Monday, March 9, 2009

On 1948, Refugees, and Nationalism

I have long accepted that Israel is partially responsible for the situation of the Palestinian refugees who were displaced in the Israeli-Arab war of 1948. People were aligned into two sides knowingly and not. The Arabs lost, a state with borders was created, and people who were caught on the wrong side of that border were expelled.

There are two significant differences between the Israeli and Arab treatment of the "other." One, Jews from Arab countries had nothing to do with Zionism and Israel. While the Palestinians were involved in the war and were very aggressive toward all Jews in the decades preceding the war. Second, Israel did not expel all the Arabs in her borders and gave them citizenship in a democratic country. Sure, Israeli Arabs face discrimination in measurable ways, but you can't completely blame the Israeli political system nor the nature of Jewish Israelis toward people of other religions. Israeli Arabs face discrimination because they have in countless ways sympathized with the enemy - the Palestinians regardless of their militancy toward the state which gave them citizenship. 30% percent of the medical students in the top Israeli University, Technion, are Arab.

While I see that Israel has done great things letakken (to fix) this problem of Arab and Jewish refugees, I still believe that more should be done. I used the Hebrew word in the previous sentence because it is part of the Jewish concept of tikkun olam which means fixing the world. When there is a problem, we must work towards a solution. Some solutions may take great time and labor, but as humans, I believe we are obligated to do so out of principle (Kohlberg's 3rd level of morality). I would say we are obligated letakken haolam by God but since I don't believe in God, I say principle developed by inner conscience.

So what's the solution? I'm not sure, and any of the people that I highly respect don't have a solution either.

Since the Palestinians are having it so bad, why do they maintain in pursuing the cause of redominating (did they actually ever have sovereignty over it?) the historic land of Palestine? The Palestinian cause isn't just a national liberation movement, it is a movement of conquest as Hamas and the PLO have told us many times. I still believe that the majority of Palestinians want to dominate Israel proper.

60 years ago, the sovereign state (or rather 'Islamic Republic' if history is any guide) of Palestine failed to come into fruition. Since a Palestinian state has never existed, what makes the Palestinians a nation? And what fuels this passion after failing countless times?

They say the the land "from the river to the sea" is the ancestral homeland of the Palestinians. But what made that specific land so important. Haven't their ancestors ever been anywhere else? Why isn't the region of Mecca and Medina, where the religion of the most militant Palestinians, their ancestral homeland? The reason is because the events that occurred in the last 100 years, their war with the Jews, are the most important events in their historical narrative and culture. Which is kinda sad considering their lack of achievements in culture and civilization building - art, technology, business, civil liberties, and religious enlightenment. If I was Palestinian, I would rather look take home when Islamic high culture was the good in this world rather than the dark Christian Europe of the medieval ages.

A civilization requires statehood and culture. The Palestinian civilization or nation also has a distinct culture. This culture rose dramatically in one year, 1948, and would forever would be characterized by this - Nakba Day. American culture is characterized by it's war for independence for principles of freedom, liberty, and equality (what the British monarchy denied them) as described in its founding documents - Independence Day.

Every country is born out of violence and war. The Palestinian nation was created likewise. The principles behind the failed Palestinian war for independence were centered around the land (which was denied to them by Israel) and pan-Arab nationalism (which is what fueled support among Arabs for the Palestinian cause). Their culture has been for so long centered around perpetuating violence to over come that one great failure - Nakba. It doesn't matter if others are trying to exploit them as long as they are supported to overcome the failure. Nakba, the Catastrophic Failure. That is my humble non-scholarly characterization of Palestinian nationalism and its cause.

Palestinian nationalism's focus on the land has fluctuated in recent years. The movement has evolved somewhat. Self-determination has been the focus of the movement since Oslo. Unfortunately, its main supporter, Fatah, has lost favor with the Palestinians in recent years. Land would never lose great focus in the eyes of Palestinians. What is the peace process all about? It is land for peace, which is a totally corrupt idea. Not self-determination for peace, a more noble goal. That's why Gaza was so explosive. Israel thought that if it would give self-determination to the Palestinians in Gaza, there would be peace. But to the Palestinians, it was land for peace, or rather less war. Don't get me wrong, I'm still a supporter of negotiations and the two state solution. The conditions aren't there yet for progress in the peace process.

Every citizen of a country knows what his basic duty is. In America it is to defend the principles detailed in the its founding documents. In Israel, it is to defend the principles of Zionism, which I would briefly characterize as creating a state for Jews so that we can defend ourselves when nobody else would. Unfortunately Israel does not have a constitution which details the state's democratic and liberal principles therefore has to constantly be checked from within. The basic duty of a Palestinian on the other hand is to accomplish what they think their ancestors failed to do in 1948. Every human being needs a sense of belonging. One gains this sense by fulfilling the duties society has placed on him. If a Palestinian strays away from this path, even if they are for noble goals, he is not Palestinian. He's a collaborator at best, an actual Israeli at worst.

Because Jerusalem is unusually central to the Palestinian cause compared to the principles of Palestinians nationalism I stated above, I would say that Islam is also a central part of the Palestinian nationalism. Current radical interpretation of Islam is another fuel for Palestinian nationalism. Since no Jewish ultra-nationalist party in Israel has ever experienced the support of Israelis like Hamas has experienced the support of the Palestinians, I would say that Zionism hasn't used the Jewish religion as one of its main principles. Israel's founders were very secular. Hamas' founders were extremely religious as you can see in their charter.

I wouldn't say that Zionism and its materialization in the State of Israel hasn't never suffered from extreme interpretation of Judaism. It is suffering from this right now as is evident from the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Israel has suffered because of this in treasure and support because of this. As long as Israel's leaders and majority in society do not commit to this religious influence into policy, it would be safe.

So why am I talking about this? This is just another defense of Zionism and Israel. We want solutions. Well, I have no idea who I am writing to. I'm looking for a solution to the refugee problem. It is hard to feel that it is my responsibility when the Palestinian cause is stuck in perpetual violence because it failed at creating a state. It is still waging its revolutionary war.

When the Palestinians themselves truly paint their cause as a noble one, a cause of freedom, liberty, and equality, I can give a hand. But what is the main word which they use to characterize their cause? It is "Justice." It is perceived like a call for revenge. What made Zionism a noble cause was not inflicting "Justice" upon the oppressors of the Jews. It was so people won't be able to oppress the Jews anymore. Not by making them weaker, but by making us stronger through a nation-state. There was a huge debate in Israel when Germany offered them monetary compensation. They called it "blood money." What is Justice? When human lives are concerned, you can't get things back. You can get property back but the disputed land isn't just property. It is the subject of war where human lives are lost. That is what Palestinians want. They want their lives back, lives where the Jews were some tiny powerless minority. That is the case when the vast majority of Palestinians support attacks targeting civilians - terror.

When the people of Nineveh were transgressing against God, He told Jonah to be his prophet and tell the Ninevites to repent. Jonah didn't want to do this because he wanted them dead, they were the enemies of the Israelites. God on the other hand did not require the Ninevites to sacrifice their lives for the transgressions they have committed. He only required that they repent.

So how are Israelis and Palestinians supposed to repent? Well, eventually Israel is going to have to end occupying the West Bank and stop the war of attrition in Gaza. The Palestinians would have to reform the very essence of their culture which I believe can happen with intense Westernization of the territories. It might seem like I am ignoring my dark characterization of Palestinian culture but it is not really. Opinions can change and if the Palestinians decide that the goal is to make it so that they won't be oppressed anymore is more important than getting the land back, all would be swell.

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