News

U.S. ignorance about Palestinian conditions is very, very dangerous

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

The other day I was talking to an Arab-American friend who is incensed by Israel’s conduct and I said that the fact that half of greater Israel’s population is not politically represented (the Palestinians) means that there could be a civil war in that place; and he nodded and said, Right, as if it were a good thing.

The comment resonates in my mind because it demonstrates how volatile are the political materials that Israel and the lobby and the U.S. are playing with. If you study history, you recognize that the injustice being perpetrated in Israel/Palestine is of such a profound character as to be of the type that people historically have made violent revolutions over.

And this seems to me the huge danger of the denial that the mainstream media and the lobby are perpetrating in the U.S.

They are depriving Americans of knowledge of the terrible reality of the situation, and of the revolutionary tinder it is building. They are stupidly suggesting, every day, for years on end, that a "peace process" will produce justice in Israel/Palestine any minute now, when from a Palestinian perspective this process has only prolonged 60 years of dispossession, now exacerbated by tyrannical murderous occupation. 

By dismissing the word apartheid over and over again, when many say that the situation is worse than South African apartheid, the U.S. establishment is in grave danger of reaping the whirlwind. It is true that Nicholas Kristof in the Times has nibbled away at the reality lately; but this is just a nibble, he is still sugarcoating the pill; and the rest of the Establishment media have completely failed to reckon with what is afoot.

It is like northern newspapers before the Civil War printing pieces saying that blacks are treated pretty well in the south. (Did they do that? I don’t know. I assume they did. Or else why did the abolitionist press surge into the scene with harrowing descriptions of slavery.)

Again I say that this situation is like the pre-Civil War situation in that the injustice then, denied by the entire political establishment except for the renegade Republican party, ended up producing a huge bloodletting. This is what any reasonable person fears about what is afoot in the Middle East. The Palestinians are oppressed, full stop, and it is no wonder that they seek alliance with Hezbollah and Iran. You would too. And remember that Ahmadinejad says he would stop threatening Israel if the Palestinians achieve a settlement with Israel; that is his motivator. And remember that the hundreds of flotilla members joined the flotilla out of deep commitment; and some of them were willing to die for the idea of Palestinian freedom. And regardless of the debate this site has been conducting about nonviolence, maybe some of them had John Brown’s motivation– that violence that preceded the great violence of the Civil War, a violence that Abraham Lincoln disavowed in the ’60 presidential campaign but that is today honored in Brown’s farm being a national historical site.

I am telling you that in the Palestinian Diaspora, in the United States, this injustice has produced revolutionary feeling. Many Arab-Americans would like to see the Israeli regime toppled, and for reasons any Jew could well understand if, say, a state were oppressing Jews to the degree that Israel is oppressing Palestinians.

Here again, there is a terrible problem in our discourse. For even the Palestinian intellectuals who swear by nonviolence– Ali Abunimah and Rashid Khalidi, for instance– are excluded from the debate. These are people educated by our best institutions, balanced people; and they are simply excluded, as Edward Said was excluded more than a quarter century ago. And Abunimah’s nonviolent answer to the problem — BDS, one state– doesn’t even get debated.

And what this means is that in the body of Palestinian life, among people who don’t have Abunimah’s articulateness or ability to convey his feelings in words, the rage only builds.

The flip side of this is the Jewish complacency about the matter. The Jews who say, Oh Israel offered them a good deal at Camp David; or one Zionist I heard say, But by valorizing the Hamas version of events, Goldstone is undermining the two-state solution! These liberal Zionist Jews feel a good deal can be had if Obama will only put a little pressure on Israel, as if the two-state solution is real and on the table; and meantime they ignore the "gushing wound" of Palestine (per Iranian Akbar Ganji) which Fareed Zakaria had the courage to write about in the Wash. Post. They blind themselves to Goldstone; they ignore the terrible terrible stories from the Goldstone report of children maimed by high-tech experimental weapons, children brought back to hospitals two days after their treatment with white phosophorus still burning in their flesh, children who saw their legs chopped off by an Israeli missile as they sat fearfully with their families in their houses, children who reached for their father’s head and found blood, children left to hug their mothers’ bodies for days as no ambulance was permitted near their house.

Palestinians have heard these stories, even if you won’t hear them.

This dangerous Jewish complacency is a product of power and inclusion; Jews are by and large insiders in American society, and our incredible success has blinded us, by and large, to the hateful conditions of the Palestinians, conditions that if any Jews were experiencing them would result in great political change– for instance, the pressure on the Cleveland and Roosevelt administrations brought by Jacob Schiff and other powerful Jews in the late 1800s to let my people go, the oppressed Jews of Russia and Poland, the immigration stream that brought my ancestors to this country at the turn of the century.

The truth is that the Russian pogroms are not as bad as what the Palestinians are experiencing, and the ready cure that the Establishment walks around whistling about, the two-state solution, is right now a living joke, a "charade" as John Mearsheimer said yesterday in D.C.; there is no geographical equity on the horizon, let alone resolution of basic Palestinian rights, the right of return and access to Jerusalem, and American elites are fooling themselves even as stories of the horrors of occupation spread like wildfire through Palestine and the internet, and this site. As they should. 

I am just saying that this ignorance is extremely dangerous; and that it shows that Sullivan and Zakaria and Mearsheimer and Greenwald and the other insider/outsiders (maybe to be joined by Beinart and Milbank and Roger Cohen?) who are urgently speaking about Palestinian conditions are showing real patriotism. Richard Silverstein and Ali Abunimah and Jerry Haber and Steve Walt and Mustapha Barghouti and Omar Barghouthi and Jared Malsin– these intellectual refusees are reasonable people trying to save us from the fire this time. They are trying to get the democratic processes of a policy of self-determination that Wilson first invoked 100 years ago to work openly on American policy.

Arabs welcomed Wilson’s philosophy, and then were betrayed, as Ussama Makdisi reminds us in his new book, Faith Misplaced. That betrayal has lasted for 100 years now, it has sown rage and injustice. I fear what the future holds.

10 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments