Solving the Middle East crisis? Build a casino in Ramallah!
The latest crisis in the Middle East has brought out the collective fear of the entire world. Panicked talk of WWIII and Israel’s alleged over-reaction has brought out the same old arguments and anti-semitic rhetoric, blurring the lines between Israeli policy, the occupation of Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran into a big stew of misunderstanding and assumption. Why do the Jews beat up on poor, defenseless Arab nations? Why does the United States continue to back up Israel with funding and munitions? Why don’t we let them solve their own problems? Why do we even have to have a Jewish State?
The volatile history of this region is clear, even to those who have never studied Middle Eastern affairs. Jews and Arabs have lived and fought in this area for 4000 years, long before the British Occupation in the early 1900's. The state of Israel was established in 1948 but governments and militants with an agenda have exploited the region and its peoples to their own advantage long before that, preying on people's fear, misinformation and religious differences to advance their various causes.
Now in the latest fray, violence erupted when the Palestinians dug a tunnel under the security wall in Israel, killing two soldiers and kidnapping a nineteen-year old Israeli. Israel reacted with her usual might, strategically targeting the homes of alleged militants and bulldozing buildings in Gaza and the West Bank. But this was not the business as usual, tit-for-tat retaliation that has numbed us to the Palestinian-Israeli crisis. This time, it was different. Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon jumped into the brawl, murdering eight Israeli soldiers and kidnapping two more. With Hezbollah rockets poised to strike Israeli cities, Israel started bombing Beirut and other parts of Lebanon, stranding Americans and Europeans and ruining their vacation plans. One female evacuee on CNN, asked whom she blamed for her impending evacuation from Beirut said, "I hate Israel. They’re so stupid. They ruined my vacation and for what?" Unfortunately, her statement reflects a whole attitude about this crisis. "Go ahead and blow each other up, kidnap and murder innocent people, but don’t mess with my holiday!" Another evacuee said, "Why does the United States condone this kind of violence?"
Now that Lebanese and possibly Iranian militants, have jumped head first into the fight against Israel, to defend their Palestinian brethren against the evil U.S. and Israeli empire, this is a question that begs to be answered; Why does the USA give so much aid and money to Israel? Some blame the powerful Israeli American lobby, AIPAC. Some blame the same old "Jewish conspiracy" that has supposedly always existed. The fact is, Israel HAS been given large amounts of aid by the USA, and more aid than any other country outside the USA. This is amazing when you consider that only 4% of Americans are Jews. 4% hardly equals a Jewish conspiracy. In fact, a quick look at a map of the world will tell anyone that Arab nations outsize tiny Israel and the United States Jewish population tenfold.
The Palestinians have also been given billions of dollars from Americans, British, European and Arab special interest groups. Most of that money is sitting in a Swiss bank while the late Yasser Arafat’s wife lives in exile from Palestine, enjoying the sun in the south of France. She refuses to return to Palestine, because she doesn’t want to give any of the money back!! That money could have been earmarked for Palestine's refugees; many who have lived their entire lives in tents in refugee camps. Arafat could have used the money to build homes for his own displaced people who hold onto hope that they will someday get their land back. He could have said to the people "Look, someday, we might get our land back, but meanwhile, we can’t have you living in the dirt. Let’s build some homes for you and shore up our educational system so we can become an economically viable country. Let’s build a Hard Rock Cafe in Ramallah and build some resort hotels in Gaza so we can become a tourist destination. Let’s develop our own land so we can be seen as a civilized state. Let’s stop spending money and energy blowing ourselves up at bus stops and school cafeterias, and let’s make our country a respected and better place to live, educate our people, so we can stop being victims and start being a force to be reckoned with." Arafat didn’t do that. He failed his country, inflamed the rhetoric and blamed others for Palestine’s problems all the while lining his own pockets. Arafat was named one of Forbes richest men while his people lived in tents without running water. This is not the fault of Israel or the US government, though flawed both sometimes are.
Most of the land owned by Israelis, once belonged to Palestinians. There were aces and acres of olive groves and most of the land parcels were purchased from Palestinian farmers at a fair and equitable price. Much of the land in Israel that is "occupied" was empty land with no irrigation or development. It was only until the Israelis put in running water and built the land up, did the Palestinians suddenly want the land back. Israel did occupy some empty land illegally and slowly but surely, withdrew from Lebanon, has been withdrawing from the territories and will continue to do so, despite the fact that they are still being targeted by Hamas and Hezbollah with suicide bombs and rocket fire. This concept negates the whole "occupation" excuse for war. Israel is ending the occupation, yet continues to be the target of violence. Israel purchased much of the land fair and square, yet continues to be vilified as occupiers. My great grandfather once owned a building in lower Manhattan. He sold the building for $20,000, which was a fortune back in 1940. Now the property is worth millions. I hate it that my grandfather sold that building but I don’t stand around lamenting that the new owners razed it and built luxury condos. I don’t claim that the land belongs to me and was stolen from my family. It was his choice to sell the land and the new owners have improved it, as was their right.
