Walter Mattheuer

Why Peace Is Necessary
Considerations Occasioned by the On-Going "July War" and the 
"No to War" Statement by Jewish, Muslim and Other Artists, Intellectuals and 
Ordinary Citizens in  "Die Zeit"

On August 10, 2006, the German weekly DIE ZEIT published a public declaration against the July war, a call for peace and fruitful exchange that underlined the common roots of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Jewish, Muslim, Christian and other civilizations. It was a sign of hope that proponents of peace and understanding from diverse backgrounds, "artists, intellectuals and cosmopolitans" from Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Turkey as well as Western countries were the backers of this declaration. The proponents of peace are not exclusively attached to the Jewish or Muslim faith; the poet Adonis expressively refers to himself as a "poète areligieux."

It is clear that the most urgent task now is to stop the war. Diagreements in theoretical and/or ideological respect thus become secondary, at the moment.

However, it can be argued that in the last analysis peace, understanding and cultural exchange cannot be based on illusions and an attitude that merely seeks to gloss over differences and real injustice.

It is certainly correct to underscore the fact that certain social forces in the West that pose as "political" elites  and / or are economically powerful and therefore politically influential, have deplored the "threatening" end of an arms race carried on for decades. In the early 1990s the drive for a "peace dividend" must have seemed like a nightmare to them. Huge profits made by "defense" contractors were at stake. The brassheads in the armed forces would not get ever new and more modern "hardware,"  they feared. 
Finally, during the NATO military intervention in former Yugoslavia, a US general declared publicly on German television that the "downward spiral toward disarmament has been stopped" (die Abrüstungsspirale ist gestoppt). It was impossible not to recognize the sense of satifaction ringing in his voice.
Do we really fail to remember that the British prime minister, Mr. Blair, travelled to India and Pakistan, ostensibly to offer his good services as a mediator when war seemed to loom. But soon he let the mask slip and offered to sell military hardware to the Indian subcontinent. It was scandalous.
As for President George W. Bush, he is not only attached to the oil industry (as is Mr. Cheney, the Vice President) but this administration has the strongest of links to producers of armaments. The same was true of the Reagan administration and that of Bush senior. Eisenhower's criticism of the military industrial complex was never more justified than in the Reagan years, Bush senior and Bush junior years. Whether we can really give the benefit of the doubt to the Clinton administration needs some detailed analysis. Undoubtedly, the Clinton administration's drive to balance the budget lead to a brief phase where we can observe a reduction in "defense" expenditures. But not for long? In all likelihood, the wind blew in a different direction already during the Clinton years.

It would be stupid to believe that the rulers and the ruled in the Middle East or South and South East Asia are innately "better human beings"
than those in the West. In that sense the argument here proposed is not anti-Western. They are simply "underdogs," very vulnerable, very dependent perhaps, in a time of US hegemonism and a "globalized" not very PAX-like "pax Americana." The US government may claim that the US was attacked (pointing to a warship in Aden, various acts of violence against US citizens abroad, and finally, the destroyed "Twin Towers" in New York and the wing of the Pentagon hit by an airliner. But there are many ways of aggression. Some aggression and some violence is cultural, or it is commercial. 

