Last Saturday I attended the demonstration in front of the Federal Building in Westwood, in Los Angeles, to show support for Palestinians once again under Israeli fire, and hand out invitations to join in the next IPC (Israeli-Palestinian Confederation, IPconfederation.org) simulation, and urge them to watch the film SURVIVING PEACE on the internet.
Under similar circumstances in the past, there’s generally been a group of fifteen or twenty on opposing street corners, sometimes with an equal number of pro-Israeli demonstrators. It has been awhile since I came out to one of these, and this time was different. I witnessed a single group of less than a half dozen snapping selfies before an Israeli flag in the middle of the street, before reaching a few steps later the growing group of a thousand or more pro-Palestinian demonstrators that had stopped traffic in four directions around the intersection of Wilshire and Veteran. This was composed mostly of Palestinians, but with nearly an equal number of supportive liberal Jews and allies.
A path out of the cycle of violence in Israel-Palestine exists, but the people must create it.
“Who fired the first shot?” a friend of mine asked later, referring to the current round of violence in Israel and the territories. President Biden reiterated the hollow standard US foreign policy line supporting Israel’s actions, that Israel has the right to defend itself. While this is certainly true—anyone has the right to defend themselves when attacked—the total lack of reference to the disproportionality of Palestinian suffering under ongoing policies of land confiscation amidst suppression of movement, makes the question who started it irrelevant. The standard US statement is by implication an unrealistic misrepresentation, and has always been so used. Its validity is so threadbare it is seen through by all save those who blindly support Israel regardless, as anachronistic, stemming from a misguided sense of self-interest, based on the concept that Israel serves as the Western powers’ land-based aircraft carrier in the region, from which to project influence.
Even if one is to abandon questions of humanity and examine the issue strictly through the lens of Realpolitik, considering the degree of terrorist blowback that has been engendered by this policy, it can hardly be considered a plus any longer.
One is forced to wonder, if one really wanted to support Israel, what would their counsel be? “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk” comes to mind, and certainly seems to apply. Instead, we constantly find ourselves in the position of supplying free booze.
Our inability to arrive at a better approach has long been complicated by the fact that the United States was formed in similar fashion to the ongoing creation of the state of Israel, only over a longer period of time (referred to in academic circles as ‘settler colonialism’): through a series of one-sided treaties, broken promises, and low intensity warfare interrupted by larger conflicts with little justification. It is impossible not to view as hypocritical lip service US statements that Israel shouldn’t be allowed to expand the amount of territory under their control in the same manner as the US was formed, when the US historically fails to attach any significant cost to such actions. The bluff is called whenever it manages to assert itself, Israeli leaders feeling safe ignoring such entreaties through their hold on the US political system, even to the extent of the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, addressing a joint session of Congress against the wishes of the US president, Barack Obama.
Though the tail continues to wag the dog, the costs for the US and Israel grows ever higher as the Zionist dream of total annexation of all the territory of historic Israel approaches reality, however. Alliances for global power are constantly shifting. Those derived through threats and bribes, ultimately based on fear, are thin at best, and survive only as long as conditions persist, and the condition they require is endless war. But this is nothing other than what many feel is necessary, for their safety.
The Jews in Russia and Eastern Europe were barred from professions considered the most lucrative, and so were utilized by the Czars as tax and debt collectors. When times became hard the people rebelled, but not against the higher authorities which would have provoked retribution, but against those serving as their handmaidens, the Jews.
The nineteenth century was an era of nation building, kingdoms transforming into nation states mostly along religious lines (Protestantism in Britain and the US, Catholicism in Italy and France, Islam in the Ottoman Empire, etc.). After the violence of the pogroms, a movement formed among Eastern European Jews around the idea that they would never be safe until they founded their own nation state. And so the pogroms begat Zionism.
The era of colonialism was at its zenith, with the states of Europe warring against one another as they vied for control of colonies in the Americas, Asia, and Africa. This led to several wars, and ultimately in 1914 the First World War (so called). Germany suffered defeat in WWI in 1918 due to Britain’s successful blockade at sea, starving the German nation into submission despite its success on the battlefield. There the stalemate reflected German control of much of the territory of France. Under the settlement terms, Germany lost territory from its pre-war position in Europe, and was stripped of its overseas possessions. It was forced to agree to harsh financial reparations to Britain and France. The US agreed with this position as Britain’s economy, much like Germany’s, was in a shambles, and they were deeply in debt over war costs to US bankers, who wanted to be sure to recover their loans.
Many pointed out the draconian financial terms Germany had been saddled with were unjust, and possibly laid the ground for future conflict, but as long as times were good all was well in Germany under the Weimar Republic, and the culture blossomed.
