Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Israel's dead end: My Own Best Thinking Brought Me Here

People who go to AA meetings will have heard this before: "my own best thinking brought me here." A statement of complete failure and final understanding that a person's intelligence may be what brings him/her to complete devastation. Few of us get to that point and for those who do, it seems to be a struggle to accept that reality--hence the need to repeat these little AA mantras.

What about nations? What about intelligent, modern, enlightened nations? What about moral, dedicated, religious societies? What about powerful, rich, hyper-connected global communities? Can their 'best thinking' bring them to utter failure?

Okay, try this exercise: What about the French Fourth Republic (still producing some of the greatest literature on earth and 'spreading civilization' the world over)? What about the mighty Soviet Super-Power (I mean, they beat the US to space, had some of the greatest scientists and chess players on earth and were going to take over the world)? What about the Fuhrer in the last hour in his bunker (now, here was a wonder of organization, management and military strength)?

You're still with me? Good. Let's try harder.
What about the Jewish State of Israel circa 2008? What about the United States of America, the "indispensable nation?" (I always think of the "unsinkable Titanic" when I hear this phrase - don't know why.*)

O - I see you raise your eyebrow. You're thinking: "Here goes another anti-American, anti-Israel diatribe from someone who sees nothing wrong with Jihadists and folks who strap C-4 around the belt of children!"
Well, not quite. I actually think the Jihadists 'own best thinking' and behind that the fundamentalist neo-paternalistic Islamic ethos has led a good part of the Muslim world into a dead-end of its own. I actually like the US a lot; I love Eilat and Tel Aviv in the Summer; and I think Israel has shown that with the right size blank check from US tax payers, there's a lot you can do to develop a nation very quickly. I think it's brilliant how America won't provide health care to its own children but pays for a very effective public health system in Israel providing universal coverage to its citizens. (Way to export socialized medicine, America!) But I'm digressing.

But, let's look at Israel and Gaza today. Which way is this current crisis headed? What are its goals? What can it achieve? Is there any kind of a win for Israel? And if there isn't, then why would the brilliant minds of Kadima, Labour and the Likud all pursue a logic of death, destruction, bloodshed, and -- as the Lebanese war in 2006 -- no possible lasting gain?

I lack the time to expand on how pointless this killing of Palestinians is. (I love that CNN reports that X% of people killed were "militants" and the rest--a small fraction--"civilians." Folks in Gaza are playing puzzle with body parts to figure out who is dead, but CNN, live from Atlanta, already has a statistic about how many were militants. CNN is sooooo smart. I should ask them what I've done with my favorite pen I lost last month.) So, Israel is going to kill 1,000? 2,000? 10,000? or more Palestinians -- I assume CNN already has the percentage of collateral dammage on hand -- then what?

O yes, if they go in, they'll take out a lot of metal and stuff that can be used to make rockets. If they are very very successful, the only thing left in Gaza will be rubber bands and pita bread. For a few months. Then what?

Parenthesis -- before I continue, please note that I am writing according to the CNN script--that is, I pretend to ASSUME that Israel's actions are disproportionate, but that they came in response to attacks from Gaza with those rockets. I am quite sure that many of the readers (ok - there aren't so many readers of this blog) would also have a mental picture where Israel--right or wrong--is acting in response to being attacked. That's the interesting thing, and that's where you see that the US are themselves locked in their own best thinking. For this thinking actually contradicts the calendar of events wich led to the end of the truce betwen Hamas and Israel. There was a truce. Israel sent F-16's to destroy a tunnel and killed half a dozen Palestinians. The bottom line is that the resumption of hostilities came from Israel. (What? Gazans shouldn't build tunnels? You go there and tell them! Also, did the US stop providing high tech war equipment during that truce? No. So why should the other side stop playing in the sand then?) So, correcting the news: Israel ended the truce.--end of parenthesis.

The fact is that, while Israel has a strategy for the West Bank (essentially conquering more and more land while pretending to be negotiating peace, for as long as the gullible US can be kept in line with AIPAC), it doesn't have a strategy for Gaza. Israel controls who goes in and out of Gaza, what goes in and out (well - to some extent but they try), they have eyes in the air, they control when the fishermen go out or not, they restrict gasoline, electricity, the capacity to have drinking water, the availability of commodities. They can any day or night decide to send a troup of soldiers and kill a few people when they think it's a good idea. Basically, Israel 'owns' 1.5 million Palestinians in a 'rat cage.'**

Israel's best thinking imposes some actions:
- Lobby the US not to talk to Hamas; shun Hamas (except when desperate enough to negotiate a truce);
- Qualify all Palestinian resistance as "terrorism" and legitimize 'targeted killings' -- essentially a life and death claim on any Palestinian life;
- Crush people in misery, be "tough" and stand on the self-rigtheousness of the eternal victim;
- Since Palestinians cannot be trusted, armed Palestinians (i.e. "security forces" or police) must be killed (who will keep order in an open air prison without police?)

