Sometimes a photograph becomes the indelible memory of an event, like the napalmed girl in Vietnam, the screaming girl at Kent State, or the man standing in front of the tank at Tienamen. In the last two weeks in Israel, there were two such pictures: the screaming Palestinian boy being shot to death by Israelis and the corpse of the Israeli soldier being tossed from a second story window by Palestinians.
I will never forget these pictures, which tell me once again that I am a naive optimist when it comes to human nature. As the two sides moved deliberately towards peace, I wanted to believe that there were no monsters anywhere in the equation, that everyone had woken up one morning irresistibly possessed by the insight that there was no alternative to peace. Instead, as so frequently happens in human affairs, the worst element on both sides has caused the process to hop the rails. Lives are being lost due to human vanity and manipulation, just as thousands have died in the last thirty years on the slow track to an inevitable result.
At Columbia College I took a class in Zionism taught by Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, a well-known spokesman for segments of the American Jewish community. The assigned readings were a biography of Theodore Herzl and the writings of other early Zionists, some of whom were rather frightening in their blood-madness to eliminate any possible obstacles. One day in class I asked him whether he envisioned there could ever be a solution to the Middle East crisis without Israel coming to terms with the Palestinians and giving them land. He had never volunteered this information, but he answered me immediately, decisively and honestly, that there could not.
I have often wondered: if this was so obvious to a committed but rational supporter of Israel then, it must have been to many others as well: so why did it take almost thirty more years of killing, of "force, might, beatings", before it came to pass?
A personal history of Israel
My family were secular Jews, who, like so many others, belonged to a reform synagogue and attended services once or twice a year. (When my father once accused me of having no commitment to Judaism, I asked when he was last in synagogue. He thought for a moment and replied, "I was there just three months ago, to go swimming"--our synagogue had its own pool.) As a child, I never observed that we had any special feeling about Israel, so most of what I learned about American Jewish attitudes to Israel came from observing my friends and their families.
Our rabbi was a slow-speaking, unemotional man, who was probably largely responsible for my failing to connect with our religion. If he believed in God, he did not communicate even that conviction. His sermons tended to be extremely abstruse and I do not remember his ever saying anything about Israel.
At a conservative synagogue attended by my friends (I knew no Orthodox Jews) there were regular fund-raising campaigns: to plant trees in Israel or to pay for an ambulance. (Last year the Times reported on a site in Jerusalem where the saplings planted by Americans are routinely up-rooted to make room for more such contributions.) Somehow I became aware across several years of conversations with friends that a huge double standard was in operation. Israel, as a result of subtle propaganda anchored by intense emotion, could do no wrong. The same people who were intensely sensitive to any incident of prejudice or the violation of civil rights in America had a hardy tolerance for Israeli behavior towards Arabs. Any attempt, however careful, to illustrate to these friends that certain Israeli acts, if committed by sheriffs in Alabama or the police in South Africa, would be viewed as intolerable, was met with ferocious anger or an emotional appeal as follows:
"You can't judge if you haven't lived there..." But except for Israel we were constantly judging places we hadn't lived. None of us had lived in Alabama or in Germany, but we held strong opinions of the people there.
"The Arabs have sworn to throw them all into the sea..." But it was never true that all Arabs had sworn to do so, nor did this knee-jerk response permit examination of why anyone should make such a threat.
I came to understand the "holistic" Jewish-American view on Israel. An oppressed people, chased from place to place for centuries and then murdered in the Holocaust, returned to the place where it had lived two millenia ago, its original homeland and the birthplace of the religious book created by it and now a cornerstone of three major world religions. Living in that place were a few Arabs who in centuries had done nothing to convert it from wasteland and desert (whereas the Jews in a few short years "made the deserts bloom".) Along came the United Nations and decreed a perfectly fair division of the land between Jews and Arabs (if anything, the division was too fair to the unworthy Arabs). But the Arabs refused to accept this solution, and went to war against Israel. No Arabs anywhere in Palestine were driven out (let alone murdered) by Israeli forces; instead, they left voluntarily, urged to do so by their own leaders, clever strategists who clearly saw the obscure advantage of vacating the very territory that was being fought over. These Arabs then largely became black-hooded, murderous terrorists, killing innocent people, hijacking planes and setting off bombs.
