Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Taking Violence out of the Fight for Israel

Is it possible to support the Palestinian cause without supporting, or calling for violence? Yes, but it is difficult. However, it is also the only way to get things accomplished in a country where the land is seen as something that God specifically gave to one of the people living there, not the others. It also takes great patience, endurance, and something that demonstrates that we are better than those perpetuating violence against those who are being oppressed, just as those who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. supported the long march rather than the quick solution seemingly offered by riots and violence. King recognized that violence would only result in more hardship for black people across the United States; it would not advance their civil rights, it would diminish them, causing them to take a step back rather than a leap forward.

Supporting  peaceful solutions is sometimes seen in today’s paradigm of instant gratification as being impractical – it does not bear fruit quickly enough in the minds of some who would rather see the oppressors simply be overthrown with violent swiftness; but, in the case of Israel that is both impractical and, in psychological terms, something akin to magical thinking. The problems in Israel, in Palestine if you will, are being compounded by violence: they will not be, cannot be, solved by them. When we trick ourselves into believing that the solutions to our problems are to be found on the other end of a bullet, or a bomb, or a guided missile, it is time to step back and reassess the situation before we are further led down the garden path of deception.

Violence, as seen on the level that is currently taking place in Israel, and which Israel may respond with, cannot resolve any of the issues facing the Palestinians as a people. Threatening to send in a ground force of 75,000 troops, on the other hand, is not a way to find a handful of terrorists that aerial bombings have been unable to stop. How does the Israeli army expect to stop these attacks? Will they go door-to-door like the Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq, clearing out the insurgents? If they do the one thing that can be counted on is that there will be a massive amount of civilian casualties, and it will all be justified because rockets were fired into Israel.

People will always be divided about the Palestinian cause so long as there is ammunition for the Israelis to use as propaganda against them – that ammunition comes through the use of violence against the oppressive regime they are trying to defeat. But there is one question that deserves being explored for it reveals a great deal that may not be understood about this situation and the way it is perceived in the west, particularly in the United States (and similarly in Canada): Why does Israel maintain the support of so many in the west when there is so much evidence against them in the way they have treated the Palestinians?

The answer is quite simple, as we see with the present situation in Gaza: it is not because they break out the videos of violence perpetrated by blood-thirsty Palestinian terrorists, self-described as ‘freedom-fighters’ (that’s what they always call themselves, regardless of their cause), and they have their rationale for every retaliatory action, including the amassing of seventy-five thousand troops on the border of Gaza, in search of a handful of Hamas rocket installations that Israel has not been able to eliminate through aerial bombardment. That’s more than a subtle response to the rocket attacks and anyone who happens to be crazy enough to approach the armed juggernaut the Israeli Defense Forces represents. The reason that Israel receives such support from the west goes back several thousand years can be summed up with the term “Christo-Zionism” which is a conjunction of “Christian” and Zionism.

When exploring the issue of Israel and American politics it is impossible to not notice how important that tiny country seems to be compared to the United States, a much larger nation in every respect. The recent presidential election was a very easy way to demonstrate just how important the “Jewish vote” is to both political parties, even though it does not represent a large number of votes; both the Republicans and the Democrats spent a tremendous amount of time courting the Jewish vote even though Jews make up a very small part of the population. Yes, there are many wealthy individuals who happen to be Jewish, so there were was much money do be had, and as a demographic it is a very influential group of people, but, regardless of that, they still have only one vote per person.

The real reason that politicians in the United States are so interested in preserving their relationship with Israel, and have sought such close ties with the nation since 1948, is because of the misguided notion that Israel represents the prophetic fulfilment of the New Testament’s Book of Revelation. There is an idea that Zionism is something that the Bible meant to be, when in fact it is a new ideology ... new in the sense that it emerged at the end of the 19th century and had nothing to do with the Bible. Zionism is a construct that ignores the historical facts regarding the background of Israel. It ignores the facts that are recorded in the books that Jews revere as being Holy and inviolable, but that does not bother Zionists – like all good fundamentalists the facts are irrelevant – they just don’t matter.

It became fashionable for Christians to begin adopting the Zionist ideals when the state of Israel was established in 1948, believing that this heralded the beginning of the End Times. It became part of what was known in theological circles as a teaching called “millennialism” and quickly became associated with teachings about the Rapture of the Church which would occur, according to some teachers, after the Great Tribulation. Christo-Zionists became really excited when Jerusalem was captured after the 6 Day War in 1967, believing that this was truly the final piece in the puzzle, completing the fulfilment of the new Israel, spoken of in the Book of Revelation. The clock was ticking ... the Rapture was imminent ... the Mayan calendar was winding down and they didn’t even realize it existed. They were mistaken.

Israel exists as a nation that has more than one population: a population that existed before the Jews arrived, a population that was there long before the nation was established in 1948, and long before they arrived for the first time, when they were led by Moses and Joshua. When Joshua lead them to the “promised land” the people were given an opportunity to take possession of the land, without sharing it with anyone, as was decreed by the Lord. However, the people were disobedient. In essence, God gave the people permission to commit genocide, to eradicate the people living on the land that he had promised them, but they refused. Instead of killing, they made a contract to share the land. I’m not making this up, you can find the entire account of this in the ninth chapter of the book of Joshua. At the end of the chapter the people with whom this “treaty” was made are, in essence, turned into Temple servants – a fancy word for a slave. At that time it seemed preferable to survive as a slave than to face genocide at the hands of an army that carried the Ark of the Covenant.