The call for peace published on Aug. 10 in DIE ZEIT refers to "obvious" or "transparent" respectively "translucent" (durchsichtige) "geo-political" and "geo-economic" interests. Of course, the undersigned cannot be more specific in a brief statement. It may be diplomatic not to name the US as a culprit but the present Bush administration has a clear geo-political interest to defend and expand its stake in the region  (economically and militarily). The Middle East was and is a major supplier of energy to the West and Japan, and now Central Asia is added as an oil source. The US was an heir to Britain in the Middle East with the Arab peninsula as a landbridge between Europe and South Asia and the Suez canal of strategic economic importance. Today, while China is singled out as the next big "challenger" of US superiority (in the economic field and in other fields), the trend of US politics is to "encircle" China just as they once encircled Russia. And while seeking a stronghold, and establishing US bases in Central Asia, Iran (the 'old friend' and satrap that deserted the ranks of satraps and thus became a 'natural foe') is encircled as well.
It is clear, we can well admit now, that all this is implicit in the allusive reference to "geo-political" and "geo-economic" interests. It is just as clear that the undersigned reject the NEWSPEAK that lets Western ideologues (including Bush) speak of an "axis of evil." The undersigned seem to sense the need of certain Western "elites" to create a new stereotyped image of a "threatening enemy," since the "empire of evil" collapsed and Russia became a modern and ruthless version of "Manchester capitalism." And yet, it is perhaps not enough to refuse stereotyped hetero-images, and ask for a rational and humanist dialogue between cultures, including those of the West, Jewish culture and Islamic cultures. The "cosmopolitan" intellectuals, artists, writers and others who signed the statement against war should be aware, as well, that it is one thing to demand respect for religions and adherents of whatever faith. Even a rational and civilized agnostic or atheist would agree with that. But can we really ignore to what extent  religions are not as innocent as is perhaps suggested in the statement against war? Yes, let us advocate dialogue between cultures, between religions. Let us work for a better understanding between the different believers of different religions. Maybe the believers are not as different as the religions are. Some of them may share the same bent for, the same spirit of intolerance. Religions are not that innocent, after all. As somebody said, perhaps it was Jose Saramago, there have been too many crimes and wars and deaths in the name of "God," and that is to say "religion." What has been more divisive than strong & rigorous attachment to an "infallible" religious authority, an "unshakable" and undoubtedly "true" relgion that made all other religions seem "false" and all other believers "misguided" and "deceived," to say the least. Something as biased and unacceptable has only be duplicated in more recent history by secular "Marxism Leninism," a new dogmatic "political church" that since the early 20th century held "believers" rather than critical minds in its sway and that entirely contradicted the need for critical analysis and sober discussions...  Today, as the influence of that secular church has waned, such single-mindedness is only betrayed by the "liberal" believers in the overwhelmingly positive effects of "globalization" and Western (that is to say, largely US) hegemonism.

If churches, denominations, institutionalized forms of "faith" and "relgion" are not innocent, this is not to say that they have not produced positive contributions to the historically evolving cultures of the world.
Islamic cultures, for instance, incorporate not only a rich heritage in terms of architecture, mathematics, medicine, philosophy, poetry, social work, etc. etc.; the 'humus' of these cultures is so alive in the everday life (la vie quotidienne) of populations, and their members share their 'Islamic' culture no matter whether they are agnostics, atheists, Alawites,  Coptic, Druses, Iraqi Christians, Jews, adherents of the Schia, Sufis, Sunnites, Syrian Christians or others. The human and social quality of a culture cannot be "measured" in terms of the GNP or the number of technological inventions. Concepts of Arab or Islamic "backwardness" in this respect can be shown to be obviously wrong and based on arrogance. But it would also be wrong to assume that citizens from Arab or Islamic societies are innately or due to their cultural "Praegung" (the culturally received "stamp") incapable of the most remarkable technological and/or scientific achievements. Just as in the case of South and Central America, Africa, S.E. Asia, or Polynesia, the political and economic causes of so-called "underdevelopment" have to be clarified. What factors (many of them external, some certainly related to internal social contradictions) "brake" so-called "development"? And to what extent is "modernization" and the goal of "development" as defined by Western "experts" (and their theoretical adepts in the so-called Third World) questionable, that is to say: how and why can and should it be questioned? And this not only from thinkers in Islamic and Arab countries, or the Third World generelly, but in the West as well? In the West, because the Western "model of development" becomes more and more questionable again, to a perhaps small but by all means 
increasing number of citizens in the West... 

