the turn of the century, (1900) the population of Jerusalem had more Jews than either Muslims or Christians. Jews did not just move there after WWI and WWII, steal the land and try to sweep everyone else out. (Huge tracts of land in Israel were owned by absentee Egyptian landlords. They sold----at exorbitant prices-----much of this land to Jewish settlers.)

Records suggest that immigration of Egyptians and Arabs into Palestine from neighboring regions during the early decades of the century exceeded Jewish immigration. The boost to the local economy created by Jewish and British investment and development (like the port at Haifa) was a magnet that attracted many immigrants. (The standard of living in Israel for Arabs rose to approximately twice that experienced by their counterparts in nearby countries-----hence the dramatic influx. Furthermore, the Turks and the British did not restrict Arab and Egyptian immigration as severely as Jewish immigration.
Why should Jewish immigration to Israel be seen as less real, their status as established residents more open to question than immigrants from nearby lands? Is it a race thing? Or because they came from far away? And why is it a deplorable goal for there to be a separate and independent Jewish state?

The designation, "a Jewish State" has more of a symbolic meaning than anything else. Citizens are not required to be Jewish, and Arab Israelis (Arab citizens of Israel as opposed to the people in Gaza or the West Bank) enjoy all the same basic rights as the Jewish citizens, and certainly more rights than elsewhere in the entire region-----other than perhaps the right to kill Jews with impunity, or the right to stone to death women who have been raped without taking the precaution of arranging four male witnesses. In fact, Arab Israelis enjoy one privilege other Israelis don't, an exemption from mandatory military service, although they are welcome to join the army. Mostly the designation as a "Jewish" state affects the rights of people living elsewhere, and their rights regarding immigration to Israel; it's true that Jews are given preferential treatment in immigration.

As far as the burning issue of the "right of return", what is not widely remembered is that in the couple of years immediately following Israeli independence, many Jews fled their homes in Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Iraq etc. to save their lives.(And for the first time in thousands of years, they had somewhere to flee to!) Israel took all of these refugees in initially, and most stayed. These people left all of their property behind, and no one mentions restitution on this front.
The Palestinian exodus of between 420,000 and 910,000 people during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, was subsequently followed by the Jewish exodus from Arab lands of a similar magnitude between 758,000 and 866,000 people.
Population swaps are a common feature historically in resolving international disputes. Look at India and Pakistan. Or Greece and Turkey in 1923.
Fridtjof Nansen worked with both Greece and Turkey to gain their acceptance of the proposed population exchange. About 1.5 million Greeks and half a million Muslims were moved from one side of the international border to the other.
Population transfer prevented further attacks on minorities in the respective states while Nansen was awarded a Nobel Prize for Peace......

..... Nearly 20 million persons in Europe fled their homes, were expelled, transferred or exchanged during the process of sorting out ethnic groups between 1944 and 1951.....

.....Kuwait expelled 500,000 Palestinian Arabs after the Gulf War because of their support for Saddam Hussein's invasion.

At the same time that Israel was in the throes of it's fight for independence, India was undergoing partition.
Massive population exchanges occurred between the two newly-formed states in the months immediately following Partition. Once the lines were established, about 14.5 million people crossed the borders to what they hoped was the relative safety of religious majority. Based on 1951 Census of displaced persons, 7,226,000 Muslims went to Pakistan from India while 7,249,000 Hindus and Sikhs moved to India from Pakistan immediately after partition.

Nowadays, population transfers have fallen into disrepute. It is often regarded as "ethnic cleansing", now labeled a form of genocide. But at the time Israel was formed, this clearly was a common occurance. It is unfair to single out Israel and accuse the Jews of genocide (which many people do) because of the exodus from Israel of so many Palestinians. In any event, most of the Palestinian refugees now live either in the Gaza strip, or the West Bank, and Israel has tried for decades to finalize an agreement for the Palestinians to have their own independent state.

Yes, the Israelis have been trying to reach accomodation with Palestine. And as long as they insist on that accommodation be on their terms--that the land and political authority which they had taken from others is theirs unchallenged--the attempts at "accommodation" are superficial.

The Israelis have not insisted that everything be on their terms. The negotiations in the mid nineties came very close to being accepted. The moderate Palestinian negotiators were disappointed and surprised when Arafat declined to accept the final proposal. Israel had made historic concessions. When Arafat turned that offer down, Israelis began to lose confidence that the negotiations were in good faith, or that Palestinian leadership would ever budge on any of it's demands.

