The intractable conflict makes you want to cry, laugh, and punch through a wall all at the same time. The two sides seem completely irreconcilable, and it’s hard to believe that there will ever be peace. When reason has abandoned the conversation, despair sets in…
Wait, you thought I was talking about the Israeli and Palestinian leadership? Not this time. I’m talking about the real conflict here: people who are too nervous to broach the subject of Israel and Palestine, and people who launch themselves headlong into the conversation, demanding a precise framing of the conflict and demonizing anyone who might not wholeheartedly take their side with acceptable intensity.
The first group is your typical American. We follow the conflict and the periodic atrocities and negotiations in the media. At work, we listen politely while our activist friend blasts one side or the other, so unilaterally that you wouldn’t dare express an opinion or even ask a question. You smile and nod and try desperately to change the subject. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have fallen squarely in this camp for the past couple weeks:
Those videos are not just an example of what I’m talking about. It’s the totality of their coverage of Israel for the last two weeks.
Then there is the other side of this conflict, those who claim exclusive rights to the moral high ground. Half of these folks consider the Israeli occupation of Palestine, the blockade, and Israeli attacks on civilians to be war crimes committed against a defenseless people. Anyone who says otherwise is defending an illegitimate tyranny that supports the murder of children. How dare anyone criticize Palestine in the wake of such atrocities.
The rest assert that Israel is defending itself against terrorists who would kill their own children just to make Israel look bad. Anyone who says otherwise is anti-semitic and inviting a new holocaust. How dare anyone criticize Israel in the wake of such atrocities.
It’s far too easy and too depressing for me to hunt for examples of these demagogues, but it’s not just pundits or extremist militants. Here’s the example I heard most recently, featured on Mike Pesca’s podcast “The Gist“. (It’s a fabulous daily podcast, and you should all check it out) It features and interview with Diana Buttu, a Canadian who serves as a legal advisor. See if you can guess which side she’s on… If the stereotype of Canadians counts for anything, it’s depressing to imagine that she represents a polite version of those involved in the conflict.
The interview starts at 2:00…
There are so many quotes that I’d like to pull from the interview that it would be easier if you simply listened to it. I think that the most telling quote is how the interview ends: “If you’re so offended by the tactics [of Palestinians], you should be even more offended by the tactics that the Israelis are using.” So much for the moral high ground.
Take another example: A champion of reason with no stake in the conflict. Sam Harris recently wrote a piece called “Why I Don’t Criticize Israel“. I might lay out a full response to that piece in the future, but for now, I’ll sum up: Harris does criticize Israel, and says “there’s probably little question over the course of fighting multiple wars that the Israelis have done things that amount to war crimes.” However, he argues in various ways that what Hamas does with the use of human shields and suicide bombings that target civilians is much worse. He has since added notes that clarify he is not excusing war crimes by Israelis, but I don’t see how that’s possible given the overall tone of the piece. The title is “Why I Don’t Criticize Israel”, not “Why Israel is the Lesser of Two Evils”. He concedes fault in the Israelis, but so much so, I fail to see why he supports them in the final analysis, no matter how much evil he sees in their opponents.
When did it become so difficult to say “A plague on both your houses!”. Americans certainly have no problem doing that with Congress.
Hamas and the Israeli government have committed war crimes. So, let’s prosecute some of these motherfuckers! How is the only morally acceptable side not the persecution of those who commit or facilitate war crimes, whatever their side? Of course, that isn’t even an option at the moment, and the reason for this is politics and power. I’m not going to go there for now. All of that is way above my head, and tactics in international geopolitical warfare is not the subject of this post. Thank goodness.
Whatever issues I have with Harris’s tone, he does hit the central point that let’s most unbiased, reasonable people feel like they can be sure of one thing: A religious sect has no right to found a nation based on biblical warrant by ousting its previous inhabitants. No religion deserves a state of their own, let alone by taking over someone else’s territory.
If European jews wanted a place to live after the second world war, they could have immigrated to most places in the world. This business about being surrounded by muslims that want to drive them into the sea buys little sympathy from me because that’s what literally following their iron age myth got them. They life under threat, but they did pursue that threat.
Palestinians (and the muslim world in general) might have a leg to stand on if they focussed only on the Israeli occupation and western influence of Israel without resorting to terrorism, anti-semitism, and racism. Hamas didn’t seize power via force and it doesn’t operate as a terrorist cell. They were democratically elected.
This is a fight about religion without calling it a fight about religion.
Here is my solution: God didn’t promise you land, and none of it was ever holy to begin with. If we drop the religious nonsense, then sorting out the territories isn’t easy, but it’s very doable. Those who have committed war crimes should go to prison. Those who have profited from seizure of Palestinian territory should forfeit their gains. Palestinians must be granted a state of their own and the right of return as well as reparations from the Israeli government. Not every citizen of Israel has infringed on the rights of Palestinians, but neither has every white person in the United States infringed on the rights of African-Americans during Jim Crow. However, there is a deep cost associated with oppression of that magnitude and duration, and those debts must be repaid.
Yup, I just put reparations and Israel in the same blog post. I do NOT belong in the scared silent first camp, but nor do I think that either Israel or Palestine has a sliver of the moral high ground. Its time for some sane demagoguery to be directed at the religious demagogues.
If you’ll indulge me, let me make sure that my ass is at least a bit covered. I am by no means trying to be flipant about this war or minimizing the suffering on either side. I am by no means an expert on the conflict. I am barely even talking about the war, but instead commenting on the interesting form that conversations about that conflict take in the media and everyday life have taken.
My real recommendation for peace? Bacon. For god’s sake people, it’s delicious.
Finally, I’m so glad we have religion to keep us acting moral. If religion went away, we might start killing each other willy nilly!