Falling into the moral abyss

Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron arrest Palestinians suspected of throwing stones during a protest against Israel’s bombing of Gaza, 30 December 2008. (Mamoun Wazwaz/MaanImages)

The gradual process of ethnic cleansing in the occupied Palestinian territories is accelerating, and with it so is the moral culpability of Israel and the supporters of its policies in the United States. More and more people from the mainstream of Israeli politics are voicing alarm. In the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, former Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg compared the situation in Israel today to Germany on the eve of Nazis coming to power. Writing for The Huffington Post, former Israeli peace negotiator Daniel Levy likened Israel to a drunk and the US to a friend who gives them bottle of vodka and keys to his car. Even current Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who has ordered incessant attacks on Gaza since coming to power, has called recent attacks by Jewish settlers on Palestinians in the West Bank “pogroms.”

A state founded by Holocaust survivors should be a beacon of morality, not a black hole for it. Supporters of Israeli policy (and I distinguish between support for the Israeli people and support for its government’s policies) often justify their support by saying that Israel is the only democracy in the region. Leaving aside certain problematic aspects of that claim, I wonder if these people have ever thought of the implications of Israel, as a democracy, being engaged in continual violations of international law and human rights. Israelis, benefiting from a press that is far more open to the truth about government’s policies than the American media, know a great deal about what the leaders they elect are doing, yet they continue to elect them. Thus, the Israeli public has culpability for their government’s crimes that citizens under a dictatorship would not have.

Of course, the Israeli government could never have pursued these policies without the money, weapons, and diplomatic cover provided by the US, in particular the US Congress. After all, it is Congress’s powers over the “purse strings” rather than the President acting as commander-in-chief that has had a more direct bearing on the colonization of Palestinian territories by Jewish settlers. So many members of Congress have taken money from organizations effectively in exchange for supporting Israeli government interests. So many members of Congress have accepted all-expense paid junkets to Israel, ostensibly for educational purposes. With too few exceptions, they are fully complicit in Israeli government crimes, including war crimes.

What about the American public? I would say that the American public is largely in the dark about what is going on, thanks to a media which makes criticism of Israeli policy practically taboo. Of course, this gives the media a special culpability. Still, there are many Americans who do know the score and fail to speak out. This is particularly true with Gentiles. Let’s face it, although Jews make up only a few percent of the US population, the bulk of the outspoken critics of Israeli policy in this country seem to be Jewish-Americans. It may be that Gentiles are afraid to speak out for fear of being labeled “anti-Semitic,” but I say that as long as you are not anti-Semitic then you should not be afraid. In fact, if you are a true friend of the Israeli people then you should stand with those in their beleaguered peace movement.

It does Israelis no more good to control Palestinian land, exploit its resources, and inflict misery on its people than it did the US any good to do the same to Iraqis. Most of us know that the crimes our country committed in Iraq were detrimental to our future, so why would we support the Israeli government when it engages in the same self-destructive behavior. My question to Israel’s “friends” in Congress would be, “is that what friends are for?” Of course not. Most of our members of Congress (and here is the big surprise!) are too self-serving to care about the impact of their votes so long as it helps them raise money for their next election. They are the kind of “friends” Israel’s mother should have warned it against — if only we were Israel’s mother.

The only real threat to Israel’s existence comes not from Iran or Hizballah, but from a further loss of morality. It comes from attacking and threatening its neighbors. It comes from dehumanizing the indigenous people of the West Bank and replacing them with religious fanatics. As described by Leonard Fein in the Forward, some settlers view the Israeli government as their “enemy” and have called to establish a “Kingdom of Judea” in the West Bank. It comes from turning Gaza into a massive ghetto and slowly starving it, and now more than anything from bombing it into rubble.

We must condemn Israel’s attack on Gaza. I know that it is customary for many to equally condemn both sides whenever violence flares up in the conflict, but there is nothing equal between the two sides. The Palestinians have for decades been subjected to occupation, disappropriation, assassination and siege, always with massive suffering to civilians, and are expected to accept it without lifting a finger. Should the Palestinians put up any resistance, Israel feels free to launch any scale of attack, secure in the knowledge that at most it will be subject to calls for “restraint” and condemnation of violence on “both sides.” While I do not like the rockets that get fired from Gaza, as long as we as Americans provide the military, financial and diplomatic support that makes the Israeli occupation and siege possible I feel that we as Americans are in no position to condemn the Palestinian resistance. Remember, we as a society idolize our own forefathers who fought a violent resistance against British colonial rulers who paled in comparison in terms of brutality and repression to those the Palestinians face. Our government must withdrawal all support from Israel and instead should deliver desperately needed humanitarian aid directly into Gaza.

With the US heading into the biggest economic crisis of our lifetimes, the Israeli government must realize that it cannot take American financial and military aid for granted. The Palestinians have offered so many concessions. Israel needs to accept their generous offer before it falls headlong into the abyss.

Titus North is a novelist and an adjunct professor in the University of Pittsburgh’s Political Science department. He has worked for the Thomson Corporation since 1989 as a political and financial analyst and currently produces a daily English language digest of the Japanese financial press for Thomson. He was the Green Party Candidate for US Congress in 2006 and 2008.

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