Twitter / atb20

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

taking the cheap way out

so, for now, i am going to steal a large chunk of hilzoy's post from obsidian wings. it's one of my favorite political blogs because not only does it lean in my direction (though not fully), but the level of the discussion is so much higher than on most. no name-calling or cheap shots -- just facts and intelligent discourse. usually, i'm too much of a wuss to comment because i know most of the commenters are better-versed in the political discussion than i am. this post was particularly intriguing because it spoke of the historical events that shaped hilzoy's perception of foreign policy today -- interesting to me because most of these events happened prior to my birth. i am quoting the part where she discusses the lessons she learned living in israel during the 1980s.

before i quote hilzoy, though, i'd like to take a moment to offer up a link to the red cross in case anyone can make a donation on behalf of victims of katrina. though nothing close to what happened last december, this is still a loss of epic proportions.

ok, now onto the post:

living in Israel taught me a lot. First, I was there during the war in Lebanon. When I arrived, I concluded more or less instantly that I had to throw away all my previous thoughts about the entire region and start from scratch, so I just shut up and observed. Probably because of this, I went through one of those periods in which everyone decided that I was the person to whom they had to pour out their life stories. And some of the people who did this had come back from Lebanon. They hadn't been killed or wounded, obviously, but most of them had been horribly damaged psychologically. I also listened to people, both Israelis and Arabs, to whom something unforgivable had been done by people on the other side, and I could not, for the life of me, figure out how so much bad blood could ever be overcome. Lesson: war is always worse than you'd think. Always. No casualty figures begin to hint at either the damage or the long-term poison.

Second, I came to believe (rightly or wrongly) that there was at least a decent chance that if Israel had, from the outset, treated her Arab citizens as equals, and had not taken over the West Bank and Gaza (or, alternately, had taken over some small bits and given the rest back), that things might have worked out. But who could possibly blame Israelis, during the 50s, when they were dealing with survivors of the Holocaust and assimilating Jews from the Arab world, for not stopping to be that prescient? Not me. But I did conclude: always, always try to get things right at the outset, even if you have every reason to be preoccupied with other stuff. -- I didn't get anywhere near blaming the Israelis for this, as I said, but I thought: this is a lesson I want to try to bear in mind, for my own future use.

Third, I also believed that the Palestinian leadership had made a horrible mistake in choosing to engage in violence against Israel. A Gandhian approach, I thought, might very well have worked; at any rate, it would have been as likely to work in Israel as anywhere, especially since choosing it would have made the Palestinians seem a lot more likely to be good neighbors. Violence, by contrast, was attacking Israel at its strongest point, while throwing away the Palestinians' greatest asset, their moral case. As I saw it, the decision to engage in violence and terrorism was due partly to a lack of imagination and partly to the fact that when you feel aggrieved, you want to strike back, and anything else can feel like "being nice", or appeasement, or a failure of nerve. The lesson here was: do not trust those feelings, and do not assume that what looks like the most extreme solution to an extreme problem is in fact the best one. That Palestinian terrorism was wrong went without saying, to me; that it was also pragmatically stupid was an important lesson.

Fourth, I tended to think that the Palestinian leadership had been absolutely disastrous, and one of the disastrous things I noticed was this: that they had been running refugee camps (e.g. in Lebanon) forever, and yet instead of trying to raise kids who could actually be citizens of a country, they had raised them to be soldiers, and to settle things with Kalashnikovs and RPGs. This relates to the third point: one of the things I like about Gandhi is that he thought of political struggle as necessarily involving preparing yourself and others to be moral people, and citizens in a functioning country. One of the things I hate about bringing kids up to fight is that it makes the transition to their being ordinary citizens who settle their differences peacefully much, much more difficult than it has to be. I thought this was both immoral and desperately short-sighted. As before, I could see how people might think: this should not be our priority now; but I thought: oh yes it should.

Fifth, I came to believe that it was impossible to understand the Middle East without understanding the depth of humiliation of the Arabs. And not military humiliation, but cultural. I said something about that in a comment that was promoted to a post, long before I joined the hive-mind, here.

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