What Lethal Arrogance Looks Like

I frequently find it
useful to analogize countries to individuals. States will often
have personalities and behavior sets quite similar to human beings.

That means they can sometimes
be noble and do wonderful things. But it also means they can be
petty, greedy, violent and worse.

I frequently find it
useful to analogize countries to individuals. States will often
have personalities and behavior sets quite similar to human beings.

That means they can sometimes
be noble and do wonderful things. But it also means they can be
petty, greedy, violent and worse.

If you've ever known
what an arrogant bully looks like, you should find the personality of
Israel today quite familiar. But if you've ever really understood
what almost always lays behind a bully's almost always faux arrogance,
you also might understand why Israel acts as it does.

In Israel's case there
are some very good explanations (which is not necessarily the same thing
as justifications) - both contemporary and especially historical -
for attitudes that increasingly veer into paranoia, expressed in an
international behavior set that too often takes the form of militant
violence. These policies are, however, far more than most Israelis
recognize ultimately to their own detriment, apart from the more obvious
death and destruction brought down on others.

But those in the international
community who are contemptuous or dismissive of Israel's very real
security concerns are either analytically weak, normatively biased,
or worse. That 'worse', unfortunately, is only somewhat less
prevalent in the parlors of 'civilized' society today than it ever
and always has been, and needs little provocation to rear its ugly little
anti-Semitic head.

Still, regardless of
what might happen tomorrow, we should be clear about what happened yesterday.
If history has produced a people more afflicted than the Jews have been
with racism, violence and even genocide, I don't know who that could
be. Jews everywhere, including those in Israel, have come by their
fears honestly. It is also undeniably the case that Israel remains
to this day surrounded in a sea of mostly hostile neighbors, nearly
all of whom were not so long ago committed to the country's annihilation.

That is far less true now than it was in 1948 or 1973, but it is still
true for Iran and Syria and Hamas and Hezbollah, among other actors
in the region. And for Egypt and Jordan and the rest, the era
of hostility is still not that far in the past, by historical standards.

And thus, though I am
as little a fan of nationalism as anyone is ever likely to meet, I nevertheless
believe it to be beyond doubt that there has to be a Jewish state in
the world, and I don't even object to it being armed to the teeth
with defensive and deterrent weaponry. It seems to me that there
are few lessons of history which express themselves more clearly than
this one, and believing otherwise risks the prospect of renewed violence
and even genocide.

That said, had it been
up to me in 1948, I might not have placed that state in Palestine, and
I certainly wouldn't have countenanced the forcible ejection of Palestinian
residents from their homes. But now it is 2010, not 1948 or 1880,
and Israel is not going anywhere. Nor should it, for any such
solution would be far worse than the problem it seeks to address.
Countries like Egypt and Jordan have reluctantly made peace with that
fact, and it would be helpful if others followed suit.

Regrettably, however,
and notwithstanding a set of legitimate historical security concerns,
nobody makes it harder to love Israel than Israel itself. This
week's murderous incident in the Mediterranean is a shock to the senses,
an offense to humanity, and an outrage piled on top of further outrages.
It is difficult to imagine any circumstances that could justify the
behavior of Israel in this episode, in light of the alternative non-violent
solutions so readily available even if the country wanted to prevent
to flotilla from ever reaching Gaza. As one Israeli member of
parliament herself said, "This had nothing to do with security.
The armaments for Hamas were not coming from this flotilla."

But, of course, this
week's events are only the top layer of a very poisonous cake.
The existence of the flotilla points to a deeper Israeli outrage, which
in turn is predicated on an even deeper one yet. There would have
been no naval relief caravan to Gaza if there had been no need to bring
relief to a blockaded Gaza in the first place. And there would
be no Gaza as we know it today had there not been a continued illegal
and oppressive occupation of Palestine for the last forty years.