You add to that the internal Israeli politics: since the Minister of Defence is in competition with the Prime Minister is in competition with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, intelligent leadership in Israel becomes a rarity. What you have is populist escalation - a "I can be tougher than you against terrorists"-race to more belligerence. Which Israeli politicians is going to gain points against the other by saying "We've been wrong all along. We need to talk to these people. We need to make peace with our enemy. And it starts by losing the right of life and death over Palestinians; it starts with acknowledging we are not a superior race destined to rule over Arabs; we are not to control every element--no, we are not to control ANY element of the life of Palestinians and Gazans. And yes, if we talk to these people, we will lose something because our freedom stops where theirs starts, but we can gain a lot more."

No Israeli politician can make that speech. Well - almost: Olmert came close in his interview, just after he declared he was leaving power. Interesting.

Israel's best thinking is currently very sick. A brilliant mind in the prison of its own making, without an exit strategy. The Palestinians are first to pay the price. Unlucky residents of Sderot are next in line. All of Israel can only lose, regardless of the body count. Let me rephrase that: Israel's loss accrues with each dead Palestinian. This war is a lose-lose. And Palestinians - especially in Gaza - don't feel they have a lot to lose. Would you rather die fighting, even sending blind rockets, or sitting down? Please let's remember that all our nations have targeted civilians when this could lead to victory. (No? Did you study the Ulysses Grant campaign against the South in the American civil war? Have you heard of Dresden, maybe Hiroshima? And I'm not citing the US because they are the worst, but because they have been the 'good kid in the class' of Western Nations.)

Another time, I'll write about why America seems stuck also, unable to be the constructive third party it has sometimes been in history. Prisoner of its own 'best thinking' - in a global war on selected forms and agents of terrorism. So, America does not play its role - Obama or no Obama. [At least, Obama should be one step up from Bush circa 2000, whose motto to Israel & Sharon (remember, a 'man of peace' by W's standards) was "kill, baby kill!"] It is not the goodwill or the intelligence of America that is in question, but its ability to get out of the mental prison it has created for itself.

America is now Europe in the first half of the 20th Century. (Israel is Europe in the first half of the 19th Century it seems.) The question is, who can play the role America played for Europe? How can one be saved from oneself?

Maybe we should start 12 step programs for nations with too much military power.
"Hi. My name is Israel. I am powerless over my own strength and domination of Arabs."
"Hi. My name is America. I am powerless over the rhetoric of my war on terror and my 700 foreign military bases." (700 guys! ever think of that?)
"Hi. My name is Hamas. I am powerless over belief that violence can repay violence."

Welcome - have a seat. Now, let's start with the serenity prayer.


ps: As always, check out the links at the bottom right of this page. Brian McLaren left his blog entry for a text worth reading by Hannah Mermelstein.
IF YOU WANT TO DO SOMETHING: (1) visit endtheoccupation.org; (2) write to your elected officials (for Americans, very easy through www.congress.org; (3) write questions to Obama and vote for questions to Obama on Palestine by going to change.gov and "open for questions" (4) send money to any of the following: Near East Council of Churches, CARE, World Vision, Holy Land Trust, Sabeel, Save the Children Palestine or Human Rights groups; (5) refuse to be overwhelmed and give up; denounce 'it's been going on forever' fatalistic lies. This mess is OUR (human) making; WE (humans) must fix it. If you're like me and believe in our powerlessness and the help of a Power Greater Than Ourselves, pray and pray again; but oppose the fatalism of those who use trust in God ("only One can bring peace") as a commandment to do nothing for peace. Whatever you do which is not passivity (this includes invisible acts in silence) contributes to the struggle for peace and justice. (6) remain outraged at the waste of violence: regardless of unequal political responsibilities on the two sides, the life of a kid in Gaza = the life of a kid in Sderot = the life of anyone on any side, even narrow-minded anyones.

* Don't worry - America's done great things and it's not the first self-important nation on earth. I know where I come from after all!
** Expression borrowed from a UHWC presentation made in Gaza by a Gazan, speaking of 'rat cage syndrome'


Anonymous said...

I have a friend who has been going to AA for 27 years. His commitment is a recognition that his addiction will NEVER go away. The addiction to violence requires a long-term commitment to working on "the stuff" of the addiction. There is another group--Al Anon--that is made up of people who are co-dependent with the addicted. They meet and meet and meet to work on "their stuff": the stuff that places them in a position of enabling or being sucked into the addiction of their friend, sibling, spouse or whomever. Maybe we need to start and "Violence-Anon" to admit our co-dependence with those addicted to violence. I love the stuff that I "get" thanks to the violence of the US (cheap energy, lots of consumer goods, etc.), but I need to give it up so that the violence-addicted can come to grips with their addiction.

David said...

This is brilliant. Far better (and far more coherent) than my attempt on this one.

So good that I'm just stealing it and putting it on my blog. Don't worry, I'll cite you, my anonymous friend.

Anonymous said...

Israel and America are not perfect but why be so against them when those that seek to destroy western civilisation are spreading like vernom throughout the world. Have you not noticed that negotiation with these people is a complete and utter waste of time.