The statement against the war is concerned about the war, about stopping it quickly. This is justified. It is necessary. They are not concerned about  an analysis of contradictions that can only be sketchily referred to, here, as well. It must be accepted that a priority such as this is discernable.  But what do the undersigned mean by "the continuation of a fruitful exchange" - between the West and the Islamic and/or Arab world, between Israel and the Palestinians, etc.? Those who signed the statement may very well have experienced such a fruitful exchange, personally, individually. But where do they see the "fruitful exchange" between the cultures referred to? The "fruitful" existed, but it was "always" or always "interwoven" with destructive and brutal "forms" of "exchange," including war, suppression, and colonialism. It was not always the "West" that was the aggressor and the oppressor. If we go far enough back into the past, we see expansive Arab "kingdoms" and an expansive Ottoman empire. The roles were switched, in modern times. Nothing to be proud of, nothing to simply gloss over. 

How nice to imagine cultures that are nothing but "intellectually" and socially "rich" & "fruitful." How nice to be in love with past and present cultures, as a scholar, a writer or composer, a law expert or a theologian. And yet, the people who breathe a "culture" are children breast-fed by "their native culture," children that may enjoy intercultural exchange and "enrichment" as they become intellectually adult. And still, they are also torn apart, and embittered or even poisoned by what is questionable in "their" or in the "other" culture. Let us not forget that. No culture is innocent, just as no religion is innocent. We can discover so much that is good and important and necessary in them. But let us not close our eyes to what throws us into dependence, or suffocates our creativity.  Was there ever a culture not impregnated by the injustice and inquality and oppression rampant in the respective society? If we ask ourselves and others to open our eyes and seek a more intense, rational intercultural exchange in a non-dependent, non-repressive "ambiente," under conditions that are fair and equal, free and equal (in other words), we can hardly afford either to idealize our "own" or "the other" culture. Cultures are the hotbed that breeds us and we cannot be without them. We cannot throw the cultural heritage into any dustbin of history, and start anew with a tabula rasa. But we certainly cannot take what evolved and what is, as a "given fact" that is above criticism and absolves us from any responsibility to work for "the NEW." The "new" not because it is "new" but because it is more humane, more rational, and corresponds more to the needs of the population.

It is not only alright but necessary to reject "the present violent polarization between the so-called Western and the so-called Islamic world." It is necessary to reject the US intervention in the Lebanese civil war in - wasn't it the 1950s? It is necessary to question the denial of social and political rights so many Palestinians have experienced for two generations already. It is necessary to remember the role of a German BGS general in commanding a unit of mercenaries and putting down a revolutionary attempt or coup d'etat by nationalist, Pan-Arabist army officers in Saudi Arabia in - wasn't it the 1970s? The media have rarely kept awake ourt historical memory of such interventions, in the West and the Arab world.  What we remember, in view of our "short memory," is the last (i.e. Third) Gulf War. All these Gulf Wars were triggered, directly or indirectly, by the West. And we, critics in the West, critics in the Islamic and/or arab world, should not "bedevil" the West? Of course not. There is never any point in "bedeviling" anything. It obstruct rational analysis; it makes impossible rational criticism and introduces defamation as an Ersatz of analysis and resulting criticism.

