Terrorist or Statesman?


Irgun poster
Originally uploaded by marcynewman.

My mind has been moving back and forth between news stories about the Palestinian election results and news stories about the newly-concocted International Holocaust Memorial Day, which was yesterday. In less than two months, the United Nations drafted a resolution to make this a holiday and somehow in some places it has taken hold. How many years has it been since UN Resolutions 194 was drafted, which granted Palestinian refugees the right of returning to their homes? 58 years. And nothing. Not one move. When Palestinians have tried to negotiate this international referendum into the “peace process,” they have been backed into a corner saying they are “refusing” a myriad of the “generous offers.” What perturbs me the most about the creation of such a UN holiday is the fact that it commemorates only Jewish suffering and elevates it to the usual yardstick with which to measure all other people’s suffering. Why didn’t they choose, for instance, to create a Genocide Memorial Day? Of course, this would be yet another reminder that the UN is impotent when helping people in places like Rwanda and Sudan when such gross and massive human suffering is taking place. But the mere questioning of this is, of course, policed by Jews around the world as if you question the suffering of Jewish people (or, of course, the state of Israel) you are anti-Semitic. I was reminded of this when I awoke to the BBC program, “Have Your Say,” this morning in which people were debating this very subject.

I had been thinking about the use of the Jewish holocaust especially because as a part of my research I’m thinking about how it is used to rationalize the existence of Israel. One of the canonical books for Jewish kids in Hebrew school in the U.S. is Elie Wiesel’s Night, which I recently re-read in light of the fact that Oprah Winfrey has decided to encourage millions of Americans to do the same by choosing it as her next book club selection. I hadn’t read it since I was a teenager in Hebrew school, but it didn’t leave a huge impression on me then or now. The book is okay. It is not, I think, the most powerful book on the subject that one could choose to read. Or maybe it is just that such narratives have lost their power over me. I’ve read too many in my life to be moved by them. Although I don’t suspect this is the case. But at present I’m far more intrigued by the humanity of Jewish writers (some Israeli, some not) who are either survivors from the Jewish holocaust or are children of survivors and who make it a point to write about what it means for one population who has suffered to make another population suffer in similar ways.

This is precisely what I was thinking when I re-read Wiesel’s memoir directly on the heels of reading Ghada Karmi’s In Search of Fatima, a memoir by a Palestinian woman from Al Quds (Jerusalem) who describes in detail her memories of the massacres, refugees, and general suffering instigated by Jews in British mandate Palestine upon both English and Palestinian people, though, of course, to different degrees. Both of these memoirs take place in the same decade. Both books describe suffering that is remarkably similar. Perhaps because of current events, this got me thinking about language and politics and the Palestinian elections.

I cannot say that I’m surprised by the results of the elections. In many societies where democracy works, when people are frustrated with their current leaders they often go in the opposite direction. Look at Israel’s election of Ariel Sharon (okay, I know, not a real democracy, but at least it’s a country that claims to have one). And, though this is certainly not any indication of democracy functioning properly since his first term in office was selected by the U.S. Supreme Court rather than the voters, George W. Bush. As a feminist I can’t say that I’m enamored with Hamas, but as a pragmatist I know that they have done things for Palestinian people that met people’s needs in ways that Fatah hadn’t. But as I stated in my last Blog entry, I have real concerns about anyone in office as I worry about how an official government can continue to meet the needs of real Palestinians, especially refugees.

Of course, one of the expected, though most aggravating aspects of post-election discourse has been European, Israeli, and United States leaders stating they won’t deal with Hamas. Such comments come on the heels of the United States pumping $2 million into the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority prior to the election to boost the appeal of its members’ candidacy. And such comments also obscure a fact Judy Swallows on BBC Newshour last night reminded listeners of, “yesterday’s terrorist is tomorrow’s statesman.” No, she wasn’t referring to Palestinians when she made this comment; she was referring to the history of Israeli leaders who were designated terrorists by the British government, for instance, for their activities in designated terrorist organizations such as Irgun. If you look at the photo I loaded for this blog entry, you’ll see an Irgun poster which shows us a militant organization that was committed to an Israel that far extends beyond even the 1967 borders; in fact, it includes even Amman where I sit right now. Israeli leaders such as Menacham Begin, responsible for the massacre of Palestinians in many villages, most famously in Deir Yassin in 1948; or Ariel Sharon, responsible for the 1982 massacres in Palestinian refugee camps in South Lebanon’s Sabra and Shatila. In fact, every Israeli Prime Minister began their career in one of the many Israeli terrorist organizations: Irgun, Stern Gang, Palmach, and Haganah. Rabbi Michael Lerner explains this phenomenon:

“Just as the election of previously Israeli terrorists Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon set the backdrop for the possibiliy of peace negotiations with Israel’s enemies in the past thirty years, the election of the murderous terrorists of Hamas may ultimately make it more likey that a peace agreement entered into by a Hamas dominated government would actually amount to something lasting and substantial.”

