Posts Tagged ‘Palestine and Israel’

Israel from underdog to top dog

August 1, 2014


I am not Jewish.  I am not a Zionist.  I think of Israel as I think of Britain or France—as a foreign country whose people I wish well, but whose interests are not necessarily those of my own country.

But there was a time when I had considerable sympathy for the State of Israel.  The map above shows why.  The nations in green are members of the Arab League, whose 1967 Khartoum resolution reaffirmed a long-standing policy of no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations with Israel.  The countries marked in dark green show the countries that went to war with Israel at one time or another.

As long as Israel was surrounded by larger and more populous countries dedicated to its destruction, I thought of Israel as the underdog.   Their situations were not comparable.

 There was never any possibility that Israel could threaten the existence of Egypt, Syria, Iraq or the other Arab nations.  But there was a very real possibility that the Arab nations together could wipe Israel from the map of history.

I argued that the Jewish people had as much right to create a new nation as the Germans or Italians in an earlier era.  I would argue that people who are in peril cannot be expected to follow moral rules.

I argued that if the Soviet Union was providing unlimited armaments to Egypt and Syria to destroy Israel, it was only right that the USA provide military aid to Israel.  I argued—I think that 40 or so years ago, this argument was plausible—that more Arab civilians, even more Palestinian civilians had been killed by Arab governments during Israel’s existence than had been killed by Israelis.

Nowadays I no longer make these arguments because I no longer see Israel as the underdog.  The map below shows why.

No Arab government threatens to attack Israel.  Egypt and Jordan have signed peace treaties.  Israel has committed acts of war against Lebanon, Syria and Iraq with impunity.

Their only enemies are the powerless, miserable Palestinians in Gaza and on the West Bank.  All the arguments I made in justification of Israel could now be made in justification of Hamas and Fatah.

The Palestinians have as much right to constitute themselves as a nation as the Israelis did.   People who are being killed indiscriminately have the right to fight back by any means necessary, especially against a nation being given virtually unlimited aid by the USA, the world’s largest military superpower.

There is no possibility that the Palestinians can threaten the existence of Israel.  But there is a very real possibility that Israel can eliminate the Palestinian presence in Gaza and the West Bank.



A Jewish critique of Israel’s policies

August 1, 2014

Rabbi Henry Siegman, former head of the American Jewish Council and of the Synagogue Council of America, in interviews on Democracy Now, calls for the Israeli government to cease its attacks on Gaza and to recognize the human rights of the Palestinian Arabs.  The interview is a excellent, objective summary of the situation.

I think Rabbi Siegman is representative of what is best in the Jewish tradition, which is older and much richer than Zionism.  I think he is right in advocating real self-determination for the Palestinians, as opposed to the fake self-determination they have now.

I would like to think that true self-determination would open a path to peace.  Peace is impossible otherwise.  But I fear Israel may have passed the point of no return.  Rabbi Siegman said in the interview that part of the purpose of the attacks on Gaza is to destroy the possibility of an independent Palestine and of peace talks that might lead to an independent Palestine.  That purpose may have been accomplished.

I recall a story about an American officer offering compensation to an Iraqi family for the killing of the father.  The eldest son said it wasn’t enough.  The American asked how much compensation would be enough.  The son replied, “Ten dead Americans.”

But I don’t want to write anything that, in however tiny a way, would diminish the chances for peace, however small they may be.  Age-old enemies have made peace in the past, as in Ireland.  It is up to Israelis and Palestinian Arabs, not to me, to say whether peace is possible.


Israel Provoked This War: It’s up to President Obama to end it by Henry Siegman for Politico.

The Liberal Zionists by Jonathan Freedland for the New York Review of Books.

I thank Jack Clontz for calling my attention to the Democracy Now interview.  It is well worth viewing in its entirety.

Israel: the once and no longer underdog

December 5, 2012


I used to sympathize with Israel because I thought of the Israelis as the underdogs, and I thought the Israeli people were under a threat to their existence.  I don’t think that is true any longer.

Zionist leaders at the turn of the previous century believed that Jewish people would forever be persecuted minorities in the countries in which they lived, unless they, like other peoples, had a homeland of their own.  During the early 20th century, some prominent Jewish people opposed Zionism.  They said Jews were adherents of a religion, not a separate nation.  To say otherwise, they said, would only validate anti-Semites who denied that Jews could be patriotic citizens of the nations in which they reside.  The rise of Naziism confirmed the fears of the Zionists.   Being patriotic did the German Jews no good.

The immediate impetus for the creation of Israel was the failure of the Allies to address the refugee problem after World War Two.  If the United States and other countries had been willing to take in Jewish people and others in Displaced Persons camps after World War Two, the Jewish people in the camps might not have tried to get to Israel at all costs.

I don’t blame the founders of Israel for trying to establish a new Jewish state.   I don’t blame the Palestinian Arabs for fighting back.   One of my mother’s favorite sayings that that two wrongs don’t make a right.  But sometimes two rights make a wrong.

Jewish people have a deep fear of being wiped out.  Nobody who is familiar with history could say that fear has no basis.   The Arab League declared war on Israel in 1948 with the intention of wiping out the new nation.   The map above shows the nations that declared war on Israel; the nations in dark green were the ones that put troops in the field.

Later on the Soviet Union allied itself with anti-Israel nations.  The Soviets were an open-ended source of arms for Egypt and Syria in waging war against Israel.  In that situation, it was only right that the United States maintain a balance by arming Israel.

But that situation no longer obtains.  Israel is no longer threatened by neighboring countries, even the ones who refuse to recognize its legitimacy as a nation.   Instead Israel is waging war on a subject people, the Palestinian Arabs, a people who have as much right to exist as a nation as the Israelis did in 1948, and who have as few alternatives as the Israelis did back then.   But most of Israel’s American supporters think that Israel is as embattled and surrounded as it was in 1949 or 1956 or 1967.  It’s time to look at the new reality.

Double click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.

Click on Visualizing Palestine for more graphics.


Why don’t the Palestinians just give up?

December 5, 2012


I just got finished reading Max Hastings’ great new book, Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945. The book is a vast panorama of human suffering, including an episode almost forgotten today—the ethnic cleansing of the Germans from eastern Europe and from the German territories of East Prussia and Silesia.   German families were sent out onto the roads in winter with what they could carry on their backs, to survive as best they could.  As many as a million perished.  But after the suffering inflicted on the world by the Nazi regime, few had any sympathy for the plight of German people.

I described this to a friend of mine, and he wondered why the Palestinian people can’t accept defeat as the Germans did.  There are winners and losers in war.  The Palestinian Arabs are the losers.  Why can’t they accept that?   I forget what answer I mumbled in reply, but it wasn’t a good one.

The real answer is that this is not a question for me or my friend to decide.   The Irish were defeated time and time again by the British, but they never accepted defeat and eventually won their independence.  On the other hand they came to accept the partition of Ireland as the price to be paid for peace.   The nation of Poland was wiped off the map not just once, but twice, and the Poles reconstituted themselves as a nation.   The people of Chechnia and Kurdistan fight on for independence even though their causes seem hopeless.

Jewish people created a new Israel thousands of years after the original Israel was destroyed, and Armenian people have a new Armenia thousands of years after the old Armenia vanished.   The question is not whether the Palestinian Arabs have been defeated.  It is whether and when they will accept defeat.