Saturday, May 30, 2009


Before I begin, please allow me to give a heartfelt congratulations to the Los Angeles Lakers for earning their way into the championship series for a record 30th time. That number almost sounds like a typo, doesn’t it? The Lakers are the only elite team I root for in any sport, so I’ve grown spoiled when it comes to them. But even a spoiled fan has to step back and say “wow” when you consider that a single franchise has been one of its sport’s top two teams on 30 different occasions. By contrast, the franchise they beat last night, the Denver Nuggets, has never played for the title, and they’ve been in the NBA since 1977.
One of the problems with being a Lakers fan in D.C. is that you often suffer from sleep deprivation this time of year. So if this post is incoherent, blame dribble drives, three point shots, and the prospect that by mid-June the Lakers might have just won their 15th championship.

But I digress …

After last week’s post, I have read numerous additional e-mails from members of my fledgling peace group. I’ve also kept my eyes and ears open for anything I could find on the topic of how to make peace in the Middle East … and how NOT to go about it. Rather than trying to wax eloquent on the topic, I’d like simply to ask some questions … of each side. I hope to ask these questions of any partisans whom I encounter during the next several weeks. If both sets of questions are hard hitting, even obnoxious at times, keep in mind that we need to do something to shock this world out of its current slumber. Gentle diplomacy apparently isn’t getting the job done.


1. I understand that some of you claim to support a two-state solution, but are unwilling to call yourselves “Zionists.” Is your preferred two-state solution just a temporary stop gap that would permit the Palestinians to acquire all the disputed land in a two-step process, with the first step being a voluntary division of the disputed land followed by decades more of fighting … ultimately resulting in the Jewish people simply emigrating from the area? If, by contrast, you actually support the establishment of a viable, PERMANENT Jewish state in the Holy Land, albeit one that isn’t as large as the area currently under Israeli control, doesn’t that make you a (de facto) Zionist? And if it does, could you please start using that word as a way to demonstrate that you sincerely respect the claims of the Jewish people to their own “piece of earth”?

2. I understand that some of you recognize that Jews might deserve their own homeland, but simply oppose having that homeland in the region known to you as Palestine. But given that (a) Jews have traced their ancestral homeland to that same region, (b) the UN voted to permit the Jews their own state in that very region, and (c) Jews have subsequently been forced to fight with various Arab peoples over the decades in order to retain their land in that region, how can you expect the Jewish people simply to pack up and find another homeland? Wouldn’t they encounter the same problems elsewhere that they’ve encountered in the Middle East?

3. Why are you unwilling to view what the UN did in 1948 as a legitimate exercise of “eminent domain,” albeit on the international stage? Under that doctrine, a government seizes certain privately own land for the public interest, but must fairly compensate the private parties whose land was confiscated. Can’t we solve much of the land dispute in the Middle East simply by ensuring that the displaced Palestinians receive sufficient compensation for their loss of land? Isn’t that a preferable solution to the “endless war” paradigm, which seems to be the only other practical alternative?

4. Why do you speak about the settlements with such utter disdain, while at the same time ignoring the so-called “right of return”? OK, I can guess the reason: you see the settlers who wish to acquire for Israel all of Judea and Samaria as out-and-out imperialists, whereas you see the Palestinians who simply wish to go back to their ancestral homeland as justice seekers. But don’t you get that BOTH visions are equally antithetical to any viable two-state solution? And do you really believe that a one-state solution here is viable?

5. To those of you who come from the Christian left, do you really believe that Jewish history began in 1948? Please explain the following: How is it that you get to go back to your “people’s” glorious homeland in France? Spain? Italy? Portugal? Russia? Germany? … And yet, despite the horrible way that each of those nations have treated the Jews over the centuries, you don’t feel the need to work like the devil for a Jewish homeland? Isn’t that the epitome of chutzpah on your part?

6. For those of you who are Arabs, how can you be so indignant about the way Jews refuse to allow Palestinians to live in Jerusalem, when Jews aren’t even allowed to VISIT Mecca? Of course, it’s not just Jews who aren’t allowed there, it’s all non-Muslims. Why do you get to enforce that kind of rule, and yet Jews are expected to share their holiest city? In fact, why do you get to enforce that rule, AND you get to place a Muslim shrine on the top of the Temple Mount, the holiest place in the world for Jews? Don’t you think it’s a little out of step with the narrative of “Jewish oppression” that the Jews’ holiest shrine is a mere wall of a Temple that cannot be reconstructed because there is a Muslim shrine on that spot, whereas your greatest shrine is (a) an absolutely magnificent structure (b) located in a city that only Muslims can enter?

