Thursday, July 10, 2014

"Free free Palestine"

    "Free free Palestine," chanted hundreds, if not thousands of protesters marching along Wacker Drive Wednesday night. "Free free Palestine."
     They did not, significantly, demand that Gaza and the West Bank be freed from Israeli control. No Palestinian leadership—to the degree that there is any—seems to be calling for that. Or has ever called for that, to my knowledge. No, what they would like is the entire country under their control, not that it ever was, but they did live there, or at least their parents or grandparents did, once upon a time. 
     But that was in 1947. And it has been 47 years since Israel, getting a jump on the latest Arab attempt to destroy it, instead destroyed the Egyptian air force and seized the Sinai, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank. The Sinai was given back to Egypt in return for a sort of peace, but the Gaza Strip was kept along with the West Bank and Jerusalem.
     If they had pushed the Palestinians off the land then, by force, the world would have forgiven them, to the degree it can ever forgive Jews, long ago. By 1992, 47 years after the end of World War II, Germany was everybody's pal, Europe's most upright citizen, and all was forgotten. But that wasn't Israel's style, and the middle road, neither conquering the land nor abandoning it, created an ever-growing population of permanent victims, four million and counting. 
     Which is enough history to delve into, because while history usually helps in the understanding of current events, in the case of the Israeli/Palestinian stand-off, history is of limited use. No one can even agree what happened, never mind what should happen. The Palestinians see a history where their nation is seized from under their noses by crafty Eastern European Jews, and Israel sees a rebarbative people who bat away chances for peace time and time again.
     Neither can be deemed correct. What I used to ask was: What happens now? Assume, for argument's sake, that history actually occurred, in some form, leaving us to the present day. Where do we go from here?
     But even that question is naive. The answer, plainly, is nothing. Nothing happens. Or, rather, more of the same. They're going nowhere.
     None of the signs demanded union with Egypt or Jordan, which also border the Gaza and the West Bank. Somehow, this isn't their problem. You remember when Egypt and Jordan were demanding the return of those territories? Neither do I.
     Nor did the protesters demand an independent country. They decry "War on Gaza," which began, most recently, after weeks of missile attacks deep into Israel, and display their grievance to the world, in the hopes that the world buys it, which of course it does. Hating Jews is always in fashion, and there were plenty of pale, black-clad young kids, their faces covered, Sandinista-style, so that the government doesn't come get them personally, for striking their blow on the world stage, marching as part of their youthful Occupy Chicago lark. To them, oppression of the Palestinians, if that is the proper phrase, is the only wrong on the globe, except of course for life here with mom and dad.
     One of the keys to approaching the problem, in my eyes, is to remember that the world hated the Jews before. Before there was an Israel, and before there was a single Palestinian refugee. The Germans did not believe that Jews who had lived for centuries in Germany belonged there either. So the Palestinian complaints have to be given a bit of context. If Palestine was up for grabs in 1947, when the British buggered out, and the Palestinian forefathers wanted it so badly, you have to ask why they didn't take it themselves, why they let a ragtag mob of Polish refugees—in their estimation—take control of their land. The Palestinian national narrative presumes an element of bungling on their own part.
    That said, the four million Palestinians are real, and live in their limbo, self-imposed though it may be. Myself, I'd prefer Israel pulled out and declared them a state, unilaterally, at least once. They've taken steps in that direction, but they need to do it 100 percent, to illustrate the Day After Problem, which is: they pull out, the Palestinians start attacking them, because that's what they do, and they have to go back in and stop it.  That seemed where they were going, with the wall, but Israel has its own growing population of fire-eyed zealots, the folks who kidnapped a Palestinian teen recently and burned him alive, in retaliation for the three Israeli teens who were murdered last month. It was a depraved act, which made the situation worse. Though there is something almost anesthetic about the far right Israeli settlers and Ultra-Orthodox black hats. By rendering  Israel increasingly alien to its American supporters, it allows for a certain distance. Many American Jews increasingly regard Israel with a squint and a muttered, "This is not the place I loved, not anymore."
    But we fight that. Being Jewish, I support the Jewish state, even though it becomes more and more unpalatable with each passing year, as its own Jewish fanatics deform the country's modern values. If the present state of Muslim society can be explained by a revenge culture, then Israel has allowed itself to be pulled into it. Now the Palestinians are facing an enemy more like themselves. "When fighting monsters," as Nietschze said, "be careful not become a monster." Israel should have listened.
    Still, I can't pretend there is a false equivalence. Even were I not Jewish, one is a friend to the United States and an advocate of peace and democracy of some kind. The other claims to be oppressed but shows no interest in working to end that oppression, not an end that doesn't involve being elevated to a status that they never enjoyed and never can enjoy. In 1947, Britain controlled Palestine, then the Jews took over. The Palestinian Arabs, as they were called, had a chance for their own land, and batted it away, losing some land in a vain grab for it all.
    That has been their strategy this entire time, to their misfortune, and Israel's, and the world's. No amount of protest will change that. They're sticking with it, tossing down their losing hand, again and again, reshuffling the cards in their hand and ending up, again, with nothing. Only more time lost, and still more suffering. It hardly merits thinking rationally about by third parties because rational thought is such a trivial factor in all this passion and hatred and revenge and bloodlust. The end is nowhere in sight. I'm not sure there's much value in even paying attention to it anymore.

