A Mark of Decency – David Bradley

The following was written by David Bradley of UT SDS for the Humanity in Action Senior Fellow blog. Many thanks to David Hamilton for providing us this copy.

Israel and Palestine Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
By David Bradley

A new Israel/Palestine “peace process” is underway. We talked about this conflict some during HIA this year and I’d like to expand upon that discussion.

Yesterday a friend interested in the conflict wrote to me:

“I favor a two-state settlement, but I don’t think much of the current Palestinian leadership and don’t think there is a real shot at any sort of end to occupation of the West Bank until Fatah or some other organization that’s willing to talk to Israel comes back into power. I feel like I’m across the fence from you on a lot of issues. What do you think is going to happen with Hamas at the reins?”

My response:

I am not sure why you say that there needs to be a new Palestinian organization “that’s willing to talk to Israel.” Currently it is Israel and the United States who refuse to talk to Hamas. Not only will they not talk to them, but they steal Palestinian taxes, bulldoze houses, engage in extrajudicial killings, and impose brutal sanctions which are starving Gazans. If it is legitimate to call Hamas a terrorist organization–and I think it is–then Israel and the U.S. must be much worse terrorist organizations because their crimes are so much more horrific.

Israel right now can do whatever it wants because it has US support. If it wants to create two states without Palestinian support, it can. If it wants to have a one-state solution without Palestinian support, it can. If it wants to continue the military occupation and stealing land to build settlements, it can, with your tax dollars.

I should clarify the two-state solution which the US and Israel are against and the rest of the world is for. This consensus requires Israel to withdraw to the borders established before the 1967 War. It requires Israel to dismantle all settlements and the 80% of the apartheid wall which is illegal. It requires Israel, Palestine, and the Arab World to live in peace and security with each other. For over 30 years this two-state solution has been agreed upon by everyone except the US and Israel.

Actually, that’s not quite accurate. Sometimes, such as in 2002, the UN General Assembly vote for a two-state solution is 160 to 4 with the U.S., Israel, the Marshall Islands, and Micronesia voting against the resolution. Other times, such as in 2003, this coalition falls apart and the vote is 159-2 with the US and Israel alone in voting against the resolution. Even though the resolution always has 95% of the world’s support, it is unenforceable because of the US’s undemocratic veto power, and because the US and Israel have overwhelming military force.

This behavior is right in line with the US’s long history of disdain of international law. For example, in 1986 the US was found guilty of international terrorism against Nicaragua by the International Court of Justice. The decision was hardly reported in the United States, and our UN representative called the ICJ a “semi-legal, semi-juridical, semi-political body, which nations sometimes accept and sometimes don’t.” This behavior is also in line with our 17th-century conception of national sovereignty, shared by Myanmar.

Also, why is the wall illegal? The legal boundaries between Israel and Palestine are those set before the 1967 War. If Israel built a wall on those boundaries, few would care. They could heavily mine it and post guards with automatic weapons in watch towers, and the wall would be legal. The problem is that Israel has built the wall on Palestinian territory–notably where scarce water and arable land exists–to incorporate this land into Israel. As Israel could build a wall on the legal borders, we can dismiss charges that Israel is building the current wall for security reasons.

What if Israel unilaterally created a two-state solution based on the international consensus (which it has rejected for 30 years in favor of expansion)? That would likely dry up any support for Hamas. My understanding is Hamas was elected because it created soup kitchens, hospitals, and schools, and most Palestinians just want to survive. The fact that Hamas pledged to destroy Israel is a side-issue akin to Chechnya pledging to destroy Russia–unlikely. Israel has the 4th largest military in the world while Palestinians fight with stones and kitchen-made rockets. Israel’s threat to destroy Palestine should be taken much more seriously as it’s actually happening.

There is a long history of Zionist expansion. Israel’s first president said of Israeli actions toward Palestinians:

“We have taken their country. Sure, God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs. We came from Israel, it’s true, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been Antisemitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?” (David Ben-Gurion, 1956, Nahum Goldmann, The Jewish Paradox (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1978), pp. 99 (translation: Steve Cox))

Some say that Jews have suffered so much from the Holocaust that they deserve to displace the Palestinians. If an ethnic group needs to be sheltered from the rage of another ethnic group, they should be. But why must a third group be ethnically cleansed to protect the first group? Does that not commit the crime trying to be prevented?

This is beside the fact that Israel repeatedly shows a lack of compassion toward Holocaust survivors. Most recently, when Holocaust survivors complained that they had little money to live on, Israel offered them a meager $20 monthly stipend. One survivor called the stipend “absurd and insulting.” Comparatively, in Holland the average monthly stipend for Holocaust survivors is between $2,740 and $4,110 a month. Referring to money Germany gave Israel for Holocaust survivors, another outraged Holocaust survivor said, “I want the Germans to know where the money they gave Israel went. I want the Germans to know that Israel took the money we should have received. I want them to answer one question: Where did our money go?”

We also should note that the United States repeatedly degrades the Holocaust by trumpeting new Hitlers who will destroy the world when it’s convenient, as opposed to when it’s true. The most recent lead in this changing cast is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad–no saint, but hardly a new Hitler.

