Thursday, July 10, 2014

Israeli Society and the Occupation

If you read my posts, or my Facebook feed, it's pretty clear that I am biased when it comes to Israel. I have a pretty clear point of view. I firmly believe that Israel is strongly in the right when it comes to the ongoing conflict with the Palestinian Authority. I firmly believe that the Palestinian people's refusal to accept the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state is the fundamental reason for the conflict, and that things that Israel has done, such as building and expanding settlements in the Occupied Territories, may exacerbate the situation, but can't realistically be blamed for the existence of the conflict. I still fundamentally believe all of that. But, like I keep saying, I'm trying to keep an open mind, and open eyes, and read pieces and opinions from those who see things differently.

Today, Sarah Posner has a piece up called "The Ghosts and Illusions of the Occupation." I usually disagree with what she writes about Israel--she often seems to blame Israel where I think that Israel is the one being treated unfairly (e.g. she probably thinks that the Occupation is one of the primary reasons for the ongoing conflict). But, this is a piece, along with a few others I've seen in a similar vein, which has important things to say about Israel. Because, even if I'm right, and there's nothing that Israel can do to end this conflict--that no concession or compromise will ever make the current Palestinian leadership serious about a peaceful 2-state solution--that doesn't mean that Israeli society doesn't have some real soul-searching to do:
Sharon Abraham-Weiss, executive director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel wrote this week, “It is clear that the current tension does not exist in a vacuum. Alongside the complex security situation, Israeli society has undergone a significant shift in recent years where it has become increasingly radical, nationalistic and antagonistic to ‘the other.’”
(Still, though, hope: Elisheva Goldberg reported hundreds of Israeli Jews paying their respects to the mourners for Mohammed Abu Khdeir.)
“The current bleak situation is strengthened,” writes Brooklyn College historian Louis Fishman, “by the fact that there is a total lack of will by the Israeli state to promote co-existence and to educate the Jewish population about the national minority within them, that they too have a legitimate right to the Land. In fact, while the current government plans at allocating money to strengthen Israeli ties with the Jewish diaspora, there are none for creating a safe haven for its non-Jewish citizens.”

Let me beat this dead horse--I firmly believe that if every single Israeli were to simultaneously and sincerely declare their love for Palestinians, it would not end the conflict. I am not blaming Israel for what is happening*. But, that doesn't mean that Israel doesn't have a growing problem with how it views and treats Palestinians, both inside and outside the country. And that doesn't mean that that view doesn't have real consequences.

* And, as an aside, even if you do blame Israel, if you think that makes constant rocket attacks, fired from civilian centers, aimed at civilian centers, a reasonable or "understandable" thing to do, then I think you're pretty far gone, morally speaking.

First of all, there's the issue of how these Palestinians are treated, right now. Especially those who are Israeli citizens deserve, without question, equal treatment. If Arab neighborhoods get worse schooling, worse utility service, worse police protection (and, I'm not sure that they do, but I hear it enough that I tend to believe it), then that's a problem. I don't accept that kind of treatment for minority and/or poor neighborhoods in America, and I don't know why it would be ok in Israel, either.

And, then there's the matter of the future. Even if, like me, you don't think that the conflict is resolvable right now, that doesn't mean that it will never be. Forever is a long time, and I have hope that, even if peace isn't achievable now, even if it's not achievable in my lifetime, that doesn't mean that it's never achievable. Jews and Muslims are similar in that we've both seen that history is long, and what is impossible today seems like it was inevitable, down the road. Our stories attest to the possibility of the impossible. But, if we demonize the Palestinians in the minds of Jews, and if we embitter the lives of Palestinians, giving them reason to demonize us, then we make that future much less attainable.

I always take these reports about Israel's malfeasance with a grain of salt, because they are often later shown to be exaggerated, or unfair, or outright lies. But, sometimes they're true. And while I still maintain that Israel didn't cause this war, it's still in Israel's interest, to say nothing of it being moral, to do whatever it can to help bring it to an end, and to help prevent the next one. You can plant the seeds of peace, even while waging war. It's not easy. But, we are a people who believes in the possibility of the impossible.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Immigration, and the kindness of Glenn Beck

In a moment designed to confuse liberals like myself, Glenn Beck has decided to show real compassion to suffering children who are here in America illegally.
“We’re going to fill some tractor-trailers with food, with water,” Beck said. “The churches have asked us if we could bring teddy bears and soccer balls, so we’ve loaded up a whole tractor-trailer of nothing but teddy bears and soccer balls. And then I’m going to go serve breakfast and lunch, and I’m going to help unload these trucks, hot meals for 3,000. That’s what we’re doing.”
I'm making light of how liberals like me would usually respond to Beck vs. how most of us will likely view this moment, but it's important to say--kudos to Beck for this kindhearted, generous-of-spirit act. And, for being willing to stand up against those on the right, with whom he is normally aligned, to do this.

