Thursday, September 18, 2008

Zionist to the Core

On a couple of revered blogs by Jewish progressives there has been a fair bit of commotion, mostly limited to the responses in the comments section, a couple of which would merit a good deal of analysis as the debate rages on in the blogosphere about what to do with the current impasse between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and who is one to fault them? Aren’t we exhausted about the round-a-bouts that lead us back to Square 1 or the “One step forward, two steps back” scenario that only contribute to the deepening separation of the two embattled nationalities that a solution seems even more out of reach? I know I am done with it all and I can put a wager that the Palestinians and the Israelis (and even the Syrians, Lebanese, Egyptians and Jordanians can be lumped in too) caught in the middle between two weak party players attempting to mediate what has been the unmediatable are tired and inured to the hopelessness.

Dan Fleshler, an accomplished insider Jew who has many credentials as well as plenty of insight about the AIPAC lobby, lashed out at the “bloggers from the Israel-can-do-no-right crowd”, whose salient “silence” on
Ethan Bronner’s latest piece in the New York Times gave Fleshler a reason to smile, not just at the positive Bronner article but at the pundits who are like wolves to any negative Israeli press. For Fleshler, the residents of Jenin who are intent on rebuilding after such a tragic episode back in 2002, “[p]roductive cooperation between the occupiers and the occupied, and possible models for cooperation between two states, has no place in the worldview” of those who are in the firm belief that Israel’s “real motive” is “to hide the ongoing colonization”. The example of Gilboa, whom Jews and Arabs “defy skeptics” by setting initiatives that might suture the dividing rifts together, is a true anomaly for anti-Zionists and harsh critics of Israel who find it “discomforting” that Palestinians are “now trying to figure out how to work with, rather than against, their neighbors.”

Unintentionally (since Fleshler and I are not in any capacity linked except via blogging) I am part of Fleshler’s critique. Just perusing through this blog and it is patently obvious who is (majorly) at fault for the situation we are at now in my view. Just over a week ago,
I titled my post “Failure for Expansionism”, a rigorous review of Israel’s successful migration from an occupier by force into an occupier by proxy, a systemic approach to give PR credentials to gain assent by the international bodies to continue its encroachment into occupied land. Without the contextualisations, this could be interpreted as vituperative and written with rancour. Not necessarily a bright light in the “darkness”. (In addition, it demeaned Mahmoud Abbas and the late Yasser Arafat as a “satrap” and an “occupier by proxy”, the Oslo period as a Trojan horse that led to the“abortion of the Palestinian resistance movement”, and that Israel “chose to make its own path” to the delegitimisation of Arafat and Abbas as “nothing more than a puppet of Israel’s doing”. This is all too well represented in Fleshler’s piece on “cranky bloggers” from the “Israel-can-do-no-right crowd”.)

Now I do have little bones to pick at Fleshler’s remarks, and one really needs no defense here as I am under the impression that Fleshler has grown too weary of reports that only exacerbate the tensions rather than corral the differences to mend the hurt. And certainly, Fleshler and I are not at opposite polarities on the issue of the solution here: while there may be nuanced agreements and proposals, the central focus of the struggle for peace is to end the occupation and end the (accelerated)
settlements of the West Bank, engage Hamas in Gaza and (I cannot speak for Fleshler in all of this) dismantle the wall. It really is a no-brainer for all invovled: two states, with an agreed guideline on final borders, whether including the Negev, the Arab Triangle and the settlements near Jerusalem as an exchange. Fleshler has not “given up quite yet” on two states, largely because the alternatives are too simplistic and impractical. Unforunately, Fleshler immediately relegates those who advocate another solution, ie the one-state solution, as one who has “given up” on two states. Very true, but why have they gone that path?

Despite the groundbreakers in Jenin and Gilboa (who must be commended), there are
too many infractions by Israel to actually take notice of it. It’s as if this example was a flashlight in a deserted forest at midnight, with the batteries about dead. Who’s going to recharge the batteries to lead us out from the darkness and the unknown road ahead? We can see safety but what barriers are stopping us from reaching sanctuary?

