Sunday, January 01, 2006

No Good Answers

It is unfortunate that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict often leaves one in a position where there are no good answers. I labor under no illusions that Israel's security barrier ("barrier" striking me as the most value-neutral term for the entity separating Israel and Palestine--since it changes forms quite often along the route, calling it either a "wall" or a "fence" would both be inaccurate and prejudicial) is something we should cheer about; it incurs real costs on both Israelis and Palestinians that should not be minimized or shunted aside. At the same time, the wall/checkpoint system has real and crucial security benefits for Israel that are critical and unreplicable. I am truly sorry for the tremendous inconvenience the barrier places on the Palestinians who need to navigate it. I am not willing to let suicide bombers blow up children's parties because of that sorrow.

I wrote earlier of my anticipation of Professor Adrien Wing's "part II" blog post on her trip to Israel and the West Bank. I expressed hope that Professor Wing could present the relevant issues in a balanced way, with both a sensitivity to the Palestinian's plight while recognizing Israel's legitimate security interests as well. Though it could have been worse, I feel she fell far short of that goal.

She begins:
The Israelis have militarily occupied the West Bank where Bethlehem is located since 1967 along with the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and other areas. In the past few years, they have been building a giant wall of nearly 400 miles in the West Bank, three times as long as the Berlin Wall and twice as high. When completed, this barrier will wall in the more than 1 million Palestinians into little noncontiguous pockets of poverty and misery that many people globally say remind them of American Indian reservations or South African apartheid. Needless to say, many resent any comparisons of any aspect of the Occupation to apartheid. The wall is not located along the 1967 border lines, but instead weaves deep into Palestinian areas, separating people from their land, schools, jobs and family members. In 2004, the International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion that the Wall violated international law.

Oy. This is wildly distortive and Professor Wing knows or should know better. Let's just go part by part. Starting with the Berlin Wall comparison--it obviously is going to be longer than the Berlin Wall, because that was a barrier within a city and this is one between two countries. As to the height, Professor Wing should know that the barrier only rises to its total height in a select few places where it is needed to stop Palestinian sniper attacks on Israeli roadways (specifically, there are 8.5 kilometers of "wall"). That strikes me as quite legitimate. In its "normal" manifestation, the barrier is not even a solid "wall" at all but a fence, designed to stop Palestinian suicide bombers and terrorists (something it has, to even Professor Wing's acknowledgement, been extraordinarily good at).

The second argument she makes, that it will wall in "1 million Palestinians" into "noncontiguous pockets of poverty and misery." As I'm sure Professor Wing is aware, the wall at most will "wall in" 7% of the West Bank--and extends "deep into Palestinian areas" only where those areas are not predominantly Palestinian (such as the Ariel settlement bloc, and some Jerusalem suburbs). All told, around 10,000 Palestinians will be on the Israeli side of the line--though that number is fluid (partially because many Palestinians in East Jerusalem have petitioned to be moved onto the Israeli side of the line). As such, even if Israel does decided to annex the territory on its side of the wall at the end of negotiations (and it disavows such designs), this would leave the new Palestinian state with 100% of Gaza, and 93% of the West Bank including 99% of its population base there, in exchange for a huge rise in Israeli security and safety. That this is seen to be a massive imposition on Palestine just shows that Palestinian advocates have completely forgotten the meaning of a "compromise" (hint: generally, neither side gets everything it wants).

Though it isn't an argument per se, I love how she makes non-specific analogies to greater instances of global oppression, like South African apartheid that are just generic enough so that she disavow the claim herself:
many people globally say [that the barrier/checkpoint system] remind[s] them of American Indian reservations or South African apartheid. Needless to say, many resent any comparisons of any aspect of the Occupation to apartheid.

I'm thrilled that "many people" say that. Do you say that? I mean, that's quite a charge to make. Some people might say that conflation of the two situations betrays a shocking absence of moral proportionality. Some might also say that the rhetorical tactic being used, of soft insinuations of a link mixed with plausible deniability in case the charge doesn't pan out, is very reminiscent of how President Bush tried to tie Iraq to 9/11. Not me, only "some people," of course. But I do love how these particular sins seem to be so non-partisan. Sometimes, it seems like they're the only thing that are.

