Palestine, Israel, and lemons.
February 28, 2005 9:48 AM   Subscribe

"In politics, the impossible is the immoral." A surprisingly thoughtful essay on the "uniqueness of Palestinian terror" from, of all places, Tech Central Station. I found much with which to both agree and disagree in this article - and on such contentious issues, that's no doubt the case for all readers - but, I found that, in reading this piece, my neurons never stopped firing, which is a rare and unusual sensation these days. 'Tis interesting. Also attempting to deal across boundaries in the Mideast conflict: Bitter Lemons, which features two themed columns apiece by Palestinian and Israeli writers each day.
posted by Sticherbeast (8 comments total)

If the word "triumph" sounds premature or alarmist, ask yourself what nation state has had the impact on the geopolitical world order that the Islamic terrorists have had in the last half century.

It could be argued that the Islamist / pan-Arab movements have been the most significant NON-STATE actors over the past half-century, thanks to their colocation with the most critical economic resource in the world. However, to claim that they've had a "greater effect" than, say, the USSR or the US is myopic and ahistorical.

They have all but shattered the international system of alliances upon which the Pax Americana depended; they have turned many of our former allies into current enemies; they have rallied fifth columnists within every Western democracy, including our own, to champion the cause of radical anti-Americanism; they have seduced the progressive Left into defending the most reactionary regimes in the world.

Ah. There we are then.

Of course, it was those pesky terrorists that used their mind-control beams on our allies and made them our enemies. Let's not forget the lovely "fifth column" chestnut, which meets any attempt at internal criticism of US policy with charges of treason. And, of course, supporting reactionary regimes is entirely a Leftist phenomenon. Yep. Mmm-hmm.

So, complete lack of scholarship and usage of hyperbole, coupled with a retread of not-so-subtle political barbs that have been used by the Right ever since 9/11 to shut down rational discourse before it has a chance to start.

I'll pass, thanks.

(BTW, it's not so unusual for TCS to feature conservative political columns. Glenn Reynolds (of Instapundit, the most popular blog in the world) is a regular contributor)
posted by xthlc at 10:48 AM on February 28, 2005

An interesting article, and a very impressive attempt to reframe the issue in a way at odds with the facts in order to completely exclude any viewpoint that might be sympathetic to Palestinians. Harris can write, and he manages to construct a good argument, but he only gets there by ignoring the West Bank and Gaza. I understand that he would like to argue that there can be no taking the claim of a separate Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories seriously as long as tacit approval is given by Palestinians to others whose aspirations are to push the Israelis 'into the sea,' but he does not argue this. Instead, when he talks about Western sympathy for the notion that the Palestinians are a colonized people, he conveniently ignores the fact that they are at least an occupied people in the West Bank and Gaza. This is a shame since it radically undercuts not only his rhetorical stance of reasonableness, but also obviates the arguments he constructs in which he treats 'Palestinian aspirations' as if they reduced to the worst impulses of the terrorists. In other words, instead of providing a set of reasons why Palestinians should reject terror now that they have a real chance to, he effectively explains why the erasure of the reality of Palestinian lives under the US-supported Israeli occupation provides them with very little political capital or choice. And his rhetorical choice to demonize the Israeli Left makes it seem as if peaceniks in Israel want to pack up and leave their country. My experience is that most responsible parties both in Israel and the US, who are urging withdrawal and peace, are so in support of Israel as a state that the notion of not supporting it never even comes up. By failing to talk about the actual issues at hand, Harris makes peace seem less likely because he never indicates what a peaceful solution that accounts for the Palestinians might look like.

His other major contention, that the West is responsible for the rise of Radical Islam because it treats Palestinian terrorism as a special and protected case can be turned completely around, and frequently is, in a sloppy kind of way, on the American Left. There is much to be said, without, hopefully, excusing terrorism, for the notion that it has been the failure of the US to take seriously the occupation of the Palestinian people that has provided both rhetorical and historical force to a forming global jihad. The fact that this is a callous misuse of the Palestinian cause does not make it disappear or lose rhetorical strength. US weapons protecting Israeli settlers in Occupied land just does not look good.
posted by OmieWise at 10:50 AM on February 28, 2005

I hope you are reconsidering your political philosophy because Lebanon's Syria-backed government just resigned. Check.

Egypt (promises to make moves towards democracy)
Palestine (free elections take place)
Iraq (democratic elections held)
Saudi Arabia (holds freer local elections)
Afghanistan (free elections held)

Boy, those Neocons sure had their head up their butts, huh?! Hey, where's the WMD??? No blood for oil!!!!

If this does not make sense, it is time to get a new political philosophy.

Just venting. Please ignore me.
posted by WebToy at 11:51 AM on February 28, 2005

The only difference between Harris's argument and the commentary offered by, say, some guy I saw on CNN the other day is that Harris is a tad more honest. Instead of talking about how Arafat's death is this incredible, historical opportunity blah blah blah, he simply concedes that the Palestinians are indeed under occupation and that their violence is resistance against that occupation. And instead of suggesting that the Palestinians "embrace the peace process" or using some other Orwellian stock phrase, he comes right out and says that he simply wants the Palestinians to give in to the occupation, to welcome Israel as their conquerors and oppressors. So he gets points for honesty, but there's nothing new or interesting about the argument he makes.
posted by Clay201 at 11:59 AM on February 28, 2005

Harris can write, and he manages to construct a good argument, but he only gets there by ignoring the West Bank and Gaza.