Personally, I have been on record to support a unitary state, whether binationalism or a “one man, one vote” federalism. Either way, this land has to be shared, and since it is quite tiny, why not attempt to live with each other instead of splitting into a partition that has no spectacular paradigms that are exemplary (India-Pakistan, Ireland, Korea).
We look to the lessons of South Africa as the hope for resolution and restitution, but South Africa today is far from the utopia and things remain largely unchanged there. But because of the idealist notion that a true democracy has to espouse every citizen of this country, whether Jew or Arab, is one that I (and most of us) are endeared to, we must apply it to all nations to avoid discrimination and dehumanisation. As a humanist, the plight of the Palestinian of being nobodies has to cease, and if it’s in the case where all Palestinians have a choice to return to their former lands of Jaffa, Beersheba and Tiberias then that would be justice at its finest.

(Since when do we ever get the justice we seek? Most of us still long for her, others sit in a chair and get a lethal injection, while millions can languish in refugee camps subsisting on close to nothing. Only a minority can ever achieve the restitution they fight for.)

Because of this thinking and support for Palestinian solidarity, many (and Fleshler included) have attributed it to a myopic view of the conflict, one that has only regarded the Palestinian camp of the issue and neglecting the Israelis who must also be taken in the equation here. Fleshler is not incorrect in this analysis but he is also not totally correct either. I believe Fleshler’s real objection is that this neglect will only alienate and marganlise those Israelis who do want to help the Palestinian cause but not at the total expense of the Israelis as to most Zionists and post-Zionists, support for the Palestinians usually is the equivalency of the destruction of the Zionist ideology of Israel, ie that Israel cannot be a Jewish state. Now I cannot speak for the rest who show sympathy for the a unitary state, and I do believe that that’s what most academics and scholars who hold symposiums advocating a one state feel it as, but everyone wants this occupation to end. That is the main thing to document here and that’s what most reporters and journalists write about: the damning nature of making Palestinians submit to the omnipotence of Israel’s power. Think about it: those
scathing pieces about settlements are not (totally) ideological, it’s recording what Israel has approved (again and again). Those reports about Palestinian life under occupation are not because those reporters are anti-Israel or sadists who live in the shadows of evil, it’s because they are unreported in the mainstream media and that it is a determined dig into what is mostly unknown to the rest of the Western world. It is also meant to be a debunker of propaganda, a demystification of the myth that Palestinians are all terrorists. It can even be a pretext for further violence that might erupt by a bulldozer in Jerusalem.

And it has been Israel’s intransigence and belligerency in the face of international bodies that has led to its criticism (in the alternative media), culminating into calls for boycott and sanctions. But most of this is not the fault of Fleshler and the rest who are still Zionists to the core: there must be room to maneuver, and it has to include both Israeli narratives and Palestinian narratives. I don’t know any who attempt to erase Israel’s side of the story, just their myths of how it came into being and its treatment and history of Palestinians.

My major bone to pick is for Fleshler, Zionism is still not at fault here. He has reason to believe that Zionism can co-exist with the Palestinians even though its founding thesis was exclusion of non-Jews itself. What is this meant to mean to Israeli Arabs, normalisation with a state that discriminates them, or forced into expulsion, or better yet, submit to a second-class citizenship that excludes them from land rights? Zionism co-existence already has a pinnacle paradigm: it’s called Nazareth and the Arab Triangle. It has enacted laws that
revoke Israeli citizenship to those married to Palestinians in the occupied territories; it has prevented any effort of a newly built village for the Arabs; and it ceaselessly calls them a “demographic threat”, a “timebomb” and a potential fifth column. While Fleshler can beam in the handshakes in Gilboa, what are residents of Jaffa, which was a predominantly Arab city, to think of when they are told to be nice with Zionism? This has existed for over 60 years, and it has gotten worse, not better during these latter years.

Don’t get me mistaken, all positive elements should be illuminated. Zochrot, Breaking the Silence, Machsom Watch; all are extraordinary organisations working with Palestinians. I am sure there are many more (ICAHD, B’Tselem). Yes, we should all get the appropriate information here and maybe Fleshler is correct that we focus too much on the negative, especially the negative when it comes to the occupier. But that’s the thing here, Israel IS THE OCCUPIER. This is not an attempt to blanket every Israeli as a supporter of expansionism; I doubt they all are. But what do we make of the phenomenon of regimes such as Netanyahu, Sharon, Begin, or even Barak and Olmert: all have just expanded Israel’s potential borders and with the exception of Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza, not one of them dismantled a (major) settlement bloc (Gush Etzion, anyone?). Furthermore, each of these coalitions had been voted in by Israelis themselves. There has been no real peace coalition; everyone just continues to recycle the same statesmen who were military folk heroes in yesteryear. Despite calls for “two states”, there has not been anything remotely close to resembling a Palestinian state. (No, a Bantustan does not count.) Oslo? Camp David? Madrid? Taba? Road Map? Annapolis? Where did that all lead us again? Was it a genuine attempt to give Palestinians the self-determination that they have been struggling for or was it just lip service? Did we witness any concession that would have led to a contiguous Palestinian state? Did we even refer to the refugees, East Jerusalem or water or the wall? I guess if you are really genuine about conceding, you keep the most contentious issues “off the table”. That does make sense to me. But yet Fleshler is adamant that these proposals are of something concrete, that they mark a key consensus that Israel is willing to make peace and withdraw, or well at least some parts of their society is. I don’t really think that is news at all: haven’t we been aware of courageous Israelis condemning the occupation, its annexation of the West Bank and its treatment of Palestinians before? The doves are not silenced; more or less just powerless, marginalised, who are obsolete in the face of
strong people who hold the reigns.

