Monday, January 31. 2005
Debbie Gordon sent me a letter following up on my blog post about her presentation Friday night. I asked to reprint part of her letter:
I went off on a slightly different tangent when Gordon's talk provoked me to think about the contradictions in the conjunction of the Jewish state and Democratic state concepts, especially now that we see a pronounced tendency in Israel toward "transfer" of non-Jews. This isn't a new tendency: it formally dates back to the 1937 Peel Commission proposal to partition Palestine and transfer the resulting minorities -- a proposal David Ben-Gurion rushed to embrace. Before then there were several major efforts to segregate Jews and Arabs in Palestine: the Land Trust prohibited sales of land from Jews to Arabs, so land transfer was a one-way street; the Jewish labor unions discriminated against Arab labor; perhaps most importantly, the increasing use of Hebrew created a linguistic divide and barrier. Britain's support for partition and transfer was shelved when the Arab Revolt of 1937-39 broke out. While the British, with the help of Jewish "self-defense" forces, brutally squashed the revolt, British policy toward Palestine became much more ambiguous from 1939 on, with the British actively working to restrict Jewish immigration at the same time as the Holocaust.
The 1947 U.N. partition plan was largely a rehash of the Peel plan, although as far as I know transfer was not officially part of it. Ben-Gurion's support for transfer was always tempered by his desire for acceptance and recognition by the Imperial powers, and by a very keen sense of what was possible at any given time. During the 1947-49 war for the most part he neither ordered nor restrained an expulsion policy -- Ramle and Lydda were notable exceptions, deemed critical because of their central position between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem -- maintaining the deniability that he needed to keep the Western powers from coming down on Israel. It is telling that Ben-Gurion opposed the 1967 war on the grounds that the Arabs on the lands that would be conquered would not flee this time.
Support for transfer in Israel waxes and wanes depending on the stress level and political isolation of Israel, which is probably at an all-time high right now -- it peaked following the death of the Peace Process, so skillfully orchestrated by the Barak-Sharon tag team, and the outbreak of what should have been called the Shaul Moffaz Intifada, since Moffaz was the one responsible for most of the violence. And while the violence has abated somewhat, in its place is a plateau of triumphalism that leaves Israel as morally isolated as ever, hanging by the thread of George W. Bush's own battered bluster. In effect, the conflict within Ben-Gurion's mind has been writ large across the Israeli political spectrum, without Ben-Gurion's own cunning to contain it. But this increase of extremist rhetoric from the now-not-so-far right is in many ways less troubling than the actual continuing efforts -- acts, not rhetoric -- to nudge the "facts on the ground" in directions that marginalize the Palestinians more than ever.
That is, of course, only one tendency among many in a complex and contradictory Israel. But what makes it so ominous is that the ground game is proceding with so little visibility, therefore so little opposition. An announcement was made last week that the 1951 law that enabled Israel to confiscate "abandoned" property would be invoked for property in Jerusalem. For many years now Israel has been quietly revoking Jerusalem residency permits to reduce the number of Palestinians who have legal rights to live in annexed Jerusalem. Now the other shoe drops: they lose their property too. Another recent move was to reinstate discriminatory practices to prevent land from being sold to Arabs, circumventing an Israeli court ruling. None of this is in response to violence or security issues: it's just everyday greed meant to take advantage of people without rights. In many ways it resembles a law passed in the U.S. in the '20s that invested Indian lands to private owners, who could then sell them to whites, further nibbling away at the reservation lands.
If we were to make a comparative study of colonial settler movements, we would find many failures and a few successes. One major success was the United States, where the native population was reduced over 90% and crowded into tiny patches of relatively undesirable (especially for agricultural purposes) land. There are many reasons why the Zionists face a much more difficult task, but two are likely to be their undoing: the Immigrant Americans figured when to stop pressuring the Natives, and the national identity of the U.S. was flexible and inclusive enough to permit Indians to leave their reservations and circulate in the larger society. These points provided a way to break out of the struggle, saving the Native Americans from extermination and/or saving the Immigrant Americans from perpetual war. Israel's identify as a Jewish/Democratic state makes this very difficult. The non-Jewish population under Israeli control is close to 50%, and trending against the Jews. On the other hand, Israel's military dominance is so complete that they can enforce the status quo indefinitely, so why should they let up? Who's going to make them? Any local revolt can be met with withering force. No external power can or would challenge them. And political logic, the almost automatic resort to force against fear, makes it virtually impossible for them to reform themselves.