And much of the actual history of the last 50 years. And the fact that non-violent Palestinian attempts were crushed without anyone noticing:
...For its part, the IDF has tried hard to teach Palestinians a different lesson in Popular resistance. At the height of Palestinian popular resistance in 1987-88, AL-HAQ the Palestinian human rights monitoring organization has documented the deportation, administrative detention (i.e. imprisonment without trial) and beatings of union leaders, heads of charitable organizations and popular committees as well as protest organizers (see 'punishing a nation; Israeli Human Rights Violations During the Palestinian Uprising December 1987- December 1988', Al-Haq, south end press, 1988). In fact AL-Haq itself has had 4 out of 5 of its original field workers in administrative detention for most of the period of the report...

...The Israeli authorities have responded to the popular movement and its international supporters in the usual manner. Demonstrations are violently suppressed with live fire, Rubber coated metal bullets, tear gas and beatings. Not surprisingly, most of the violence is directed at Palestinians. In fact, commanders can be heard ordering soldiers to not shoot the Israelis. However, in spite of their relative privileged position, internationals and Israelis were also victims of IDF and police violence. One Israeli was nearly killed when he was shot in both legs with live ammunition from close range and another was shot in the eye with a rubber coated metal bullet. Other Israelis and Internationals have also been beaten and shot with rubber coated metal bullets...
Oops... There goes that argument...
posted by talos at 12:01 PM on February 28, 2005

Fascinating article, somewhat weakened by not questioning the status of the occupied territories.
For that is what terrorism has become among the Palestinians -- it is their peculiar institution, the way slavery was the peculiar institution of the American South in the nineteenth century. For, like the slave system, terrorism, deployed as a means of achieving political goals, ends by poisoning the society that permits it to flourish in its midst. The only group that draws any advantage from its use are those who are ruthless enough to use it. Like slavery, it corrupts whatever it touches, and is of value only to those who live off it. Like slavery, it appears to be an institution that can only be destroyed by those who are willing to use extreme and drastic measures to eradicate it. And, lastly, like American slavery, Palestinian terrorism has its defenders, many of them decent and well-intentioned individuals.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:14 PM on February 28, 2005

"The Israelis cannot be compared to the Algerian pied noirs for two reasons. First, because the Israelis are roughly equal in number to the Palestinians, unlike the pied noirs, who were vastly outnumbered by the Muslim population, at a ratio of about 10 to 1. Second, because, unlike the pied noirs, the Israelis do not have to rely on small scale acts of terror, as the OAS did; the Israelis have an army, an air force, and a huge stockpile of nuclear weapons, with a delivery capacity sufficient to devastate every major city in the Arab world. Thus, far from being a vastly outnumbered minority without any means to defend themselves except by copying the terrorism of the Algerian revolutionaries, as the pied noirs were eventually driven to do, the state of Israel possesses the retaliatory capacities that only a handful of states in the history of the world have possessed... If the possession of an enormous stockpile of nuclear weapons does not make you a sovereign state, it is difficult to say what would."

Let me get this straight: terrorism is OK if I am fighting a small, defenceless minority, but immoral if my opponent is bigger and stronger than I am? Does anybody else see something wrong with this thesis?
posted by MadOwl at 4:19 AM on March 1, 2005

Let me get this straight: terrorism is OK if I am fighting a small, defenceless minority, but immoral if my opponent is bigger and stronger than I am? Does anybody else see something wrong with this thesis?

I don't see where he says that it's OK to use it on a small, defenseless minority, though. Israel's atrocities still aren't OK. Or, even if Harris does believe that what you or I would consider atrocities by Israel are actually OK, he does not appear to be arguing that in this article, and of course I wouldn't agree with that anyhow. Nor did I see much of an attempt to justify the occupied territories in West Bank and Gaza - and again, even if he thinks they are justified, that doesn't mean he can't say other things of worth.

What I did agree with, however, was that terrorism is immoral if it only produces misery without furthering any realistic goals. Blowing up a nightclub full of civilians will not cause Israel to disappear, nor does it frame an argument to force Israel to recognize basic human rights - it only increases human misery. That lack of realism is what separates the activities of Hamas or the Islamic Jihad from the Algerian freedom fighters.

Furthermore, as to why this article struck me: Harris is obviously a Zionist, while I am an anti-Zionist. However, I have always felt that, seeing as how 1948 has already long passed, attempts to delegitimize the state of Israel out of existence are doomed to failure, barring the judicious use of magic wands. Therefore, Israel must be dealt with as a sovereign party in the conflict, no matter what the moral implications were in its founding. Whatever else is the problem with Harris, I found his realpolitik arguments to be persuasive.

By failing to talk about the actual issues at hand, Harris makes peace seem less likely because he never indicates what a peaceful solution that accounts for the Palestinians might look like.

He mentions a two-state solution - a solution that may be (hopefully!) beginning in the aftermath of these elections. If the Palestinians can, in fact, begin to wield real power politically - and the onus is on Israel to recognize that power - and if the violent militants can begin to be marginalized out of relevancy - and, since only Islamic Jihad was happy over their attack the other day, that appears to be happening - then the first few faltering steps toward a lasting peace can begin.

The other half is, of course, that Israel pull out of the West Bank for good, and not have the Palestinian state constitute a bunch of separated bantustans.

But, anyway.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:41 AM on March 1, 2005

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