Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Why Israel's sensless war should matter to you

Israel's most recent bombing and invasion of Gaza is that wonderful combination we got to know well during the Bush years of being simultaneously morally reprehensible and unthinkably stupid. There is no method to this madness, and there is no history of actions such as these ever, and I mean EVER, achieving any kind of peace or stability.

The response from the most politicians, Democratic and Republican, was extremely predictable in blindly supporting the Israeli government (Save the awesome reminder of why I was so passionate about working for Donna Edwards).

While I expect to read blindly pro-Israeli government nonsense in the mainstream media, the number of simplistic "a pox on both their houses" type pieces that started to appear all over the liberal blogs was a bit surprising. To see the places that wrote some of the most eloquent opposition arguments about the war in Iraq twist and turn their arguments on their head to support their indifference to Israel's actions was beginning to drive me insane.

Luckily, David Mizner stepped up with one of the best written essays on the Israel-Palestinian Conflict that I can remember titled "The I/P conflict is simpler than you think":

For progressives and liberals, I mean.

If you're a centrist or a liberal hawk (an oxymoron if there ever was one), if you believe terrorism is the transcendent evil of our time, the issue might be complex and fraught with ambiguity.

But if you believe people have the right to be free, if your sympathies lie with the relatively weak, if you believe military occupation breeds extremity and terrorism, if you believe in peace through peace as opposed to peace through pummeling, you have a clear position on this issue whether you realize it or not.

These last few weeks have made clear that in the opinion of many at Daily Kos, the enlightened position on the I/P conflict is no position. The conflict is so hopelessly complex and nuanced that it demands ambivalence, doubt, qualification. The smart person sits on the fence and criticizes both sides, whereas the person who has clarity on this issue is a zealot, an absolutist, an apologist for child killers.

Mizner goes on to explain his case for for opposing the occupation, using the broad terms that the discussion deserves:

The fundamental fact is that Palestinians are under the military domination of Israel. You can trace the history of this conflict back dozens--or, for that matter, thousands--of years, you can weigh competing historical claims to the land, you can try to figure out who was responsible for the failure of Oslo, but you will eventually arrive at this fact, and this fact should, if you're some kind of liberal, shape your position.

In the West Bank Israel's armed domination takes the form of an occupation, under which soldiers control the movement of Palestinians, seize their homes, and sporadically bombard them in the name of fighting militants. You know: an occupation. In Gaza the form of domination for the last couple of years has been a blockade that has reduced the area to, as Amnesty International put it, "bare survival." I'm sure some Gazans would prefer an outright occupation, what with the denial of lifesaving medical care and children eating grass. And that was before the latest attacks, which have killed hundreds.

Yet to read much mainstream coverage--and many diaries here--is to enter into a fantasy land where Israel's murderous and illegal militarized domination of the Palestinians doesn't exist. The uninformed would conclude that the Palestinians simply share a border with Israel.

Yet obviously, if you're a progressive, the fact of Israel's military domination of the Palestinians has to dictate your moral math. It's the responsibility of the occupier to stop occupying. Or if you prefer, people have to the right to live free from military domination. If you're a progressive, a believer in universal human rights and international law, you likely accept these precepts. You should. In demanding self-determination, Palestinians are not relying on archaic or secondary principles. As Edward Said put it:

This Palestinian insistence is no unique, decontextualized aberration; it is fully supported by every international legal and moral covenant known to the modern world.

The right to self-determination comes with few, if any, exceptions or qualifications. It supersedes all the interests of the occupying nation. Israel has a right to security, but if a Palestinian state were to emerge, the security of Israel, with its overwhelming military advantage and backing of the US, would not be in doubt. Israel would, of course, have the right to retaliate against an attack from a new Palestinian state, but there is no legal or moral justification for denying Palestinians their right to self-determination in the name of security. (Talk about preemptive war.) It would be terrific if a moderate, competent leadership emerged among Palestinians, but it's not incumbent on them to form a government to our liking anymore than it's incumbent on Iraqis to form a government to our liking as a condition for the US's withdrawal.

Indeed, it's virtually unimaginable that a people under occupation would produce a strong moderate leadership. Occupation, as we progressives know, breeds extremism, terrorism, and corruption. For Israel to demand a Palestinian government it admires and trusts as a condition for ending its occupation is like demanding that people you're drowning stop complaining before you shut off the water.

It's here that I'd like to take Mizner's argument a step further. While he goes on to describe the consensus behind the two state solution, I'd argue that is why our opposition to this war goes beyond helping execute an international consensus. Situations such as the civil wars in Sri Lanka or Niger Delta are particularly troubling because even with 100% attention from the US, we don't always hold a credible position with any of the actors who could make a difference. (Not implying that you shouldn't try in those situations, but just pointing out the difference in degree of difficulty)

But the difference with is Israel is that we are responsible for their actions. They are a self governing democracy, but as far as their foreign policy goes, we are the ones that fund it, and therefore control it. We give them billions of dollars of military equipment, far more than any other nation on earth, and we harbor responsibility for what they do with it.

When Israel dumps white phosphorous on Gaza, when they bomb a UN school sheltering refugees for the second time this week, and when their 10 days of attacks have left 500 dead and thousands injured, it was our money that helped that happen. It may not be pretty, but those are the facts.

But while it is unbelievably depressing, it also means that the United States is in (and has been since 1967) a unique position to stop this war and mediate a solution. The entire rest of the world agrees on the framework for a 2 state solution, and we control Israel's hand.

Against this type of progress are the pro war Israeli lobby, which might be more powerful than any other organization of it's kind in this country. What other organization could get the three leading presidential contenders of both parties to agree to essentially the same policies during the height of an extremely contentions election? Who else could get away with accusing two of our country's most well respected foreign policy scholars anti-Semites for writing a paper and then book about their lobby's strength?

There are bright spots too, such as the creation of a pro peace Jewish think tank "J Street" which is already doing an admirable job of combating the misinformation campaign about this current war, and public opinion in the US is beginning to move towards that of the rest of the world.

Changing our polices starts with educating yourself and spreading information among friends and within your communities. Call Congress and let them know that you care about how YOUR money is being spent. The more these issues are discussed and publicized, the greater the hope that we can end APIAC's stranglehold on US policy during our lifetimes.


  1. I just read it, will have more to comment once my classes are done;
    But good job,

    Have you posted in your diary on kos?

  2. Before I forget, have you seen anything out from the Obama admin regarding a strategy since the start of the war? I had only seen his speech right before and the "stock" promises a few days ago.

    Any new voices that aren't issuing the 'party' line?