Rabbi Brant Rosen posts a mass e mail sent to U.S. Conservative rabbis by the Rabbinical Assembly advising them on the “proper” Jewish response to the UN human rights report which blasts Israel for war crimes against the Gazan people. The formula adopted by the rabbis seems to be: when facing possibly immoral behavior by Israel start singing Hatikvah furiously to drone out the accusation. So in this way, Jewish nationalism trumps morality. Now here I always thought rabbis were supposed to be the Jewish arbiters of moral behavior. Silly me. And also note how the rabbis work in Iran into the mix in order to really tug at Jewish heart-strings.
Here’s the e-mail:
On this Rosh Hashanah our brothers and sisters in Israel face the threat of a nuclear Iran – a threat to Israel’s very existence.
Today, we Jews around the world also confront the anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment of the Goldstone report which blames Israel disproportionately for the tragic loss of human life incurred in Operation Cast Lead, which took place last winter in Gaza. This unbalanced United Nations sponsored report portends serious consequences for Israel and the Jewish people.
On this holy day, which is not only Rosh Hashanah, but also Shabbat, the Shofar is silent in the face of this spurious report, the world is far too silent.
Today the state of Israel needs us to be the kol shofar, the voice of the shofar!
We ask you to write to our governmental leaders and call upon them to condemn the Goldstone report and to confront the threat of a nuclear Iran.
While the shofar is silent today, all Conservative rabbis, cantors and congregations have been asked to sing Hatikvah at this moment in the service.
We rise in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Israel.
Rabbi Rosen provides the most apt Jewish response to such utter nonsense which could have been, and probably was produced by some Israel lobby group like the Conference of Presidents. He calls the Israel-worship of the statement, idolatry:
What troubles me most about this suggestion is how profoundly it flies in the face of the very meaning of the festival itself. On Rosh Hashanah, we affirm Malchuyot – God’s sovereignty over the universe. Rosh Hashanah is the only time of the year that Jews are commanded to bow all the way to the ground and pledge our allegiance to God and God alone. We acknowledge that our ultimate fealty lies…beyond any mortal ruler, any government, any earthly power.
Beyond the political arguments over such a statement, it strikes me as something approaching idolatry.
I was in shul today but attended the family service and so did not hear whether my congregation prayed at the altar of Israel or God. But I pray my rabbi did not succumb to the siren call of those who circle the Jewish wagons at the first hint of criticism of Israeli policy or behavior. Rabbinic statements like this one are an attempt to hijack our religion for the purpose of bolstering narrow Jewish nationalism. Now, to be clear, I have no problem with Jewish nationalism that understands its rightful place within the sphere of Jewish identity. I have no problem with Jewish nationalism that is PART of that identity. But I object strenuously to Jewish nationalism that subsumes it entirely. That is what the Rabbinical Assembly has done in this statement. And as a Conservative Jew I object to it strenuously and urge any and all rabbis or synagogue lay leaders reading this to do so as well.
Israel is part of us. But it is not all of us. Israel should be in service to the Jewish idea, but never the be-all and end-all. Let us not be idolators who worship solely at the altar of Israel.
ISRAEL IS GOOD and JUDAISM IS GOOD. It is the LIKUD manifesto that is destructive.
Somewhere along the way, many become confused by the propaganda or just don’t understand the message.
The message is not that ‘Israel is bad’ but that the Israeli government policy is bad.
Those who are genuinely unable to differentiate between what is said by hundreds of thousands of other Jews, like myself, around the world – and the fundamentalist dogma of the ultra-right, should get out more.
ISRAEL IS GOOD AND JUDAISM IS GOOD. NOTHING CAN CHANGE THOSE TWO FACTS.
It is the Likud manifesto and the neo-zionist political movement that is not only bad but destructive. The anti-Jewish sentiment that is rising throughout the world, is a direct result.
Israel’s creation by necessity involved massive ethnic cleansing, as recognized by the founders of political Zionism starting with Herzl. That makes Israel good? Israel, in order to maintain its “Jewish character”, and by self-definition, subverts the interests of the 20% of its citizens who happen not to be Jewish. That makes Israel good? And by erroneously singling out the Likud you are utterly ignoring the key role Labour and other “left wing” parties have all played in the conquest, occupation, and colonization of land outside the green line, not to mention the role the “left” played in the violent acquisition of those territories now being occupied and colonized.
There are none so blind as those who will not see.
Richard Silverstein says
I’d like to be with you on this, but I simply can’t ignore the fact that the Rabbinical Assembly is not (the last I checked) affiliated with, or operated by the Likud. It is an independent body representing the 2nd largest denomination of American Jewry. You might argue that Likud dogma has infected groups like the RA. But blame must still fall on them for allowing themselves to catch the illness.
Israel needs to feel persecuted. It is one of Israel’s founding myths. If not Iran, then Goldstone. If not Goldstone, something else. Ever the victim, persecution has become a crutch and addition. After all, if the “threat” wasn’t there, would Jews stick together long? Who killed rabin — an Iranian or Palestinian?
There is a line of thought in Israel that at their core most Israelis fear peace because if there were no longer an external existential threat holding Israel together, it would unravel, or fly apart at the seams. I think there is something to this thinking.
Israel is its own worst enemy – in fact, Israel is Israel’s only real enemy. I think the only real existential threat to Israel is Zionism.