I am recounting a view which I debated with vehement thirteen year olds unconscious of any irony....but they learned it from their parents. A convenient account, which (though stretched thin, and any which way) covers most of the known facts.
Not starting with a strong commitment to Israel, I soon began to see the holes in this fabric. I heard somewhere about the 1948 massacre of Arabs by Jewish forces at Deir Yassin. That was history, but almost every week I read in the New York Times that the Israeli army had bulldozed the house of yet another family whose child was a terrorist. It seemed to me that Jews, if anyone, should avoid the doctrine of "blood taints", having been on the receiving end so often. But when I asked my friends what they thought of this approach, I heard either denial that it happened, or "you can't judge," or "drive the Jews into the sea." A complete suspension of independent thought.
I was also bothered that Israel sold arms to the South Africans, who were already viewed internationally as a pariah nation. It was only a short step to see that there was little fundamental difference between Israel and South Africa: both were in somewhat tormented control of indigenous populations who had no say in government. Both were based on some fundamental racist tenets about blood and superiority. In Rabbi Hertzberg's class at Columbia, I learned that Theodore Herzl had been very tempted to accept a British offer of Uganda for a Jewish nation. If he had prevailed, Jewish Uganda would have been indistinguishable from Boer South Africa. Even today, parallels are being drawn between the internal "homelands" created by the apartheid South African government decades ago and the similarly weak, dependent, isolated areas that Israel has relinquished to Palestinian control.
At age 44, I finally visited Israel--on a three day business trip. I spent the third day touring Jerusalem. (I have been back since, once, on an even shorter business trip.) I wrote a piece here about that visit, which ended:
As a Jew I am in favor of Jewish survival, as a human I am in favor of the survival of all other groups as part of a diverse web of cooperative humanity. "The arc of history," Dr. King said, "bends towards justice." I believe that all nationalisms, appealing as they are and whatever problems of loneliness or pride they may address, are ultimately dangerous. But I am an optimist. I believe there will be peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and so do the Israelis I met.
Israel and the Second Law
I am no longer so optimistic. What we have just seen happen is the familiar phenomenon of the peace being pulled down by the most barbaric element.
I blame Ariel Sharon. I believe that when he visited the Mosque of the Dome with his numerous bodyguards, he committed an intentional symbolic provocation that he knew would cost lives. Sharon has established himself as having no concern for Arab life. In 1982 when he stood aside and tolerated the massacre of Palestinians by a Christian militia in the Sabra and Shatila camps oustide Beirut. At the time, an official Israeli panel of inquiry held Sharon responsible for his inaction, and he was forced to resign as minister of defense. But Sharon certainly knew that his little jaunt to the Mosque would cost Israeli lives as well--and he didn't care, as long as he ended the peace initiative and brought down Ehud Barak. Which he has done.
He is backed by a large group of rightists, fundamentalists with a settler psychology--claim the land and damn the consequences. One such group chose this time of crisis to take a little armed hike to the top of a hill overlooking a Palestinian town. When the inevitable gunfire started arcing up towards them, one died and they had to be rescued by the army. What a week and what a place to choose for a back-packing expedition.
Let's call a spade a spade: there are some Jews in Israel who are for murder, genocide, ethnic cleansing, who would like to drive all the Palestinians into the sea if they could.
Did you know that several weeks ago, Israelis murdered Palestinians who were innocently picking fruit? That there was a progrom against an Israeli Arab neighborhood and when the Arabs called the police, some of them were shot by the very people they had called upon to protect them? Most media coverage showed us Palestinian atrocities, while the Israeli atrocities went almost unnoticed. This is the result of a U.S. media bias which (like the American support for Israel) has gone almost unquestioned for fifty years.
It is saddening that the consequences of Sharon's symbolic visit to the Mosque are not fierce criticism and political ostracism but, instead, the accomplishment of his goals without any negative consequences for him. He has destroyed Barak politically and destroyed the peace.