But, it's those angry responders on the right that I want to think about for a moment. I've been getting more informed in recent months about the illegal immigrant issue, although I'm still far from an expert. I understand that this is another truly complicated issue. Through a combination of a ridiculous immigration policy and awful enforcement of the laws on our books, we have helped to create a situation where there are millions of people in this country illegally, some of them for years or even decades. Simply declaring amnesty for all of them, even along with a major revision of our laws and enforcement, seems like a refusal to respect the law. I get why people don't like that option. But, at the same time, what can we actually do? Deport millions of people? Look the other way and allow them to continue to exist in a dangerous, often inhumane shadow society? Those aren't real options (or, at least, not options I can imagine us taking seriously). Like I said, this one really is complicated.

But, parts of it don't have to be. Say what you will about adults who decide to come over to America without legal authorization to do so. But, the children they bring with them? They're just children. They're kids, and they're afraid, and they're hungry. Helping them--making them feel just a little bit better--is so clearly a decent, kind, human thing to do that it's hard to imagine anyone could object.

But, of course, there are people who do object.
Everybody is telling me I’m seeing subscriptions down; I’m seeing Mercury One donations down. I’m getting violent emails from people who say, you know, I’ve ‘betrayed the Republic.’ Whatever.
There are people who are so anti-immigration, and so anti-immigrant, that even this simple act of basic humanity is too much for them. Some of them are even leveling death-threats at Beck. Death threats. For bringing food and toys to children.

I don't care if their parents are fascist radical-Islam supporting terrorist rapists who use child-slave-labor. That's the parents. These are kids. If you can't feel sympathy for kids who are suffering, if you hate people who do feel sympathy for kids who are suffering, then something is very, very broken inside of you. This isn't complicated.

I'll end with a quote from Beck:
“When America stops being good, we are no longer able to be great.”

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Israel and Fairness

An old friend of mine complained about my blog post from yesterday. She called it over-simplified and one-sided. She says that rather than pointing fingers, we have to look at what we can do to make the situation better and help to bring an end to this madness. I'm honestly, sincerely, trying to see her point--she is a very smart woman, and she has chosen to live in Israel, so she knows what's going on from a much closer vantage point than I do. And so, I don't take her opinion lightly, and I don't want to dismiss it.

But, at the same time, I have a very hard time seeing it. I have never, ever been an "Israel is always right" person. I know that Israelis have often done terrible, awful things. And--this is very different, and much more relevant--the Israeli government has sometimes done them, as well*. And, some of those actions have surely made peace more difficult to achieve--the expansion of settlements is the obvious example. Some of that expansion can be easily justified (much of it is really just the expansion of already existing neighborhoods into the edge of the territories), but some is pretty clearly an attempt to grab more land and, possibly/probably intentionally, make it harder to ever create a reasonable, secure Palestinian state. So, no, Israel is not blameless.

* I say it's more relevant because I don't think we should judge a society by the actions of its worst members; we should judge it by the reaction of the larger society to those awful actions. 

When a group of Israelis capture and (almost certainly) burn alive an innocent Palestinian teen--that is among the worst, most evil actions I can possibly imagine. I don't have the words to adequately describe my disgust and horror at this, and I'm sick to think that these murderers, in any way, are connected to me or my religion. But, the swift, clear condemnation and pursuit of justice from Israel and the vast majority of the Jewish world says a lot about who we really are. It's a sign, I fervently hope and believe, that we are better than scum who claim to represent us through violence.

But, I don't want to come off as too even-handed here, because I truly believe that being overly even-handed in this situation would be unfair and fundamentally untrue. Yes, Israel has done some bad things, and yes, Israel has done some things to make the situation worse. But they simply can't compare to what the PLO, Hamas and the rest of the Palestinian leadership has done.