Now I do not want it to come to a “Zero-sum equation” and I do not intend to expose my criticisms as such. There definitely has to be room for those Israelis who aren’t “evil” or support each of its initiative to suffocate Palestinian life, or maybe even those that do. But one thing is certain: there has to be people who are left out of the equation here. All solutions are going to have someone left out in the dark. Two states leave the settlers in a quandary, the Palestinians inside Israel in a conundrum and the Palestinian Diaspora largely ignored and unable to ever realise their “right of return”. The single state eliminates the very ideology that Israel was created by, supported by and even fought by all these years. Its institutions are built upon Zionism and the Jewish Diaspora has been emboldened by Israel’s example of success. It also dismisses the notion of “aliyah” and the missive of a “safe haven” from anti-Semitism. The occupation keeps the Palestinians everywhere disheartened, cold and battered, reaching out to any depth in a (vain) hope to get them out of their purgatory. How can any solution hope to do justice to all those who have a stake in this conflict? Which one do you advocate? What has history taught us so we can learn from it?

Over at Philip Weiss’s blog, it is filled with activity from both liberal Zionists and strong left anti-Zionists. There had been a few calls to “nuance” the narrative here and that Weiss is too abstract in his outlook of Israel. What’s interesting is the fact that most who visit Weiss’s blog are mostly progressive who call for the end of the occupation, just what is the best way is still undetermined. It really is the forefront of a good discussion about where the two sides can go and both blogs are blessed with very inquisitive and insightful commenters who all make good points.

Mostly, the call for “nuance” is to broaden the horizon to house in the Israeli-good side, very similar to Fleshler’s line of thought. (It even has a post about
Fleshler.) What is the central thesis is that this occupation is detrimental to both sides, and it is imperative for the future of both parties to come to an agreement here and that Israel has nothing to gain for its impugnity.

For instance, a couple of commenters call to account for the settlers’ fait accompli. Fleshler attests that “situation coarsens and brutalizes both peoples”. Another commenter insists that Israel is willing to make sacrifices for a Palestinian state. This is all meant to make everything crystal clear; Israel has a stake here too, not just the Palestinians.

What this reminds me of is the Iraq War and what type of story has to come out of it. It also is similar to those who supported the war and still support to this day that disdain the “liberal” media for publishing too many negative stories and how they miss out on the “feelgood” stories about building schools and helping ordinary Iraqis out. What it also reminds me of is the American-centred narrative from those who are for “supporting the troops” as the war debilitates Americans and they come back “brutalised”. What I’m allaying here is that both are occupations, and both were/are created and funded (still) by the occupier when both can just withdraw and be done with it: the ultimate sacrifice. Yet we still hang on to those because of some flimsy pretext here. (Now the analogy is nowhere near close; Americans can go thousands of miles away; Israel can only go so far for a withdrawal of troops. But it does have a powerful army.) Here we have an invasion that was the main culprit of the suffering for both sides but predominantly for the indigenous and yet we’re focused too narrowly on the negatives when there are so many positives to talk about? I’m sorry, when you destroy a nation (or a people, if you want to continue that path) and then you subject them to misery, it’s an oversight that your misery is not deemed important; I was too busy trying to save the “other” from dying or starving.