The only escape that I can imagine is that the rest of the world might use their influence and favors to tip Israel toward a minimal set of acceptable reforms. Note here that I'm conceding that no power cannot force Israel to do something against the will of its people. Rather, you have to find some approach that leads to peace that the Israeli people can agree to. The obvious approach would be for Israel to give up the lands occupied in 1967. Israel would be no less secure from foreign attack behind the 1967 borders than they are now. It has long been clear that Israel's small minority of non-Jewish citizens pose no threat to the Jewish population. But this involves Israel giving up something it wants -- land, especially the West Bank (their Judea and Samaria). But doing so also gets rid of Israel's biggest problem, their potential majority of disenfranchised Palestinians, and that's a reason why a substantial number of Israelis already favor the deal. The question is, how much more favor would it take in order to convince a critical number of Israelis to make the deal? (Ignoring for now that other question, why would the world want to?)
Recent history has shown that Israel puts very little value on the prospect of peace as an incentive to give up anything, let alone land -- this stems as much from their expectations of hostility as from their drunkenness with war. On the other hand, Israel's economy depends much on aid from America -- both government and private. Take that away and they'd face a lower standard of living. There's no way that Israel can force America to pay tribute. And there are other sanctions -- trade restrictions, freezing foreign investments -- that provide a little leverage without inflicting irreversible damage. Incentives are also possible, like opening markets for Israeli products and investments. All that may or may not be enough, but nastier sanctions -- blockading ports and promoting starvation -- would backfire. More aggressive demands, like repatriation of the refugees, would also fail. A different solution to the refugee problem must be found -- like paying to resettle the refugees outside of Israel.
I have no hope that Bush will turn on Israel, even in a gentle sort of "tough love" approach, but I can think of plenty of reasons why he should. America's blank check support of Israel has only made us all the more culpable for Israeli injustices -- a fact that is only underscored as the U.S. adopts more and more of Israel's us-against-the-world tactics. Nothing would help the America's credibility, which is especially damaged in Iraq, than to champion a fair and just resolution for the Palestinians. But for that to happen, someone in Washington would have to grasp that the current approach is dysfunctional, and that a new direction is needed. Bush? When in history has a President shown himself to be more obtuse in the face of greater adversity?
Saturday, January 29. 2005
Last night was the third of three straight nights of events revolving around the politics of Israel. This one was a presentation by Debbie Gordon, a professor of Women's Studies at Wichita State University. Her primary research involves Palestinian women, so she has travelled to the West Bank a number of times. She had been in Ramallah during the recent elections there, so part of her talk reported on those events. She showed slides from her trip, and around them built a presentation called "Towards Peace or Cantonization of the West Bank? A Report from Ramallah."
The main thrust of her framework was to emphasize that Israel's appropriation of the West Bank and Gaza has been systematic, continuous and relentless ever since the immediate aftermath of the 1967 war. To this effect she showed maps starting with the 1967 Allon Plan, followed by the 1995 Oslo II map, the Camp Davis 2000 map, the Taba 2001 map, and a current map showing the actual and proposed paths of the separation fence. These were accompanied with quotes explaining the rationale of the Allon Plan -- that colonization of heavily populated parts of the West Bank and Gaza would be extremely difficult, but that they could be marginalized and ceded back to Jordan. The differences between the Allon Plan and the Oslo maps reflect the withdrawal of Jordan from any interest in occupying parts of the West Bank. With Jordan out of the picture, the best option for Israel was to get the PLO to step in and manage the densest Palestinian areas. Yasser Arafat's performance in that role presents a muddled record -- it seems likely that both sides felt they could play the peace game for their own purposes, but in the end Arafat's leadership wasn't skillful enough to overcome the pressure of settlement growth, economic isolation, security friction, and political duplicity that sunk the Peace Process. In its wake Sharon squeezed all the harder, grinding the Intifada down, isolating dense Palestine into concrete-walled open air jails, their economies becoming more and more destitute. At the same time, Gordon pointed out that the logic and rhetoric of the Israeli political class is becoming more brazen. She quoted Arnon Soffer on the rationale for unilateral separation -- i.e., Sharon's planned withdrawal of the Gaza settlements, which makes it possible to treat Gaza as a free fire zone. She quoted Benny Morris and Uzi Cohen as supporting "ethnic cleansing" of Palestinians -- one proposal was to give the Palestinians 20 years to leave, then forcibly remove any that failed to do so.
