Holy Shit!

Rebecca Kahlenberg really likes falafel. E-mail her at [email protected]





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Taking sides about Israel gets more and more difficult the further back in history you go. The land where the nation of Israel stands is accustomed to being soaked with blood. Countless territorial wars have been fought over who gets to control these "holy lands." Ever since the Egyptians stole the land from the Hebrews and enslaved them in 1479 B.C., the area changed hands regularly for 2,000 years, until in the 630s A.D. the Muslim world took it over for what would prove to be a 1,300-year reign. The Christians tried to claim the land during the crusades, but failed miserably.

This tale of woe gets even more complicated. The creation of the state of Israel by the British in 1948 was based on a British declaration in 1917 that the Jews deserved a national home in Palestine. This was supposed to somehow make up for the Holocaust and the death of roughly half of the world's Jewish population. To recap, the British took over Muslim land and gave it to the Jews to atone for European atrocities. Hmmm. Not surprisingly, the legitimacy of the state of Israel was never secure. Since 1948 there have been frequent outbreaks of violence over territorial rights.

So now there is more violence. Although the United States is, militarily and economically, allied with Israel but not with Palestine, American leaders are nonetheless trying to broker peace talks and patch things up. During the most recent round of talks, the Americans decided that neither Yasser Arafat nor Barak would even speak to the press - Clinton did all of the talking. According to The New York Times, "the Israelis and the Palestinians both made separate oral promises to the Americans, who will return to their former role as broker, policeman and judge" (Oct. 18).

What is wrong with this picture? A lot of wrongs have been done in the Middle East, and all sides have deep grudges that are certainly not going to evaporate. Palestinian demands are clearly not taken seriously - the brokers of peace unilaterally support Israel with arms. Why does the United States do this?

Oil is usually the real reason for American actions - the American industrial machine feeds on oil that we don't have, so we have to fight to keep it cheap and available. But Israel, as far as I know, has no oil. America has Muslim allies in the Middle East, so America can't just be pro-Jewish and anti-Islam. America's interest in the peaceful existence of the Israeli state must be due to the strategic value of our relationship. Yet no mention is ever made in the American press of the economic or military relationship between the United States and Israel. All of the news coverage treats American intervention as a given. There is no explanation of why Clinton should be in the Middle East seeking peace. But is this our peace to make?

After 1,300 years of Muslim control, you can't make a peaceful and legitimate Jewish state in Israel, not even with liberal access privileges to Holy Lands. Even if the Jewish people originate from this area, the Islamic heritage cannot be erased in 50 years, nor can it be ignored. The only way the state of Israel maintains its legitimacy is by virtue of the extremely badass Israeli military, with its close ties to the United States. This does not seem like a very holy relationship for a people to have with their holy land - holding on to it by the strength of bombs and machine guns while people who have lived there for centuries are left displaced. The Israeli army has all of the technology the developed world has to offer. Palestine does not. This is not a fair fight.

Fairness, some would say, should not figure into my calculation - I am Jewish. If Israel is given away to the people of Palestine, many of my people would have nowhere to go. The Palestinians show no love for Jews - therefore, I have no illusions that they would be kinder or more democratic controllers of the state of Israel. Jews have endured a lot of suffering and it is lamentable that they should endure more.

But how can I side with my people when they bomb entire villages of Palestinian civilians in retaliation for the murder of two Israeli soldiers? Is this righteous? Furthermore, how can I feel comfortable taking sides at all when I know that the American media suppress information about the racism of Israelis against Arabs?

In 1993, National Public Radio's "Fresh Air," usually an excellent source of news, refused to air a story about Israeli settlements in the West Bank because the Jewish settlers interviewed for the story expressed the opinion that the Arabs were "less than human" (from www.fair.org). The executive producer of the show justified the decision, saying the views of the Jewish settlers they were able to contact were "out of focus."

A lot of things are out of focus here. The wrongs of the Holocaust were hardly righted by stealing land from Arabs and giving it to Jews. This fighting is supposed to have something to do with God, but I see no God here. This is about land and old hatred, not God.

Jewish people are quick to point out global anti-Semitism, but the behavior of the Israelis merely makes it easier to hate Jews. Judaism is a religious faith, after all. So I suppose that faith should affirm my allegiance to my people. How is this supposed to work - eye for an eye for an eye for an eye? The cycle could continue forever. Why is it righteous to agree with the killing as long as I am on the winning side?

The God of the Koran says that all men are equal because they are lesser than God - I believe this to be true. I also believe that the holy land is owned by no one but God. The Palestinians deserve justice and the American people deserve the truth about the situation in the Middle East. Or else the cycle of bloodshed will never end.

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