This occupation has been
incalculably onerous and humiliating for Palestinians. Moreover,
despite the fact that Israel has withdrawn previously from the Sinai
and Gaza, the character of the occupation in the West Bank and East
Jerusalem telegraphs only one intention. You don't build houses
and whole cities in places where you have strategic security concerns.
You build military outposts instead. The avowed agenda of the
far right in Israel, which includes the government, is to fulfill some
insane biblical promise (pardon the redundancy of terms there) that
the Jews should come to possess lands in the region constituting a Greater
Israel, stretching in the minds of the most deluded from the Nile to
the Euphrates. Building towns and housing settlements for forty
years in the West Bank and East Jerusalem not only smacks of colonialism,
it is nearly impossible to construe it otherwise.

One of the great ironies
of the Middle East debacle is the degree to which this behavior hurts
Israel, not just those whom it represses and whose land it occupies.
With the possible exception of the Golan Heights, there is almost zero
strategic value in possessing these lands. Like America under
the Bush administration, Israel has simply now become a country of many
humane and decent people whose foreign policy has been hijacked by radical
sociopaths belonging in insane asylums and jails, not world capitals.

(Although that characterization of Israeli public opinion is less true
today, as attitudes have hardened since the Second Intifada, and the
disconnect between the public and its leadership is less profound -
another of the region's ironies.) But for a long time prior
to that, there was a good deal of robust debate and sentiment for peace
in Israel, certainly far more than there ever was in the United States.

What radical regressives
(and in Israel we are talking about regressing 6000 years, far more
than any Jerry Falwell ever dreamed) appreciate more than can be imagined
is the power of fear, and how cycles of violence can be mobilized to
make people do stupid things they wouldn't otherwise. Dick Cheney,
to choose only the most prominent example, wouldn't even exist outside
this simple premise. And, while there is plenty of blame to go
around for the century of violence in the region, Israel has now been
led by radical criminals to the place where it is the chief purveyor
of that violence, which has become both the biggest stain on its international
reputation and, again ironically, its own biggest security threat through
the radicalization of adversaries and the alienation of allies.

The recent invasion of
Lebanon (not to mention the one before that), the invasion of Gaza and
the attack this week on the relief flotilla all represent almost wholly
unjustified acts of aggression on Israel's part. While any state
can always muster up some pretext for war ("Saddam has WMD!"), and
Israel has done so in each of these cases, what has become clear is
that the country has left the earlier epoch of its history in which
it fought mostly defensive wars of existential urgency (1948, 1967,
1973), and has transitioned to an era in which it is now fighting rudely
aggressive wars, using outrageous weapons and tactics, and offering
increasingly weak justifications for those wars (which justifications
are anyway are rooted in the Palestinian people's reaction to the
ongoing provocation of an illegal and oppressive occupation).

In addition to the carnage
suffered by others, in this way Israel has become its own worst enemy.
I mean that quite literally, and not just in the sense of the moral
outrage of the international community. The sad truth is that
nothing threatens Israeli security more today than the stupidity, greed,
aggression, inhumanity, and lately sheer arrogance of its foreign policy.

People are beginning
to notice in places where they had not before. That big ol'
country to the north is less a turkey than a canary in a coal mine right
now. Israel has long had good relations with Turkey, certainly
its best with any Islamic country. But the Israelis seem almost
willfully intent on alienating their friends in Anatolia, and they are
succeeding admirably, especially this week. Meanwhile, the British
prime minister sharply criticized the attack, and the US did that rarest
of things, letting a (toned way down, to be sure) resolution emerge
from the United Nations Security Council.

Likewise even in America.
I never go in for the right-wing supposed honor code violations that
call for heated response to the impudence of this Cuban dictator or
that French president who has the stones to diss American policy, especially
when their greatest sin is telling the truth. But I confess that
it pissed me off considerably when the Israeli government announced
new housing construction for East Jerusalem at just the moment when
the American vice president was visiting. America (foolishly,
to some extent) gives Israel a considerable amount of (my tax) dollars
every year, and jeopardizes a good deal of its own security by the unpopular
choice of backing Israel in the region. Would it be too much to
ask that Israel, in return, not publically stick its finger right in
our eye? That announcement of new housing construction, expressly
contrary to the articulated position of the US government, wasn't
just a bad policy choice. That was a willful expression of supreme

