|By A.D. Freudenheim||
31 March 2002
This is no time for moral relativism, and yet simplistic moral statements do not feel quite so easy to come by today. For Christians, it is Easter Sunday; it is also a few days into the Jewish holiday of Passover. Both holidays share a certain underlying spirit of redemption and renewal, giving their respective religious devotees a sense of hope and purpose - and it is precisely a sense of hope and purpose that this writer could use just about now. Watching the miserable situation in the Middle East, I would like to say that the news - of the murders, of the suicides, of the shootings and the sieges - can be put into some larger historical context, and that, knowing history, one can analyze the situation and see the other side of it. Unfortunately, none of the current analyses impresses me much.
In today's (Sunday's) New York Times, Thomas L. Friedman wrote a column under the title "Suicidal Lies," providing a clear, simple, and precise condemnation for the Palestinian penchant for suicide bombings. He is correct when he says that " the Palestinians have long had a tactical alternative to suicide: nonviolent resistance, à la Gandhi. A nonviolent Palestinian movement appealing to the conscience of the Israeli silent majority would have delivered a Palestinian state 30 years ago " They have failed substantively or strategically to see the value of non-violence. Friedman also makes a very convincing argument for why America must work to ensure that there is no ultimate success to this human-bomb tactic. "The Palestinians," he says, "are so blinded by their narcissistic rage that they have lost sight of the basic truth civilization is built on: the sacredness of every human life, starting with your own." That is a sentiment with which it is difficult to argue.
And yet, Friedman's argument pushes aside too easily the history of the Israeli occupation since 1967. Watching and reading the news, as the actions of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) are chronicled, discussed, and sometimes disputed, it is hard to imagine how little choice Palestinians and Israelis must feel they have, how little control over their own lives and actions. This seems particularly true for the Palestinians: with Israeli tanks and troops occupying their cities and towns, controlling their movements and (if some of the independent news sources are to be believed) surreptitiously rounding up all Palestinian or Arab men between the ages of 18 and 45. Do these actions sound familiar? History, awfully, repeats itself. The Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff has created a fake recruitment poster for the IDF making just that point. It is as unsubtle as can be, and all the more effective for precisely that reason; it is an unequivocal moral statement and yet simultaneously full of moral relativism; it draws powerful parallels between the past and the present, and is nonetheless not quite accurate, since no matter what else can be said right now, there is no genocide taking place against the Palestinians.
Yesterday, a friend wrote me that he views the situation in the middle yesterday somewhat differently. " It appears to me that IDF would like to just wipe out the last vestiges of resistance in the territories but it is handcuffed by the US it would cause the US to withdraw its support, which the US wants to avoid at all costs as it would lose its leverage in the region and have to conquer it by force. It cannot continue to take guerilla casualties at the escalating levels. It cannot eliminate the resistance and absorb the territories outright. It cannot turn back (no nation-state can) and end its occupation. All of which amounts to severe ugliness, if the guerillas in the territories continue the current Intifada, which, strategically, is the only real option they have, short of suicide." Alas, suicide it seems to be.
For the situation to change, both sides must agree that change is needed. The Palestinians must accept that they will never achieve the dream of a state of their own through violence. The Israelis must accept that their strength cannot make up for a lack of strategic vision or a measure of restraint. And it might be a good time for both sides to remember the historical truths of the holocaust: Israelis can never be allowed to believe that just because six million European Jews were murdered, modern-day Israeli Jews are insulated from all charges that they have violated human rights. Palestinians should not take the message of Jewish passivity during the holocaust to mean that any and all forms of "resistance" are an acceptable means to a desired end.
In a season of renewal, we must all look backwards as well as forwards.
Latuff's cartoon is courtesy of the artist,
and was posted - copyright-free - on the web site of
the Palestine Independent Media Center.
A variety of articles and sources have reported on
the activities of the IDF. Check the IndyMedia site
or search Yahoo!'s news site for recent articles by
the Associated Press, Reuters, or others.
Copyright 2002, by A.D. Freudenheim.
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This page is part of: The Truth As I See It.