Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Speaking Frankly About Israel and Palestine

Members of the US government have always been reluctant to speak frankly about Israel and Palestine for a good reason: it is dangerous to the health of their careers. Americans who suggest that Israel has done wrong may be branded as anti-semitic, or unpatriotic, as if Israel is part of America. I believe that the fear of US officials to criticize Israel has much to do with the lobbying efforts of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). But it seems that American perceptions have been changing over the twenty years. Former Congressman Paul Findley was the first (to my knowledge) prominent American to examine America's lopsided attitude towards Israel and speak frankly about AIPAC's influence in his book They Dare To Speak Out, published by Independent Publishers Group in 1985 - apparently a large publishing company did not want to take the risk of publishing such a book back then.

The fear to speak frankly about Israel and Palestine still exists in Washington today, but the political atmosphere is not quite the same as it was in 1985. Former US President Jimmy Carter has written a book entitled Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, published by big Simon & Schuster, and the mainstream media in America is allowing open discussion of the subject. Below is an Op-Ed piece written by Jimmy Carter and recently published by the L.A. Times. I have always respected Americans who are unafraid to speak the truth and understand the immediate need for a just solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Like Paul Findley, Jimmy Carter has earned my full respect.

Speaking frankly about Israel and Palestine

"I signed a contract with Simon & Schuster two years ago to write a book about the Middle East, based on my personal observations as the Carter Center monitored three elections in Palestine and on my consultations with Israeli political leaders and peace activists.

We covered every Palestinian community in 1996, 2005 and 2006, when Yasser Arafat and later Mahmoud Abbas were elected president and members of parliament were chosen. The elections were almost flawless, and turnout was very high — except in East Jerusalem, where, under severe Israeli restraints, only about 2% of registered voters managed to cast ballots.

The many controversial issues concerning Palestine and the path to peace for Israel are intensely debated among Israelis and throughout other nations — but not in the United States. For the last 30 years, I have witnessed and experienced the severe restraints on any free and balanced discussion of the facts. This reluctance to criticize any policies of the Israeli government is because of the extraordinary lobbying efforts of the American-Israel Political Action Committee and the absence of any significant contrary voices.

It would be almost politically suicidal for members of Congress to espouse a balanced position between Israel and Palestine, to suggest that Israel comply with international law or to speak in defense of justice or human rights for Palestinians. Very few would ever deign to visit the Palestinian cities of Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron, Gaza City or even Bethlehem and talk to the beleaguered residents. What is even more difficult to comprehend is why the editorial pages of the major newspapers and magazines in the United States exercise similar self-restraint, quite contrary to private assessments expressed quite forcefully by their correspondents in the Holy Land.

With some degree of reluctance and some uncertainty about the reception my book would receive, I used maps, text and documents to describe the situation accurately and to analyze the only possible path to peace: Israelis and Palestinians living side by side within their own internationally recognized boundaries. These options are consistent with key U.N. resolutions supported by the U.S. and Israel, official American policy since 1967, agreements consummated by Israeli leaders and their governments in 1978 and 1993 (for which they earned Nobel Peace Prizes), the Arab League's offer to recognize Israel in 2002 and the International Quartet's "Roadmap for Peace," which has been accepted by the PLO and largely rejected by Israel.

The book is devoted to circumstances and events in Palestine and not in Israel, where democracy prevails and citizens live together and are legally guaranteed equal status.

Although I have spent only a week or so on a book tour so far, it is already possible to judge public and media reaction. Sales are brisk, and I have had interesting interviews on TV, including "Larry King Live," "Hardball," "Meet the Press," "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," the "Charlie Rose" show, C-SPAN and others. But I have seen few news stories in major newspapers about what I have written.

Book reviews in the mainstream media have been written mostly by representatives of Jewish organizations who would be unlikely to visit the occupied territories, and their primary criticism is that the book is anti-Israel. Two members of Congress have been publicly critical. Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for instance, issued a statement (before the book was published) saying that "he does not speak for the Democratic Party on Israel." Some reviews posted on call me "anti-Semitic," and others accuse the book of "lies" and "distortions." A former Carter Center fellow has taken issue with it, and Alan Dershowitz called the book's title "indecent."

Out in the real world, however, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. I've signed books in five stores, with more than 1,000 buyers at each site. I've had one negative remark — that I should be tried for treason — and one caller on C-SPAN said that I was an anti-Semite. My most troubling experience has been the rejection of my offers to speak, for free, about the book on university campuses with high Jewish enrollment and to answer questions from students and professors. I have been most encouraged by prominent Jewish citizens and members of Congress who have thanked me privately for presenting the facts and some new ideas.

The book describes the abominable oppression and persecution in the occupied Palestinian territories, with a rigid system of required passes and strict segregation between Palestine's citizens and Jewish settlers in the West Bank. An enormous imprisonment wall is now under construction, snaking through what is left of Palestine to encompass more and more land for Israeli settlers. In many ways, this is more oppressive than what blacks lived under in South Africa during apartheid. I have made it clear that the motivation is not racism but the desire of a minority of Israelis to confiscate and colonize choice sites in Palestine, and then to forcefully suppress any objections from the displaced citizens. Obviously, I condemn any acts of terrorism or violence against innocent civilians, and I present information about the terrible casualties on both sides.

