Israel and Palestine

by Paul Olson, President Emeritus

And so Israel and Palestine are back at it again—not the biggest conflict in the world or even the biggest in the Middle East. The Shia/Sunni conflict pitting Russia against the U.S., Shiite Iran against Sunni Saudi Arabia, and the intermingled Shia and Sunni regions extending from Lebanon to western Afghanistan involves a far greater geopolitical theater, global energy resources and hundreds of millions of people. In contrast, the Palestinian/Israeli conflict embraces no more than 11,000 square miles and 11 million people. (To provide a sense of scale, Nebraska encompasses 77,000 square miles and only 1.8 million people. Palestine/Israel contains six times as many people as Nebraska in one seventh of the area). Real children, however, are dying from Israeli bombs on the supposition that a Hamas member may live in their house. Real rockets scare Israeli urbanites nightly and disrupt life constantly. The struggle has gone on since 1948. We have been desensitized. “It’s just the Israelis and Palestinians going at it again for a week or two.” But the more than 50-year-old war sits in the center, and the other Middle East conflicts are its entailments.

A few months ago, in the heart of the winter, with the thermometers around zero, the Lincoln NFP chapter, under Bud Narveson’s leadership, set up a panel for discussion of the Israel/Palestine issue—months before the present crisis erupted. Fewer than a half-dozen people came, but the panel was excellent. I was asked to say what I saw in the conflict, and I argued that both Israeli and Palestinian interests demanded rapprochement because Israel is a nuclear power (300 nukes), and the Islamic world will not remain without nuclear weapons permanently—not with the money and the scientific know-how available in the Islamic world. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran have spent so much political capital hammering at Israel that, sooner or later, they will produce the nuclear weapons to destroy it. My co-presenters (more favorable to Israel than I) spoke even then of the incessant rocket bombardment on Israeli cities, Arab leaders’ hateful remarks, and their failure to recognize Israel’s right to exist. All true. Yet, they too recognized this struggle cannot go on forever; they too saw the looming nuclear issue.

In the poem, “September 1939,” W.H. Auden writes, “Those to whom evil is done, /Do evil in return.” He’s right.

Let me be clear. The Holocaust was as evil as humankind gets. To be specific for a mostly Christian Nebraska, the evil, twenty-centuries-long persecution of Jews by Christians enabled the Holocaust. But Israel is now doing its evil in return—perhaps understandable evil but still evil. Their mistreatment of the Palestinians through constant harassment, erection of walls, settlement encroachment, denial of water and enforced impoverishment is systematically marching Palestinians toward removal or extinction. There is no ‘peace process.’ What we call the peace process—the two-state solution—is a sham, recognized in Europe as a sham. Israel will take Palestinian land until only desert, walls and starvation remain. The Arabs will build small weapons, rockets and nukes until a lob of an armed rocket or two destroys the Jewish State.

The editorial board of Haaretz, a liberal Israeli publication, has warned, “[We Israelis] belong to a vengeful, vindictive Jewish tribe whose license to perpetrate horrors is based on the horrors that were done to it… There must be a cultural revolution in Israel. Its political leaders and military officers must recognize this injustice and right it. They must begin raising the next generation, at least, on humanist values, and foster a tolerant public discourse. Without these, the Jewish tribe will not be worthy of its own state.”

I would not go so far, but I would say that things have to change.

The United States has done almost nothing to control its client, Israel. The Palestinian side, beginning with Hitler’s mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, and continuing through Wahhabi Islam, has promulgated hatred of Jews and Israelis. But that is by no means the only Islamic reaction to the Jews. The prophet himself recommended respect for the Jews as People of the Book.

Israel, through its doctrine of Israeli ‘exceptionalism’ and its constant drumbeat on the sins of the Palestinians without recognizing its own offenses, has created and disseminated to the world the vision that its people are superior—more just, more democratic, more “Judeo-Christian” and more compassionate. Netanyahu recently spoke on American television, declaring that any country would do what Israel is doing in defending itself. He did not recognize that Israel does not allow the Palestinians the same right of defense of their traditional territory—never has—and that Palestine, under its 1918 “Mandate” from the British government, was guaranteed territorial protection.

