7.14.2006

I'm Chosen; I'm Chosen Not

(I submit this to the reading public as an installment in an unofficial series of rants undertaken by a number of friends: 1, 2)

This is obviously prompted by the hellish escalation in violence in Lebanon and Northern Israel. I hate discussing Israel. Loathe it even. It's frustrating, migraine-inducing, and utterly untenable.

I hate it first and foremost because, as a Jew, I feel like I was willfully deceived about what Israel is and where it came from. I'm not sure if it was simply the shortcomings of my personal education or a general habit of propagandizing among the Tribe, but the history I learned was, to be generous, selective. For me, the claim to the Land of Milk and Honey evolved thusly:
  1. God chats up Abraham and they work out a deal.
  2. Everyone hates us for a while. Then they hate us so much that they make us slaves.
  3. Moses shows up and says come this way. He points at the border and dies, probably of guilt from the trouble he has wrought by bringing his people to Israel.
  4. Some temples are built and destroyed.
  5. We end up in Europe somehow. How do we know this? Because there are philosophers writing stuff (I know this less from Hebrew School than from the fact I was born in Maimonides Hospital) and inventing the academic industry of Talmudic scholarship. Plus we were hated some more, but by different people. This is to say nothing of the fact that we're all the ancestors of European immigrants.
  6. Suddenly the Holocaust happens and Jews can go back to Israel.
  7. A lot of people hate us for it, but it is the burden we bare.
Not much talk of who was there before 1948. No mention of how Palestine was the only colony I can think of in which the colonizer relinquished power by giving it to someone totally unrelated to the majority of people who lived there during their occupation. No talk of anything other than it was Right. Of course I realize that no religion is going to undercut something so fundamental and tangible as its followers right to inhabit its Holy Land as ordained by God by casting doubt upon the very claim to said Land. But someone could have. No one did. Maybe it happened in households and social circles which were more Jewish than mine. Maybe families with stronger connections to that land - more than an aunt, uncle, and some distant cousins, families whose kids did their time on a kibbutz or at least made a trip over - faced the fact that more than Jewish blood was shed for that piece of arid real estate. But not a single person I knew addressed or even acknowledged the savage irony of the displacement of Palestinians on the heels of the Holocaust.

This is not to say that Jews don't have the right to be there now. The people who are there now, who built the modern state of Israel, created an infrastructure, farmed the desert, and raised families, certainly do have some right. My gripe, or my initial one anyway, is that educated debates and, more importantly, diplomacy efforts have to acknowledge the historical context that is the conditions of Israel's formation. If any discussion should be stripped of the obfuscations of political correctness, as well as incendiary asymmetrical language of the generally anti-Arab West (a terrorist in some other land is a freedom fighter), it is this one. And don't mistake this for some stereotypical liberal nonsense about empathizing with the terrorist. Anyone who walks into a busy market dressed to the nines in explosives is a fucking murderer. Let them and the cowards who train them to kill burn in Hell. Still, everyone has blood on their hands here and the moral high ground has long since been leveled, so let's be honest about it and acknowledge the ample and well-distributed blame.

Assuming I could live in a world where a complete history of Canaan/Palestine/Israel was taught and a candid, unflinching lexicon for discussion was established, I doubt I could take a position on the issue anyway. The fact is that I don't believe there is a solution that is both just and socially and politically feasible. In my heart, I don't believe it can end. Neither side is going to give in. Both sides have enough funding and political support from across the globe to keep the fight going for far more than my lifetime. I am hard-pressed to fathom a non-apocalyptic resolution. The best I can come up with is a third-party administration which ensures the rights of both sides and gives them both access to the sacred sites through an equitable, but iron-fisted administration of the country. This magical impartial UN-like organization does not exist and, of course, would look too much like the entity that really got the fireworks going in the first place to ever work. No good.