Finally, as an International Law expert Professor Wing should know better than cite that ICJ ruling. I stand by my original criticism of it, and upon re-read my contempt only grows. For example, even though the primary legal question was whether Israel's security concerns justified the hardships put upon the Palestinians by the barrier, the Court opinion felt it could get enough factual grounding on the former issue from "Israel's Written to issues of jurisdiction and judicial propriety" because it "contained observations on...Israel's concerns in terms of security" as well as information in the "public domain" [emphasis added]. Well then! I guess that's more than enough information to make a judicial ruling with massive geopolitical implications. This is especially ironic because, on one of the rare occasions the opinion even touches on security issues, it says that "on the material before it" [emphasis added], the court is unconvinced that the barrier's destruction of property is "absolutely necessary" for Israel's security. All told, not even one full paragraph is devoted to analyzing Israel's security claims (out of 162 paragraphs total).

But perhaps more upsetting than the false and misleading premises the argument is based upon, are the little phrasings and storytelling decisions designed to minimize Jewish and Israeli legitimacy in the region (call them "discursive micro-aggressions" if you will). The reference to Nablus as the "center of resistance to the Occupation", rather than a hotbed of terrorism, for example. Professor Wing refers to Tel Aviv as "considered the Israeli capitol by most countries of the world." Well pardon me if I don't give "most countries of the world" authority to strip Israel of its own actual capitol (in West Jerusalem). It should be noted that this is not a trifling slight--the existence of a Jewish state with a capitol in Jerusalem is the culmination of the 2000 year old dream that sustained our people in exile as they spent countless generations of slaughter by their Christian and Muslim peers. The effort to deny Jews this even in the face of its realization can only be interpreted as a last gasp effort to maintain the Jewish state of exile--as any good Crit knows, its far easier to keep a group down when you can deny their reality and replace it with ones own. The ability of Jews to construct their own identity has only occurred sporadically in the modern era, and for whatever reason, everytime we try the world rallies against it to crush it (whether it be by Christians calling us Satanists, Muslims calling us Crusaders, or Televangelists incorporating us as "Judeo-Christians"). She refers to the reduced rates of suicide bombing caused by the wall, but almost as a negative factor in that it may be responsible for the fact that "most of these people on the beachfront [in Tel Aviv] did not have to think on a daily basis if at all or may not be truly aware about the harsh existence of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories." In fact, this is a bit of a trend in the literature I've noticed--in the ICJ opinion, for example, the extension of the wall toward Israeli settlement blocs, far from being counted as a part of Israel's security concerns toward those Jews not being blown up, was counted as a negative factor because it legitimized the settlement campaign. The implication--unintentional, perhaps, but unavoidable--of both the former and the latter is the same--the "right" end result would be less security and more death of Jews.

I do not think that everything in Professor Wing's post is wrong. Particularly, I very much believe her description of naked racism against black Jews in Israel. I also believe that Israel has made greater strides in this field that nearly any other nation, but that only makes them the very sad king of a very small hill. More clearly needs to be done--and Jews everywhere have an obligation to stand in solidarity with their cohorts of all ethnic persuasions in their pursuit of full and equal rights. I applaud Professor Wing in bringing this issue to light for the greater blogging community. And in all honesty, I applaud her for writing this entire post as well. Nothing can change in the world without dialogue between people who have disagreements--many as ours may be. If she hadn't written this post, I'd never have written this response, and both of us would be that much farther from synthesis. The comments above should thus not be understood as a call for censorship but a request for further discussion--limited, contingent, and partial as it may be.

But it is singularly depressing just how little concern there is in her post for Jewish experience and Jewish lives. This is obviously a difficult topic to write upon, partially because of the need to separate the gravely intertwined issues of criticizing Israel and anti-Semitism. It is equally clear that the former must be possible without being accused of the latter, and that the latter can and often does inform the former. In seeking to navigate those treacherous waters, I have been greatly influenced by the incredible strides made by the CRT movement in elucidating how racism can operate subconsciously or structurally even when the individual system participants have the best of intentions. I believe that anti-Semitism can work much the same way, and that the long, broad, and deep tradition of global anti-Semitism still pervades our collective consciousness even amongst those who strive to overcome it (or believe they already have). One day, I wish to write a broader work exploring these issues. But today, only sketches exist thus far.