Of course, if Israel has committed war crimes against civilians in Gaza (and evidently the Goldstone report makes a good case that the IDF indeed has done so), even-handedness is irrelevant. Bad is Bad. Truthfullness is good.
Explain to me again, then, why the American and European left discounts Palestinian attacks against civilians, especially innocent children? As the Goldstone report seems to make clear, deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians by rocket attack is also a war crime. The argument that Israelis are better at killing Palestinians is also irrelevant and frankly turns my stomach.
Turning the discussion to attacks against Israeli civilians is a deception strategy. The attacks of which civilians have suffer are a direct consequence of the occupation. Without occupation Israel would have the right to claim being a victim.
Portraying that Palestinians for years unprovokedly fired missiles and grenades against Israeli civilians from Gaza before Israel reacted is absurd. During those x years before Cast Lead operation Israel managed to kill hundreds of Palestinian civilians and Palestinians only a few.
Of course targeting civilians is wrong. The main difference is that Israel is practising all the time violence and exploitation against a vast civil population of millions. Palestinians are making a crime only when they make military actions against Israeli civil population.
Israel is using civilian shields in a massive scale. What else are the settlements and outposts.
Using constantly the world left to describe the side who do not like the present situation is amusing. The Left normally consists of socialists and communists. The Right of conservatives. There are countless rightist and centrists like me who do not approve the occupation and the means Israel is using to grab land. Hamas is as conservative and religious as for example Shas on Israeli side. The only difference is that the other is on the occupiers side and the other on the occupied peoples side.
That’s utter bullshit. The attacks on civilians started long before 1967 anyway. The violent on both sides were attacking each other in the 1920s, in fact.
Targeting civilians is a war crime, except when they are Jews? Targeting innocent children, who have no say in policy whatsoever, is evil. But of course, if you insist on devaluing the lives of Jewish children merely because they are Jewish — which is EXACTLY what you and other dunderheads are saying — then this is a perfectly acceptable strategy. Start with YOUR kids.
I made 20 trips to the former Yugoslavia from 1967 to 1971. Most people there finally figured it out. Violence, especially violence against innocents, is bad. Ignoring this behavior by one side and not the other is not a deception strategy. It is evil. The specific individuals responsible on all sides should be tried in their home courts. And if they can’t, they should be tried (as Goldstone recommends) at the International Criminal Court. The prototype for that is the Yugoslav Tribunal, where Goldstone has been UN prosecutor.
BTW, under international law, military occupation of a territory captured in war is legal, pending a peace agreement. SETTLEMENT of a territory before that agreement is not allowed. Both the Palestinians and the Israelis violated that rule after 1948, and Israel MASSIVELY violated it with Gaza and West Bank settlements.
Deception strategy? You deceive yourself. Oh, but you believe that an Israeli 6-year-old can be targeted in her classroom. My children and your children in America have just as much guilt (which is to say, none at all). Why don’t you invite a “freedom fighter” in, and loan him a launch pad? Why don’t you protest 9/11 observances, as it was obviously our fault that innocents died there, as well?
I am a Finn, not an American.
Most of the violence before 1948 was done by Jews. Did Jewish terrorists then think about the cost to civil life more than the Palestinians in recent decades. I doubt that. Do Israeli pilots who drop a 1000 kg bomb on an apartment building in an targeted “assassination” of the lives of the small babies living in that building? What does the crew of an Israeli battle ship think when they shoot a family on the beaches of Gaza? What do those numerous Israeli soldiers think when they have shot young Palestinian girls and boys in Gaza and West Bank? The number of killed Palestinian children is far far bigger than the amount of killed Israeli children. Most of those hundreds of murders are no accidents knowing the accuracy of Israeli weapons.
If Israelis give very little attention to the value of the life of Palestinians, why do you demand them to be more “generous” as you are? In the end the solution to end all this is solely in the hand of Israelis. Give Palestinians the one man one vote right or the 1967 borders for their own state.
When a nation occupies others land and people violently of course it has to pay the price for that. If you kill their children they will kill yours. Of course no 6 year old of should be targeted, not an Israeli and not a Palestinian. But the reality is his/hers Israeli parents can provide a solution to the decades long occupation, the means of Palestinian parents are much less. They have to continue being treated like slaves or try to change the reality through military means. If you demand protection to Israeli children why not demand the equal opportunity for Palestinians?
Since the year 2000 Israel has killed 1435 Palestinian children when Palestinians have killed 123 Israeli children. In 2009 Israelis 0, Palestinians 288. In 2008 Israelis 4 Palestinians 160 etc.
Richard Silverstein says
I have warned you previously that you have violated my comment rules & I warn you once again. READ THEM. If you continue violating them you will lose yr privileges.
You have gravely mischaracterized the arguments of those who disagree with you. Do not do this again. You may disagree here but you may not lie about what those disagreements are. NO ONE here has said that killing Jewish children is acceptable. It is a grave & disgusting claim that you make that someone has made this argument. If you make this or any similar argument again you will be gone.
I am glad that you agree that Israeli & Palestinians who kill innocent civilians should be brought to justice. In this, at least we agree. NO ONE again here is arguing that Israeli civilians or children are less valuable than Palestinian civilians who die.
Another despicable lie.
It seems that you are saying that killing or targeting innocent kids is OK because Israel is better at killing Palestinians. Sorry, still a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions on warfare.
A pox on both their houses — try the guilty of all sides for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Consider the kid who’s beat up every day by the neighborhood bully. One day he’s had enough and gets a gun and kills the bully. That’s premeditated murder. There are alternatives.