As for the Arab world, it is difficult to formulate a criticism as a Westerner without appearing as arrogant. Let us therefore start out by learning from and listening to native critics from Arab and Islamic countries before coming up with our own suggestions. One thing I think can be said immediately, however. Western colonial and neo-colonialist powers have backed and propped up the most narrow-minded, particularist, anti-rational and anti-democratic political and economic "elites" that could lean on in their zone of influence. The nationalist backlash of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s was a reaction to colonialist development. The small upsurge of the left (particularly in Lebanon, Palestine, in Pakistan, Agfhanistan etc.) and - during the 1970s - rather strongly in Turkey was a reaction to ossified social structures stamped by an incapacity of so-called "elites"  to play a positive role vis-à-vis such scandals as increasing slum development (housing misery),  corruption, authoritarian "democracy"  as well as clientilism. With the more or less heavy defeat of the left in Turkey (after the military coup d'etat), in Lebanon (certainly with Israel's intervention in Beirut and  with the implantation of the Syrian army), in Jordan (after the Black September massacre), the "religious" political forces stepped in and sought to establish themselves as a representaive of the "hopeless" and "down and out", "deserted" strata of the population. This was all foreseeable. It is an indictment of both the internal inefficiencies and inequalities of the societies concerned, and of those big powers (including the US ally, the government in Tel Aviv) which intervened directly or indirectly from outside. If Western societies deserve to be denounced, Arab or Islamic societies deserve the same, though for other reasons. And still, the relationship between the West and the Arab world is that between Master and Slave, Dominator and Dominated; it lets us in no doubt where our sympathies belong.

The statement against war is signed by citizens from many countries and of many denominations, including the "areligieux" poet, Adonis.
It is a statement full of forebodings. Is a US-Iran war just around the corner? Will violence in Afghanistan reach "precedented" proportions reminiscent of the conflict between Russian forces and the US backed "religious" and social arch-reactionaries? Will Iraq fall apart and the irrational, inter-sectarian and desperate social violence persist? Will Palastinians in the West Bank and Gaza face cultural, economic and social starvation described by some as "on the verge of genocide"? It is obvious that the starting point of this anti-war intervention is the clear and present danger to the lives of Gaza, Israeli, Lebanese, and West Bank citizens (whether male or female, adults or children, civilians or members of 'militias' or army personnel).  A life is a life, and those killed will live never again. It is outrageous. Every death, every war is a scandal. Although many of us have been tempted, and are tempted again and again, and perhaps for good reason, to defend struggles of liberation. The only permissible, the only "understandable" violence, an outgrowth of despair and intolerable repression? Perhaps. Would political and social advances for (some of) the American colonists have been possible, without the American revolution of 1776 and the War of Independence? Would slavery in the US have been abolished with the war of 1861-1866? Wold republican advances have been possible in France without the revolution of 1789? These are valid questions if we assume a position in favor of peace and against violence. Against all the irrational and unnecessary violence unleashed again. But isn't the violence of the Intifada somehow understandable? Isn't the violence directed against the Intifada the violence of an oppressor, installed in the West Bank? These are questions raised at times, by some. To others, they seem partial. Are they?

For a person from the West, the conflict between Israel and Palestinians is the aspect hardest to "deal" with, if not impssible to "treat" fairly. We, in the West, are guilty. Not only because the US has used Israel as an aircraft carrier of sorts, or rather a bridgehead. But mainly because we cannot ignore the discrimination and persecution "Jews" have been subject to in the West since at least the days of Isabella of Castile. The "progroms" of Czarist Russia, the Dreyfus case in France, the denial of full citizenship in German states (but not only there) during the 19th century are all symptomatic. Then came the vast genocide carried out by the German Nazi regime in concentration camps found in many places of occupied Europe. The executions of Jewish villagers in Nai occupied Baltic states and in Nazi occupied parts of Russia. We know today that the ideology and practice of so-called anti-semitism was rampant, in its minor forms, in the West, until it reached a climax in Nazi ruled Germany. There were collaborators. In Spain, in France, in Italy. In Belgium and Holland. In Poland and the Baltic countries. In Sweden.  Integrity and civil courage were rare. Countries like Switzerland and the US denied visas to many who tried to flee the sphere of influence of the Nazi rulers and their willing helpers. Top ranking allied politians by  1943 or 1944 had a fairly good knowledge of camps such as Auschwitz and what was going on, as is true of the Catholic hierarchy. Did they too wish for what the Nazis called "the final solution"? The church hierarchy did not speak out, loud and clear, did not say what it could have said. The Allied planes did not bomb the railroad tracks leading to Auschwitz and other camps. Or the ovens, the fences. Why not? Did they, too, hope for a Nazi kind of answer to what was then called by some "the Jewish question" even though it was a question of racism, discrimination, lacking (real) democracy, a lack of human kindness and solidarity.

