Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Origin of the Palestine-Israel Conflict

If you are interested in the history of the Palestine-Israel conflict, you will find the concise The Origin of the Palestine-Israel Conflict by Jews for Justice to be useful. It began as a pamphlet written and published by a group of concerned Jewish American citizens in Berkeley, and now it's a website, used by other informative sites such as If Americans Knew, also run by concerned Americans.

It seems that residents of the San Francisco Bay area have always had a different understanding of Palestine. In 1991 during a trip to San Francisco I found this post card in a book store. I remember thinking "wow I can't believe this is being sold at a book store in America."

America has been slowly changing its view on this conflict, which has been the main source of tensions between Arabs and America for 60 years. More Americans are beginning to realize the portrait of Israel as innocent victim is not quite true, and they are beginning to question America's unconditional support for Israeli expansionism. Just last week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Israel emphatically that the construction of settlements must stop. It seems that the Obama administration is serious about pressuring Israel to stop expanding into Palestinian territory, more so than previous administrations. Clinton also recently blasted Israel's plans to demolish Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem. As noted on If Americans Knew, 18,147 Palestinian homes were destroyed between 1967 and 2006. So far Netanyahu has refused to stop expanding Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Many Arabs and Arab Americans regard Obama's pick of Rahm Emanuel as business as usual, as another misguided move by a biased administration. But as Newsweek pointed out, Rahm Emanuel may be Obama's "secret weapon" with Israel: 'It's not just that Obama can use Emanuel's Israel-friendly reputation as a kind of shield, allowing him to display "tough love" toward the Jewish state. Daroff told NEWSWEEK Rahm has such a nuanced understanding of Israeli politics, he can easily act as the president's BS detector as negotiations go forward.'

Maybe I'm just being optimistic, but I hope Obama's team is able to bring about real peace and justice in Palestine.

I began reading about this conflict as a student at the University of Colorado. The political atmosphere in Boulder was more liberal than where I grew up in the suburbs of Denver, but over the four years I spent in Boulder I noticed a change in attitude among Americans, a general increase in sympathy for Palestinians. I like to think this change was the result of our work at the Arab Students Club, but more likely it was the result of brave efforts by American Jews who were concerned about the injustice in Palestine and wanted to help stop it. The US media was biased towards Israel throughout the 80s, and the Palestinian perspective was simply not covered in US mainstream media. Only horrific incidents like Baruch Goldstein's gunning down of dozens of Palestinians in a mosque made the news in America, and even then it didn't generate much public debate about what Israel was doing to the Palestinians.

Although some American mainstream media (such as 60 Minutes and Real Time) have been paying more attention to the Palestinian perspective recently, serious debate about this conflict has been confined to universities. At CU Boulder I met many well read intellectuals, including a smart Lebanese student named Ghassan, who became the President of the Arab Students Club until he graduated. Ghassan filled the bookshelves of the office with books about the history of Palestine. One of these books was The Hidden History of Zionism, by Ralph Schoenman. This book, more than any other, shocked me into sympathy for Palestinians. That's when the hypocrisy in US foreign policy and American attitudes with respect to Israel became highlighted in my mind.

After college I continued to read books and articles about the conflict, and by 2000 I felt that I knew more about the history of Palestine than I did about the history of Iraq. In the 1990s the public found a new tool for debate: the world wide web. The web changed everything. Suddenly Americans did not have to rely on US mainstream media to learn about the history of the conflict, and they also gained access to foreign media, which in general has always had a different perspective on Palestine. Le Monde, for example, has always been more objective in general than American media. Even Israeli media such as Haaretz has paid more attention to Palestinian suffering than FOX News and other popular sources of American news. A heartening fact that should be emphasized here: many American and Israeli Jews are quite aware and concerned about the injustice against Palestinians.

Could it be that the web has forced American mainstream media to focus more on the Palestinian perspective?

In the late 90s the debate about Israel-Palestine on the Yahoo message boards always attracted the most comments, about ten times the number of comments as the board on Iraq. It is no different on my blog. Both sides are passionate about this issue. American conservatives in general seem to dismiss the suffering of Palestinians and deny that injustice has been done to them. Extremist Arabs, on the other hand, refuse to acknowledge the existence of Israel and refuse to allow Arab nations to recognize Israel. Hardcore Arab nationalists wanted to push the Israelis into the sea, and this attitude only aggravated the tensions. But the reality of the conflict has been much different than the rhetoric of Arab nationalists. Israelis have not been pushed into the sea. On the contrary - Palestinians have been pushed into other countries and into the hills of the West Bank (and now densely populated Gaza), the last 20% of historic Palestine. Since 1967 Israelis have moved into the West Bank, and it is clear that Israel wants to annex the West Bank without giving citizenship to its Palestinian inhabitants, many of whom are refugees from previous wars.

The relationship between Iraqi Shia and Palestinians has deteriorated over the last two decades. In 1990 Yasser Arafat expressed his support for Saddam's invasion of Kuwait. After 2003 this relationship deteriorated further, especially after Saddam was hanged. Current relations between the Iraqi Shia and the Palestinians does not change the fact that Palestinians have been wronged for the last 60 years. What happens in Iraq does not change the origin of the Palestine-Israel conflict and it does not justify Israeli expansionism and oppression of the Palestinian people.

Rev 06/03/09: Added "(and now densely populated Gaza), the last 20% of historic Palestine."

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