Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Thoughts about Gaza

Warning. This is not about health care. It is about Israel. If you don't think I should be writing on the subject, please skip to another post.

Several months ago, I had a chance to visit Israel and wrote about it here, ending with this thought:

The creation of a Palestinian state is an existential requirement for the future of Israel as a Jewish state. But, the creation of a Palestinian state which has a credo of denying Israel’s right to be a Jewish state is an existential threat to the future of Israel. Resolution of that contradiction is the job facing this country and the world community.

The recent events with regard to the blockade of Gaza are part of this whole scene. It is all too easy for those of us removed from those events to make judgments as to who was right and who was wrong. But I found this article by Bret Stephens to be indicative of many issues raised when people make judgments about motivations and actions. It is so clear that there is a double standard with regard to actions by Israel compared to actions by countries set on destroying it.

A few excerpts:

Questions for liberals: What does it mean to be a friend of Israel? What does it mean to be a friend of the Palestinians? And should the same standards of friendship apply to Israelis and Palestinians alike, or is there a double standard here as well?

... [C]onsider what it means for liberals to be friends of the Palestinians.

Here, the criticism becomes oddly muted. So Egypt, a country that also once occupied Gaza, enforces precisely the same blockade on the Strip as Israel: Do liberal friends of Palestine urge the Obama administration to get tough on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as they urge him to do with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? So a bunch of "peace" activists teams up with a Turkish group of virulently anti-Semitic bent and with links both to Hamas and al Qaeda: Does this prompt liberal soul-searching about the moral drift of the pro-Palestinian movement? So Hamas trashes a U.N.-run school, as it did the other week, because it educates girls: Do liberals wag stern fingers at Palestinians for giving up on the dream of a secular, progressive state?

Well, no. And no. And no. Instead, liberal support for Palestinians is now mainly of the no-hard-questions-asked variety. But that is precisely the kind of support that liberals decry as toxic when it comes to Western support for Israel.

... [T]he task of defending Israel is hard. It's hard because defenders must eschew cliches about "the powerful" and "the powerless." It is hard because it goes against prevailing ideological fashions. And it's hard because it requires an appreciation that the choice of evils that endlessly confronts Israeli policy makers is not something they can simply wash their hands of by "ending the occupation." They tried that before—in Gaza.


e-Patient Dave said...

Full disclosure:

1. I am no student of Middle Eastern politics or history.

2. My best friend happens to be Israeli.

Having said that, here's my view:

As a non-expert observer of the news over the years, I too have primarily been struck by the double standard you cite.

Again, I'm no expert, but the kneejerk tone of most of what I read has always left me with the impression that most observers *start* from "See, I told you X are bad people."

And I just don't buy anyone (in any sphere) who says "Well Y's actions, which might seem wrong, are justified because X are bad." IMO, standards are standard, criteria are criteria.

Easy for me to say, since I don't know what I'm talking about...

Anonymous said...

Ditto to Dave's #1 for me. However, I am glad you posted this because I was wondering about your opinion.

I found the WSJ article somewhat confusing, as I don't care about "liberals" or how they should think. I am a thinking person trying to decide what is fair in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and I reject any ideological label.

In my opinion, the exact facts of the latest incident are meaningless except within the context of the entire Middle Eastern conflict. Now, I may be completely misled by the press, but it seems over the past several years that Israel's attitude and actions have progressively hardened, despite their supposed support for a 2 state solution. I have read they control the water access, the most arable land, etc. so that what "state" the Palestinians may be allotted may not be actually livable. I also understand that the Palestinians are not considered, even by the other Muslim states, as the most reliable nor upstanding of character. So I might not want them right next to me either.

So what is fair? I have no idea. All I know is that how an organization (be it a hospital, a company, or a government), publicly handles various events, creates a set of perceptions about it which may eventually influence, or even determine, its future. It is an entirely different issue from who is right and who is wrong. It behooves that company or that country to always keep this in mind. I think Israel is at that point right now.

nasov said...

I believe that the world should invest in an independent Palestinian state in the same way we do for many impoverished nations.

I also believe that people who stay in a refugee life so long that their grandchildren are born there are there for a major reason. The Arab world doesn't want them, we know that. We expect Israel to take care of the Palestinians while the Arab world has abandoned them. Will the Arabs support their brothers to develop an independent state?

Keith said...

The two sides are too entrenched in their hatred to get anything accomplished.

Isreel gave back control of Gaza to the Palastinians, but they did not give back unfettered access to the teritory. Checkpoints and searches of Palastinians entering Gaza has to be a continuing sore point as well as the blockade that at times seems more directed at making life miserable for the Palastenians in Gaza in a lame attempt to make Hamas look responsible. It is clear that this tactic is not working.

Until Israel stops usurping land once occupied by the Palastinians and allows unobstructed travel, they will continue to be perceived as the agressors in this struggle. And indeed they should be!

Tosk59 said...

Well, picking Bret Stephens to quote (who seems more interested in scoring points against "liberals" than in discussing the issues) isn't a great start to any blog post on issues in the Middle East. Examples just in the part you quote:

1. " Do liberal friends of Palestine urge the Obama administration to get tough on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as they urge him to do with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?" Bret Stephens clearly implies the answer is "no" (so "liberals" fussing here are hypocrites). Actually, the answer is 'yes' - many liberals and activists have tried (in vain) to get the U.S. govt to "lean" on Mubarak.

2. "So a bunch of "peace" activists teams up with a Turkish group of virulently anti-Semitic bent and with links both to Hamas and al Qaeda..." Umm, nice broad brush. Also, initial Israeli govt. accusations that IHH in bed with al-Qaeda were subsequently backed off by Israel MFA, not that Bret Stephens has registered that.

