Monday, October 24, 2011

Should Israel Institute the Death Penalty for Terrorism?

Since its founding, the State of Israel has only executed one man: captured Nazi Adolf Eichmann in 1962. Since then, no civilian court in Israel has ever given the death penalty and the nation's civil authorities have no carried out any executions. Obviously, various intelligence branches, including the Mossad, have carried out a number of assassinations, most famously during Operation Wrath of God and Operation Spring of Youth. Yet, the latter are markedly different operations that having civilian authorities carry out an execution because civilian executions are far more open and notorious and involve significant judicial and appellate processes. Despite incarcerating many men and women who have committed multiple murders through terrorism, Israel has not executed any incarcerated terrorist.

With the exchange of 1027 Arab prisoners for Gilad Shalit, many in Israel are again considering and debating whether it would be prudent for Israel to institute the death penalty for persons convicted of murder, and more specifically, of murder through terrorist acts. One the primary arguments raised is that the continued incarceration of high value Palestinian prisoners encourages Palestinians to kidnap or kill Israelis in order to free the prisoners. In the wake of Gilad Shalit's release, crowds from Gaza to Ramallah implored the Palestinian governments to organize more kidnappings to free more Palestinian prisoners. Indeed, even killing Israelis abroad has also led to prisoner exchanges where Israel freed Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the return of the bodies of the dead. This occurred with the bodies of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, whose bodies were returned to Israel in a prisoner exchange with Hezbollah. If Israel executed the terrorists who had committed the worst crimes (who incidentally are often considered the most valuable prisoners for the Palestinians), some contend that it would create less incentive for kidnappings because those terrorists would be dead and, Palestinians have historically been unwilling to give up much to recover the bodies of their comrades.

There are, of course, numerous reasons to oppose this idea. First, the international outcry would be significant, though Israel also receives significant outcry for things such as housing construction or the continued presence of Jews in the West Bank. Moreover, Israel also receives significant criticism for its international assassinations, such as that of Imad Mughniyeh and Ahmed Yassin. Yet, the level of criticism that would accompany the civilian executions would be significantly higher and could potentially isolate Israel further in a time where it has significant international pressure. A second issue would be that an increase in executions would create martyrs and rally more people to the resistance cause. Indeed, the execution of a significant terrorist could trigger another Intifada or mass resistance against Israel. However, Israeli authorities have made decisions about whether the killing of certain Arab targets is worth the likely response. Indeed, Israeli authorities made the decision not to kill Yasser Arafat but did decide to kill Ahmed Yassin, even though that killing led to large scale condemnations. The decision of whether to seek the death penalty in a particular case could be similarly made by Israeli government authorities. Indeed, Israel faced significant international condemnation for the Eichmann trial in 1962 far beyond what the Nuremberg tribunals faced (though part of that condemnation related to the daring capture of Eichmann in Argentina).

The real driving force behind Israel's decision to institute the civilian death penalty would be based on whether it would be the best way to respond to the evolving threat of kidnappings. Aside from Munich, Israel did not face significant kidnappings of its people, but Hamas evolved to take on this strategy after the success of prisoner exchanges for the recovery of the bodies of deceased Israelis abroad. Of course, an increase in executions could push Hamas and the PLO back toward suicide bombing attacks, where the chance of capturing a prisoner is substantially lower. Additionally, it could create more incentive for rocket or other long distance attacks that again reduce the risk of capturing prisoners. Indeed, the vast majority of the highest value targets are not likely to be individual operatives, but either high level masterminds like Imad Mugniyeh or inspirational types such as Ahmed Yassin.

Lastly, there is unlikely to be any deterrence value to implementing the death penalty because most Palestinians who are willing to launch attacks into Israel accept the risk of death associated with their actions. Indeed, many embrace it. The primary and really sole benefit associated with instituting a civilian death penalty in Israel would be to primarily discourage kidnappings by keeping fewer valuable prisoners in Israeli jails. Ironically, the Israeli government may consider an almost opposite policy, which would be to simply cease taking Palestinian terrorists prisoner at all and having summary military executions while still "in the heat of the moment." This approach, however, creates the potential for similar problems to the civilian death penalty.

Israel does face another unique situation, which would arise if Israel attempted to enforce the death penalty for treason in dealing with Israeli-Arab citizens who engage in or aid in terrorist activities. This would potentially be most interesting the in context of certain Israeli-Arab government ministers who have unequivocally stated their support for organization and people who wish to destroy the Jewish State. Knesset members such as Ahmad Tibi, Mohammad Barakeh and Azmi Bishara (of "Bishara Bill" fame, a law passed after Bishara attended the funeral of Hafez Assad in Syria and publicly expressed his support for Hezbollah) have all arguably committed treason against Israel but would not be likely candidates for the death penalty. More relevantly, Israeli citizens who plot to undermine the security of the state would be the most likely persons to whom the death penalty may apply. While the Arabs living in Gaza and the West Bank have ambiguous legal status in Israel, which may make them enemy combatants far more than traitors, Israeli citizens who plot against the state could be more clearly characterized as traitors.

In the end, I don't necessarily believe that the death penalty is the solution for Israel, primarily because Israel has operated with a functional death penalty in the form of targeted assassinations. Moreover, the incentives to kidnap and kill Israelis as retaliation for executions could present a real danger to Jews around the world because civilian executions would strongly inflame passions of many of Israel's detractors. Yet, the death penalty discussion raises the question of how Israel can de-incentivize the kidnapping of Israelis who are then used as bargaining chips to free Arab criminals.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hamas Goes Mainstream

With the release of Gilad Schalit in exchange for 1000 Arab prisoners, the Israeli government is using all its standard words to try to explain why the prisoner exchange is an act of humanity and shows how the Jewish State values the lives of all its citizens and is willing to make significant sacrifices in order to get its citizens back. Indeed, the Schalit exchange is not unique, as successive Israeli governments over the last 20 years have agreed to significantly disproportionate prisoner exchanges, often just to retrieve the remains of Israelis held in foreign nations.

