I'm not an expert anything. I'm just a guy. With a blog. Ugh. And most of the time I'm fine with that, but today I feel like I have some answers. So I got the most credible journalist I could find within ten feet of myself: me, to interview... me. I've been in Palestine five months at this point and I think a thing or two about a thing or two. Read on to see my personal take on those sound-bytey political questions we all think contain some kind of truth about the Israeli-Palestine conflict.
What is the situation on the ground in the West Bank?
It is an occupation, where an Israeli state descended from the people who took the land by force in 1948, control, by military might, all aspects of Palestinian daily and long-term existence. This means that travel between areas, building, goods exchange, resources, infrastructure, and legal and police matters are either directly under Israeli control or heavily influenced through the control of a proxy government. This means Israelis are, under international law, responsible for the human rights conditions of their occupied populations. These conditions aren't great, nor are they encouraging to any long-term development from the occupied region. Palestinians are frustrated and often subjected to collective punishment in the form of arbitrary searches and seizures, interrogations, imprisonment without due process on the individual level, and societal/systemic crimes like land grabs, farm and house demolition, barriers that geographically make life impossible for transit or agriculture, and so on.
Every day settlers and hard-line zionists take more land in the West Bank and violently
attack nearby villagers with impunity, under protection from the Israeli army. This results in the fracturing and disabling of the society at slow and unsensational rate. There is no legal recourse for these crimes, so people simply try to live a normal life and let resentment and anger build up under the surface, exhibiting astonishing patience overall. It is very safe for internationals to be in the West Bank, and most Palestinians I know hold resentment only against the occupation as a system rather than the Jewish people as a whole.
Can you address the notion of anti-semitism as it pertains to the Israeli- Palestine question? Why are you sympathetic to the Palestinian point of view?
It's an important but rather simple question. I continually remind myself in the face of the inequality and violence of the root reason I am here: To struggle for a system that is just and equal in its consideration for all people, a system that is motivated for humanitarian rather than capitalistic or militaristic ends. In this vein I fully support an Israeli desire for self-determination and the international concept of Jewish safety. What I cannot support and in fact work or advocate against is the idea that the self-determination and security of Israel can come at the direct detriment of a captive and oppressed people. In the current occupation, the long-term quality of life for Palestinians is ruined. Their ability to have agency, dignity, and respect is completely demolished in the name of Israeli security, based on motivations that are as unconscionable as they are illogical. From a humanitarian perspective I am obligated to fight this, especially because the Jewish people I know and love and talk to pride themselves on their humanitarianism, democratic outlook, and fair-mindedness. Just as from a humanitarian perspective I struggle against endemic injustice, militarism, and class violence in the United States, which theoretically prides itself on similar values. I am against the idea of 'sides' however, more on that later.
None of this is anti-semitic. Anti-semitism was a real blight and the reason we're aware of the term today is because massive atrocities in the past were suffered by the Jewish people, but at their root those atrocities were atrocious because massive groups of people were systematically imprisoned, oppressed, and killed under rampant nationalism and militarism. I resist the manifestations of those things in my time, which include the actions of Israel as a state and Zionism as a movement.
There's also the issue of relative injustice. Israel often justifies its actions by citing violence from Palestinians. The most fair-minded voices cite this violence as evidence of a continuing conflict between an oppressor and the oppressed, the most hawkish and hateful voices bring up racist arguments and dwell on the western misconception of Islam as inherently violent and Arabs as bloodthirsty savages. In a Post-colonial world it's not even worth dealing with these straw man arguments. But what is troubling is when Israel will kill 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza over one winter with large scale explosives, flooring entire city blocks of civilian housing, in response to some randomly fired missiles which are dangerous and inhumane but a minuscule threat in comparison. I focus on the systemic root of the violence: constant militarization, not the hollow justifications for that militarization.
Speaking of that, what about the question of security for the Israeli people?
Security for any people is an important goal, as is the wonderful motivation of a life without fear. In light of these goals it is important to consider the root origins of that insecurity and where the chosen solutions are likely to lead you. One of the most sustainable ways to live without fear is to love your enemies, not in some cheesy idealistic way, but to cultivate a considerate relationship with them over generations that precludes violence and leads to a diverse, multicultural society. This may sound all cutesy in terms of the reality on the ground, but it has existed for centuries around the Holy Land and elsewhere in tolerant pockets. It's just a question of muzzling the war hounds and encouraging this kind of dialogue in the larger political discourse.
One of the most sure-fire ways to live without security and true safety is to separate yourself from what you fear and characterize it as an irrevocable lost cause. This form of prejudice doesn't solve any problems, especially when it's attached to hyper-militarism. If Israel continues to force the solution of a hyper-vigilant militarized compound as their future state, that is exactly what they will get, until they kill themselves or every Muslim around them who they (and we) have incited into violence over 100 years of otherization and colonialization. We owe it to ourselves to recognize the common ground and common future with a population that in reality is incredibly un-scary, and by-and-large patient and steeped in ideas of hospitality and peace.
