Sunday, November 13, 2011

Post #73 - What's Your Beef?

Triumphs in agronomy, planning and democracy; the constant fear of “an existential threat;” Israelis’ complex and torturous relationships with the other peoples of what we know as the Holy Lands...what is the legacy of the founders of Israel? Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann, has been quoted as saying: “I am certain the world will judge the Jewish state by how it will treat the Arabs.”

Israeli officials and those outside Israel who support them, point to a number of actions on the part of Palestinians, their Arab neighbors and others that have helped to create the climate of threat and the imperative of survival:

  • Denial of the State of Israel's right to exist as a political entity – and hence, a reinforcement of the historical tenuousness of Jews' survival as a people;
  • Military attacks launched against Israel by Arab states, which began the conflicts that have become known in Israel as the “War of Independence” (1948), and the “Yom Kippur War” (1973-74), as well as the preparations that precipitated the "Six-Day War (1967).
  • Expulsion of Sephardic Jews (perhaps as many as 800,000) from Arab countries around 1967.
  • Attacks, of greater or lesser intensity, with stones, mortars or missiles around or across the borderlines between Israeli and Palestinian areas (part of what we know as the "intifadas");
  • Suicide bombings targeting civilian centers, such as urban streets, shopping areas, or restaurants, and similar targets such as buses, resulting in many civilian deaths and injuries;
  • Threatening statements by Palestinian, Arab or Iranian leaders, or statements that call into question the historicity of the Holocaust in Europe.
  • Other provocations, such as the capture of Israeli soldiers which led to conflicts in Gaza and South Lebanon, prisoner swaps and other impacts.

The taking of prisoners for ransom, exchange or security guarantees has been done for many centuries in the Middle East and elsewhere (such as Nicaragua, where big-leaguer Wilson Ramos was just rescued). Owing to a strange, fluctuating “rate of exchange” that has evolved, prisoners can sometimes be exchanged at the rate of as many as 300-400 Palestinians or more per Israeli prisoner; this was done in 1956, 1973, 1985, 1996 and 2004. This probably reflects both the imbalance in the number of prisoners held at any given time, as well as a complex differential concerning the valuation of each individual life by the parties involved.

From the perspective of the Palestinians, neighboring Arab countries, and much of the world of Islam, the State of Israel itself has been responsible for Arab animosity; they may cite:

King David Hotel, Jerusalem
  • Establishment of a Jewish state in an area which had had, at the time of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, a population that was 92% Muslim or Christian, the Jewish population of some 90,000 would grow to around 400,000 by the mid-1940's);
  • The terrorist bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1946, killing 91 persons, most of them staff of the British Secretariat and workers in the hotel, including 17 Jewish victims;
  • Maintenance, since the 1960's, of a clandestine (but widely acknowledged) nuclear weapons capability, thought to comprise 200 or more operational warheads; plus other weapons, including 500 earth-penetrating bombs acquired from the United States for use against underground facilities;
  • The displacement of 750,000 Palestinians at the time of the 1948 war (according to Palestinian rights advocates, some 530 towns and villages were eradicated), and 1.3 million Palestinian refugees by 1964, mainly to camps (where most still live today);
  • An additional 320,000 Arabs forced to leave areas occupied in May 1967, after a war in which Israel initiated hostilities. Israel has maintained the Arab states left it little choice, but a new book by an Israeli newspaper columnist Tom Segev (Israel, the War, and the Year That Transformed the Middle East) makes the case that the conflict was avoidable, if peace-minded people had won the day in Israeli policy deliberations of the period;
  • Ignoring of 65 U.N. resolutions that called for some form of sanctions against Israel for its treatment of Palestinians (most of which were vetoed by the United States, as a permanent member of the Security Council).
  • Temporary detention (often held under provisions similar to “Guantanamo rules” -- without access to legal counsel, held in locations where family cannot visit, and with torture-produced confessions admissible in court) of at least half-a-million Palestinians since 1967. There are now approximately 8500 incarcerated; those over the age of 14 can be tried as an adult, if they are tried at all.
  • Israel’s attack on a United Nations post at Qana, Lebanon, in April 1996, where 100 civilians were killed;
  • Establishment of Israeli settlements in areas where they are not allowed under international agreements, and which have themselves created hardships and direct threats for the Arab populations where they are located;
  • The extensive use of cluster bombs in last year's fighting in southern Lebanon, creating many thousands of life-threatening hazards for children and other civilians long after hostilities ceased.

Barrier Wall
The erection of the “Defensive Wall” (as Israelis call it) separating parts of the West Bank from other parts, and creating hardships for those (both Christian and Muslim) who reside and work in the areas thus fractured. For example, the 170,000 residents of Bethlehem, birthplace of Jesus, cannot move freely in and out of their town. The International Court of Justice (an institution little known in the United States, but whose establishment predates that of the State of Israel) ruled in 2004 that the wall is illegal under international law, and the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem has called for removal of much of the structure.

[To be continued...]

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