Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Israel and Palestine

“The Arc of the Moral Universe Is Long, but It Bends Toward Justice”   MLK

The long arc of history may bend toward justice, but that’s hardly self-evident in the conflict over Israel and Palestine. As time goes on, more and more “facts on the ground” are thrown in the way of hopes for a just resolution.

The “settlers” push on. On the eve of Obama’s visit, there is news: “New Apartments Will Complicate Jerusalem Issue — Israeli residences are being sandwiched into the fabric of Arab East Jerusalem…” (NY Times, March 16, 2013) By now, most Palestinians and Israelis have lost whatever faith they had in the so-called “peace process” and “two state solution.” Palestinian leadership, despite tentative unity gestures between Hamas and Fatah, remains divided on how to resist the occupation and on ultimate goals. Despite Israel’s military strength — as well as its favored status and vast support from the US government and private interests — its expanding occupation and repeated resort to massive force have isolated Israel among nations and aroused widespread condemnation.

Perhaps the recent Israeli elections signify that things are not entirely bleak. The ultra-right and religious fundamentalists were weakened. Although domestic issues were dominant, it appears that the Israeli public and most of its military and civilian leaders don’t share Netanyahu’s gung-ho attitude toward war with Iran.

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The questions are too many and too complicated to try to consider in one Op-Ed piece. I encounter differing attitudes among my friends and in the current events discussion groups that I attend. In some aspects, my thinking is far from fixed or confident.  Here I do want to express some things I find troubling about a debate that would focus now on whether the ultimate “solution” resides in a one state vs. a two state formula. This is relevant to the way some issues of conscience are presented by philosopher Joseph Levine in a challenging article, On Questioning the Jewish State (NY Times, March 9, 2013):

"Defenders of Israeli policies routinely accuse Israel’s critics of denying her right to exist, while the critics (outside of a small group on the left, where I now find myself) bend over backward to insist that, despite their criticisms, of course they affirm it. The general mainstream consensus seems to be that to deny Israel’s right to exist is a clear indication of anti-Semitism (a charge Jews like myself are not immune to), and therefore not an option for people of conscience."

The essential target of Levine’s challenge “is found in the crucial four words that are often tacked on to the phrase ‘Israel’s right to exist’ — namely, ‘… as a Jewish state’.”

I agree fully that no state should define itself by institutionalizing favored status for a particular ethnic or religious populace. Nevertheless, many states fit that description to one degree or another, and where they do, discrimination against the “other”, inequality and oppression are always present. Israel is no exception. As an occupying power ruling by force over Arab populations, it has earned comparison to former colonial and apartheid regimes. 

There surely are issues of conscience here, but to conflate them with the question of whether Israel should exist can only divide people of conscience. It deflects from urgent problems where conscience should weigh in now.

The way in which states may evolve, and new ones may arise, will be determined not by formulas, but by people, their struggles and some unforeseeable events. Whatever one conceives of as the eventual solution, conscience should drive people to fight for change in Israel, Palestine, and, probably above all, in the USA. Both for people unwilling to give up on the possibility of two viable states and, I’m sure, for people who think as Professor Levine does, the givens are: an unrelenting fight to end the occupation and reverse the settler grabs; support for a unified state of Palestine; the fight within each and every country for full equal rights and the separation of church and state.

Perhaps the most vital matter of conscience and humanity, especially in the United States and Israel, is absolute resistance to war against Iran or anywhere else. Today, the first day of Obama’s trip, puts in focus the biggest obstacle to progress: the unprecedented scale of US military investment in a regime that is committed to expanding occupation and acts of war.  


  1. In this context, it's well worth noting that many of the pioneering Zionists favored a multi-national, secular state.

  2. I think that a major deterrent to the US getting into a war with Iran is the clear opinion in the US (and pretty much throughout the world, except for Dick Cheney's abode) that we should be mighty careful about getting into another armed conflict anytime soon. One dreams of Obama proposing at the U.N. a total nuclear arms ban on the Middle East, which would include Israel... dream on, girl.