Presidents Jacques Chirac and Vladimir Putin have condemned what they called Israel’s "over-reaction." I submit that if French or Russian soldiers were being murdered and kidnapped and there were rockets poised and ready to be launched into French and Russian cities, these presidents might take the same action to defend their countries. I am certain that if Mexican militants kidnapped our National Guard troops today and pointed rockets towards my city of San Diego, the USA would bomb Tijuana without even batting an eye. It happened before during the Cuban Missile crisis.
There have been mistakes and atrocities committed by both sides during this long and horrible Intifada. Put a rifle in the hands of an overzealous teenager and there may inevitably be some tragic consequences. But Israel has tried to be as careful as possible when targeting the homes of suicide bombers. While Israel’s government and military make mistakes and continue to make mistakes, it is not condoned to go into Arab schools and blow up innocent kids. When Israel makes mistakes, they apologize or at least acknowledge the mistake. They do not get bonuses from the government for killing innocent people, the way suicide bombers families are given a bonus if they kill a bunch of Israelis. Palestinian militants will blow themselves up in a Pizza restaurant full of tourists. Hezbollah targets Israel by daylight to maximize the casualties of innocents. Palestinian fighters often booby trap Gaza and West Bank buildings with explosives, knowing full well that innocent families will die when the Israeli soldiers come into the buildings. Palestinian children are in the streets throwing rocks at tanks during Israeli operations. Where are the Mothers and Fathers of these children? Why aren’t they demanding that their children come home where they are safe, instead of letting them roam the streets while tanks roll by? Why isn’t their government saying "Save your precious lives. Lets rebuild our country and fight this fight another day?" Because there is a basic difference in the value of human life; Human life is expendable with Hamas and Hezbollah. Murder is justified even if it means killing other Muslims for the cause of the Intifada. You can’t negotiate with an enemy who is willing to blow themselves to smithereens and take YOU with them.
I have never heard a Palestinian American publicly condemn the act of suicide bombing. I have never seen a suicide bomber held accountable by their own government; because suicide bombing is condoned as a valid form of protest. As long as this is true, Israel must fight back. Pretty soon, we Americans will be fighting back too when militants make their way to our shopping malls and Wal-Mart stores and start blowing themselves up for their cause. This is the inevitable consequence of a war where there is no value placed on human life.
The fundamental difference between Israel and the Arab Nations is this; In Israel, you can find catholic churches, christian churches, synagogues and mosques. In Palestine, there are no synagogues. In fact, there are no synagogues in any of the Arab nations. This is the glaring difference between the Arab nations and the Israeli democracy. This is why the United States continues to support Israel. We don’t need a Jewish conspiracy to have a reason to support freedom of religion and democracy. That’s what this country was founded on.
I have been to Israel many times. There are all kinds of Israelis who are not Jewish. There are christian, muslim and atheist Israelis. There are wiccans and buddhists and hindu Israelis. There are polish, french, russian, african, australian, vietnamese, ethiopian, morrocan, saudi, iranian, iraqi and palestinian israelis. Ever heard of a wiccan, iranian prostitute? She would be stoned to death in any Arab country. In Israel, she is free to practice her beliefs. That is why people of all faiths and races migrate to Israel. There are great jobs and opportunities for peace loving people including Arabs, in Israel. This is partly why Palestinians lamented the building of the wall. It made it harder for them to get to their jobs in Israel; jobs where they are paid much better than in their own communities in Palestine. Until the Palestinian government prioritizes and decides to create jobs and opportunities within its own future state, for its own citizens rather than fund fanaticism, this problem will continue to get worse.
Maybe we Americans should all give up our houses to the Native Americans? Aren’t we all occupiers in a sense? They lived here first and this was their land. They too were maligned by the government and pushed off their own land. But they finally got wise and started building casinos that have enriched the lives of their people and given them economic clout. The Palestinians need to build a Harrahs in Ramallah and start spending the money to educate their people. Then and only then will the situation change.
You and I will not be able to change a situation that has been twisted and exploited by both sides in one dialogue. But I think its important to have this dialogue with each other, and perhaps enlighten ourselves or at the very least, agree to disagree. There is an excellent book called "One Palestine Complete" by Tom Segev about the occupation of Palestine under the British mandate. It actually blames the British for the division between the Arabs and the Jews in that area. The BBC in its relentless daily condemnations of Israel, takes no responsibility for it's own governments divisive and anti-semitic actions in the name of Imperialism.
Until each one of us, including Jews and Arabs worldwide are willing to stand up and take responsibility for our failures, mistakes and needless acts of violence, the violence will continue, unfortunately unabated. And when the beach front Harrahs and Hard Rock Cafe are built in the Gaza strip and tourists are finally made to feel safe in Palestine, I hope to be one of the first bands to play there. I will proudly play "Let there be Peace on earth" and hope for once that its message will finally be heard, loud and clear.