Serious reliance on fact and evidence, in this now generations-old conflict, has all but disappeared from the discourse. In this most recent eruption of killing and maiming, Israel, for instance, does not know for certain that Hamas ordered the killing of the Israeli youths. For its part, Hamas does not know whence came the order leading to the killing of one Palestinian youth and the beating of another. Israel does not know definitively that the Muslim charities and old peoples’ homes it has bombed house Gaza rockets that Hamas keeps slinging away at the Jewish State. And the media nowhere demands empirical evidence.

Hubris is at the heart of all this. For the better part of my career, I taught Shakespeare—often Shakespearean tragedy. The lesson of Shakespearean tragedy is that hubris destroys, most often those who feel invulnerable. The Lears, the Othellos, the Macbeths, and the Antonys of the world destroy themselves by their own hubris. The conduct of the Israeli and Hamas leaders constitutes classic hubris: arrogance and self-assurance run amok. (It’s a little-known fact, for instance, that the Israeli government actually helped found Hamas as means of undercutting Yasser Arafat and the secular Palestinian Authority—never expecting their Islam-based creation might turn against them as it has.) And right behind the hubris of the Israeli government and Hamas, there’s the hubris of Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama and their minions who, faced with rockets sounding and burned children, have no capacity for saying, in psychological sackcloth and ashes, “I was wrong”: saying it as a chastened J.F. Kennedy said after the botched Cuban invasion and Gorbachev said after having built his career defending the Soviet Union. Make no mistake: Israel could not act without U.S. support; Hamas and its allies could not kill without Iranian and Russian support.

I once wrote that I thought the United Nations could help in the Israel/ Palestine dispute. I no longer believe that. The U.S. government will not be a party to any UN solution that requires Israel to sacrifice. It will veto. Hamas does not sit at the United Nations table except through the Palestinian Authority (a tenuous connection at best). But neither Hamas nor its allies in the General Assembly will accept UN-initiated solutions that guarantee Israel’s security. Consumed by hubris, they would rather kill (or be killed) than admit to any error.

Peace groups like NFP can support peace initiatives in Israel and Palestine, but not, it now seems, through a paralyzed international body like the United Nations:

  • Nebraskans for Peace can call for churches and other organizations to impose a boycott like that imposed on South Africa’s apartheid regime. The United Presbyterian Church has done so; the Quakers have called for it.
  • We can write our senators and representatives to ask them to legislate an embargo on the shipment of weapons to warring groups on both sides (American war planes make up most of Israel’s air force), and for a treaty to end the commercial arms trade that is filling the Developing World with weapons at our and the Russians’ profit.

We can say that 65 years of war is enough. But our tools for ending this now seemingly endless bloodbath are fewer than we once imagined or hoped.

Add Comment


July 16th 2014

Mark Welsch - Please write to your member of Congress. The ones from Nebraska are here:

July 20th 2014

Mike Salkin - The images of innocent Palestinians being killed or injured in the war is heart rendering. To the civilized it is hard to comprehend how a government can base its offensive military operations in high density residential areas. It is difficult to understand why that government would tell its citizens not to leave their homes when the opposing army announces that they will bomb that area because of the offensive military acts being initiated against its citizenry. The casualties we see in Gaza could have occurred in Israel had Israel not had the technology to destroy the rockets Gaza's government is launching, without warning, at Israel's citizens. It's lack of casualties does not trivialize the acts committed by Hamas. If Hamas put as much effort and money into building rather than destroying, its people would live better lives. Perhaps Hamas' greatest skill is in making educated people around the world believe they are the victims.

August 8th 2014

Ivo - Face value,or circumstantial evidence has been manipulated here,you cannot judge without being deeply involved in the cause and effects of the conflict and the national ethos of both sides, it is very difficult to be impartial you certainly failed to be impartial in this article ( check your facts )

October 24th 2014

Rich Littleton - I was pleased that the Palestinian/Israeli conflict was addressed in Speaking Our Peace. However, it seemed to simply be an admonition toward two troublesome children who squabble. There was no reference to the fundamental ethnic cleansing by Israel, the full embrace of an apartheid national philosophy by Israel, or the constant refusal of Israel to honor any of its obligations and commitments. The reference to U.S. involvement was limited to a regret that America doesn't control its client, Israel. American involvement is THE reality that makes Israeli apartheid possible, with its U.N. vetoes that prevent any international solutions, its billions of dollars a year accountability-free money to Israel, and the additional billions of military supplies which are used to kill Palestinian civilians (against specific U.S. law). The conflict is not a squabble. It is an attempt to eliminate the rule of law in human affairs. Rich Littleton, former coordinator of NFP