The recent prisoner exchange is interesting when one considers how far Hamas has come, and the evolution of resistance groups within the Palestinian nationalist movement. It is now almost taken for granted that Hamas has a central role to play in Palestinian governance, that Hamas has de facto control over some Palestinian territory and that Hamas is recognized as at least part of the legitimate government of Palestine. Yet, if we look back only 10 years, Hamas was a fringe group, on the outside of the political process in the Middle East and one that Yasser Arafat's PLO tried to distance itself from. Hamas eventually gained popularity and power because of the perception that the PLO had become too close to the West, too willing to talk to Israel face to face and unsufficiently committed to the cause of violent resistance and jihad. Yet, in the 1970s, the same PLO that looked like a dinosaur by the time of the 1993 Oslo Accords was a fringe terrorist group itself, hijacking planes, seizing Israeli embassies and kidnapping Israelis abroad. The PLO, headed up by men like Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, was a dynamic, new organization that rose from the failures of the Arab states to defeat Israel in 1967 and 1973. They were the hot new group, using tactics that were a complete and radical departure from the conventional military means that were used until the Yom Kippur War.

The evolutionary path is now well worn, with new and "innovative" groups use new tactics or more extreme rhetoric while attacking the more established group. When the PLO arose, its primary function was to provide an alternative to the failed Arab invasions and provide a means of attach from within. Because of the desire in the West to have someone represent the Palestinian interests, some of the more "mainstream" segments of the PLO gradually gained international recognition, primarily by orchestrating either highly spectacular terrorist attacks like the Munich Massacre or by organizing large scale resistance in the Intifadas. In many ways though, the PLO was ideologically bound to the dominant ideology of its era: Arab nationalism as the road to defeating Israel. However, as with most revolutionaries who gained too much power without much responsibility, the PLO became bloated, corrupt and ineffectual, especially when it realized it could blame all of its failures on supposed Israeli stonewalling. As Arabs in Israel began to realize that the PLO was not bringing them success in their war on Israel, new groups that had heretofore operated on the fringe began to gain popularity in Palestinian society. Hamas grew out of disdain for Arafat's failures to make peace with Israel as the first step to destroying it, and Hamas offered the alternative of resistance through Islamic-religious ideology instead of the failed path of Arab nationalism. Hamas meteoric rise to power culminated in its successful defeat of the Fatah branch of the PLO in parliamentary elections in 2005 and their expulsion of Fatah from Gaza in 2006. Fatah's failure then only compounded its problem because Fatah's continued survival depended on Israel's willingness to prop it up. Fatah was caught in a Catch-22: it needed Israeli support to survive the Hamas onslaught but the same Israeli support would keep it from regaining its former power against Hamas.

Recently, even Hamas, which would seem to be about as radical a group as one could imagine, has become sufficiently "mainstream" that there are now smaller splinter groups operating in Gaza who are acting out against Hamas for being insufficiently violent against Israel because of their willingness to agree to ceasefires. New groups now fire their own rockets, kill civilians and otherwise undermine the Hamas administration. Indeed, one can see a pattern in which each radical group that gains power over the Palestinians is eventually pushed out for their failure to destroy Israel.

Interestingly, the push has all been in one direction. The Palestinians have not yet reached the point where true moderates can comfortably state their desire to accept and live side by side with a Jewish state. Decades of failure have, unfortunately, only driven the Palestinian people toward new "deliverers" who promise the same results but through new means. First it was kidnappings and plane hijackings, then it was suicide bombing, then large scale demonstrations, then rockets. None of it has truly worked but the glorification of "resistance" and "jihad" have stymied Palestinian social development such that Palestinians lag behind even other Arab states in intellectual and social development because of their society's unending state of war against Israel.

The Gilad Shalit situation illustrates this point quite well. Hamas has presumably pulled off a major coup by getting its prisoners freed. Yet, Hamas has changed in significant ways since Gilad Shalit was kidnapped n 2006. Indeed, the Gilad Shalit release can be seen as a shot across the bow of Fatah, which is now attempting to revive some of its lost glory by winning at the UN for the Palestinians. These actions reflect the desire to seize total control of the Palestinian cause. Yet, both groups are on the lookout for even smaller, more fringe groups looking to gain a reputation the way Hamas did in the 1990s and early 2000s. While trading prisoners for Gilad Shalit represents a win for Hamas, it now faces the extreme pressure that comes from changing from a fringe militant group to a government. It's not enough to simply launch rockets, kidnap soldiers or smuggle weapons into Gaza, Hamas now faces significant burdens from an unhappy and needy populace, something that new fringe groups seeks to exploit.

Like it or not, Hamas is now mainstream. They are the Palestinian establishment in a very real way and in many ways, are more entrenched, powerful and popular than the older, though easier on the eyes and ears, Fatah group. Yet, Hamas now faces the danger of having what it did to Fatah in 2006 done to it by any number of new groups. The danger for Israel is that Hamas may respond to new pressure by stepping up its game and becoming more aggressive and reckless as part of a campaign to stay ahead of new fringe groups (the other part would be purging those groups). The concern for Hamas, though, arises from the fact that as the ruling party, it may be dragged into a conflict with Israel on another group's terms if that other group, for example, launches rockets into Ashkelon. The military response would necessarily harm Hamas interests in Gaza, while the attackers would not suffer significant retribution to the extent that they are not responsible for the infrastructure of Gaza.

Gilad is free and Hamas has a PR win. But how long will it keep them ahead of others?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Reevaluation of the U.S. Relationship with Israel

Given the volatile political and economic climate in the United States, many people are reevaluating the propriety of the U.S. close relationship with Israel. Two primary arguments emerge in opposition to this relationship, the first being that the United States' close relationship with Israel is a primary cause for the Islamic World's antagonism toward the U.S. and the second being that Israel is a "leech" that takes significant amounts of U.S. aid and provides little of value to the United States in return.

