war and peace

A trans-Pacific dialogue on the current state of Palestine, in reverse chronological order…

On 4/19/06 11:20 AM, editor@rationalpost.com wrote:

warandpeaceIn my mind, it’s a poverty problem (and a blame problem). As much as it pains me to say it, neither Arabs and Jews, nor Russians and Chechens, nor Greeks and Macedonians, nor Iraqis and Kurds, nor Hutus and Tutsis (etc.) will ever resolve their conflicting land and resource claims without war (or extremely enlightened diplomacy). That much I’m sure about. The only relevant questions are who (soldiers, senators or civilians?), how (guns, bombs or arbitration?), where (fields, streets or courthouses?), and how long (minutes, months or millennia?). It’s an unfortunate but natural consequence of both economics (scarcity) and anthropology (diverse human development), and we’re unlikely to see meaningful change/growth/reconciliation without it.

More importantly, when the dust finally settles, who should assume control? What regime should be left in charge of a given geography and ethnography? Whose responsibility is it to arbitrate? Will all citizens be given a say, both conquering and conquered? Will power be distributed “democratically”? (and I use the term lightly) Will there be any dissenters, and if so, how will they be treated? What will become of the former aristocracy? What will become of their wealth? Of their property? Of their business? Of their rank? The first thing Genghis Khan used to do when he defeated a new city was kill all the aristocrats and redistribute their money among his soldiers and the poor. It turns out that people don’t like being poor, particularly when the rich aren’t sharing any of their success or authority. As long as there is old money in the world, and power is imposed and not agreed upon, that internal social conflict is likely to endure, in places as familiar as Israel and as novel as Sierra Leone.

Some enlightened commentators have actually taken the time to understand both sides of this important and complex issue, but others, like you said, simply content themselves to siphon their opinion from the shallow pages of the daily news. Anyone who ever hopes to understand anything, let alone the history of human conflict, would do well to open a book or ten and really understand why the world is the way it is, and why we do the things we do. Censorship is just as harmful when imposed as it is when volunteered. As much as I disagree with the editorial spin on Fox News, it is a decent proxy for understanding conservative Republican sentiment. Likewise for al Jazeera and its pro-Arab coverage. What’s important if conflict resolution is even remotely the goal is trying to keep above partisan conclusions, biased and emotional sensitivities, and any argument not based on primary source fact.

Of course, when dealing with over 5,000 years of human history (with more than a few library burnings along the way), “the truth” becomes exceedingly difficult to reconcile. But in my mind, the important thing to remember is always our similarities, not our differences. As long as angry, impoverished Muslims keep blowing themselves up with belligerent rhetoric and brainwashed fanaticism, that similarity will be difficult to embrace. Likewise, as long as they remain in abject poverty, under the “protection” and “guidance” of state-sponsored fundamentalists, nothing is likely to change. But painting the entire region with the same Islamic brush is an understatement of human potential, and is really no better than a blind hatred for all things Jewish.

We need to stop categorizing people on the basis of their religion, and start categorizing them on the basis of their abilities. Race is such an anachronistic descriptor; nationality even more so. Darfuris, Rwandans and Palestinians don’t need passports. They need jobs. They need safe and sanitary living environments. They need access to unbiased education and uncensored libraries. They need unsponsored and objective leadership. They need democracy (theoretically speaking) and the rule of law. What they don’t need are sanctions, UN occupying forces, refugee status, social and economic oppression, or any other factor that doesn’t encourage them to grow and reconcile. Call me a dreamer, but I actually think it’s possible.

On 4/19/06 5:29 AM, “JS” wrote:

Precursor: I did not read a word of your forward, nor will I read a word of any future forwards that retell the story of Israel and Palestine. I know the story. I’m so tired of the same circular arguments. Problem was created by colonialism, like every other problem in the world today. The main differences are that:1) Israel has inherited Britain’s (and the US’) disaster and will likely finally lose its existence as a penalty
2) The more fundamentally fucked up a country is, the more it needs an external issue to occupy the public’s attention. Unfortunately Israel is the in vogue foreign issue for all of the fucked up Arab dictatorships that have existed as a consequence of 1).

Lucky India is a useful country, or they would likely join in the fray. Maybe they wouldn’t, who knows. I don’t think that Indians are raised to be hateful hateful people who take no responsibility for their actions, and reach heaven through extreme and unprejudicial violence, but what do I know. I am the enemy – the scorn of all the armchair philosophers of the world who choose to make opinions based on unresearched half truths and newspaper headlines. I am a member of a vocal minority that has been successful among an endless wave of many poor, theocracatric oligarchies. You take Israel and Italy and have them physically change places and our roles would be reversed.