A key point is that from the outset Palestinians and other Arab nations rejected the partition plan that the UN put forward in 1947. The Jews were willing to accept the arrangement even though they were disappointed that most of the land they would get was the barren Negev desert. The Arabs did not want for there to be a single square inch of Israel. A Jewish state occupying any part of the middle east was considered unacceptable. The Jews saw the handwriting on the wall and prepared to kick out the British and secure themselves against the inevitable Arab onslaught.

Three times now, Arab nations have joined forces and waged war to try to wipe Israel from the map----for the record, they never minced words, openly clamoring for a complete genocide. For fundamentalist Muslims, the very existence of a Jewish state on land they consider holy is an affront, an abomination. They would not be content if all the Palestinians had nice homes, jobs and good health in a separate Palestinian state. They are not concerned about the plight of the Palestinians. They delight in their victimhood because it helps advance the jihadist fundamentalist cause. If they gave a rat's ass about atrocities against Muslims, wouldn't we hear them lament the barbarous outrages perpetrated against the benighted inhabitants of Darfur. The scale of the tragedy there far outstips anything that has ever happened in Israel. Hmmm, the same thing goes for the brutal atrocities against the Kurds by Turks. Or wait, Iraqi atrocities against Iranians and Kurds, or Iranian atrocities against the Iraqis. The extremist fundamentalists are trying to make the conditions in Gaza as horrible as possible because when people scratch the surface of the story superficially, the Jews seem like they are being the bad guys.
But the Palestinians had no consent in the creation of a Knesset, or the form it would take
The constitution of my country was drafted without my consent, but I consider myself lucky to live in a democratic society. The Arab Israelis don't object to having a voice in the Knesset, and do not want to move to Gaza or the West Bank to"be free". They know they are better off with the civil rights afforded them under Israeli law.
( Here's a tricky question: do people have to consent to live in a democracy? If they don't consent, then doesn't that negate the value of their input on the question to begin with?)
Israel is in a very difficult position. If she ignores Hamas' rocketfire, that makes Hamas look strong to the Palestinians and that makes it likelier that they keep power in Gaza. If she retaliates, it causes the sort of tragedies that breed new extremists. Liberal Westerners tend to root for the underdog, and the Palestinians at first glance are just that. But really they are unwitting pawns in a much larger war, the fight of religious Muslim extremists against the Jews. Every time so far they have lost these military campaigns. But they bide their time and wait to fight another day. Israel can lose this war exactly once, and if she ever does, she will be gone forever.
The tragic loss of innocent life in Gaza horrifies me. I believe that Israel has a right to protect her citizenry, but that this latest campaign could be ineffective. It would be presumptuous of us to insist that it is a huge mistake since their military intelligence could know something that we do not. Israel takes many precautions to reduce the harm to innocent bystanders, but there is only so much they can do in an area where the people are being used as human shields. Westerners should not confuse supporting Palestinians with supporting Hamas. The Palestinians brightest hope for a better future would be the replacement of Hamas by a moderate faction.


derekstaff said...

Rather than challenge everything point by point, I’ll point you to a post I made on the subject a couple of years ago, A Pox on both their Houses: II - Israel. It is a sequel to A Pox on both their Houses: I - Islamic Extremists.

I’ll address a few other specific points below.

You are correct that many Jews lived in the territory prior to the founding of Israel. Many of them now belong to Neturei Karta, an organization of orthodox Jews who reject the existence of the state of Israel and the turmoil it has created with the Palestinians who largely lived in peace with their Jewish neighbors for generations, even centuries, before Israel was created. And yes, there was considerable immigration into and out of the region by many different groups, as there has been throughout the world for all of history. That does not change the fact that those non-Jewish populations were given no role in the creation of this new state. No, neither did you, but your state (meaning the US, not the specific State) was created a couple hundred years ago. The state of Israel was imposed from above just a few generations ago; there are still people who recall that imposition. Can we honestly blame them for that outrage? This is not a matter of the Jewish immigration being “less real.” It has nothing to do with considering the Jewish immigration at all, but the creation of a state which gives greater status to one cultural group than to a large percentage of the population which has at least as legitimate as claim to that land. That is what is deplorable, that the nation formed was not a true liberal Democracy, but a specifically ethnic/religious state.