The first of these arguments is the most interesting. The last 30 years are replete with discourse attacking the United States for its support of Israel, with figures from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Ismail Haniyeh and Osama bin Laden declaring their hostility to the United States for their support of Israel. There are two primary contentions that arise in this claim.

The first is that Israel could not and would not survive the onslaught that many in the Muslim world would initiate if the United States were not defending the United States. This is only half true. While the United States provided crucial military support to Israel in the Yom Kippur War, the United States provided very little military support to Israel in the Six Day War (France was by far Israel's main military supplier, primarily because of a confluence of interests arising after the Free Officer's Coup in Egypt in 1952 and the 1956 Sinai Campaign), and basically none during Israel's War of Independence. Indeed, the primary reason that the United States began to increase support for Israel (despite the USS Liberty incident) was that after the Six Day War, Egypt and Syria drifted into the Soviet sphere of influence in hopes of getting more advanced arms to strike back against the Israelis. By 1973, when President Nixon was ordering airlifts of arms and supplies to Israel in the uncertain early days of the Yom Kippur War, at least part of his rationale was that Israel had become of the U.S. side because gains by Egypt and Syria were perceived as gains for the Soviet Union as their benefactor. Many historians have contended that by the time the airlifts arrived, Israel had already gained the upper hand, but no one can dispute that the airlifts were key to resupplying Israel. A main reason for Egypt and Syria's early success in the Yom Kippur was due to the influx of Soviet weaponry, primarily the SAM anti-aircraft batteries and the Sagger antitank missiles. However, while Israel has received crucial weapons and material from the U.S., notably in the Yom Kippur War, their two most significant victories over the Arabs, in 1948 and 1967, were achieved without U.S. military support.

The second and more significant subpoint here is that the primary reason why the U.S. (and to some extent, Western European countries) are hated by the Islamic world is precisely because of their support for Israel's continued existence. Based on common rhetoric emanating from the Islamic world, it is difficult to dispute this. However, the correlation cannot be viewed at face value, it is important to look at what underlies this belief. Clearly, the U.S. is supporting a nation, which according to the dogma emanating from the Middle East and in many leftist circles in the West, is an oppressor of millions and the true barrier to Middle Eastern peace. Of course, the Arabs opposed Israel's existence from the start and attacks on the Western Europe did not begin with Israel's tumultuous birth in 1948. Indeed, it did not even really start with the Balfour Declaration in 1920, but truly began with Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798 and continued until the World War I dismantling of the Ottoman. The core issue for many people was the favoritism shown to certain ruling families who inherited huge territories won by the Entente Powers from the Ottomans in World War I. To this day, Palestinian nationalists lament the British bequeathing Jordan to King Abdullah in 1921. The eventual rise of the Ba'ath Party in Iraq and Syria was a long term response to King Faisal's (Abdullah's brother) receiving power in Iraq and Syria after World War I and the perception that Europe imposed foreign rulers (Abdullah and Hussein were from Hejaz in now Saudi Arabia) as a return to the imposition of the Crusader Kingdoms in the 11th century. Indeed, the core issue is not so much Israel, but Israel's representation as an infidel state in the Islamic realm. That the state is run by Jews, a previously stateless people who lived as dhimmi for centuries, makes it all the more insulting. So why is the U.S. hated for their support of Israel? Because U.S. involvement in the Middle East in opposition to the "Islamic cause" is considered to be preventing Muslim nations in the Middle East from reclaiming their place as a dominant world power. In a sense, the U.S. and the West in general is stifling the return of a dominant Islamic empire, presumably centered either in Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Persia. The survival and growth of Israel is an ultimate shame and blemish upon the Islamic world, for, if they cannot even control their own realms, how can they expect to dominate the world as they did when Muhammad's followers led conquests out of Arabia after the 7th Century.

All this begs some very simple questions. Historically, the goals of Islamic ascendancy have been pretty much inconsistent with expanding the ideas, government structures, and liberalism that arose in the Judeo-Christian nations. The rare anti-Islamic governments that have arisen (notably Mustafa Kamal's post-World War I Turkey) arose precisely because of exposure to Western ideals and Mustafa Kamal's belief that these ideas presented Turkey with its best chance to rise from World War I's ashes. This is not to say that Ataturk was right or even that the West has it right, but what it does say is that there is a fundamental difference between the government style in Iran and Saudi Arabia that is fundamentally inconsistent with the government style of the United States or Italy. To the extent that the United States support for Israel prevents a rise in hegemony amongst the Islamic states, it serves our interests. While we feel very afar from it right now, it requires turning a blind eye to world history not to see that the most powerful Islamic states have historically sought to conquer and convert surrounding nations to Islam. The Umayyads, the Ottomans, the Mamluks and the Golden Horde under Tamerlane all provide significant examples over the last 1000 years that the Islamic nations had intentions no better than those of the Christian West: to conquer and convert. These ideas existed and continued to exist long before Zionism was born in the late 19th century.

The natural responses to this viewpoint are either to ignore the history of Islamic states or to believe that we fundamentally "have it coming" in a way that justifies their behavior. The history of the Western-Islamic conflict is sufficiently convoluted, violent and often barbaric that neither side can claim a moral high ground and neither can preach morality to the other. The fundamental point here is that despite what some people believe, Israel simply has no interest in conquering and controlling the greater Islamic world and imposing Jewish law on the Muslims. Even those who cling to the "Greater Israel" theory recognize that Israel at most encompasses all of the British Mandate and do not realistically believe that it should all be reclaimed. On the other hand, there are many Islamic leaders who view the destruction of Israel and the harming of U.S. or Western interests as a major point of pride and the way to gain legitimacy. These beliefs are confirmed by a cursory look at the biographies of Nasser, Khomenei and Nasrallah. As George W. Bush and Barack Obama have both said, the United States is not at war with Islam. And this is certainly true. But it is equally true that many Islamic governments and political groups have declared war on the United States, Europe and Israel and have a very different view of how the world should from us. And unlike many of the fringe groups in the United States, those in the Islamic world have the arms, the financial backing and determination to act on their beliefs. The more interesting thought is why we care about whether the Islamic world likes us.