To someone operating within this tradition, saying "I have Jewish friends" is no different than the White conservative who answers all charges of racism with "but some of my best friends are Black." Similarly, the existence of Jews who may echo certain complaints just makes them the Semitic equivalent of a Black conservative--the closest analogue to Noam Chomsky is Clarence Thomas. This is not meant perjoratively, but simply descriptively--both are members of a minority identity group who take positions far outside the norm within said group--positions that I believe are hostile to the collective interest and play into the hands of the greater oppressive matrix. To cite just one more example, the discussion on Jerusalem as Israel's capital does not unintentionally draw from Charles Lawrence's "cultural meaning" work--the work I think can very easily be transplanted to issues of anti-Semitism, and it is a shame it hasn't happened on a greater scale. At the same time, I will admit hesitancy at some of my stronger rhetoric. Being charged of anti-Semitism (or perhaps, more accurately, being complicit in a global anti-Semitic framework) hurts, just as a similar charge about racism does. I have expressed my concerns about the expansion of these terms' discursive terrain, and they remain valid here. Even still, I believe Professor Wing knows that just as "racism" can be understood not necessarily in its classic sense of "you are an awful human being who wants all Blacks to be your inferior" but as a more subtle and nuanced (but still dangerous form), anti-Semitism is not just Holocaust-advocacy but also exist in those little blocks that construct our world such that it is hostile to Judaism and Jewish identity. And it is something we all must struggle to overcome. The world's longest running "ism" continues unabated--but somehow it stings harder when the left is leading the charge.


Anonymous said...

You make some good points even though I personally find many of Israel's policies discriminatory (i.e. banning intermarriage.) But there is a fine line between criticizing Israel and engaging in the general anti-Semitism that undergirds much of the criticism of Israel(which I don't think professor Wing does). It is very hard to do that, and often I don't even engage in discussion of this issue for that reason (which is not good either).

I am also routinely surprised at how many Jewish Americans are very liberal when it comes to US policy yet support very conservative policies in Israel.

From my own point of view the right wing extremists in the US, Israel, and the Muslim parts of the Middle East are all threatening, and they also seem to have a disproportionate influence in politics in all of these places. It does seem like the moderates in Israel are really taking a stand more recently--I'm not sure what is going on with Palestinian moderates. When Sharon forms his own coalition and leaves the Likud party, you know things are changing. I'm more hopefully given some of the recent developments. I don't agree with people building walls, but if that will stop the violence, it will suffice, for now, but it is not a permanent solution.

One thing you don't discussion is the grinding poverty in many predominantly, Palestian areas. How do you fit that into this discussion? My understanding is that many low income Palestians travel into parts of Israel to work, and the wall will seriously impeed that. How would you address that issue?

PS-Nice Blog. I'm with you on the radfem discussion.

Anonymous said...

"One thing you don't discussion is the grinding poverty in many predominantly, Palestian areas. How do you fit that into this discussion? My understanding is that many low income Palestians travel into parts of Israel to work, and the wall will seriously impeed that. How would you address that issue?"
How about palestinian society provide jobs for their own people? They want to have it both ways; a sovereign Judenrein state, yet expect and even demand Israel be responsible for providing jobs for their people. If the palestinians are going to have a separate country, then Israel is under no obligation to allow workers to cross into Israel for jobs. They are no longer Israel's responsibility.

David Schraub said...

Rachel: Thanks for your comments. I agree that there are many parts of Israeli policy that can be quite legitimately criticized (another I'd add is the state's treatment of non-Orthodox Jews).

In terms of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism, as I said, it's very difficult to draw lines and alot depends on how one defines anti-Semitism. Again, I think the analogies to critical race theory is very instructive here--one can make criticisms that are anti-Semitic in effect, or guided by subconscious anti-Semitic tropes, or whatever, without being consciously anti-Semitic (or a "bad person") at the surface. This, of course, makes the issue infinitely more complex, which is unfortunate but ultimately critical to address if we are to bridge the gap/chasm that divides people here.

I think that the point about being liberal domestically but "conservative" on Israel is interesting, but cuts both ways. We should question why Jews tend to support more conservative policies in Israel than they do at home--but we should also wonder why it is that Jews, as steadfast a liberal group as you'll find, believe that the policies they advocate in Israel are right. I doubt most Jewish liberals would indeed characterize their Israel policy as "conservative" at all. I probably would be a centrist in Israel, but I consider my position on Israel not to be a conservative anomaly from my overall liberal core, but an extension of my general liberal hawk self. So I think that non-Jewish American liberals have to do some soul-searching as well.

