29 June 2006


Looking over my last two posts, I realize I'm beginning to sound like a die hard Palestinian nationalist, and that's not true at all. Like I said yesterday, I'm finding myself opposed to both sides of the conflict, but in different ways. I'm loving every Israeli person I meet, but I can't stomach many of their government's policies (a feeling probably reciprocated towards the United States by much of the world). I feel for the Palestinian cause, but their sociocultural approach to the conflict angers me to no end. That said, today's Israeli/Palestinian day has turned almost all of yesterday's thoughts completely around. My fragile little mind can't handle this much thought in one day (apparently my camera couldn't either, so no pictures).

We started the morning at PASSIA, the Palestinian Society for the Study of International Affairs in Jerusalem. As the name suggests, it's a Palestinian research group, non-partisan but not unbiased in the conflict, obviously. The speaker, Director Mahdi Abdul Hadi, was clearly a brililant, accomplished man, but had a limited view of the Israelis on the other side of the conflict. His narrow definitions of categories of Zionism (an already problematic label) implied that no Jew in Israel felt anything but disdain for the Palestinians. Ranging from religious to political to practical Zionism, the least extreme Israeli Jew, in his eyes, supports Sharon's unilateralism and has little interest in negotiation. The worst want only Jews in all of Israel and the occupied territories. Views like this are why the rank and file of each side continues to avoid one another. If I believed everyone who disagreed with me hated me, I wouldn't want to negotiate either.

Although Hadi started off rough with broad generalization about the Israeli people, I perked up when he moved to the topic of Hamas's January 2006 election victory. As others before him, he criticized the West for their democratic hypocrisy, a view I completely support and will hence forth no longer mention unless I hear some new arguments. However, he disagreed with characterizations of Hamas as a political Islam movement, and instead argued it is a nationalistic political movement using Islam because of the faith's ties to Palestinian culture. Islam is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. He suggested that there are no Hamas leaders in the West Bank, only followers of the true leaders in Gaza. Hamas is at a crossroads as it attempts to integrate into the PA and begin governing, and the leadership faces internal strife between hardliners commited to the destruction of Israel and moderates looking to negotiation as representatives of the Palestinian government. Similarly, the West is split between rejecting Hamas as a terrorist organization and giving them a chance to form a government and possibly come to the negotiation table. According to Hadi, Hamas won elections not because the Palestinians were looking for a move towards political Islam, but because they were fed up with the corruption and failures of Fatah, a point I think is well taken. In the words of my inner hippie, "give peace a chance." As he discussed, the Palestinian people aren't going anywhere. They will continue to preserve their identity and fight for a homeland regardless of Israel's actions, and history has demonstrated that the oppressed outlast the oppressor every time. With this in mind, the two sides have to return to the negotiation table soon or nothing is ever going to change. Unlike some of the earlier Palestinian speakers, Hadi believes a third party mediator is vital to successful negotiations. As he explained it, Palestinians have no money and no power, but the drive to outlast the Israelis - a third party is the only way to ensure a peaceful solution. I think he makes a point - both sides are too entrenched in their own views to be able to see compromises without an objective (that being the key word) mediator.