As a corollary question, the United States continues to have a significant relationship with the Republic of China (Taiwan) despite significant opposition from the People's Republic, and the U.S. likewise provides at least nominal support for Tibetan independence by hosting and dignifying the Dalai Lama. Yet few would question our continued relationship with the Dalai Lama or the Republic of China despite the fact that China has significant influence over the United States in major economic ways. I have yet to hear demands to sever ties with Taiwan as an "offering" to China for improved economic or political relations.

The second overarching point is a financial one. The belief is that Israel, a major recipient of U.S. foreign aid, does not provide us a good "return on investment" especially considering that giving them money presumably makes us many enemies abroad. Aside from the significant benefits that Israeli society has provided including significant advancements in mathematics, the sciences and technology, Israel is also a huge customer for the United States and provides much needed funds by purchasing U.S. military technology. Additionally, Israel provides benefits to the U.S., such as advancements in missile defense technology such as the Iron Dome. Israel has also become a major source of investment for U.S. companies, as it has the most start-ups per capita in the world (I recommend "Start-Up Nation" to those who have no read it). Certainly, Israel provides a much better return on investment than Egypt, for example, a recipient of billions of dollars in U.S. aid that went from a repressive authoritarian (though pro-Western) government to an unknown government that may fall under the control of the vehemently anti-Western Muslim Brotherhood that would control significant U.S. military technology. The central point here is that a strong relationship with Israel provides both economic and geopolitical advantages to the United States, especially at a time when nations such as Iran move to fill the void left by the (ironically) U.S. created power vacuum in the Middle East that accompanied the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Monday, October 10, 2011

What the Arab Spring Did Not Change...

Today, major clashes broke out in Egypt between Coptic Christians (Copts) and Muslims, reviving a centuries old clash in that country arising from the second class status and mistreatment that Coptic Christians have faced since Egypt was conquered by the Muslims in 641 AD. The plight of Copts is similar to the plight of many religious minorities in the Islamic world, from the Baha'i in Iran, to the Maronites of Lebanon to the Jews who lived in many Arabs states, to Shia minorities in Sunni nations. The systemic discrimination against religious minorities in many Middle Eastern nations, coupled with systemic political and social discrimination against women has been a constant throughout most of the governmental changes that have shaken the Middle East in the last 100 years. The reasons are varied, in many cases repressing any unpopular religious groups is a convenient way for a new leader to establish credibility amongst the majority, while in other cases hearkening back to a more "traditional order" is a good way to cement reputation.

No event has catalyzed this type of discrimination more than the Arab Spring. Far from the democratic revolution that many naive Westerners expected, the Arab Spring has enabled religious groups that hold power to settle old scores or curry favor with the average people by lashing out against unpopular religious minorities. In Syria, the Alawite minority ruling group is lashing out against largely Sunni protesters against the Assad regime, which has created discord in the Turkish-Syrian relationship and has created significant friction between Turkey (a Sunni nation) and Iran, Syria's benefactor. In Egypt, various groups seizing power, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, are attempting to fill the power vacuum and establish credibility by going after Coptic Christians and trying to establish Islamic credibility among the people.  Yet, even countries that have not endured regime change from the Arab Spring practice systemic discrimination. Notorious cases of honor killings, lashing women who drive cars, destroying Christian and Jewish places of worship, killing people who convert from Islam and imposing second class citizenship on nonbelievers. Regardless of what underlying tenants of Islam say, most Islamic nations since the Umayyads have featured some or all of these features.

The Western reaction to this ongoing behavior has been underwhelming. Most recently evidenced by the West's relative non-reaction to the Arab attempt to slaughter the Black Africans of Sudan wholesale as part of official Sudanese government policy, Western societies have struggled to come to terms with the frequent discrimination in Islamic nations. The core problem arises from a conflict of two ideas at the core of Western liberalism: tolerance for other cultures and the goal of equality and political rights. While Western societies increasingly try to end discrimination based on sex, religion and race, Islamic nations such as Iran and Saudi Arabia are becoming increasingly regressive from a Western standpoint and entrenching views of religious and sex relations that are antiquated at best and oppressive at worst from a Western standpoint. However, Western societies' history of colonialism and the white guilt that still permeates the West prevents many people from condemning discrimination in Islamic societies the same way they could condemn Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa. Those two examples feature white peoples oppressing other peoples and fit comfortably into the narrative of Western guilt for colonialism.

It's not that Westerners don't care about these issues. On the contrary, one need only look at the increased criticism that Christian Conservatives in the United States face for their stances on gay rights to see that the Western societies are demanding greater rights for a variety of minorities. Yet, it is interesting to see that despite the push for rights for women and homosexual persons in Western societies has been coupled with significant criticism of groups that are perceived to be opposed to such progress, the regressive aspects of Islamic societies has received comparatively little criticism. There are, of course, some blips on the radar, usually after a particularly heinous honor killing or when someone like Daniel Pearl is executed because he is Jewish. Yet, we see far more pervasive criticism of the Christian Right in American and Europe despite the fact that for the most part, Christian Conservatives take violent action to impose their beliefs on others far less frequently that do groups trying to reinstate a more traditional Islamic social order.  

Moreover, while it is expected without exception that Europeans traveling to Islamic societies conform to their social mores and expectations, the ideals of multiculturalism and tolerance have allowed the worst excesses of Islamic societies such as honor killings, antisemitic attacks on synagogues and the opposition to any rights for homosexuals or women to be imported into America and Europe. Indeed, it is ironic that Western multiculturalism has allowed for an increase in the type of behavior that runs opposite to the goals of most Western societies to foster equality. The irony is especially palpable because other groups professing similar ideas to many Islamic governments are rebuked and pushed to the fringes of political discussion precisely because of their views. In the United States, "right wingers" who are perceived as anti-abortion, racist, intolerant and preachy receive far more criticism in our society than many other peoples who espouse similar views. The reasons are quite obvious when one starts to think about the Western mindset, which is based on the idea of rationalizing other people's behavior based on what Westerns did to them to cause their behavior. Our narrative has decidedly put the blame on us for other people's lashing out, and many other leaders take advantage of this idea when framing their own persona as an anti-Western crusader (notably Gamal Abdel Nasse, Ayatollah Khomenei, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and increasingly, Tayyip Erdogan).