In 2011, I had lunch with Oril Gil, then the consul general in Chicago, to talk about the Israeli strategy toward the Palestinians. It was not encouraging. 


  1. I am a moderate conservative/libertarian and a non-devout cafeteria Catholic. I basically agree with Mr. Steinberg’s above essay.

    Over about 30 years I have been exposed to every type of high level Jewish thinking from being a regular listener to Milton Rosenberg’s WGN Extension 720. I have very little idea of the thinking and worldview of Palestinian Muslims. I believe most Americans share this lack of understanding. It appears that our President Obama completely misread the whole “Arab Spring” thing because he applied our world view to things Muslim and Arab.

    Rosenberg often addressed – and Steinberg alludes to – the antipathy of many on the American and European Left to things Jewish and Israeli. The Left certainly holds Israel to a much higher standard than it does the Palestinians.

    I personally heard Michael Oren -- then Israel’s ambassador to the US – speak of the Left’s attempt to delegitimize Israel. The Left is strongly atheistic and generally holds a universalistic world view based on the Marxist ideal “from each according to his ability – to each according to his need.” That is one reason why the particularistic religion and culture of the Jews and Israel are anathema to them.

    Of course very few would actually want to live in a Muslim country. Hence the essential hypocrisy of the Left on this matter.

    Read this week’s issue of The Economist to see its explanation of why so many things are going wrong for the Arabs.

    I would like to understand the Muslim worldview better for the purpose of striking an accommodation. I don’t think forcing them to Westernize is the way to go. Perhaps the West should completely pull out of the Mideast except for what is necessary to protect Israel.


    1. your allusion may be an illusion.
      Support Tel Aviv now. For humanity, stop the attacks.
      Before a nuclear power gets involved.
      NG-in Urbana

  2. I am a person from a Jewish family also, but I support the Palestinians 100% and look fgorward to their military victory to abolish the racist apartheid Zionist state. From the rover to the sea, Palestine must be free.

    1. Did you mean the river, i.e. the Nile?

    2. I guess the most salient question is: why? Why does the land belong to them and not to the Jews, who actually live there? And I'm not sure how coming from a Jewish family -- though not, I assume, Jewish yourself -- matters. There are plenty of fucked up wrong Jewish people. Particularly in Israel.

    3. What in the world, Neil? The United Nations owns the land. Try not paying your taxes, and see how fast your title protects you from the Sherriff SaleLeverage, mortgage, lease, loan, work, sleep, sex, poop, stress, mis-dream, scheme, contrive, broker, buy, sell produce.
      Always eat real plants. Ignore the rest.

  3. About as good a summary of this complicated history as I've read Neil. As for Mr. Anonymous saying Obama misread the 'Arab Spring' because he applied our world view to things Muslim and Arab, I seem to remember a narrative put out by the Neocons a decade ago that if we just toppled the evil Saddam Hussein the example set would bring an end to dictatorships throughout the mideast and democracy would flourish. The Arab spring happened because of things going on in the Arab world, and an American president, whoever he was, could have been little more than a spectator.

    The practical problem is that Israel has, through force of circumstances, become the colonial overlord of millions of Arabs, and the history of colonialism in the 20th Century did not turn out well. Europeans tend to understand this, from practical experience, better than Americans. As for the 'left/right", thing, I once heard a wealthy British Jew say he didn't mind giving money to Israel, but didn't like to go there because the place was run by socialists. Nothing about this situation is simple enough to be reduced to Western political cliches.

  4. """ The Arab spring happened because of things going on in the Arab world, and an American president, whoever he was, could have been little more than a spectator.""


    So why wasn't our President Obama and the U. S. mere spectators in Libya and Egypt? Why didn't President Obama learn from the mistakes of GWB and the NeoCons? A partial answer:
    H. Clinton, S. Rice, S. Power and a Nobel Prize for a speech.

    And American and European anti-Israeli sentiments among non-Muslims is strongest from the Left of those countries. I agree they engage in anti-Israeli clich├ęs -- and little more.


  5. I think you will find this book useful. I'll drop it in the mail today.

  6. For the win:

    I'm not sure there's much value in even paying attention to it anymore.

    That's my take. Same old shit over and over and over again.

    1. Bill Savage:

      You say:

      """I'm not sure there's much value in even paying attention to it anymore.""

      That is a bizarre comment whose worth -- or lack thereof --is apparent on its face.


    2. He's quoting the last line of my column, Jerry. C'mon, try to be as sharp as you seem to imagine yourself to be.

    3. Bill & Neil:

      I now see that. My apologies to Bill. But Mr. Steinberg --did you add to your essay since I first read it last night? I do not remember that line being there then.

