Sunday, May 15, 2011

Nakba vs Never Again!

I’ve been wanting to write a post about contemporary American views of/positions on Israel, specifically in terms of the American Left and Right, for some time and today seems definitely the day to do it. That’s because, as the New York Times reports, Israel’s borders erupted in deadly clashes on Sunday as thousands of Palestinians — marching from Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank — confronted Israeli troops to mark the anniversary of Israel’s creation [in 1948]. More than a dozen people were reported killed and scores injured.” You should know that what Israel calls its anniversary, the Arab world calls “The Nakba,” the catastrophe. Sixty-three years later, it’s still a catastrophe to them.

When I was growing up in the `60s, the American Left – which really existed back then – was an ardent supporter of Israel, largely because of the strong support for civil rights on the part of most American Jews. Over the decades, as Jews – like most other white people in America – became increasingly afraid of increasingly militant blacks and “white flight” from the cities to the suburbs reconfigured the social structure of the country, support for Israel began to wane on the Left.

By the Reagan Democrat 1980s, the Christian Evangelical Right began to embrace Israel – not because they love Jews (they don’t), but because they champion the one Middle Eastern democracy that exists, and which happens to contain important Christian holy sites they want to see protected and to which they want to maintain access. Correspondingly, the Left discovered new-found compassion for the Palestinians, who then, like now, live largely in self-imposed poverty and a complete lack of social/infrastructural development, because all their energy (including the content of their middle schools, the madrasas) is focused on hating, demonizing, failing to recognize, and seeking to destroy, Israel.

In very recent years, most political quarters in Israel have been willing to make peace with those who despise them and support the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Their only terms have been that Palestinians and other Arabs officially recognize the State of Israel and accept its right to exist, rather than dedicate themselves to, as Hamas puts it, “pushing Israel into the sea.” This apparently is too much to ask. So, despite decades of effort on the part of the U.S. to broker a working, lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as Israel’s other Arab neighbors, peace has been unattainable – because the mere existence of Israel, in their eyes, is a Nakba – a catastrophe.

Take a look at the map above, particularly if you haven’t taken a look at a map of the Middle East in a while. Look at the upper right-hand corner of Egypt. You see that little purple bit, scrunched in among Egypt, Syria and Jordan? That’s Israel. Keep in mind that Israel has no oil. Look at the size of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. They’re enormous. Even Syria and Jordan, which are none too big, are still larger than Israel. Look at Iran – which is credited with having helped organize today’s four-pronged attack on Israel. It, too, is enormous. Yet in 63 years, none of these Arab nations have offered to give any part of their lands to the Palestinians as a permanent homeland. Why do you suppose that is? Perhaps to keep old hatreds alive?

Instead, everybody (over there) wants to take a chunk out of Israel and over the years they have. This is largely because of Jerusalem, which is the third most-sacred city in Islamic history, practice and tradition. Indeed, Jerusalem holds some of the most sacred Islamic sites in the region. And it bears noting that, like the holy Christian sites, these places have always been open to Muslims who wish to visit and make pilgrimages there. In fact, Muslims who cannot make it to Mecca, for whatever reason, set their sights on Jerusalem, and they have never been made to feel unwelcome. (Just last night, by the way, some PBS stations ran a very interesting program entitled Jerusalem: Center of the World, which is also worth seeing.)

I want to take a moment to acknowledge that it is religion and religious history that have created much of the antipathy between Israel and its Arab neighbors. In addition, I acknowledge that the establishment of Israel was fostered by Britain and the U.N. as a compensation to the remaining European Jews who managed to escape murder in the Holocaust – and in truth, this land was not theirs to give. In the process, as today’s Times also explains, “hundreds of thousands of Palestinians lost their homes through expulsion and flight.”

This is not a petty matter and making comparisons between whose misery is/was greater is not productive. However, consider the fact that had the Palestinians demonstrated even a modicum of willingness to accept Israel, the Jewish State would have done everything possible to accommodate them and help them prosper. Throughout its short modern history, Israel has turned a tiny patch of the scorched desert into a luscious land of “milk and honey.” They would certainly have helped the Palestinians do the same. But that, apparently, does not matter.

What does matter is that anti-Semitism is alive and well the world over, and is in many ways the substance that feeds the Palestinians and their Arab comrades throughout the Middle East. Nonetheless, the Palestinian cause has captured the compassion of the American Left and others worldwide. I wouldn’t mind that per se, since I can understand how the Palestinians, compared with contemporary Israelis, can seem to be the Underdog, while the Israelis are cast as key allies of Right Wing America.

To the extent that that’s true, it’s unfortunate. But so long as Israel is hated because it is the Jewish State, and so long as Jews are hated, because…because they’re Jews!, it will be my opinion – and that of many other American Jews, as well as Israelis – that Never Again! trumps Nakba. It is time for the Arab world to accept Israel’s presence and its right to exist.

And it’s time for the rest of the world – including the U.N. and the American Left – to regain its knowledge of modern history and, for once, support the Jews. The Arab Spring will turn into a bitter cold Winter indeed if all it accomplishes is a massive new wave of anti-Semitism.

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