After the initial shock of 9/11, many people began to try to rationalize the event by asking "what did we do to cause this?" Answers range from focusing on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, U.S. support for Israel, European interventions in various nations in the Magreb, the British and French establishment of "puppet regimes" in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, the destruction of the Caliphate in World War I and the Crusades. What followed was the establishment of a framework for viewing Western-Islamic relations as a history of Western attacks on Islam, which brought about an expected military response. Indeed, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Khomenei, Gamal Abdel Nassar and other prominent Islamic leaders have cultivated this Western attack imagery, referring back to the Crusades and the establishment of Israel as a successor to the failed Crusader Kingdoms. Of course, this narrative tells only half the story, especially when looking at more distant history. While the Crusades certainly were an attack on Islam by Christendom, it could be readily sandwiched between the Umayyad invasion of Europe in the 8th Century (stopped by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in 732) and the Ottoman invasion of Central Europe in the 17th century, culminating in the Battle of Vienna in 1683. However, the last 100 years have essentially washed over further centuries of history that is far more complex and multidimensional than we can imagine. Indeed, the perceived "imperialism" of Israel has essentially whitewashed over everything that is going on in Gaza and the West Bank. Forget about Palestinian treatment of Israelis, and look instead at how the Palestinian governments treat Christians, women, Druze and Europeans. Look at how the Iranian government treats Baha'i and homosexuals (though their President claims that none exist in Iran, a claim similarly made by various Soviet premiers in the 1950s and 1960s), look at how Egypt treats its Copts and look at how every Arab nation evicted all of its Jews wholesale in 1948.

What does this mean for Israel? For all intents and purposes, Israel is a Western nation. It is inaccurately portrayed in the Western media as a nation full of white, Europeans transplanted into the "Arab" desert. We in the West can project our expectations, morals and demands on Israel because they look like us and sound like us. The fact that Jordan bans Jews from buying land or from being citizens (and that's Israel's closes Arab ally!) is far less significant than Israel's construction of a partial separation fence to keep out terrorists. Moreover, we project Western history onto Israel even when it makes no sense to do so. The characterization of Israel as anything resembling the old Crusader states is laughable except that it is an image that many feel is accurate. To think that 8 million Israelis pose an existential threat to the well being of the Arab, Iranian and Turkish Middle East is bizarre role reversal by which the Islamic world seeks to redeploy the narrative of colonialism against a political entity that had nothing to do with it. Even if people in Britain or France feel guilt over their ancestors' actions against Muslim peoples over the centuries, the stateless Jews had no hand in those actions. Yet, we now face a situation in which Israel is cast as the successor colonizer in the style of the British Empire, crushing the nationalist dreams of the hapless Palestinian peoples.

While this narrative is quite useful from the standpoint of garnering sympathy for the Palestinians, it of course ignores the fact that the Palestinian leadership is among the most regressive. Since receiving local control in Gaza and the West Bank Palestinians mobs killed Vittorio Arrigoni, a man who supported the Palestinian independence struggle, Gaza has grown to lead the world in honor killings, Christians have all but abandoned Gaza and political repression is extreme. Of course, all of this gets pushed aside any time a house is built in Jerusalem or if a teenager attacking Israeli soldiers is shot.

The Arab Spring has not changed the fundamental tenants of most Islamic societies, and while we may have been expecting change, the overthrow of military or minority dictatorships in places like Egypt, Syria and Tunisia are only more likely to bring to power Islamist leaders who can take  populist positions by trying to break away from any corrupt "Western" influences and trying to return their societies to the more glorious times before the perceived rise and invasion of Western values and ideas. When we see that type of regression in such societies, our fear of seeming racist, intolerant or elitist has and will prevent us from speaking out in the necessary voice to stop another Darfur genocide, Armenian Genocide, or Syrian government crackdown.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Great Material from a Good Friend.

A close friend, Ariel Goldberg, sent me the following material, which he wrote in response to the UN speeches of Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu. I found his comments to be an excellent discussion of how the conflict got this point and had a lot of great historical points. I requested that my friend compile his exchange with one of his acquaintances on Facebook, which he graciously did. Please enjoy!
On 9/24/2011, I posted a link to Netanyahu's address to the General Assembly of the UN, in response to the PA bid for statehood:

Soon thereafter, an old acquaintance, whom I hadn't seen since high school (but with whom I share a friendship on Facebook), responded. This young lady has traveled a considerable part of the world, and upon visiting Israel and the territories administered by the Palestinian Authority, emerged with a very definite support for the Palestinian cause. I am giving you this exchange, in which I engaged in the day or two following September 24, 2011 on my wall on Facebook. The young lady asked that her end of the conversation remain anonymous –  to use her words, “Having a public file on the internet with such an opinion is not exactly advantageous.” I will grant her wish, although I fail to see her logic. Why should her pro-Palestinian opinion be disadvantageous? My guess is that this is her way of insinuating that in our corporate and imperialistic country, Big Brother monitors the expression of anti-Zionist sentiment. Not only does this sentiment demonstrate how discouraging and cynical a view the young lady has of her own First Amendment rights, it also carries little weight in view of the fact that she had no problem entering into this conversation in a public forum in the first place. There is, after all, “a public file on the internet” with her opinion. It is on my relatively-unrestricted Facebook page.

Following is the text of out argument. I have only slightly expanded my argument and edited it for grammatical mistakes, but I have left the words of “Anonymous” unaltered:

Ariel Goldberg

Anonymous did you believe this??

