Friday, March 6, 2009

A response and reaction to Saree Makdisi: “After Gaza: Toward a Resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict”

Last night, a couple St. Lou Jews went to hear Saree Makdisi speak at Saint Louis University. When a friend of mine asked for my reaction this morning, my response was, "it either represents a genuine desire for peace, or the most insidious and disingenuous tactic I've ever seen from the Pro-Palestinian camp." Read on to find out why.

Saree Makdisi is an English professor at UCLA who has been one of the more vocal proponents of a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The premise of this solution is a truly secular and democratic state without a state religion, without different enforcement of law for different religions or ethnicities, in the entire land of Israel (including Gaza and the West Bank). He sees this as the only solution for a just and lasting peace.

Listening to his remarks last night, it is easy to follow his logic. It is hard to imaging Israel as a truly democratic state if it is also a Jewish state. Those two pieces do not overlap fully in a country in which there are non-Jews.

This has led, according to Dr. Makdisi, to an understanding on the part of Jewish Israelis that they must maintain a strong Jewish majority at all costs to preserve both the Jewish and Democratic character of the state.

It sounds so simple...if only there was one state that both Jews and non-Jews shared together, that was democratic, with protected religious freedoms, Hamas would, "lose its oxygen supply." And the Middle East would be come a center for investment and opportunity.

Interestingly enough, there is already a democratically elected government that protects the rights of its citizens in the Middle East, enjoys a higher standard of living than its neighbors, and encourages large amount of foreign investment for its many technological and environmental breakthroughs.

It certainly isn't Saudi Arabia, nor is it Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, or Syria. I repeatedly raised my hand to ask if the one-state solution was to be implemented, how it might encourage the surrounding Arab countries to democratize and discontinue their gross human rights abuses.

The question of equality and human rights should always be asked of Israel, but this is ironically done precisely because it is the only country in the region that provides enough of each that more can be demanded.

Dr. Makdisi did not once mention the murder of Palestinians by Jordanians or Lebanese, nor the reluctance and refusal of the Egyptians and Jordanians to open their borders to Palestinian trade or refugees. The responsibility always seems to rest on the Israelis.

Despite my philosophical and political disagreements with Dr. Makdisi, who erred by omission, restriction of range, and frequent mislabeling of parties in the conflict (for the record, a large number of non-Jewish Israelis believe themselves to be Israeli, not Palestinian), I must commend him for several things.

First and foremost, he advocates non-violence. Dr. Makdisi would prefer to see political and economic pressure put on Israel as opposed to violence.

Second, he has succeeded in totally reframing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into an Apartheid model, which is much easier to garner support around and is better for side-swiping the cause-effect nature of many of the events in this conflict. For example, he is able to view the Separation Fence as a tool of Apartheid instead of the a response to continued suicide attacks (and a very successful one at that).

Third, by being very cognizant of the tenses and phrasings he uses, he is able to subtly reframe and revise much of the history of the Palestinian cause. One area in particular are the facts around 700,000 Palestinians (geographically, not nationally) who left the area during the 1948 war. He quotes Benny Morris, the Israeli historian, but only the lines that refer to 700,000, he carefully omits the findings that Palestinians left under several scenarios. To be sure, one of those scenarios was direct threat of violence at the hands of Jews. Other scenarios discussed by Morris include the oft-quoted Arab sources who urged residents to leave so that the Jews could be massacred and pushed into the sea, at which time the residents would be allowed to return. He also mentions that in a war, civilians tend to flee.

This recasts the story that Dr. Makdisi is trying to tell because, far from being a simple land-grab, the history of the conflict is a multi-party one, including politics, betrayal, and the usage of the Palestinians as political cannon fodder.

These issues are especially pertinent in the face of Israel Apartheid week, which has been around for 5 years or so now. One of the more controversial posters features an Israeli helicopter firing a rocket at a child holding a teddy bear, wearing a keffiyah. An Israeli version of this flier includes militants setting up a rocket, hiding behind the child.

I applaud SLU for allowing this voice to heard, even if I don't entirely agree with it. In the future, I would urge a panel with disparate views, to show just how contentious the issue is.

In one area, though, Dr. Makdisi and I totally agree; there needs to be a just and lasting peace.

For the US government's exhaustive assessment of human rights in Israel, click here
Shabbat Shalom.


!JustDance said...

Good work Y?

I don't know how much I agree on the apartheid issue, but at least non-violence was the biggest concern, which as always, it should be.

Unknown said...

so what was his response to your question about other countries' human rights abuses?