Finding a Place in the Minefield, p. 2

I don't mean to suggest that American Jewish opinion really is monolithic. But at the same time, the dominant current of opinion is unmistakable. Jay has expressed a few of these Zionist opinions in his article, adopting the conceit that he is correcting Leftist misconceptions. I'd like to briefly address a few of the points he brings up, because the ideas in his article, while they may be new to the Left, are pretty much old hat to anyone who ever went to Hebrew school.

"First," Jay argues, "the fundamental premise of the Left's view of the conflict - that Israel is Goliath and the Palestinians are David - is flawed. Actually, Israel is David, and the Arab nations are Goliath." Jay goes on to point out that the corrupt Arab oligarchies and monarchies have used the Palestinians as pawns in their propaganda war against Israel. He correctly states that the Arab nations have never really done anything to help the Palestinians at all, allowing them to suffer and die in refugee camps. My answer to this is: so? Jay argues that it was the Arab nations who "warmongered in 1967" (he is contradicted by Israeli hawk Menachem Begin, who once remarked that "we must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack"1), but was there really ever any question of Israel's survival? Is it really just luck that Israel won its wars against all the Arab countries, again and again? In my Hebrew school days teachers referred to these victories as if they were miracles, proof perhaps of the intervention in Israeli affairs of God Himself. Without getting too much into the details of military strategy, let's leave God out of it and say that Israel has for decades been better armed with better technology than its enemies, and still is today. But the truth is that the whole question is academic. The actions of Arab elites in no way deprive Palestinians of the right to self-determination. It doesn't matter how corrupt the House of Saud is. It doesn't even matter if Jews were driven from Arab nations in 1948 (which they were). The Arab nations were wrong not to allow Palestinian self-determination when they occupied the territories, and Israel is wrong to perpetuate occupation now. The Palestinians revolted against Jordan, but you don't see many people justifying Jordan's 'Black September' massacres in response.

Jay's second point is that "Israel is the only economically progressive state" in the Middle East. Remember now, he is trying to provide "Leftist reasons" to support "most of Israel's policies toward the Palestinians." Well, first let's get out of the way the point that from my vantage point on the far left, Israel is about as "economically progressive" as 19th-century England. Yes, compared with the surrounding nations it looks great. One has only to glance at The Communist Manifesto to understand Marx's appraisal of capitalism as a revolutionary force, one which I agree with: "The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations."2 Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc. are clearly countries where "feudal, patriarchal" relations exist. So Jay is right about the rulers of the Arab nations being corrupt and evil, and capitalism being more advanced than feudalism. But again - so what? What does this have to do with the Palestinians? What does it have to do with checkpoints, curfews, settlements? What has the economic indulgence of Arab elites to do with the fundamental right of peoples to self-determination, whoever they are (and yes, that means it doesn't matter if they're "Palestinians" or "only Arabs")?

Jay's third point is that Israel "is the only non-militaristic state in the region," but the narrative of Arab aggression he lays out doesn't really support that. I'm not sure that any state that requires three or more years of military service from all its citizens can really be called "non-militaristic," even if it is presumed to always be on the defensive. What Jay seems to really be arguing is that Israel merely becomes necessarily militaristic. It would take many more pages to truly delve into the history of all the Arab-Israeli conflicts, and to explore who was right and who was wrong each time about which aspect of which fight. Both sides entertain their myths about who started what, who caused whom to flee, etc. The point is that in its conduct in the territories, Israel has been quite "militaristic." Even during the 1990's, when the Oslo accords had supposedly put the Middle East on the path to peace, huge swaths of the West Bank and Gaza remained completely under Israeli military control, namely the settlement areas and all the roads that connected them. The Palestinians were given nominal "civil control" in other areas, but not "security control," and in a few areas the Palestinian Authority was granted "civil" and "security" control, but not sovereignty. 35,000 acres of Palestinian (or "Arab," if you like) land were confiscated between 1994 and 2000 to make room for new settlements.

Image: Expansion of the Tekoa Settlement on the West Bank.
The new area at left was constructed in late 2001.
Source: Peace Now

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June 2002

jay's head