Monday, December 21, 2009

Who is to Blame in the Israel Palestine Debate

My friend Richard Landes takes one view -Augean Stables : News Media, Arab Honor-Shame, and Operation Cast Lead: The Failures of Cognitive Egocentrism

Richard it is entirely impossible to avoid the provocation and sheer bad faith showed by every Israeli government since 1987 on land transfers etc. These in my opinion have produced the actions which Israel is now reaping. To say that is not to justify Hamas actions, but say Israel is an unfair actor also.

In Northern Ireland before 1969 the UK sat back and allowed the landed Protestant elite along with a majority Protestant urban-work force (which excluded Catholic workers from decent jobs) to establish a Protestant state, which limited Catholic but not Protestant votes to householders only; gerrymandered any still possible seat with a Catholic majority; set up a almost exclusively Protestant police force; established segregated housing and had para-National organizations and newspapers which engaged in continual efforts designed to belittle and the Catholics. [For example efforts to ban Catholic symbols, but to aggressively assert Orange symbols, such as the July marches past Catholic churches.]

Did any of this justify the 1969 Catholic Civil Rights uprising, or the response of the IRA when the British troops sent it to Ulster fired on Catholic marchers? Yes to the Civil Rights marches but no to the terrorism. The IRA had no right to bomb the center of my home city (Manchester), shoot soldiers in British pubs, or set off bombs in Ireland. But the reaction by elements in the Catholic Community can be explained - Protestant Ulster and the larger United Kingdom truly reaped what they sowed. I see precise analogies to Israel and its treatment of Palestinians here.

I would prefer a one-state solution in the area as I think states should recognize all their citizens equally. Clearly that is not desired by almost anyone there (there are too many hatreds), so a just two-state solution is the one which good people need to work for. I oppose efforts by Hamas to oppose this, and regret the collapse of Fatah. I oppose all violence by such groups. But I also think Israeli efforts to usurp West Bank land is the primary driver of the efforts of the resistance.

Israel has had the upper hand since 1967. It has been, under all parties in government, consistent in attempting to grab more and more parts of the West Bank.

It is true it has a free press, a court system, and a vital internal debate. But that internal debate is very narrow, and seems to have become much darker due to the growth of Haredi politics, religious Zionism, and the peculiarly selfish politics of the Russian immigrants.

Of course Hmas firing rockets at Sderot was wrong; of course the use of suicide bombers was wrong; but the seething violence of Palestinian politics is above all a reaction to Israeli oppression.

From my view it is Israel that is the *defining* actor and other countries and the USA need to pressure it to act better.

[Most typos corrected, I hope.]

8 comments:

Richard Landes said...

then how do you explain the seething rage of "palestinian" (really arab) politics before 1967 and the occupation?

it's not about some land, or the 48-67 borders which the arabs never considered real, it's about the existence of a dhimmi state that's declared its independence and constitutes a standing loss of face for the muslim and arab world.

this is a matter of honor and shame for them, not rational western notions like sovereignty (theirs, which they never had and even now don't want enuf to be willing to share it with an independent sovereign israel), nor about nationhood (a foreign import of limited significance -- "arab nationalism" is a generic).

it's not about the greenline, it's about the shoreline.

this is surely something that you (and i) as medievalists should be attuned to.

i'd be very interested in your take on my essay The Arab Israeli Conflict and Honor-shame Dynamics.

Randy said...

"Dhimmi state"?

Israel is a country of mass European immigration, just like Uruguay or New Zealand or South Africa. Yes, Jews lived in substantial numbers in Israel/Palestine in the late 19th century, but they only constituted a small minority. If you disagree, then perhaps you'll support Canadian claims to the northern tier of New England on the grounds of _those_ regions' historical Canadian presence.

You don't need to bring in dhimmis when it's perfectly possible to describe Palestinian hostility towards Israel in secular terms, i.e. Israel created a Jewish majority on its territory by ethnically cleansing its Arab populations, Muslim and Christian both.

SShendeR said...

Randy,

If there's something that history has taught us, it is that success is only achieved by compromise. Too bad the Arabs never quite accepted that paradigm.

The Jews deserved to have their own country long ago, and lack thereof culminated in the worst genocide in history during WWII. Palestine had always had a special place in the hearts of Jews, and it was only natural that this tiny speck of land be ceded for just such an enterprise. In fact, if I recall correctly, Jews WERE THE MAJORITY within the proposed Jewish state both in 37 and later in 48, so your argument that they constituted just a small minority falls short.

If we concede that the Jews had a right (or one might argue had earned themselves a right) to at least part of Palestine, and given that all future expansions and land-grabs were the result of Arab aggression, I fail to how exactly the myth of the colonialist usurpers has any value at all.

I reckon you underestimate the influence that the notion of non-Muslims governing over Mulsim land and people has in Islam and the Arab psyche. But the fact remains that the overwhelming majority of Arabs would rather see themselves governed by Arab despots and living in squalor, than be a minority in a free, democratic and prosperous, albeit non-Muslim, country. This is something that most westerners find hard to believe or understand, but it plays a crucial role in the perpetuation of the conflict, ranking high among other, more "down to earth" and pragmatic reasons.

Richard Landes said...