This is not to exonerate those discrimated against. Certainly a "Jewish" worker to my mind (in all my ignorance of what "Jewish" meant at the time) was above all a worker. A "Jewish" intellectual above all an intellectual. A "Jewish" businessman a businessman, a "Jewish" banker a banker. A "Jewish" revcolutionary a revolutionary. But I ask myself, Where not most so-called "Jews" in the West (whether religious or secular) above all stamped by the experience of not years, not decades, but generations and generations of persecution? Did not in the late 19th and early 20th Century a majority of them succumb to the temptation to bend over backwards and seek integration, or "assimilation" - as it was called? Were they not, by and large, almost as chauvinistically "German" or "French" during the First World War as the vast majority of their co-citizens. Were not many  of them proud to have served their country as soldiers or officers "at the front"?  How many of them were not harboring a feeling of European superiority, vis-à-vis colonized Africans or "Chinese coolies"?  Probably, given their memories of anti-semitic prejudice and anti-semitic mob violence, "Jewish" factory owners treated their workers better than the average factory owner in their country. Trying not to be different, this care to show a social conscience made them different and exposed them to the hatred and prejudice of their peer group. Trying not to be "Jewish" (whatever this word means). they were branded as "Jewish" by the Others because of their humanity, their "social conscience" which was relevant for their entrepreneurial practice within the limits of their social role as capitalists. For the anti-semitic ideologues, "the Jews" were bankers, and the workers with a Jewish background  were invisible to them up to the very moment when they were herded to the ovens. After the October Revolution, with anti-Bolshie hysteria rampant, they were "money changers" (bankers) and bolsheviks at the same time, in anti-semitic discourse. They were what any Bush would call the ethnic (?) personification of the "axis of evil." At least for the Nazis. An axis of evil, from Wall Street to Dowining Street to the Kreml. Capitalists "of the worst sort", cosmopolitans, and commies. All at the same time. And the real men and women stamped as "Jews" were like you and me. Intellectuals, dumb people, German petit.bourgeois chauvinists, factory owners, artists, musicians, occasionally a banker or a bank teller or an accountant. Introvert or extrovert. Religious or not. Funny or dull. And a lot more. And sharing a history of a "persecuted" bunch of people, discriminated against, but on what basis? For some time, their "Mosaic" religion. But many of the Spanish Jews who chose to be baptized were still burned by the Inquisition. Was ethnicity what set them apart? Race theories are funny. For an older generation of more conservative Palestinians villagers, Jews from the former USSR, with blonde or red hair and the "obscene behavior" of  young girls who wear shorts, are merely "European."  I wonder whether older Jewish immigrants from Morocco or Jemen shared this Palestinian view, in some respects. And whether European "Jews" were European enough to view "Jews" from the Magreb or other Islamic cultures and societies with the same disdain that Eurpeans generelly tend to show vis-à-vis "backward", "Third World" villagers. How, for instance, do young, emancipated, "no longer anti-semitic" Germans see old, traditionally dressed immigrants from Anatolian villages? With respect? As cultural equals? I doubt it.

The Islamo-Israeli or rather, Palestinian-Israeli conflict is indeed a sad story, touchy, full of traps and contradictions. How did Jewish refugees from Europe who had barely saved their skin, feel in Palestine when they encountered petit-bourgeois Palestinian nationalists who showed their open sympathy for Hitler and Nazi Germany? Of course, from the Arab perspective, the English were a colonial power that blocked their political emancipation, and Nazi-Germany was at war with Britain. They hoped for Britain's defeat; it was in their own interest. It was an understandable but selfish and anti-human position in view of the large-scale annihilation practice of Nazi Germany that was becoming clear as a goal since at least 1938 and that was put in practice since about 1941.
In the 1950s, I heard somebody say (in view of the experience of European Jews under Nazism) "But where else should they go?" when the question of "Why Israel? Why emigration to Israel?" was raised. From the point of view of surviving European Jews and all those who felt sympathy towards them, especially after all that had happened, this was an understandable question. But from the point of view of Palestinians? Or of the Jewish minority that had existed in Islamic and/or Arab societies? Didn't the new development make life harder for them? Did it contribute to increased contradictions, produce bitterness and misery on their part (by and large, despite experiences that would prove the opposite, or at least something different)?

