Thursday, July 27, 2006

The War in Israel, Palestine and Lebanon

* I noticed this morning that there were a number of glaring problems with the text of this post. I have thus edited this post. Hopefully there are now links you can follow as well as a more readable text. LEK 7/28/2006*
The title of this post may indicate where my thoughts are on this. I spoke with my father a few days ago and he wanted to know my thoughts on the current "hostilities" in Israel and Lebanon. I had trouble formulating a response, partly because from an historical perspective I hardly see how this is new or surprising. This is unfortunate, but really I have trouble seeing how we can be surprised, or why no one seems to be saying that all of the efforts of Europe the US and the UN to bring peace has been a miserable failure, primarily because neither side of the conflict in fact wishes to broker a peace that might admit defeat, i.e. loose control of key territory, not to mention that to some degree the situation that exists could not have existed had not Europe and the US helped create the state of Israel.

Tripp has brought attention to and posted the open letter to area religious leaders from the Chicago Board of Rabbis and a statement from Rabbi Arthur Waskow of tte Shalom Center, As a religious leader in the Chicago Metropolitan area I suppose this is a sort of response, as such you may wish to read the statements before continuing. This is also a response to Jim Wallis' editorial in this weeks SoJoMail newsletter. In fairness I wish to disclose before continuing that I am the leader of an intentional Christian community who has a member who is also a member of Christian Peace Maker Teams (CPT) .
I applaud all calls for a sense of perspective and context. But the two calls I sight here lack precisely the sense of perspective and context necessary to understand the current hostilities. Few whish to admit that in effect in the very least a state of war has existend for nearly 40 years now, if not longer. A war fought over precisely the existence of Israel. Given that this war is over Israel's existence I sympathize with the desires of Israelis and their supporters to get concessions from all Arab groups and nation states that Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish nation state.

What is not readily admitted is that the original impetus behind the creation of a Jewish nation state was European anti-semitism. In part the desire for mass immigration to the Holy Land had to do with continued persecution and marginalization up and until the "final solution." Few today like to admit that Nazi policy was simply the extremity of attitudes and beliefs common even among some prominent and intellectual Americans prior to WWII. Given this history I understand the desire to have and defend Israel as a Jewish nation state. Also, it was not pure altruism that lead the British Empire to support the immigration that led to the possibility of forming Israel as a nation state, but also a mild form of anti-semitism that was not unlike the ideas of sending all blacks back to Africa that is the origin of another nation state Liberia. In part then Israel is the result of European empires and their policy of colonization.

Initially it was Britain that encouraged and allowed Jewish settlement that created a gradual but great increase in the Jewish population in Palestine. This alone certainly doesn't necessarily lead to the violence surrounding the creation of Israel. But land purchased for Jewish settlement was designated for Jewish use only and upon which non-Jews could not work. This created a situation which changed not only the numbers of Jews in Palestine but created a situation that segregated more drastically the two populations. The question of who started what is an interesting one, and one I am not competent to address at this time. From my investigations and reading over the years on the creation of the nation-state of Israel it is clear that violence and atrocities occurred on both sides prior to 1947 (And after as well). The process of Jewish settlement eventually under the supervision of Britain did nothing to assure the Palestinians that what in fact did happen was not going to happen. Also, due to the fear that Jewish settlements would eventually lead to the dispossession of their land Palestinians did resist violently to some settlement. But lets also be clear it was always the intention of the Zionists under the encouragement of British and other European nation-states and then the US, that settlement would lead to the creation of a Jewish state for Jews, which the state of Israel essentially is to this day. Arab Israelis are not equal to Jewish Israelis. Zionists were not content to simply live in Palestine but needed a separate Jewish state, a situation that Palestinians rejected in the partition plan in 1947. It does not seem improbably to me, if historians would ever get enough distance from this conflict, that at some point we will talk of the period starting with the war in 1948 up through our time as a single war with various truces and cease fires but never a complete cessation of hostilities between the two warring parties.