Ahmadinejad is debased on a number of charges, all baseless and hypocritical. First, subservient intellectuals accuse Ahmadinejad of wanting to “wipe Israel from the map.” A little research shows this is a mistranslation. Ahmadinejad was using an idiom, and trying to say that a state based on injustice–namely the injustice toward the Palestinians–cannot survive. Further, Ahmadinejad has no power in foreign policy. Ayatolla Ali Khamenei, who does control foreign policy, has said “The Islamic Republic has never threatened and will never threaten another country.” After September 11th he said, “Mass killings of human beings are catastrophic acts which are condemned wherever they may happen and whoever the perpetrators and the victims may be”. And finally, one friend from the Third World accurately noted to me that, “The US threatens to wipe countries off the map all the time.”

Ahmadinejad is also accused of fighting against US aggression in Iraq. The principle is instructive of western hypocrisy. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the NY Times did not lament that the US decided to interfere in Afghanistan against the wishes of the illegal invasion of the Soviet Union. To do so would be ludicrous. Iran has as much right to interfere in Iraq as the US does, and much more of a right than the US if Iran is invited by the Iraqi population.

We can dismiss fear of Iran’s nuclear weapons as reason for immediate invasion. It would take anywhere from 5 to 9 years for Iran to develop the bomb, if they are actually trying to make one. We should be much more afraid of ourselves. We have actually used nuclear weapons in war and we threaten to use them on a daily basis with “all options are on the table” rhetoric. I won’t review the consequences of using a nuclear weapon. We have the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world, and we have recently gutted the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by illegally selling nuclear technology to India and Israel who (unlike Iran) are not signatories to the NPT.

Lee Bollinger’s statement provoked quite a bit of outrage among intellectuals. Still, the outrage was mild. The Asia Times writes, “Were President Bush to be greeted in the same manner in any university in the developing world – and motives would abound also to qualify him as a ‘cruel, petty dictator’- the Pentagon would have instantly switched to let’s-bomb-them-with-democracy mode.” Further comment is superfluous.

Finally, US newspapers and TV hacks dutifully derided Ahmadinejad for his outrageous comments against homosexuals. Intellectuals patted themselves on the back for being vanguards of human rights, never commenting that our own President was Governor of a state which outlawed sodomy. The same derision of Ahmadinejad did not fail to appear in Britain. Britain, of course, is the country where mathematician Alan Turing was forced to undergo hormone therapy for homosexuality, leading him to later commit suicide.

If we want to find new Hitlers and we think Ahmadinejad rises to that standard, we need not strain our eyes looking for him across the ocean. Worse monsters are right here at home. To call Ahmadinejad the new Hitler and not recognize our own sins degrades the Holocaust.

Returning to the Israel-Palestine conflict, Hamas should stop shooting their homemade rockets into Israel. To the extent that Israel must stop the rockets, they should using police work. Stealing land, bulldozing houses with innocent families inside, making prisoners of 10,000 innocent civilians, stealing taxes, and random assassinations–all war crimes–do not stop rockets. In fact, the rockets are often in retaliation for those Israeli practices.

For example, Palestinians dutifully observed the 8 February 2005 ceasefire while Israelis provoked them several times into violating it. This has happened over and over again. Israel prefers expansion to peace, so when the Palestinians and the Arab world offer peace, Israel has a problem. It must reject the peace offer or accept it while goading the Palestinians into violating the terms. Of course that means Israel is violating the terms first, but that isn’t reported in our country.

This summer, Hamas, the democratically-elected government, was overthrown with US-Israeli support in the West Bank. Now Hamas only controls Gaza while Fatah controls the West Bank. According to typical U.S./Orwellian reporting, Hamas instituted a coup in Gaza, but having the elected government institute a coup is impossible by definition. It is the unelected government (Fatah) who overthrew the elected government (Hamas).

Currently Hamas is not in the reins. By giving the Palestinians’ stolen taxes over to Mahmoud Abbas, the US and Israel have subverted democracy by choosing the Palestinian government for the Palestinians.

Israel has no right to occupy Palestinian land no matter who the Palestinians elect. If Mexico didn’t like our government, should they have a right to occupy our land? Of course not. To do so is a war crime that can be tried if we decide to hold the powerful accountable.

As HIA is also concerned with racism, we might want to look at Israel as a case study. It is proclaimed to be a Jewish state. That idea seems quite racist. If we abhor the idea of a white state, black state, muslim state, or christian state, should we accept a Jewish state? I think not, especially when 20% of the population is ethnically Palestinian (Christian or Muslim, and Arab). About 75% of the United States is caucasian. Would it be just for the white majority to proclaim the US as a white state? Also, in Israel people are jailed for “undermining the Jewish character of the state.” Should people be prosecuted for undermining the caucasian character of the US? All this is aside from the blatant racism whereby Israel refuses to pick up Arabs’ garbage and randomly turns off Arabs’ electricity in Jerusalem. The point of these policies is to make life so intolerable for ethnic Palestinians that they decide to leave. What would we think of these policies if whites implemented them against blacks in this country?

