Three viewpoints on the
Gaza war fill the U.S.
mass media: pro-Israel, anti-Israel, and neutral or even-handed. All three are harmful to the suffering
people of Gaza.
The one view that can help them is the one that barely gets a hearing. It's
pro-Palestine, pro-peace, AND pro-Israel.
It's easy enough to see why
support for Israeli policy hurts the Gazans. U.S. political leaders are heavily influenced by
the view that's usually called "pro-Israel," equating support for Israel
with support for its government's war policies. Even if our leaders might want to take a
different approach (and it's doubtful how many really would), they fear the
political repercussions. So they
don't put U.S. weight behind any effort toward
a just peace.
As long as that one-sided
view prevails at the highest levels, the U.S. cannot be
the kind of neutral broker that most Americans want us to be. According to
columnist Glenn Greenwald, a recent poll shows 71% of the public here wanting
the U.S. to support neither side. But our politicians consistently tilt
toward Israel, pushed on by
the overly loud voices that see Israel always in the right and Hamas
in the wrong.
Yet a neutral, even-handed
approach in the U.S. news
media is dangerous for the people of Gaza too.
It treats Israel's massive high-tech firepower,
which has killed over 500, as somehow equivalent to Hamas' aimless, largely
ineffectual rockets that have killed five. That gives Americans the impression
there's a fair fight going on between two equally violent and equally suffering
sides. Most people conclude that if neither side is the good guy, it's none of
our business and we should just ignore it. At least they themselves ignore the
conflict. That gives the "pro-Israel" lobby and the U.S. government
a freer hand to follow a one-sided course.
Even for the minority of
our people who want to be politically aware and involved in the Middle East, the even-handed view makes a realistic
approach difficult, because it ignores or masks so many crucial facts beyond the
Israel, not Hamas, broke the recent truce, both
by attacking Hamas on November 4 and by imposing an economic strangle-hold on
Israel's blockade left the
people of Gaza
desperately lacking in food, fuel, electricity, medical supplies, and other
necessities for weeks before the current attack began. Israel has
consistently ignored Hamas truce
offers. Instead, helped by the U.S., it has tried to destroy the
Hamas government, which Palestinians democratically chose to rule them.
Israel, helped by the
U.S., has also consistently inflamed tensions
between Hamas and Fatah and blocked their efforts at creating a unified regime.
Anyone who does not know,
or ignores, those crucial facts can hardly hope to frame a just resolution to
the conflict. Yet all of that background simply disappears from the supposedly
even-handed approach in our news media.
That might seem to leave
only one fruitful approach: Stand up for the Palestinians, condemn
Israel as the aggressor, and demand
that it stop its attack immediately. It's understandable that Americans of good
moral conscience might take such an approach. But from a practical point of
view, it will not do the Palestinians of Gaza any good. It might even harm them
Political action that is
merely "pro-Palestinian" allows the mass media to portray the engaged public
divided into two neat camps-pro-Israel and anti-Israel-as if those were the only
two options. Of course the mass media like simplistic pictures of two protest
groups, diametrically opposed, on opposite sides of the street. It boosts their ratings. But it also
lets supporters of Israeli policy feel even more justified, saying that
"everyone who's not for us is against us."
It also encourages the
average American to assume that there is no way out of this mess except to
choose sides. In that case, since most know only what the political leaders and
mass media tell them, they will choose the Israeli side.
Most importantly, action
that is merely "pro-Palestinian" makes it harder to achieve the only political
goal that really counts here in the U.S.: getting our government to take
a different direction. There are some members of Congress and some mid-level
staffers in the Obama administration who are not locked into a knee-jerk
pro-Israel position. They are open to the possibility of using
U.S. influence to change Israeli
policy. The only way to set that change in motion is to encourage these
"movable" figures in the government to speak out for a new direction.
But that would be very
risky for their own careers. If they appear to represent a stridently
anti-Israel view, they won't get anywhere -- except perhaps ushered out of the
government entirely. So they need political cover. They have to be able to urge
a new U.S. policy as a pro-Israel policy.
Then they have at least a chance of making some headway against the existing
Fortunately for them, and
for us, a genuinely pro-Israel policy -- one that cares about the peace and
security of the Israeli people -- will and must oppose the militaristic policies
of the current Israeli leadership. The only way for Israel to achieve peace is
to recognize the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to their own fully
independent and completely viable state in all of the West Bank and Gaza -- with
no Israeli settlements or security roads or military personnel left in
Palestine; with the Palestinians left alone to have whatever government they
democratically choose, even a government devoted to Islamic principles; with no
surreptitious Israeli policies undermining the political and economic success of
the Palestinian state; with the Israeli people living in peace and safety,
within the borders of June 4, 1967 (with minor border rectifications mutually
agreed upon, if necessary); with the Palestinian people compensated, both
monetarily and by formal Israeli apology, for the injustice and suffering they
have endured for sixty years.
This is the truly pro-Israel policy.
It's the only one that can break down the wall -- both literal and psychological
-- that Israeli Jews have created to separate themselves from their
neighbors. It's the only one that can give Israel peace and
security and release the energies of its people to realize the Zionist dream, to
fulfill the highest aspirations of the Jewish people. It calls for the Jewish people to give
up nothing that is truly their right and due.
It's also pro-Palestinian
and pro-peace. It opens the way to productive cooperation between Jews and
Palestinians, living side in two secure states, not merely in grudging
toleration but in genuine friendship and mutuality.
If enough of the "movable"
people in congress and the Obama administration start making that argument, both
in public and in private, U.S. policy will begin to change -- very slowly, to be
sure, but it will change. And that will produce fundamental change in the
Middle East. Regardless of what Israeli leaders
say to win votes at home, in fact they need U.S. support to
continue their policies of occupation and force.
So even if your only goal
is to relieve the suffering of the Palestinians, the best strategy right now is
to avoid the appearance of being a one-sided "pro-Palestinian" advocate. The
best strategy is to declare that you are pro-Palestine, pro-Israel, and
pro-peace. Demand an end to the Israeli occupation and a guarantee of full
independence for Palestine, but at
the same time insist over and over that you support this program because you
want the best for everyone in the region, Israelis as well as Palestinians.
This is the program being
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, J Street,
and other Jewish peace organizations
in the U.S., as well as by Gush Shalom and other
Jewish movements in Israel, which can still bring thousands into
the streets to demonstrate for peace and justice. The best way to help the
Palestinian people now is to forge a powerful alliance between these groups and
the many groups advocating Palestinian rights, recognizing that ultimately we
all want the same thing.