The above isn't a direct report of Gordon's presentation: I've interpolated a few formulations of my own, but we've discussed this many times before and have much the same understanding. One small difference of opinion is that she puts more weight on the importance of demographic factors driving the political factors, but there's little doubt that demographic fears haunt both sides. One way she illustrated this was to point out the inherent contradictions in the concept of Israel as a Jewish and Democratic state. We hear that line all the time, but usually misread it as meaning that Israel must preserve a Jewish majority in order to maintain a Jewish state, but perhaps we should think more clearly about what it means to be a Democratic state. Majority rule is actually only a small aspect of democracy. More important, and more telling, is that a democracy must respect the rights of all of its citizens. The only way a Jewish state can do this is if there are no non-Jews. As Gordon pointed out, this idea is expressed in the old saw, "a land without people for a people without land." In case of the real Israel that has always been a myth, but it can also be viewed as a dream, an ideal, a program pointed toward genocide -- as the Soffer and Cohen quotes make clear.
Whether this will happen is an open question. There are various forces leaning against it. Gordon quoted Tommy Lapid warning that Israel is risking becoming as estranged from the world as South Africa during the late apartheid era. She could have quoted Sharon himself on the need to act before the world starts to dictate new policies to Israel. The death of Arafat and the election of Mahmoud Abbas as his successor opens up other possibilities, including that Bush's harried but oft-proclaimed commitment to democracy in the middle east will limit Sharon's options. If Abbas can demilitarize the Intifada world opinion will shift in favor of Palestinian rights, which may tie Israel's hands. On the other hand, Abbas' political career depends on delivering tangible improvements in the daily lives of Palestinians, and Israel has many options to undermine him. If the U.S. doesn't follow through on its commitments to support Abbas -- and I can't think of anyone in the world who'd make a less dependable sponsor than George W. Bush -- Israel can wait him out, then move on the next tactical mistake.
The Q&A session that followed raised a number of interesting issues. In particular, Gordon talked at some length about how WSU mishandled the Emily Jacir exhibit, especially why she thought the administration went out of its way to make trouble for itself by totally misunderstanding the political issues surrounding the exhibit. She mentioned that she's going to write a paper on that affair. Looking forward to that.
Shortly after we moved to Wichita (I was born here) in 1999, we attended a presentation that Gordon gave to the same organization (the Global Learning Center) based on a similar trip to the West Bank. It is interesting to compare both the lecture and the Q&A between then and now. The audiences were very similar -- in many cases the same people. But there's been a pretty substantial shift from then to now in terms of the sophistication of everyone's understanding of these issues. Tonight's presentation was far more radical than the one five years ago. It was also far more readily understood and accepted. That's one small bit of progress during a time when there's not a lot of that to go around.
Friday, January 28. 2005
Amidst all the hype surrounding elections in Iraq, I'd like to make several points. Some of these should be stories, but I don't hear any of them in the mainstream press.
One other non-story I'm very curious about is what were the negotiations that lured ABC and others into covering the election story from Iraq, where they are effectively hostages on U.S. military bases, being force-fed U.S. propaganda. I watched Peter Jennings' coverage last night, and I'm not sure when I've ever seen such shameless toadying.
Thursday, January 27. 2005
We went to see a slide show tonight presented by Emily Jacir, a Palestinian-American artist. Some of her work is being exhibited at the Ulrich Museum at Wichita State University, starting a little over a week ago, so her visit today is in conjunction with the exhibit. There was also to be a reception and talk at the gallery, which fizzled out due to plane delays.
To back up a little bit, it should be noted that her exhibit has been a political hot potato here. The Ulrich is controlled by a Foundation that is more/less independent of the University, and evidently some donors connected to the foundation objected to the exhibit, arguing that Jacir's Palestinian sympathies would present an unfair, biased, and hostile view of Israel, and that if the exhibit is shown there the Ulrich ought to provide space for a "balancing" pro-Israeli viewpoint. This debate simmered in private for a number of months before it finally boiled over, generating a lot of publicity including as many as a dozen letters published in the Wichita Eagle. In my notebook (Jan. 3, 2005) I quoted and commented on one such letter, from Rabbi Nissim Wernick, which included the following: "I previewed this so-called 'art,' and I found it outrageously inflammatory and blatantly false. . . . For hundreds of years, anti-Semites in Europe and the Middle East blamed Jews for all their troubles. This exhibit of Palestinian-American artist Emily Jacir's artwork uses the same big lie technique against the Jewish state of Israel. I hope the good people of Wichita see the work for what it is: a blatant anti-Semitic attempt to breed hatred." Ultimately, those attacking the exhibit backed down from their demand for a counter-exhibit, although they continued to publicly attack Jacir, and were handing out leaflets outside the gallery tonight. More about that later.
