Tuesday, January 6, 2009


In my last book, the long poem MARCH 18, 2003, written for a reading on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, I wrote a little "what if" scenario toward the beginning about our government forcing native Americans, or Indian peoples, onto small areas of land, making agreements about that, and then breaking the agreements by letting "white" settlers build homes etc. on that land and when the Indians object, building fences and manning the perimiters of the new settlements with the military and then taking more land and giving it to white settlers and when the Indians protest with demonstrations that turn rowdy, bringing in more military to crush the protests. And when, out of desperation at the imbalance of military power against rocks and stones, someone comes up with the idea of arming themselves with bombs and setting them off in crowded white areas and innocent people die as a result and our government escalates the military response so that innocent people die on the other side etc. etc.

You saw where this was going, I'm sure, from the start. But in the poem, I end the much more detailed and extended "what if" with the question, "—who/would be the the innocent ones in all that/—and the guilty?" And follow that question up with another: "Is that question anti-Semitic?"

One of the problems of dealing with the current escalation of the violence and hatred in the Middle East is getting around the obvious and less obvious prejudices all sides have toward all other sides (not just Arab-Israeli, but Sunni-Shiite, secular-religious, fundamentalist-moderate, etc.) and not letting solutions be couched in those prejudicial terms.

It's obvious that Israel wants to destroy or at least weaken Hamas. But throughout the history of this conflict, every time Israel manages to destabalize what it sees as the worst faction among the anti-Israel Palestinians, it either strengthens their support, by casting them in a sympathetic light, either as victims or righteous warriors against the common enemy, or even worse, it weakens them (Fatah is a great example) to the point where they become ineffectual giving rise to, or making room for the rise of, even more militant factions, ala Hamas.

It's so obvious that this strategy is a nonstarter. That no matter what short terms goals are achieved, in the end, it only adds fuel to the fire. Hamas should be held accountable for the rocket fire into Israel, but by the international community in the form of U.N. peacekeeping forces in the disputed areas and sanctions where necessary, and Israel should be held accountable for its continuing encroachment on Palestinian lands with settlements and concrete barriers and check points that seperate farmers from their fields and family's from each other etc. And they too should suffer U.N. sanctions if they violate that, after they remove all settlements.

Israel's argument is that Hamas doesn't officially recognize Israel's right to exist. But Hamas negotiated a truce with Israel, obviously those very negotiations prove that Hamas recognizes Israel, just as it does that Israel recognizes Hamas even though the Israeli government would not recognize Hamas' right to run Gaza despite being democratically elected to do so.

Obama seems to, or at least he did during the campiagn and before, have the capacity and the intelligence to understand that enemies can talk, and that it's usually better when they do. But if Israel and Hamas and whatever other entity they think they're going to control but have proved unable to, won't talk, then the U.N. and other international organizations have to step in and make sure Gaza and the West Bank have complete autonomy from Israel, including air and sea and other access routes for goods going in and out, and set up peace keeping forces on the borders of Israel and the Palestinian lands.

I know, I know, easier said than done, especially since the U.N.'s arcane ruling bodies usually include at least one Arab state or ally that will block anything seen as pro-Israel and Israel will not accept anything it views as anti-Israel.

Israel has been able to invade neighboring countries, or the Palestinian lands, pretty much whenever it wants to (e.g. the not so distant disastrous invasion of Lebanon, that once again only strengthened the hand of the Arab faction they were going after, Hezbollah in this case) because its military, largely supplied and paid for by US taxpayers, so outweighs any Arab counterpart. And because the USA has backed its play pretty much without question. Or with very few questions and never any reprimands or sanctions.

But sooner or later an Arab state will acquire nuclear capability, and Israel's position will become less overwhelmingly superior, and compromises will have to be made. In the meantime, life for the Palestinians will continue to be so much more confined, squalid, deprived and cut off from any way out of it, mostly by Israeli policy, somewhat from their own intransigence and lack of vision, that it will remain a breeding ground for future militants with revenge fantasies against their oppressor.

One of the main reasons that the troubles in Ireland subsided was because the perrenially impoverished South, suddenly became the Celtic Tiger, more prosperous and more productive than the North. The answer is almost always some kind of financial and political equity for those desperate enough to wage unending campaigns against what they see as the oppressor.

