JUSTICE FOR ALL by River Smith
Now that it looks like the Middle East Roadmap to Peace has led Israelis and Palestinians on to another dead end street of violence and death, it is important to revisit some of the issues we must face if we are ever to gain a just and secure resolution to the conflict.
As a member of a Jewish family traumatically effected by American anti-Semitism, I believe I have the right to comment on the current international rise in anti-Semitism. Stereotyping, scapegoating, and intimidation of Jews is on the increase on almost every continent. Hate speech is appearing in publications everywhere.
As much as this is so, as we name it, we must also restrain ourselves from labeling actions directed against the Israeli government as inherently anti-Semitic. The government of Israel must be held as accountable as any other government. The overwhelming majority of nations in the world believe that the Israeli government illegally occupies The West Bank and Gaza, just as they believe that communist China illegally occupies Tibet. Finland’s recent decision to not allow their gas masks to be sold to Israel is not anti-Semitic. Calling for a boycott of Israeli goods as long as they continue the illegal occupation is not anti-Semitic. Calling for the immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied lands is not anti-Semitic.
Condemning the Israeli army for torturing Palestinian prisoners is not anti-Semitic. Criticizing the Israeli government for its repeated human rights violations in the occupied territories is not anti-Semitic. Condemning the Israeli leadership for allowing the settlement population on occupied lands to rise from around 20,000 in 1993 to over 200,000 in 2003 is not anti-Semitic. Just as condemning the Palestinian suicide bombings is not anti-Palestinian.
While the targeted killing of innocent Israeli citizens can never be condoned or justified, we must ask ourselves how we would act if a foreign military force occupied our land, controlled our economic and political lives, and gradually took over the most
fertile areas for their own invading citizens. One can expect that some people under military occupation will resort to whatever weapons are at their disposal to throw off the yoke of military dictatorship and foreign control. We condemn specific acts of terror, but we must not forget that by all international standards, Israel occupies Palestinian lands illegally. If your house was bulldozed, if your business was ruined, if you were denied the right to make a living, if your children were not allowed to go to school or to get even basic health care, what would you do?
“Gunman.” What is a gunman? What do you think of when you hear that word? Well, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict our mainstream media reports that the Israeli people who kill Palestinian citizens are “the Israeli Army” or “settlers.” The Palestinian people who kill Israeli citizens are “Palestinian gunmen.” Now, which group sounds like the good guys? Why don’t we call the Palestinians “freedom fighters” or at least a more neutral name like “rebels?” This is just one minor example of the biased manner in which that conflict is often presented to our public.
Many Americans, including our media makers, identify with the plight of Israeli citizens. Here we are, minding our own business, going shopping, out to dinner with our family, riding the bus to work, and some stranger opens fire with a machine gun or hits a detonator and blows up half our family and destroys our life as we know it. Who wouldn’t be outraged? Who wouldn’t want retribution?
What keeps us from identifying with the fourteen year old boy in the street throwing rocks at the well armored soldiers who have occupied and controlled his family’s land since his father was a child? He’s seen that same army open fire time and time again on people with no weapons; he’s watched as they bulldozed his aunt’s house because somebody who picked up a rifle and shot back, used her gate as cover. He’s gone out to look from a distance at the land that used to belong to his grandfather, now part of an Israeli settlement, taking the precious land and rare water from the remaining Palestinian farmers for their gardens. He saw his cousin after he was released from army custody; he saw the results of the torture that the occupying government claims it has the right to do. His people have no army. The occupiers have not allowed them to accumulate any traditional weapons of war. This boy wants what every American wants. He wants to be free. He wants to have a future on his own land. He wants the rights that The International Declaration of Human Rights says he should have. He incorrectly, but understandably, believes that the occupiers are evil. Why else would they treat his people this way? If you were this boy, what would you be doing? Wouldn’t you feel enraged and want to do almost anything in your power to rid your world of the occupiers?
Perhaps we don’t relate much to him because it’s been so long since we were occupied by an invader, since we were the people without military power.
The only time that I have ever considered violating my commitment to non-violent activism was as an older teen in 1967. Poor Israel was about to be invaded by at least six Arab armies. It seemed so unfair, so unjust, and I had read at length about the horrors of the holocaust, and I knew well of the anti-Semitism rampant in the European and American world, and I was sickened by it.
As it turned out, the Israeli armed forces were more than a match for their foes. Not only did they defeat all the armies, they took substantial territory from them. Israel went from a nation in danger of being overrun and destroyed, to an occupying power. For the past thirty-six years, that’s how it’s remained. For a short time the occupied territories served as a buffer to protect Israel from invading armies. That has not been a realistic military issue for decades. Besides, there are no invading armies, and there are not likely to be any.
As the International Red Cross has recently emphasized in condemning actions by both the Israeli government and some Palestinian organizations, “terrorism” in any form is wrong. That doesn’t change that legitimate Palestinian grievances should be addressed immediately.
Tens of thousands of Israeli citizens have repeatedly taken to the streets to demonstrate against their own government’s action in the occupied territories. Hundreds of Israeli soldiers have refused to serve there. They know their government’s behavior is wrong.
For many reasons prejudice and scapegoating of Jews and others is never far below the surface. We must be vigilant and absolute in our work to challenge this. Anti-Semitism, just as prejudice and hatred of any ethnic group, cannot be tolerated anywhere on the planet if we are to have an opportunity for a world of peace and justice. However, we must never allow that reality to inhibit world citizens from taking action to challenge injustice perpetrated by any government. I say Down with anti-Semitism! Down with the occupation of West Bank and Gaza! Up with social justice everywhere!
River Smith, Librew2@aol.com