Every few months I have to write this post, in one form or another. So I won’t be insulted if you get bored and change the channel.
I keep running into people who want to argue that the Palestinian problem is a ‘human rights problem’. Some of these people are local friends, and others are NGOs like Amnesty International, about which I wrote recently. But they all want to talk about this or that case in which Israeli soldiers or police allegedly brutalized Palestinians, or the degree of inequality between Arab and Jewish Israelis, or supposed ‘racist’ — that is, anti-Arab — attitudes among Jewish Israelis.
They suggest that these phenomena are fundamental to the conflict, and that they receive official expression as expropriation of land and water resources, and general exploitation of Palestinians for the benefit of Jews. The conception is that anti-Arab attitudes on the part of ‘European’ Jews are a cause of the ‘colonization’ of the ‘indigenous’ Arabs, who are so ‘humiliated’ by this that they have the right — indeed no other choice than — to ‘resist’.
This view is popular in ‘progressive’ circles in the US, where Palestinian Arabs are compared to African Americans, or in Europe where the preferred metaphor is South African blacks.
On the contrary, I say that anti-Arab attitudes among Israeli Jews are symptoms of a larger regional conflict, something which can’t be fixed merely by soul-searching and self criticism on their part. I say that the actions of the government — for example, the construction of the security barrier — which certainly do impact the lives of Arabs negatively, are driven by the objective situation of Jewish Israelis, who are under siege by forces that don’t even hide their desire to commit another genocide against the Jewish people.
Some important points:
- The Arabs are not so indigenous and the Jews are not so European. Ahmadinejad and Abbas are fond of saying “why should the Palestinians be stateless as a result of Hitler’s actions?”– by which I presume they intend that the half of all Israelis who are descended from Jews that fled Arab countries after 1948 should be stateless because of the actions of various Arab despots. And while Sari Nusseibeh may be able to trace his family’s Palestinian roots back to the time of the crusades, many of the ancestors of today’s ‘Palestinians’ came to the region from Egypt with Muhammed Ali in the 1830’s — a few years before the Zionists — or fled famine in Syria during the early 20th century.
- The Arab world actively hates Israel and Jews. With the exception of Egypt and Jordan, with which Israel has ‘cold’ peace agreements, every Arab nation and Iran remains committed to the principle that Israel is illegitimate and should not exist. Some of them like Iran and Syria are actively engaged in proxy war with Israel via non-state proxies Hamas and Hezbollah. Virtually all of them — including the Palestinian Authority — officially and unofficially produce a constant flow of hateful antisemitic propaganda in all of their media.
- Israel is sporadically at war with Hamas and Hezbollah.
- Israel is under threat from huge numbers of missiles from Hezbollah in Lebanon, from Syria — including some with chemical warheads — and from Iran, which will soon have nuclear weapons.
- Israel is highly vulnerable due to its small size and population.
- There is a worldwide propaganda assault to delegitimize Israel. Delegitimization is often the first step to genocide. The Arabs and Iran contribute to this, but also ‘progressive’ forces in Europe, American and European academia.
- Israel has few allies. It is entirely dependent on the US, which has supplied it with weapons since 1968, to maintain the military superiority it needs to survive. On the other hand, the enemies of Israel — and in particular the Palestinian and Lebanese proxies that presently constitute the ‘point of the spear’ aimed at her — are supported by oil money from Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.
The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, then, rather than a human-rights issue in which a strong nation disproportionally uses its military power to oppress a weak minority, is seen to be a symptom of a regional conflict in which a number of rich and relatively populous nations are agreed — although they can agree on nothing else — to oppose a small and vulnerable state. In this broader conflict, Israel is the underdog.
You can’t cure pneumonia with aspirin; you need to treat the disease, not the symptoms. In order to improve relations between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, it will be necessary for the Arab world to take the pressure off, to stop trying to destroy Israel, to accept the presence of a Jewish state in the Mideast, to stop antisemitic incitement, and above all to stop supporting the Palestinian extremists that are responsible for the terrorism that has plagued Israel since its founding.