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.
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 Statement...limited 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.