      BTW: You asked on another thread that we not be "snide" to you.

      Your " C'mon, try to be as sharp as you seem to imagine yourself to be " -- was snide to me.

      Just sayin....


    4. It is possible that it was added later. I give the thing a good buff first thing in the morning, when I'm fresh. Point taken about the snideness Jerry-- my apologies, no offense intended, though you have to see if from my view, where missing the last line of the piece seemed a lapse. Plus you did say it was "bizarre" and ridiculous on its face. Obviously I disagree. Politely. My point is that people mistake attention with action. Keeping track of the daily tragedy in the Middle East does not, of itself, change anything.

  7. I should probably let this pass, but then one should use any stigma to beat a dogma. The notion that "The Left" has turned against Israel because its members are "strongly athiestic" and wedded to Marxist redistributionism is, to say the least, a gross oversimplification. Many left wing, and presumably religious, Israelis oppose current govenment policies. In its domestic policies, even under the current right wing government, Israel is more like the social democracies of Europe than it is like America. As for the athiesm that Anonymous claims makes the religion of the Jews anathama to them, anyone who has dipped into the history of anti-Semitism through the ages knows it has been firmly rooted in Christian theology.

  8. Mr. Evans:

    Although you take issue with me – thank you for doing it in a civil manner.

    That was then and now is now.

    It was Mr. Steinberg that posted :

    """Hating Jews is always in fashion, and there were plenty of pale, black-clad young kids, their faces covered, Sandinista-style, so that the government doesn't come get them personally, for striking their blow on the world stage, marching as part of their youthful Occupy Chicago lark. To them, oppression of the Palestinians, if that is the proper phrase, is the only wrong on the globe, except of course for life here with mom and dad."""

    Michael Oren – former Israeli ambassador to the US –and Milton Rosenberg – both strongly stressed that the attempt by non-Muslims to delegitimize Israel – is now coming from the American and European Left.

    The Presbyterian Church has recently also made similar efforts -- motivated by left of center thinking rather than by aspects of Christian Theology.

    Oren and Rosenberg concede that there are things for which Israel can be legitimately criticized. But they both see a profound double standard applied stringently to Israel and laxly to the Palestinians.


  9. When Britain carved up Palestine in 1922, What was called Trans-Jordan, and now just Jordan was supposed to be the Arab State, it then took 23 more years (there were a couple of world wars to distract everyone) to form Israel. West Bank and Gaza were part of Egypt and Jordan until '67 when Israel won them in a defensive action. Israel never thought those two counties would abandon their people, those areas were always to be bargaining chips. Not understanding the willingness to let their people suffer was a huge misunderstanding of who they were and still are dealing with. That being said, you are correct, What now? is the question.

  10. As a lukewarm Presbyterian myself, I looked up the recent action of my Church fathers to disinvest in three countries making products they think are associated with the West Bank occupation. The action was perhaps naive. but to say it was "motivated by left of center thinking rather than by aspects of Christian Theology" is simply incorrect. Not everything fits in a "left" or "right" box, as we learned recently when Pope Francis voiced some very traditional criticisms of capitalism. And linking the action to a wish to "deligitimize Israel" is very much of a reach.

    1. Thomas & Neil:

      Thanks again for the civil discourse. Neil -- I saw your conciliatory post above. I do not want to hog this thread. Thus I will let Thomas have the last substantive word.

      I will attempt to refrain from posting further on this thread unless someone does a 'super-duper' calling me out.


  11. "...disinvest in three companies."

  12. Last night, on sister's recommendation, watched Netflix dvd of "Hannah Arendt" especially including added material. How sadly instructive about passionate reaction to rational analysis. Dear friend, late Hilda Silverman, worked long & hard for reconciliation. She would be sad about ongoing developments, but not disheartened. Janet M. Fendrych (not Anonymous, but don't know how to use "Comments as")

  13. The Palestinians cannot tolerate Jews or the state of Israel; they do not believe either have a right to exist. Does Israel tolerate Palestinians? Not really. It's not tolerance when you feel you can accuse and displace a people anytime you feel like it. This standoff will never end and it's a shame American politics are so tied to this very chaotic relationship.

    JerryB, your tone and reasoning are quite exemplary. I'm impressed.

  14. I'm not the expert here, but Israel pulled out of Gaza completely, and what happened? The people there destroyed everything that the Israelis had left behind of any value, like greenhouses. And they have been in a virtual state of war against Israel ever since.
    The article mentions Germany and WWII. War is hell. I know that, but when wars run their course, there is a winner and a loser. After the War, we helped rebuild Germany and Japan, and we have all been friends ever since. But when Israel is thrust into a war with its Arab neighbors, too often the world community steps in and demands a cease fire. Hezbollah and Hamas has amassed thousands of missiles capable of ever longer ranges. If there is no war between them where one side actually surrenders, this conflict will go on forever.


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