The list of damages done
goes on. Israel seems increasingly intent on spending all its
remaining virtues to cover the initial bad check of its turn toward
colonialism. It is eating itself from within, in order to avoid
confronting its demons. The war crimes documented in the Goldstone
Report on the Gaza invasion give one example, the reaction to which
among the South African Jewish community (which must be much like the
American one) was initially to try banning Mr. Goldstone, an internationally
highly regarded jurist, from attending his own grandson's bar mitzvah.

Meanwhile, no less than a former deputy speaker of the Knesset has expressed
serious concerns about the far-right's successful attempts at domestic
censorship of any critical discourse in Israeli society.

Perhaps the most telling
episode, however, has been Israeli reaction to the Saudi peace plan
of 2002, which was reintroduced in 2007 and endorsed unanimously by
the twenty-two members of the Arab League. The proffered bargain
gave Israel everything it originally wanted - peace, recognition by
its neighbors, normalized relations - and even more, since it contemplated
a return to wider 1967 borders, not those lesser ones detailed by the
1947 UN resolution which partitioned Palestine and gave birth to the
Israeli state. In exchange for this, Israel had only to recognize
a Palestinian state and agree to just treatment of Palestinian refugees.
It is a measure of the pathology that has overtaken contemporary Israel
today that the government has never even responded to this grand deal
- which represents a monumental leap for the Arab community - although
the current prime minister rejected it outright when he was the opposition
leader in 2007.

In short, the situation
is grim, as this week's events underscore. The cycle of tit-for-tat
response has metastasized into a pathology of violence and recalcitrance
in Israel's government, and among some parts of the Arab and Muslim
world. Shooting civilians on a ship in the middle of a relief
mission is merely the logical extension of such a process.

And yet, these events
could perhaps also produce some salutary effects in the end. Barack
Obama clearly has little use for Israel's antics, but is also clearly
the most gutless creature on the planet with the possible exception
of a few especially reticent amoeba hiding under a rock somewhere in
New Zealand. However, Israel's arrogance and provocations may
create the space for even the feckless Obama to apply some real pressure.
That doesn't seem likely, given the power of the Israel Lobby in Washington,
and given Obama's overall uselessness as president, but it also seems
more probable today than ever in my lifetime. Israel has simply
gone crazy, and by doing so it is making it increasingly difficult for
others to stand by it.

My wider hope is that
the Palestinians have stumbled into a more effective way to bring pressure
toward a passably equitable solution to the conflict. I deplore
violence, but I understand why Palestinians have employed it, including
the use of terrorism (notwithstanding that the term has been distorted
and politicized to the point of near meaninglessness). It was
successful in putting their cause on the map, just as Zionist violence
(and "terrorism" - by the way - conducted by people who would
later become Israeli prime ministers) gave birth to Israel, and just
as colonists' violence and "terrorism" (as King George described
it) gave birth to the United States. But that said, and even apart
from the moral question, strategically, the era in which Palestinian
violence effectively serves to advance its agenda has ended.

What the confrontation
at sea this week dramatically points out is an idea I have argued for
a long time. Namely, that the Palestinians, who already have the
vast majority of world opinion on their side, should adopt Gandhian
methods of nonviolent confrontation in order to bring Israel to its
senses and to the bargaining table. What if a million Palestinians
went on hunger strike tomorrow? How long could Israel and its
American benefactors withstand the glaring spotlight such an action
would shine on the Palestinian cause, especially as martyrs began dying?
Perhaps even something quite that lethal would not be necessary.
Perhaps mass sit-down strikes might do the trick, or civil disobedience
in public venues. The point is that such tactics would work, whereas
violence against Israel not only isn't working, but only strengthens
the bloody hand of the monstrous hawks there.

Palestinians must also
come to terms with the fact that their full aspirations will never be
realized. This must be psychologically painful in the extreme.