That Israel and the U.S. state that they won’t negotiate with an organization that takes up arms in its struggle against the Occupation, one only needs to be reminded that both negotiated with the PLO when espousing similar reactionary statements; Gush Shalom’s Adam Keller and Uri Avnery state:

“The State of Israel has conducted negotiations with the PLO long before its Covenant was officially abolished, not did it wait for its abolition before signing an agreement with the PLO and starting implementation on the ground. The very holding of negotiations has rendered the Covenant meaningless. The same is true for the Hamas Covenant: the holding of talks between a Hamas-led government and the State of Israel will constitute mutual recognition – by the Hamas movement of the existence of Israel and by Israel of the Palestinian government also when formed by the Hamas.”

Moreover, if Israel is concerned about the election results, than its leaders should have thought about this long ago. Rabbi Michael Lerner reminds us that,

“Hamas would not have won without the conscious decision of Ariel Sharon to foster that possibility. From the moment that Sharon rejected negotiations with Arafat, who had explicitly recognized the existence of the State of Israel, and ended the Fatah call for Israel’s destruction, Sharon was strengthening the credibility of Hamas. If Fatah was too radical to be negotiated with, what would the Palestinian people be losing by voting for Hamas? And then when Arafat was replaced by a Palestinian president Abbas who implemented an end to the Intifada and preached non-violence and negotations, and he too was rejected as a viable partner for Israel by Ariel Sharon, and Sharon instead went ahead and unilaterally withdrew from Gaza (as opposed to withdrawing in coordination with the Fatah’s Palestinian Authority government) he was clearly sending the message that the Palestinian Authority could deliver nothing for the Palestinian people.”

Thus, Blowback is operating once again as with the U.S. funding the Taliban in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Too, just as Israelis voted for Sharon or Americans voted for Bush because of fears or “security,” Palestinians, I think, voted in similar fashion. No other party promised, and had a track record with delivering, when it comes to protecting and defending Palestinian people.
But the bottom line is that Palestinians’ most basic needs were not being met by Fatah. The government was viewed as a corrupt and people chose to vote for a party that has operated honestly and come through with promises made in the past. What worries me are the threats coming from the E.U. and the U.S. about aid. If that vital aid is cut off I worry about who will suffer the most. But even in its first statements about how Hamas plans to handle financial issues is promising: they plan to get rid of all of the body guards, cars, and other fringe benefits that people in the PLC have become accustomed to.

Perhaps one of the most important analyses of the election comes from Ali Abunimah, who speaking on KPFA yesterday, explained to listeners that the Hamas victory also comes from the fact that there hasn’t been any “peace process” if you’re Palestinian; rather, there has been a “war process.” While the media in the U.S. and elsewhere loves to report about suicide bombers, they certainly don’t seem to think it’s important enough to report on the conditions inside the Occupied Territories in a way that would explain the context of why and how this happens. And, as Abunimah explains, this “peace industry” is one of the many reasons Palestinians voted for Hamas:

“The principal purpose of this game is not to bring about a just and lasting peace but merely to inoculate the players from the charge that they are doing nothing to resolve a conflict that remains an enduring focus of regional and worldwide concern. A true peace effort would require confronting Israel and holding it accountable, something none of the Quartet members have the political will to do. There is no doubt that Fatah was entirely complicit in the game, to which it had become both a prisoner and an indispensable partner. Why else would the United States have desperately tried to shore Fatah up by spending millions of dollars on projects in recent months designed to buy votes, and why else would the EU have threatened to cut off aid if Palestinians voted for Hamas? Most Palestinians could see clearly that after years of negotiations and billions of dollars of foreign aid that they are poorer and less free than ever before as more of their land has been seized. It is no wonder that this kind of bribery and blackmail had no power over them and probably had the opposite effect, increasing Hamas support.”

Finally, for those who say that Israelis or leaders in the Quartet cannot negotiate with Hamas, they should recall that Rabbi Menechem Froman, an illegal Israeli settler in the West Bank, has met with and worked with Hamas leaders. In fact, they even came up with a statement about Jerusalem as it affects Muslims, Christians, and Jews.

I hope that the aid does not stop coming in to Phalasteen. I hope that change turns out to be positive for Palestinian people. I also hope that the world recognizes that democracy does not mean installing dictators that you control from afar.

Salam—

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11 thoughts on “Terrorist or Statesman?

  1. The Palestinians are entitled to a land. But they cannot and shouldn’t reach it with terror, murder, suicide bombing and killing innocents. They had millions of opportunities to start building their own country, but they preferred killing Israelis and Jews. Therefore they must abondon violence in order to earn a place on earth. They must recognize the right of Israel to exist, and giving up the idea moving back refugees to the Jewish state.