For one thing, Europeans were coming to the Middle East not only after the Nazi genocide (now known as the shoah or Holocaust). They were coming, in some numbers, since perhaps World War I. And increasingly since the Twenties, since the rise of Nazism, the new upsurge of anti-semitism when the ruling classes during the world economic crisis needed a "scapegoat." They were Europeans, socio-culturally, I say, but specific Europeans. Germans, many of them. But Germans who now defined themselves as "Jews." Or who had suffered being defined in that way.  Defined in that way because of their real or supposed "Jewishness" which was perhaps just a star afixed or a bureaucratic entry in a book, an entry written by  other Germans or  Europeans,  co-citizens who branded them as "Jews." Or perhaps those who came to Palestine did not need to be branded in that way. They had always felt they were Jews. Because of their religion and/or their history of migration and flight from persecution and/or their history of discrimination despite assimilation. There were so many reasons, so many possibilities why one "always was" or "slowly was transformed into" or "suddenly became or was made" A "JEW."
Those who came before 1938, before 1933, even in the Twenties, were the most obvious Zionists. The survivors who came later, after 1945 or 1948 or in the early fifties, often were made Zionists by circumstances; they were "unwilling Zionists," late "converts." Other hopes and orientations had been shattered by  German Nazi violence and Western apathy or hidden glee when the unthinkable happened. Did Churchill sympathise with Franco? Yes. Did Henry Ford or the old Kennedy (John F.'s relative) sympathize with Hitler? Yes. Did the Stalin regime in the end target "Jews" (because so many were old comrades, part of the avant-garde of the Revolution)? Yes. So where should they turned? Where was the safe haven? The ultimate irony of history is that Israel never was a safe haven for these emigrants from Europe and immigrants to Palestine.  But from afar and in the dreams and hopes, it looked like one. Understandable? Yes. Yes and no. One has no right to be deceived and to deceive one's self, and to trample on the rights of Others.  Others who must not be idealized. Just as the Newcomers to Palastine must not be idealized. Both were ordinary women and men.  With their specific heritage, history, dreams, hopes, illusions perhaps. The Palestinians clung to "Arab" Nationalist ideologies and solutions, dreamed of a freed Palestine. The Newcomers from Europe clung, most of them, to their "Zionist" hopes and illusions. This too was a Nationalist ideology, mixed in some cases with a particular "Kibbuz" collectivism or "socialism" (at least for a time, until that too became a farce in practice?). The Newcomers believed they were coming "home," to their "promised land." Perhaps the Pilgrim fathers who reached the Massachusetts coast believed it, too. But the "Indians" could not be ignored. They traded, and felt betrayed and cheated out of their agricultural land, and they reacted. Violently. War-like. In Palestine, the story is not that different. The Newcomers came as Europeans. Settlers. Colonialists. Colons. Filled with our European superiority complex. Which collided with the resentment and the "pride" of, in the countryside, a much more traditionalist and conservative population than the Newcomers were. Today, years of resistance and political struggle against occupation have reversed the roles, to a large extent, it seems. Many young Palestinians hardly are socially or socio-culturally conservative. The more recent "Jewish settlers," in the West Bank, are, probably. Even extremely painful intercultural contact can have some positive side-effects. But the deaths and the wounds are no trifling matter, for both sides. And the expropriations, and the cut communications, and the misery are no small injustice suffered by the West Bank and Gaza population.