I have no idea where you’ve read that SimoHurtta said that “targeting civilians is a war crime, except when they are Jews” etc. Must’ve been on some other blog I guess.
The argument that Israel is “better” at killing Palestinian is relevant. With greater abilities comes greater responsibility, and we’re not talking about a few negligible percent difference in numbers of dead and military capabilities. The question is not only if both sides committed war crimes (that seems to be an easy double “yes”), but also the extent of the violations. This is of course not restricted to the Gaza assault but extends to the entire conflict.
The number of victims is obviously an important factor, though not the only one, in the severity of a crime. Intent is another one, but necessarily has to range after the actual deed and its consequences. Intent without deed is a thought crime. Homicide without intent is not murder, may be dolus eventualis though. Intent and deed without, or with lesser consequences is an attempt, still less severe than the completed crime.
So, what’s really irrelevant is speculation about what Hamas, PIJ, etc. would do if they had nuclear weapons: they don’t, and whatever they’d want to do with them has no bearing on what they actually did.
When a Qassam rocket kills an Israeli civilian it’s no defence for the launchers to say they didn’t intend to kill that particular person. Likewise, when the IAF covers whole areas with cluster bombs, WP, flechette missiles and the like, or bombs civilian buildings, it’s no excuse that they really really only wanted to hit this or that individual – as if the bombs could tell the difference.
OK. Just to be clear to the parents of the dead kids, and to the kids themselves: It is OK to kill them because someone in their country is killing the other folks’ kids.
Read the Geneva Convention.
Talk to your minister.
You are making exactly the argument that you claim is irrelevant.
Dead is dead.
BTW, not that it is relevant, but what is your source for “most of the violence pre-1948 was done by Jews?” Everybody plays with the numbers, but the scorecard on both sides pre-1948 was pretty bloody. And a lot of the Jewish violence was clearly directed at British soldiers (not civilians) immediately after WWII.
Donald Johnson says
You might want to try again, fiddler. Editorsteve seems to imagine you just said it was okay to kill Jewish children. How he can say that when you said–
“When a Qassam rocket kills an Israeli civilian it’s no defence for the launchers to say they didn’t intend to kill that particular person. Likewise, when the IAF covers whole areas with cluster bombs, WP, flechette missiles and the like, or bombs civilian buildings, it’s no excuse that they really really only wanted to hit this or that individual – as if the bombs could tell the difference.”
–is hard to understand, but there he is.
For your benefit, editorsteve, I agree with you that Palestinian attacks on civilians are war crimes too. The majority of Israel’s critics probably agree–one does find a few who defend Palestinian attacks as justified, but more often someone simply says that Israel is more responsible for the conflict, which I think is true. But it doesn’t let individual murderers on either side off the hook.
The problem in the US, in case you haven’t noticed, is that the overwhelming majority of politicians condemn Hamas atrocities specifically, and then retreat into mush about tragedy of an unresolved conflict rather than be equally honest about Israel’s crimes. The Obama administration just reacted to the Goldstone report in those terms.
The people of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Ghetto of Gaza (+ West Bank) had an equal moral problem. At what stage they are forced and ready to military resistance = ready to commit war crimes?
Could turning the discussion to a Polish or German child’s death (= war crime) by the Jewish resistance in Warsaw be seen as an attempt to turn the focus to a sad but in the end a minor detail and so avoiding the real discussion of the big picture? Germans could have used the equal war crime defence as Israelis now are using in an attempt to justify that they were only defending German and Polish lives in crushing the Ghetto. Every shot, grenade, mortar etc fired out of the Warsaw Ghetto could equally be seen as a war crime and indiscriminate attack against civilians and the countermeasures as self defence.
Naturally people like editorsteve will begin to argue that the Warsaw Ghetto and Gaza are not comparable. But the only historical event during the past 100 years when a huge number of “unwanted” people have been isolated for a long time in such a completely monstrous way are Gaza and Warsaw. Israel has not yet gone so far as Germany did, but how many lives the next operation will cost? 1000, 10.000 or more? On thing is clear that the resistance will continue in many ways so long there is no fair peace agreement.
I don’t see any comparison at all. Inhabitants of the Warsaw ghetto did not even have opportunity to attack German kids, and they were sometimes aided by Christian Poles outside the Ghetto (although Polish Antisemitism was deeply rooted).
WE in the US bombed German kids… back in Germany. And several American Army Air Force generals pointed out that if Hitler won the war, they would be charged as war criminals.
German soldiers and slave-labor-contractor collaborationists were the targets in the Warsaw uprising.
Even in Israel, BTW, major newspapers do not routinely call Palestinian attacks against military personnel and installations “terrorist.” That’s typically reserved for targeting civilians.
Finally, as a matter of international “law,” the Geneva Conventions were considerably strengthened, modernized and clarified in 1949, long after the Warsaw uprising. I would say that one can be “legal” without being “ethical,” because laws form the bear minimum of what should be considered ethical behavior. So this may be considered cold comfort.
Where do we go from here?