    The Holocaust occured. Large part of my family was wiped out. The Holocaust is not an excuse for Israel existence, but it taught us that we must have a country of own and an army for defend us. No country lifted a finger (except some wonderful individuals all over Europe) to save Jews, neiher the English nor the French. And they will not do it even in the future. We have to defend ourself!

    Anybody who questions the Holocaust and the right of the Jewish people for their homeland is places himself/herself in line with Hitler and the fascist Germany. It occured and it shouldn’t occur again. Not for us and not for anybody else.

    By the way, the Palestinians had their chance for setting up their land in 48. But they preferred not to accept the UN resolution of the division, they preferred running away for letting the Arab Legion cleaning up the land from Jews. And now they are stuck in refugee camp.

    Israel is not less democratic than Jordan. Israel handled and handles Palestinians much better than their own brothers. How many Palestinians died from King Hussein’s hand in Black September? Much-much more than Palestinians got hurt by Israelis during 30-40 years. So please stop patronizing us! Look first at your own neighbourhood before criticizing us!

    /* From a more than 20 year Meretz voter. */

  2. Although I am not by any means saying that two wrongs make a right, I pose the question: why is it okay for Jews to take the land now called Israel through terrorism but not for Palestinians who were there first?

    A second question: why is the burden of giving up violence always placed on Palestinians? Israelis use violence on a daily basis, much of which Palestinians are responding to. Defending themselves against.

    In terms of the Shoah, I have never questioned whether or not it happened. Rather, what I am opposed to is presenting it as the only genocide that matters. Elevating it to this type of status sets a dangerous precedent. Jews lived in Palestine before 1948. Those Jews who lived there did not have to defend themselves. What do you think changed? It certainly wasn’t Palestinian hospitality.

    In terms of your statements about democracy, I would never say that Israel, Jordan, or the U.S. for that matter is more democratic for the other. All three are far from what democracy looks like on paper. Certainly, King Hussein’s Black September was one of the worst moments in Jordanian history. It is unforgivable. I’m not comparing what Jordan and Israel does with respect to Palestinians; both have used violence in many ways–from outright military force to starving families. But Jordan is not my backyard; I’m merely a Jewish American living in Jordan. I’m not a Jordanian, though I will happily accept your mistake!

    Salam–

  3. Blapath–Israel isn’t defending itself. It’s the $3 billion in U.S. aid every year that “defends” Israel. Look at the weapons Israel uses–most of them are U.S.-made.

    Israel isn’t an “independent” Jewish state. That’s a myth.

  4. Elizabeth:

    Israel has a yearly defense budget of 34.5 billion dollars. Considerably more than the US aid provides, don’t you think? Israel, simply put, is an independent state, whatever one thinks of it.

  5. Marcy, you are a damaged lady, or at least brain washed! Israelis took the Palestinians land by terror? Are you out of your mind? Not even the Arabs claim so!

    We were always here, for a long time with limited population but still it is our land. Everywhere you dig you find old synagogues, Jewish settlements, the remains of our heritage. New Jewish settlers came 100-150 years ago, escaping pogroms in Russia, bought – hear me out, bought – land, didn’t harm anybody, didn’t terrorize anybody. At that time the Palestinian population was also minimal. Terror started much later and by Arab hands. We took their land? We took their land in terror? I suggest you go back to the university and demand to return you the scholarship price as they didn’t succeeded with you, you learned nothing!

    The Jews who lived here didn’t needed protection? Probably you forgot (or you just close your eyes and ears) about the Hebron pogrom in 1929. And what about the Arab terrorist (fedayeens) killing settlers, even before the English left? Oh, I forgot, killing Jews is never a crime, it is always acceptable!

    I don’t agree with a lot of official policy here, I absolutely against settlements in the West bank. But there is huge difference between a settlement and going in to a city, into a bus or shopping mall and killing women and children. I would accept from a “humanitarian” like you to denounce such tactics in the strongest words. have you heard about Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi and his way of violence-less revolt? All the Palestinians should do is lay down weapons, declare the recognition of Israel to exist, start to negotiate and in half year or so they would have a land. Unfortunately the Palestinians never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

    It is funny and hurting to see and hear how the “great” and “human” nations defend the Palestinians, the same Americans that wiped out the Indians, The English who conquered and ruled half the world in iron fist, Russian who occupied half Europe, the Japanese who behaved “wonderful” in WWII, the elegant French who dominated half of Africa… and the list can go on. Everybody is okay, everybody can do anything, only the Jews had to apologize they are not ready to be pushed into the sea.

    We were here. It is our land. It was our land and it will be our land. For the sake of peace and for the benefit of every human being living in this tiny piece we are ready to divide this land and hand over a part of it to our neighbors. But only if they accept our existence, our border, and let us live in peace. Leben und Leben lassen!