The work issue is an important one. Generally, I support open borders wherever feasible. In America, for instance, I oppose the growing anti-immigration trend quite severely--building walls, restricting entry, arming borders--but I'd imagine that if Mexico was shelling El Paso, I'd feel rather differently. Israel's economy is moderately dependent on the Palestinian labor you mention--Israelis know that closing the border exacts significant economic costs, so if the terror issue was moot I don't think that they'd maintain an isolationist system. But terror, of course, isn't moot. Ultimately, the only way that Israel is going to have an open border with Palestine is if it feels that border is secure from terrorist assault. As much as it pains me, from a weighing standpoint Palestinian economic opportunity has to be subservient to Israelis not being blown apart by suicide bombs.

Anonymous said...

This article has left me absolutely gobsmacked by its mendacity and arrogance. Just let me respond to some of the nonsense in its first few paragraphs - examples where glib falsities are used to elide facts.

>and this is one between two countries.

Countries? Really. I didn't know that Israel recognised Palestine as a country.
Does Palestine have an Army? No. Does it have ports of its own? No. Is it able to autonomously allowed to police itself? No. Hold elections without reference to Israel? No. Collect its own customs duties and taxes? No.

Don't talk rot. Israel mutters obscenities out of the side of its mouth over the "disputed territories", and has never recognized Palestine. Remember "Jordan is Palestine". Remember "A land without a people for a people without a land"? If Israel has ever stepped back from those doctrines it's news to me.

> needed to stop Palestinian sniper attacks

What sniper attacks? The Israeli's have *never* raised snipers as a justification for the wall, and have always referred to suicide bombings and the need to control movement of the Palestinians. That's right: control movement, "disrupt the infrastructure of terror".

Don't just make stuff up like this - it's not a good look.

And even then, as opposed to what exactly? Israeli Defence Force sniper killings of children and UN personal? IDF shellings of the UN compound at Qana? IDF bulldozing of houses inside the purported "country" of Palestine?

If Palestine is a country are these not acts of war? If Palestine is a country doesn't it have the right to resist occupation? Of course it does.

What a tangled web we weave when we plot to distract. No matter how much practice we get, we get caught in the web as it gets more complex. If you're going to argue like this it would be best that you got your ducks (talking points) in a row first. But I guess that's hard to do after 60 years of ducking and weaving.

>partially because many Palestinians in East Jerusalem have petitioned to be moved onto the Israeli side of the line

Pure distortion. What they have actually done is (quite reasonably) asked not to be separated from those areas where they get most of their customers from and engage most in economically. Any implication that these people are pleading to be part of Israel rather than Palestine is just simply vile.

> only where those areas are not predominantly Palestinian

ie. Where there are illegal settlements? Isn't that the good Proffessor's point?

>even if Israel does decided to annex the territory on its side of the wall at the end of negotiations

If they build the wall haven't they de facto 'annexed' those areas anyway? Of course they have. 'Annexation' *means* de facto theft of territory - or do you use your own special purpose Humpty Dumpty dictionary where words mean only what you want them to, no more no less?

> analogies to greater instances of global oppression, like South African apartheid

Umm - wake up and smell the coffee. The analogies are made simply because Israel's treatment of the Palestinians is *worse*. The South Africans never made any serious attempt to disrupt or destroy black society (largely because they needed the labor). Unlike Israel. Proof? Any number of statements by Ariel Sharon will do. Disruption is the stated aim of the barrier.

> Finally ... analyzing Israel's security claims (out of 162 paragraphs total).

This entire paragraph is just mendacious tripe. The ICJ ruling was basically that, yes Israel was entitled to obtain security by building a barrier, just so long as that barrier was built on it's own territory and not within the occupied territory. The Berlin Wall was built about 10 meters *inside* East Germany - not a gram of it on West German soil. Totally unlike the Israeli barrier which is predominantly outside the 1967 borders.

>the existence of a Jewish state with a capitol in Jerusalem is the culmination of the 2000 year old dream

Ah hem. In historical fact, a Jewish state is an idea of 19th Century nationalism and did not exist in serious form before then. This pseudo-romantic drivel is what got the world into the first world war, and most of us (except Germany) got over it around about that time.

Now you are really going to have to make up your mind at this point:- is Israel a 2000 year old dream made real? Or is it the world atoning for the Holocaust?

Because a 2000 year old dream is not a good reason for ethnic cleansing, and while the Holocaust can justify the creation of Israel (as a form of atonement), it can never be used to justify genocide (ie. the destruction of the Palestinians).