Next can we send along the words of long winded geniuses hypothesizing about why the Syrians and particularly the Lebanese have treated Palestinians as fungus on shit for nearly the same period of time?

Refugee problem or blame problem?

On 4/18/06 4:15 PM, editor@rationalpost.com wrote:

I’m not saying the Palestinians are right, and I’m not saying the Jews are wrong. I’m just saying that both sides have reasonable grounds for grievance but neither seem willing to acknowledge the legitimacy of their so-called ethnic “rivals”. Remember, this situation isn’t a function of 50+ years of mismanaged European foreign policy…it’s at the very root of nearly 5,000 years of religious metamorphosis. From the Sumerians to Amorites to the Babylonians to the proto-Jews to the Egyptian exodus to the Christian revolution to the Islamic revelation to the Christian Crusades to the Ottoman caliphate to the British protectorate to the founding of Israel and everything thereafter, the region has assimilated social change and adapted to every possible external influence you can imagine.

Now the guy strapping a bomb to his back and blowing up civilians isn’t thinking about all this history, or the true nature of his hatred for anyone that isn’t like him. But that doesn’t make it untrue, nor does it make it unimportant. Addressing a problem that produces far too much rhetoric and far too little genuine insight takes more than money or land or schools. It takes patience and understanding and moral acceptance. It requires both sides to admit fault and embrace change.

Shimon Peres is one of my favourite politicians for this very reason. He understands that Israel cannot exist without a reconciliation of the issue of statehood. He understands the historical context of the conflict. Like many others, he understands that his own party, and the country it represents, isn’t without fault. He understands that forces beyond the control of both the Israelis and the Palestinians, shifting invisible hands over the pawns of the region like master puppeteers. And that’s as true for Arafat as it is for Sharon.

The only exception I take to your position is in its underlying “rage”. Be angry, but let that anger inspire thoughts about a reasonable resolution. Don’t let it perpetuate any existing hostility. That’s why nothing has materially improved in the last 20 years, since the first intifada was called by an angry and misguided PLO. “Territorial compromise” is a powerful concept, and with Oslo Accord, the region tried desperately for that idyllic resolution. But the conflict will never be resolved until Joe EveryJew and Jill EveryMuslim decide to kiss and make up, and agree that they’re fundamentally a lot more similar than different. Fuck, if we’re 99.4%
chimpanzee, what the hell are we arguing over? The same God? The same land? The same food? The same language?

That’s why I always have — and always will — loathe imperialism, and think the British, French, Dutch, Spanish, Belgians et al should take a more active responsibility for all the mess they’ve caused in the Middle East, in Africa, in Asia and throughout South America, because if history is any indication, these situations aren’t going to resolve themselves. Creating and defining an “us” and a “them” can be a sociologically edifying process, but it can also be terminally harmful. My only hope is that the next time the region defines its “insiders” and “outsiders”, more thought is given to the enduring socio-political legacy of that decision.

On 4/18/06 1:35 PM, “FG” wrote:

palestinian demands change every day. they don’t bargain for peace treaties. they have had many opportunities for peace. one week they want some of this land, the next week some more land. they lost their land for a reason. in fact, if they tried to fight rather than bomb themselves, they would be left with no land.

all they know is that they like killing jews for retribution for all of their so-called pain and suff, and they love scape goats. they need to stop their jealousy and focus on changing their country and culture.

On 4/18/06 12:35 PM, editor@rationalpost.com wrote:

Not the best writing, nor the most convincing arguments, but an interesting viewpoint nonetheless.


A Palestinian Viewpoint

By Rafe Mair
Published: April 17, 2006

O Wad Some Power The Giftie gie Us,
To see Ousels as others See Us
– Robbie Burns

The other day, I had coffee (Turkish, which I love) with Ali Gazah, a Muslim originally from Palestine, but now a student in Egypt. Here is the interview I did.

Rafe Mair: Ali, Why can’t Hamas accept the right of Israel to exist?

Ali Gazah: Easy. Until Israel recognizes our borders – pre 1967 – they have not recognized us. When a settlement is reached, if it ever happens, we will, of course, as a nation, recognize Israel.

RM: Why would Israel recognize Palestine when they suffer so many losses from, amongst other things, suicide bombers?

AG: We made a serious mistake in targeting civilians and that will stop with Arafat gone. But you must recognize, as Israeli governments have not, that official control over these matters is impossible. Moreover, we say that Israel has used these incidents to block the peace process.

RM: How is that?

AG: Making negotiations subject to the absence of bombings makes the peace process hostage to any Palestinian with a bomb who doesn’t want peace.

