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This entry was posted on Donnerstag, 7. August 2014 and is filed under "Blog". You can follow any responses to this entry with RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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  1. Michael Engelbrecht:

    Dear All of You:

    I sense I’m breaking an unspoken rule with this letter, but I can’t keep quiet any more.

    Today I saw a picture of a weeping Palestinian man holding a plastic carrier bag of meat. It was his son. He’d been shredded (the hospital’s word) by an Israeli missile attack – apparently using their fab new weapon, flechette bombs. You probably know what those are – hundreds of small steel darts packed around explosive which tear the flesh off humans. The boy was Mohammed Khalaf al-Nawasra. He was 4 years old.

    I suddenly found myself thinking that it could have been one of my kids in that bag, and that thought upset me more than anything has for a long time.

    Then I read that the UN had said that Israel might be guilty of war crimes in Gaza, and they wanted to launch a commission into that. America won’t sign up to it.

    What is going on in America? I know from my own experience how slanted your news is, and how little you get to hear about the other side of this story. But – for Christ’s sake! – it’s not that hard to find out. Why does America continue its blind support of this one-sided exercise in ethnic cleansing? WHY? I just don’t get it. I really hate to think its just the power of AIPAC… for if that’s the case, then your government really is fundamentally corrupt. No, I don’t think that’s the reason… but I have no idea what it could be.

    The America I know and like is compassionate, broadminded, creative, eclectic, tolerant and generous. You, my close American friends, symbolise those things for me. But which America is backing this horrible one-sided colonialist war? I can’t work it out: I know you’re not the only people like you, so how come all those voices aren’t heard or registered?

    How come it isn’t your spirit that most of the world now thinks of when it hears the word ‚America‘? How bad does it look when the one country which more than any other grounds its identity in notions of Liberty and Democracy then goes and puts its money exactly where its mouth isn’t and supports a ragingly racist theocracy?

    I was in Israel last year with Mary. Her sister works for UNWRA in Jerusalem. Showing us round were a Palestinian – Shadi, who is her sister’s husband and a professional guide – and Oren Jacobovitch, an Israeli Jew, an ex-major from the IDF who left the service under a cloud for refusing to beat up Palestinians. Between the two of them we got to see some harrowing things – Palestinian houses hemmed in by wire mesh and boards to prevent settlers throwing shit and piss and used sanitary towels at the inhabitants; Palestinian kids on their way to school being beaten by Israeli kids with baseball bats to parental applause and laughter; a whole village evicted and living in caves while three settler families moved onto their land; an Israeli settlement on top of a hill diverting its sewage directly down onto Palestinian farmland below; The Wall; the checkpoints… and all the endless daily humiliations. I kept thinking, „Do Americans really condone this? Do they really think this is OK? Or do they just not know about it?“.

    As for the Peace Process: Israel wants the Process but not the Peace. While ‚the process‘ is going on the settlers continue grabbing land and building their settlements… and then when the Palestinians finally erupt with their pathetic fireworks they get hammered and shredded with state-of-the-art missiles and depleted uranium shells because Israel ‚has a right to defend itself‘ ( whereas Palestine clearly doesn’t). And the settler militias are always happy to lend a fist or rip up someone’s olive grove while the army looks the other way.

    By the way, most of them are not ethnic Israelis – they’re ‚right of return‘ Jews from Russia and Ukraine and Moravia and South Africa and Brooklyn who came to Israel recently with the notion that they had an inviolable (God-given!) right to the land, and that ‚Arab‘ equates with ‚vermin‘ – straightforward old-school racism delivered with the same arrogant, shameless swagger that the good ole boys of Louisiana used to affect. That is the culture our taxes are defending. It’s like sending money to the Klan.

    But beyond this, what really troubles me is the bigger picture. Like it or not, in the eyes of most of the world, America represents ‚The West‘. So it is The West that is seen as supporting this war, despite all our high-handed talk about morality and democracy. I fear that all the civilisational achievements of The Enlightenment and Western Culture are being discredited – to the great glee of the mad Mullahs – by this flagrant hypocrisy. The war has no moral justification that I can see – but it doesn’t even have any pragmatic value either. It doesn’t make Kissingerian ‚Realpolitik‘ sense; it just makes us look bad.

    I’m sorry to burden you all with this. I know you’re busy and in varying degrees allergic to politics, but this is beyond politics. It’s us squandering the civilisational capital that we’ve built over generations. None of the questions in this letter are rhetorical: I really don’t get it and I wish that I did.

