Watching the television last week, I came close to tears several times. Seeing the victims of Israel’s indiscriminate bombing in Gaza was almost too much to watch. But watch I did. Not as some ghoulish entertainment. No, I watched as a witness. I watched just as my parents before me watched the horrific images of the death camps, evidence of the Nazi genocide of Jews, the disabled, gypsies and homosexuals some 67 years ago. And just as my parents will never deny the atrocities of Nazi Germany, I will never deny the same by the Israeli government.
I do not pretend to completely understand the 5000 year history of Mideast. To characterize it as complex is such a vast understatement, it is disingenuous. I do know from world history classes, biblical study (both Jewish and Christian), wading into the Holy Qur’an and just reading a newspaper over the past fifty some odd years, it is a region which has been locked in constant turmoil. Honoring the sixth commandment seems to have gone out the window (“Thou shalt not kill”). I remember going to 6th grade camp in 1967 and coming home to find Israel had been attacked by Egypt, et al. and kicked the proverbial crap out of Egypt, et al., in the time it took me learn how to make plaster molds of bobcat footprints and leaf prints. The regional well from which violence and terror is drawn seems bottomless, and none can claim they have not chosen to quench their thirst from the same source.
Over the years, I have met and become friends and colleagues with anyone of a number of people from the region. And just like the Irish of my ancestry and their take on the “troubles,” if you ask anyone from the Mideast, each will have a different perspective and reason why there is so much conflict in the area.
But this I know. In 1948, the United Nations, led by the United States, created the Jewish State of Israel. Perhaps the catalyst was guilt for standing by while 6 million Jews were slaughtered at the hands of some of the most diabolic people who ever lived. Perhaps it was some far-sighted political move to secure a foothold in the region. Whatever the reason, however, I believe it was the right thing to do. What I do not think was right was to displace several hundred thousand Palestinians and put them in Gaza and the West Bank, without designating them a state as well. Three million people in to geographically separate areas and given no status. True men, women and children without a country.
A couple of years ago, I attended Restorative Practices conference in Vancouver, B.C. I had been asked to chair a session, and I agreed. Unbeknownst to me, it was a teenager presentation, a two hour teenager presentation. The dread of monitoring teenagers for two hours was swiftly washed away. The presentation was a project started by teens in the Vancouver area, called Peace It Together (checkout the website Peaceittogether.ca). The Canadian teens invited several Israeli and Palestinian high school aged students to come and spend two week on Bowen Island. During the two weeks, the students created short films addressing the conflict in the Mideast. The metamorphosis from “enemies” to friends was heartwarming and encouraging. Peace is possible, just give it a chance.
So last Thursday, delegates to the United Nations voted overwhelming (133-9) to make Palestine a non-member observer state. Admittedly, I am not up on my U.N. process and procedure, but from what I have been able to gather, it is the first step toward full Palestinian statehood. There must have been dancing in the streets of Gaza and the West Bank, but apparently President Obama’s lunch with Mitt Romney was a much more important event…and after all dancing in the street is not as newsworthy bombing a city back to the stone age, with weapons made in USA. Regardless, what the U.N. did was a long overdue good thing.
But as with every good thing, there is always a downside. And this is a shameful thing. Understandably, Israel did not vote in favor of the resolution. It is much easier to oppress people who have little to no recognition on the world stage. Just to prove their disdain toward world opinion and unbridled hatred of the Palestinians, the following day, the Israeli government approved more settlements in the occupied West Bank. But this was expected, not shameful. No, it was United States who acted shamefully, voting against this small first step. I have yet to find the legitimate reason, perhaps over the next few days someone from the White House will tell us why. I, for one, am not holding my breath. I am, however, ashamed.
This nation of ours has no problem wading into a country which either pisses us off or has something we want. We are everything we hate; military and economic imperialists. When it comes to humanitarian intervention, we just turn our collective backs and cover our ears. We were one of the last to jump on the embargo bus against South Africa’s Apartheid government. We shamefully turned our backs on the genocide of the Tutsi people in Rwanda. We ran with a tail tucked between our legs at the first set back in Somalia, and to this day, starvation takes more and more lives.
Would it have been so bad just this once to stand up and say, “Yes, 3 million Palestinians have the human right to have a state and proper representation in world affairs.” It would have been right. It would have been just. And today, we could have held our heads just as high as the days when we defeated the Nazis and led the vote which granted Israel statehood. But for now, I am ashamed.