When push comes to shove, I think the biggest problem is that, while I'm reticent to engage people in discussions about Israel, I feel it is my obligation to do so. This is what really kills me. How can anyone be an active and interested participant in the world without addressing this, the epicenter of the unrest in the world? I like discussing politics. It's what citizens of a healthy world should do. There's no way around it. If Americans participated in the marketplace of ideas, I can't see how we wouldn't be better off. I certainly can't see how two George W. Bush presidencies could have happened. So, I feel some ethical obligation to want to engage the subject more.

Finally, there is the nagging sense that my heritage means I should debate the issue and even defend both Israel's methods and America's uncritical support of Israel. Yes, it's not just Jewish parents who use guilt, it is Judaism* itself. With the emergence of groups such as Not In My Name, I don't feel particularly isolated in criticizing Israel and its relation to the Palestinians, but hard line Zionists still play dirty. They insinuate the ghosts of the Holocaust to justify Israel's actions. I think that's part of the dishonesty I felt from when I was younger. I don't recall any Palestinians' names on the design plans for the chambers at Dachau. Stop trying to get wrongs to add up to a Right. Just like that fucktard's "Roadmap" is no substitute for actually hands-on diplomacy, using the methods of your tormentors is no way to rationalize your actions or sway opinion to your side.

*By "Judaism" I am referring to an ethnic category rather than a religious one.

7 Comments:

At 6:13 PM, Anonymous Shannon said...

Oooo, lookie! A quagmire! Let's go play in it.

Greatly vaster brains than mine have looked at the Israel/Palestine question and backed away slowly speaking soft, soothing things all the while groping for a big stick. So I'm not gonna have any answers.

I do know one thing: I agree with the Debaclyptic One that the moral high ground has long been bombed by both sides into a crater. Both sides are wrong in their current actions and I only hope that sense soon prevails.

 
At 11:14 PM, Blogger evandebacle said...

However, with some lesser brains than yours running our country, suggestions would be welcome.

 
At 1:53 PM, Anonymous Rev Transit said...

I'd actually quibble with the assertion that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is the epicenter of unrest. I'd put Pakistan there-- they backed the Taliban, they sold nuclear weapons to North Korea and their terrorists just killed scores of people in Mumbai.

And then there's what China has done to Tibet, a vaster nation, whose leaders have eschewed terrorism so that they could continue to claim the moral high ground. What the Israelis have done in Palestine, the Chinese have done far more ferociously and for far more nefarious purposes in Tibet.

Has escewing terrorism helped the Tibetans? Well, they've lost their land and their plight is generally ignored. But their exiles have spread their religion to the west and the Dalai Lama ranks as one of the most respected leaders in the world.

Which has been the better approach-- the Palestinians or the Tibetans? I'd choose the Tibetan approach myself, but modify it a little, I guess.

Also, you probably missed this discussion on Jo's blog, but the Hebrews are not actually the descendents of the Old Testament Jews. Nope, ironically enough, the true descendents were those British colonizers of Palestine: http://www.orange-street-church.org/text/beliefs.htm

By the way, I don't fault Israel for what they're doing now.

 
At 8:16 PM, Blogger evandebacle said...

Rev., I'd disagree with Pakistan being the epicenter because Israel, at the very least, can always serve as a rallying cry and, if the current conflict escalates much further, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict poses a far greater risk to blow up into full-scale regional warfare.

That being said, I do realize that it is an over-simplification to just place Israel at the center of everything. A more accurate simplification would be to say that there are two primary, and sometimes overlapping conflicts: one being Israel/Palestine and the other being a push against the West and Western influence being spearheaded by fundamentalists who want to purge the Muslim world of said West by attacking the West directly (e.g. 9/11), aiding the enemies of the West (e.g., Pakistan helping out NK), purging Arab states of corrupting influence and West-friendly rulers (e.g., toppling the wealthy and partly Westernized in tastes and behaviors Saudi royal family), or establishing intolerant fundamentalist states (e.g., with the Taliban). And underneath these two ongoing conflicts is the more complex jostling for power between different Muslim interests, countries, sects, etc.