By and large, I personally reject Zionism as an antiquated ideological form; it's 19th century nationalism; it sets people apart, separates, is conducive to "nationalist" arrogance, nationalist blindness with regard to the human rights of Others. And this has lead, on both sides, to unnecessary hatred, and (repeatedly) to war. But I question "Arab" nationalism as well. Of course, Fanon and others showed that the counter-violence of the oppressed must not be equated with the violence of the oppressor. The "nationalism" of the FNL in Algeria helped mobilize the "masses," we learned, in the fight for emancipation; the "nationalism"  of the French soldiers and their civilian supporter was instrumental in backing the colonialist aspirations of France. But I have my doubts. Did not the nationalism of the FNL serve to discipline the population after Independence Day? Did it not make some of them (many of them?) unthinking servants of a privileged, anti-democratic and corrupt "elite"? Was not "nationalism" in many Arab countries an ideological tool of the ruling stratum which is used to stabilize a questionable status-quo? Is "nationalism" not separating people irrationally, as is the case of most or all institutionalized religions? 

Let us talk of the real wounds inflicted.
Today many in the so-called Third World rightly criticize the "EuropeanUnion" for barring entry to persecuted people or people in dire need. The "fortress Europe" is unacceptable to them, and rightly so. Frontiers are questionable, the earth was given to all (the old myths proclaim). And humanity is in need of human kindness and solidarity, more so than ever. It was not an act of kindness, not to receive warm-heartedly the survivors of Nazism. No matter whether their "roots" in Palestine were largely a phantasma, they needed a place to stay. A home. If twenty million or 80 million Chinese, in dire distress, need a home tomorrow in Germany or France, let us say, "Welcome, sisters. Welcome, brothers." There is room and bread for all. The world has no place "naturally" given to one bunch of people. We are all migrants, since the neolithic and even earlier. 
This is the one part of it, the one way to view it. It doesn't make the Palestinians look nice. They were like Native Americans, "Red Indians," the "settlers" said, who say Welcome by making a Fuck off gesture. 
The other part of the story is that the brethren in need held guns in theur hand. Bought land and chased away the agricultural laborers that had tilled that land for some money-hungry aga ready to sell if the price offered was right. The other part of the story is that the poor persecuted Europeans had the crust not to ask for a pallet on the floor, to lay down their weary head. They took the entire house, and chased out the occupants. They felt like, "This has always been our house." True enough, the house was not really two-thousand years old. It was perhaps two years ago, or twenty, or two-hundred years ago or even 800 years ago that it was built by Palestinian laborers for a Palestinian owner. It is strange to assume that it was "always our house", "given to us by the Lord", at the time "the Lord saved us from oppression in Egypt," "at the times Moses lead us out of Egypt," "into this land, promised to us." It is bitter if such tales of liberation, beautiful as they are, are taken literally rather than symbolically, and serve as a symbolical justification for the oppression or "enslavement" of Others.  We cannot build (our) human happiness on the unhappiness of Others. Nobody can.

Israelis today are hardly in an enviable positon. Palestinians are not. The misery of Palestinians is apparent, and so is their despair, and the resulting militancy (whether justified by "religious" or "secular," petit-bourgeois or grass roots ideologies). In Israel people suffer from a war economy, high defense spending, increasing inequality, a devastation of the rudimentary "welfare state" that had existed for a time (for Israel's citizens, not those of the occupied territories). Most of all the suffer from the clear and present danger of "suicide bombers," but also of commandos involved in armed combat against occupation forces. No safe haven, then. The stepped up war in Lebanon, on the pretext of two soldiers taken prisoner by armed Palestinian cmmandos who demand an exchange of prisoners, is only another stage in a spiralling development leader to more violence and counter-violence, more hate and grief and sadness on both sides.

