Saturday, August 2, 2014

Israel/Palestine FAQ

With the recent escalation in conflict between Israel and Hamas, social media has been full of all kinds of misconceptions about reality, fueled by very biased western media and other factors. Off the top of my head, I thought I'd try to shine some light on some of this stuff, so it hopefully becomes a bit clearer for some people.

Is the Israel/Palestine conflict an intractable conflict going back thousands of years?

Not really. For the most part it dates back to the rise of the Zionist movement, starting around the turn of the twentieth century. The Nazi Holocaust in Europe then results in a massive increase in the popularity of Zionism, and the immediate post-War period sees the formation of the state of Israel and the forcible displacement of 700,000 Palestinians. Trouble ever since.

Who are these Palestinians?

Mostly farmers and city-dwellers, along with some nomads, a combination of Muslims, Christians and Jews who have lived in Palestine for thousands of years. The modern-day Palestinians include the descendents of the original Jews of the region, most of whom converted to Christianity or Islam over the generations.

Who are the Israelis?

This depends on where you put Israel's borders, which has been a matter of dispute for a long time – dispute between what Israel says and what everybody else in the world says, more or less. The area under direct Israeli military control includes the West Bank and Gaza, which the rest of the world does not recognize as Israeli territory. (It was conquered, occupied, and settled by Israeli Jews after 1967 – illegally as far as the UN is concerned.) So if we're talking about the whole of Israel plus what the rest of the world knows as the Occupied Territories, then Israel's population is roughly half Jewish and half Palestinian Arab. About one million of those Palestinians live within Israel as second-class citizens, and the rest – the vast majority – live under direct military occupation, can't vote, and aren't citizens of anywhere.

So the Israeli Jews, who are they?

Overwhelmingly, they are people of European descent, who moved to Palestine before, during or after World War II. They have been identified as or have self-identified as Jews (or both) in Europe or North America, where most of them are from (or are descended from). The Jewish religion claims Jerusalem as it's holy land. Jerusalem was ruled by a Jewish king for a little while a long time ago, and for a much longer time was ruled by the Romans, Ottomans and others. It's the home of at least three major religions. The European Jews who lay claim to it are generally not related to the Jews who lived there before – the Palestinians who they have displaced are, however.

Is Israel a democracy?

Not in the modern sense. By Roman standards, yes. But by modern standards, no. A very large percentage of the adult population of the land controlled by Israel cannot vote. Not because they have a criminal record or don't qualify for voting for some other reason, but because they are Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza. They're not even subject to civilian rule, but instead, direct military rule.

But if they let all the Palestinians vote, then Israel wouldn't be a Jewish state anymore, right?

Correct. So the Palestinians need to be occupied, ethnically cleansed, not allowed to have rights, etc., naturally. The Jewish state must have a Jewish majority if it's to be a “democracy.” So they can't let the Palestinian majority have the vote.

So what's the game plan for Israel here, with regard to the Palestinians?

No matter what kind of leadership the Palestinians have, whether religious, secular, collaborationist, oppositional, etc., the Israeli game plan, as made very clear by Israeli practice, is to take most of the remaining Palestinian lands away from the Palestinians, forcing the remaining Palestinian population into crowded cities, much like the bantustans under Apartheid South Africa, except these bantustans are surrounded by very high walls with heavily-armed Israeli soldiers on top of them in guard towers. There is no question that the Palestinians can't under these circumstances have anything you could call sovereignty, or a “two state solution.”

Do Jews run the world?

No. There are many Jews in very powerful positions politically and economically, but currently, the only country in the world you could say is run by Jews is Israel. There are other groups, such as Cuban Americans in the US, particularly in Florida, who have a disproportionate political influence because many of them have a common political agenda, as do many Jews in the US, though not most of them. There are periods in the history of some countries in eastern Europe when Jews had a very disproportionate influence on politics and economics, much like, say, the Chinese minority in Malaysia does today. But that was a while ago.

After the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust, don't Jews deserve to have their own country?

The Nazis killed millions of people. They killed people for their political beliefs in very large numbers, and for being gay or lesbian, for being disabled, and for many other reasons. The idea that every group victimized by the Nazis needs to run their own country afterward seems like a strange solution. Better to learn from what happened in Europe that gave rise to the fascist movement, and prevent that from happening in the future. In any case, if you're going to take millions of people and move them somewhere else in the world, where shall they go? Probably somewhere already occupied by other people. And then the new occupants are supposed to run the show? The people from whom they're taking over, by force, might not like that.

But if Israel stops oppressing the Palestinians, and gives up the idea of a Jewish state in favor of a real democracy, what will happen to the Jews? Haven't Muslims and Jews always had problems with each other?

They haven't. In fact, there were many thousands of Jews moving into Palestine during the first few decades of the Zionist movement. There were tensions of all kinds, but for the most part, the indigenous Palestinian population and the new arrivals from Europe got along OK. Which is surprising, given the large numbers of new arrivals, and the superiority complex many of them had.

Furthermore, going back over the centuries, while Jews and other nonbelievers were being ruthlessly slaughtered by Inquisitors and Crusaders in Europe, the Jewish refugees from Spain and elsewhere went to places like Istanbul, where they prospered for hundreds of years, an accepted part of Ottoman society, which was a very multicultural, multilingual, multireligious society, with a Muslim majority that was almost incomparably more tolerant than their Catholic and Protestant counterparts in Europe.

But Hamas doesn't recognize Israel's right to exist! What about that?

Hamas's leadership has never said that Jews shouldn't live in Palestine. In fact, Hamas activists and Jews live peacefully side by side in places like Nablus, the biggest city in the West Bank, where there is a longstanding Palestinian Jewish community. But asking Hamas or any other Palestinian organization or governing entity to recognize a state which won't itself tell anyone else where their own borders are, a state which is continually, illegally stealing more and more Palestinian land for Jewish-only settlements, a state which itself won't recognize the right of the Palestinians to have a state, this is different from recognizing that Jews have a right to live in Palestine alongside other people.