What about the Iraqis/Palestinians? I’m sure the occupation is not a happy environment but Zionism had been the impetus, if not for the creation, then for the continuation of the occupation. Security? Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon; they’ve all suffered defeats and want to have normal relations with Israel. That leaves the Palestinians to fend for themselves: What army do they have? While it is a sad state of affairs that your troops are coming back with syndromes and broken limbs and missing organs, and it is a shame, it truly is, but they were part of a machine that helped make life miserable for Palestinians.
That was Jeffery Goldberg’s main argument in his latest book Prisoners but which left out a major technicality: that Israelis who serve have a choice not to do those acts that house Palestinians in a checkpoint, beat them down, arrest them and oppress them. That Israelis may feel debased by occupying another people, but they get to go home, watch TV, eat cooked meals, have clean drinking water, be not harassed on their way to work, not have their crops burned, more or less a free person with a country to call their own. Or as Weiss put it

“I think he's [Fleshler] giving too little agency to the Israeli soldier; there are actually things he can do. Too little agency to American Jews, implicitly. And actually equating the victimization level of Palestinian and Israeli. I don't see it. As for the real lives of soldiers, yes, their lives are hurt for three years in Israel, if they're serving the occupation, then they spend another year unwinding in India or Argentina, a wanderjaar, and then they get to have their dreams, without checkpoints. Palestinian hopes are far more limited.”

I know they must suffer; occupations aren’t easy but the suffering is not equivalent here. One has total power with a chance for normalcy afterward; the other has no rights at all and is left to scramble for what little they have on offer. For Palestinians, their hope rests on the whims of another state, what Michael Neumann called Israel as having “soveriegnty” over the Palestinians. Palestinians cannot go to Hebron to Jerusalem without being questioned or even without an identity card. A settler can get on a road and be as free as they choose, and even free to harass Palestinians if they choose. And the IDF is complicit in all of this: they protect the settlers, not the Palestinians. That really does not depict a soldier being “brutalised”, except only by settler’s anger at them for not evicting the Palestinians in the first place.

I do not mean to minimise their suffering, I want to maximise the “other’s” suffering. I mean, what can we make of this report of
confiscating “a herd of cows in the West Bank’s Jordan Valley yesterday under the pretext that that they were near a military camp.” This is what you can best describe as a security measure? Has Zionism truly lost its reason (if it had any)? We are too mired in the centrality of the suffering we relate with, let’s not forget about those who we trampled on.

Truthfully, the life of an Israeli is a polar opposite of the life of a Palestinian in the occupied territories or even in the refugee camps in the surrounding states. In fact,
Eric Alterman’s article shows the different side of Israel, one that is not encased in occupation fervour. I can tell you, the life of a Palestinian does not resemble a place

“with shiny new skyscrapers, shopping malls, pricey boutiques and expensive, decidedly nonkosher gourmet eateries…[g]alleries…everywhere, and the theater and film industries are thriving…hedonistic beaches…”

What the Palestinians have is a pittance of that. We get calls for humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza and the worsening situation in the West Bank. To assume that there is some equivalence of suffering here is to delude oneself into thinking that Israel is also arrested when this peace process fails. And fail it will.

Hindsight might prove disastrous to this piece, and the future can hold many things. Gilboa and Jenin could be a turning point or it could just be what it is for now: an anomaly in the midst of polemics. Even though progressives and liberal Zionists want to believe that Israel is willing to do what it takes to reach a final agreement to end this occupation, sadly it just isn’t the case.
The polls indicate that Israelis want to hold on to these territories; it doesn’t sound like sacrifice to me, or maybe they just want to sacrifice those pesky outposts that do nothing for nobody. Rest assured, Israel has plenty to gain by continuing what they do. Psychologically it may be hurtful but they still remain on the land and they still have no real opponent to stop them from doing so. Who is going to stop them from finishing this wall, from shooting at protestors, from stealing water, from warehousing Palestinians?

(I write this on the anniversary of the massacres of
Sabra and Shatilla. There really is no equivalency here and it was the war in Lebanon in ’82 that begun the movement against aggression by Israel. The main architect was Ariel Sharon, who is lambasted as a “man of peace”.)

I know there are many so-called “experts” who call for one state, but unless I can pry open into their heads, I doubt it is more than just an idle threat to Zionists in Israel to really oppose the occupation, cease settlement activity and get their act together. The thing is, two states can happen, one state can happen, or this occupation can just continue the way it is. It can be more humane, but that could be too oxymoronic to posit. Whatever the practicality of any of it is, all I know is that the current situation is unsustainable in the long run. One side or both is going to implode and time really is running out here.

Is countenance of Israel’s own suffering going to be the platform that sets us on a course for a better chance for resolution? There is no easy way out of this mess. One thing is for certain, Israel benefits greatly from the status quo and the Palestinians get zilch.

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