I am not a lawyer, so examine my interpretation carefully: There is a strong recent trend in the world toward rule of law — hence the UN tribunals on Rwanda and Yugoslavia, and the ICC. Israel and the US signed the Rome Statute (agreeing to be bound by the ICC) but later refused to ratify. In general, if you sign, you agree to be bound even without ratification, UNLESS you make clear you don’t want to be bound. The US and Israel did that in 2002. That’s apparently the status of Israel now. Hamas and the PA, as non-states, can’t sign the Rome Statute, but the treaty allows for ad hoc recognition of non-state “actors” who bring complaints to the ICC. Hamas did that in February. Thus, there is agreement the much of the international law community that actions of both sides in the Gaza war can land in the ICC. I would go even further. I also would like US officials who gave Israel an “expanded blank check” on use of weapons with US technology to defend themselves at the ICC.
Richard Silverstein says
I agree completely w. your last paragraph. At least we agree on something significant.
“I don’t see any comparison at all [between 21st century Ghazza and the Warsaw ghetto].”
Seriously? You don’t? No comparison at all? Wow. Interesting.
I thought my context for the comparison was clear — Jews in the Warsaw uprising did not target civilians and in fact had little opportunity to do so even if they wanted to.
If you are referring to the broader issue — that oppressed peoples have the right to attack the oppressors — they indeed do. The Geneva conventions specifically address the point, and were clarified in 1949 to make clear the rules apply to “stateless” populations as well.
Palestinians in Gaza have the absolute right to attack their oppressors. They have no right, under the conventions, to target non-combatant civilians outside Gaza when they do so.
I will leave to international law experts what might be the case if settlers within the West Bank were attacked, even if civilians, because they are by definition “involved” directly in the oppression. In general, militaries have the right to occupy territory captured in war, pending a settlement or truce. But there is no right to settle those territories. Both the Palestinians and the Israelis have violated that rule over the years, but something like 99% of the land involved in violations and 90 to 95% of the populations involved have been violations by Israelis.
The conventions go so far as to talk about proportionality, and to ban attacks on combatants when they are likely to cause civilian casualties. I surmise that the Goldstone report covered only the most egregious examples of Gaza violations by the IDF in that context, because the report is less than 600 pages long, with pictures!
My opinion, again, is that the Palestinians would have won their statehood long ago if they had gone the “Gandhi” route. But they certainly have the right to attack military targets within Israel, under international law. That’s where the similarity with the Warsaw uprising ends, again in my opinion.
Sorry for the long reply but I did not want to risk being misunderstood.
Thanks, Steve, for your clear and detailed reply. That does clarify your point.
“Jews in the Warsaw uprising did not target civilians and in fact had little opportunity to do so even if they wanted to.”
Just need to point out that this argument is based on a faulty premise. I will take as granted that Jews in the Warsaw ghetto uprsising did not target civilians, although I doubt there is any clear evidence for that. The flaw in your argument, though is your implied premise that the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto uprising did not want to target civilians. It seems very unlikely that there is evidence on that point one way or the other, so that premise is based on an assumption that you really cannot support. It doesn’t obscure your point, but it is bothersome.
You might be able to find some details of the two situations that are different, but overall the similarities between Gaza and the Warsaw ghetto are so striking that it is impossible to understand how some people can deny their existence. Do I need to enumerate? In fact, I would suggest that one difference is the level of overwhelming and heartless brutality to which the Gazans have been subjected. Admittedly I have not studied the Warsaw ghetto or the uprising in detail, but based on what I do understand about it, Israel has subjected the people of Gaza to a level of prolonged deprivation and savage brutality that the Jews of Warsaw did not experience. Neither mitigates or justifies the other, but how can people not acknowledge that there are significant similarities?
And by the way, while I would agree with you that attacks on civilians, especially children, by either party, including the oppressed party, are crimes, and there is no question that both sides have targeted civilians, and children, whether they bear the label terrorist or “most moral army in the world”. The fact that Israel has killed tens of times more Palestinian children does not justify the killing of a single Jewish child. Having said that, as you acknowledge, violent resistance against occupation, oppression, deliberate starvation, etc., is not only legal, it is sometimes necessary, and completely moral.
On the subject of colonists, to the extent that they present a threat of violence to the colonized – and many of them do – violence against them is justified if undertaken in self-defense. As much as Israeli colonists and the colonies they inhabit are the primary and most prominent physical manifestation of the problem, those who do not present a physical threat to the legitimate in habitants of the occupied land are civilians, and it is a crime to attack them. To many of us there is something intuitively wrong about this, but that is how it is.
“there is no right to settle those territories. Both the Palestinians and the Israelis have violated that rule over the years”
What Israeli territory have Palestinians ever occupied, let alone colonized?
“the Palestinians would have won their statehood long ago if they had gone the “Gandhi” route.,/i>”
Oh, please, not the tired old “Palestinian ghandi” shtick again! The evidence suggests that the Palestinians would be no better off had they “gone the Ghandi route”, and might even be worse off. There is insufficient time to list all the non-violent efforts made by the Palestinians, and the unfortunate responses from the Zionists/Israel beginning as soon as the objective of the Zionist project became clear, and extending until today. It is worth pointing out two things about Ghandi and the liberation of India from the Britisn. First, Ghandi came along at the right time. That is, he began his movement as the British empire was waning, and the British were approaching rediness to give it up. Second, his strict non-violent movement was hardly the only factor in the liberation struggle. There were also violent elements. In fact, every successful non-violent liberation movements that I can think of has had two things the Palestinians have never had on their side. First, was the right timing, second was accompanying violent movements. That is certainly true of South Africa as well. In that case there was plenty of violence involved along with Mandela’s non-violent resistance, and the world was ready to force then end of apartheid, and undertook various approaches, including, of course BDS and some oficial sanctions on South Africa.