The ultimate purpose of my book is to present facts about the Middle East that are largely unknown in America, to precipitate discussion and to help restart peace talks (now absent for six years) that can lead to permanent peace for Israel and its neighbors. Another hope is that Jews and other Americans who share this same goal might be motivated to express their views, even publicly, and perhaps in concert. I would be glad to help with that effort.'


Avigdor said...

Mr. Mojo, how much true debate is there on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Arab world? Has an Arab ever been born who does not see Israel as being evil, and carrying all responsibility for the situation? Has a single Arab publishing house printed a book critical of the Arab approach to Israel - six decades of blockade, sanctions, terror and war? Has a single Arab intellectual suggested that targeting the Jewish nation for extermination in 1948 was perhaps not the most human idea? Can a single Jordanian or Egyptian keep their job (or their lives?) after advocating for true peace with Israel, despite a 40 year old treaty?

There are two lobbies in Washington D.C. One is the Israel lobby, whose AIPAC branch consists of 5 full time lobbyists, a budget of a few million dollars (under $15mil), a support staff of a few dozen people, and a support base of maybe 100,000 Americans, at the extreme.

The other is the Arab lobby, with access to 57 Islamic nations representing 50% of global oil output - with an annual dollar equivalent in the trillions - if not more. We seem to know so much about the Israel lobby, but who is this Arab lobby? How much money do Arabs funnel into campaign contributions of American officials? How many US treasury bills are purchased in return for US favors?

So please, spare us the peanut farmer's nonsense. Shame, shame on the Arabs for how they have treated the Jews these 60 years. 99% of Arabs have never met a single Jew, yet they hate them like no one and nothing else in the world. They invent lies about them. They are not real Jews. That is not the real Torah. This is the love of the prophet?

A small nation that was spit on for centuries disgraced the entire Arab world, not even by their victories, but merely by their survival. Look what they have done to the wasteland that was Palestine, without oil, with their own hands, fighting back war after war and thriving.

Shame on you, as an Iraqi. 100 years ago a third of Baghdad was Jewish. You threw them out like dogs, with the shirts on their back, and now you dare to speak to them about how they treat others? Do they fight wars like Arabs, slaughtering the men and raping the women? Shame on the Arabs.

The Land of Israel is Jewish land. The Arab has no place there, except as a visitor or protected resident, period.

Iraqi Mojo said...

Shame on me for expelling Iraq's Jews? Shame on the Iraqis who expelled Jews, you mean, and I agree. But I was born in the late 60s, long after the Farhood al Yahood.

The Arabs wanted to keep Palestine whole and they resisted splitting it up in 1948. But Israel won and Palestine lost. Palestinians continue to lose, it seems.

Do you not agree that Israel has treated the Palestinians badly? Israel has taken over most of Palestine, has occupied the West Bank and Gaza (the remainder of Palestine) since 1967 and has stolen their water and continued to demolish thousands of Palestinian homes, but shame on me for not preventing the Farhood al Yahood? LOL

I'll just quote Alaa:

the old generation, now almost disappeared, remember the Jewish community of Iraq with nostalgia. It was an honorable, inteligent and honored community, "the creme of Iraqi society", in the words of King Faisal I who was throned in a Jewish center or something like this if I remember correctly. But his speach praising the Iraqi Jewish community is certain, you can check it out in references. The first Iraqi cabinet after independence from the brief British occupation after WW II had two Jewish ministers, the most notable of them was Sasoon, the minister of finance who basically laid the foundation of financial management in the Iraqi state. The best doctors, professionals of all kinds were Jewish. It is within my own personal living memory of very early childhood and I remeber some very touching stories that I might tell you one day. Besides all this the original Hebrew tribe was of Mesopotamian origin, I am convinced of it. Biblically, Abraham was from Ur, in Iraq today, most of the ancient Jewish & hence are also recognised by Islam were Mesopotamian and buried in Mesopotamia. This is a hugely interesting subject and there is no scope to deal with it here. What I mean, is that despite the bigots and the stupidity of the common ignorant people, the Jews are much closer to the Iraqi people, than any others.

Nevertheless, we as a people are more decent than the Palestinians and recognize their plight. I am personally convinced that the solution lies in the hands of the Jews rather than the Palestinians or the Arabs in general. But this is another subject that I might discuss in a special post.

Also read my post Iraqi Jews.

Iraqi Mojo said...

Also read Baathists Inspired by Nazis

Patrick said...

Saying Ba'athist were inspired by Nazis is a facile argument to be employed, especially when there are better points to be made.

Iranians I've known, for example, wanted the Shah gone but now understand the necessity of his tactics in containing the clerics. His problem was that he hadn't gone far enough in doing so, and for an Iranian to have that opinion does NOT mean for one second that they necessarily liked the Shah.

No, what most Iranians wanted was Mossadegh to have remained in power and I have a feeling that he would've been somewhat similar to the Ba'ath party. It's not an Arab thing, it's a third world thing, a poor person's thing, to want one's country to be prosperous, even at the expense of political freedom. Many Iranians today also admire the Nazis.

Ask any Bosniak or Serb about Tito, who in many ways was like Saddam Hussein, today and you might get a similar response.