    Dear Brian and friends,

    I am writing to respond to your note about Gaza and how America is responding. It deserves a response.

    My feelings and the actual realities are complex on several levels; the realities of the Arab-Israeli history and conflicts, global politics and modern American history/demographics. All three levels interact to create the current situation. And to understand the US posture you have to consider the history.

    Let me say, that, as you know, I am an immigrant and child of Holocaust survivors. I am culturally Jewish, but with no religious or spiritual inclinations, an atheist. And I believe that creating the Jewish state of Israel was a historic mistake that is likely to destroy the religion behind it. The actions nation states take to assure their survival are usually in contradiction to any moral values that a religion might espouse. And that contradiction is now very evident in Israel’s behaviour. Israel will destroy Judaism.

    First, the history has two important intersecting threads, Zionism and the end of the Ottoman Empire. Zionism began near the end of the 19th century as a response to a millennium of anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe. An end to the diaspora and a return to the biblical homeland were seen as the only hope of escaping the persistent repression of places such as Hungary, Ukraine, Russia, etc. The British government with its Balfour declaration (1917) and the League of Nations Palestine Mandate (1922) gave impetus to that hope. And of course, the Second World War and the Holocaust sealed the deal.

    The murder of six million Jews was seen as sufficient reason to pursue a Jewish state, and the UN granted that wish with the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states in 1947. The seven Arab states declared war and urged the Palestinians to flee. After defeating the Arab armies, Israel made it very hard for them return. Hence we ended up with a large Palestinian refugee population.

    Those Arab states themselves were the result of a combination of British/French artistry in drawing the maps of the post-Ottoman world as well as the subsequent tribal military campaigns that left the Saudis in charge of the Arabian peninsula (vast oil wealth soon to be found) and the Hashemites driven up into Transjordan. Other than the war with Israel, the conflicts and rivalries among the various Arab and Persian factions have shaped Middle Eastern and North African politics ever since then.

    Over the subsequent decades following the 1948 war, there was a persistent Arab bombing campaign and two more large-scale Arab attacks on Israel, 1967 and 1973. Until the mid-1970s, Israel was seen as having the moral high ground based on the Holocaust and Arab behaviour. But beginning with the Israeli incursion into Lebanon in the early 1980s, that moral position began to erode.

    Dear Peter

    Reading your letter I very much appreciated the historical summary. There are a few places where I don’t agree, but they’re not important enough to make this letter even longer than it already threatens to be.

    It seems we’re in accord about how awful the situation and the government in Israel is, and I’m with you pretty much all of the way until you ask: ‚Why single out Israel? In a world of horrors, why pick on this one?‘

    And I think that veils another concern: ‚Is this some new form of antisemitism, another stick with which to beat the Jews?‘. Given their history, that’s a fair enough question.

    I’m aware that there are those who actually welcome the Gaza disaster for that very reason. They’re fundamentally anti-jewish and this is an acceptable way for them to say that in polite company. To the rest of us, these people are fatal – because they give the apologists for Israel the perfect let-out: „See? It’s just antisemitism..“. There’s always a contingent of them turning up at demos and wanting to speak. Needless to say, they aren’t given the microphone.

    So I’d like to let you know that I didn’t ’single out‘ Israel. In my lifetime, I’ve been active in several movements that involved events in other nations: Vietnam, South Africa, Bosnia, Iraq and now Israel. In each case my government was actively involved, but the policies it was pursuing struck me as idiotic and immoral. In each case also there were those who asked me the same question: why single them out?

    Well, part of my answer is that above: we’re already involved, but I think we’re involved in the wrong way. So this is my general answer: it isn’t just about Israel for me, but about what my government is doing in my name. The money we pay in taxes is helping to support this situation. I can see all the reasons you’ve listed as to why our respective governments have ended up with the stances they have, but understanding isn’t the same as condoning. I want to make it clear to them that „A lot of your citizens don’t support you“. This is what I understand as democratic participation, civic responsibility.

    The other cases you mentioned: the Saudis, the Qataris, the Iranians, the Egyptians, the Syrians, the Russians, the Nigerians, the Taliban, the Venzuelans, the Zimbabweans, the Sudanese, the south Sudanese, the Central African Republicans… frankly, what do they have to do with me? I don’t understand them, and I don’t know that my government has any particular role within them. If I were suddenly to become involved with, say, Sudanese politics I would feel that your question ‚Why Single Them out?“ had validity.