Randy,

you may prefer secular explanations, but that doesn't mean they're appropriate.

the single most consistent explanation for "palestinian" (really Arab) hostility to Israel has to do with the fact that Jews -- Sephardic or Ashkenazi -- should be dhimmis, should be degraded and subject, and their independence is not only intolerable, but sets a bad example for other dhimmi populations (and - horror of horrors - to women).

the "ethnic cleansing" to which you refer long post-dates the hostility of people like Haj Amin al-Husseini. indeed the refugees of 1948 resulted from that hostility.

finally, to make the point about dhimmi in a different register, the flight of Arab Christians from areas under Palestinian control in the last decades suggests that the (frustrated) ethnic cleansers in this area are Arab Muslims.

Randy said...

"The Jews deserved to have their own country long ago, and lack thereof culminated in the worst genocide in history during WWII. Palestine had always had a special place in the hearts of Jews, and it was only natural that this tiny speck of land be ceded for just such an enterprise."

I don't disagree that Palestine had a special place in the heart of Jews. I do disagree with you inasmuch as this means the individual and collective rights of the people already living there must be thrown out the window.

There's any number of places sacred to one population, claimed by one population, that have been inhabited in large part or in full for quite some time by another population--Kosovo with its Albanians comes quickly to mind re: Serbia, as does Northern Ireland with its Protestant majority re: Ireland. Does that mean that Serbia and Ireland have a right to assert their authority over these territories irrespective of what the majority populations want?

Besides, on these grounds the northern tier of New England should be Canadian, as heavily settled by Canadian immigrants and geographically adjoining as they might be.

"Jews WERE THE MAJORITY within the proposed Jewish state both in 37 and later in 48, so your argument that they constituted just a small minority falls short."

But not in mandatory Palestine as a whole, no? Going to the relevant Wikipedia article, in 1945 Jews formed a 31% minority in that territory, and a small--sometimes vasnishingly small--minority in some parts, in places like Hebron and Jenin and Nablus and Gaza. Immigration was the major driver in Jewish population growth, responsible for the annual Census-recorded annual growth rate of 8.6% that far surpassed Muslim and Christian growth rates.

"I fail to how exactly the myth of the colonialist usurpers has any value at all."

Inasmuch as people were already living there and weren't consulted as to whether they'd like to be citizens--subjects?--of a Jewish nation-state, the paradigm holds.

"the "ethnic cleansing" to which you refer long post-dates the hostility of people like Haj Amin al-Husseini. indeed the refugees of 1948 resulted from that hostility."

But why the hostility in the first place? Religious tensions do play a role, sure, but it's entire natural for an indigenous population to resent people who move into their lands, with superior resources and foreign support, with the intention of transforming it into "their" country.

"[T]o make the point about dhimmi in a different register, the flight of Arab Christians from areas under Palestinian control in the last decades suggests that the (frustrated) ethnic cleansers in this area are Arab Muslims"

1. Who says that Jews and Arabs can't be ethnic cleansers, to one degree or another in one circumstance or another? These aren't mutually exclusive situations, and one doesn't automatically exclude the other.

2. The disproportionate prominence of Christians in the Palestinian diaspora is in itself no more indicative of discrimination than the disproportionate representation of Palestinian Christian immigrants in the United States. By dint of religious and family connections, Palestinians Christians have more opportunities for emigration than their Muslim counterparts who, it should be noted, also live in a large and growing diaspora. Compare Lebanon, with its Christian population that has a long tradition of interaction with France and the North Atlantic world and a disproportionately Christian diaspora.

Paul Halsall said...

Well it's nice to be attacked personally a people who don't even use their own names on Richard's blog.

"Ray in Seattle" misses the point. I was not discussing British policy in Ireland over its history, but it's specific history in the six counties after partition.

I think the charge or cognitive egotism is so easily made as to be both meaningless and useless. It pertains certainly to much comment in the Muslim middle east, but equally to much Israeli opinion, and that of neo-cons in the US.

The basis issue I have, is one that Richard Goldberg expressed in his Atlantic blog. When I began supporting Israel in the 1970s (i.e. as soon as I was aware of the issues), I never expected the children of the shtetl to start acting like Cossacks.

Paul Halsall said...

Richard printed a response to this at http://www.theaugeanstables.com/2009/12/21/ireland-vs-israel-the-value-of-the-comparison/

[As a side note, it is a feature of conversation that it veers off. Just because someone says something to me does not require that I respond as expected. In fact, as I expect Mencius or Oscar Wilde, or someone equally quotable, once noted, it is a generic feature of conversation]

Paul Halsall said...

MY RESPONSE:

You do know, don’t you, that this guy’s account of 1947 is completely fallacious.

It is history according to Leon Uris.

The Yishuv before 1947 clearly established better (=massively more functional) state institutions, and that was why it won in 1947.

It’s major problem from a current standpoint is that it did not do so in Samaria or Judea (the historic homeland of the Jewish people), but near the sea and in Galilee (which varied in provenance in antiquity).

None of that reflects on the situation of Palestinian peasants and their descendants who were *cleared* in 1947.

I am in fact quite sanguine now to regard 1947 as *verdict of history* reflecting a struggle of differet factions, for good or for ill.

Eventually of course, 1967 will be regarded like that.

But let’s just be fair here and acknowledge, without * Cognitive egoism* that this is what the Isreali elite are trying to accomplish.

As it happens, I think 1947 may have worked out: as it is I doubt Israel can survive.

If it does or if it does not, it will be its own fault.

Personally I think some Jews in the future will write a Book of Isaiah about the present.