7. For those of you who are Jewish – and who always seem to want to blame Israel first and foremost – couldn’t it be that you hold the Jews to a higher standard than you hold everyone else? Why are you so “understanding” when the Arabs (a) kill civilians, (b) preach anti-Semitism in their school books, (c) fail to come together and ensure that there exists a single organization capable of binding the Palestinians in negotiations with the Israelis, and (d) continue to refuse to acknowledge that the Jews have a right to their own homeland? Given your empathy with the Palestinians, why aren’t you equally understanding that the people of Israel, who must deal with periodic terror and constant verbal threats, are loathe to part with the small amount of land they’ve acquired?

8. How can ANYONE hold a state to the highest standards of Judaism when, from the day it was created, it was under siege by hostile enemies? Do Americans have to live like that? How about the nations of western Europe? Who are we in America to judge Israel so harshly when, as soon as we’re exposed to threat of international terrorism, we absolutely panic and implement a policy of bombing and torturing?

9. Aren’t the Israelis asking simply for an opportunity to build a truly Jewish country, one that doesn’t have hostile enemies constantly threatening their survival? If the country is allowed to live in peace for the first time and set up to have a heavily Jewish majority, I think most Jews would accept the consequences if religious conversions and legalized immigration alter the state’s religious or ethnic character. But isn’t it likely that such a country would flourish as a Jewish homeland, much as Italy as flourished as an Italian homeland, or France as a homeland for the French? Why do the French, Italians – or for that matter, the Arabs, who now control nearly all of the Middle East – deserve their chance at self-determination, and not the Jews?

10. When will the Arab world start getting representatives on television who consistently tout their respect for the legitimate claims of Israel for territorial autonomy? Yeah, I’ve heard the old saw that “there are plenty of Palestinians and other Arabs who speak out in sympathy with Israel, but the media just doesn’t bother reporting about them.” With all due respect, isn’t it incumbent on these “moderate” Arabs to make sure that the media reports about them? If they’re so impotent that they can’t figure out a way to get themselves on TV, how is Israel supposed to trust that they can defeat the pro-terror forces within the Arab world?


1. From what circle of Hell did you come up with the idea that Israel should indefinitely build more and more settlements on the land that we will need to give back under any viable two-state solution? You’re not possibly arguing that these ever-expanding settlements are required to ensure Israeli security, are you? So then why continue to populate the Territories with Jews? Isn’t that just a thinly-veiled way of telling the Palestinians that they’re going to have to leave the region altogether, because Israel will soon have gobbled up virtually all of the attractive land in the region?

2. Do you really think you can unilaterally impose a particular division of land on the Arab world? And if so, why would you impose a division of land that is so disrespectful to the claims of the Palestinians? Do you expect them to stop fighting for what they believe is theirs, while you refuse to negotiate with them and prefer instead to simply wall off the tiny bit of attractive land that you have allotted to them? What is it about Palestinian culture that gives you confidence that they will simply back off like sheep and defer to the “mighty” Israelis? And speaking of mighty, are you taking the position that, in Judaism, “might makes right”?

3. Hasn’t Israel gone way overboard in the extent to which it precludes freedom of movement and freedom of trade within the Territories? Is there a possible justification for maintaining the Palestinian people at such decrepit economic levels? Does Israeli security truly require us to deny them all food other than the bare “necessities?” Doesn’t this strategy smack of torturing the Palestinian people into making concessions? Or suggest that to the Israeli Government, Palestinians are somehow less than human?

4. Is Bibi daring Barack to impose sanctions on Israel for refusing to seize more and more of the disputed land (i.e., for refusing the settlement freeze)? Isn’t Bibi saying, in essence, “I know we are completing disregarding one of the fundamental principles of U.S. policy with Israel, but there’s nothing you can do about it because of how powerful our lobbyists are in your country”? If that’s the message, why shouldn’t Barack stand up to that kind of bullying and impose economic sanctions on Israel if the settlement growth continues? Why shouldn’t the United States flex a few of our own muscles and tell Israel that we don’t write blank checks to governments that deliberately impede the prospects of a Middle East peace?

5. How does the IDF continue to boast about its humanitarian policies during the Gaza invasion when, in fact, it refused to allow members of the media to enter the Gaza Strip and report on the war? Can’t we presume from that refusal that Israel acted with indifference to the lives of Palestinian civilians? Otherwise, why not let the media see Israeli virtue for themselves … and report on it?