I was thinking about my friend's comments a lot last night and this morning, and I was really trying to sit with them, and not dismiss them. And then I came across yet another article which pointed out yet another (not new) inequity. The wider world is so ready to, subtly and not so subtly, blame Israel for so much, but turns a blind-eye what it happening to Israel:
Since the beginning of this year, Gaza terrorists have fired more than 450 rockets on Israel, with about half of them coming since mid-June, when two Hamas terrorists kidnapped and brutally murdered three Israeli teenagers.
Why is it that a majority of the international community only notices when Israel undertakes its sovereign right, and obligation, to defend its citizens? Can you imagine if even one rocket was fired on London, Washington, Paris or Moscow? This is simply intolerable and no country can, or should, tolerate such attacks on its people.
Where is the outrage from the United Nations, which does not hesitate for a moment to call a "special emergency session" on the "Question of Palestine" or pass the umpteenth resolution blindly condemning Israel? But 24 hours after the rocket attacks on Israel started, I am still waiting for even one syllable of condemnation from the UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly or the Human Rights Council.
I admit, it's a bit of a non-sequiter. Talking about how to apportion blame for the underlying conflict is not the same as talking about who is engaging in the conflict in a more legal, moral way. Logically, theoretically speaking, it's entirely possible to say that two groups are equally responsible for a conflict, but only one is fighting fairly. But, I can't help feel that there's a connection here. Israel has been imperfect but, overall, unbelievably right in how it's handled this decades-old conflict.

It offered to exchange the newly occupied territories, just days after they were captured, in exchange for peace. They were unequivocally rebuffed. Several times since, the same fundamental offer was made--Israel would return the territories (often with some alteration and compensation), asking only to be allowed to exist, safely, as a Jewish state. It's always been rejected.

My understanding is that has always been the basic calculus of the situation. Israel would gladly live side by side with a Palestinian State. The Palestinian leadership has never been willing to reciprocate. Is that overly-simplistic? Probably. There's always a lot of nuance and caveats in the real world. But, it might still represent a reasonable summation of the basis for this conflict.

My friend compare the situation to marriage counseling--progress will only be made when each side stops blaming the other, and instead commits to making the changes they need to make. But, is that always the case? To expand the metaphor, if one partner really doesn't have any interest in being faithful, or if one partner is physically abusive, even if the other has done some wrong, can we really say that they are equally responsible for the trouble in the marriage, or that there is anything that the abused partner can, or should, do to make things better?

I know that I'm one-sided on this. And, like I said yesterday, I hate that. I'm deeply committed to seeing both sides of arguments, in almost all situations. And, in my heart, I really am still a liberal peacenik. I want to be able to believe in the prospect of peace, and that if we just find a way to talk and negotiate, we can get there.

But, when Hamas (a partner in the current Palestinian leadership) calls murderous kidnappers "heroes," and sends hundreds of rockets into Israel, deliberately aiming to kill and injure as many civilians as possible, I have a hard time believing that.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

My Heart Lies In The East

For some reason, I've had a hard time staying on the blogging wagon. I can't find/make the time to blog much, of late. I was all set to do so--I had some time today, and some good articles about which to comment. And, I'll get to them, soon, because I really do like the give-and-take that I sometimes get from a good blog post.

But, today, they all seem kind of pointless. Because, today, I keep reading about Israel.

Like all of you, I read about the three Israeli teens, killed just because they were Jewish. I read about the Palestinian teen who was killed because Israeli Jews were angry at all Arabs and forgot what it means to be a Jew. I read about a Palestinian teen from Tampa who was assaulted by Israeli security forces, perhaps after he assaulted or threatened them. I read about the rockets flying into Israeli population centers, the protection offered by Iron Dome, and about the Israeli response to these murderous attacks.

There is so much to say, and others are saying most of it so well. But, when I read the terribly unfair, biased, double-standard reporting out there, one basic fact keeps coming back to me.

This war is not Israel's fault.

Israel wants peace. Not every Israeli, of course. But, overwhelmingly. Polls show that, overwhelmingly, the people would choose to live in peace, side-by-side with a Palestinian State. A politician who managed to pull off an honest-to-God land-for-peace deal? She or he would get a street in every city named after them.

But, the leaders of the Palestinian people, and a distressingly large chunk of their population just don't feel that way. Too many of them still only want the peace that comes from seeing all Jews leave the land. The peace that comes from destroying us. A leader who brought that same deal to the Palestinian people would have to fear for his life.

I hate writing this. I hate the fact that what I have to say about Israel comes across as so one-sided. I hate writing in a way which can be perceived as hateful. So, please believe me when I tell you that I am among those who long for a day when the Palestinian people have a vibrant, safe land of their own. They deserve it, and Israel needs it to be so.

But, what I hate even more is that, all of these years later, Golda Meir is still right. There will be no peace until the Palestinians love their children more than they hate us. I pray that day is soon.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.