spacebawl (the blog)

We thought about it. Now you have to read it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

To say nothing of what we've done to Israel...

I ignored it when it came up, because I wanted to have a conversation, not a screaming match.

It actually turned out to be a decent conversation.

But now I was reading some more news, and it came back to me, so I have to bitch about it. It's time again for me to apologize, since it's been a while since I've made a really well-crafted post. In any case, I proceed.

I can't remember what I was talking about. It may have been the troubles of managing a republic when there are deep cultural fissures. It was a general statement.

My father-in-law likes to repeat phrases, particularly in argument or discussion. There is none of the ceremony of quoting scripture but all of the rest; when he quotes himself or some editorial he long ago integrated, there is finality of thought, and like many intellectuals and many fundamentalists, he thinks that his knowledge can be applied to any field. He displayed the latter when a discussion about the difficulty of popular governance led to him noting that "It's like the Palestinians. The more you give them, the more they want."

I moved forward, undeterred, displaying a bit of intellectual sluggishness of my own, again to avert a screaming match.

I'm sure many are inclined to agree with my father-in-law. After all, in this country if you believe that Israelis have a right to exist or that Israel can be a force for good in the world, it follows that you have to deny any and all victimization of the Palestinians, either reducing their experience or arguing that they have deserved all of it. It's the same logic that hardline, anti-Israeli Palestinians employ.

Nevertheless, even as a person who looks on Israel with great respect, I have to ask what, exactly, "we" or anyone else have given the Palestinians.

The Arabs have given the Palestinians a pitiful existence in refugee camps and prolonged the problem of statelessness for more and less justifiable reasons (high unemployment preventing assimilation, in the former case, and anti-Israelism in the latter). They also gave the Palestinians a sense of being fractured, a sense of both transnational identity and division due to different experience. Or have you ever wondered why Gaza, occupied by Egypt for so long and run essentially as the world's most densely populated open-air prison, seems to have a different culture than, say, the West Bank?

And what of the West Bank? Well, here you saw what the Jordanians gave the Palestinians, which was essentially nothing, but here you also see Israeli-built universities and other facilities. Built entirely for the Palestinians. The first people of the modern age to care for the Palestinians were probably the Israelis.

But let's not forget, how could we forget, the experience of being swept out of the country. Israel kept some Muslim allies, like the Bedouins and the Druze, but when they defeated the Arab states that had attacked them, they didn't merely fight the foreign armies. They went after the background Muslim population. It's all in Jabotinsky, who wrote:

All colonization, even the most restricted, must continue in defiance of the will of the native population. Therefore, it can continue and develop only under the shield of force which comprises an Iron Wall which the local population can never break through. This is our Arab policy. To formulate it any other way would be hypocrisy.

The old nationalists wrote with clarity and honesty that we will not soon regain.

Now the irony is this--that as the Israeli revolutionaries did this, they were fighting Arabs who did not think of themselves in a nationalistic manner. But this act, this act of expulsion, forged a national consciousness. Before Israel, Palestine's Muslims were Arabs, a few Turks, and some Gypsies. We all know what the Israeli expulsion and the Arab refusal of accommodation led to. Palestinians owe their very self-identification to Israel.

But what do they hold? What have we given them, not in experience but in material reality?

A non-viable state? An incubator state, born in parts, kept alive by tubes, crawling with parasites and itself a parasite, forever dependent on the pity of those stronger? If it were a child I would let it die, but is it not all they have?

Have we promised economic development? Yes, though it has not arrived yet, and the ease with which Israel turns off electricity and water in Gaza should show you that the Palestinians will still be renting their rump state.

I do not mean to indulge in a full assessment of the Palestinians, let alone of their conflict with the Israelis. The average American citizen, unable to set his own focus, unable to look at the small and the large in their own context, forever set in perspective by the larger media, will throw out red herrings.

Have they committed terrorism? Yes, many certainly have.
Have they embraced Islamic fundamentalism? Recently, and in part, yes they have.
Do they tell anti-Semitic lies? Yes, they read translations of Russian books and spread libels learnt from the Greeks.

Are they a troublesome culture, a troubled culture? Most certainly. But what have we given them? Not a lot.

The Israelis have given them tremendous engines of self-improvement and many Palestinians have employed those means. The Americans have occasionally treated them as a people with the right to self-determination, and that is immeasurable as well.

But compare them to other groups in the region. Hezbollah has more legitimacy, room to operate, and potential for political gain, than an entire people. And that's what it breaks down to--power. What have they been given? Nothing that has gained them anything in the great search for power over their national destiny. The best option remains citizenship in Israel.

I make no argument as to what America, or Israel, should give. That is another thought entirely. But the notion that the United States is practically showering the world with blessings and that the world is responding with ungrateful insolence? That probably says more about a few generations of self-absorbed, emotionally needy egotists than it does of the net effect of all that we have done for and to the Palestinians.


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