The ramifications of that contract continue to this day: you do not get a “do over” to commit the genocide that you failed to commit a few millennia ago, it just doesn’t work that way; and no, it does not matter that you were tricked into making the contract. That, as the saying goes, is your problem. We don’t commit genocide in order to have more “breathing room” ... or don’t you remember when that was done a few generations ago? Don’t you remember when your home is were taken out from under you, your land was stolen, your families were hauled off without due process, their property stolen, never to be seen again. Lives destroyed all because somebody had decided they were sub-human? It is astounding that the people who grew up hearing the stories of the Holocaust would not be willing to learn its lessons and reach out to the people living on the land that they call their own. Yes, the land was promised to the Jews by God (or by Moses, depending on your point of view); but there were strings attached to that promise and that is something that has to be lived with; it is something that has to be recognised, and that is something that is being ignored when ever the Palestinians are oppressed by the present Israeli government.

Of course, it takes two to tango and what is going on right now in Israel is not the result of one hand clapping. There are two parties to blame in this craziness, but one of them can choose to stop it: one group is overreacting and another group is actively antagonising, making things worse for both themselves and for the Palestinians in general. When has violence ever solved a problem that should have been addressed politically, through diplomatic channels? We may argue that there have been justifiable wars: wars against despots and against fascism, but random violence has never solved anything, especially when it is aimed at innocent civilians. In fact, unless you manage to utterly destroy your opponent with an overwhelming first strike, the likelihood is that you are only going to make your enemy more intent on eliminating you than they were before: an attack begets a response, the response begets another attack, and so on, until everyone is dead or dying. Unfortunately, this increases the likelihood that they will retaliate against the population in general, with innocent lives being lost, women and children, for what causes? There are many causes in the world, but are they worth the death of children, are they worth the loss of future generations? Consider this: if you and your children die for your cause, who is left to enjoy what you may have gained through your sacrifices? Nobody.

The point is, Israel has a far superior military and will have no problem destroying anything in its path, including the civilian population of Gaza if it so chooses. The rocket attacks that have been occurring of late have been coming from a small number of terrorists backed by Hamas, not by the citizens of Gaza (I am unapologetic about referring to those launching the rockets as terrorists: they cannot represent the best interests of the Palestinian people so long as their principal tool is violence). There is no reason for Israel to send in 75,000 troops to find a handful of terrorists. Please, do not get me wrong, I do not condone the actions of Hamas at all: I abhor violence on any level, especially unprovoked violence that is designed to provoke more violence and strike out at innocent civilians, which is precisely what these rocket attacks are designed to do: Hamas has to know that by supporting these attacks they are only adding to the suffering of the population they claim to love. It only demonstrates that fundamentalists are fundamentally warped and utterly illogical in their approach to conflict resolution. Adherents of fundamentalism are always, at their core, mentally unbalanced.

The question remains: how might it be possible for the Palestinians to resort to non-violent protest? How can they hope to stand against the policies of the Israeli government without appearing provocative? If they refused to take up arms against their oppressor would the world see the truth about how Israel had been treating them, about how Israel had been violating the treaties that it had signed with them? Would it change the way the United States supported Israel? There have been many examples of the brutality and even war crimes committed by Israel, as evidenced and documented in the Goldstone Report, but this “evidence” ends up falling on deaf ears for the simple reason that the United States government at the United Nations, and Christo-Zionists in general will not allow for any sort of criticism of Israel to stand. If you try to criticise Israel the Christo-Zionists will accuse you of being an anti-Semite, or say you are anti-Semitic.

This is not only patently ridiculous, it makes it impossible to pursue any sort of dialogue that advances the issues of the Palestinians. There is a great difference between criticism and anti-Semitism. Consider this: can you criticise the government of the United States and still love the country? Can you “disagree with the congress”, but still call yourself a patriot? Of course you can; many people would expect you to do so, it’s part of life. Or, on the other hand, can you be a proud American even if the man living in the White House is not someone you voted for? If you live long enough there are probably going to be several presidents that you do not necessarily adore, but that would not stop you, or it certainly should not stop you, from being a “proud” American. Your identity should not rely on the identity of one single politician.

As someone who was born to Jewish parents, who grew up learning about the rich tradition of “my people” there are many things that resonate when certain things are heard, but “Promised Land” and “Israel” are not synonymous for the simple reason that the illusion was not reinforced by the fictions that so many blindly accept. At the same time, the idea of “Palestine” and neighbours living together in peace was something that seemed so natural, it surprised me tremendously that this was not a common idea as I grew older, especially when the lessons of history became more evident. Criticising the government of a nation does not mean you hate the people of that country, it means you disagree with the way that country is being run: disagreeing with the government of Israel, with the policies of the Zionists, does not make you anti-Semitic, it makes you anti-genocidal. That is not racist, it is humane.

What is the likelihood of an Israeli politician having any desire of sitting down and discussing the concept of peace with the Palestinians if there are rockets being launched from Gaza? I would hazard that it would be far more likely that they would not want to talk, simply because they would feel that they are in a de facto state of war. However, if one side stops using violence, if they lay down their arms, how might that impress the others? What sort of message would that send to the rest of the world? Of course, people will ask “why should the Palestinians stop using violence first, the Israelis started this?” Or “why don’t the Israelis lay down their arms?” All good questions, but it does not matter. What matters is that violence must come to an end.
Did Israel start this? Did Hamas start this? Did Palestinians start this? Does it matter? People have died; people are dying: it’s time to stop the madness and put an end to the violence that has been plaguing the region for far too long.

Israel should not invade Gaza, and, as a gesture of good faith they should withdraw their troops and stand down their alert status. The terrorists in Gaza, the “freedom fighters”, must cease firing there are rockets at Israel immediately. Reciprocity does not accomplish anything when it comes to violence, that must be understood more than anything else or nothing will ever be accomplished. Israel must also be prepared to honour the agreement is that it has made with the Palestinians, especially those relating to the settlements.

Peace is possible, moreover it is essential: without it we cannot live.

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