Look - this horrible situation is never going to stop until there is acceptance of the right of a nation to establish itself and live securely with its neighbours within agreed borders.

Acceptance of the right of Palestine to exist as a nation by Israel.

jack said...

I'm curious. Does opposition to a Jewish state make one an anti-semite? Obviously dissolving Israel would be at this point immpossible and essentially genocidal so I mean the question in principle only- or say we're considering the question in 1947. If I oppose an independent Kurdish state does that make me racist against Kurds? Does the given ethnic group have to face historical wrongs before they get a state? Of a certain magnitude? What about the gypsies, the Basques, the thousands of tribes in the Western Hemisphere and Africa and Asia... and I'm sure countless more that I'm forgetting?

I don't mean these questions rhetorically at all. The Kurdish question, for example, is very real. Are all ethnic groups entitled to a nation-state?

Anonymous said...

"I'm curious. Does opposition to a Jewish state make one an anti-semite?"

Only if you have a "Free Tibet" bumper sticker on your car... Seriously though, if you accept nationalist aspiration for the Palestinians but not for the Jews (or accept Pie in the Sky "bi-national" concepts for which there is much evidence of on-the-ground failure such as Yugoslavia and elsewhere where there are extreme ethnic hatreds), I think there are issues there. As David indicated, if you can internalize racism (and I certainly have seen various examples of that), you can internalize antisemitism with respect to "Anti-Zionism" while endorsing a free Tibet or a Palestinian state (and I ain't talkin' Jordan).

Regarding the Basque, Gypsies, the Kurds and the rest, I think there is certainly argument of "statehood" (national or with a larger nation) or some level of autonomy so as to protect the liberties and basic rights of those subsumed under the given ethnic "unit." It can however get silly as you allude (should we have a state for New England upper class twits?) I'd certainly say that the Kurds have a case but unfortunately have no international sponsors, the Basques perhaps not so much of an argument given their current state in Spain (even when you factor out the nullifying effect of ETA terrorism) but I can't begrudge them some levels local statehood and autonomy. Select Native American groups have “nation” status but there are lots and lots of issues there. If you have issues with that, I think you need to seriously sit down with yourself to see of you are not accouting for the Kurds needs to what is available to them already in various states, or if you have ... "issues."

In the case of the Kurds, there are boots on the neck worn by Turkey, Saddam's Iraq (jury's out on the current Iraq), Iran and the Kurd's own PKK. If Iraq becomes a successs story, they may have their own "state" within a democratic Iraq (fingers crossed - I don't think the ethnic hatreds between the Sunni and Shia against the Kurds are as extreme as that between the Arabs and the Jews).

Unfortunately for the concept Palestine, the a Palestinian State has been used for so long (and continues to be used in some Palestinian circles and Arab States) to negate the right for Israel to exist (read the Jews to live under their own rule so as to protect their basic rights – as in not to be exterminated again in whole or piecemeal), that even the validity of a Palestinian State is often unfairly called into question, and ability of the current state of affairs in the West Bank and Gaza under the PA rule gives peole who are serious about the future of a Palestinain State genuine worry. Indeed, given the corruption and cynicism of Fatah and the PA and their lack of resolve in reigning in terrorists (and their own funding of them while playing the “peace process” card), as well as Hammas and Hizbollah, forward-thinking Palestinians need their own state to protect them from... their “fellow” Palestinians.

But all in all, if an ethnic group needs a nation or state to secure the most basic of human rights (including preserving some sense of identify), than a state or nation it needs, period. But the realities on the ground are kinder to some groups than to others. Does thinking that a given group doesn't deserve a "state" make you a racist. Only if you don't factor in the real facts on the ground because you have issues because of any prejudices. Racisim is Racism.

Holly in Cincinnati said...

Yes, unless you are a Satmar Hasid.

"Does opposition to a Jewish state make one an anti-semite?"

Anonymous said...

one short point:
Someone said: "The Israeli's have *never* raised snipers as a justification for the wall"

There is a highway in Israel that runs adjacent to a number of Arab villages. Kalkilya, in the West Bank, is one of them. The portion of the security barrier at that point is indeed a wall -- because of Palestinian snipers having shot at cars on that highway. So...yes, it is justification for that type of barrier at exactly those points. The rest of the barrier is fence, and not wall. Thank you.