Monday, June 7, 2010

On Israel (part 2), Helen Thomas, and the Right of Return. . .

One of the best criticisms of Zionism that I've heard, and somewhat clumsily stated by Helen Thomas recently, is that while a homeland for Jews is all well and good, but why put it in Palestine.  I can imagine my reaction if I was told that I was being forced to move from my apartment because the land was wrongly taken from the Sycuan Band a hundred years ago (which it probably was), would be something like "Wait, what?"

Now consider the rationale for Israel as presented to the Palestinians:
"Two thousand years ago, one group of Europeans (the Romans) utterly and completely destroyed Israel, and then for the next two thousand years, other Europeans had either shit on the Jews, or sought their complete annihilation.  So, to prevent any problems in the future, the Jews are setting up a homeland on your property.  Leave now." 
Their reaction has been pretty much what you expect - either the desire to destroy the invaders, or to point out the fact that it would make more sense to punish Germany and/or Europe by putting the Jewish homeland on German and/or European soil.  Which, I have to admit, makes some sense.

From the perspective of everyone else, though, putting a Jewish homeland in Israel/Palestine makes perfect sense.  First, it was where the Jews wanted to set up their homeland.  Second, Israel/Palestine has little to no resources, and its chief economic engine - that it sits smack dab in the middle of trade routes - has already been negated by modern technology.  In other words, the land in Israel, in the eyes of everyone but the Palestinians, is pretty much worthless, except for religious and historical tourism.  Given that the Jews could've asked for much, much more (and gotten it), everyone (except the Palestinians) recognized this solution as being a good one. 

This is especially true given that much of the discrimination against Jews came from their without a nation status, and providing a homeland would alleviate the core problems that bred the environment which produced the genocidal behavior found in Europe, and culminated in the Holocaust.  Given the history of the Jews, having a place to go when shit starts to get bad is a phenomenal idea.

At the same time, let's not forget that the Palestinians are basically getting fucked in the deal.  While its true that Israel is the ancestral homeland of the Jews, thanks to the efforts of some of my ancestors (*ahem*), Palestine is the actual homeland of the Palestinians.  And when the Jews moved in, most Palestinians ended up in refugee camps - where they've lived for over fifty years. 

And before I get to what should be done about the Palestinians, let me make this very clear - the whole line about Palestinians being Arabs, and that they should simply move to other Arab countries is ridiculous.  It would be like arguing that the Austrians should all move to Germany because they're Germans.  The fact is, Germany and Austria are different countries for a reason - the people have different histories and have developed different traditions.

Of all the countries in the Arabic World, real or imagined, the would-be Palestinian state is probably the closest to an actual nation-state.  The Palestinian people share the same religion, the same ethnic identity, and the same culture.  During elections, the Palestinian political parties (Hamas and Fatah) are formed around ideological differences, not sectarian ones. The debate is over what to do, as opposed to who we are.  So, I could see the Palestinian state succeeding if it managed to get past the whole have absolutely no economic resources thing.  (Seriously, look it up.  Palestine and/or Israel is like Ireland without the acres and acres of arable land).

So what should be done?  Well, first, the right of return (allowing Palestinians to go back to their homes) is basically DOA.  The whole point of Israel is that its a Jewish state, and an influx of Palestinians would fuck up everything.  But, I do think some kind of reparations need to be made to the Palestinians.  In this country, when the government takes property, it pays fair market value for what was taken.  Given that these people lost their homes, its only fair that the international community (particularly the EU) pay for their loss, particularly in light of the fact that the creation of Israel is a good thing.  Second, any time Israel wants to create a settlement or whatnot, the rule should be that the Israeli Government has to pay the Palestinians affected by the new construction fair market value of the property its taking. 

Doing those two things would help alleviate the economic problems inherent in the region.  Give these guys a passport to wherever along with the chunk of change, and people are less unhappy.  Who knows, maybe they'll find land that is, you know, arable and has some natural resources.

Third, there needs to be an independent Palestinian state.  How to connect Gaza to the West Bank, I don't know, but for the good of all parties involved, the occupation must end.  Otherwise, Israel will continue to devolve into an apartheid system akin to South Africa, and the Palestinians will continue to get shit on, be upset and engage in acts of terrorism.

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