Ariel Goldberg I don't believe it; I agree with it. To believe anything blindly is to submit to dogmatic tropes. However, my years of studying and researching the issues, my numerous visits to Israel, my interactions there with Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, and the work of several authors from both sides of the argument, but particularly one author - the Palestinian academic at UC Berkeley Beshara Doumani (who is definitely pro-Paletinian) - all seem to confirm what Netanyahu has said. Besides, he hasn't said anything particularly radical. The first outbreak of nationalistic violence between the Jews and Arabs in Palestine was from Sunday, April 4 to Wednesday, April 7 of the year 1920. The riots were instigated primarily by three people - Hajj Amin al-Husayni , the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem (the national leader of the Palestinian Arabs from 1920 to 1948, who would later be charged by his friend and ally Adolf Hitler to organize Albanian SS divisions in Yugoslavia for the purpose of exterminating the Jews of that country), his uncle Musa Kazim al-Husayni, the mayor of Jerusalem, and Aref al-Aref, the editor of the newspaper "Southern Syria" (as the local Arabs called the land southwest of the Golan Heights at the time). The riots were a protest against Zionist aspirations in the Land of Israel and Jewish immigration to that land, which had begun in earnest in the early 1880s. The belief was that the land was too small to support a huge influx of people.The Arabs of Palestine were NOT, however, opposed to the arrival of an equal, if not greater number of Arabs from outside of Palestine over the same 40-odd years - an immigration which had been made possible by the technological methods and economic models that the Jews brought with them from Europe. This riot was nationalistic, religious - dare I say, racist? - and it happened 28 years before the Jews had any state, 47 years before the 1967 war and over 50 years before the Israelis began any massive campaign of settlement building. I will also add, albeit with hindsight, that the argument that Palestine could not support many more people, when in 1920 its population was about 500,000 and and today there are 7 million Israelis alone, to which we add about 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza and 2.4 million more in the West Bank, is and was, of course, a weak one. One could argue that the population was much more rural at the time and that more land was needed per person. That may have been the case in 1900, but by 1920 there was an enormous urbanization occurring among the Arab population, primarily as a result of Jewish and European trade and development of the towns. It was this urbanization which, in many ways, stimulated the growth of Arab literacy and the politicization of the Arabs of Palestine. Their exposure to European and Jewish influence in all facets of daily and political life was unique within Syria and the other Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire (Mesopotamia and Hejaz). The birth of Arab nationalism is directly linked to Arab intellectual movements, and - outside of the emirs and effandis (landlords) - Arab intellectualism among commoners was nowhere as developed as in the regions where Jews settled.

So, now I ask, if we take into account that when Mahmoud Abbas, in his petition yesterday at the UN General Assembly for the creation of a Palestinian state, said that the Jews have been occupying Palestinian land for 63 years (in other words, not since the 1967 Six Day War, but all the way back since Israel's establishment in 1948); and when Palestinian Arabs were murdering Jews 28 years prior to the very existence of a state (in the 1920 riots 5 Jews were murdered, 4 Arabs were killed in retaliation, several hundred Jews were wounded, a few Jewish women were raped); and when the Palestinian Authority has zero control over Gaza, a territory it claims for a future state; AND when Abbas himself is now ruling the PA two years after the legal termination of his term in office (not to mention the credibility he loses for his doctoral dissertation, in which he denies the Holocaust) - after all this, I ask, why shouldn't I cast in my lot with Netanyahu?

Anonymous I just want to make sure I understand. what you're saying is, 'arabs' are only smart enough to fight back when their best land is being stolen and colonized thanks to jewish intellectualism?? and 3 days of riots begun by 3 fundamentalist whackos justifies decades of oppression and apartheid? hmmm, very tricky!!
Anonymous also, there must not be enough room for everybody if the 6 million palestinians in exile aren't given right of return!

Anonymous because you don't have to 'cast in your lot' (aggressive terminology) with anybody. two states = two leaders. and no, it would not necessarily mean casting in your lot with abbas. I know many palestinians who in a democratic election would not vote for him.

Ariel Goldberg Anonymous, I have every respect for you and your opinion because I know you've traveled the region and interacted with the people there, which offers one perspective - a significant and important perspective. I have a different perspective, one which comes, likewise, from experiencing the land and the people - BOTH people - and from years of academic research on the topic. I have a political point of view, but please understand that I came to that point of view because what I have read and seen convinced me of it. If you read Beshara Doumani's work, "Rediscovering Palestine," you will appreciate that I am definitely not only listening to one side of the conversation. Please be respectful of that, as I respect your opinion. When I challenge your points, I promise to do so only with the facts at my disposal. I will attempt to exclude passion from my reasoning. None of what we say here has any bearing on my personal opinion of you, and I hope that you reciprocate the sentiment. I really enjoy having many friends with political views that oppose my own.

Now, to address your additional points. I have said nothing of Palestinian "smarts." I am neither qualified, not would I be so obtuse as to make a generalization about the intelligence of the Arab people. What I am talking about is INTELLECTUALISM. This is different that intelligence. I am referring to a broad knowledge of the world, current events and history - something that, for most of history, has been restricted to elite classes. In the Ottoman Empire, a combination of factors prevented the average Palestinian Arab from obtaining a "Western-style" (for lack of a better term) education. This was the result, in part, of the Turkish administration attempting to subdue Arab nationalism, as well as a concerted effort on the part of absentee Arab landlords from keeping their peasants (whom they regarded as serfs) from moving up or protesting. In the 1850s there was a great reorganization of land ownership in the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire. The details are too intricate to delve into now, but there is a Wikipedia article about the Ottoman Land Code of 1858. Basically, the average peasant suddenly found that as a result of ignorance or illiteracy, he had forfeited his land to a landlord. The peasants were taxed terribly by these landlords and they simply hadn't the resources to build an educational infrastructure. Most of the children were working from an early age in the orange groves and cotton fields and were an important part of the peasant economy. Given the taxation rates, it would have been out of the question to put vital workers into schools.

