Every time there is an attempt to discuss the Israel-Palestine issue (in this forum or in newspaper forums, etc.) things quickly turn into fairly rabid accusations and accusations of racism from both sides. In the spirit of Tbar's "constructive Lebanon-Israel thread" (but broader than the Lebanon issue), I thought I would point out some elements that are often used in Israel-Palestine debates that I think we should try dropping or expanding to reach a better mutual understanding. For the record, I am an American Jew who finds it all too easy to see the suffering of innocents on both sides, but quickly tires of the "we are the only angels/victims" argument from either side. Objectively I see much more misery, suffering and disruption of normal life for the Palestinian side (largely at Israel's hands but also partly at the hands of the surrounding Arab governments, especially in the past). I also see a massive failure of leadership and vision from all parties involved. Blood is on everyone's hands. In any case, I think a more constructive dialogue would follow the following "rules."
FIRST, no more Hitler/Nazi comparisons ON
EITHER SIDE! The “you’re a Nazi,” “No, you’re a Nazi,” etc. shows pretty profound ignorance of either the current situation in the Middle East or the Third Reich, or both. Sure, there are aspects
that bear comparison. However:
Israel is not acting like the Nazis because: they are not attempting to extinguish complete races of people. They are not going around measuring the shape of different people’s skulls to show that those people are inferior and must all be destroyed for the good of mankind. They are not going through their population and even their armed forces finding the people who are Arab or ½ Arab, or ¼ Arab so that they can be removed and gassed (As the Nazis did openly with the Jews and Gypsies in their population and their own army). By all means, discuss the brutal and morally rotten aspects of Israel’s foreign policy, but no need for a wild analogy. It just makes everything else seem exaggerated.
Meanwhile, The Arabs are not acting like the Nazis because: they are fighting over land, with a nation and its foreign policies, rather than trying to eliminate a race (see above). The trite example of how the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem agreed with Hitler about “the Jewish Problem” during WWII is a single case or a leader embracing Hitler (most Arab leaders at the time had nothing to do with Hitler at all). Oswald Mosley embraced Hitler at the same time in England, but that doesn’t show that the English were Nazis etc. Remember that already in the 1930s and 40s Jews were buying up land (mainly from foreign Ottoman landlords who didn’t really care about the area) in Palestine with the stated aim of outnumbering or removing the native Arabs and starting a country there. The Grand Mufti’s reaction to this was a nasty case of racializing the issue, and unfortunately as time has gone on, more and more Arabs have been susceptible to blurring the lines between anti-Israeli resistance and anti-Jewish hatred. This however, does not mean that Nazi comparisons shed light on the current issue. The contexts are radically different.
SECOND, no more using the UN to endorse only one side of the conflict:
The pro-Israeli extremists one minute say “Israel has a right to exist because the UN determined this in 1947” and the next minute say “Israel has a right to violate any UN resolutions they feel the need to because the UN is a biased political organization dominated by anti-Semitic forces who do not understand our precarious situation.”
The pro-Arab extremists say: “Israel is a rogue state because it is in violation of more UN resolutions than any other country…” and the next minute say, “The UN had no right to create the state of Israel because that was our land and the UN was a biased political organization that was forced into this action by pressure anyway…”
Nobody can have it both ways; either the UN and international law are the final arbiter despite their flaws, or leave them out altogether. Personally, I say the best we can do is admit that international law is problematic but is the best thing we’ve got. So let’s listen to the UN. Israel’s right to exist must be protected, but Israel should get out of ALL
of the land they took in the 1967 war, including the now entrenched settlements around Jerusalem, and Jerusalem must be split, or administered by an outside authority.
THIRD, on the creation of Israel, refugees and the right of return issue:
Israelis need to admit that about three quarters of a million Arabs were driven out of Israeli land when Israel was created. Israel has often claimed that those people left because they were told to by advancing Arab forces, and told that they could come back to their land after Israel was eliminated. More detailed research shows that indeed some did leave for this reason (and if you think about it, that makes sense). But the majority left because they were terrorized and driven out by Israel. The most important examples of this have been well-documented, such as Deir Yassein.
On the other hand, one cannot cite these issues and ignore the fact that at the same time, at least as many Jews were driven out of neighboring Arab countries. Again, some left because they wanted to go to Israel now that it was formed, and saw there a safe haven. Here too, however, most were terrorized and forced out by Arabs angry about the creation of Israel, even though the Jewish populations in their countries had existed peacefully for centuries, and had precious little to do with the creation of the Jewish state.
Personally, I think the right of return should be nominally offered both to Jews from Arab countries and to Palestinians whose families were forced out of Israeli land. This being the thorniest question in the long-term solution of the crisis, I would say that incentives should be made so that in reality (rather than theory) people chose to stay rather than return. (At this point, very few Sephardic Jews want to return to Arab lands, but the situation is more complicated in reverse); if done properly, most descendents of those who were displaced could be restored a sense of justice, but most would stay put, at least for now. In the longest term, perhaps a one-state solution will emerge, but only in an age when today’s blood has washed downstream and when national and ethnic identities are less important than today.
So, in the end, I would like to see some balance and perspective, even from those with passionate reasons to be involved in this issue. Particularly, I would like to see the issues of Naziism, the UN, and refugees treated in a way that actually takes a fuller account of the full story.
[Edited 2006-07-17 22:18:42]