In short justifying the occupation from a security perspective, or the American support of it, is a short-sighted, self-fulfilling, and destructive attitude to harbor.
What is the current relationship between Israel and America about?
America and Israel have a mirrored relationship to the Arab Middle East as they both base their approaches in defense of an exaggerated fear: which at the moment is called militant Islam, but for America it has worn many masks over the years. The root problem is that America and by extension the world economy is built on unstable capitalist practices that require resource and wage imperialism all over the globe so that the pace of modern life can continue unhindered. This imperialism takes form in the destabilization of local power in order to reap the resource benefits from a weakened and turbulent region. Also it justifies massive military spending, which puts money into the hands of extremely rich organizations and individuals and keeps the population in fear, hesitant to dissent, and chronically under-educated. America's tactics vary from place to place in these matters, but in the Middle East the foreign relations policy has been to support Israel with military aid to the tune of three billion per year (money which perpetuates an otherizing political mindset, excessive militarism, and symbiotically funnels money back into the U.S. military-industrial complex), and support governments that are open to US intervention rather than ones that encourage a representative democracy. Thus, since the foundation of Israel America has treated them as our only true ideological ally in the region, and contributed to inequality and turbulence ever since. I'm reminded of a hard-to-cite quote floating around the internet: “Every time anyone says that Israel is our only friend in the Middle East, I can’t help but think that before Israel, we had no enemies in the Middle East.”
In any case, our ardent support for Israel is was one of the main reasons we are written off by everyone in the Middle East, from Osama Bin Laden to random six-year-olds, as the enemy. Until we move this policy in the direction of true, non-Islamophobic, non-racist humanitarian aims we will make very little progress in diplomatic and civil negotiations, and our self-appointed fate will be endless militarism, violence, inequality and war. No fun.
What can Americans do who are interested in effecting change?
This is where I have to bring up the 'taking sides' thing. I'm clearly against some things, and those things include perspectives that put the security of a few at a vast premium before the human rights of many, especially when the security is an unattainable fantasy in the context of the situation that's been created. I'm also against systemic injustice, and fear as a primary motivator all across the world. At this point I'm not against a Hebrew-speaking place for Jews existing next to or in the same place as an Arabic-speaking place that's predominantly Muslim. I don't care what its name is or who's in charge of it, as long as there's a power balance and every person or culture in that region as access to freedom of expression, dignity, respect, and self-determination within the limitations of what that society can support.
Support of these goals doesn't have to manifest itself specifically toward the Israeli-Palestine conflict, there are huge areas needing work everywhere. From the post-earthquake destruction of Haiti to the failing social systems in the face of drug and gang violence in inner-city America to the brutal responses to democratic voice in Syria, Libya and Bahrain. It's important that we as a people learn as much as we can about these and other conflicts and use them constructively in the context of improving our way of existing in the world. So do what you can, where you're drawn to, and keep an open ear to the similar work being done in other venues and directions.
But as to the specific Israeli-Palestine conflict, basically, you can encourage law-makers to quit spending most of your money on militarism, war mongering, and Israeli aid (again, not because Israelis are BAD, but because there's a power imbalance and we as Americans contribute to it). But more simply you can normalize the dialogue on a understandable level, by arguing that it doesn't make sense to support Israel to the extent we do from a human rights perspective. This can take many forms. There's the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign, which starts with consumer options (bleh, I say just live simply and don't buy crap you don't need in general, not for a political motivation alone) but goes up to policy advocacy and divestment in economic and academic arenas. You can talk to friends and family that unconditionally support Israel and dispel them of unfair or unjust notions with evidence. Or you can come to Palestine and suffer near-death by over-feeding while meeting people, thinking and writing, and doing volunteer work with community-reflective locally-informed projects.
If you're Jewish, however, whoa boy do you have a job to do. Because you're already miles ahead of the rest of us in the lazy public-dialogue scale of credible sources. People will listen, American people will listen, American POLITICIANS will listen if you speak out against crimes against humanity being perpetrated in the Jewish state. Also because whether you like it or not, you're attached to those crazy Zionists in Israel! They're doing things in your name, every day, strapping on M-16's and allowing settlers to assault people in broad daylight in the name of a Jewish homeland. Just like my government has spent the last ten years systematically bombing the Middle East in my name, for the sake of American freedom. So if it bothers you to be conflated with those people because of a common ancestry and common religion, speak out! Change the paradigm! Because unless you represent yourself, they'll continue to represent you.
Feel free to re-post this or share it anywhere if it's of interest to you, just let me know in the comments section. Also if the comments happen to take a turn towards the way public internet comments sometimes do (i.e. knee-jerk ad hominem attacks and obfuscating rants that don't actually address the claims of the article) I'll consider deleting them.