While I would still stick to my side of the quibble, I find it interesting that both countries suffered from efforts backed strongly by the British to partition in 1947: Pakistan actually was formed by a partition and a Palestinian partition proposal was rejected running up to the 1948 formation of Israel. This is an irony which becomes that much more interesting when considering the British Royal Family being descended from David.

Honestly, I don't know what to make of the Tibet comparison. Eschewing terrorism has probably kept them from being completely annhilated by the Chinese. That doesn't say much I guess. Certainly I would personally prefer people to take the peaceful way out, but whether Tibet has actually accomplished more by it (other than getting the Beastie Boys on their side) I can't say.

 
At 6:11 AM, Anonymous Shannon said...

Rev - I don't blame Israel for what they are doing currently (right of self-defence and all), but I do question if it the wise thing to do. After all, does anyone believe that bombing the heck out of Lebanon and killing civilians is going to lessen Palestinian anger and thus rob the terrorists of their support? Of course not - the violence will simply propagate more violence, create still more people who are willing to become terrorists or support them. Too, the scale of the attack has some who were originally highly sympathetic with Israel questioning them.

In the end, what does this accomplish? What started out a kidnapping of a few soldiers has turned into a conflict in which civilians on both sides are dying, rockets are hitting Israeli cities, and the potential for a wider conflict in which a lot more people could die looms. Will it stop the terrorists? Of course not. Has it lessened the violence? No. Neither goal has been acheived - indeed, Israel's choices have had the opposite effect.

So, yes, they have the right to defend themselves. But sometimes exersizing your rights may not be the wisest choice.

 
At 6:30 AM, Blogger evandebacle said...

The question of whether Israel's response is justified really throws a monkey wrench into my critique of Israel's dealings. I'm not sure what the shelling of Lebanon has accomplished in the positive sense, but what it has revealed is that Hezbollah was clearly preparing for war. Their ability to respond with rocket attacks far deeper inside of Israel that they had previously been capable of clearly indicates that they are in possession of greater weapons and have stronger backing than ever before. So now what?

This is very unlike the so-called "build up" of weapons Iraq had prompting us to attack them. These are weapons at the doorstep of Israel and being supplied by countries (especially Iran) who want to make a statement. Israel feels the need to retort. How do they do that in a calculated way without touching off a regional war? Well, I hope that, behind the scenes, Israel, either directly or indirectly, is working with more moderate states (e.g., Egypt) to lean on the governments of Syria, Jordan, and Iran to back off. This diplomacy could either defuse the situation or heighten the tensions between various Arab states who are jostling for position in the region.

 
At 6:52 AM, Anonymous Shannon said...

I just think it's a shame that Israel's current actions (and, no, I'm not smart enough to know what else they should do) are likely accomplishing Hezbollah's aims: there's no question that Hezbollah would like a regional war to help unify the Middle East or, at the very least, help stir up a Lebonese population that was trying to distance itself from Syria.

An analogy: remember in the first US/Iraq war when Iraq, in desperation, fired scud missles at Israel? Iraq was clearly hoping that Israel would get sucked into reatliating, which would then draw the ire of other Middle East states. Israel, wisely, stayed out of it, which deprived Iraq of one of its aims.

I think something similar is going on with Hezbollah: they were, after the recent Lebanese elections and Syria's withdrawal, looking at a shiite-christian alliance that wasn't looking all that promising for Hezbollah. Add to the mix that Syria (and Iran) undoubtably want to regain influence in Lebanon and the attack on Israel starts to make a lot of sense (in a very realpolitik kind of way). Now the Lebonese have to choose between Hezbollah/Syria (who stated this mess) or Israel, who is currently putting all kinds of hurt on the country.

There is one silver lining - maybe. If this end quickly (which I don't think it will), the Lebonese may be even more sick of Syrian influence, which they are smart enough to recognize as having started this whole mess. That said, if it goes on for very long, they may get desperate enough to grasp at any hope, even Syrian, to get the bombs to stop falling.

 

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