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Gray Watson Personal Thoughts 2000.10.17
Israel vs. Palestine -- a 137248 Round Match

These days the news from the Middle East depresses me to no end. If you need to be reminded, around two weeks ago Airel Sharon, a hard-line secular member of the Israeli government, complete with a military escort, visited an Arab holy site. The message? This isn't your place -- we can go anywhere. The result has been two weeks of violence -- in large part crowds throwing rocks against the Israeli military, complete with helicopter gun ships and tanks.

Well, nothing that comes out of that area of the planet is at all that simple. It's as clear as a daisy. In the Temple on the Mount, the Arab religious leaders preach every week for the death of Israelis. The hatred from the Palestinians, after years of occupation and oppression, runs deep -- possibly too deep to solve in any sort of short-term. The Israelis are trying to keep their citizens safe and balance the demands from the various parts of their very fractured government. This laid on a backdrop of religious fervor, ancient historical conflict, and ethnic discrimination on both sides means that conflict is guaranteed.

The Palestinians in no way have clean hands in this conflict. Their "police" force has often gotten in the middle of the battles firing live ammunition at the Israelis. As one Middle East correspondent for the BBC remarked the other day, the current conflict sounds like no other he has heard. Usually you would hear sporadic gun fire and hear the yells from the mobs. This time, you can hear definate trading of gun shots with street to street fighting producing a continuous background of noise.

This said, I still place 90% of the blame of the violence on the Israelis. Why? Because they are the stronger force. Plain and simple. The stronger force has the moral responsibility to limit the conflict if possible. The idea of rocks against guns, of more than 100 Palestinians killed versus 5 Israelis, shows that this very much a one sided battle. The Israelis must control their own civilian violence and throttle their radical fringe groups, while limiting their military to crowd control and containment. This is not easy with the proliferation of weapons in the area but the idea of storming mosques to stop the rock throwing youths is just wrong.

It is interesting to watch the bias in the media. I was particularly disgusted recently when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak called the killing of two Israeli soldiers as a "lynching" and all of the news services started using this word. This morning, Israeli settlers on the West Bank shot and killed one and wounded three Palestinians who were picking olives in a grove. Let's see. Should we call we say they were "disemboweled"? No of course not. Was that Palestinian boy huddling with his father behind that rock who was shot by a marksman beheaded? No, he was just killed. That's all. Palestinian civilians are killed every day but if two soldiers are killed it is punishable by a rocket barrage from helicopter gunships.

This reminds me of a lesson that I was taught by my Communications teacher at the University of Pittsburgh. For example, if you call it a "War on Drugs" then it casts it as a military or police engagement and not as a public health issue. Language shapes social understanding and casts boundaries on mental representation. When we don't see things for what they are and instead look at them through colored glass then it is difficult if not impossible to make the right decisions and see the truth. Now, of course, I too am looking through a colored glass. If I try hard I can only partially escape my own stigmas, my own environment, my own reality -- and my world has not been shaped by powerful emotional, ethnic, and religious forces that control the minds of the Middle East.

What really gets me is the United States' unilateral support for Israel. Few questions asked. The Palestinians have been demanding an international review of how the violence began in the latest conflicts. Israel had rejected this as a potential "kangaroo court", saying it would only accept a U.S. led "fact-finding" mission. Translation: they are worried that an non-partisan review would find inappropriate conduct in the very least and they know that the U.S. would mussel any condemnation. That the United States publically abhored the "lynching" of soldiers but does not comment on the shooting of unarmed civilians just underscores how warped the situation is. If Saddam, Milosevic, or any other of the "bad guys" were shooting live ammunition at rock throwing crowds, the U.S. news would be full of righteous indignation, but if it is Israel then it is just par for the course.

What would I do if I was President? I'd throw up my hands. I'd hold a big party there and at the end I'd give both sides a hearty pat on the back, wish them all good luck, wave to the crowd, and then I'd walk backwards quickly to the exit erasing my footprints from the sand. Once I was out of the area, I'd yell "FIRE IN THE HOLE" and get the hell out. No more U.S. military involvement in the area. No more weapons sales or other involvement aside from the normal diplomatic relations. If American Jews want to give private money then fine but I would no longer have taxpayers sponsor that mess over there in any way. You could call me chicken for saying this. You could point to Clinton as a hero right now for sticking with it. But I argue that there is no easy solutions over there and I don't see a lot of benefit in us sticking our necks out over a bunch of sand half a world away. Hell, they don't even have any oil. Certainly we should be involved trying to broker peace -- in trying to restrict violence and protect the innocent. We just need to be careful that our eyes are clear, that our horizon has been leveled, and not just that our intentions are good. We should go in as a member of the United Nations not as the sole possession of the world-cop badge.

So this morning they have negotiated a "ceasefire". We will see how many hours it lasts. I do have one question however. Is it still a "ceasefire" when one side was just throwing rocks?

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