Now, something interesting happened when the Jews began to flee pogroms in the Russian Empire in the 1880s. You say the land they came to possess was "stolen." The average Jew, arriving in the port of Jaffa, and desiring to start a farm - or a group of Jews, desiring to purchase land for an agricultural village - would go to a land trader. This person would negotiate on their behalf with the landlord, not with the peasants. If the landlord liked the terms of selling or leasing land to Jews, he had autocratic power to expel the peasants living there at the time. Sometimes the Jews would retain Arab peasants as paid workers, but, for the most part, they were forced to depart. This naturally caused conflict, as the Arabs watched the land they had worked and lived on go to Jews. And when this ceased to be an isolated incident and began happening more and more, the Arabs, quite naturally, became indignant toward the Jews. But this initial seed of conflict was, in many ways, a misunderstanding. The Ottoman regime only rarely sold land to the Jews (we must remember that Russia and Turkey had just fought a war in 1877-78, and the Jews, as Russian citizens, were viewed not only as religiously inferior, but also as potential spies. In 1892, the Ottoman government forbade the sale of land in Palestine to Jews, even if they were Ottoman subjects) The Jews wanted land in order to organize farms. One of the ideals of early Zionism was a return to the land, to labor in the fields and thus remove the stereotype of Jews as effeminate scholars and money lenders.  The Jews and their representatives at the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association, Palestine Land Development Company, and the Jewish National Fund knew that, since the only public land the Ottoman governors would agree to sell were swamps near the Sea of Galilee, in order to get a decent plot they would have to deal with the private land-holders, the landlords. The Arabs had a tradition that any land they planted a tree on was theirs - the Jews couldn't have known this. Now, am I claiming that the Jews from Europe in the 1890s made attempts to be sensitive to the Arabs? No. For the most part, they couldn't have cared less. Of course, a case-by-case basis would be required to achieve a complete picture, and there are countless documented cases (especially in one of the first modern Jewish villages, Zikhron Yaakov) of Jews and Arabs working together, dining together, raising families together, but - let's face it - this was NOT a PC time, and I have no doubts that European immigrants would have, for the most part, regarded Arab culture and habits as backward and lowly. On the other hand, let's not forget that the Jews of Palestine who had lived there uninterruptedly for generations and were Ottoman subjects, had second-class status as non-Muslims and were also regarded as backward and lowly. Two wrongs don't make a right, but I can't mention one without mentioning the other.

The fact that Arab tenant farmers were forced to leave the land had mixed effects. Most of them found their ways into the cities of Palestine (“Southern Syria”, as it was regarded in the years prior to Palestinian nationalism) and this initiated a great restructuring of Palestinian Arab society, which, until then, had been mostly agricultural. The first generation of village-to-city transplants naturally had a hard time of it, and I do not begrudge them their resentment toward the landlords or the Jews. However, this led to an increase in trade and a rise in Arab education in Palestine. The increase in trade was directly connected to Jewish links to Europe, as well as German, British, French, and other European presences in the cities. This required knowledge of language, etc., and as a result many more Arab parents were seeing to it that their children were being educated to some degree. Literacy began to rise. By the time Israel was established in 1948, the Arabs of Palestine had their own radio broadcasts, periodical publications, printing houses, a network of schools and a political elite, most of which lagged drastically among their brothers in Jordan.

Now, on to your second point. "3 days of riots begun by 3 fundamentalist whackos...." Yes, BEGUN, INSTIGATED by 3 fundamentalist whackos (and not just those three, although they were the main culprits), but CARRIED OUT by about 60,000 people. And this was just the first riot of many. You see, the problem is not that these whackos (to use your term) started one riot, the problem is that the whackiest of these whackos - Hajj Amin al-Husayni - was the Grand Mufti of Jersualem. He was the spiritual and political leader of the Palestinian Arabs for almost 30 years and by all contemporary records, he was extremely popular among his constituency. The man is really quite a terrifying historical figure. His influence over the people during those 28 years must not be understated. He created, nursed and developed much of the venom between the two peoples. There were many more riots throughout the 1920s and particularly in the 1930s. There have been violent acts committed by both sides, to be sure, but much of the conflict comes back to this one man, who took what were the legitimate, but as of yet not insolvable, grievances of the Arabs and turned them into nationalistic violence.

On to your third point. I am confused as to your definition of apartheid, because in the way that you use the word it doesn't correlate with the definition of either the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, signed at the General Assembly of the United Nations, or the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. In both of these resolutions, "apartheid" is defined as the domination and suppression of one racial group by another racial group for the purpose of racial dominance. Neither Jews nor Arabs are a race. In fact, if you're getting right down to biology, recent studies have determined that a Jew from anywhere in the world has more in common, biologically, with another Jew or a Lebanese/Jordanian/Syrian/Palestinian Arab, than with anyone from his surrounding population. Both Jews and Arabs are Semites. If we want to get more specific, over half the Jews in Israel are of Middle Eastern or North African origin. But if you're talking about the forced separation of people along ethnic lines, I can challenge that with a personal anecdote. I was in Acre (Akko), north of Haifa, just last summer. In a storefront window, I saw two mannequins. One was wearing traditional Jewish female clothes, and the other Muslim female robes and a hijab. It occurred to me that in this store, religious Jewish women and religious Muslim women shop together. Arabs serve in the Israeli parliament and military. They are teachers and lawyers. They are professors and they are business owners. Israeli Arabs are also referred to as Palestinian Arabs with Israeli citizenship. They are the same people as the Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza. Ok, so we've established that the treatment of Arabs in the West Bank is not religiously or racially motivated. My research and experience suggests that the difficulties Palestinians encounter in the West Bank as a result of Israeli rule are necessitated for the most part by security needs. The Palestinians (non-Israeli citizens) have the right to petition Israeli courts and often do. As a result of such petitions, the course of the security fence has been altered on numerous occasions. The Palestinians have had their own civil administration - the Palestinian Authority - since 1993. This body, and not the Israeli government, is responsible for the management of the Palestinian economy, the construction of Palestinian roads, schools, etc.

