January 15, 2009
Never-Ending Madness in the Middle East
©2009 Daniel A. Brown
My joy in welcoming Barack Obama to the Oval Office is tempered by the never-ending madness between Israel and the Palestinians, the Gordian knot of foreign affairs. By now, we know the pattern; The Palestinians do something violent and stupid, usually shooting rockets into Israel and killing a few civilians. The Israelis overreact with massive retaliation, killing hundreds of men, women and children, and destroying schools, hospitals and mosques in the process. This, in turn, infuriates the revenge motives of the Palestinians who begin the same hateful process again.
Many years ago, I witnessed a brawl taking place between two men behind a bar in Turners Falls. Peaceful soul that I am, I attempted to intervene and break it up. Instead, the two assailants stopped, turned on me and barked, “Go away, we want to do this!” After which they returned to beating each other bloody. A perfect metaphor.
With millions of people dying in wars elsewhere, it’s astounding that the entire world’s attention is on a piece of land the size of New Jersey. Unfortunately, Israel is the epicenter of a vast religious cosmos (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) so what happens there carries a great deal of emotional (and irrational) weight. There is so much historical, cultural and psychological complexity to this situation that it is impossible to view it in black and white. Both sides have been the victim and the aggressor. Both are haunted by demons that have absolutely nothing to do with each other. And both have sacrificed any moral authority. Hamas uses children as human shields. The Israelis kill them anyway. How can anyone “win” here?
To be honest, as a young Jew, I was a fervent supporter of the Israeli armed forces, cheering enthusiastically when they won the Six-Day War. Merely a generation removed from Auschwitz, here were Jews armed with tanks and warplanes, showing a latent genius for defending themselves. I thought that was really cool. After two thousand years of passively enduring mass murder, ethnic cleansing, persecution and exile, Jews were putting some weight behind the phrase “Never again”. The image of the frail ghetto scholar was replaced with the lean, mean paratrooper with an Uzi. It must be impossible for non-Jews to appreciate this attitude. It’s the same ecstatic reaction one would have watching a battered woman learn self-defense skills. This is no glib comparison. Nations are like people and the Jews are the battered women of history. Unfortunately, this works against them. Imagine this woman who, after enduring years of abuse, shoots a man ten times in the chest after he threatens to hit her. One might say she overacted. An astute observer would caution that such a response was probably long overdue.
Since then, the Israelis have forfeited my sympathy but the Palestinians garner even less. Hamas has made it clear they favor the extinction of Israel and, understandably, the Israelis have issues about becoming extinct. Hamas also favors establishing the same kind of oppressive Islamic theocracy that the Taliban has inflicted on Afghanistan. Somehow, local Palestinian sympathizers, however well meaning, seem to miss these parts of the equation. While witnessing Israeli brutality firsthand would turn anyone’s stomach, viewing such acts in a vacuum is misleading. As long as Hamas refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist and threatens her borders, the Israelis will respond reactively, no matter from whom they get their military dollars.
The Israelis and the Palestinians are stuck with each other and, in some ways, deserve each other. They are, of course, fratricidal partners sharing the same land and the same DNA.There is, however, one supreme irony that few have noticed in this malodorous situation. The only people who have treated the Palestinians worse than the Israelis are the Arab nations who have been content to subjugate them as impoverish refugees, giving them nothing and occasionally murdering them when they got too restive. Because of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, conquered in 1967, the Palestinians at least have a shot at becoming an autonomous nation. Before the Six-Days War, the West Bank belonged to Jordan and there was no way in hell that the Jordanians would have given a major chunk of their territory to the Palestinians who they clearly disliked and mistrusted. Denied a state by their “Arab Brothers”, that possibility exists thanks to their hated adversaries.
Overall, my personal solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis is deceptively simple and not particularly original. Make Jerusalem an international city, administered by the UN. Remove all Jewish settlers from the West Bank. Have Hamas and Iran recognize Israel’s right to exist. Make Israel pays reparations to the Palestinians for the land they occupy in Israel proper and, finally, create an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank.
One assumes that 90% of the inhabitants of that region could easily go along with this. Unfortunately, it’s the other 10% that cause the mayhem, get the headlines and influence policy.
Every American president has hoped to hold the talisman that brings about a lasting peace to the Middle East. All have failed and so might Obama because the fate of the Israelis and the Palestinians is in their hands, not his. One hopes that the mothers of both warring sides, emulating the mothers of Northern Ireland, will someday rise up, stand between the tanks, the rockets, and the suicide bombers and say “Enough! We will no longer send our children to kill and be killed”. Only then will six decades of insanity finally come to an end.