If Sharon is allowed anywhere near power, he will take most of what Barak has offered off the table. Rather than the peace with security Sharon claims to offer, there will be neither. Sharon is a man of violence, not of peace; like Netanyahu, he lacks the moral forthrightness and strength to make himself the cornerstone of a peace process.
When I visited Israel in 1999, Barak had just been elected. Instead of immediately forming a government and taking charge, there was a mysterious period during which he allowed Netanyahu to continue to govern.
Barak had the virtue of belonging to a younger generation. Many of Israel's earlier leaders were involved in the terrorism that preceded or accompanied Israeli independence. Yitzhak Shamir plotted the murder of Count Bernadotte, whom the U.N. sent in to mediate the 1948 war; Menachem Begin was supreme commander of the Irgun at the time of the Deir Yassin massacre. Barak, by contrast, was only six in 1948. However, as a career military man, he led commando raids against Palestinian groups in the 1970's, and supervised the occupation of the West bank in the early 1990's.
Barak seems indecisive--in sales terms, he is not a closer. He is a man who genuinely wanted peace but did not always know how to put it across. In retrospect, the present resumption of the intifada--that seems to be what it is--became inevitable when he failed to dispose of the question of Jerusalem at the U.S. summit in August.
Like Jimmy Carter, another genuinely good man, tougher people with fewer scruples are likely to eat his lunch.
However, by inviting Sharon into his government, Barak has in my opinion relinquished the last shreds of his moral standing.The major danger of politics for those who enter the fray representing a moral idea, is that they make so many compromises along the way that there is nothing left. Since Sharon is the anti-Barak, in all he stands for, a coalition government will mean there is nothing left of Barak. From a moral standpoint, Barak should either leave or, like the embattled squad at the bridge in The Longest Day, "hold until relieved." Remaining in power by inviting the enemy to bolster you usually serves nothing but ego, and not even that successfully. The doctrine, or more likely excuse, that "I will still do some incremental good" is more likely to cause profound harm.
In the piece in 1999, I wrote: "I suppose that any place where three superstitions combine it is inevitable that you will find the volatility both of violence and of cooperation. In the Prisoner's Dilemma that is Jerusalem it is unsurprising that people killed, nor that they are tired of killing and dying." They are not so tired as I thought.
A lot of what I know about Israel which is not reported in the U.S. media, I learn from the mailings I receive from a group called Gush Shalom, the Israeli Peace Bloc (www.gush-shalom.org). In recent months, their mail contains the following postscript:
"JERUSALEM CAPITAL OF TWO STATES
Add this to all your mail (and suggest to your friends to do the same)"
There is no alternative to this but more killing. For the last few years I have believed peace was possible based on rationality, the desire to stop being violent, and the seeds of compassion beginning to grow on either side for the other. Essentially what I thought had happened in South Africa. New moral directions are very fragile and easily pulled down by fundamentalisms on both sides.
Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem is a focal point of conflict and a case study of the wider problem. It is the third holiest site in Islam. It stands on the site of the Jewish Second Temple, destroyed in 54 A.D. In 1967, soon after the capture of Jerusalem in the Six Day War, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan set a policy prohibiting Jews from praying in Al Aqsa in order to avoid conflicts with the Moslem population.
Nonetheless, conflict around Al-Aqsa has been a constant. Extensive damage was caused inside the mosque by arson in August 1969 and a wooden gate was burned in May 1998. In 1970, a Jewish group dedicated to rebuilding the Temple forcibly entered Al-Aqsa, and many Moslems were shot in the ensuing fight. In 1982 an Israeli soldier invaded Al-Aqsa with an M-16 assault rifle, killing and wounding numerous worshippers. In 1988 and 1990, the Israeli army fired on worshippers at Al-Aqsa on two occasions, with numerous deaths. In 1995 the government revoked the official policy, in place since 1967, of not permitting Jews to pray within Al-Aqsa.
In 1996, the Netanyahu government, with much fanfare and a large military guard, opened to tourists a tunnel under Al-Aqsa; the authorities had created a good deal of controversy with excavations there since the 1980's. The resulting riots caused the deaths of scores of Palestinians and Israelis. Prime Minister Netanyahu said, ""I do not regret that we opened the Western Wall tunnel, which has no effect on the Temple Mount, and expresses our sovereignty over Jerusalem."