When we talk about decades of oppression, we must first discuss Jordan, where the Palestinians are a solid majority (over 70%), but have no rights. They are ruled by the Hashemite monarchy, transplants from the Arabian peninsula and historically foreign to that land. The regime is supported by the predominantly Bedouin military, which prohibits the Palestinians from establishing sovereignty there. In 1970 the Jordanian monarchy used the military to suppress a national revolt among the Palestinian subjects, which forced the PLO to relocate to southern Lebanon. Today, the regime is actually removing the citizenship of many of its Palestinian subjects in order to exacerbate their status as a homeless people and, by inflaming anger against Israeli, deflect criticism from the monarchy.

On to your point about the right to return. This simply will not happen. For that would mean the loss of Israel as a Jewish State. If Israel ceases to exist then Jews around the world are thrust back into the precarious state they were in for 1900 years. We may not realize it, but Jews the world over - even those critical of Israel - are able to stand a little bit more straight and behave more assertively, they feel more comfortable in their surroundings, because a weight that has been with our culture for nearly 2000 years has been lifted. We know (perhaps subliminally) that, from now on, if things get really bad, we have somewhere to go. There is a refuge. My parents and grandparents were able to get out of the Soviet Union as a result of the existence of the State of Israel. The establishment of Israel has normalized the character of the Jews in the diaspora in many ways. It used to be that an Irish American had a homeland, as did an Italian American or a Cuban American. But Jews in America and elsewhere often saw themselves or were seen as homeless transients, without roots, without loyalties. Israel has made us normal in some crucial ways. To allow for the return of millions of Arabs into Israel would take away the one Jewish country that exists on this earth. If/when the Palestinians get a state, they will add to the 21 states and territories already in existence in the Arab world. They also have a legitimate claim to all of Jordan for reasons previously stated. Their new state will, by their own admission, be free of Jews - it will be illegal for Jews to buy or own land there, as it is today in Jordan.

There is no talk of a right of return, or even a compensation of the 700,000 Jews and their descendents who were expelled from Arab lands from 1948 - 1960. They were forced to leave countries that had been their homes for centuries, for millennia. In many instances, such as in Yemen and Iraq, they were not allowed to take any of their property. You talk of 6 million Palestinians who claim descent from the 700,000 refugees that found themselves homeless after 1948. What about the descendents of the 700,000 Jews expelled from Arab countries? Historically, Jews have a greater claim on Iraq than the Arabs, so why isn't anyone fighting for their right to return or compensation? Let's recall the expulsion of the Jews of Hebron in 1929. This was a community that existed centuries before the advent of Zionism. A riot forced them out in 1929, and the community wasn't reestablished until after 1967. Now it's called a settlement. Now, am I claiming to be the best friend of the specific breed of Jews that seem to dominate the community in Hebron? Far from it. But I definitely support the reestablishment of a Jewish presence in a city that is so vital to our understanding of our history as a people, and in which, until 1929, we had an uninterrupted presence for 3000 years. How about the Jews of Jerusalem, who were subjected to a terrible siege and finally expelled in 1948 and 1949? This was a mixed community of centuries-old Palestinian Jewish residents and more recent European arrivals. From 1948 to 1967 they were barred from visiting their Holy sights. That was the first time since the Crusades that Jews were expelled and kept out of the Old City of Jerusalem. I must not forget to mention the Gush Etzion block of villages in the Judean hills, which was also wiped out and only reestablished after 1967. Let's not paint a one-sided picture here. There was more than one expulsion that occurred in 1948, there was more than one set of victims. The truth is that, unlike the Palestinian Arabs, the Jewish refugees did not come under the care of any UN refugee agency. They were taken in by Israel and, although it's still an ongoing effort, they have been integrated into that country. On the other hand, the Palestinian Arabs were taken in by nobody, with the exception of Jordan. The Arab states and the Soviet Union wanted to prolong their misery for political gain at the expense of Israel. A UN refugee agency was formed on behalf of the Palestinians. There is only one other UN refugee agency, and it deals with all the other refugees in the world. One agency for everyone else, one agency for the Palestinians. A sad reality is that the livelihood of the employees and administrators of the UNRWA is dependent on keeping the Palestinians homeless. The other UN refugee agency – the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHR) – is considerably more effective at assisting displaces people because their “business” is not dependent on one group of victims. They do not have to worry, cynically, that as soon as they help these people they'll be out of a job, because the world is full of people who need refuge and asylum. Had the Palestinians come under the protection of UNHR and not UNRWA, their recent history would have been quite different. Agree or disagree, but Israel cannot commit national suicide and allow for the right of return for the Palestinians.

Your last point (that many palestinians would not vote for Abbas if they had true, democratic elections). Don't you see that this very point that you've made serves my argument? You are testifying to the absence of free and democratic elections in the Palestinian Authority. How can Israel feel secure in forging peace with a neighbor that is not a democracy? When Israel forged a peace with the military regime in Egypt, it was not making peace with elected representatives of the Egyptian people. Therefore, the peace was only as good as the duration of the regime. Now that the regime in Egypt has fallen, Israel's southwestern frontier is suddenly exposed; should the treaty collapse, it will become a potential war zone. The Egyptian people never supported the leaders who made peace with Israel. So how can Israel make peace with the Palestinan Authority, when it is a corrupt and undemocratic entity that intimidates its own people? If that government falls (it's not impossible - it fell in Gaza) then in a worst case scenario the entire West Bank will become another Gaza. Even in a best case scenario, the Peace would still be compromised, because it would be viewed as the policy of a despised and overthrown regime. Therefore, based on what you said, how can Israel negotiate with Mahmoud Abbas and the PA?

And yet, it has in the past; and, at least according to Netanyahu's statement at the General Assembly yesterday, it endeavors to do so still.