Re the Middle East, yes, double standards abound. There also a lot of the "speck in your eye" going on. However, to suggest that this only happens on one side (which is what happens when one approvingly quotes one side)is farcical...

Anonymous said...

You have as much right to write about Israel (or anything else) as anyone else! And yes, as you point out in your second section, there certainly is a disconnect between the public and the politicians. This is the root of the matter in both situations it seems to me. The public wants simple, easy and quick answers; politicians at least know enough to know they can't deliver that, but they are not brave enough to do anything much at all under those circumstances since they like their cushy jobs and want most of all to stay there.

The root of all of these problems is our collective aversion to thinking. Careful, objective, non-emotional thinking, the kind that really could at least begin to solve some of all of our problems. You do that so much better than most. I for one am grateful you are willing to tackle this tough stuff and put yourself out on a limb in so doing. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

I am a lefty, more Peace Now than AIPAC, but give me a break. I read Bret Stephens yesterday, and he has it right. Enough already. Read the Israeli press. They are self-critical, honest, and realistic (more so than the Netanyahu government). But its time for some accountability on the other side and the reasonable West needs to acknowledge the facts. Hamas has been given a "pass." Abbas gets it (that's why Ramallah, is booming.

76 Degrees in San Diego said...

But what about Cuba?

Michael Kirsch, M.D. said...

Yes, there is at least a double standard, if not a triple standard. I think that Israel did fumble the flotilla affair, and I cannot explain why there was no other mechanism to disable the ship, which was clearly by its own admission not on a humanitarian mission. Israel, regrettably, is used to suffering world opprobrium by nations and individuals who ignore the absence of civil rights and decent treatment of citizens of numerous surrounding countries. As you point out, Egypt also blockades Gaza, but where is the outrage here? Of course, the Palestinians are suffering. Who is responsible for their plight? Is it the Israeli 'cccupiers'? Or, is it their failed and self-preserving leadership, along with others, who benefit politically from the status quo. There could have been a Palestinian state established in 1947, which Israel agreed to, but was rejected by all others.

Anonymous said...

I wonder what the world's opinion was of the colonists who fought for our freedom some 230 years ago.

I wonder how the world reacted to our systematic quarantine and annihilation of the natives of this land?

I wonder what the rest of the world would resort to if they had been oppressed for just shy of 100 years, at the hands of not only their direct oppressors, but also with the support of most of the Western World.

I wonder how the world would react were it Palestine, not Israel, who had violated the terms of more United Nations Security Council resolutions than any other nation on Earth.

I wonder if Helen Thomas would still be front and center in the White House press room if she had directed her comments towards Palestinians instead of Israelis.

I wonder how much longer the public at large will be forced to consume cloudy terminology like "links to al Qaeda." I wonder how much longer we will be insulted to the point that we need to call those we support, respect, or who's plights we understand and sympathize with our "friends" and those with whom we disagree our "enemies."

I wonder what Mr. Stephens' "questions for conservatives" are.

"Terrorism is the war of the poor, and war is the terrorism of the rich." - Peter Ustinov

Anonymous said...

My father always taught me that two wrongs never make a right. No one can ever justify bad behavior by pointing out that others also behave badly. If that were valid, a justification for murder would always be that someone else killed more people than I did. Anyone who believes that Israel's actions in Gaza over the last year are completely justified by the threat posed from Gaza could not in my judgment be considered an objective observer.

As Stephen Stills once said, "Nobody's right when everybody's wrong".

It is also interesting that you are not satisfied with merely pointing out that you disagree with a point of view, you and Bret Stephens feel compelled to label anyone with that point of view a "liberal", which is intended as a pejorative. In Canada, where I live, "liberal" is not pejorative, and I don't understand the need in the US to call anyone you disagree with names. It is much more powerful to state why you disagree and give your evidence, rather than call people names. I have really tried to teach my sons that. Someone who disagrees with you is not evil by definition. It is very possible for reasonable, thoughtful people to look at the same information and reach opposite conclusions. This does not mean one of them is evil.

It really distresses me that those who defend the actions of the state of Israel regardless of how many people are killed and what the circumstances are, equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. The two are not the same, and it is very insulting to equate them.

My strong criticisms of the actions of the previous US administration did not make me anti-American. Some of my best friends are Americans.


Anonymous said...

Anon 9:47;
I do not disagree with much of your comment. But speaking only of Helen Thomas, my newspaper wondered aloud if she would still be working if she hadn't added "....go back to Poland and Germany...."

Telling them to go back to a place where they were systematically and massively killed is tatamount to telling blacks they should go back to slavery. Sorry, that just doesn't cut it in my book.

anon 5:38

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:38,

Good point. However, I still wonder if Ms. Thomas would have faced such scrutiny - and been forced to resign - if she made the same suggestion to Palestinians, should such a scenario exist.

I do think it needs to be pointed out that Ms. Thomas was undoubtedly implying that Poland and Germany might have changed just a little bit since the atrocities of WWII, and I think it's too bad that we live in such a black and white, reactionary society that Ms. Thomas has lost her job for speaking her mind about what we can all agree is a complex and sensitive issue.

Anon 9:47

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:47;

Yes, and that's why we're all commenting anonymously. (:

Only Ms. Thomas knows exactly what she meant, but I do like her later clarification:

"... my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance."

I do think that statement is accurate - all parties must recognize that the other side is not, repeat not, going away, and they are going to have to deal with that. Right now each side is citing and re-citing various "facts" and grievances, trying to sway world opinion in their own direction, in a vain attempt to "win."

I wish it were otherwise.

anon 5:38