Authorities have stopped a number of very serious attempts to blow up Al-Aqsa, including a raid assisted by members of the Israeli army that got inside the Mosque's compounds with a large amount of dynamite. There is a significant Orthodox Jewish movement, supported by Chritian fundamentalists, which wants to build the Third Temple on the Al-Aqsa site. The "Long Term Objectives" of a group called the Temple Mount Faithful include the following:
Liberating the Temple Mount from Arab (Islamic) occupation. The Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque were placed on this Jewish or Biblical holy site as a specific sign of Islamic conquest and domination. The Temple Mount can never be consecrated to the Name of God without removing these pagan shrines.
All of which is extremely disquieting to people on the other side of the issue. On a site called al-aqsa.org I found the following: "The Muslims in Palestine are being slaughtered and their blood is being spilled and their lives perish at the hands of the Jewish soldiers, the most disgraced creation of Allah on earth through the conspiracy of Clinton, Barak, Arafat and Husni Mubarak, in order to tame them so that they accept the treacherous agreements between Barak and Arafat. To give the Jews authority over al-Masjid al-Aqsa and sovereignty over al-Quds."
Sharon's carefully planned visit to Al-Aqsa was nothing less than the deliberate ignition of a pool of gasoline.
Many secular Israelis--the country's majority--must often feel trapped between two fundamentalisms. Hence the Israelis who told me in 1999--incorrectly, as it turned out--that "the next major confrontation here will be not with the Arabs, but between the secular and religious."
What is Israel?
One of the justifications of Israel I remember from my childhood was that Israelis were so sensitive to human life that they used rubber bullets to control rioting Arabs, rather than the real thing. As the U.S. press has finally recognized, today's rubber bullets are actually ordinary steel bullets with a rubber coating. I was not able to determine whether the rubber bullets of thirty years ago were all rubber; however, it is clear from Israeli experience, not to mention the record of British intervention in Ireland, that rubber bullets however constituted can be very lethal. In a paper at the U.S. air force academy, Non-Lethal Weapons for Military Operations Other Than War, ( http://www.usafa.af.mil/wing/34edg/airman/suhajd~1.htm) Cadet First Class Joseph M. Suhajda wrote:
[Rubber] bullets have been used by the Israeli military with limited success. The goal of the rubber bullet is to inflict the right amount of pain to cause the threat to decease charging, or to disperse a crowd. At close ranges, the muzzle velocity of the round is fatal; yet, without significant velocity the bullet is widely inaccurate and often drops to the ground. Because of this, there is a very narrow distance in which they are effective as a deterrent. Also, the rubber bullet can cause serious damage if it hits anywhere other than the chest. A shot to the face or the groin area can cause permanent damage or even death.
Here is one of numerous accounts available of the effects of rubber bullets. This is from CNN.com for April 8, 1997 (http://www.cnn.com/WORLD/9704/08/mideast/index.html):
A Jewish settler armed with a submachine gun shot dead a Palestinian in the divided West Bank town of Hebron on Tuesday. Rioting broke out and Israeli forces killed two more Palestinians.
Firing tear gas, rubber bullets and then live ammunition, soldiers injured more than 100 Palestinians. One rubber bullet struck the head of a teenager, who later died in surgery; another pierced the eye and brain of a man, who died after hours in a coma, hospital workers said.
Those rubber bullets strike me as a very interesting phenomenon, a way of applying lethal force at close range while representing to the world that you are being merciful.
Israel has a dual identity like that rubber bullet. To the American Jews of my childhood, it was the "Jewish nation", meaning a nation of old restored, with its special compact with God. To Israelis it is often-- albeit privately--something much different. There is what has been described as a "Tel Aviv" culture entirely distinct from the nationalist Jerusalem culture. Journalist Robert Rosenberg, a long time resident of Israel, wrote in 1995 in a piece entitled Jerusalem 3,000: A Dissenting View from Tel Aviv (http://ariga.com/peacebiz/edits/j3000.htm):
If not for the life and death issues at stake, the celebrations of Jerusalem's 3,000 birthday would seem farcical.