Before I could even fully comprehend Hadi's lecture, we went to the Israeli Foreign Ministry to meet Ido A'Haroni, a senior advisor to the Foreign Minister. He started off by emphasizing that the peace process is just that - a process, and that neither side is ready for a concrete two state solution. A pessmistic view, to say the least. The remainder of his talk illustrated vividly the reasons for his view. I heard disturbingly violent and outright rascist generalizations about the Palestinian people, and much to many people's dismay, he spoke long enough to only allow for a few questions before we had to leave, therefore not allowing us to ask for elaboration. In his words, "the Islamic world would like to take us back to the Dark Ages," and Israel and the United States are grouped together in criticism of the west "because of what we stand for" - namely, freedom and democracy, principles which he believes are antithetical to Islam. He attributed the collapse of the 2000 Camp David summit to the Palestinian peoples' "conscious decision to wage war against Israeli civilians" through the declaration of the second Intifada. While I agree the second Intifada was not the popular rock-throwing uprising like the first, and I cannot support the use of violence, I resent the generalization that it was a massive Palestinian conspiracy to drive the Israelis out of Israel. I don't support the Intifada, but neither do I support Israeli violence in response to it, and those in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. Two wrongs don't make a right, and you can't have the moral high ground but retaliate against civilians at the same time. Similiarly, he talked about the Israeli response to the 1972 Munich Olympics kidnapping and murder of 11 Israeli athletes (as detailed in Steven Spielberg's Munich) as a positive policy. I'm sorry, but I can't justify revenge killing, and no one should smile when they talk about it. I feel like a broken record, but two wrongs don't make a right. What was solved by tracking down and murdering the planners of the attack? Did it bring anyone back? Did it make a positive impact on the resolution of the conflict? No, and why perpetuate human suffering?

While A'Haroni's moral flexibility angered me, his diction disturbed me even more. I can almost follow the logic behind retaliation for violence, although I don't see its purpose and think it does more harm than good. But it was the blatant devaluing of Palestinian life that left me nauseated. When he talked about Israeli deaths, there were "massacres," "slaughter," "murdered," or simply "killed." However, when he proudly related successful Israeli assassinations of Palestinians, they were "eliminated" or "no longer with us." For all the horror he professed at the deaths of Israelis, I would have expected a bit more respect for human life than that. This is why the conflict angers me on both sides - everyone's doing the exact same things but criticizing the other for it. Everyone condems killing, but everyone uses that as an excuse to perpetuate it. I just can't stomach it coming from either side.

After the Foreign Ministry, we rushed to the Knesset to meet several Knesset Members (MKs). Three gentlemen from three very different parties reminded me why I love parliamentary democracy. Proportional representation is such a brilliant idea, I can't understand why we've never adopted it in the United States. We started with Ahmed Tibi, of the Ra'am Ta'al Party (Arab Movement for Change), one of the few Israeli Arabs in the Knesset. His party's primary platform is equality between Jewish and non-Jewish (particularly Arab) Israeli citizens. As a representative of the Israeli Arabs, his party, squarely planted in the opposition, also supports complete withdrawal from the occupied territories (not, he was quick to specify, Sharon's "disengagement" with partial withdrawal at the same time as increased settlements elsewhere). Not surprisingly, they also oppose the settlements. Aside from his constituency's close ties to the Palestinians, they believe that a peaceful two state solution will open the door for equal treatment of Israeli Arab citizens, a point I think is well taken. It's hard to campaign for equality when your fellow non-citizen Arabs are engaged in a fierce battle against Israel for a state of their own. It was fascinating to hear from Tibi, since the Israeli Arab population often goes overlooked in western media accounts of the conflict and Israeli society. I love that Tibi has a seat in the Knesset - that's what I love most about democracy, and why I can't agree with a solely Jewish state. Tibi is raising issues that need to be addressed, and it'd be a shame to silence him.

My personal favorite MK was Ran Cohen of the Meretz Party, a peace-loving social justice party that is currently in the opposition but was formerly in the majority under Rabin. Meretz acknowledges the unique history of the land, in that two unique groups of people both have legitimate claims to the land. He supports a two-state peace, with the borders determined by the Green Line (incidently, he is the first person I've ever heard to specify borders when supporting a two state solution). Furthermore, Meretz supports negotiation with Hamas as members of the Palestinian leadership. Even better than their unflailing support of democracy, and why I would vote Meretz in the United States, was the party's social justice platform. Women's rights, the environment, equality for Israeli Arabs, religious tolerance, the environment, and even gay rights. What's not to love? Sadly, Meretz only holds five of 120 seats. But considering what a dominant role the conflict plays in Israeli and Palestinian politics, it's refreshing to see a party thinking beyond the peace and into the future, when domestic social issues can be better addressed.