But if a Jew sets foot in Gaza, he'll be shot, right?

No. Lots of Jews, and others, regularly visit Gaza, when the Israeli or Egyptian authorities will allow visitors in. Many of them are activists with groups like the International Solidarity Movement. Others are journalists, UN employees, etc. They are welcomed with open arms by the people of Gaza, including Hamas, and face no discrimination for being Jewish, let alone violence or threats thereof.

But I've seen videos where people in Gaza say things like, “The Jews are coming. God is great. Kill the Jews.”

For a lot of regular people in Gaza and various other refugee camps, people who have never had the opportunity to leave their refugee camp in their entire lives have the impression that their enemy is “the Jews.” This is mainly because the only Jews they've ever seen have been driving tanks, shooting at their kids, and bulldozing their homes. When they say “the Jews” they are talking about the Zionists or the Army, but this distinction, for them, seems very moot, under their extreme circumstances. Even so, many Palestinians, especially those who have had a chance to travel outside of the Occupied Territories, end up meeting nice people of Jewish lineage, and learning that all Jews are not Zionist soldiers trying to kill them.

But the settlers left Gaza years ago, and now Hamas is shooting rockets at Israel. What's up with that? What's their beef?

The settlers left, but then the fighter jets moved in. Gaza was and is still very much occupied. An embargo is an act of war. Gaza has been subject to a merciless embargo maintained by the Israeli military for many decades. And then drones fly overhead constantly, firing at people whenever someone in the control room in Israel wants them to, usually killing women and children more often than their supposed “terrorist” targets.

But as long as Hamas is firing rockets, doesn't Israel need to defend itself?

Hamas is firing rockets in the first place because they don't know what else to do to try to end the siege of their home by the IDF. The siege needs to end, the Palestinians need to be able to breath, to build, to eat, to travel freely within Palestine, to have a port with access to the outside world, so they can go visit Turkey like so many Israelis love to do. Then most people won't want to fire rockets at Israel anymore, and the people who do want to do that won't be able to get traction, because most people will be living too comfortably to want to fire rockets at anyone.

But doesn't Hamas want to stop girls from going to school and nasty stuff like that?

No. You're thinking of the Taleban. Hamas is not the Taleban. There are big, big differences between different Muslim organizations in the world. If you don't know this, you are either ignorant or Islamophobic or both. Why would you want to be an ignorant Islamophobe? Much more interesting to learn about how the world really is, in all its glorious diversity!

But isn't Hamas a terrorist group that's oppressing their own people?

Well, first of all, if they were, it might not be up to Israel or anyone else to rescue them. And if it were up to someone, Israel would be the wrong choice, in any case, as would all of the former/current colonial powers in the region (US, UK, France), who have a proven record of messing everything up every time (usually on purpose). But in fact, Hamas is a popular political party that was democratically elected by popular vote to lead the Palestinian Authority throughout Gaza and the West Bank just eight years ago, the last time there was a fair election held in the Occupied Territories. Throughout most of its existence, Hamas has been dedicated to distributing food, running hospitals, and fighting against the Israeli occupation of Palestine. All very popular activities among Palestinians at home and abroad. This is not to say everybody loves them. There are lots of secular Palestinians as well as Christian Palestinians who are uncomfortable with the religious emphasis within the party. But Hamas is not a terrorist group according to the United Nations, and is popularly-elected, and very popular, and they believe in educating girls, too.

So what does this whole thing have to do with us in the USA, anyway?

Israel is only able to conduct itself as it does because it has the political and military backing of the US. These daily atrocities are committed with our tax dollars, with weaponry we sent them. Plus a lot of the people running Israel were born and raised in New York and they have dual citizenship.

So maybe the whole thing is unfair, but shouldn't the Palestinians just accept defeat and move on?

Many of them have been trying to do that for decades, but Israel won't let them. If Israel had allowed the Palestinians to have a state in all of the West Bank and Gaza (22% of the original Palestine), things might have turned out differently. But Israel insists on taking almost all of Palestine, and controlling all of it. History shows that if Jews can share the land, so can Muslims and Christians – even if the Jews in question are not from the region and have no reasonable historic claim to any of it. That's some pretty impressive sharing! But it's not good enough for Israel.

But aren't you a bleeding heart liberal self-loathing Jew middle-class unrealistic white guy from the suburbs of New York?

Nope. I know what I'm talking about. I've studied the history of the region, and I've been there, and seen the Israeli occupation up close. I've spent time with lots of regular people from the region, not just members of the intelligentsia, including members of all the major Palestinian factions.

This is all so different from how I understood the situation. Where can I learn more about how things really are there?

Turn off your American news programs, forget about your American education, and start paying attention to the rest of the world. Get your news from a variety of different sources, from different countries, most of which have an English broadcast. Variety is better, and you won't get that from US news sources for the most part. You can also read some good books, like anything by Robert Fisk, Nicholas Guyatt or Phyllis Bennis.


Jake Javanshir. said...

How beautifully said, con size and accurate. Millions of Americans, Canadians and many other who are wilfully ignorant or simply do not know much, but think that they know it all,should start here.
There is ample proper information in the internet, books etc.

jake javanshir. toronto. canada.

Jake Javanshir. said...

How beautifully said, con size and accurate. Millions of Americans, Canadians and many others who are wilfully ignorant or simply do not know much, but think that they know it all should start here.

There is ample proper information in the internet, books etc.

DermotK said...

This should be required reading for all all politicians, journalists and anyone else that needs to know more about Palestine. An excellent piece on the subject.