Richard Silverstein says
Considering that the Nazis completely liquidated the residents of the Ghetto (I think a handful actually survived), I think we can safely say that the exterminated Jews were subjected to the ultimate deprivation & savage brutality. But that doesn’t deny or minimize the suffering in Gaza which is unconscionable & a grievous violation of international law.
You have a point, Richard. I admit that I was focused on the period prior to that, and did not take that into consideration. Not well thought out, and poorly done.
Again, allow me to be lengthy.
On the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, there is a fair amount of evidence that Jews resisted the temptation to attack Polish civilians, and even attacks on Polish Nazi collaborators were normally done only after consultation with other Poles. But it was a different situation and a different time — for one thing, the Poles were the Jews’ only source of supplies! For another, rockets and suicide bombs and air strikes were not on the table.
My opinion on peaceful resistance is just an opinion, but it is informed by the examples of Martin Luther King and the American environmental movement, in which I’ve been very active for 40 years, and in a lot of field work, teaching journalists in Africa, South America, central Europe and India. Yes, violence played a role, but not a dominant role.
I’ve also looked closely at polling data by Palestinian and Israeli pollsters, including quite a bit of raw data.
So I think the “Gandhi” approach transcends specific historical periods, but again, I’m not a historian, just an internationalist.
Both sides have created a massive mythology about who is/was entitled to what, and about the war in 1948. The key fact, though, is that the partition (and it was meant to be a “soft” partition — different governments but one economic entity) was imposed by the Western powers who took over the region from the Turks (who also did their own imposing but also did a lot of enriching). This was at a time when Europe controlled most of Africa and Asia. No one in Europe needed holocaust guilt. It was just a natural way of doing business. The idea of really letting folks govern themselves could be catching — and the Western powers and the Russians wanted no part of that.
You asked where the Palestinians won territory. The Palestinians did indeed in 1948 capture a piece of Jerusalem that had been “awarded” to the Jews — mainly Mt. Scopus and the surrounding neighborhoods, and access to the Wailing Wall. The Palestinians settled it, giving Israel a (thin) excuse to settle the West Bank.
In 1948, the Jews were more successful in the north, ethnically cleansing Haifa and surrounding villages — even though the Jewish mayor of Haifa was, again, famously against that cleansing. The Israelis won a lot more territory than they lost, obviously — about 99 times more in land area.
But the PALESTINIANS LOST EVERYTHING. The Egyptians took over management of Gaza, and the Jordanians outright annexed the West Bank. Economic activity stagnated. The largest source of jobs was growth in Israel, and that growth depended in part on cheap Palestinian labor. I suspect that the labor more than the land drove Israeli policy at least up to 1967 and maybe up to Begin becoming Israeli head of government in the late 70s.
Jordan had been part of the same League of Nations mandate that Britain had administered, and had been annoyed that the best agricultural land in the whole region had gone to the Palestinians. The terms of the armistice included a lot of things that ultimately were not honored by either side, but one condition — that Israelis have access to the Wailing Wall — was not honored by the Jordanians after 1948, and the UN (busy in Korea, the Congo, etc) didn’t act to do anything about it.
I’ve been to Jordan a few times. The (mainly Bedouin) Jordanians in the street seem to hate the Palestinians as much as the Jews, and maybe more. I still hear off-color jokes. But I don’t have any polling data among them to quantify the depth of this hatred.
I’m really not an expert on this, but I have a strong feeling (and no documents of any kind to back me up) that the Jordanians and the Israelis conspired together in common, detailed, secret policy to suppress the Palestinians from 1948 to 1967 and preserve a cheap labor pool that benefited both.
One thing that is well known is that when Israel was threatened by the Egyptians and attacked them pre-emptively in 1967, Golda Meir famously asked the king of Jordan to stay out of the war. When he foolishly opened a second front it took just a few days for the Israelis to drive the Jordanians back across the Jordan River… and for the Palestinians as a result to inherit a new, more oppressive overlord.
At the time, about a fifth, maybe more, of the Palestinians were Christians, and many of the non-Christians were not Bedouins. Some were descended from people the Turks resettled there after the Turks were forced from what became Bosnia. This wonderful, diverse, worldly background is a major Palestinian strength and a major hope for the region, again in my opinion.
The Zionists of course used this Turkish resettlement as an excuse to suppress the Palestinians and settle the region before WWII — drawing populations not so much from Europe as from elsewhere in the Middle East and from the western edge of the Russian empire, especially after the Pogrom of 1909.
My strong feeling is that it would be a mistake to try to “make all the old stuff right” in a peace agreement — it is too tangled. But it is clear that the Palestinians are due major, major economic aid (both money and trade opportunities) to make up for three generations of getting kicked around. They must get the “better end of the deal” in a peace agreement. Otherwise, they can’t catch up, and it all falls apart down the road.
I think that aid will come from the US and Western Europe once both sides are wrestled to the peace table. Money is easy. So are trade opportunities. Israel’s government doesn’t know how lucky it is.
