Our distorted view of the Mideast
Two old friends and I were talking of many things a few days ago, as we do at least once every two weeks, and the subject of Israel's invasion of Lebanon came to the fore.
The topic was less than a minute old when one of the friends, recognizing from my first sentence that I am not an enthusiastic backer of whatever Israel's militarists choose to do to their neighbors, became red-faced, loud and angry.
“Every damned Arab in the world, or almost every one, wants nothing less than the total destruction of Israel,” he insisted, and said it again to make sure I understood. And, he said, still loud and angry, Israel had to be created where and when it was, because “where else could you put...where else could the Holocaust survivors have gone?”
That friend is on almost all topics a progressive. He believes in single-payer health care (and has suffered under our present nonsystem), he believes in unions and has devoted much of his time, without charge, over several years to the cause of protecting pensioners and pension plans from grasping corporate executives and their political toadies. He stands powerfully against our invasion of and occupation of Iraq, and for a raise in the minimum wage. In the 50 years we've known each other, he's never displayed the least sign of racist attitude.
He blew up at the suggestion that Israel's actions in the current mayhem and in past conflicts are less than entirely honorable. He has absorbed the widely held American belief in Israel as perpetual victim and Arab peoples as lesser beings devoted mostly to terrorism.
I was so astonished that I could not answer; any argument obviously would have been useless. I simply changed the subject, to the relief of our other old friend.
(The other old friend in the conversation is Jewish, by the way. He's also a critic of Israel's penchant for militarism and mistreatment of its Palestinian citizens and Arab neighbors.)
Later, I thought about that question: Where could “we” have “put” the Holocaust survivors – oops, that is, where could they have gone?
On the drive home, having recovered from my initial shock, several answers occurred to me: How about Germany? Or England? England would have been good. Or France, or Poland or, or, or....
How about the United States of America? We had lots of room in the 1940s and '50s and plenty of work for hard-working and, in many cases, well educated people.
Well, obviously Germany wouldn't have worked. It was in too big a mess, and the emotional hangover was going to last at least through another couple of generations, probably three or more generations.
But the other countries?
Nobody wanted an influx of Jews, and that very definitely includes this country, the aristocratic leaders of which regarded the Jews already among our citizens with barely concealed disdain.
Do you older people remember?
It was a rare thing that a Jew in America was allowed into the highest levels of government or corporate leadership. The “best” clubs including civic clubs, didn't accept Jews as members in most regions of this country. “Jew” jokes were as common as “nigger” jokes, and some politicians made careers by hinting about Jewish conspiracies to take over the country. My beloved city of Minneapolis was, into the 1950s, a center of anti-Semitic activism, though the crazies who engaged in that crap were recognized by the great majority of citizens as crazies.
In any case, there was a movement among the world's Jews going back to the early 1900s to create a Jewish state in Palestine. So at the end of World War II, the powers of the time, principally Britain and the United States, decided it would happen. (Britain which had colonial interests in Palestine, agreed to that much earlier, but stalled for decades.)
The history from 1948 to now is complicated, and much of the truth has been obscured by lies, double dealing and worse from both sides. But this much must be recognized as true by anyone who spends a reasonable amount of time digging through the facts, myths and propaganda: The new country treated the Palestinians as subhuman. Israel's founders decided before World War II that the Arab population had no rights, individually or collectively. That is documented by their own writings. And from 1948 onward they forced people off lands and out of homes they had occupied for centuries.
The men who led Israel in its first years as a state sometimes said out loud that they didn't give a damn what happened to any Arab. From the beginning, villages were destroyed, houses razed or simply taken away and handed over to Jewish immigrants.
Israel is not a land born in purity.
And I'm sorry, but the line that the lands “historically” -- meaning in Biblical times – belonged to the Jews doesn't wash. There's hardly a country in the world, maybe not any, that didn't at some time in history “belong” to someone other than its present chief occupants.
(An interesting little aside: Some of the Israeli leaders that Americans of my generation, including me, believed were heroes of the stature of Gandhi, originally intended to take over Jordan and a large piece of southern Lebanon, too. We weren't told that. Could be that some present leaders still secretly harbor those dreams. We have megalomaniacs leading our government; who can say with certainty that their allies in Israel are any more sane?)
My point here is that a great many Americans – probably a large majority – believe that Israel has an absolute right to do what it will in the Mideast, and that Palestinians and the country's Arab neighbors are somehow illegitimate and even somehow less than human – mere savage animals trying to terrorize the innocent people of Israel.
There's plenty of terrorizing of innocent people going on in the area, but it's coming from both sides, and always has.
It is past time that we got a more balanced and much truer picture of what brought the Mideast to its present terrible condition. Though the Israeli leadership and our own awesomely stupid national leadership can't grasp the simple fact, there is no hope for peace until and unless the facts finally are faced and some level of equity is achieved.
* Take a look at how your local corporate media are covering the events in the Mideast. Wednesday morning, my local newspaper, the Star Tribune, had a piece on the front page with a headline saying that the previous day had been deadly for the Israeli military. The story, which jumped inside, dwelt at length on Israeli Army losses, and how Israeli soldiers nevertheless were confident and sure of victory.
There was a very brief mention of the Israeli killing of for UN observers, but no details. There was not one mention of Lebanese civilians being killed, though other media throughout the world had a great deal of information on the slaughter.
If you're getting the same kind of propaganda in place of news, please call or write the offending companies, newspapers, stations. We cannot make rational judgments without honest news coverage.
* I gritted my teeth and watched quite a bit of television coverage Tuesday afternoon and evening, to see how the flapjaws were handling things.
There were mentions of the UN observers being killed by Israeli troops, but it wasn't until I got on to BBC America that I learned that the UN outpost in which the observers were hunkered down was painted a brilliant white, and had the letters UN painted on the sides in huge letters. (BBC showed film.) Nor did I know that the Israeli shelling of the observation post went on from early morning until about 7:30 p.m., and that the post finally was destroyed (again, BBC had film) by an air attack. Nor did I know that the UN had made 10 – yes 10 – frantic pleas to the Israelis to stop the attack.
The bland assertion by the Israeli foreign minister after the attack that the killing of the observers was “not deliberate” cannot be believed by any rational human being who has the facts.
And why do military people kill observers? Yes, of course. Because they are doing something they do not want the world to know.
* For honest broadcast coverage – at least until the politicians shut them up – do listen to National Public Radio. Wednesday's coverage included honest reporting on the devastation among innocent Lebanese citizens, many of whom were, before now, strong advocates of peace with Israel. The coverage also quoted some people as saying that advocacy for peace is over, and given a chance now, they will fight with Hezbollah.
More recruiting for terrorism, free of charge.
* I wish I'd thought of it, and I'm glad she did:
Syndicated columnist Molly Ivins suggested in all seriousness that real, desperate Democrats get into a movement to run Bill Moyers for president.
She doesn't think he has a real shot at the nomination, let alone the presidency, but she does believe a strong effort on his behalf will shake up the Democrats and maybe the country. It might also push some of the known candidates into searching their closets for their courage, she suggested. Of the others: “Every single one of them needs spine, needs courage. What Moyers can do is not only show them what it looks like and indeed what it is, but also how people respond to it.”
John Nichols of The Nation disagreed with Ivins on one point only: rather than viewing it as symbolic, he'd like Moyers to run for real.