RM: How can you expect Israel or the United States to accept Hamas, a terrorist organization, as the negotiating power?

AG: The West is very selective in its morality. The United States, for example, recognized the Petain/Vichy government which sent Jews by the thousands into death camps. The US recognized the Soviet Union run by a madman who slaughtered literally millions of its citizens. It recognizes China which has committed similar atrocities and on it goes. Most obviously, the United States and the UK have dealt with the IRA. Besides, the right wing element in Israel won’t recognize our right to a national existence and say we should all move to Jordan. It’s also important to know that we, who were in possession of Palestine, didn’t ask Jews to make it their national homeland.

RM: But the UN and the US recognized the new state of Israel in 1948.

AG: Lord Balfour, with his famous pronouncement, had no business doing so. Britain didn’t own Palestine, but held it as a trust, a mandate, from the League of Nations. As more Jews came, we protested but who were we to stand up to the UK? Let me ask you a question. What right do these European countries have to meddle in other peoples business? What right does the UK, France, the Russians and the Americans have to tell us what we should do? Moreover, can’t you understand our anger knowing that every Jew in the world can “return” to Israel and obtain citizenship while we who have been driven from our lands have no such rights?

RM: Are you saying that European motives have not been to bring peace and democracy to Muslim countries?

AG: (Ali was sputtering at this point). Democracy has nothing to do with it. The motive is oil – ever since Winston Churchill converted the Royal Navy to oil, before the First World War, the west, under the guise of bringing peace and democracy, have really been protecting their oil supply.

RM: But, like it or not, the world is dependent on oil.

AG: That doesn’t give anyone the right to march into places that don’t belong to them, preach crap about democracy and take our countries over. When Saddam Hussein took over Kuwait, to the US and Britain that was a no-no, yet it’s quite OK for the US and the UK to take over Iraq!

RM: But you have some terrible governments in the Muslim world…

AG: We do – but what gives the United States the right to change these governments? And, while we’re on the subject, why doesn’t the US invade Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia if they want to impose their way of life on others. The answer is simple – Egypt and Saudi Arabia are ruthless dictatorships who are friendly to the US and there is no oil in Syria.

RM: What about Al Qaeda and 9/11?

AG: I sympathize with all those people who were killed, wounded or bereaved. But we’re at war. Many of us view America as an enemy just as America regarded Germany and Italy as enemies. In wartime, innocent people get killed. But don’t talk to me about terror – what was Hiroshima, if not terror? Hiroshima was not a military centre and the bomb was dropped during the week in rush hour as to kill the most civilians.

RM: But surely that was different. Then the enemies were wicked and challenged the entire world.

AG: Why do I have so much trouble convincing you that we see the United States as wicked?

RM: But isn’t terror simply wrong when used by civilized people?

AG: I agree. But what were Hiroshima and Nagasaki; Dresden and Hamburg; London and Coventry; Tokyo and Berlin if not terrorism? Terrorism is scaring people to demand that their governments change policy. When the West does it, it’s OK, but when we do it, it’s evil. In fact, it’s all terrorism with different explanations, depending on who’s doing it.

RM: But what about Iran making nuclear weapons?

AG: While any increase in nuclear weapons is bad and, for good reason, scary, how come Britain, the United States, Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan can have bombs and Iran can’t? Besides, people tend to forget that the UN did its job by keeping Iraq free of weapons of mass destruction – the problem was that the US and Britain didn’t accept UN findings. Let the UN Security Council deal with this.

RM: Finally, Ali, surely civilized countries must deal with the likes of Saddam Hussein, come to the rescue of downtrodden people, especially women and mustn’t the US, as the only super power, be that rescuer?

AG: No! It must be the United Nations and America’s job is to start paying its dues to the UN, supporting it in every way when that support is sought. The United States and Britain had no right to tell any country how to govern itself and, moreover, these paragons of democratic virtue are highly selective of which dictatorships they will overthrow. The examples of repressive countries being avoided by the United States are many indeed but let me leave you with this thought – what about Saudi Arabia, a personal fiefdom of the royal family which suppresses all dissent, keeps women in near slavery, stones adulterers, cuts off thieves’ hands and acts as the banker for Al Qaeda?

Instead of seeing the US bringing pressure for democracy in Saudi Arabia, we see pictures of the Crown Prince and George W. Bush holding hands!

In fact, we see the US and UK as hypocritical meddlers who use high blown rhetoric as an excuse to protect economic interests at the expense of the Middle East…

Ali Gazeh doesn’t exist, of course. But if he did, perhaps these questions and answers would help us “see ourselves as others see us.”

Rafe Mair writes a Monday column for The Tyee.
His website is www.rafeonline.com.