Jacir was born in 1970 in Bethlehem. I don't have all of the biographical details, but she lived in Saudi Arabia and possibly elsewhere as a child. She studied art in the U.S., in Memphis and Dallas, and became a U.S. citizen. Consequently, she is able to travel in Israel with relatively few restrictions. She lives in New York and Ramallah. Her slide show gave us a general overview of her work, which is much more extensive than the small exhibit shown in the Ulrich gallery. Some examples:
The exhibit actually on display at the Ulrich, which provoked all this ruckus, is called "Where We Come From." The work is based on a question which Jacir asked of various Palestinians in the occupied territories and exile: "If I could do anything for you, anywhere in Palestine, what would it be?" Jacir then took these questions and traveled in Israel, attempting to fulfill the requests. Each one is then turned into an exhibit piece, consisting of two pieces. One is a card in English and Arabic with the question and details as to why the person is unable or afraid to do the deed. Matched with each card is a photograph (or two, or in one case a video) documenting Jacir's fulfillment of the request. The requests are mostly mundane: "Go to Gaza and eat Sayadryeh." "Go to my mother's grave in Jerusalem on her birthday and put flowers and pray." One of the more provocative ones is, "Go to Haifa's beach at the moment of the first light, take a deep breath and light a candle in honor of all those who gave their lives for Palestine."
Jacir's work has a political dimension to it, but I believe that much of the political charge that surrounds it comes not from the work but from the atmosphere. "Where We Come From" is itself pretty innocuous. The pictures of ordinary things have no political content in themselves; that only comes from the cards, which set the context. And the cards are dominated by the questions, which come first, rather than the explanations, which are smaller, below, and matter-of-fact. If this be propaganda, it is unusually subtle. To describe it as a "big lie," as Rabbi Warnick did, and associate it with the long, sordid history of anti-semitic big lies -- blood libel, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Nazi propaganda -- is preposterous. For one thing, there is very little mention here of Israel, even less of Jews. But then Jacir doesn't have to introduce them into her art -- they dwell in the ether.
I don't doubt that Jacir intends to draw a political point, nor that that political point is sharply critical of Israel. But what I see her doing in her art is attempting to draw contrasts in her own life experiences, where being Palestinian looms large, and inevitably orients her toward politics, if for no other reason that that politics won't let Palestinians be. You need no more proof of that than to note that as far away from her native land as Wichita is from Bethlehem she finds herself pummeled with pamphlets screaming, "Wichita State University is presenting this art exhibit by Emily Jacir that is defamatory to the State of Israel. . . . Our intention is to call upon all peace loving individuals to see this exhibit for what it is: A hate filled, inflammatory, anti-Israel display." The sad fact is that the hate is not inside the gallery, where we might examine it as estranged artifact; rather, the hate is in the streets, where it can do the most harm.
The more interesting question is why are the people who handed out these pamphlets so hysterical about such a subtle rebuke of Israel? They obviously have seen the exhibit, since the inner pages of the pamphlet go piece-by-piece explaining the travel restrictions with lines like: "Inconvenience caused by the Intifada"; "By his own admission, he is a security risk"; "If Egypt won't let you in, why should Israel." They also provide an insert on "the cause of the Palestinian refugee problem," where they claim that the work of Benny Morris and Ilan Pappe has been "thoroughly discredited"; explain how the decline in the Arab population of Haifa from 62,500 to "almost nothing" was purely the Arabs' fault ("both the Haifa Jewish leadership and the Hagana went to great lengths to convince the Arabs to stay"); deny that Palestinians who received Jordanian citizenship should be counted as refugees; criticize the other Arab countries for "keeping Palestinian refugees in festering poverty, all the better to use them as a weapon against Israel"; and argue that as many Jewish refugees were created in Arabic lands, which Israel went to great expense and sacrifice to integrate.