So as my friend Tom G. suggested from California the other day: "Let them build casinos," which is the only thing that's worked in our own country to restore any kind of financial equity and even some political balance of power in a lot of states to our own version of the Palestinian problem.

He meant it as a joke, to some extent, I assume, and also as an indicator of his own belief that the situation does have many parallels with the USA and its original inhabitants. But there's a kernal of truth in it. If ordinary Palestinians could live even half as well as Israelis, there'd be a lot less anger and resentment to draw on to fuel the ongoing conflict.


JIm said...

Here is just a sampling of the, at lest 109 Quranic war verses, that call Muslims to war on non believers. Contrast the war verses with “Turn the other cheek” and “Do unto others”. Or the Jewish belief that Jews are Jews by birth. Conversion is discouraged. Catholic fought Protestant in Ireland for economic, demographic and political reasons. Religion was a factor, but the base philosophy of Christianity teaches peace. Obviously, there have been numerous lapses from that philosophy. With Islam, it is believed that Allah’s own words are in the Quran. Mohammed was just a scribe. The religion and the Islamic philosophy teach and urge forcible conversion, repressive taxation or execution for non believers. Peace came to Christian Ireland. Peace can never come in Gaza and Israel, unless the Quran is rejected by Muslims. That is unlikely. The West has prevented Israel from achieving victory over their attackers. If Israel is allowed to finish the job, the country will have a chance of achieving at least a long cease fire and possible accommodation. Until there is a clear winner and loser, that is not possible.

Sura (4:89) - "They but wish that ye should reject Faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing (as they): But take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of Allah (From what is forbidden). But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them; and (in any case) take no friends or helpers from their ranks."

Sura (5:33) - "The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement"

Sura (8:12) - "I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them"

Butch in Waukegan said...

Mike, I appreciate this post and I imagine it was fueled in part by the horrifying images we've seen of the slaughter in Gaza.

You are correct that this will end only through negotiation, but the nub is "who gets the land?" The metaphor in your poem is more true than you might have imagined - early Zionist leaders wrote approvingly of the US's Indian removal policy. The Gaza attack put the final shovel of dirt on the "two state" solution. What's left?

I usually ignore your most prolific poster but his "clash of civilizations" bullshit really irks me. The following will be as helpful in understanding the current Middle East as the asinine citations in the first comment.

The Israelites slaughter Hamor and his city and plunder it (Gen 34).

Moses is commanded by God to exterminate the Canaanites, the Amorites and the people of Bashan "and show no mercy" (Deut 7:1-2, 9:3, Num 21).

Moses orders "every man" among the Israelites to slay his brother, companion and neighbor, as a punishment for the idolatry of all, and 3000 die (Ex 32:27-28).

God commands Moses to slaughter 24,000 people and hang their heads in the sun (Num 25).

God commands Moses to slay the Midianites because the Israelites are seduced by them. All males (including infants) and adult women are killed; virgins are enslaved (Num 25:17, 31:1-2, 7, 15-18).

God's annihilation of Sihon's people and others (Deut 2:30-35, 36, 3:1-7).

God commands Moses, in any city near the promised land which does not agree to become a vassal state of the Israelites, to kill all the males and take the women and children as slaves and the animals as booty, but in any city in the promised land the Israelites are to kill every living thing, sparing no one (Deut 20:10-17).

Joshua, with the help of God, annihilates numerous tribes and cities, "left none breathing," "destroyed all that breathed, as God commanded" (Josh 6:21, 8:24-27, 10:, 11:11,14,21-22).

Judah slays 10,000 Canaanites (Judg 1:4) and 10,000 Moabites (Judg 3:29)

Danites destroy "peaceful" Laish and kill its people for no reason (Judg 18:27).

Judah and Simeon utterly destroy Zephath (Judg 1:17). Samuel tells Saul that God wants to annihilate the Amalekites, including infants and women, which Saul then does, slaying all the inhabitants except Agag the king (1 Sam 15:1-9).

David leaves no man or woman alive in the countries he invades: Geshurites, Gezrites and Amalekites (1 Sam 27:9,11).

David takes Rabbah and puts its people "under saws...and harrows ... and axes of iron and made them pass through the brickkiln" and does the same to all the cities of Ammon (2 Sam 12:31, 1 Chr 20:3).

"Slay utterly old and young, both maids and little children," says God (Ezek 9:6)

and on, and on, and on.