As I said, I am not very knowledgeable about the Warsaw ghetto, or the uprising. My knowledge is limited to the basics, which are, of course, appalling. The basic picture is strikingly similar in many respects to the Gaza situation. As for the rockets, etc., one does have to wonder what the Warsaw Jews might have done had those options been available to them. I would like to think they would have used them. In general I do not think the failure of most Jews to fight back during the Holocaust makes them more virtuous than the Palestinians are as many Zionist apologists insist. I just think it makes many more of them tragically dead or severely damaged. Fighting back, even if you do not succeed, preserves something very important inside a person. Fighting back can kill you, but if it doesn’t kill you, you at least you retain your dignity and sense of yourself and your rights. Not fighting back is no less likely to kill you physically, and if it doesn’t kill your body, it certainly kills your soul.
“My opinion on peaceful resistance…is informed by the examples of Martin Luther King and the American environmental movement…”
There is simply no way you can remotely equate the environmental movement, or even the American civil rights movement with a life and death struggle for liberation from a suffocating and murderous occupation by an overwhelming power that seeks to erase you and take everything that is yours. The environmental movement is by comparison a very civilized struggle which lends itself very well to all manner of non-violent approaches, including but not limited to dialogue, and does not need to involve violence at all. Even the civil rights movement cannot be compared at all to the Palestinians’ existential struggle, and anyone who attempts to pretend they are at all equivalent does not have the most fundamental understanding of what the Palestinians have faced historically and are facing now. It is not hyperbole to use the term genocidal about Zionism’s and Israel’s intentions toward the Palestians. The concept of genocide is not limited to extermination by killing all members of a group, and the Israelis have certainly used many means to erase Palestinians historically, culturally, and as an identifiable people. Ben Gurion’s declaration that “the old will die, and the young will forget” was very clearly a statement about genocide in the form of the extermination of a people by attrition.
“I think the “Gandhi” approach transcends specific historical periods”
I think I did not make my point clear. I was not referring to historical periods. What I was trying to say was that for Ghadi’s, Mandela’s, and MLK’s movements to succeed required a set of factors, without which the movements would likely have failed and been buried, as Palestinian non-violent movements have been over the decades. Ghandi came along at the right time for a strictly non-violent movement to be effective. Had he come along at a time when the British were still dead determined to hold onto India it is very likely they would have crushed Ghandi and his followers with little notice on the part of the world, just as the Israelis have (mostly violently) crushed Palestinian non-violent movements, and largely kept them invisible. In addition, it is unlikely his movement would have grown to the size it did as the hope of success would have been lacking, and would be overwhelmed by the expectation of failure, and the fear of consequences up to and including death.
The same is true for Mandela’s movement. The situation in South Africa and Mandela’s movement were publicized in the media, and a good part of the world was aware of and opposed to apartheid, so Mandela and his movement had the support of much of the world, and there were numerous international efforts against apartheid, including BDS movements, and other sanctions, even banning from the Olympics, that contributed enormously to the success of the anti-apartheid movement. MLK’s movement also came along at a time when much of the country was ready for it, the media gave it a lot of attention, and they had popular and official support, all of which arguably was critical to their success.
And, as I said before, in all three cases there were violent elements struggling for the same things they were which, among other things, helped to put a positive spotlight on their non-violent approach. So, things came together in just the right way in all three cases, and the non-violent movements got all the credit, when it really was a fortunate confluence of events and factors that brought the struggles to a successful end. There is no evidence that non-violence alone could lead to success in a liberation struggle to which there is determined opposition by those in power, particularly in the face of a fiercely determined, cruelly brutal power that is willing to to go to almost any level of savagery and deception to achieve its goals or maintain the status quo as is clearly the case with Israel.
I’m not saying that non-violent resistance does not have its place in the Palestinian struggle. It always has, and someone who seriously and sincerely researches the use of non-violent resistance by the Palestinians would find that it has characterized much of the struggle going back to well before 1948. How many people even know that the first Intifada was largely non-violent, and included many different modalities of non-violent resistance and civil disobedience? And isn’t it interesting that Israel was so successful in both crushing and concealing from most of the world the fact of this non-violent Intifada that the general perception to this day is that it was just those damned hate-filled Ayrabs using their violent ways to try to destroy The Only Jewish State in the World ’cause if you think the Nazis hated The Jews, you obviously don’t know Arabs.
As for the history lesson, thanks, but I have spent quite a few decades studying and researching the history of Palestine, Zionism, and Israel, with an emphasis on the late pre-state period, 1948, early statehood, and 1967. I will not say that I am an expert on every aspect and every detail, but I would say that I know my stuff pretty well, and I have a lot of resources, including a pretty large personal library.
Whatever the drafters of UNGA 181 had in mind it is absolutely clear that the Zionist leaders had no intention of accepting a soft partition. As a matter of fact, it is absolutely clear that they had no intention of accepting the boundaries of UNGA 181, but on the contrary planned to use the war to take (and ethnically cleanse) as much of the land allotted to the Palestinians as they could. The evidence for that is overwhelming.
To the best of my recollection the Western Wall and the area around it was part of the corpus separatum, and not part of the proposed Jewish state. My recollection on Mount Scopus is hazy, and I do not have time to refresh my memory, but I do seem to recall that it was set aside as a non-contiguous part of the proposed Jewish state. In any case, I really do not believe you can by any stretch of the concepts call that an occupation and colonization by the Palestinians, unless, of course, you are willing to consider all the additional territory Israel took and ethnically cleansed in 1948-49 as occupied and illegally colonized as well, with all the ramifications and consequences that involves, in which case the Palestinians might be more than willing to cede Mount Scopus and vicinity to Israel. Are you prepared to continue that argument under those terms?