These are all points that we can argue until we're all blue in the face. I've read quite a bit about the subject, and thought about it to the point where I think I can make sense out of what happened and why, and have some practical ideas for making the situation a good deal better. For what little it's worth I started out from a view that was very favorable to Israel and I've wound up with a view that is very critical. There are simply too many facts that show that what is happening today under Israeli control is manifestly unjust, and that the political leadership of Israel is locked on a course to make things worse rather than better. It bothers me greatly that so many Jews in America, especially ones who on most other issues are more reasonable and fair-minded than most non-Jews here, have developed such an extraordinary blind spot to what Israel is doing.
But what does this have to do with Jacir's art? When she poses mundane questions like why can't a Palestinian go visit his mother still living in Israel, or his mother's grave if she's passed on, the only real argument she's making is for fundamental decencies in human life. The irony of treating this question as an attack on Israel is that it is so easy for an Israeli Jew rephrase the same question. But the fierce charges in the atmosphere and the burning memory of so many historical injustices keeps way too many Israelis and way too many Palestinians from appreciating the mundane. They are locked in a dance of destruction, one that kills oneself as much as it kills the other. I'd like to think that Jacir's art, by moving the focus from the political to everyday things, might subvert this dance.
Some bad luck yesterday. A helicopter crash in western Iraq killed 31 U.S. Marines. A train wreck in California killed 13 commuters. But it is worth recalling what Branch Rickey used to teach: luck is the residue of design.
Reports are that the helicopter wasn't shot down by Iraqi patriots, as dozens of other U.S. helicopters have been. Rather, it flew into a cloud of dust or sand, disorienting the pilot, who plowed it into the ground. But note that the helicopter was flying at night, the pilot depending on night vision apparatus. The reason, of course, was to avoid becoming one of the dozens of U.S. helicopters shot down by Iraqi patriots. But more than that it's worth noting that the troops were being transported by helicopter because it wouldn't have been safe to just drive where they were going. They took the safest option they had, and now they're dead.
But that's war, and war is always a risk, even though U.S. casualties thus far have been relatively light considering the intensity of the fighting there. The U.S. military works so hard at minimizing casualties that it never occurs to them that they may have just been lucky, or that a few turns of luck the other way (such as the twenty-some killed in that mess tent in Mosul) might start to balance the scales.
The train wreck in California is freakier: someone parked a truck on a train track; the train that hit it derailed and hit another train. The guy who caused the wreck seems to have been disturbed and suicidal, but the wreck itself happened because nobody expected it to happen, and the real destructive force came not from the truck but from the trains. This, too, is a sort of balancing of the scales: the potential for such a wreck has long existed, and becomes more likely and more deadly as a number of factors increase: the speed and inertia of trains, the number and size of trucks, disturbed and possibly suicidal (or homicidal) people. Given enough chances, the possible is bound to happen.
There are differences between these events. The crash in Iraq was the unforseen (or discounted) consequence of deliberate political decisions, and as such could easily have been avoided. The crash in California would have been much harder to avoid, since the many decisions that made it increasingly likely were for the most part made reflexively (if at all), just merging into the blur of more people moving faster with less time to consider consequences. As James Gleick argued in Faster, this is merely the temper of the times. But the overall shape of this increasing complexity and its manifest risks are things that thoughtful, responsible people could analyze and work on. Thomas Homer-Dixon wrote about how the near future is going to be dominated by the need to solve problems much like this train wreck, and his fears that we might not be up to the task. He called that book The Ingenuity Gap. Everyday life in America is so full of these risks that you'd think we'd be furiously concentrating on them, but the one organization that people look to for help in times of crisis (cf. the hurricanes and tsunamis much in the news lately) has its head stuck up its ass in Iraq, while back in Washington the news is focused on rewarding incompetents and criminals, while the administration tries to figure out how to bust Social Security -- about the only significant piece of the government that is demonstrably not broken.
If Branch Rickey is right, and he's one guy I'd never bet against, the residual luck of this administration is going to be bad, bad, bad, . . .
The U.S. Senate approved Condoleezza Rice as U.S. Secretary of State yesterday. The newspaper today noted that the thirteen dissenting votes were a modern era record for Secretary of State designates, eclipsing the seven who voted against Henry Kissinger. Both earned their disapproval by working as National Security Advisers, contributing to acts that only be described as war crimes. The difference was that Kissinger was clearly the architect of the Nixon administration's policies: overthrowing Allende and establishing the fascist Pinochet regime in Chile, cynically broadening the Vietnam war to convert it into a cold war poison pill, triggering the chain of events that led to genocide in Cambodia, exploiting Iran and Israel as American tools in the middle east. Rice's role in the Bush administration is far harder to estimate. Her only public function over the last four years has been to spread disinformation -- what in less politically correct periods of history we used to call "lies." Whether she did anything else in private (and she's been notoriously private) is hard to discern, but the Bush administration's record has been so completely disastrous that her prospects are very limited: she can be dismissed as ineffective on anything she might have gotten right, and should be opposed for everything else that she went along with.