The boosterism around the possession of the city has been practically fetishist since 1967, with undying claims to the eternity of Jerusalem as the Jewish capital more often than not meaning to the exclusion of others....Yes, Jerusalem has meaning to the religious. But Tel Aviv is the spiritual center of the State of Israel...
A Tel Aviv businessman said to me in 1999, "Land? Who needs it, let them have it." He wanted the Palestinians off his back in order to pursue secular concerns like the growth of a technology business. Fighting with the Palestinians is bad for business. Similarly, in 1967, Defense Minister Dayan had no problem making the rule that Jews were not to pray in the Temple Mount: to him the whole area was of merely archaeological and cultural interest.
The tour guide who took me to Jerusalem in July 1999 explained the origins of the special place the Orthodox hold in Israeli life. Israel was founded as a secular nation, but wanted a religious overlay to bolster its legitimacy in the eyes of the world. Ben Gurion, who was secular, granted a special status to anyone studying in Yeshiva: to this day the Orthodox receive state subsidies and do not have to serve in the Army. According to Tommy the tour guide, the exemption only applied to a few hundred men in 1949; Ben Gurion did not forsee the size of the class the nation would end up supporting. Israel is full of Orthodox men who do not work for a living because they are studying, for years on end, at the yeshivah, are supported by taxpayer's money, do not serve in the army, and pay no taxes because they have no income. People like the Tel Aviv businessman and my tour guide regard them as freeloaders, always stirring up trouble but who do not have to pick up a gun to end it.
Here is the complete irony and duality of the Israeli condition: America sells helicopter gunships to the secular, who use them to end trouble started by the nationalist-religious right, whom the U.S. would never trust with helicopters. And the Palestinians, as in the CNN news clipping above, are on the receiving end twice: first, shot by a settler; then shot by the Army coming in to "restore order".
Israel is discovering that you cannot have a secular democracy based on an official state religion and with a rabid religious nationalism peeking out of the cloak. No, not and rule over Arabs. This is not an easy problem to solve, but no permanent solution to the struggle over the issues raised by Al-Aqsa can be found unless the problem of Israeli identity is solved first.
Once you have peeled away the religious-sentimental-nationalist overlay--a very heady and dangerous mixture--what is left is very disturbing. One of the major revelations of my youthful struggle with the question of how to think about Israel was that Israel was not merely allied to South Africa; Israel itself WAS a South Africa, with mythic pretensions.
Remember that Herzl was very much in favor of accepting the British gift of Uganda. The newly launched country needed the religious as a cloak, as without them the moral justification for the foundation of a state by stealth and force was entirely lacking. What you have without the myth is merely a group of young, energetic military types, without too many scruples, who seized a country for themselves. In the last time on earth, apparently, when such things were still possible.
None of the moral justifications for the state of Israel stand up to much examination. Having had a country before, and lost it, either is not a legitimate foundation, or would require us to restore nationhood to numerous other dispossessed groups, starting with the American Indians. If we were giving land back to people who had it two thousand years ago, we would award most of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East to the Italians, as the heirs of the Romans. If your pulse quickens and you become indignant as a result of that last statement, you are certainly about to make some argument about the special Jewish relationship to God and to the land, the Old Testament, etc. If you sincerely believe what you are saying--are an Orthodox Jew and a fundamentalist-- there is no use in arguing because we will not convince each other. But, if you grew up secular like me, and you nevertheless are about to make such a statement, then shame on you. You are mouthing empty excuses, statements which take the place of meaning rather than communicating any. Being the "people of the book" is all well and fine, but is a complete nonsequitur when you try to translate it into an argument for land.
We Americans are quite unaware of the rhetoric of early Zionists such as Vladimir Jabotinsky, who wrote in 1923:
Zionism is a colonizing adventure and therefore it stands or falls by the question of armed force. It is important to build, it is important to speak Hebrew, but, unfortunately, it is even more important to be able to shoot--or else I am through with playing at colonization.
