Sunday, June 21, 2009

What about Palestine? - Part 1

I've often wondered why Christian Peacemaker Teams people are so unapologetically pro-Palestinian. I'd assumed the story was two-sided, and that they had chosen one side because of an “underdog bias,” and the fact that they were doing their work in the Palestinian enclaves, by and large. I should have read Sami Hadawi's Bitter Harvest a long time ago. First published in 1967, it's been reprinted repeatedly; the edition I'm reading was copyrighted in 1989.

To say there are two sides to the Palestinian conflict and its history is to say that when a man blatantly shoots a neighbour, drives his family off land that had represented their family's livelihood for centuries and seizes it all for his own, fairness would dictate that there are two equal but opposing parties whose stories must be weighed. There's only one side to this story; the story is one of theft, murder, deceit, prejudice, discrimination and disregard for the value of human life in order that Zionism could dispossess Palestinian Arabs of their land and cleanse the area of the "riff-raff" that lived upon it.

So says Hadawi, and he makes the case with copious statistics, documents, quotations, citations and his own experience as one born in Jerusalem and as an official land valuer during the British Mandate period and later for the Jordanian government and the United Nations Palestine Conciliation Commission. In 1965, he was appointed director of the Institute of Palestine Studies in Beirut and his books and pamphlets on Palestinian affairs are numerous.

Much of the West lives with an uncomfortable double standard with regard to Palestine. On the one hand, the memory of the Holocaust is still fresh enough that providing Jewry with a safe place feels like “the least we can do,” given our complicity in anti-Semitic historical events. This coupled with the enormous potential for being fingered as anti-Semitic for criticizing Israeli policies weighs heavily in our pernicious tendency to overlook Israel's transgressions and their excuses, namely that their theft and killing excesses are carried out in the interest of their security. On the other hand, we have seen the seizure of properties, the failure of Israel to carry out its commitments to the UN, the deadly overreactions and we know that these are morally very, very wrong. And yet, the former sensitivities paralyze the West and have historically allowed the Israeli state to commit atrocity after atrocity with impunity.

But I still have much to learn on the subject. I've also ordered a few books from the library that are authored by Jews. At present, I've come to some conclusions that need to be tested:

1) The state of Israel should not be confused with the “Children of Israel” of the Old Testament, nor should it be considered an extension of the stories of Abraham, Moses, Joshua and the prophets. Israel is a modern country like Liechtenstein and Canada, but one that uses the pretext of Biblical manifest destiny to excuse ethnic cleansing.

2) Judaism is not a race. There are plenty of people of the Jewish faith who are not Semitic and there are plenty of people we know as Jewish who are not adherents to Zionism's world view. We must separate our evaluation of the state of Israel's policies from our sensitivities about antisemitism.

3) There will be no redress for the degradation and disgrace Israel has heaped on Palestinian Arabs without a forceful determination by the world community that Israel will carry out its commitments to the UN to observe strict boundaries, protect property and human rights for all inhabitants and adhere to the common standards of decency in its dealings.

Hadawi has left me with these impressions. More later.

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