Friday, December 23, 2005

Abraham had two sons.

In all of the posts on Deep Thought, I have at most only made passing reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is the most vexing and intractable conflict in the world, and I don't pretend to have an answer to the myriad of problems facing two nations of millions of people, all fighting over a piece of land the size of Vermont.

To Israelis, it represents their historical homeland. A place that was promised to Abraham for his seed to live there, and they trace their lineage to Abraham through his son, Isaac. A place they were exiled from thousands of years ago, but never gave up hope for a return. A place where generations of hard earned pennies were put aside into a 'tzedakah' box to buy land, and then independence was gained at the price of blood. A place where a dream, ages old, has finally come to reality. A reality that has to be defended every day from people who want to destroy the entire country. They believe their holiest city is Jerusalem, and it is the capital of their country.

To Palestinians, it represents their historical homeland. A place that was promised to Abraham for his seed to live there, and they trace their lineage to Abraham through his son, Ishmael. A place where their ancestors fought with a succession of invaders to defend their land, including the Israelites, as well as the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Abbasids, the Crusaders, the Mongols, the Turks and the British. So now they see the Israelites back again as occupiers. And they will fight for their freedom and independence as they always have. They believe their holiest city is Jerusalem, and it is the capital of their country.

So, you see why this is intractable. Both sides can say, with much justification, that they are right.

Now, today I was reading the news and found this article on Christmas this year in Bethlehem.

BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK - The meticulously followed Christmas ritual dates back to Ottoman times.

Every year on the morning of Dec. 25, the Latin Patriarch and a host of Church dignitaries head southward from Jerusalem via an ancient road to Bethlehem. But this year, the procession will pass through a metal gate topped with rolls of barbed wire, normally closed but opened briefly so as not to impede the tradition.

Flanking the gate are sections of 28-ft. high slabs of concrete that have made the northern approach of Bethlehem into a walled city. Half encircled by Israel's barrier, residents in the city where Jesus was born worry that the obstacle will slow a renewed stream of pilgrims as well as sever Bethlehem's historic link to Jerusalem.

"Going to Jerusalem is now like going to Jordan," complains Ali Jubran, a construction worker from Bethlehem, as he puts finishing touches on a new checkpoint terminal. "If you want to pray [at the mosque], you have to present a passport."

Creeping gradually southward through the West Bank, Israel has completed about half of the 411-mile matrix of concrete wall, electric fence, and patrol roads. Israel says it is necessary to keep suicide bombers from reaching its shopping malls and buses, but a United Nations court ruled in an advisory opinion last year that it violated international law.

On the outskirts of one of Christianity's holiest cities, the barrier snakes through the hills, almost entirely closing off nearby Jerusalem. Israeli security officials have charged that Palestinian-controlled Bethlehem has served as the base for militants who have carried out deadly attacks in Jerusalem....

Back near the entrance of Bethlehem, the neighborhood around Rachel's Tomb - the traditional burial spot of the Old Testament matriarch - has become a ghost town. Once bustling with markets and restaurants, Bethlehem's gateway district has been carved up by a cement wall corridor that allows Jewish worshippers to visit the holy site without being exposed to sniper fire.

Now, I don't like the West Bank wall, but any honest discussion of it has to include the fact that the Palestinians brought it on themselves (as they have brought much misery on themselves). It is hardly reasonable to ask that a nation would simply ignore a steady stream of suicide bombers climbing onto buses in Tel Aviv as they were just three or four years ago and detonating themselves. Proportionate to the population, it would be as if we in the U.S. had a Sept. 11 or Oklahoma City bombing attack every other week. People would demand that the government do something about it, and they would. The wall has cut the rate of uncontrolled (meaning not searched) passage of people into Israel (and corresponding number of suicide attacks) to almost zero, and as that is what it was designed to do, it has been a success in that regard. Had the Palestinians not decided to launch their 'intifada' after the Barak-Arafat peace accord had broken down (a decision that was Arafat's, to go with a lifetime of poor decisions on his part) then today there would be no wall. And until the Palestinian authority takes action to restrain groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, even if it means using force to enforce their rules (like the stated position opposing attacks on Israel), there will always be more radical groups sending more bombers and launching more rocket attacks. Keep in mind that many Palestinians still consider that all of the territory is theirs (see this site, and if necessary click on their map link),, so simply evacuating the West Bank and declaring a Palestinian state would not end attacks on Israel.

At the same time, the vision of a nation that is so petrified that they build a wall around themselves, once used as a matter of sarcasm, is what we see with Israel today (and is now being pushed by some loonies as a method to control illegal immigration along our own southern border). The fence, however, doesn't just go around Israel. It also encloses enclaves of Israeli settlements (most of which were built simply by bulldozing whatever structures west bank Palestinians had on the land with little or no compensation and in some cases literally minutes to get out) which have exacerbated tensions. These settlers are often the most fanatical of zionists, who believe that all of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza should be part of Israel and that all Palestinians should simply leave the country and move somewhere else. One has to question the wisdom of the Israeli government in not only building the settlements (only to later evacuate them at a political price and a waste of money, as we saw recently in Gaza), but in then populating them with the most fanatical of Israelis, those most likely to be involved in tense relations with their Palestinian neighbors (such as Allan Goodman, a settler who in 1982 entered the al-Aqsa mosque during midday prayers and sprayed the crowd with machine gun fire, killing dozens, and inspiring a new terrorist group, the 'al-Aqsa martyrs brigade'.) And the wall has been built on yet more Palestinian land. This has certainly helped feed radical Islamist groups, since people who have been displaced personally by settlements or by the wall are much more likely to become radicalized and take up arms against Israel. When the PLO was founded in 1964 (three years before Israel took over the West Bank, by the way), their main source of recruits were people who had owned land in Israel and been forced off of the land in 1948 (although there are arabs living peacefully inside Israel today, so to some extent it was those who believed that the five arab states then attacking Israel would prevail, and who were then not allowed back in when Israel won that war). Today, one of their main sources of recruits are Palestinians who have, or who know someone who has, been forced off of land in the West Bank. Another source (particularly for Hamas) are Palestinians, especially in Gaza, who have suffered from the periodic border closures which Israel enforced. This meant that some who lived there could not get to their jobs in Israel. And with no money coming in (the Gaza strip is not much bigger than the city of Washington D.C. and is literally packed with people, so the need for money coming in from outside is great), people were hungry, and hungry people with no hope are easy prey for someone with a message.