Many Germans chafed under the humiliation visited upon German aspirations to be a great power alongside Britain, France, and Russia, however. Adopting the ideas of eugenics prevalent in US scientific circles at the time, and the methods of propaganda used by Woodrow Wilson to turn the US population from being against US involvement in the European war during his re-election campaign in 1916, to being viewed as unpatriotic if one opposed it only a year later, Hitler and his flock espoused the idea that it was Germany’s destiny to expand to the east over inferior races, and create for itself a land empire like Russia, which they would carve out of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.
As the world entered the 1930s, it suffered a global economic downturn. Other nations cut off credit to Germany. The German economy descended into hyperinflation, with immense suffering.
Suddenly the fringe views of Hitler and his acolytes appeared prophetic, and his plan for the future, assigning scapegoats and offering a route for expansion, found acceptance. A few years later, as his plans faced collapse, the Holocaust was born… and the Holocaust begat the nation of Israel.
People often react poorly when they feel threatened, since we are wired for self-preservation. Balanced against this tendency is the deeper, subtler sense of our interconnectedness, which prompts us to reach out to those in need. As Eqbal Ahmad stated succinctly, “… Israel’s fundamental contradiction was that it was founded as a symbol of the suffering of humanity … at the expense of another people who were innocent of guilt.”
Israel’s founding myth is similar to ours, about Pilgrims suffering under stifling European religious oppression, coming to a land largely devoid of inhabitants save those few who willingly welcomed them. Such a view, echoed recently on CNN by Rick Santorum, is widely viewed in the current climate as blatantly racist. Similar recognition has yet to penetrate Israel’s defenders, but the more Israel employs an iron fist beneath an Iron Dome, the less sympathy it is able to extract, while empathy for the Palestinians’ situation finds common cause with racist oppression, everywhere.
What does it mean today, to be a friend of the Jews? Can one support those who find in fervent religious belief a historical justification for their continuing land grab, that cannot account for the fact that for 93% of recorded history the portion of the Levant they lay claim to was politically controlled by others? Similarly, those who cling to the anti-democratic idea that a state based on the proposition of one race privileged above all others, rather than equal justice for all, is the formula for a safe haven ignores the obvious—that injustice inherently creates instability, violence, and war. It is understandable that the Jews of Eastern Europe would have brought this idea with them to Palestine, but is belied by the reality that Jews and Muslims and Christians lived together in comparative harmony and freedom for hundreds of years under the Ottomans and before.
Every religion purports to be the conduit for the recognition of the will of a loving god that desires from us right conduct in the world. Yet, adherents of every religion reinterpret the dictate to love one another into a justification for violence against those perceived to be not of their tribe.
Is pushing the suffering from one group onto another the best we can do? What about our other potentiality, that is, recognition of our universal connectedness? This is not a religious, philosophical or a psychological proposition. As climate change reveals, it is a biological fact. And in Israel-Palestine, a political one.
However we choose to define ourselves, the natural fact of the matter is we have more in common with each other than the ideas we entertain about ourselves would suggest. But fear begets fear. Those who deny their interconnectedness to identify with a nation become increasingly isolated, until they find their nation at war with all nations, and their tribe at war with the world. This is as true for the US as it is for Israel, as our unquestioning financial and military support of Israel’s policies increases the isolation of both countries. As Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently tweeted, “If the Biden admin can’t stand up to an ally, who can it stand up to? How can they credibly claim to stand for human rights?”
Any individual would find an ongoing psychological state of fear and hatred uncomfortable, to say the least. We seek love and trust, as our natural state of rest. The question becomes, how can we expand our vision of love and trust to include the other.
Many Jews and Palestinians, and others, both in Israel and the US, recognize the current policy, supporting the slow annexation of the property of five million people while denying them political rights, is a dead end in the modern world, or certainly should be. Until now they have lacked a forum in which to increase their trust by exploring alternative possibilities together, outside that provided by political leaders held captive to cycles of fear, created by the violence they perpetuate.
Such a forum exists, however, be it in the formative stage. This is the purpose behind the Israeli-Palestinian Confederation, the IPC. Periodically we meet online to discuss how such a forum could operate in Israel and Palestine, in the real world. The documentary SURVIVING PEACE explores this concept with people of Israel and Palestine, and many of their political and academic leaders. It isavailable to view in three different subtitled versions (English, Hebrew, and Arabic) on YouTube. One can sign up to participate in the next IPC simulation at IPconfederation.org. When the people lead, the leaders will follow.
“The question whether Israel can survive peace is maybe the most crucial existential question of our generation.”
— Avraham Burg, former speaker of the Knesset, from his interview in the film.