Stealing Grapes & Beating a Camel Driver

by Paul Olson, President Emeritus

Recently the United States dead-ended the nuclear non-proliferation talks on eliminating nuclear arms in the Middle East. As each country would be required to reveal its store of nuclear weapons and its proposals for eliminating them, the United States pulled out to protect Israel’s clandestine 80-130 weapons cache. The event received almost no media attention in the U.S. Thereby hangs a tale.

I live alone. As is the wont of old men living alone, I channel surf and recently happened across “1913: Seeds of Conflict,” an account of Palestine in 1914. The quality of the show compensated for my many wasted hours of replayed sports chestnuts, reality-TV court battles, soap opera fornication, violence between superheroes and super villains, and generals sending cinema youth to war.

The Palestinian area always retained a few Sephardic Jews (about 30,000 in 1900) from the Roman-era diaspora. Islamic cultures had, for the most part, given respect to the “people of the book,” Christians and Jews. Then after the assassination of Czar Alexander II in 1881, Russia blamed its Jews, renewed the pogroms, and 2 million Ashkenazim fled Russia—about 60,000 to Palestine. Without any nationalistic ‘Promised Land’ rhetoric, they formed the first wave of Jewish immigrants to Palestine.

Next, in the first decade of the 20th century, new pogroms in Western Europe brought different waves of Jewish settlers to Palestine—many of them Marxist/socialists who fostered the kibbutz movement; others Zionists influenced by Theodor Herzl’s vision of a new Israel.

The first wave of immigrants collaborated with their Arab neighbors (some Arabs viewed the settlers as foreshadowing progress and financial sophistication in the area), and that generation—trusting their neighbors—hired Arab guards for their villages. But the second wave, controlled by other ideologies and more standoffish and contemptuous of the Arabs, hired Jewish militia guards. One night, an Arab camel driver stole some grapes from a Jewish vineyard, was caught, and beaten by the community’s Jewish militiamen. The event was the beginning of over a century of militarization on both sides.

Jewish service to the Allied cause in World War I was rewarded with the “Balfour Declaration” promise of Palestinian land to the Jews that Britain had already promised to Arabs. There followed German nationalistic scapegoating of Jews for the World War I loss, a steady movement of Jews into Palestine as Fascism and Nazism built, the 1947-49 war creating Israel’s independence (with its Zionist terroristic attacks on Palestinian villages like Deir Yassin), and the unsuccessful efforts of Arab and Islamic powers to dislodge Israel in the Suez War of 1956, the “Six-Day War” of 1967, the “Yom Kippur War” of 1973, and endless minor wars in Gaza and Lebanon. After the Six-Day War came the slow trickle moving Israel/Palestine away from the two-state solution and toward permanent apartheid where the Palestinians (choosing to stay in the West Bank and Gaza) are slowly bombed out, starved out, or rendered crazy by disappointed hope. There also came the “Death to Israel” cry promoted by every Middle Eastern despot having little else to offer his people.

Israel anchors American policy in the Middle East. Through it we can manipulate the Saudis, Egypt, and Turkey—Israel’s nominal enemies and real allies. Through it, Israel’s “Mossad” can perform intelligence activities for the CIA in Iran, in the United States, in Egypt and almost everywhere else. Through the evangelical political myth that God has given the whole of Palestine to the Jews and promised them a restoration of the Davidic/Solomonic lands in perpetuity (a prelude to the Second Coming of Christ), CIA policy receives religious endorsement.

Almost from the beginning, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding president, sought a process whereby the country could have nuclear weapons. With the help of Ernst David Bergmann, Shimon Peres, and the leaders of France, it achieved them in 1960-61 at a plant near Dimona, said falsely to be a textile factory. Mordechai Vanunu, who in 1986 blew the whistle on Israel’s concealed nuclear weapons production, served 18 years for treason and repeated later short sentences.

Now our government torpedoes the area’s non-proliferation efforts, solely to protect Israel’s (and our) fiction about its status as a nuclear state. Russia, China, Britain, France, and the United States have, with varying degrees of integrity and responsibility, declared their nuclear weapons and accepted monitoring from the International Atomic Energy Agency. India has a subsequent weak agreement with the IAEA, and the details of Pakistan’s related agreement appear not to be public. Israel’s 80-130 nukes are not subject to international monitoring because it has never admitted to having them, and the United States collaborates in this fiction that it does not have any (or may not have them). Although Israel may well intend its bombs and its “Iron Dome” anti-missile system to be purely defensive, those citizens of the Middle East who see their relatives destroyed in Gaza and in the West Bank are not convinced. Both sides are at fault. Neither is guiltless. Is it worse to say “Death to Israel” and have no means of destroying it, or to entertain endless peace negotiations while building up an arsenal of clandestine nukes?

Eventually all fictions end, including those created by Israel, Iran, and the fundamentalists. Though Iran apparently does not now seek nuclear weapons, it will eventually if we have no agreement with them. So will its Middle Eastern rivals: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and perhaps some of the Gulf States. They will eventually turn on Israel in a serious way, given the growth of anti-Israel hatred in the area. All ideas that the nuclear arms race in the Middle East will be solved by the capitulation of one side, by a few bombings or the military elimination of Islamic production capacity, are naïve in the extreme. Only international law, a nonproliferation treaty, United Nations inspections, and international police can do that.

The stealing of a few grapes and the beating of the camel driver began this conflict. But only honesty and the aroused conscience of the world can end it.


U.S. blocks nuclear nonproliferation conference

The best account of the U.S.’s pulling out of the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Conference, hardly reported in the American media at all, is that by Joseph Gerson for Truthout:

Gerson, the director of the American Friends Service Committee’s peace and economic justice program, reports that in 2012 the United States mysteriously failed to co-convene the “Middle East Nuclear Weapons and Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone” conference—one that was to lead up to this year’s negotiations.

Then, Gerson tells us, this past spring the U.S. blocked the adoption of this year’s nuclear nonproliferation review conference’s consensus statement.

The reason given was that the draft text called for the convening of another conference to prepare for the creation of a Middle Eastern nuclear-free and weapons of mass destruction-free zone. Since the U.S. had previously promised to begin the process at earlier review conferences, the expectation of U.S. action was natural. However, as Gerson observes:

In the months leading to the Review Conference, many diplomats and analysts feared that the failure of the United States to co-convene the Middle East Nuclear Weapons and Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone conference in 2012 could lead to the failure of [this year’s] Review Conference and the dangers that could follow. Efforts to create the zone, which would include Iran, Israel and the Arab states, date to the deal that indefinitely extended the NPT in 1995—and which was reiterated in the 2000 and 2010 Review Conferences. The U.S. failure to bring Israel to the table led a growing number of the world’s nations to question whether U.S. commitments are worth the paper they are written on . . .

The world now has no agreement about how to reduce or eliminate nuclear arms and no public ongoing negotiations. Our failure to negotiate calls into question our evenhandedness in claiming that we want to keep nuclear weapons out of the Middle East by keeping them out of the hands of Iran. We apparently wish to keep them in the hands of Israel.

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