Yes there are plenty civilians that have sadly been caught up in the war in Gaza. That unfortunately is part of war. Your lack of understanding the techniques used by Hamas is astonishing. Rather you are more interested in putting fwd your leftist and anti-semitic views.

Hamas put their own children between them and the line of fire. This is a fact. Does that not spell out how low these people are.

Does the fact that no other arab nation surrounding Gaza not being willing to take them in, not spell it out either. Why does Egypt not open their borders to Gaza?

I pray for peace and the will for the civilians to take a stand against Hamas and support Fatah as that is their only hope of peace.

Elrig Ciles said...

I hesitated allowing the last comment, which calls me an anti-Semit, but then decided to let it through as an illustration. I won't always be able to respond to insult and propaganda and I wonder if the last anonymous comment is one of those new Israeli 'blogger recruitees' in the propaganda war. Obviously confusing Al Qaeda with Palestinian Militants in the first paragraph. A useful propaganda tool anyway.

However- I'll respond to a few jabs (not really arguments):
FIRST QUOTE: "Have you not noticed that negotiation with these people is a complete and utter waste of time."
My answer is: no. Negotiations have usually led to results. It's unfortunate the West refuses to negotiate with them and Israel is double minded about such negotiations. The breakdown of the truce with Hamas was timed to a 't' by Israel.

NEXT--Now my views are "leftist" and "anti semitic." What a hodge podge! Is peace leftist? Then I'm leftist. As for the "anti semitic" slander, I've done more against anti-semitism than the anonymous writer; I don't particularly feel sensitive to this cliched insult. Actually, this will be part of the next entry I'm working on (before end of January I promise) the long overdue piece deconstructing the murky propaganda of the eternal war camp.

NEXT QUOTE: "Hamas put their own children between them and the line of fire. This is a fact. Does that not spell out how low these people are."
=Typical hodge podge of lies and amalgams. Please tell me, where do you hide in the Beach Camp with 10,000 people in 1 square km area?

Was Dr Abul Ayish--whose family was slaughtered--Hamas? Was he hiding behind his children? This is rhetoric, racist and factless, trying to repeat things to make them facts.

NEXT QUOTE: "Does the fact that no other arab nation surrounding Gaza not being willing to take them in, not spell it out either."
Apart from the critical lack of question marks, the writer lacks a great sense of geography: Gaza is surrounded by (1) Israel and (2) Egypt. Is Israel an Arab nation? But let's get to the point: you want Arab nations to "take in" the population, so... you are indeed trying to drive them out? What do we call that? Yes - ethnic cleansing.
I'm glad "anonymous" is coming clean about that.

NEXT QUOTE: "Why does Egypt not open their borders to Gaza?"
Well there are 2 reasons if you want to know: (1) The border is still controlled by Israel through cameras. Which I think is part of the problem. Israel should remove its cameras. and (2) Egypt is selfish and under pressure from Israel and the US.
But I'm with Anonmymous; the border with Egypt should be opened, then we wouldn't need those tunnels.
But I think Anonymous' implication is that Hamas and/or all Palestinians maybe are nothing but trouble, even to their Arab neighbor. It's sometimes hard (and somewhat pointless) trying to answer rhetorical questions.

The last paragraph has me puzzled. So, now Fatah is the 'good guy'? Fine. But how much can we achieve with another civil war during an occupation? The solution for Gaza is one more round of civil war? Man - your best thinking is truly leading you nowhere.
The pro-Fatah stand is the one that leads me to think this commentary is paid propaganda. It reeks of pre-fab' 'talking points.'

But, Shalom/Salam my friend, whoever you may be. Thanks for stopping by.


Dragonfly said...

Our lines of thinking are pretty much the same. Agree with all you wrote.
As for 'anonymous' (the anonymous speaks for itself, a cowardly way to post).
At least my 'hate reply poster' used a name, not that there was link to a blog of his or anything - so still pretty anonymous really - he's given up posting now, poor Michael.

And like your poster, Michael had the same old rhetoric - Hamas are terrorists, human shields blah blah blah - it's growing old and never did have any evidence or proof backing it up - still doesn't. A good reason for this. THERE ISN'T ANY. All facts and evidence blow their rhetoric to pieces.
By the way Anonymous, I'm not sure if I'm anti semetic. I am sure that Israel should be disarmed and the money the USA gives to them should now go to Gaza and the West Bank to make it as strong is Israel now is. Arm Israel then arm Palestine (yes I know you don't recognise Palestine but the rest of us do). Give both or neither countries the right to defend NOT JUST ONE. Peace is the right for both NOT JUST ONE. Israel prevents peace to it's civilians by it's actions towards Palestine, provoking Hamas to fire rockets when had they done what they were supposed to during the truce and not broken it, the rockets would have been stilled. So it is Israel who uses it's civilians as pawns in this war not Hamas. There's plenty of FACT AND EVIDENCE to back this up on the links on my blog. Not that you'll read them because you don't want to know. Nor do you want anyone else to know.