Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Latest Crisis in Gaza

A muslim woman protests the invasion of Gaza. Ali Jarekji-REUTERS

Mahatma Gandhi observed that "An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind."

Mahmud Hams-AFP/Getty Images

More unending tragedy. Both Israel and the Palestinians have made grievous decisions over the years that continue the suffering, and Hamas has deepened this stagnation.... There are so many complex twists in this story... nobody ever "wins" a fight like this.

I wonder if it is even possible to understand all the facets of it.

Does it really matter whether this child was Israeli or Palestinian?
It shouldn't. Right and wrong lose bearing as the corpses pile up. Killing is killing. It settles nothing. Both sides are destroying one another's soul one person at a time. It is all senseless.


The Christian Science Monitor review recently reprinted this classic piece from their archives. check out Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land
(This book review originally ran on Oct. 2, 1986.)

Two noteworthy quotes about the text from the Monitors review:
“They have lived together locked in each other’s grip, enduring a prolonged state of twilight warfare that has alternated between armed battle and de facto peace. . . . In essence, Jewish and Palestinian identities are now intricately bound up together.”

“Arab and Jew” contains factual history as well as comments from those who made it. But its real richness lies in the intimate portraits and exchanges with ordinary but widely diverse Israelis and Palestinians, during which stereotypes are stripped away."

Eyeless In Gaza by Aldous Huxley

I can't but think of some literary examples that invoke the Middle Eastern stalemate like Eyeless in Gaza which is not directly about the Palestinian conflict but a semiautobiographical novel criticizing the dearth of spiritual values in contemporary society.

Marty Kaplan of the Norman Lear Center at the USC Annenberg School thought of it too (if only in name) in this interesting piece. He observes
"In Milton's poem Samson Agonistes, Samson—blinded, in chains—cries out,
'Promise was that I
Should Israel from Philistian yoke deliver
Ask for this great deliverer now, and find him
Eyeless in Gaza at the mill with slaves.'

But when Samson shows the strength to shun Delilah, God restores his power, enabling him to pull down the temple and kill the Philistines, though along with himself.

What makes Samson Agonistes a tragedy is the self-destruction that victory entails. I passionately assert Israel's right to exist in peace with its neighbors and within secure borders. But I can't help fearing that its military success in Gaza, should it come, will also entail a tragic cost."

One could loosely argue that both sides have long sacrificed any peaceful spiritual guidances and struggle instead from one crisis to the next with increasing brutality toward one another....

Is this a parable for the future of the Israelis and Palestinians, and perhaps of Humanity?

John Genet's Prisoner of Love

In Genet's Prisoner of Love he poetically observes
"In one of Shakespeare's tragedies the archers loose their arrows against the sky, and I wouldn't have been surprised if some of the fedayeen, feet firmly planted on the ground, but angered at so much beauty arching out of the land of Israel, had taken aim and fired their bullets at the Milky Way—China and socialist countries supplied them with enough ammunition to bring down half the firmament. But could they fire at stars rising out of their own cradle, Palestine?"

(Note: China has been replaced primarily with Iran)

Maybe there is no solution, and this sad mess will drag on and on...

We hear less often of the real heros in this mess... from both sides, the many, many people who strive for a real solution, for genuine understanding and to break the vicious cycle of endless retaliation, bitterness and hate.

Hamas dishonors it's people by choosing violence over diplomacy....
They knew that if they fired enough rockets (based on historical precident, that Israel would eventually retaliate with serious force, that civilians would be caught in the middle... Hamas uses the residents of Gaza as pawns, and sadly they are willing since they continue to support an organiztion bent on endless fighting.)
The Palestinians who choose violence or who voted for Hamas have cheated themselves for the illusion of revenge or security....
The Israelis have diminished their democracy by demoralizing the Palestinians in many little everyday ways.
Nations like Iran and Organizations like Hezbollah dishonor everyone equally with their religious zealotry.

But what do I know? I am not Jewish, nor Palestinian, nor do I live in the Middle East.
I know nothing in the face of such loss and anger and pain, absolutely nothing.