JIm said...

There is plenty of violence to go around in the Old Testament. The difference is that, Judea Christian believers recognize that it was written by men and can be reinterperted by men. Since the Quran is the actual words of Allah ,it can not be changed or reinterpeted. Practicing Muslims must accept it as written and follow the teachings.

Butch, Violent religions are irksome as, apparently are people with contra world views, are to you.

Anonymous said...

Dear M:

Great post. As far as N. Ireland goes, it is also instructive to remember that, before the Clinton administration, Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein were regarded (by the US and the Brits) as terrorists with no right to sit down as equal and legitimate negotiating partners with the Brits and orangemen. The actual voices of Adams and other republicans (the Irish kind)were even forbidden to be heard on t.v. and radio. It was only when Clinton invited Adams to the US and treated him as someone who had to be included in any peace process in N. Ireland that an actual peace process became a real possibility.

Labels and nomenclature in many of these disputes tend to be very powerful. All through the '70s and '80s, the US media consistently reflected British attitudes towards Irish nationalist aspirations in the north. Irish nationalist were invariably "terrorists." I don't want to defend the worst of the IRA's activities, but to many nationalists, the British army, the RUC, and the various Protestant paramilitary groups engaged in behavior that was every bit as terrorist in nature as anything the IRA was up to. Similarly, I'm positive most Palestinians regard the Israeli army as a terrorist force.

See you tomorrow,

The Kid said...

A Jew's Prayer for the Children of Gaza

By Bradley Burston

If there has ever been a time for prayer, this is that time.

If there has ever been a place forsaken, Gaza is that place.

Lord who is the creator of all children, hear our prayer this accursed day. God whom we call Blessed, turn your face to these, the children of Gaza, that they may know your blessings, and your shelter, that they may know light and warmth, where there is now only blackness and smoke, and a cold which cuts and clenches the skin.

Almighty who makes exceptions, which we call miracles, make an exception of the children of Gaza. Shield them from us and from their own. Spare them. Heal them. Let them stand in safety. Deliver them from hunger and horror and fury and grief. Deliver them from us, and from their own.

Restore to them their stolen childhoods, their birthright, which is a taste of heaven.

Remind us, O Lord, of the child Ishmael, who is the father of all the children of Gaza. How the child Ishmael was without water and left for dead in the wilderness of Beer-Sheba, so robbed of all hope, that his own mother could not bear to watch his life drain away.

Be that Lord, the God of our kinsman Ishmael, who heard his cry and sent His angel to comfort his mother Hagar.

Be that Lord, who was with Ishmael that day, and all the days after. Be that God, the All-Merciful, who opened Hagar's eyes that day, and showed her the well of water, that she could give the boy Ishmael to drink, and save his life.

Allah, whose name we call Elohim, who gives life, who knows the value and the fragility of every life, send these children your angels. Save them, the children of this place, Gaza the most beautiful, and Gaza the damned.

In this day, when the trepidation and rage and mourning that is called war, seizes our hearts and patches them in scars, we call to you, the Lord whose name is Peace:

Bless these children, and keep them from harm.

Turn Your face toward them, O Lord. Show them, as if for the first time, light and kindness, and overwhelming graciousness.

Look up at them, O Lord. Let them see your face.

And, as if for the first time, grant them peace.


With thanks to Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman of Kol HaNeshama, Jerusalem

Lally said...

Butch I was going to make the same point. Jim seems to think comparing fundamentalist radical Islamists with moderate or liberal Christians makes sense. As if there aren't fundamentalist Christians all over the right-wing of his Republican party who believe that the Bible is the word of God and therefore must be obeyed (though selectively to save their own skins, but they sure get literal when it comes to evolution or gays etc. etc.).
And TPW, good point about Gerry Adams being treated by Clinton like a human instead of a label. Tomorrow evening it is.
And "kid," thank you for passing on that heartfelt prayer and its sentiments. Let's hope it's heard.

Butch in Waukegan said...

The resident cheerleader for the "Clash of Civilizations" has a big task ahead of him. Apparently the Vatican doesn't understand the thoroughly dangerous of nature of Islam that requires good Christians and Jews to kill, kill, kill.

THE Gaza Strip has been turned into a "concentration camp" by two weeks of Israeli bombardments, said a senior Vatican official.