Rice strikes me as one of those people who are thought to be smart because lots of other people say they're smart. The most famous example of this was Edward Teller, who despite the accolades of genuinely brilliant people like Richard Feynman never actually accomplished anything of note in physics. Of course, Rice can't be compared to Teller, any more than George Schultz can be compared to Feynman. Rice's academic field, Soviet Studies, is considerably less rigorous than nuclear physics. In fact, almost nothing academics (not to mention the CIA) thought they knew about the Soviet Union in the '80s has turned out to be true. But Rice built a wildly successful academic and political career of astonishing vacuity out of that intellectual dustbin, significantly boosted by politicians who found her useful. But her act has worn thin over the last four years. Had Bush lost, she would be history. But in a country dumb enough to elect Bush President she qualifies for Secretary of State. Just goes to prove one of David Ogilvy's maxims: "First rate people hire first rate people; second rate people hire third rate people."
On his recent album (Street's Disciple), Nasir Jones (dba Nas) has a song where he tries to analyze Rice, ultimately concluding, "I don't get this chick." Maybe there's nothing there to get.
Wednesday, January 26. 2005
We went to a panel discussion tonight, "Prospects for Peace: A Conversation With Israeli Jews and Arabs." On the panel was David Leichman and Fouad Salman, both Israeli citizens, one a Brooklyn-born Jew, the other a native Palestinian. Leichman is Executive Director of an "educational park" at Kibbutz Gezer, near Ramle. Salman works for U.S.A.I.D., supervising U.S.-funded projects in Gaza and the West Bank. The two, along with Salman's father-in-law Samir Dabit (present but not speaking), have hosted an annual private party to get Jews and Arabs together informally. They came to the U.S. to facilitate a similar party in Kansas City.
The panel mostly consisted of Q&A. Both men supported two states divided at the 1967 borders, with a complete withdrawal of Israeli settlements from the occupied territories, and a Palestinian capitol in East Jerusalem. Where they differed most significantly was in their body language. Leichman was confident, disarming, in complete control, and a bit full of himself. Salman looked like he was being compressed under a huge weight. Some of the difference can be attributed to Leichman's advantage in English -- he is a native speaker, whereas Salman is not -- and some may be due to Leichman's evidently greater experience in public forums; some may merely be personality, but despite their evident friendship and mutual respect their bearing attested to their different roles in a severely inequal nation. Salman dutifully spoke at some length about the necessity that Mahmoud Abbas be able to suppress violence against Israel. Leichman spoke about how Sharon's proposed removal of settlements in Gaza should be viewed as a "confidence building measure," while viewing peace as the long-term process of cultural adjustment.
While Leichman has a point there, this reminds me of the tactical differences between Branch Rickey and Bill Veeck when it came to breaking the color barrier in major league baseball. Rickey came up with a clever, visionary scheme to build a consensus for integration, even going so far as to imagine that once the Dodgers saw how great Jackie Robinson was they'd beg Rickey to keep him on the team. That didn't happen, and Rickey wound up having to trade a couple of his star players to restore team peace. Veeck, on the other hand, gave any dissenters on the Indians only one option if they didn't like the idea of Larry Doby joining their team: a one-way ticket to AAA Toledo. Nobody took him up on the offer, and the case was closed. I have to admit that I have a natural preference for consensus-building, but in as polarized a situation as ending racial segregation in the U.S., or occupation and terrorism in Israel-Palestine, it would be a lot easier if someone just laid down the law.
One thing I found disturbing about both speakers, but especially Leichman, was their bewilderment when confronted with the bare facts of the occupation. They seemed to treat two states as a done deal, that the Palestine Authority was a de facto government which can and should be held accountable for the acts of its people. I don't doubt that there is some room for confusion at this point, and I certainly don't have a grasp on the distinctions between who controls what in areas A, B and C, especially after the wreckage caused by Sharon's repeated interventions. But the overwhelming coercive power of the occupation must persist, if not in the micromanagement of the pre-PA years at least in Israel's immense capacity to isolate and/or destroy. One wonders whether even the smartest of Israel's citizens haven't been sheltered from or blinded to that reality.