But I do try to understand, but unfortunately violence speaks a different language and is interested in nothing but victory. It doesn't take a genius to understand that any victory reaped through violence is a hollow one.

This piece in Newsweek by By Daniel Klaidman, with Dan Ephron,Christopher Dickey and Michael Hirsh is really enlightening... and makes a lot of sense...
some hightlights:
"fact that Olmert wants to negotiate, and that Abbas wants to negotiate, underscores the stubborn, maddening fact about the Israeli-Palestinian relationship: there is only one path to peace, and both sides know what it is—and yet neither side has been willing to take it. The violence, the bombings, the threats and counterthreats are all the more exhausting and senseless because they are, essentially, an elaborate delaying tactic. The broad contours of a peace were laid out eight years ago when President Bill Clinton brought the two sides together at Camp David and tried to broker a historic deal. The current Olmert "shelf plan" is remarkably similar to the Clinton parameters: a two-state solution in which Israelis and Palestinians make painful compromises on the core issues of territory, security, Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees."

"At the moment, the greatest impediment to peace is Hamas, the terrorist group that won power in Gaza through elections in 2006. The rise of a rejectionist "Hamastan" in Gaza has left Palestinians divided between Abbas's more moderate Fatah government and radical Hamas leaders who encourage violence and believe Israel itself should not exist. Hamas rose by exploiting the misery and grievances of the Palestinians. The challenge for Palestinians and Israelis who desire peace is to make Hamas irrelevant in the eyes of its supporters by offering them something more tangible than revenge."

"The suspicion of many Israelis—sometimes justified—that Palestinian leaders are interested not in peace but in Israel's destruction has been another powerful obstacle. Israelis warn against becoming freiers. The word is Yiddish for "suckers," but it carries deeper psychological freight in a country that grew out of the ashes of the Holocaust and has absorbed "never again" as its mantra. The Palestinians harbor similar resentments at having repeatedly drawn the short stick of history. As many of them see it, the land of Israel is land that the world stole from them in 1948, leaving them without a home. At Camp David, Yasir Arafat refused to finalize a peace agreement with Israel, claiming that to do so would be to court assassination by his own people."

The author's outline for a possible peace plan (based on existing talks) seems plausible and reasonable...
Even on the issue of the refugees, and further toward healing the Palestinian peoples dignity.
"But how to salve the wounds of Palestinian grievance? One intriguing solution is offered by writer Walter Russell Mead in an essay in the current issue of Foreign Affairs. Mead argues that though Israel must take some responsibility for the Palestinian tragedy, the entire nakba, or catastrophe, "cannot simply be laid at Israel's door." Israel must acknowledge its part in the events of 1948, but the international community must take "ultimate responsibility" for the 60-year-old crisis. In this way, the world would acknowledge that the Palestinians have indeed suffered a historic injustice, but obviate the need for Israel to bear full responsibility. "This is a way to confer dignity on the Palestinian people," says Levy—a crucial step toward securing an elusive peace."

If only.

Also for those who are interested in more info,

NPR has done a number of great stories on the roots of the conflict including the award winning series The Mideast: A century of Conflict which I highly recommend.

Also, Noam Chomsky's Chomsky's scathing indictment of U.S. foreign policy Middle East Illusions.

Jimmy Carters Opinion piece in Thursdays Washington Post on the latest violence in Gaza.

Also for reference, consider Carter's two books on this issue We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work and Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.

A review of Waltz with Bashir on Salon examines the parallels between ths current conflict in Gaza and events in the war with Lebanon in the 1980s. The author, Gary Kamiya, concludes:
"All wars are dirty, and Hamas -- which employs terrorism and is willing to pay with Palestinian blood to remain in power -- most emphatically does not have clean hands. But the Israeli onslaught against Hamas has reduced Israel to the same level as its enemies. Today, Israel and America are applauding the war. But as "Waltz With Bashir" painfully demonstrates, today's glorious victories can become nightmares that haunts individuals and nations for decades. One can only pray that it does not take too long for leaders on all sides to realize that all this blood, Palestinian and Israeli, has been spilled for nothing and move to make a lasting peace."

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