Friday, May 05, 2006

The Zion Street Allegory, or "How NOT to Resolve A Property Dispute"

My best friend and college roommate, Michael, was a philosophy student of Jewish ancestry. He was semi-political, and also a strong progressive, as well as a master of philosophical debate. He once argued, in reference to former Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein, that "[n]o good Jew should ever be a Republican." His argument was actually pretty solid. I credit my friend with teaching me nearly everything I know about debate, philosophy, and modern politics, and it is partly because of him that today I call myself a proud progressive.

Being political, Michael and I spent a great deal of time watching the news. In particular, whenever one of the major networks played a story regarding the situation in Israel, Michael insisted we watch, and so during the 2001-2002 fall semester, I caught a lot of coverage regarding the Palestinian Second Intifida. Owing his to Hebrew heritage, and the suffering his people have endured over the years, I can only imagine how painful it must have been for him to have to see so much death and suffering visited upon his countrymen. I empathized deeply with him, and like Michael, I too came to have a passionate interest in the Middle Eastern peace process.

Admittedly, the story of the Holocaust is one which, for me, strikes painfully close to home. When I was young, my mother, a third-generation descendant of Austrian immigrants, emerged in tears from a screening of the Spielberg film "Schindler's List." Blonde and blue-eyed, my mother had been absolutely distraught, wracked with guilt by the idea that our ancestors could have been responsible for so much death. I didn't blame her. As a child, I had once owned a boys' tank-top, a hand-me-down from a maternal aunt, which bore as a logo the image of an old WWII fighter plane, the Messerschmitt Me-262. Later, I had learned that this aircraft was an experimental jet fighter designed for the Nazi Luftwaffe. Initially proud of that shirt out of my boyhood fascination with fighter planes, I emerged from watching "Schindler's List" disgusted, ashamed that--even in childhood ignorance--I had chosen to adorn myself with a symbol of Nazi atrocities.

I am a soldier, but I am also a devout Buddhist. My philosophical mandate requires me to seek the eradication of Suffering wherever I encounter it. It is partly because of this that I chose to join the military--to serve as a voice of peace and justice in a climate of jingoistic hate-spewing rhetoric. However, as with the current administration which abuses and exploits my profession for its own interests, Michael and I spent a lot of time discussing Israeli foreign policy, and to my surprise neither of us supported the then-constant warmongering of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. I found this odd. In the modern political climate, there are many who would conflate disagreement with Israeli policy with outright Anti-Semitism, a charge that Michael, being Jewish, thankfully assured me was ridiculous.

I am of the passionate conviction that all people deserve the right to live in peace, free from fear, discrimination, or persecution. I support the right of Israel to exist, and the right of the Jewish people to never again face the kinds of horrors inflicted upon them during the 1940's. However, having followed coverage of the peace process ever since the assassination of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, I must also admit that I have qualms about Israel's role in that peace process. I have often watched CNN or read the newspaper, and thought to myself that, were I Netanyahu or Peres or Sharon--now Olmert--I might have responded to Palestinian violence very, very differently.

Having read over texts on Israeli history, I know well that the early days of the modern Hebrew state were marked by blood and violence. The hotly-disputed effects of the Arab-Israeli War are still felt today throughout that region, and to be certain, the gunpoint evictions of an estimated 700,000 Palestinian Arabs from their homes in modern Israel has no doubt created a festering sore spot in the collective memory of the Arab world. Though I fully support the right of the Israeli nation to exist, I have to admit that I feel such actions in the establishment of that nation, carried out with the tacit support of the United States government, amount to unsound foreign policy.

Allow me to explain. Israel represents the efforts of the Western world to give back to an oppressed people their ancestral homeland. However, to do that, we had to alienate a slew of people already living there. Because of that, Israel now exists in a perpetual state of high alert, surrounded by a retinue of nations whose people hate them passionately. For many, Israel represents an example of Western interference in the affairs of other cultures, and as much as I support Israel, I can't deny them that perspective. Furthermore, the militaristic approach of Israeli leaders to foreign relations, which I believe eschews the more effective diplomatic route, only serves to further alienate a host of countries whose tolerance they desperately require to go on existing.

The peace process can be explained as an allegory: Israel represents the owner of a given property--in this case, the Biblical lands of Judea and Canaan. They have the deed, and said deed dates back thousands of years. After some time, the neighborhood in which Israel lives starts getting run-down; becomes a haven for both crime and gang violence. Israel is forced to move. After many years of hardship and moving from place to place, however, the young descendants of the original owner--themselves hardened by the years of brutality they faced elsewhere in the world--decide to return to their old neighborhood and take back the old family home--the original Hebrew title deed, or Covenant, was never actually dissolved. They evict the current owners at gunpoint. Now, viewed in this light, I think we can all agree that there are better ways to resolve a property dispute. But it gets worse. The return of Israel to "the block" has caused consternation and resentment among the locals, and a formerly peaceful, if low-income, neighborhood once again becomes plagued with low-level gang violence, this time between the residents and the former owners of the property. Furthermore, Israel has not only kicked people out of a property that was, depending on the interpretation of local zoning, subject to dual ownership, but now they're rattling around that home, without even so much as taking off their shoes, and proceeding to raid the fridge.