Salman's frustration was most evident in his argument that in order for peace to come the material welfare of Palestinians has to improve. He sees the A.I.D. projects as trying to serve that purpose, so their inevitable failure in the wake of violence is tragic. He's right to an extent, but one should also realize that those projects are intended to buttress the status quo; the people who strive to wreck them understand full well that what they are fighting is the status quo, and they believe that matters more than the temporary welfare of the people. Same thing is going on in spades in Iraq. The real question is what the people who suffer believe. One thing we should have learned by now is that people all over the world are willing to accept a lot of pain in order to fight what they view as injustice.
Two more striking things about the discussion. One was that several of the Arabs present in the audience made broad rhetorical efforts to restate the position that Judaism and Islam have common roots tracing back to Abraham, and that this is reflected in the respect and tolerance that Islam has displayed toward Jews throughout history. This argument builds toward a "why can't we be friends?" where implicit answer is that the Jews, lacking any reciprocal recognition of Islam, insist on excluding Arabs, whereas the Arabs' long track record of including Jews shows that their dominance would inevitably be more just. One problem with this argument is that it is intrinsically patronizing, and that's precisely the sort of offense that digs deep into a Zionist's skin. The other problem is that the Palestinians never had the real political power to show the Zionists any beneficence. Even in the Ottoman period Palestine was ruled by Turks who were being pecked to death by European powers. After the Ottoman Empire fell Britain took over, so Jewish immigrants had every reason to curry favor with the new rulers by playing up their Europeanness, and by systematically isolating themselves from natives.
The other thing was when Leichman made a passionate defense of Zionism as the necessary fulfillment of the national aspirations of the Jewish people. He attempted to tie together the entire history of the Jews as an aspiration to return to their ancestral land, to speak their own language, to build their own distinctive national culture, which could only be achieved by the establishment of the Jewish state of Israel. I've seen bits and pieces of this argument elsewhere, but never seen it articulated so forcefully, even though he had a few unorthodox filips (he credited the Yiddish culture in Poland as comparable), contradictions and caveats (he insisted that Palestinians also have legitimate national aspirations and rights, and that while one cannot compromise on rights one can certainly compromise on real estate).
I personally find the whole argument for national aspirations tied to dominance over a specific land to be bizarre -- we tend to naturalize where we come from, and a nation like the United States is merely a representation of the people who happen to live here, their culture, religion, even language mostly a matter of personal choice, often idiosyncratically so. But Leichman's outburst goes to the core of the assertion that it matters that Israel is a Jewish state, not merely a state where lots of Jews live in security with full rights. The one thing one must concede here is that the argument, even if it is structured like myth, has the force of belief behind it, turning it into a tangible social fact -- one that could be an obstacle to peace and justice, but needs to be reconceived as a hurdle.
The evolution of this website has been driven by two major goals:
At first I added static webpages whenever the notion occurred to me. Those pages grew into an ungainly sprawl, each one adding to the overhead of organization. Then I decided I needed a simpler framework for writing -- at least to get rough ideas down before attempting to form them into finished pieces. This led to the "notebook" -- a file that I kept open on my home system, adding dated entries as they occurred to me. The notebook would then be compiled and uploaded, making a delayed appearance on the web. Aside from the delays, one problem with this was that I tended to file things in the notebook just to keep track of them, regardless of possible public interest.
Among those entries were a number of relatively polished political essays -- things that I did want more people to read, as opposed to the bulk of the notebook, which is mostly for me and only occasionally of interest to others. So I created a new website, Notes on Everyday Life, and backported almost four years of such pieces to the blog there. However, that particular software toolset turns out not to work very well as a blog. It's really a news system, with synopses of articles on the front page, rather than letting the entries just spool out. It also has a narrow focus and a rather impersonal design. One sign that neither the notebook nor NOEL were working as a blog is that none of my friends ever bothered linking to either. That's when I came up with the idea of finding a relatively conventional piece of blog software and using it as the homepage for
My plan here is to write more/less informal public-oriented messages and notices into the blog here, where they will appear immediately. I'll still keep the notebook going, but just for notes. Not sure what the status of NOEL will be, but it could become a more collaborative tool, with others contributing pieces. I also hope to do a major reorganization of the other things on the website, which will be accessible through the links and a sitemap (to be done). So this is the first entry, with more to follow.