Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Middle East--still, again, however you see it.

It is very difficult to be an insider and outsider at the same time. I am an Israeli-born American. I am a Jewish, dual citizen who didn't serve in Tzahal (the IDF) because I'd been to the US Naval Academy. I come from a zionist, Jewish home and that means many things.

But the home I come from was also (and still is, amen) astoundingly politically, ethnically, and religiously diverse. If you look at my family tree, I'm pretty sure we're Antarctica and Australia shy of being a mini UN. And so I have Japanese and Chinese cousins. I have an Indian-Ethiopean cousin (whom I would love to meet). I have a cousin who converted from generic secular humanism to Islam and married a Jordanian Palestinian. My mother converted to Judaism and married a nice Jewish boy who later became a rabbi. I have catholic in laws, presbyterian grandparents (sorta) and atheists who share my blood.

It's incredibly difficult to come from this kind of family and not realize two things: There is only one race: The human race. We really need to have a bring some ethnic food to share reunion--soon! I'm hungry just thinking of all the amazing things we could share.

On a more serious note, as a zionist, I have to be a Palestinianist. The two are inseparable. One cannot insist on a right to a homeland for oneself without understanding that the right must exist for all or it cannot be secure for any.

And as a Palestinianist, I have to advocate for the one thing that no one seems to be considering: a 3-state solution. To "get" this, one has to have some sense of history.

The Middle East is the mess it is because of the West's Imperialistic response to the outcome of World War I. I know, you expected me to say World War II--but that's not how far back you have to go. You have to go much farther, to the breaking up and parceling out of the Ottoman Empire. A great place to get the basics is the book Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World.

The basic basics come to this: The Brits, in an effort to win the war had from before the war promised both the house of Saud kings of Saudi Arabia, through Lawrence of Arabia, and the house of Hussein, kings of Jordan and heads of the Hashemite tribe, power and land. Likewise, and from earlier in the 20th century, the British had been promising the Jews a homeland. This is only part. There was French, Italian, Spanish and American involvement as well. All of which meant that when the Ottoman Empire came down along with Germany (with which it had been allied in the war), the Western powers came together and turned an Empire into a bunch of countries.

These countries were not random delegations of power, though to the people affected they seemed that way. The countries joined the League of Nations and were put under the "protection" of the larger empires they were assigned to. In essence, the Western powers got together and played cards with oil and other resources and decided who would get to rape what area for its riches while getting to benevolently "bring those people to civilization" after which, of course, they would be given their independence and, who knows, maybe rights.

This was the patronizing approach the Western countries took. It was taken out of the arrogance of Western Imperialism, with an eye to Western enrichment, under the guise of "helping" the tribes who lived off the desert to become humans.

It was not done with any eye toward understanding tribal life, tribal lines, tribal history, or any other issues. Arabs were Arabs and that was all. This lovely set of actions is the direct cause of the Iran/Iraq wars of the 1980s, the current unrest in many Middle Eastern countries, and the instability that has plagued the region from the start of this "protection plan." They may as well have taken a mafia protection plan.

So what about Israel? Well, it had been promised to the Jews at the same time it was promised tot he Palestinians in Jordan at the same time it was promised to Jordan's Hashemite kings (less than 20% of the ethnic population of the current Jordan)--and all by the British.

It took the blatant murder of 6 million Jews in Europe for part of that promise to be fulfilled. Until then, the country was the British protectorate of Trans-Jordanian Palestine. And it was all promised to three different groups. So, what now? At the point at which Israel became a nation, Jews, Arabs, and Christians had been living there for thousands of years. It's not like the UN took a vote and a bunch of folks showed up on the doorstep demanding the keys--though that is certainly how some people picture it in their minds.

Regardless, there is more to the story. Over the years (and starting with the immediate point of independence), the Jewish state had to fight its neighbors for its sovereignty. Understand that nearly EVERY other country in the area is oil or other resource rich. Israel is not. It has NONE of the things that make kingdoms like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait rich. Israel has been built into a developed, Western in culture, educated, technologically and medically world-leading country by the hard work of Israelis.

So what about the Palestinians? What is this "three-state" solution?

I've been harping on it for years. The Palestinians have spent the last 50 years being oppressed--primarily by the Arab countries where most of them live. They are not entitled to own land, get education, become members of society, or even hold non-menial jobs. They are kept in refugee status because that is the only way the Arab world can hold on to the Palestinians as the scapegoat for its anti-semitism--oh! and the UN keeps them that way because they get money for staying that way. Anti-semitism is justified because Palestinians suffer, and the mere existence of Israel is the source of all that suffering. Oppressed Palestinians have a dual purpose, though. They are also a great way to keep an otherwise also oppressed majority of the Arab population from progress. When there are those who have it worse, it's easier to keep people under control, to keep them from education and progress, and to keep them from demanding power--political, educational, or economic.

But Jordan is, and has been since before the creation of Israel, at least 80% Palestinian by population. Why is it Jordan--the gift to a small tribe of a big piece of land-- is never involved in Israeli/Palestinian peace talks? Because it would lead to a solution! Because it would require a more truthful retelling of how the problem came to be instead of the one in which people show up on the doorstep. If Jews, Palestinians, and Hashemites could each get some piece of the trans-Jordanian pie, all would get peace.

But Peace would undermine the power structure the leading royal families and dictators have built. It is contingent on unrest blamable on Israel to keep the focus off their own oppression of their own people. It is necessary to beat down the Palestinians for the rest of the Arab world to not feel its own pain.