6. Why does Israel continue to insist on pre-conditions before it engages in peace talks? Doesn’t that suggest that Israel doesn’t want to negotiate a peace deal, but would rather unilaterally divide up the land (in a manner that favors Israel and screws the Palestinians)? Otherwise, why not at least bring the leaders of Hamas to the table and see if they’re grown tired of endless war? What is there to lose in talking? What is there to gain in the status quo? Oh yeah -- a unilaterally imposed peace in which the Palestinians are supposed to serve, passively, as the “eggs” that must be cracked in order to make the Israeli omelet?

7. You frequently talk about the myth of “moral equivalency,” and how unfair it is to compare the misconduct of the Israelis with the much more obscene misconduct of the Arabs. And to prove your point, you invariably argue that at least the Jews don’t target civilians, whereas the Arabs not only have terrorized countless Jewish civilians over the years but would happily butcher all the Jews who remain in the Middle East if only they had the chance. But isn’t that argument just a tad glib? Why should Israel target civilians when it has the military might to dominate the region? Isn’t terrorism merely a strategy employed by movements lacking conventional military power? And isn’t this strategy the only means that the Arabs have at their disposal to fight for justice … other than hoping for the good graces of Israelis like Bibi Netanyahu?

8. While it would obviously be preferable for the Palestinians to behave like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gandhi and assert their claims non-violently, how have the right-wingers who now control Israeli politics given the Palestinians comfort that such non-violence would generate profound concessions of land? Isn’t the resumption of settlements proof positive that Israel simply wants to expand their grip over the disputed land, and only violent resistance will get the Israelis back to the peace table? After all, isn’t one of the lessons of the last few years that once Israel figured out a way to stop Palestinian violence (such as by building the wall), it turned the nation’s Government over to the right-wingers, who have no trouble standing up to calls for peace from Washington, let alone Hebron or Gaza?

9. Rather than simply decrying the way Israelis are presented in Arab textbooks, have you investigated the way Arabs and Muslims are treated in Israeli text books? Or the extent to which Jews in Israel and abroad continue to be woefully ignorant about Islam? Those Jews who have studied the issue have the deepest respect for Islam as a fellow member of the House of Abraham. But what is Israel doing to ensure that all of its Jewish inhabitants come to see the religion of Islam as a sister faith, and come to see the Arab practitioners of Islam as their own cousins? In the long term, isn’t that kind of education the surest way to bring about peace in this region?

10. Isn’t it possible that all of the centuries of anti-Semitism has made us Jews more than a tad paranoid? Now don’t get me wrong; sometimes paranoia is justifiable, and this is definitely one of those times. But even Jewish paranoia, as sensible as it is, needs to be swallowed in moderation. To be sure, there are plenty of Palestinians specifically, and Arabs generally, who want us dead, but there are MANY more Palestinians and Arabs who want to embrace us as fellow children of Abraham. Should we truly be holding off on working for peace until every last Arab has been certified kosher (i.e., accepting of the Jewish claim to at least part of the Land of Israel)? Or is that strategy simply a way of “waiting for Godot? Wouldn’t it be better if we began making significant concessions NOW of some of the most hotly disputed land, and empowered our moderate Palestinian allies so that they can deliver to the Arab Street a better way of life?

And here's one more for good measure, just so I'm not accused of being too "pro Israel" (even though that is where my bias lies):

11. To those of you who think that Israele tried making a substantial concession when it cleared out the settlements in Gaza, only to see that strategy backfire in the form of rocket fire, have you thought through the how absurd that sounds? Do you really think that when the Palestinians were handed control over Gaza, they were allotted a truly viable state? Isn’t that like offering people a “state” composed solely of the South Bronx? Or South Central LA? Hasn’t Israel grown so tired of having to deal with the Palestinians that it is now channeling its inner Marie Antoinette? “Let ‘em eat cake!” seems to be the new message that Bibi and the boys are offering to the Palestinians. Once all the settlements are built out in the West Bank, will you at least show us peaceniks the courtesy of explaining what type of cake you are offering? Even as a vegan, whose taste buds have grown more flexible over the years, I suspect I’d find it inedible.

The truth is that I could have probably gone on for a while, identifying seemingly infinite numbers of concerns with both perspectives. But truly, the better course is to on the ultimate outcome we'd like to see come about, and then work backwards from there, rather than focusing on all the problems that have led to the current mess we're in and playing the "blame game." I hope to move on to other topics next week, but let me reiterate for the record that I am a proud Zionist who pines for the day when Jews, Muslims and Christians can share Jerusalem and when Jewish settlements are confined to areas inside the Green line. Will we get there? I think so. How will we get there? Now that is a bit more difficult to answer. Still, whatever the answer is, it surely begins with dialogue ... and patience.

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