The fact that there have been innumerable other population disruptions (India/Pakistan being perhaps the most egregious in history) is truly vile. I despise those every bit as much. But they don’t have bearing on the creation of Israel and the turmoil it has caused. Two wrongs--or even hundreds of wrongs--don't make a right.

As I noted in my own post, Israel does not officially give all citizenship rights to non-Jews, and there are many examples of unofficial state discrimination.

Yes, the Palestinians rejected the partition plan from the outset--because what was being partitioned was their land. I will again apply the situation to us: Would you find it acceptable that the US giving over political control of your state to another group simply because you would be allowed to retain political control of a fraction of that land?

Yes, fundamentalist Muslims do clamor for genocide, and this is monstrous. I believe that had Western powers not exerted their muscle, humiliating the Muslim world yet again by creating an alien state in the midst of the land where they were a majority, the extremist Muslim ideology would not have gained such a strong foothold in the region. In other words, the strong anti-Jewish sentiment is largely a result of the imposition of Israel from the outside. Jews and Muslims had lived largely (though not entirely) peacefully in the region for centuries (again, see Neturei Karta). Had the Jewish immigration not happened in the context of the creation of a specifically Jewish state, there would not be such friction. The fundamentalist Muslim hate would be a fringe position, much as fundamentalist Christian hate groups (Fred Phelps and the various militant Christian groups) are fringe, marginal groups here. There is nothing inherent in Islam which makes it inimical to Judaism or Jews.

Now do not mistake me. I do not support Hamas or any other Muslim extremist organization. I find them reprehensible. My objections to your posts are not about supporting Hamas, any more than the objections which both of us share about our government's spurious “War on Terror” has anything to do with supporting Al Qaeda, Hussein and the Ba’athists, the extremists governing Iran, et al. I’m simply objecting to the oversimplification of Israel as the “good guys,” and trying to point out the underlying causes of the conflict which are papered over when we rush to defend Israel’s right of defense. We do nothing to advance the cause of peace, and even less to advance the cause of justice, when we excuse or rationalize Israel’s history and actions. Given the fact that they could not possibly exist without US aid (financial and military), we can and should hold them even more strongly to account.

kerfuffler said...

I'm not intending to portray all Israelis as always the good guys. I'm trying to clear away some of the misconceptions that liberal people can easily come away with because our media cover stories so superficially-----they want to spend more time agonizing over any missing little blond girl.
Many Zionist extremists who want to take all of the land through their encroaching settlements are as demented as the Hamas fanatics. But for a long time there has been a preponderance of moderate Israelis seeking to close an ugly chapter through a two state solution.(Sadly that majority is shrinking.) Fanatical Islamists have targeted moderate Palestinians so long and provoked so many polarizing tragedies that it appears almost none are left, or they are too intimidated to speak out. What kind of negotiation can there be with someone who will only be satisfied with your death?

Most countries have an ethnic or cultural identity. Germany is German, France is French. Saudi Arabia is Arabian. The USA is unusual in the degree of it's diversity.

Are you totally opposed to a two state solution? Why do you consider the land to be ALL Palestinian land? You keep saying it was their land. Did Jews not have land there as well?

derekstaff said...

I believe that the superficial media coverage much more frequently results in people coming away with the distorted image that the evil Muslims just want to kill all Jews for evil’s sake, and that Israel is just nobly protecting itself from imminent doom by whatever means necessary. This is not an accurate picture of the situation.

Most countries do have an ethnic identity. I believe that the embrace of cultural identities tends to lead to tension and violence, and so dislike ethnic identities in general--we’re all human. I despise government encouragement of ethnic identities, whether that be the ethnic bigotry so prevalent in France, Germany, and other parts of Europe; the one-language, one-culture, “English only” crowd in the US; or Israel’s identification as a Jewish state, granting special privileges and rights to ethnic Jews and the religion of Judaism. A liberal democracy should be blind to ethnicity and religion.

I consider the land to be Palestinian because it was the Palestinians (primarily Muslim, but also Jewish and Christian, Palestinians) who lived there prior to the creation of the state of Israel. When you look at the arrogance with which the early Zionists treated the indigenous Palestinians and by which they considered Palestine rightfully theirs, it is tragic.

I believe Carter is right in his recent book in making comparisons to Apartheid.