A completely neutral arbitrator--you would probably have to go to Mars to find one-- asked to decide the ownership of the Temple Mount would certainly award it to the Arabs. They have been there for centuries; Jewish occupation of the site ended two millenia ago, and (if it matters) the Jews were dispossessed by Romans, not Arabs.
Walter Bernstein, in his memoir Inside Out, describes a visit to Palestine in 1942, when he first heard the slogan "A Land Without People for a People Without Land." He describes the rhetoric of the time: the Arab occupants of Palestine hardly existed; they deserved no consideration; they would blow away like dust.
In all fairness to Israelis, what they have tried to do is no different than what any other modern nation did to get itself started. There is always some inconvenient group of people you either have to kill or drive off because they're in the way. We did it here to the Indians; French killed Protestants; English wiped out Irish and other Catholics in the Civil War and after. The problem with Israel is that the other nations did it between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, while the Israelis are facing the "Palestinian problem" in an era of mass media and war crimes trials. As Slobodan Milosevic discovered.
In the end, Israel must establish a new legitimacy, one that appeared to have started in the new relationship between Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat: a legitimacy based on acceptance by its neighbors and not on any nationalist or religious myth. Only the Arabs, and particularly the Palestinians, can legitimate Israel. Everything else is real-politik and force, as in "we're here, we have helicopter gunships and you have to deal with us."
It never seemed clear to me that Arafat could be a partner for peace. In the seventies, as horrifying incidents of Arab terrorism occurred almost daily, I wondered how people so accustomed to killing would function if they ever became responsible for founding a nation. I thought at the time that they would not be able to renounce their old ways and would start killing one another as a way of resolving political difficulties.
Now that the media officially views Yasser Arafat as a statesman, you have to do a bit of digging to turn up information on the actions of his Al Fatah group in earlier decades. Here are a few examples of what I found.
On May 25, 1965, three Israeli civilians were killed in an Al Fatah attack on a Jewish settlement at Ramat Hakovash, Israel. On March 18, 1968, an Israeli school bus hit a land mine planted by Al Fatah, killing two adults and injuring twenty-eight children. On November 22, 1969, Al Fatah terrorists bombed Mahaneh Yehudah market in Israel, killing twelve civilians. On March 11, 1975, nine members of Yasser Arafat's Al Fatah group landed by boat in Israel and hijacked a bus, killing twenty-six civilians before being slain by Israeli security forces.
In a perfect world, the killers would fade away, back to the farm like Cincinnatus, and leave the peace to the peaceful. In our imperfect world, I suppose if you must deal with a killer, you want a "moderate" like Arafat, who seems genuinely to want to go out as a statesman. The moral distinctions between Arafat and many of those on the Israeli side over the years are not profound. Yitzhak Shamir, as I mentioned above, plotted the murder of Count Bernadotte; Menachem Begin commanded the Irgun at a time of massacres. Ehud Barak himself has led raids against Palestinian groups, including a famous one in which he dressed in drag and carried explosives in his purse.
There are times when it is easy to think that Palestinians and Israelis deserve one another. Arafat and any Israeli leader at a table: two violent realpoliticians trying to make peace, not because it is moral but because it is practical. Good for business.
Although Palestine, under Arafat, has not been as violent as I expected, even with the recent resumption of the intifadeh, it has not been a paradigm of democracy, civil liberty and growth either. He jails rather than murders internal adversaries, and there seems to be profound corruption as people around him get rich while the standard of living of the Palestinian population stays desperately poor.
Arafat, pressed on issues of civil liberties or democracy by colleagues, has reportedly replied, "Just let me get you a country--then you can decide how to run it."
Is the peace fair?
Most Americans, relieved by the commencement of the peace process, have probably never asked themselves the question whether the proposed settlements are fair to both parties.
