Thursday, January 8, 2009

Why Do So Few Speak Up for Gaza?

By Robert Scheer, editor of Truthdig

Posted on Jan 6, 2009

Why are we so indifferent to the death and destruction in Gaza?

The major news outlets meekly accepted Israel's banning of journalists from entering Gaza as an excuse for downplaying collateral civilian casualties, our president-elect, Barack Obama, has had little to say about an invasion that will much complicate his future Mideast peace efforts, and most commentators easily rationalize Israel's many-more-eyes-for-an-eye killings.

Why is it that there is such widespread acceptance, beginning with the apologetic arguments of President Bush, that whatever Israel does is always justified as necessary to the survival of the Jewish state?

It is not.

While the Hamas rocket attacks are reprehensible, they are also an ineffectual challenge to Israel's enormous security apparatus, and the severity of Israel's response to them is counterproductive. Clearly, the very existence of Israel is not now, nor has it ever been, seriously challenged by anything the Palestinians did. Not back in 1948, when Israel was established as a state with insignificant Palestinian military resistance, nor at the time of the 1967 Six-Day War when Egypt, Syria and Jordan fought Israel.

The Palestinians were in no position to confront the Israeli army, because those whose lands were not already occupied by Israel were living under oppressive Egyptian control in Gaza and tough Jordanian rule in the West Bank. After the speedy Israeli victory, which demolished the myth of the new state's vulnerability, the Palestinians became imprisoned as a people by Israel for crimes they had not committed.

Even if we accept the harshest portrayal of the tactics and motives of the Palestinian movements against Israel after the Six-Day War, at what point did that terrorism represent a serious challenge to the survival of the Jewish people or the state that claims to speak in their name? Yet that survival is invoked to justify the vastly excessive use of force by the Israeli war machine, with frequent allusions to the Holocaust previously visited upon the Jewish people, a holocaust that had nothing to do with Palestinians or Muslims, and everything to do with Central Europeans claiming to be Christians.

The high moral claim of the Israeli occupation rests not on the objective reality of a Palestinian threat to Israel's survival, but rather on the non sequitur cry that "never again" should harm come to Jews as it did in Central Europe seven decades ago.

The basic argument is that Palestinian terrorists represented by Hamas are given to an irrational hatred of Jews so profound that it invalidates their movement, even when they win elections. That was not the view of the Israeli security service when it earlier supported Hamas as the alternative to the then dreaded PLO. Also, history is replete with examples of terrorists becoming statesmen, even within the early ranks of Jews fighting to establish the state of Israel.

One of those was Menachem Begin (left), who went on to be an elected leader of the new state. But before Begin attained that respectability, back in 1948 when he visited the United States, a group of prominent Jewish intellectuals including Albert Einstein, Sidney Hook and Hannah Arendt wrote a letter to The New York Times warning that Begin was a former leader of the "Irgun Zvai Leumi, a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization in Palestine." The letter urged Jews to shun Begin, arguing, "It is inconceivable that those who oppose fascism throughout the world, if correctly informed as to Mr. Begin's political record and perspectives, could add their names and support to the movement he represents."

Begin's new party was then participating in the Israeli election, and Einstein and his colleagues, many of whom like the physicist had been victims of German fascism, stated, "Today they speak of freedom, democracy and anti-imperialism, whereas until recently they openly preached the doctrine of the Fascist state. It is in its actions that the terrorist party betrays its real character."

Those actions were then detailed in the letter. They included the systematic terrorizing of innocent Palestinian men, women and children in an effort to force them to flee the territory that Begin's party claimed for the new state of Israel.

Clearly Begin and his political heirs, who include Benjamin Netanyahu, the most likely victor in the next Israeli election, evolved in their behavior. But I bring it up now to highlight the one-sided reporting of the current phase of this interminable conflict and to wonder: Where are the voices that reflect the uncompromising morality of Einstein's generation of Jewish intellectuals willing to acknowledge fault and humanity on both sides of the political equation?

ROBERT SCHEER is the editor of TruthDig. A journalist with over 30 years experience, Scheer has built his reputation on the strength of his social and political writing. His columns have appeared in newspapers across the country, and his in-depth interviews have made headlines.

Scheer draws upon a wealth of experience and knowledge. Between 1964 and 1969, he was Vietnam correspondent, managing editor and editor in chief of Ramparts magazine. From 1976 to 1993, he served as a national correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, where he wrote articles on such diverse topics as the Soviet Union, arms control, national politics and the military. He is currently a contributing editor at The Times, as well as a contributing editor for The Nation magazine.

Scheer has interviewed every president from Richard Nixon on through Bill Clinton. He conducted the famous 1976 Playboy interview with Jimmy Carter, in which the then-presidential candidate admitted to have lusted in his heart.

Scheer has also taught courses at Antioch College in San Francisco, New York City College, UC Irvine, UCLA and UC Berkeley. He is now a Senior Lecturer at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication, where he teaches a course on media and society.

Walski on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict


Andy said...

Hear, hear!

Brilliant article. The unfortunate thing is that as soon as you criticize Israeli policy you are labeled as an anti-Semite. How dare anyone claim that the Israelis are doing anything more than defending their people and land against terrorists?

Israel's treatment of the Palestinian people is shameful and deserving of universal condemnation. That the United States simply stands by the Israelis regardless of the outrages perpetrated against the Palestinians is also shameful. It will be interesting to see if Obama walks a more critical (i.e balanced) line as President.

I've read a few articles in your blog and I have to say that I was entertained and provoked to thought, always a good thing. You have a very enjoyable writing style and your topics are interesting (my Mom was into Carlos Castaneda and dabbled in Erich Von Daniken, so I appreciated your thoughts on philosophy and mysticism...never managed to consume magic mushrooms or peyote though. :-)

Thanks for sharing your wit and wisdom.

Best wishes from Canada,

chapchai said...

The way I look at it, Palestinians paid the price for the crimes of Nazi Germany towards the Jews. And there was no looking back thereafter. Today Israel, the favourite child of USA, can do no wrong. We all know that the Jewish lobby in USA is second to none in wealth and wealth is what drives US politics hence the recent US Congress overwhelming pro-Israel vote. When Obama said in his campaign speeches that he was going to bring change to Washington did he mean to, amongst other things, emasculate lobbies? Because unless money is not the criterion in winning elections the Jewish lobby will have its say and there will never be peace in the Middle East and there will never be a Palestinian state.

Anonymous said...

Let's be sure about one thing: Israel's ghastly atrocities against a helpless people (save me the lies about "Palestinian terrorism") is only possible because of the strong support it receives from Western rulers (particularly American and EU ones) who, clearly, no longer believe that Israel is capable of being wrong. Much of the blame also goes to the Arab world itself, whose tyrannical rulers are too corrupt to exercise independent judgement. And the result is that none of these rulers can bring themselves even to condemn the slaughter of children in a UN school.

The sad irony is that if the world had adopted this same supportive attitude towards Hitler, Israel itself would not exist today.