    But my main point is to pick the fights you can win. Whereas I don’t have any instruments at all with which to affect Sudanese politics (even if I wanted to), I do have some power to change the way that Britain relates to Israel.

    Why would I want to do that? Because unlike you, I don’t see the Middle East as a lost cause. Israel, unlike the other countries you mention, claims to be like us, part of the Western First World, part of the same set of moral assumptions – and many Israelis (though apparently not the ones in government) are.

    Despite the haze of nationalistic propaganda there’s a committed Jewish counterculture in Israel which, along with the Palestinians, is appealing to us for help. They know they can’t change it working only from the inside and they want support – as indeed South African trade unions asked the outside world for support in the 60’s and 70’s, and Bosnians did in the 90’s. These aren’t people who want to destroy Israel: they want to save it from a course which they see as taking it further and further from the ideals on which it was founded.

    There’s something else as well which makes Israel a particularly sore issue for the British: we had a big hand in creating the problemby cavalierly ‚giving‘ the Jews Palestine and turning a blind eye when that generation of settlers drove Arabs off their land, as we turned a blind eye to what the Arab nations were doing. In the grand imperial tradition of ‚Make a mess and then pull out‘ we left behind a palpably unworkable arrangement. And just to make the problem really intractable, Israel was founded (as it happens, on the day I was born – 15 May 1948) as a specifically Jewish, and therefore religious, state.

    To create a state that specifically, and from the very beginning, excluded so many of its extant inhabitants from participation was a terrible move. I have enormous sympathy for anyone trying to make sensible decisions in the wake of World War 2, and I’m sure there were many good intentions paving the road to this particular hell, but it was that thoughtless and arbitrary (and British) partition that kick-started the whole thing.

    My penultimate point is that this is about more than Israel – in my mind anyway. I touched on this in the letter: how do you think it looks to the rest of the world when they see Israel mincing the Palestinians in Gaza and then discover that America is (still) giving them about 18 million dollars in military aid each day – while righteously proclaiming about Human Rights?

    And how do they feel when they see Tony Blair receiving a $1 million dollar Peace Prize from some Israeli institution presumably for managing to remain completely unresponsive to the Palestinians?

    It looks terrible – sheer, unvarnished hypocrisy. It makes you understand why Arabs can hate us (though I’m continually surprised by how few do). One of the reasons I want to demonstrate is to say „Don’t judge us by our governments“ – which is one of the things that Israeli Jews say to me. You probably think it hopelessly idealistic, but I think it does make a difference when people see that the other people – the ones they’re supposed to hate – are objecting to what is being done in their names.

    I remember speaking to a Palestinian taxi driver in Israel. It was shortly after that Raving Nazi Anti-Semite Jimmy Carter – I took that description of him from Israeli press reports – had just published his book where he suggested that Israel was becoming an apartheid state. The driver said to me wearily: ‚why do they always realise this just after they have lost the power to do anything?‘

    I thought about that a lot. Of course, while they’re in power they’re effectively neutralised. Without a HUGE popular mandate – huge enough to offset the lobbies and the news channels and the weapons companies and the general apathy – people in power won’t – or can’t – do anything. With enough people behind them, they might. Kwame Anthony Appiah’s book is about this, about the moment when a society changes from applauding something to finding it shameful. The American Civil Rights movement is a stellar example.

    It can happen very quickly, and I think it could do so in Israel if she weren’t pumped up with US supplied testosterone. But it depends on people in government being able to cover themselves by saying „I had no choice – those bloody voters forced my hand“. And it depends on something similar happening in the Arab world too…which might be at the point when they stop being important enough to our energy supplies for us to stop kissing their arses. But you know much more about that subject than me.

    Last point (phew!), about singling-out. In this recent crisis Israel has bombed or shelled about 120 UN buildings in Gaza. Mary’s sister Rachel tells me that the UN sends precise coordinates of all its buildings to the Israelis, so these attacks are unlikely to be mistakes. 70 of those buildings were schools or hospitals, some of them occupied at the time. Can you think of any other country that could get away with this? That’s another kind of singling-out.

    Late Addendum: I recommend a letter that just appeared in The Lancet, England’s medical publication of record, from a group of doctors and medical scientists who have worked in Gaza. It’s worth reading.

    Source: Stop the War Coalition

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