Monday, April 02, 2012

And This, Too, Is Part of the Problem

There are many problems interfering with a just resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict -- that is, the establishment of a system where both Jews and Palestinians democratic and national aspirations are honored and respected (also known as a two-state solution). To some extent, I think focusing on the "problems" is a mistake, because it rapidly turns into an excuse for quiescence. I don't believe that if only Israelis were nicer people, that peace, happiness, and bunnies would flow across the land. But I also don't really care -- Israel is under existential threat, and it shouldn't and doesn't need to wait for Palestinian agreeability before doing either what is necessary for its long-term survival as a Jewish, democratic state, or what is just with respect to the natural human rights of Jews and Palestinians.

But of course, the whole point of this analysis is that not everything is in Israel's hands. It should do as much as it can because it's in its interest and because it is the right thing to do, but anyone who doesn't think that Palestinians have their own work to do, or denies that Palestinians engage in their own share of acts incompatible with justice or peaceful coexistence is deluding themselves.

To cite two examples from today's Ha'aretz, the IDF just arrested 13 Palestinians on suspicion of engaging in terrorist activities, including the goaltender for Palestine's Olympic soccer team and, most ominously, employees of the Red Crescent. The use of entities like the Red Crescent -- which are given privileged status in conflict zones precisely because they promise to abstain from armed conflict -- is a hallmark of Palestinian terror groups and a critical factor in the putting Palestinian civilians in danger. Because the IDF has to view the Red Crescent as a potential threat -- its operators firing weapons and its ambulances smuggling weapons -- it makes it far harder for humanitarian aid (even legitimate) to reach Palestinians in conflict zones.

Second, none other than PA President Mahmoud Abbas decided to honor anti-Semitic reporter Helen Thomas, who resigned in disgrace after publicly declaring that Jews should "get the hell out" of Israel. The "go back where you came from" -- a charge which, ironically enough, follows Jews no matter where they go or where they come from -- is classic anti-Semitism, and the message with respect to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in particular is that it will never end so long as Arabs have to suffer the indignity of their being Jews in their vicinity. Thomas has not expressed the slightest bit of remorse for her racist comments, yet the PA mission honored Thomas as having "defended the Palestinian position every step of the way."

So many problems. But how are they relevant? Insofar as the ultimate goal is Jews and Palestinians living side-by-side in harmony, they're very relevant. But with respect to the narrower question of "what actions should Israel take to secure its long-term status as a Jewish, democratic state", they matter far less. Israel's security ought be protected the same way it is now -- through a strong military deterrent capable of crushing anyone who tries to cross them. And peaceful co-existence may or may not be a pipe dream -- but even if it's impossible, two peoples who separately and democratically hate one another is better than two people who do so while under the same undemocratic authority.

To be clear, these things matter, because questions of justice matter -- and that includes Palestinian injustice, violence, and anti-Semitism towards Jews. But part of being Jewish is that you rapidly learn that you can't wait to act until everyone else decides "yes, you're equal". Anti-Semitism is a fact of life, the question is how to best create a just, equitable, democratic world that is fair to Jews and everyone else in the face of that -- something that includes, but is not limited to, a space where Jews are democratically in control of their own destiny.


YMedad said...

In writing "how to best create a just, equitable, democratic world that is fair to Jews and everyone else...", especially after enumerating too many non-ethical (ok, so that's an understated term) behaviors of the Pals., begs the question: if, after 90 years of conflict between Jews and Aarbs in this country, we are still arguing not only over rights between the two peoples but over whether one side actually is capable or willing to engage in normative actions that would impress the other side of its intentions for peace and even willingness to abide by agreements, what's the use?

David Schraub said...

Because justice is never useless?

More officially, justice is always an imperfect process in an imperfect world. We do the best we can given innumerable constraints, and given the reality that all parties likely have had their failings (this post focuses on some by Palestinians, but there are plenty by Israelis as well). Sometimes, those failings circumscribe our ability to take actions in pursuit of justice -- but not always. So, for example, neither of these two actions by Palestinian actors has any bearing on the wisdom or propriety of Israel removing its settlements. So it should.