Cardinal Renato Martino, the Vatican's justice and peace minister, was quoted by the online Italian daily Il Sussidiario.

"Let's look at the conditions in Gaza: these increasingly resemble a big concentration camp," said Cardinal Martino.

Cardinal Martino said it was in neither parties interest to carry on fighting and urged both to show more willingness to hold peace talks.


JIm said...

As the visiting/resident "Clash of Civilizations" nut may I offer the following:

1- I am unaware of any right wing Christian group that has as a core philosophy of convert, conform or suffer death or second class citizenship. There have been many historical times when Christians acted violently to other religious groups but that behavior was not as the result of the core Christian philosophy of "turn the other cheek and do unto others etc." The core philosopy, in my mind is the key point. All the other stuff; priests, churchs etc. is fluff. The pope may disagree.

2- The 'Clash of Civilizations" has been durable. It has waxed and wained for 1300+ years.
3- The Vatican does not advocate "Kill, kill, kill" nor does it advocate be killed. There is the concept of a "Just War, which I believe Aquinas and or Augustine address. Israel's battle for survival with Hamas, after suffering 4000 rocket attacks in last two years, is I believe a just war.

4- Israeli war effort has shown incredable success against state Arab armies, whose sholders are were not necessarilly highly motivated. The Hamas/Hisbola(sp) sholder is highly motivated by Islamic doctrine. The long term outcome is far from assured.

PS: Great prayer from the Kid. If only if it could come true for all the children in the region.

Brian K said...

Whenever I find myself getting aroused to either attack or defend a person or a people, I try to wonder from where my emotion comes. And it does come. But, when I am at my most removed from emotion, I know this: people do not tend to act in ways that stray too far from what can be expected, given their particular set of circumstances. This is true for a man. This is true for George Bush. This is true for Jimmy Carter. This is true for Israel. This is true for Palestine. For the Zionists and for the Radicals. There actions are little more than products of complicated equations, centuries in the making. To judge their actions is to judge the rules of addition. To attempt to impose extrinsic change is to force 3 + 3 to equal 5.

Butch in Waukegan said...

"Men who believe absurdities will commit atrocities." - Voltaire

The mathematics of the real world:


JIm said...

If it was an all out war against Palestinian civilians, Israel would be able to end it quickly, leveling the area. Hamas has a CNN strategy to maximise their own civilian casualties to gain political advantage with the West.

JIm said...

. ‘Gaza Bombing’ Video Is Bogus

Several left-wing Web sites have displayed a graphic video purporting to show Palestinians killed or wounded by a recent Israeli airstrike in Gaza.

In fact, the video shows the aftermath of an accidental explosion of a truck full of rockets at a Hamas rally nearly 3.5 years ago.

One of the Web sites that posted the video on Jan. 5, The Raw Story, quoted a Palestinian source as saying the video was shot “immediately after a terrorist Israeli airstrike hit a busy market where kids with their mothers and fathers were searching for food to eat from one of the local markets early on Saturday, Jan. 3, 2009.”

The Web site Question Everything reported: “Saturday, before Israel launched a full-scale invasion of Gaza, a Palestinian with a camera witnessed a devastating bombing. His video shows the brutal, bloody results of an airstrike on what appears to be a civilian area . . .

“In the footage, scores of bodies — men, women, and children — lay strewn about a Gaza market as abject chaos spirals around them.”

But a poster to the site reddit.com, which also displayed the video, disclosed: “This video is from September 23, 2005, and was taken in the Jabalya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip.

"A Hamas pickup truck carrying Qassam rockets detonated by mistake during a Hamas rally, leaving at least 15 killed and dozens more injured.

“The pickup truck in question is visible for a split-second at the start of the video. The section of the video showing the pickup exploding has been edited out.”

The BBC reported at the time: “At least 15 Palestinians have been killed and scores injured in a blast during a parade by the militant Hamas group in the Gaza Strip. A truck carrying gunmen and homemade weapons blew up during the rally in the Jabalya refugee camp.”

The Web site Little Green Footballs confirmed that the video is “a fraud — it actually shows the results of an accidental explosion of a truck full of Hamas rockets.”

The Raw Story issued a correction and removed the video.

But Noel Sheppard of NewsBusters observed, “I guess that’s all it takes to get anti-Israeli propaganda spread throughout the liberal blogosphere these days.”