The Israeli government (being composed of humans) has made many mistakes in its history of dealing with the Palestinians. But the West Bank was once part of Jordan (there was no Palestine other than the British Mandate), Gaza belonged to Egypt. Both were captured after those countries took part in an attack on Israel. The UN gave Israel permission to remain in the areas to create a buffer of defense. Israel has made mistakes, but at least the Palestinians who live in Israel have access to jobs, can own businesses and land, and not only have the right but a mandate for education. Those who live in the West Bank, under the Palestinian Authority now have some of the same developmental rights as well. Gaza, sadly, is under the control of a terrorist group: Hamas has a talent for oppression.

It's nowhere near perfect, but as a Palestinian-Israeli friend of mine once said "It's better than living under an Arab regime any day of the week."

I think this could be simple: Palestine will be composed of most of the West Bank (Jerusalem and Bethlehem are points of contention, at this time, but have only been open to all three Abrahamic faiths when under Israeli control), and much of Jordan--in exchange for which Israel will remove the settlements (among the errors the Israeli government has made) and the PA will forgo any claim to Gaza. Gaza residents will be given the choice of moving to Palestine or staying in Israel. Jordan will cede a section of its land on the East side of the Jordan (the section with the largest Palestinian population) and Palestinians living in Jordan will, likewise be given the choice of staying and being Jordanian or moving to the new Palestinian homeland.

No person can argue for the need of a home for himself without arguing the same for all. No person can argue the need for internal security and the right to progress without arguing the same for all. If the Palestinians are given a land and a chance, they will come to prove themselves. They will succeed or fail, but they will have done so themselves.

If we (Americans and the rest of the West) educate ourselves on the damage we did in parsing the Ottoman Empire to please ourselves, we have a chance of avoiding making more of the same mistakes we have been for the last few decades--again, still, however you want to see it.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Warning: Adult language.

SO everyone will be blogging about this, I suppose. But there are some things that simply have to be said from a middle eastern point of view--and I'm lucky enough to have that.

I think the first thing that has to be said here is that Mubarak is either stupid (which I doubt) or there's a piece missing here. Today "pro-Mubarak protesters" came to "challenge" the pro-Democracy forces. They came on camels and horses, with whips, machetes and Molotov cocktails.

Hmmm. That might be the first indicator that the Mubarak side is inherently problematic and dictatorial--its supporters come armed! It reminds me of the so called "Peace-flotilla" that left Turkey armed and has caused a rift in Turkish-Israeli relations.

 Ladies and gents, fighting for peace is like fucking for virginity. Worse, culturally, we do both!

But then...

Then things got really interesting, because the violence began just in time for the Army to come in and "quell the violent protests"--because, of course, one cannot quell peaceful protests.

And this is enough stupidity on the Mubarak regime side to keep everyone laughing (if it weren't so incredibly sad to watch people being violently attacked--and so far one killed, officially-- for trying to achieve some autonomy) for the rest of the new millenium.

But then I got a file from a friend. I can't attach the PDF that was released at a briefing at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy this morning, so I am going to insert jpgs of the PDF, instead. As I was told, this was a rushed translation and is rough--but the idea comes across:

Really? I have to wonder, at this point, who thought writing this plan down in an age of wikileaks was a good idea.

It's simple. when a regime has used force to control its population, and has been tacitly allowed to do so, it cannot cope with peaceful protest except through force. Egypt has been oppressing its people violently for so long that violent repression is all Mubarak knows! And thanks to the US, the world has simply looked away. It's easy to be stupid when one has become complacent.

The 60s civil rights movement photos of people being bitten by dogs and controlled with water canons are perfect examples. The control had been violent (burning crosses, bombed churches, police brutality) and been tacitly acceptable for decades. When it stopped working, when faced with peaceful protest, the controlling class responded with violence.

But the Egyptians know that the world looks down on violent response to peaceful protest. If anyone learned anything from Tiananmen Square, it's that sending a tank against unarmed people is the best way to lose (because it makes an astounding image on the nightly news--for years).

So what does a violently repressive regime do when faced with peace-seeking revolt? It creates a violent situation to justify a violent reaction.

This will end well or poorly. 

Poorly will be the quiet, calm surrender and return to power of the oppressors.

Ending well will require a long fight, will lead to more protests in more Arab countries with oppressive regimes, and will require a great deal of mass mobilization and momentum.

Breaking momentum is what Mubarak's actions were about today. They may, sadly, work. People may decide to stay safe, now that there are thugs, machetes and Molotovs involved.

But maybe there's something we can do to help the momentum. If, instead of trying to maintain stability, as is the modus operandi of the US in the Middle East (BTW, that's also why the "piece" process will NOT work as it is); if the US stops trying to control--as Mubarak is trying to control--there is a chance.

If individual Americans--individual world citizens, for that matter--find a way to encourage and assist quietly and peacefully, if we can help the masses maintain the momentum of peaceful protest, the entirety of the Middle East stands a chance.

It will take upheaval. It will take instability. It will take time. 

And it will fail under any other circumstance.

As an Israeli who's been to Sinai (the best place on earth for snorkeling), I can only hope that the people of Egypt gain the autonomy they are hoping for. I can only hope that the members of the Arab world who stand in solidarity can bring the same autonomy to their own lives. 

That is the only hope--life in a society of freedom, where interactions are controlled by law, are evenly applied to all, and are part of a social contract voluntarily entered into by all.