Noam Chomsky's analysis (and he is not alone in thinking this way) is that the plan is immensely lop-sided:
This plan, extending US-Israeli rejectionist proposals of earlier years, called for cantonization of the territories that Israel had conquered in 1967, with mechanisms to ensure that usable land and resources (primarily water) remain largely in Israeli hands while the population is administered by a corrupt and brutal Palestinian authority (PA), playing the role traditionally assigned to indigenous collaborators under the several varieties of imperial rule: the Black leadership of South Africa's Bantustans, to mention only the most obvious analogue. In the West Bank, a northern canton is to include Nablus and other Palestinian cities, a central canton is based in Ramallah, and a southern canton in Bethlehem; Jericho is to remain isolated. Palestinians would be effectively cut off from Jerusalem, the center of Palestinian life. Similar arrangements are likely in Gaza, with Israel keeping the southern coastal region and a small settlement at Netzarim (the site of many of the recent atrocities), which is hardly more than an excuse for a large military presence and roads splitting the Strip below Gaza City. These proposals formalize the vast settlement and construction programs that Israel has been conducting, thanks to munificent US aid, with increasing energy since the US was able to implement its version of the "peace process" after the Gulf war.
(http://www.zmag.org/meastwatch/alaqsa.htm) (What a pleasure to quote Chomsky once in a while-- the most underreported of American public intellectuals, almost never mentioned in the mainstream press.)
Chomsky quotes Israeli journalist Amira Hass, writing in Ha'aretz on October 18:
Israel has security and administrative control [of most of the West Bank and 20% of the Gaza Strip and has been able] to double the number of settlers in 10 years, to enlarge the settlements, to continue its discriminatory policy of cutting back water quotas for three million Palestinians, to prevent Palestinian development in most of the area of the West Bank, and to seal an entire nation into restricted areas, imprisoned in a network of bypass roads meant for Jews only. During these days of strict internal restriction of movement in the West Bank, one can see how carefully each road was planned: So that 200,000 Jews have freedom of movement, about three million Palestinians are locked into their Bantustans until they submit to Israeli demands. The bloodbath that has been going on for three weeks is the natural outcome of seven years of lying and deception, just as the first Intifada was the natural outcome of direct Israeli occupation.
Why has Arafat accepted a "Bantustan" deal? One explanation is because it is "better to rule in hell than serve in heaven." Chomsky thinks that Arafat's support from the other Arab nations is very slight; they don't care about Bantustans and only awake when religious sites like Al-Aqsa are threatened. In a worst case, the jagged, isolated, dirt-poor Palestinian state will only be a foothold for a future war of expansion. Whether this is anyone's Machiavellian intention, the prospects are dimming that ordinary Palestinians, whose frustration is intense, will continue to accept a leadership that has brought no net benefit into their lives: just an initial illusion of liberty unaccompanied by any improvement in the quality of their lives.
Over the years, I have frequently heard Americans point at any incident of rock-throwing, let alone armed violence, as evidence that Palestinians are violent, impulsive, and unable to govern themselves, therefore unentitled to a state of their own.
Now more than ever, after so many decades of occupation, it is important to remember that Israel created these people. Most of the young people dying when Israelis fire bullets (rubber or otherwise) in response to rocks were born under Israeli occupation: the bulldozing of houses, border closings ( three out of every ten days in 1996) that routinely leave Palestinians unable to get to their menial jobs in Israel (per capita annual income, $1700) violence symbolic and otherwise. Israel must take responsibility for the rageful class it has created.
No justice, no peace
Just above, I mentioned the possibility of a continued Palestinian war against Israel, using a newly declared nation as a foothold (much as Israel battled the Arab nations in 1948). This prospect may seem foolish when most Palestinians are armed with rocks and the Israelis have helicopters armed with missiles (Israel has just signed a deal to purchase 35 Blackhawks from the U.S.) However, as the intifadeh already demonstrated, and has been proven in other parts of the world in the twentieth century, rocks can trump helicopters.
Through-out the Palestinian areas, and even among some Israeli Arabs today, young men are grouping to provoke the Israeli army with stones with the perfect foreknowledge that some of them will die in every confrontation. The Israelis, who have diverged in recent years from their 1960's "paratrooper" image, have become Europeans: Tel Aviv businessmen interested in profits and economic growth, while a portion of the fanatical part of the population, the Yeshivah students, wants someone else to fight their battles. Israelis, like Americans, no longer are willing to die for nationalist myths, and therefore Israel lacks the will to destroy the Palestinians. But the only alternative is peace, and not a Bantustan peace, but a real one, based on justice.