This whole blog thing consistently strikes me as a bit narcissistic and sometimes futile: i.e who is really reading this and why should they care about what I have to say. So when someone actually asks me to write about something, it makes me somewhat excited and somewhat fearful. Excited because it means someone actually cares about my opinion and fearful because of the specific question they’ve asked me to write about: the Middle East.
The current crisis in the Middle East is a subject I’ve tried to avoid because I’m no expert on Middle East affairs and because it brings a whole shopping cart full of emotions with it. I’ve posted some links to Juan Cole’s essays on Salon.com which I find especially illuminating. With that said, let me dive into my “meta-narrative” (to use the fashionably dense academic term) for the Israeli-Arab conflict. True to my contrarian self, it is not the mainstream media’s meta-narrative of a democratic Israel beset by crazy Muslims, a narrative I have slowly dropped. I recommend the work of Edward Said as a counterpoint to the pro-Israel American media and a more complete exposition of what I’m about to say.
Here’s how I see things in the Levant:
1. In 1948 the State of Israel was created in an area that had a large population of Arabs (who later became known as Palestinians) that had lived there for a fairly long period of time (at least 2 generations). Through a variety of extra-legal means, the original Zionist forces expelled the vast majority of this population. There is documented evidence from the files of the British that this was the case, and that the land that became Israel was not uninhabited or barren as the Zionist narrative would have us believe. These communities were well-established agriculture and trade communities.
2. The divisions between Arab and Jew in the Middle East are not necessarily the results of deep rooted historical enmity, but rather a direct result of the expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948. (There’s an Arab word for it that I don’t recall, but in English it means the Catastrophe).
3. The Palestinians are the most forgotten and oppressed people this side of the Jews during the Holocaust. There is no major or minor power that looks out for their interests. They are homeless and ally-less.
4. Up until the 1967 war, the vast majority of Arab states and the Palestinians had the goal of eradicating the state of Israel. After that war and especially after the 1973 war, most Arab states and the PLO recognized the right of Israel to exist (at least implicitly) and began to make overtures to Israel to work out a solution to the crisis. (If you don’t believe me, check out this book: Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question. by Edward W. Said (Editor), Christopher Hitchens (Editor).
5. The policy of the Israelis has consistently been to view the Palestinians as Arabs who could live anywhere. From Begin to Meir, the Palestinians have been called Arabs who could as easily be citizens of Jordan as of Saudi Arabia.
6. For whatever reason, whether it is guilt over turning a blind eye to the Holocaust (a shameful episode in American foreign policy history), gratuitous wish-fulfillment on the part of the military industrial complex in the US that sees Israel as a model for a militarized quasi-democratic state (Noam Chomsky’s theory), the strength of the Israel lobby (John Mearshimer’s argument) or the cultural familiarity of Israeli Jews and the otherness of the Palestinians (Edward Said’s theory) Israel is essentially a client state of the United States. The United States has played the key role in the survival of Israel as a Jewish state. Only once in my memory has the US attempted to change Israel’s behavior: George H.W Bush threatened to withhold aid money if Israel did not attend the post Gulf War I peace conference in Madrid. Israel promptly sent a representative. Said claims that by the early 1980s, each Israel received something on the order of 6-7,000 dollars from American tax payers.
7. The 1982 war in Lebanon and the first intifada were both shocking and frightening for the Israelis. No longer could Israel depend on its overwhelming conventional military strength to maintain the status quo and expand its territory to the full Zionist mandate. Israel has since adopted a more flexible policy, similar to the South African apartheid regime. This policy includes:
- Maintaining Israel as a Jewish state by moving non Jews to the occupied territories or a rump Palestinian “state” that is neither economically, politically, or militarily viable (somewhat like the Bantustans in South Africa). This is not conspiracy theory; it comes straight from the mouth of the late Ariel Sharon.
- Maintaining friendly or at least neutered regimes on its borders that it can easily demonize as terrorist or non-democratic.