What will happen with the current peace process is a mystery. My guess is the same thing that’s happened before–no Palestinian state, just Israeli expansion. It’s important to have a “peace process” every few years in order for the U.S. and Israel to act like they’re working toward peace and legitimize the conflict. If history is any guide, the terms of the “peace process” will be awful for the Palestinians (who likely won’t get to help determine them), and if the Palestinians boycott the “peace process” because of the unfair terms they will be made to look like they don’t want peace, just violence. This has happened before.

The US and Israel likely won’t allow for justice in Palestine. But everything the Bush administration has touched has fallen to pieces so they’re concerned about saving their legacy and the US’s hegemonic role in the Middle East. Maybe they will adhere to international law and create two states based on UN resolutions 242 and 338, but I wouldn’t bank on it.

My hope is that a solidarity movement will coalesce much like what happened against apartheid South Africa. The Israel/Palestine conflict is only controversial in two places in the world–the US and Israel. Everywhere else the facts I mentioned above are taken for granted. Hopefully people across the world, along with people in the US and Israel, will stop these massive human rights violations. We as Americans can do our part by withdrawing our $3 billion-a-year gift to Israel until they respect international law and minimal standards of human decency.

The major questions of the conflict are uncontroversial. Israel’s settlements and wall are illegal. Bulldozing houses, stealing taxes, and continuing military occupation are illegal. UN resolution 242 states that Israel must retreat behind the borders established before the 1967 War. Palestine and the Arab World have agreed to all these terms and to allow Israel to live in peace and security with its neighbors. This was most recently reaffirmed in the 2002 Arab Summit. Yet Israel rejects these terms. If the major issues of the conflict are so uncontroversial, why is the conflict so controversial among US elites–namely, ourselves?

I’m concerned that little of this information came out when we discussed Israel and Palestine during the HIA opening ceremony. Maybe next time we should try to have two people with opposing views speak. Doing so would get more information out and allow us to make more informed opinions.

Much of my rhetoric may seem uncivil and vile. How can I say such things especially to an organization that is so heavily staffed and funded by people with a personal affinity for Israel?

First, all of us, or almost all of us, are elites. We will likely go on to positions of power and privilege. In our society many reasonable voices are squashed, and this squashing makes the owners of those voices feel helpless. It is no coincidence that the owners of those squashed voices are also those who are being hurt by state policies. So we, as people who have voices that will be heard, have a higher moral standard to live up to. We must speak truths that are generally unpleasant, because those who are being hurt by the unpleasant truths are rarely heard. If we do not do this, our passivity renders us guilty. It is as if we were hurting the voiceless ourselves.

For this reason, we have a responsibility speak and act as honestly as we can regarding issues that we are responsible for. Though many of us have a personal affinity for Israel, the Israel-Palestine conflict is a clear-cut case of human rights abuses which are overwhelmingly our fault. There are many clear-cut cases of human rights abuses; the difference is that we have the power to stop this one. Whereas with Darfur questions arise about the feasibility of the US military invading and China’s wrath, etc, those questions do not arise in this conflict. If the US withdraws its support from the illegal occupation, the conflict is over. That’s it. It’s done. We have that power. Let’s decide to use it.

Second, there is the issue of the double standard. We use the terms “war crimes,” “horrendous,” “disgusting,” and “monstrous” to describe the crimes of others, and rightly so. If we are willing to use those terms for the crimes of others, we should apply to ourselves the same terms when we commit comparable or more horrific crimes. So when Israel bulldozes a house with a family inside, and I and my friends decide to send taxes to the government to pay for this, there should be no doubt that we are participating in horrendous, monstrous, disgusting, war crimes. And it is a mark of decency to say so. There is nothing civil about nodding your head when your government murders people.

References

A short list of Israel’s grave breaches of international law:

1. The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies (4th Geneva Convention, Article 49, Paragraph 6)

2. Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive (4th Geneva Convention, Article 49, Paragraph 1)

3. All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations (UN Charter, Article 2, Paragraph 4)

4. It is inadmissible to acquire territory by force (UN Law reaffirmed in UN resolutions 242, 476, 480, and 1322 among others).

Further reading:

Sen. Sam Brownback endorses ethnic cleansing

Desmond Tutu condemns Israeli apartheid saying it reminds him of what happened to blacks in South Africa

On the World Court’s 2004 decision that Israel’s wall is illegal

An interesting response to the Taglit-birthright identity-building trips

Where did the Shoah money go?

Edward Said’s book “Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question”

Israeli Human Rights group calls Gaza “one big prison” (PDF format)

UN Envoy urges the UN to quit the Quartet unless it begins to care about Palestinian rights

A sensible plan proposed by a host of powerful US officials

If you’re in the Austin area, the Palestine Solidarity Committee will soon host a talk by Anna Baltzer, a Jewish-American who has written about the conflict. The talk is on Thursday, November 1st, at 7 pm, on the UT campus in GEO 2.216.

David Bradley
France ’07

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