International, and The Guardian
by Wendy R. Leibowitz
Thus far I have not written anything about the Middle East conflict on this site. Just writing about it tends to spawn verbal wars--nasty, brutish and never-ending. But two recent events cause me to break my silence. I lived in Israel for four years in the 1980s, and though I believe the place would drive Mahatma Gandhi to screaming fits, Israel is near and dear to me. I worked in Arab-Jewish health projects in the Galilee, under the auspices of the Ford Foundation, Save the Children, and the Israeli Ministry of Health. I loved almost every minute of my time in Muslim, Druze, Christian and Jewish communities in the Galilee, and the devotion of the medical staffs, who were of all races, creeds, colors and nationalities, was inspiring. Of course, it was a long time ago, and a lot has changed, but I still do believe that the vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians, the silent majority, can and will someday live in peace.
The first event that provoked me into breaking my silence was Amnesty International's condemnation of Palestinian suicide bombings. The London-based organization, which is usually silent when Israelis are murdered--and silence, to me, signals approval--issued a report today, July 11, 2002, calling the suicide bombings "crimes against humanity" and stated that no Israeli military action justified the killing of civilians. I almost wept. Although it's quite late in coming--Arafat closed the schools and ordered the second intifada to begin almost two years ago--and although A.I. also rightly criticized Israel for many of its heavy-handed military actions, the thrust of the report was--gasp--that the intentional murder of civilians, even Jewish Israeli settlers on the West Bank, was wrong. I had assumed that Amnesty International, like many European human rights organizations, regarded Israelis bleeding to death as justified by the occupation.
"The attacks against civilians by Palestinian armed groups are widespread, systematic and in pursuit of an explicit policy to attack civilians,'" the Amnesty report said, according to the Associated Press. "They constitute crimes against humanity.... They may also constitute war crimes." Welcome to civilization, Amnesty International.
Far more typical is British journalist's Brian Whitaker's column in The Guardian in which he wrote against the invasion of Iraq because: "[p]erhaps the most important factor is that deliberately creating turmoil throughout the Middle East diverts attention from the underlying problem-- the Israeli occupation that has blighted the region for more than half a century and has played a large part in the rise of Islamic militancy."
He does not seem to be talking about the occupation of the West Bank, which began only 35 years ago, but with the creation of the state of Israel, which was created over half a century ago at the same time as Jordan. Blaming Israel for the rise of Islamic militarism is like blaming Israel for the Lebanese civil war. Is Israel to blame for the rise of Islamic militants in Iran, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and the Philippines? Is Israel to blame for the seizure of the Great Mosques in Saudi Arabia by Islamic militants who despised the Saudi government? We in the West might be obsessed with Israel, but the Islamic militants are not. If there were a sudden outbreak of peace tomorrow between Israel and the Palestinians, Islamic militants like Richard Reid would still be trying to blow up US and UK airplanes in the name of extremist, violent fundamentalism. Would people like Whitaker still blame Israel?
I would argue that Israel, far from being a blight, is the most vibrant economy, the only democracy (albeit deeply flawed), and the only place in the Middle East with even a semblance of religious freedom. Call me nuts, but I really think that the best hope that the West has of defeating Islamic extremism (and the radical Jewish extremist nationalism that is taking hold in Israel), is to hope that Israel remains strong and undefeated, and that the Palestinians can create a secular democracy--the first Arab democracy in the Middle East. Sometimes I think if Israel were destroyed tomorrow, the US is the only country that would care. Many Europeans would sigh, issue a few words of regret, and think, "Well, there's THAT problem solved."
And finally is the reaction to a professor in Manchester, England, who removed two people from the editorial board of translation journals she edits solely for the crime of being Israeli. One of them is quite active in the peace movement--it is on the shoulders of people like her that peace will eventually come. But the Egyptian-born professor, Mona Baker, justified her action by saying she's supporting the academic boycott of Israel. (A boycott that I don't think is keeping Ariel Sharon awake at night). What impressed me was that there was actually a response against her--in European universities, where it is tres chic to call for a boycott of Israel, use an American flag as a doormat, and hang a picture of Arafat on the walls of the campus cafe. Just the fact that The Guardian newspaper, a left-wing bleeding heart, knee-jerk rag, (which I read because I am a bleeding heart knee-jerk liberal) actually wrote an editorial (or "leader" as they're called over there) politely denouncing the professor for her actions gives me hope. Sanity and balance may prevail.