  6. You may be right on the figures Blapath, but then why does Israel make such a strenuous effort to manipulate U.S. foreign policy and when the U.S. puts its foot down (seldom, but it does occur) Israel does what it says? Maybe that $34 billion isn’t enough…maybe Israel is counting on the U.S. to back it up… Really, without U.S. support, do you think Israel would even exist?

  7. Elizabeth, can you tell me how much time France, West Germany could withstand a Soviet attack in the 50’s or 60’s? I imagine a bunch of Zulu Bushmen could easily overtake Denmark. Bosnia would be evaporated without the help of Nato. And what about Kuwait? Iraq ate it with a spoon and only the American army could restore the country. And what can you say about South Korea or Taiwan? Who maintains these countries: natives or the American money and American army and American interest? You can continue the list I am sure.

    In another word, I hope you don’t suggest that a country which cannot 100% defend itself can no right to exist. “Survival of the strongest, eliminate the week”! I don’t like that idea! Kuwait has right to exist, like Denmark, Holland, Bosnia and China and England and even Jordan and Lebanon. And of course as Israel has the right to exist!

    BTW, Israel can and will exist even with much-much less American aid. It would be more difficult, with a lower standard of living, with much more casualties but we would survive. Even today we and our sons are in the army and not American boys. During 40 years huge American army stand on German soil to oppose a possible Soviet attack. Even today a large American army and American nuclear umbrella maintains South Korea. But no American blood was shredded for defending Israel.

    As I wrote earlier, after the Shoah we learnt not to believe and not to trust anybody – except ourselves. Therefore we learnt to survive, even alone. It is our blood and sweat and soul that keep the county living.

  8. Blapath, you, obviously talk like a typical zionist, you take your propaganda and use it as facts, the bones of the palestinians in deir yasin and qibya are there if you wish to dig for them, they are real and they are there in your face. All we ever hear from zionists are lies, the Jewish minority always existed in Palestine thats a fact, they lived there for thousands of years, until zionism came and stirred the peace, and stole the land, yes stole the land its a fact wether you like it or not. I dont know why i keep repeating this argument there is no pojnt in it really a zionist will always be a zionist. Zionists are racist by ideolegy hence they have created a racist state, but in the end its is artificial and therefore it will naturally dissolve, what a stupid idea of having a state for one religion only it is unnatural and will not hold, the israeli arabs are proof of that, unless of course, you commit another holocaust, its not too much for Israel, its their bread and butter.

  9. Dear anonymous, you are not only a racist and fascist but also a coward who is afraid to show his own face or name.

    Thank you for your contribution to the history another chapter of violence, hatred, terror and bloodshed! You definitely will not be missed when washed down in the toilet of history.

  10. To be honest, I’ve never been totally clear on why we defended S. Korea–I guess it was all about the Cold War and resisting the Soviets–although at this point, N. Korea has become a threat to the world as well as its own people…don’t think you can say the same about the Palestinians…funny how Denmark and Holland don’t seem to have any enemies who wish for their destruction…maybe that’s because they’re composed of basically indigenous people…Iraq and Kuwait are invented countries, like Jordan and Lebanon for that matter, which is why they have so many problems…Basically what I am saying is Great Power meddling has caused most of the world’s problems, and I don’t think Great Power meddling to maintain borders is some type of heroic thing; it’s what we ended up having to do after we messed up the world in the first place.

  11. “I pose the question: why is it okay for Jews to take the land now called Israel through terrorism but not for Palestinians who were there first?”

    Actually, the Jews were there first. The Jews were forced out by the Romans who destroyed our temple and made us slaves. Then, the Romans occupied our land, followed by the Arabs, the Ottomans, and the British.

    Zionism, an ideology of Jewish national self-determination, provided the original impetus for Jews to return to Israel. This happened in the 19th century, well before the Holocaust. Zionist Jews purchased land from absentee landlords–the land was not “stolen”–and they spent a great deal of time and energy developing the land. As the Jewish communities developed, Arabs from the surrounding regions moved in search of employment.

    Fast-forward to the establishment of the State of Israel:

    1) The Palestinians were offered a state and refused

    2) The Palestinians decided to throw their fate in with the sucess or defeat of the neighboring Arab states

    3) The Arab armies were defeated and Israel liberated the lands of Judea and Samaria which were occupied at the time by Transjordan

    4) Transjordan, deprived of this property, became Jordan

    5) Judea and Samaria became known as the “Occupied Territories” or the “West Bank”

    6) The proper term for these areas is Judea and Samaria as they were occupied by Transjordan and liberated by Israel.

    7) In the parlance of internal law, these are “disputed terrorites”, not “occupied territories” because Israel liberated these lands in a defensive war against Arab aggression

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