Saturday, January 10, 2009

David and Goliath

In the early days of Israel’s existence it was David surrounded by the Goliath of 250 million Arabs. I, as well as, I imagine, Jews everywhere took seriously the Arab threat to drive the Jews into the sea. Coming so soon after Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’ one would have to stand behind the Jews of Israel, even if one wasn’t a Zionist per se. I was surprised at the prejudice against Jews that still existed in America in the fifties: Don’t they have any sympathy for what we went through?

As a teenager I immersed myself in the horrors of the Holocaust – it wasn’t even called that then. The level of cruelty and sadism displayed by the Nazis was almost too great to grasp. The Germans, being good at most things, definitely perfected the macabre arts. In fact, I’ve often thought they might’ve more successfully prosecuted the war if they hadn’t devoted so much energy to killing Jews. Even right at the end, when Allied forces were advancing on Germany, they emptied out the concentration camps and put the remaining Jews on forced marches that brought death to most of the remnant. They could’ve abandoned the camps and let the Jews be rescued and thus had additional troops to fight the enemy, but instead couldn’t bring themselves to let the last few alone.

One can only imagine what good Israel could’ve done with the billions they’ve spend on their military and colonization programs; how easily they could’ve fully compensated the Palestinians instead of occupying and repressing them.

It’s hard to imagine any nation ever approaching Germany’s monstrous deeds, though others have tried in their own little ways. The Hutus, the Serbs, even America indulged in massacring whole villages, a la Mai Lai. Now it’s Israel’s turn to join the ranks of tainted nations. Nations who will never be forgotten for their lapse from humanity.

In Israel’s case it gained a foothold when it began to colonize conquered land. It continues in its nasty, hard-hearted ways day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year, decade-to-decade. More than 700 Arabs killed in the latest conflict, a significant percentage civilians. Many of the non-civilians were in fact police officers who took the job to feed their families. Israel’s near total blockade of Gaza has destroyed the private economy, the only jobs left are with the Hamas government or NGO’s.

If you keep up with the numbers, you’ll hear that Israel (out of the goodness of its heart) is letting in 80 truckloads of essential goods, but were you also aware that 1.5 million people require a minimum of 400 truckloads per day? One of Hamas’s conditions for agreeing to a cease fire was the opening of the crossings to bring a semblance of normal life to the people of Gaza. It never happened; the blockade was maintained full force.

Israeli Jews would not stand for one minute the treatment they mete to the Palestinians every day. In the West Bank, an area the size of Delaware, America’s second smallest state, there are about 620 checkpoints where Palestinians are routinely made to wait, sometimes for hours, for passage – babies have been born at them, elderly and ill have died for want of passage. Maybe it was only to a nearby town or to a field they own. No matter, Israeli soldiers will not let them through without dosing out a little humiliation first.

Every bit of forceful opposition to occupation is called terrorism. Jews know all about terrorism, they used it famously, productively and ruthlessly to foster and speed the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Ah but now the roles are reversed. Now Israel is Goliath avenging the death of four of its own by killing 700 of the enemy. ‘We’ll show them who has the power’ – paraphrasing PM Ehud Olmert. Did the Palestinians sorta not know Israel has one of the world’s largest, best equipped armies? Were they maybe unaware that Israel is not afraid to kill large numbers of civilians, as in Lebanon in 2006?

Hamas made a chilling warning to Israel as it invaded Gaza. They said they have more than 200 suicide bombers, both male and female, ready for martyrdom. Israel has stolen all hope from those young people, they feel they have nothing to live for. There is no normal life for them on the horizon.

If you listen to unfolding events in the conflict, you often hear references to refugee camps. Same when Israel waged its war against Lebanon. Does Israel think those Palestinians it displaced at the birth of its nation in 1948 will just eventually disappear? That it can allow generations to fester in hopelessness without consequences? That it can ignore the needs and rights of those people without staining its national morality and psyche?

The Biblical David won out over Goliath because he had God on his side. There is no God within my conception of a supreme being that would cheer Goliath on or take Israel’s side in this conflict. Whatever fears I might have had for Israel’s safety or survival in its early years were laid to rest in 1973. Since then its belligerent ten-eyes-for-an-eye violence has been totally gratuitous. It has been necessitated not by survival but solely to fend off legitimate opposition to its occupation and theft of Palestinian land.

The worst part is I see no cause whatever for optimism, though there’s always a tiny smidgen of hope that Obama will work some of his magic to force an equitable outcome to this most intractable of situations.

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