The question is whether anything but a new beginning, brotherly, sisterly, in fairness and solidarity, without frontiers and nationalisms, can provide a solution.  Clearly the Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza is not viable, whether within the 1967 frontier or than now redrawn de-facto by the transplanted  Berlin "wall."

For Israelis, it is clear that they have "nowhere to go." We in the rest of the world must understand that, Palestinians should understand that. Perhaps individually they, as any Palestinian, may go anywhere: to China, Australia, Niger, Chile or Iceland. But in practice, for most of them, to emigrate would be difficult if not very nearly impossible. Talk of "throwing them into the sea" was never helpful, nor is the talk heard of late that "Europe should take them." Perhaps in a way, there is some truth to it. Those who committed the crime of persecution and genocide should "pay the price," Palestinians should no be asked to "pay for the sins of others." But to ask Jews in Israel to seek shelter in Europe is like asking a frequently and brutally beaten wife to seek shelter in her tormenter's apartment. From the point of view of the victims of European discrimination and Nazi German genocide, Europe for many cannot be a safe haven. It is the locus at the origin of their trauma. 

And the trauma experienced or "received" lets many of them see themselves even today as victims or possible victims, as "aggressed," as "victims of aggression in their own, promised land." The phantasma of "the promised land" and the emotional situation of survivors of a vast genocidal practice of million-fold murder has resulted in a perspective that sees the weaker part (the Palestinians) as a threat, with the larger threat of imagined Arab or Islamic solidarity looming in the background. The experience of having been a victim of terrible violence has lead to an attitude of "Never again", "let us never again be a victim." "Let us hit harder than they do." "They - the aggressors." The position is, "We have been wronged, we have always been wronged. By the Romans who destroyed the temple and dispersed us; by the Muslims who made us second-class citizens and pride themselves that they have not burned us, like the Spanish; by the Spanish who subjected us to the Inquisition; by mobs in Medieval France, Germany, Poland; by Czarist Russia's mobs; by despising bourgeois peers in liberal democracies of the West; by workers and workers' movements; by Marx the 'born Jew' who derisively commented on our petty fears behind our assimilation effort while asking us to become revolutionaries and Weltbuerger, citizens of the world. Finally, the worst - the Nazi genocide (like no other - though Africans subjected to the slave trade, slavery, and colonial genocide have ood reasons to disagree [it was simply the first vast genocide by Europeans that saw Europeans as victims])." The position is, "We have taken back our house from you that we were forced to leave two-thousand years ago, we kicked you out and left you in misery in the street - And now we want to be left in peace. We're sick and tired of being threatened, and hearing your curses, of your violence and aggression. Go away. Get out of sight; if you resort to violence, we'll hit back ten times as hard. We were victims once. We have learned the lesson."

Perhaps all these words are strangely besides the point. A vast misunderstanding. The trauma, the fear that is still alive, the overreaction and the projection that makes the "aggressed" the "aggressor" - all merely phantasized by an Outsider who doesn't undestand a bit? Maybe so. I apologize. It's the old Europrean arrogance. The arrogance behind lectures rather than dialogues.  How do you see it, as an Israeli in Israel? As a Palestinian? In the West Bank, in Gaza, or as a second class citizen of Israel? How do the olive trees "feel," some two hundred years old or older, that are felled by Israel's soldiers and their caterpillars? 

Perhaps Nazim Hikmet was right when he likened woman and man to a tree, in a forest. It's a beautiful simile. Why can't "Arab" (or call them "Palestinian") women and men not live in the "same forest," on the same land, with "Jewish" men  and women? And with those who do not give a damn and who can do without strongly asserting the one or the other, or still a different "national identity"... 

The cultural heritages we are born into should be "received" and critized, and creatively "developed." Exchange, between cultures, is a good and stimulating experience when it happens under circumstances free of domination, arrogance, and cultural imperialism.  For this, all of us need peace.

(Aug. 11, 2006, 00:49 a.m.)



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