As for the lengthy history lesson, again thanks, and I would love to discuss it all with you one of these days, but I don’t see it as terribly relevant to the topic, and it would make for a far, far too lengthy comment, so I will let it go at what I have already had to say.
Good post. I hope we are not boring people with the length. Remember, I’m mainly arguing for not holding out the Warsaw uprising as a model or as an excuse for what the Palestinians should or should not do. And it is certainly not an excuse for general violence or for deliberately targeting civilians — the Jews in Poland didn’t. It didn’t make military sense and the dominant technology (the Molotov cocktail) was not well suited to the task.
I think it is more interesting to note that the Bosnians never had a government policy to kill or cleanse Serbs, in a war in which they were badly mangled, but that was the fate of civilians in some Serb villages and neighborhoods. The lower-ranked Bosnians responsible (including a Bosnian general who is a “war hero”) are indeed being tried for war crimes.
Were some Zionists genocidal? You bet. Were some Arabs? You bet. The rants of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem back in the 1920s are instructive.
This is not unique to the Middle East. Just look at Fox News, which isn’t really “news.” Or much of MSNBC. In Colonial Boston, Sam Adams’s boys tarred and feathered opponents to the brewing Revolution. When a few kids throwing snowballs from out of an unruly crowd provoked return fire from young troops guarding the governor’s mansion, the five deaths became the “Boston Massacre,” memorialized by a Paul revere copper etching. But then Sam’s cousin John Adams defended the troops as acting in self-defense, and got them declared innocent by a colonial jury.
Back in the Middle East, polling done since the 1960s suggests that these were minorities on both sides. Even during the second intifada, 70% of Palestinians said they’d go for a “cold peace.” There’s been a consistent 60-70% of Israelis who would do the same, depending on what peace terms are suggested by the pollsters and depending on recent history of civilian Israeli deaths.
You raise a particularly important point about the first Intifada. Plenty of journalists IN THE REGION, certainly the majority, reported it fairly. The dominant theme of their reporting was that the intifada was a labor strike — and that it was working.
The international press, parachuting in on the scene, reported the episodic bombing violence. The Israeli government AT THE TIME barely had to do a thing (they certainly did try to shape the news, but they didn’t have to work very hard at it). As the period recedes into history, the government can simply lie about the period.
My greatest optimism about peace was of course when Rabin was on top… and then radicals killed him. I have not had reason be in Israel since, by the way, although I have traveled elsewhere in the region.
But look at Iran today. The government there is correctly fearful of a (in this case, Green) revolution, like in Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine and so many other places. “Mainly peaceful” protest is hard to contain, and media are more informed, because of modern communications methods. Big demonstrations alone make news.
I still think that a well run and long-lasting general strike by Palestinians at any point from 1950 to 1967 would have done more to hurt the Israelis (and Jordanians) and force negotiations than any other action. The west, however, would have to have made it clear that it would ramp up shipments of food and other humanitarian aid to the strikers — as it did in Biafra at the end of the 60’s.
But that again is history — almost ancient history in Middle Eastern terms. Why do elements of the Palestinian cause ramp up violence when a moderate comes on the scene in Israel? They got Sharon elected (I can show you the tracking polls) and they got Bibi elected. Yeah, the moderates aren’t moderate enough, but they read the polls — 2 out of 3 Israelis want peace, 2 out of 3 Palestinians want peace. So why take the anti-Gandhi approach, even if you are not prepared to go Gandhi?
It delays getting people to the peace table.
I don’t think that’s accurate. While the virtue and innocence of the Jewish victims is indeed extolled, I haven’t heard a bad word spoken either about those Jews who did fight back, not just those in the Warsaw Ghetto but also those in more organised partisan units (guerillas, or terrorists, as they’d be called in other places and times).
OTOH there’s insistence that “never again” will Jews be led like sheep to the slaughter, rejecting for themselves precisely the virtue they just praised their ancestors for. That’s simply done by narrowing one’s view to the false alternative “either them or us”, and opting for “evil but alive” instead of “good but dead”. Then this choice is sold, to themselves no less than to the outside world, as the “real” virtue, because, hey, everyone looks after their own tribe first, right?
Quite so. Albert Camus in his first Letter to a German Friend, July 1943:
“We have realised that, contrary to our held belief, the spirit is powerless against the sword, but that the spirit united with the sword will prevail every time over the sword drawn for its own sake.”
On both sides there is a rationale, despite international law, maybe not so hidden either, that civilians are okay targets because they support the combatants and some are also the combatants. The notion is that civilians are fair game. With regard to terrorizing- targeting civilians is almost essential.
Collective punishment is rationalized this way. And on the Palestinian side- since practically all Israeli’s serve or will serve and since they have voted this oppressive government in- they are thought to be legitimate targets.
International law holds everyone accountable, but we are looking at a situation where international law is being flouted.
The wording of the Geneva Conventions is remarkably tight and clear in the 1949 clauses… and readily available on line, so they need not be repeated here. My position is that deliberately targeting civilians is never justified. And indeed, I do not think the world would ever again tolerate or experience WWII-style total war.
The “justification” business is a slippery slope that does not work in the Palstinians’ favor. There is the least justification of all for firing rockets at schools in settlements well outside Gaza on land apportioned in 1948. That we don’t comkplain and demonstrate against it is wrong. Kids!
But the ICC, I am sure, would also — despite Israli blustering — also (as it should) judge Israeli to be tgargeting civilians, to be attacking when civilians are likely to be harmed, and on and on.
