The Palestinians' Secret Weapon

By Matthew Hogan

Every day for thirty years an old Jewish man went to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. He prayed there three times each day. Everyone remarked at his piety and good will. One day a journalist heard of this and decided to ask him why he did this.

"I pray for the peace of Jerusalem, that Israelis and Palestinians will put aside their differences and live in peace; I do it each time I pray, never fail, on every day it is permitted, and for thirty years now."

"How do you feel after these prayers?" the journalist asked.

"Like I'm talking to a frigging wall."

The Suggested Weapon

Given the flow of recent events, by the time this essay appears events may already have passed it by. As Palestinians and Israelis continue auditioning for a real life version of William Golding's Lord of the Flies, various suggestions for the Final Solution of the Palestine Problem are being bandied about. In private, and on some partisan websites, suggestions are barely less grisly than history's more notorious Final Solution and, from some on the Arab side, the same category of victim is proposed. In public, however, serious statesmanlike suggestions are more common. (Though in the heat of prattle with dead babies piling up, "wipe them all out" statements do slip into the public domain. One anti-Arab statement of that type was recently uttered by a usually moderate Jerusalem rabbi.) Let me try my own hand at a serious suggestion. It is directed at the Palestinians. I am sensitive to the resentment of Palestinians towards Westerners who haven't felt their pain. They don't like hearing "do this, and do that" from the world's more arrogant, indifferent, and (dare I say it?) successful sorts of groupings. But that politically-correct victimology (at which the Israeli side is far more talented and emotionally abusive) is not only horse manure, but also one of the key mental diseases creating and driving the conflict ever onward in all its wasteful absurdity. Therefore, let me express my suggestion not only forthrightly but in the spirit of arrogant irritation in which it is made. The solution is: surrender. No, not surrender one's homes, or even one's arms. Nor ultimately, one's dignity. No, it should be a conditional surrender. A political surrender. A surrender of the narrow tribal nationalism that devours both sides like a cancer. A liberating surrender, realistically and spiritually. And what is the concrete program of surrender? Its very simple: change the demand for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Instead, simply say to the Israelis, you've won, you want it, you're settling it and administering it. So, OK, we're here, now give us Israeli citizenship. Give us our roughly 50% of seats in the Knesset (Israeli Parliament),and 50% participation in the armed forces. You want the territories to be "Eretz-Israel" (the Land of Israel), well, OK, give a welcome to your new Israelis.

Moral & Realistic

Such would be a wise realistic political surrender as it is based upon the hard-headed fact that when it comes to war-waging, Palestinians are singularly lousy at it. And not likely to get better. The relative weakness of the Arab states, the relative strength and cohesiveness of the Israelis and their American fan clubs, and the still-lingering social and economic backwardness of Palestinian society all argue against improvement in that direction. The "surrender" , i.e. demanding inclusion into the Israeli state, would be a virtuous spiritual surrender based on giving up the moral disease that is modern nationalism. Whether framed as Arab nationalism, Palestinian nationalism, or Islamic nationalism, it needs excision. And the Palestinians should gladly do so, regardless of whether their Israeli adversaries surrender their own virulent tribal nationalism. That latter nationalism was weaned on the terrors of Tsarist Russia's pogroms, honed by the humiliations of latter-day anti-Semitism, poisoned by the collectivist madness of Eastern Europe, and cauterized by the extermination of millions in Hitler's Holocaust. Now add to that a position of vast military strength. Such madness will not go away while the stress of conflict and existential threats endure.

