Putting The Elephant Out

by Manuel García, Jr.


November 1, 2004   


(Swans - November 1, 2004)   In their article in CounterPunch, "The Elephant In The Room Of Empire, Israel As Sideshow," Bill and Kathleen Christison describe the Orwellian "stopthink" that characterizes political discussion about Israel within the United States. (1) Despite the obvious centrality of Israel to US foreign policy calculations regarding the Middle East and "oil," we hear precious little from our political elite about this connection. What would it sound like to actually state things plainly?

A Liberal Response

One response to the Christisons' article was published by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of The Shalom Center (NYC), as commentary distributed through the CERJ e-mail network. (2)

Rabbi Waskow comments:
There is much in this commentary [Christisons'] that I agree with, but there is a serious failing as well.

There are really three positions among American peace folk, not two:

(a) Ignore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when addressing the US Empire;

(b) Take a strident, sometimes pro-violence, anti-Israel view that calls for imposition of a one-state solution and refuses to criticize Palestinian suicide bombings of Israeli civilians;

(c) Integrate an Israeli-Palestinian peace position into the wider peace and anti-imperial activism.

The article acts as if only the first, or maybe the first and third, exist; it ignores the second and the effect the second has on hobbling those, like The Shalom Center, who try to advance the third view.

It is hard to organize among Jews or others who view Israel as a legitimate state with a very bad foreign policy when the anti-war movement is contaminated with assertions that Israel is illegitimate and its civilians a reasonable target -- just as it would be to organize among most Americans if the peace movement were calling the USA an illegitimate state and its civilians, let alone its soldiers, as legitimate to kill.

Almost all the peace movement has been careful to fly US flags and peace flags, not Iraqi flags (unlike the anti-Vietnam war movement), and to "Support the troops but not the war." When it comes to Israel, there is a lot less caring, and a lot less care.
A Rebuttal Without Nuance

I assume that the position to (and I paraphrase)

(b2) Take a strident, sometimes pro-violence, pro-Israel view that calls for imposition of a one-state solution and refuses to criticize Israeli military bombings of Palestinian civilians, is understood to be the imperialist position.

I believe that no state, or government, has a right to kill people simply because of who they are -- what has been termed genocide, or ethnic cleansing, or manifest destiny, among many terms.

What happens with many people who feel this way is that they do not see the legitimacy of any state that acts on such a policy. Once they believe a state does pursue such a policy, how can they support it?

It does not follow that such a view would favor the killing of the citizens of the offending state, merely that the state desist; or if it is unable to desist because its killing operations are deemed necessary for its survival -- that is the survival of a political entity -- that this political entity be abolished as a hazard to human health.

This is not so strange -- look at South Vietnam.

The Vietnam War was a bloody atrocity pursued because US arrogance assumed its power could impose an unhealthy political structure over the peasants of Vietnam. The State of Israel is another artificiality of this type; it is not self-sustaining in any way. One could make it the 51st state of the United States, which would be more honest.

Proponents of position (b2) have stated that the Palestinians should just be moved into Jordan and Syria, and these are the "second" states. Well then, why not simply consider the (b) option of the same idea, expand Syria or Jordan to the Mediterranean, and ensure all the new Jordanians have equal civic and religious freedoms by law. If this stops the killing, why not? Jews would have a homeland, and the political entity would have been reconfigured to be conducive to human health.

If this sounds outrageous, it may be because of an unacknowledged assumption by those who "support" Israel as it is: they agree the Israelis have a right to take the land, water and attendant wealth of the territory by force. They cannot accept allowing for democratic deliberations on questions of wealth, water and territory within a political structure that includes ALL the residents of the desired land ("spreading freedom and democracy"??).

These arguments are always easy to solve for the intellectually honest, simply reverse the roles. Switching the situations of Israelis and Palestinians, would your position remain the same? Some people believe that the Jews deserve to perpetrate a genocide as historical payment for one they endured, and therefore the Israelis are justified to eliminate the Palestinians. Others do not believe any group ever earns the right to perpetrate such a policy under any circumstances and regardless of history.

So, the difficulty many feeling, moral, peace-loving people have is in maintaining some rationale for accepting the Israeli political entity, when all their faculties tell them that it is the root cause of the massive and chronic suffering they wish so fervently to end. The State of Israel does not have a right to exist. No state does. People always have a right to exist. In a conflict between the existence of people or a state, the state must give way, in the eyes of any true disciple of peace.

Otherwise, just be honest, stop pretending to be a peace-loving and anti-imperialist person, and be clear about your partisanship. My tribe "uber alles." This is an attitude that filled men's hearts with pride in past times, as on the plains of Troy.

Israel has ALL the power. When you have 100% of the power, peace is available INSTANTLY -- as soon as you stop killing your victims! But now you have to talk to them, and you don't really want to do that, because that would mean acknowledging their rights and just claims -- so keep killing them, "peace is the enemy of my desires." The complaint about "suicide bombers" is simply the whining of sore winners: "we've got them totally defeated, why don't they just stop and accept it?" Pride, maybe; self-respect, human dignity. I'll bet the Germans had the same complaint in Warsaw.

Maybe, just maybe, these Palestinians have the stuff of great people. Maybe, just maybe, they really love their homeland and their human rights. Maybe, just maybe, they would make formidable friends and fellow citizens in a democratic, secular, multi-cultural state on the eastern Mediterranean -- "Palestine."

More Words?

Peace is what power calls control. The future of peace will reflect the evolution of power. More words on Israel and Palestine are worthless, they only eat time and blood. What is right and just is obvious. What goodwill cannot accomplish, force will. What remains unknown is the unfolding of the future; all is transient, and the empires of one era may become the vassals of another.

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1  Bill and Kathleen Christison, "The Elephant In The Room Of Empire, Israel As Sideshow," CounterPunch, 12 October 2004, http://www.counterpunch.org/christison10122004.html (active 23 October 2004)  (back)

2  Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 18 October 2004, Coalition for Equity-Restorative Justice (CERJ), John Wilmerding, director, CERJ@igc.org  (back)

Israel & Palestine on Swans


Manuel García, Jr. is a graduate aerospace engineer, working as a physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He did underground nuclear testing between 1978 and 1992. He is concerned with employee rights and unionization at the nuclear weapons labs, and the larger issue of their social costs. Otherwise, he is an amateur poet who is fascinated by the physics of fluids, zen sensibility, and the impact of truth.

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Published November 1, 2004
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