What we see then, is that the distrust and by now hatred of each side towards the other has caused each side to take actions that only provoke more actions against them by the other side. Then these actions justify and amplify their hatred.

Ultimately, I do see some hope here-- but probably not for many, many years-- and then only if it is backed by enough cash investment, particularly in Palestinian areas, to create a viable economy (for example, the largest employer in the West Bank is Coca-Cola. Their bottling plant in Ramallah employs over 20,000 Palestinians, and pays very good wages by local standards. This is one reason why the Palestinian authority chose Ramallah as their temporary 'capital,'-- it is one of the few success stories there). Only when Palestinians can find something better than Jihadism, can we expect to defeat the Jihadists. And the international community will have to contribute to that future. If Israel saw a Palestinian authority that had both the power and the willpower to crack down on terrorists in their midst (as in put them in prison, just as you or I would go to prison if, for example, we decided to sneak across the border and attack people in Mexico), then they would likely feel secure enough to tear down the wall. The settlements in the West Bank could in theory be evacuated and torn down, but only if the Palestinians not only recognized Israel in word, but also in deed (sites promoting tourism, like the one I linked to, would have to fix their maps.) Palestinian schoolchildren as well as Israeli schoolchildren would have to be taught the boundaries of their respective nations. The practice on the part of Palestinian politicians of speaking about peace while speaking in English while imploring the destruction of Israel while speaking Arabic will have to end. With the long list of people who have been involved with bloody acts, there would also likely have to be something similar to Nelson Mandela's 'truth and reconciliation commission,' where people can confess their crimes, renounce them, and as long as they live by that renunciation not face any consequences. Jerusalem will still be a sticking point. However, if all of the preceding are done, I suspect that something could be arranged (one thought that springs to mind, probably because it would be equally and totally unacceptable to both sides would be to establish a Jewish capital in the new city, which would be entirely under the control of Israel, a Palestinian capital in a portion of the old city, but not all of it, and the area around the Temple mount, the Mosque of Omar and the Wailing Wall an international holy place under the control of the United Nations).

However, with thousands of years of personal, religious, ethnic and national hatred, it will be a long, slow road.


Beth said...


That was a great post! May you have merry for the remainder of the year!


Beth said...

Eli, I came across this and wanted to share it.

Light a candle for freedom,
light a candle for peace,
light a candle for learning,
light a candle for honest democracy
light a candle for those who have not food or home
light a candle for the bruised beauty and waining bounty of our over used planet
light a candle for those hunted and harried for having a different belief
light a frigging bonfire to give light to the great power that is in the dark.

Anonymous said...

I think the Palestinians are descendants of the Philistines, aren't they? Certainly the ones in the Gaza strip would be, that is where the Philistines lived.

Anonymous said...

It saddens me, all these many generations of hate and conflict.
When will they ever learn?

Merry Christmas, Eli.

Thank you for the wonderful work you do here.

(Sorry about those grinchy glitches.)

Anonymous said...

It is a vexing situation. Generally however, I believe that the Israelis are in the right.

The thing that angers me about the situation is that the Palestinians could have had their own separate nation long ago, but that's not really want they want. What they really want is the extinction of the Jews from any of the lands in the middle east. (Reminiscent of Gov. Boggs in MO).

I also believe though that with the sympathy that the Arab Palistinians seem to have world-wide that they would be far better off following non-violent protest tactics like Gandhi did in India.

They only have two options. create an army capable of defeating the army of the Israelis, or two.... take the non-violent approach and let world sympathy create real political change.

Blowing up teenagers at the Pizza Hut only proves that the Arab Palestinians are incapable or unworthy of self-rule.


Eli Blake said...


I'm with you on that. The Israelis have shown that they are capable of reigning in their own extremists even at a political price (as in the recent forcible evacuation of the Gaza settlements).

The Palestinians do deserve their own state, but they won't get it (nor should they) until Palestinian leadership emerges which shows the same kind of firmness domestically. Arafat, partly because of his own rhetoric, couldn't do it (I remember when the 'intifada' started, and someone older and wiser than I am said that Arafat did still have authority-- he had the authority to say, 'yes,' to the people who wanted to riot).

Abbas, the jury is still out on, but he is running out of time. If he wins the upcoming election in Gaza, he will have to reign in the extremists, even if it means using Palestinian police to arrest, jail or even shoot Palestinians who defy the law. If he does this, there is hope. If he does not or cannot, then there is none.