Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Part 1: 'Jewish Question' then - 'Palestinian Question' now : Sixty years and counting

"Palestine: Liberation Deferred" - A Palestinian perspective

This week Israel celebrates its sixtieth year of existence. This week the Palestinians commemorate their sixtieth year of suffering. The 'world leaders' are racing each other to participate in the joyous event on the Israeli side. On the other side, millions of Palestinians remember the day that marks the beginning of their 60 years of exile, statelessness, and life in the refugee camps they call home.

But among Israelis, not all are ecstatics. Many are deeply aware of the problems their own countries creation has caused. Many have conscience that is sore as their own people's problem was solved at the Palestinians expense. Even the more arrogant among them are very conscious that the existence of their own nuclear and high tech superpower will not be secure until the Palestinians - a people many of them even deny existed - are secure and accepting of Israel.
In the latest issue of the Nation, there are several article related to issue.
An excellent one is by Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi, an American-born historian and of Palestinian origin. His article is titled:
Palestine: Liberation Deferred.
The second great article is by Avi Shlaim, an Israeli-British history professor from Oxford University who is of Iraqi Jewish Descent. His article is titled: A Somber Anniversary is presented here.

Rashid Khalid starts by wondering if 60 years of Israel's statehood have brought the centuries old 'Jewish Question' to a satisfactory answer. He also mentioned the sense of many Israel's supporters unhappiness linking the birth of Israel to the Nakba (Catastrophe) that befell the Palestinians.
"Palestinians presumably do not have the right to recall, much less mourn, their national disaster if this would rain on the parade of celebrating Zionists everywhere."
Sweeping the Palestinian feelings under the rug helps make us all forget that "... the obvious fact that it would have been impossible to create a Jewish state in a land nearly two-thirds of whose population was Arab without some form of ethnic cleansing."
While the Jewish people have suffered tremendously over the centuries, the Western guilt -while deservedly felt -has targeted the wrong people to pay the price of the West's historic injustices. Not only that, it may have also harmed many Jewish communities in Khalidi's opinion:
"... these same developments should have led to the uprooting of the world's oldest and most secure Jewish communities, which had found in the Arab lands a tolerance that, albeit imperfect, was nonexistent in the often genocidal, Jew-hating Christian West."
Having a 'Jewish state' claiming to speak for all the Jews, may also inadvertently be detrimental to many Jews in the long run.
"... [asserting] that all Jews are part of a national body whose nation-state is Israel, it has linked the status and circumstances of Jews everywhere not only to the fate of that state but to every facet of that state's policies and actions."
He then cites few of the many causes that progressive and liberal Jews in Israel and allover the world acknowledge and cite in their criticism for Israeli policies: rank discrimination against the 1.4 million Arab citizens of Israel, the collective punishment inflicted on the 1.5 million people of the Gaza Strip imprisoned for months on end; and the systematic humiliation inflicted on the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who have passed through the Israeli prison system.
The already distant, even unattainable, solution to the problem is getting more complicated by the day. Systematic
fragmentation of Palestinian land in the West Bank by settlements, and progressive state-sponsored colonization of East Jerusalem are creating 'facts' on the ground that will make absurd even a two-state solution. Yet, he recognizes that the one state solution is even a worse option for every one.
"How can most Israelis and Palestinians be persuaded to forgo their aspirations for a state of their own, and to overcome their dislike of each other such that they can contemplate living together in one state, whether binational, federal, cantonal or unitary? "
Khalidi's then goes on to detail some of the obstacles he sees on both Israeli and Palestinian sides accepting a one-state solution.
Rashid Khalidi is explicitly critical of the flaws of Palestinian tactics and strategy. The lack of unity over strategy is a major flaw that has unfortunately plagues Palestinians for many decades. In inability to mount sustained non-violent resistance is another major flaw he lists.
"In particular, Palestinians lacked clarity about the moral, legal and political disadvantages in the use of violence against an Israeli polity able to mobilize in defense of its actions, however unspeakable, the most powerful tropes of victimhood in modern Western culture. This confusion among some Palestinians exists although farsighted thinkers like Edward Said and Eqbal Ahmad understood decades ago that nonviolent resistance was integral to Palestinian success; although the greatest successes of the Palestinians were won by the unarmed popular protests of the first intifada; and despite widespread (but underreported) peaceful joint Palestinian-Israeli protest movements against Israel's illegal wall inside the West Bank. "
While he is very critical of Israeli policy and of its blind supporters in the West with their super powerful propaganda machine, he reserves the harshest criticism for the current "feeble clueless Palestinian leadership".
"Today we are witness to the spectacle of two feeble and clueless Palestinian political movements, both lacking strategic vision and bereft of the selfless patriotism that would lead them to bury their petty differences, fighting like two cocks on a garbage heap, as the Arabic expression has it. "
"... The Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority has abandoned any idea of popular mobilization, any last shred of an ethos of service to the people, any sense of the vital importance of national unity if even minimal Palestinian objectives are to be achieved, any respect for the democratic process, ... "
" The blindness of Hamas is as bad: neither able to fight nor to negotiate effectively, neither able to compromise with Fatah nor to govern on its own, and no more able to break free of the clutches of its external backers than is Fatah vis-à-vis its own foreign backers, Hamas has lurched from disaster to disaster since its unexpected victory in the 2006 elections. "
He starts his concluding paragraph by this very strong statement, imposing on the Palestinians and their supporters a daunting task:
"If there is to be a resolution of the Palestine problem, it depends on the Palestinians' understanding the massive disadvantages they labor under in fighting a struggle for liberation against the heirs of the victims of the Holocaust, in the growing shadow of worldwide Islamophobia. It depends on their unity and on their adopting the appropriate strategy and tactics for this difficult task, in mobilizing the powerful moral force of their cause and the remarkable strengths of Palestinians under occupation and in the diaspora who have withstood extreme pressures but have neither submitted nor despaired. "

Part 2 of this posting presents the second article "A Somber Anniversary" by Avi Shlaim, and some links to Israeli newspapers discussing the not-so-joyous aspect of Israel's 60th birthday.

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