Things take a turn for the worse when Israel starts hiring thugs from outside neighborhoods--The United Kingdom and France--and starts using them to help annex parts of other people's yards (see The Suez Crisis). Now, I don't care who you are (in this case, Egypt), if some jackass starts trying to put up a picket-fence through the middle of your fucking garage, you're going to be upset. You're going to want to take matters into your own hands. Such pre-emptive annexations continue on for years, even in spite of the intervention of local law enforcement, and as a result of the Israel family's actions, the local neighborhood begins to become bigoted and xenophobic toward the intruders--or indeed, toward anyone even RELATED to the Israel family. Radicalism springs up, and vigilantism toward the outsiders escalates to unprecedented levels. Eventually, Rabin, a respected leader of the Israel family attempting to quell the violence, is gunned down in cold blood, thus steeling the Israeli family against any desire to make peace with the locals.

Things finally come to a head with a police crackdown on violence in the area. Both sides of the dispute raise legitimate grievances. The Israel family wants the right to live peacefully in a home that they already owned to begin with, and the locals all want the Israel family to stop intimidating them and bringing chaos to the neighborhood. Eventually, a city councilperson--The United States-- with deep ties in the local city government speaks out on behalf of the Israel family. As a minority, she argues, persecution of the Israel family by local residents is a move against diversity, and brings a stain of bigotry to the city that must not be tolerated. Great argument, right? All of us nod our heads in civic-minded agreement. But there's just one problem: entities within the councilwoman's office are openly funding the Israel family with weapons and intelligence on enemy gang activity, and it is revealed that the American councilwoman has a vested interest in local real-estate--right-wing Christian evangelism. Her agenda, it is said, is to privately initiate a full-scale gang-war in the disputed neighborhood, thus causing property prices in the area to drop to rock-bottom. At this point, the councilwoman's interests can step in and buy out as much property as possible, which, now rid of the pesky locals--Muslims, Jews, gays, pagans and atheists--they are free to renovate and turn into a trendy hotspot for the city's upper-middle class professionals.

As relates to this story, I feel for the Israel family. I do. But in my opinion, the family should have done some things very differently. They should have taken their case to civil court, where an equitable solution could have been devised within the confines of the judicial construct. Sure, the locals might have resented them for a while, but by simply doing all they could to live as good neighbors, the Israel family could have worked to bring a positive influence to the block. Who knows, property prices might have gone up, and the entire region could have benefited from an unprecedented phase of urban renewal. But instead, the Israel family resorted to violence, intimidation, and militaristic saber-rattling, which continues to this very day. And worst of all, they allowed themselves to be duped by a corrupt local official--our government--who was only pretending to support their interests while selfishly manipulating them for her own benefit. To her, the Israel family was just a disposable means to a personal end, and ultimately the Israel family lost out along with everyone else.

Except it's not too late. Sharon got the ball rolling by initiating the pullout from the West Bank. Finally, there may be a chance for the neighborhood to start letting its wounds heal, thus bringing about a new era of peace and cooperation. But elements in the Israeli family, spurred on by our corrupt American councilwoman, are busy stoking the flames of hatred and violence, refusing to recognize the newly-elected Hamas government and now making boastful threats toward yet another neighborhood outside the conflict, one with deep family ties to the dispute still raging on Zion Street: The Islamic Republic of Iran. And if Iran is provoked to action in this conflict, the violence may well spread and consume the entire city, giving the Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells and G.W. Bushes of this world the apocalyptic Rapture they so desperately crave.

I'm a soldier. I'm damned proud to be a soldier. I took an oath to obey the orders of those above me, and to defend the U.S. Constitution against all enemies both foreign and domestic. And I will gladly die upholding that oath. But I also have a wife, whom I love very much. I'm 23 years old. I'm trying to conceive a child. I'm still trying to earn my Bachelor's Degree.

And if I'm going to be drawn into a war--one which, with the threat of nuclear action, could very easily kill untold millions--protecting the very people whose misbehavior requires our continued presence in the Middle East, then I'd like to be informed now.


Blogger Bridget said...

Fantastic commentary! You have an excellent grasp of this situation and you write beautifully. That is so very uncommon within the blogosphere!

I share your point of view on this matter, by the way. In many ways, the abused have become the abusers over there, though it's not not altogether that simple. Both parties are at fault.

I've added you to my blogroll, FYI.

5:49 PM  
Blogger cinnabari said...

Quelle suprise, I agree with your reading of the sitch over there. Also not a shock... there are factions in this country and Israel for whom 'reasonable' is a foreign concept, and the only response to rock (and rocket) throwing Palestians is annhilation. I am not certain how one overcomes that much ingrained hatred. But I do think that Hamas' election over there is Not Good (although not surprising) insofar as it adds fuel to the Never Compromise crowd's zealous fires.

7:23 PM  
Anonymous alice said...

Thanks for a very interesting post - it's such a nice change to be able to read ideas that are more aligned with mine on this issue!

Came via grannyvibe, and will be poking around the archives a bit ...

9:33 PM  

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