Citizenship or Statehood

The objections to a demand for Palestinian inclusion in Israel are obvious. The Israelis would clearly not accept it, one might hear. Well, they don't accept any existing Palestinian proposals or demands, so what's the difference? Further, Israeli refusal would legitimize and clarify any subsequently undertaken Palestinian resistance (violent or not) on a higher moral plane than the previous nationalist-religious ones (though it still won't legitimize the hideous tactic of kamikaze-murder among others). A demand for incorporation into Israel would appeal to the principles of equality and democracy both sides have hitherto merely pretended to aspire to. It would not challenge international law, as decades of Arab tribal-nationalist posturing has done, by impugning the legitimacy of Israel. Incorporation into the ruling state's institutions was also the program of the anti-apartheid movement, which Palestinians have consistently failed to employ as their moral tutor despite often valid denunciations of "Israeli apartheid". Should the Israelis not accept the demand, they would then be forced to openly and directly confront their real territorial objectives, an internal confrontation which has always been evaded. Its potential divisiveness alone has assassinated one Israeli Prime Minister. But now they would have to ask and answer: how can we justify holding the land and not allowing the governed to rule when they accept us? Either they rule alongside us democratically, or we let them go geographically. When confronted with this compelling demand, the government of Israel would be forced by its nationalistic fear of the Arab population to definitively reject West Bank and Gaza territorial expansion. So it would therefore have to offer a viable alternative: a realistically independent Palestinian state-- which is what the Palestinian Arabs want anyway. Either way, it is a win for definitive Palestinian empowerment over their lives. If the Israelis tried to evade the demand by dragging their feet over such a logical Palestinian insistence on inclusion and citizenship in one's ruling state, Israel would lose the moral claims it makes for itself. And whether Arabs and others wish to believe it or not, and whether it is falsely based or not, that is the real hold the Israeli government has over a silent majority of Israelis, the greater share of Americans, and the hearts of American Jews in particular. The latter are the engine of American and international support. The threat of loss of that support and affection would definitively compel the Israeli body politic to make a real choice between giving Palestinian Arabs a shot at the lion's share of the Israeli state, or creating a viable sovereign Palestinian state. Probably they would elect the latter choice, which in any event is the preferred one of Palestinian Arabs in saner times.

The Problem of Nationalism

A demand for inclusion in Israel by the Palestinian Arabs under occupation also has the important side effect of escaping the mental-moral prison of nationalism. But that escape from one of modern mankind's most passionately addictive political vices will be the real difficulty in getting it to happen. Nationalism is a hard habit to break. eorge Orwell adequately described modern nationalism as the belief -- a habit of thought not always adopted consciously -- that human beings can be divided like insects into classes, and certain groups confidently labeled "good" or "bad". Such is a precise characterization of Palestinian and Israeli nationalisms. Palestinians have defined Israel and Israelis as "bad" and vice-versa. (In both cases, the causes for doing so are often emotionally comprehensible, but just as often, ignorant and bigoted.) In fact, despite the official rhetoric of equality, liberation, and virtue, both nationalisms are riddled with savage mutual disdain and a truly sickening general xenophobia. These were shaped by their respective societies' haunted histories of isolation, traditionalist primitivism, and catastrophe. Add on top of that multigenerational endurance of brutal alienation, humiliation, and mutual violence, and one soon finds the brain-damage behind the sinister tribalism manifested in the rancid anti-Semitism coursing through Arab discourse, and the almost pornographically bigoted anti-Arab content of just about any Israel-promoting Leon Uris novel. That savage type of nationalism is the reason that few Palestinians can bring themselves to declare the obvious evil of random terror bombings of Israelis. It is the reason few Israelis feel the outrage expressed by those who object to the relentless bulldozing of Palestinian Arabs. And it is the reason even fewer Israelis appreciate that their side has been literally and metaphorically bulldozing Palestinian Arabs since well before Israel's first independence day. Still, it is in the Palestinians' practical and ethical interest to surrender their nationalism-defined demands and issue their strongest "threat": to exist as the co-rulers of the state that rules them. (It would also lead towards liberation of the Israelis from their own violent nationalism.) Whether that Palestinian surrender can happen in the face of recent horrors and long-standing constipated thinking is another question. It would mean Palestinians joining with and accepting those deemed "bad" and who, in light of recent repression, look still "badder" to them. Even appearing to accept them offends the sensibilities of those rendered insensible by the moral imbecility of nationalism. Nor is it promising that a hopefully beneficent America is lost in a world of nationalist-tainted anger over terrorism of Arab-Muslim origin, along with a long-standing ignorance of foreign things generally. Further, American good offices are constrained by regional designs and the albatross weight of the mentally disturbed pro-Israel lobby. The latter is driven by a vicarious nationalism which, even in this 21st Century reality, still views the world through the frightened primitive eyes of a 19th Century East European ghetto/shtetl-resident, and the terrorized soul of a 20th Century Auschwitz inmate.

But who knows? Good things can happen with moral effort. Hope springs eternal. Even if, on issues like this, we often find ourselves feeling like we are talking to a friggin' wall.