Saturday, January 03, 2009

Peace In Our Time

It is hard to avoid the steady flow of information about and from Israel and Palestine about the Gaza War, or the War on Gaza if you prefer. And I've tried. People bring it up in conversation, and my Twitter stream is practically humming with news, statistics, death tolls, opinions. Wasn't the web supposed to be an opt-in experience? Is there a browser plugin to simply block it all out?

Before you accuse me of burying my head in the sand, please understand: I have friends and family members all over the spectrum of this issue. Pro-Palestinian people who view Israel's very existence as the latest affront (or certainly the worst) in a long string of European imperialism in the Middle East. People who believe Israel should exist because the Jews are God's chosen people, and more importantly it must exist for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ to occur, and therefore support anything Israel does. Jewish people who are not violent or supportive of wars, but who see the very real need for Israel to defend itself against threats and terrorism. Other Jewish people who believe the Palestinians should be expelled once and for all to make Israel safe. And even other Jewish people who think that Israel's actions are wrong in this instance. And a whole host of people who don't know what to think.

I don't pretend to be an expert on Middle Eastern affairs, and I see validity in many of the positions above. There are many forces at work: the remaining fallout from imperialism both in Palestine and other parts of the Middle East; religious hatreds that are far beyond my understanding (on both sides); the history of the Jews' oppression by other powers; the Holocaust; Western and specifically American guilt and sympathy (again, on both sides); some fundamentalist Christians' exploitive support of Israel; people still living in refugee camps sixty-some years after they were forcibly removed from their homes by a UN mandate; the list goes on.

There is an incredibly compelling argument for Israel to defend itself against Hamas, and Hamas no doubt timed these recent attacks at a point when America's leadership is changing. But Hamas is not a government; it is a terrorist organization, or (perhaps a more appropriate analogy) - an organized crime syndicate. The reason Hamas receives so much support is that, like a mafia family, it does favors for people - it supports the building of schools, hospitals and infrastructure. It offers protection for people. And when people whose lives have been helped by Hamas are then in trouble or called upon to act, especially when they tend to view Israel as the cause of their troubles, it is not really a mystery why they are supported and loved among those who are or see themselves as oppressed.

So while Israel is well within her right to wage war on Hamas and defend herself, the question is what will this all do long-term. I challenged myself the other day to name one instance when a military power fighting a terrorist organization has actually succeeded in wiping it out. I drew a blank. I could list all the counter-examples, but is that really necessary? No. But I thought of something else that's interesting and worth mentioning here.

The UK fought its own long, protracted and extremely costly (in terms of money and lives) war against a much-loved and highly political terrorist organization who fought for the freedom of an area occupied by another power. The Irish Republican Army, in one form or another, carried on this fight for almost 100 years. You are reminded of this every time you look for a trash can on the Tube; they don't exist because they used to make such a nice place to deposit bombs. And yet, in 1997 after the Belfast Agreement, the terrorists stopped the killing - and they have laid down their arms, having won both political clout and a vote for Northern Ireland's independence (which did not pass - and they abided by that decision.)

It is not a perfect parallel of course, but the similarities are remarkable. And more importantly, while the UK government maintained that 'it did not negotiate with terrorists' in the public sphere, it was in fact engaged in negotiations with the IRA and various other Republican groups throughout the 1990s - negotiations that lead to the Belfast Agreement and the eventual end to terrorist activity by the Irish Republicans.

I could take a moral high ground and say that violence is wrong no matter what. I believe this. I could take the logical high ground and say that killing people - mothers, fathers, children, uncles, cousins - only creates hatred and resentment, the exact kinds of things that lead people to pick up guns, bombs and rocks and become terrorists. I also believe this, and I believe this is the exact reason why the war in Iraq was wrong (and justified for the wrong reasons.) I could harp on the historical example above, and say that the the only way to truly defeat terrorism is to listen to the reasons people are acting so horribly and give them a seat at the table and actually take action to address their concerns. I also believe this.

As the song says, nobody's right if everybody's wrong. Gandhi and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King achieved great things through non-violent resistance. But the Middle East is neither Imperialist India or the American Civil Rights movement. The fact of the matter is, I could say a lot of things, and I have - but I don't know what's right. I don't know what the solution is here.

All I know is that something isn't working. Nobody's right, because goddamn everyone seems to be wrong here.

Maybe it's time to sit down and talk all this out like civilized people. Or at least start there.

2 comments:

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