Eventually, I would hope that US officials that allowed the Israelis to use US technology in this way would also face judgment.
But if the Palestinians aim only to justify their actions, saying the targeting of kids is justified because far more Palestinians have suffered, the Israelis and the US are home free. This, in my opinion, is not a good idea.
As Eli Wessal said, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and soon everyone is blind and can’t eat.”
Today, the Yugoslav tribunal is a major force keeping calm in that region.
The Goldstone report stands today dead in the water. That’s a shame. I expect that it will be resuurected.
BTW it is amazing what records are available from WWII. The Germans kept amazing records!
Fiddler, I did not mean to suggest that anyone, especially the Zionist apologists I referred to, has criticized the Warsaw Jews, or any of the few Jews who fought back. In fact, I would generally bring up the Warsaw ghetto when they started in on the virtuous, civilized Jews who did not fight back versus the evil, savage Palestinians, and have never, to the best of my memory, had any response. Even after I repeatedly insisted on an answer, they pretended that they just hadn’t heard the question, tried various diversionary tactics, and in some cases they promptly exited the discussion. For sure no one, including – maybe especially – me has ever in my presence criticized Jews who fought back against the Nazis.
I think a lot of people don’t bring up Jewish resistance or lack of it in WWII or follow it up because the comparison is irrelevant. That irrelevance, in fact, allows both the Palestinians to use it against Jews and the Jews to use it against Palestinians. Different time. Different place, and despite statements to the contrary about proof or lack of proof of Jews targeting or killing civilians in Europe in WWII, the Germans kept very good records and such incidents are simply not in the records.
It seems to me that most of the discussants here agree that all resistance is not the same and that targeting civilians, especially children and especially in non-combatant areas (schools and hospitals in Gaza, for instance, or schools and homes 10 miles outside Gaza)… and then the argument goes on to justify or quasi-justify this kind of mayhem on the part of the Palestinians because the Israelis are in general better at killing. Then they say… but of course it is wrong.
Where do we go from here? I’ve never characterized Palestinian action against, say, reservists at a bus stop as a violation of the Geneva conventions. But suicide-bombing a busload of poor folks and students (remember, those in higher authority don’t ride the bus!), or aiming rockets at non-combatant villages is a crime. I see no justification.
Israel’s oppressive actions against Palestinians is of course also a crime. I see no justification.
The argument among discussants is made that we have to concentrate on the Israelis and not demonstrate against Palestinian actions because the Israelis have the power, and that the “bigger crime” is in killing more people, and because they believe the Palestinian rewrite of history more than the Israeli rewrite of history. To do otherwise is a distraction.
But the Palestinian actions against civilians, especially children, gives the Israelis an excuse! (It is so much easier for the general public to grasp a suicide bombing event or a rocket attack than massively disproportionate use of force in heat of combat!) Why is this good for the Palestinians’ cause?
On statements about the majority of Israelis saying or believing this or that, any honest examination of polling within Israel itself, by Israeli and Palestinian pollsters (who, by the way, often cooperate on question-shaping and sample selection), strongly suggests this is simply not so. The exact interpretations are confusing, and no one knows what people “believe.” We can only know what people tell the pollsters, but there has almost always been (since the mid-seventies anyway) a strong Israeli majority favoring creation of a Palestinian state and against establishment of the settlements. The sticking points are on right of return and on dividing Jerusalem and frankly, these seem to be negotiable. (The sticking point used to be demilitarization of the West Bank… then Israel actually armed and trained Palestinian security forces.)
Likewise, there has almost always been a strong Palestinian majority recognizing Israel’s right to exist.
That’s the basis for peace and I think the time is particularly ripe for a “Gandhi solution.” Yet we have Sharon and Bibi coming to power with about a third of the seats in the Knesset, and Hamas winning a majority of the seats in the PA assembly with only 40% of the popular vote!
I’ve been trying to rally support for a demonstration in favor of the Goldstone report, but it comes at a bad time for me — I committed long ago to be in Houston and NYC next week, and in Norway the week after. I have to work. By the time I get back, around Oct 13, I think the moment will have passed. There are others trying to do the same thing.
Richard Silverstein says
You’re dreaming about the Palestinian Gandhi as was Gershon Goremberg when he wrote his rather silly easy in the Weekly Standard on the same subject. We already have Palestinians committed to non violence (Sari Nusseibeh, Mustafa Barghouti, & many others). Israel does nothing to show any interest in their views and should they actually become potent national leaders Israel will do whatever necessary to destroy them. It has already beaten the shit out of Barghouti at least once & would willingly do so again should it become necessary.
RE: But I object strenuously to Jewish nationalism that subsumes it (the Jewish identity) entirely.
A RHETORICAL QUESTION: When you completely mix nationalism and religion, doesn’t one (usually nationalism) almost always inevitably subsume the other? This is an area (one of many) where I am not very knowledgeable.
why is it not a problem for the Islamic Republic of Iran? Why is it not a problem for the Catholic country of Italy? Communist China. Why is it only a problem when it is the Jewish State of Israel?
Richard Silverstein says
It is certainly a problem with all those nations (though China is an odd example since Communism is not a religion).
What exactly is (not) a problem?
Italy doesn’t belong in your list, since Catholicism isn’t state religion there any more. Italy is Catholic in the same sense as the USA are Protestant and Indonesia is Islamic.
Andrew Hoffmann says
[comment deleted for violating comment rules]