I would be willing to support a two-state solution (as if my support meant anything... ;) ) if it pragmatically means an end to the violence. I do not believe it would because it is, as I said, virtually completely on the terms of Israel: no recognition of the injustice done to the prior inhabitants, no backing down on the land they consider theirs.

But I most particularly believe that ideally there should never have been an attempt to arbitrarily create a state for a particular group of non-indigenous people, that to do so was unethical and unjust to the prior inhabitants, and that to neglect recognition of that fact hinders any attempt at a reconciliation.

kerfuffler said...

Japan had a democracy imposed upon them after they surrendered unconditionally. They have been happy ever since. Being told 'you are now part of a democracy' is not much of an outrage as outrages in this world go.

What are the rights that Arab Israelis don't share? I have not been able to find any----I'm not being snide; I always assumed there were some, but have genuinely not found them codified anywhere.

kerfuffler said...

What makes the Jews in Palestine less 'indigenous' than the Arabs and Egyptians in Palestine? At the time of the War for Israeli independence about a third of the population was Jewish. Many of them had arrived within the previous forty years, but that is true of even more of the Palestinian Arabs who came from Egypt and Jordan and so on during the same time period. (Palestinian population had diminished considerably during the 18th and 19th centuries under Ottoman rule.)
At the end of the war, the Israelis had more land than the UN partition plan had suggested, but the Jews had not taken ALL of the land. Jenin along with many other Muslim population centers remained under Muslim control in the West Bank as did most of Gaza as well.
The UN partition plan was drawn in a way that reflected where the bulk of both ethnicities lived. Today about 20% of Israel is Arab Israeli.

derekstaff said...

You make an interesting comparison with Japan. Something to consider.

Consider the Zionist immigrants less indigenous because they immigrated specifically for the purpose of creating a Jewish state. To me, that ulterior motive makes the immigration less valid. It wasn’t immigration, but usurpation, as Ben Gurion himself admitted (“A people which fights against the usurpation of its land will not tire so easily.”). They knew they were trying to take control of the land, not immigrate and integrate with the prior inhabitants.

I admit this is not a sociologically valid argument, merely a moral intuition. Make of it what you will.

It has been awhile since I’ve looked at the maps, but if I remember correctly, even at their most generous, either pre-founding and post-founding, the lands which the Zionists were willing to cede to the Palestinians was never contiguous, was it?

As to the rights, or treatment of Palestinian citizens under Israel, I refer to it on my own post I mentioned earlier. For more information, I believe that this faq from the Institute for Middle East Understanding is pretty accurate on the subject.

kerfuffler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kerfuffler said...

The site you provided only listed the following regarding rights denied to Israeli Arabs:

" 1. The Law of Return which grants automatic citizenship rights to Jews from anywhere in the world upon request, while denying that same right to Palestinians
2. The Basic Law of Human Dignity and Liberty which defines Israel as a "Jewish" state rather than a state for all its citizens.
This legal and symbolic commitment to Jews throughout the world leads to a variety of forms of discrimination against Palestinians."

They say there are others, but cannot seem to name them. These were the same distinctions I listed before.
And frankly, number 2 seems like a restatement of number 1 which is it's only real life implication.
The question of contiguous borders is particularly intractable. It is impossible (mathematically) to create borders that allow both states to include their main population centers and all be contiguous. Israel has land in the North and the South. Palestinians have land in the East and the West. One of the two needs to back down on this. But it is not unreasonable for Israel to claim that maintaining contiguousness for itself is a high priority since Israel has enemies like Iran.

Steve said...

Good post. But I think the real crux of the problem there is history much farther back than 100 years ago.

I'm def more pro-Palinstine than Israel, only b/c they are currently the more repressed portion in the region. Should Israel be "eliminated", then I'd probably find myself siding with the Jews and Christians with my point being that a compromise has to be solved or everyone dying on both sides is dying for nothing. It is also one reason why I kind of tune out the conflicts there, they never seem to accomplish anything and until all parties are serious about living side by side and in peace and can control those that choose not to, this is bloodshed for the sake of bloodshed and nothing else. They both can "eliminate" each other if they aren't willing to be civilized about it.

kerfuffler said...

I think one of the reasons that I side with Israel is that I am older, and I remember so many of the events that get glossed over in the press.

I agree that the Gazans are particularly repressed right now, but frankly their main oppressors seem to be Hamas radicals. Apparently (from things I have seen recently) they have been staging some of the carnage in Gaza themselves to make Israel look worse.