Though the difficulty of our seeing the current hostilities as the continuation of a single war is that only one party, Israel, is considered a legitimate sovereign state. The leadership of the Palestinian armed resistance, has no legitimacy in our eyes, and perhaps with some good reason, at least in what has become to be considered "good" war practices after the Geneva Conventions. Though lets be honest the prohibition of targeting civilian populations by the Geneva Conventions exist precisely because it is difficult (maybe impossible) to conduct an effective war merely targeting weapons and those who cary them. Since such a limitation prevents the actual aim of war- to render the enemy incapable of engaging in, or unwilling to engage in war. The most effective way of doing this is to target those who support the military namely civilians and civilian life. It once was that you burned fields and crops to prevent the civilian populations from providing food for the enemy, granted that is also an attack on civilian populations but there is no real distinction between a society and its military, they overlap as we see as we attempt to keep money away from terrorist organizations and why Israel bombed banks in Lebanon. It is also why Hezbollah and Hamas don't simply target the Israeli military. From a perspective of war and not war as limited and made nearly impossible by Geneva Conventions, but simple "good old fashioned" war in which the objective is to keep the enemy from effectively persuing war, the creation of miserable psychological and living conditions undermines the ability of the enemy to gain the resources and support it needs to conduct the war. So, it seems to me we see what we see in the actions of Hamas, Hezbollah and Israel the simple fact that there is a war that has never actually ceased since 1948.

The other issue is that both Hamas and Hezbollah are not simply militant organizations they also have created various forms of infrastructure in areas where there is no state or no effective state. They are in effect fiefdoms, they have support in part due to their provision of social services. We call them terrorist organizations in part because they act like a state but are not living within the prescribed boundaries (in a sense quite literally) of the nation-state. This is another thing we forget in these conflicts: less than 100 years ago the world did not have a preponderance of nation-states. There is nothing sacred or natural or even necessary about the nation-state. The nation-state is a European idea and creation that has been spread as those European nation states lost the ability to have and lost support at home for their imperial and colonial possessions.

What might one ask does this have to do with the current conflict? Namely that Israel was created in this process and that those who have for most of the history of Israel taken up resistance to the existence of the Israeli nation state created by European powers have been groups that act like states but are not nation states, and thus in the eyes of nation-states who believe the only valid state is the nation-state, have no legitimacy, and no authority with which to engage in warfare.

And so to our eyes the Israeli bombing of Lebanese and Gaza strip infrastructure looks like the legitimate act (though probably proscribed by Geneva Conventions) of a sovereign power in the face of illegitimate power structures who use similar if cruder tactics but have no legitimacy since the only sovereign state with the right to use military force is the nation-state which Hezbollah and Hamas are not. The situation that exists is that there is no way and has never been anyway for Palestinians to legitimately have a militant resistance to an Israeli presence and encroachment of what they, I think rightly, have considered their land.

Now all that does not address the legitimacy of the war, a war we Americans and Europeans in part are responsible for, and which we do not own up to except that we and everyone else keeps insisting including Muslims that we are responsible to encourage and ensure a peace in the Middle East. I think that is only so if what I have said above is true. If not we should perhaps be at the ready to mediate when the two sides have tired of their horrendous war but we would not be responsible for the peace.

There are and have been atrocities on both sides(I will not pretend to know and believe I know how to know whose are the worse ), but Israel also has always had the support of the most powerful nations in the world, the Palestinians weaker new Arab nations states created out of the crumbling old Ottoman Empire that only disappeared after WWI. Yes that is less than 100 years ago, about 1918. Yes lets have some perspective and context remembering that what we consider natural and obvious was simply a new idea of how to order society and how the state should work that emerged about 200 years, or so ago. There was a time when Hezbollah and Hamas might have been able to legitimately carve out a fiefdom or get some concession for their existence from a more powerful state; But we live in the time of the "divine right" of the nation-state. There is no other state, but the nation state, this was handed down from God or nature, depending on how religious or secular you are.,