Our last MK was Meir Porosh of the United Torah Judaism Party, an Orthodox Jewish party. He didn't speak english, and so the translations were difficult to follow, but it was interesting to hear from such a unique perspective. They are also in the opposition, but on the opposite side of the political spectrum from Meretz - another point for parliamentary democracy. Left and right aren't the only choices. Although interesting, I have a difficult time with his views. He doesn't believe the holy land can ever be divided because God promised it to the Jews. The party has made political sacrifices, but at the core believes in a single Jewish state solution. They want to avert bloodshed and coexist with the Palestinians, but have no desire to see a two state solution. The marriage of religion and politics makes me nervous, but I respect that his view is being heard.

Finally, we finished the evening with Linda Gradstein, a National Public Radio Middle East correspondent who's been living and reporting on the conflict from Israel and the West Bank for seventeen years. A American who stumbled into journalism while living in Israel, she offered amazing insight into the conflict. After three days of speakers firmly linked to one side or the other, it was refreshing to hear from an objective third party. I could have talked to her for hours, but we only had a brief time because she had to leave for yet another broadcast. We talked a lot about the current situaion in Gaza since she and her colleague have been reporting on it non-stop since the kidnapping on Saturday. While the Israeli airstrikes and invasion of Gaza, as well as the Palestinian kidnappings of Israelis, are serious hinderances to the peace process, Gradstein expressed the view that the situation could resolve itself into renewed negotiations. As events unfold in Gaza, Hamas and Fatah are on the verge of signing an agreement to reopen negotiations that results in Hamas's de facto recognition of Israel. In her interviews with Hamas leaders, she found that the orders for the attacks and kidnapping came from Hamas leadership in Damascus, and that Ismail Haniya, the newly sworn in Prime Minister, knew nothing of the plans. As she suggests, and I'm inclined to agree, if Haniya can deliver the IDF soldier alive, this could bring both sides to the table with renewed vigor for negotiations. However, if Haniya fails, then relations could crumble and destroy Hamas's tentative forays into negotiation and cooperation with Fatah. Israeli leaders she spoke to have no intention of staying in Gaza and reoccupying the region, but we'll have to see how that pans out. I know most people think I'm nuts for being here, but it's thrilling to be in Israel, talking with Israeli and Palestinian leaders as this is happening.

While Gradstein's analysis suggests hope may rise from the Gaza crisis, she crushed my dream of the one state solution. As she explained it, the Israeli birthrate is at 2.6, the Palestinian at 6.2 in the West Bank and 6.9 in Gaza. A'Horoni expressed a fear that such a birthrate would make Jews a "minority in their own homeland" by 2020. Gradstein explained it as the reason a one state solution would never happen. While it may begin as a Jewish state with Arab citizens, the birthrate would quickly allow the Palestinians to dominate elections and turn Israel into a Palestinian state, something the Israelis would never allow and most Palestinians would tolerate a Jewish state to see happen. Ironically, we could end up with the reverse of today's conflict - powerful Palestinian majority oppressing a weak Jewish minority. I'd never considered the one state solution in that light, and while it's a sad reality, it's a reality nonetheless. I still wish we could all get along despite our religious differences, but as this goes on, I see that as more and more unlikely. Practically, I think the only permanent solution is two states (Green Line borders). It pains my idealistic little heart to let go of a one-state peace, but I'd rather have a lasting peace.

On the topic of the Green Line, we're visiting settlements tomorrow and talking about Israel's security fence/wall. I'd start in on it now, but I think this is long enough. I promise, once I start the internship and stop the constant flow of different viewpoints, these entries will become a reasonable length. Bear with me in the meantime. Until then, shalom and salaam.

1 comment:

mbn said...

I can't read your posts anymore, they're too long...

I want to though...