It is as if someone knocked on the front door of your house, walked
in and took over the first floor and parts of the second, cheerfully
left you a few remaining rooms to ocuupy, and then wondered why you
weren't satisfied. I think Palestinians have long been debilitated
by the Hobson's choice of, on the one hand, accepting, and thereby
legitimating, the status quo, versus continuing to hold out for more,
up to and including the dream of driving the invading Jews into the
sea and restoring the homeland to their exclusive control. In
addition to the horrors of what they call "the catastrophe" itself,
I don't envy anyone the additional moral dilemma of choosing whether
and when to admit defeat as opposed to continuing their struggle for
what they believe is justly theirs. That's a very hard choice
to make, and is always further haunted by those who have already sacrificed
for the struggle before.

But history is history.
There is no remotely serious prospect of undoing the Zionist project,
with all its ramifications for the Palestinians, just as there is no
undoing the Holocaust or the pogroms, or the much earlier forced Jewish
diaspora from the same lands the Palestinians now mourn losing.
I hope the Palestinians can find a way toward negotiating a peace with
Israel that is by definition far less than everything they want.
Fatah, post-Arafat, seems to be there. Hamas would appear not
to be, but not necessarily implacably so. (The regional and ideological
differences between the two are, by the way, no small thing. Indeed,
I have long believed that the first casualty of Palestinian statehood
will be the Palestinian state itself. Just as East and West Pakistan,
separated by India, quickly transitioned from one country into two,
so, I suspect, would Palestine become Gaza and the West Bank.)

The potential for peace
finally coming to the region is not insubstantial at this moment.
Some of the underlying conditions are even rather favorable. Nor
should we be blinded by the magnitude of the project into believing
that it is impossible. No one would have ever believed in 1970
that Israel would soon have peaceful and substantially normal relations
with Egypt and Jordan. No one would have ever believed in 1940
that France and Germany would become, not only close friends and allies,
but even partners in driving an integration project in which both have
voluntarily ceded much of their sovereignty to a supranational organization.

But getting there will
require that both sides, and the United States as well, adopt new approaches
to replace the existing ones which are clearly dysfunctional.
Israel and the United States have the upper hand in terms of sheer physical
force, and are favored by existing conditions on the ground. They
are therefore least likely to move. The Palestinians, who have
everything to gain from change, must drive the process forward if they
want it to happen.

My advice to the Palestinians
would be two-fold. First, as described above, start employing
civil disobedience and other forms of mass-based passive resistance
tactics in place of rockets and bombs. The power of those images
- especially today, in our YouTube world - are enormous, and enormously
effective at gaining the sympathy of the world. My second suggestion
may sound like a joke, but it is not at all. The Palestinians
should follow other countries, corporations and the like, including
most who need it far less than they do, and spend a boatload of money
to hire the best public relations firm they can find in America, in
order to give their image and their cause here a massive make-over.
America is crucial to the Mid-East conflict, but American politicians
are unable to do anything but reflexively support Israel, even when
it is snotty and abusive to the US itself. That's because the
Palestinians have no image here other than as terrorists, and because
their plight is all but unheard of. This perhaps can be rectified,
though it won't happen quickly or easily. But a change in American
public opinion would free American foreign policy to change, which might
likely in turn ultimately undermine Israeli arrogance and recalcitrance.

Israel, like America
under Bush, has gone mad. Some of the reasons for this happening
are morally valid and some are not. What matters, though, is how
to bring the country back to its senses, especially now that the Palestinian
leadership (at least in the West Bank) has changed sufficiently to do
a deal, something Yasser Arafat seemed constitutionally unable to quite
ever embrace, plagued as he probably was, I'd imagine, by the awful
Hobson's choice described above.

But I don't think Israel
is likely to change on its own. It has little incentive to, as
things stand today. That change will require the Palestinians,
perhaps via the United States, to force it upon Israel, but not by means
of force.

If there is any silver
lining to the events of this week, it is that they have illuminated
the path by which that might be done. And, better still, it is
a nonviolent path.

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