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Feb. 2004 - What's wrong with the Palestinians? 
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Post Feb. 2004 - What's wrong with the Palestinians?
This thread is for discussing Massimo Pigliucci's February 2004 Rationally Speaking column entitled What's wrong with the Palestinians?




N. 46, February 2004

What's wrong with the Palestinians?


In the past I have written columns critical of the Israeli government and its actions against the Palestinians. As it was perhaps predictable, I have therefore been accused of anti-Semitism by some readers. This month is the turn of the Palestinians to be considered rationally speaking, and I can't wait for the mail I will find in my box after this column. Oh well, at least I am an equal opportunity offender.

Historically, of course, the Arabs' behavior against Israel is easy to condemn: they engaged in wars with the stated purpose of annihilating the state of Israel, a goal which was part of the charter of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (the pertinent articles have been abrogated in 1996, as part of the peace process facilitated by US President Clinton) . While it is certainly true that Israel as a modern state came about in a way that, shall we say, wasn't exactly Kosher by the standard of the United Nations, it seems to me that any group of people who elects as their main goal the destruction of another group of people cannot be considered with too much sympathy.

Furthermore, PLO leader Yasser Arafat has perhaps been the worst thing that ever happened to the Palestinians, clearly been much more interested in cultivating his ego and consolidating his meager power, then truly worried about the fate of his people. Indeed, the recent power struggles at the top of the Palestinian administration between Arafat and whoever happens at the moment to be so foolish or naive as to think of being able to open a new chapter in Palestinian history, have become symbolic of the permanent stall of the "peace process." That new chapter will be opened, one is forced to conclude, only after Arafat will be gone because of the natural biological decay that eventually overtakes every human being (the same, it appears, will have to be the case for Cuba and Castro -- though the latter has done significantly more for its people than Arafat has done for the Palestinians).

It is also true that, for all the (perfectly justified) call for independence from Israel, the Palestinians are the only Arabs living in a democracy, and they are enjoying its fruits while at the same time invoking the help of sinister characters like the now deposed Saddam Hussein, Libya's Muammar Gheddafi, and the Saudi's royal family -- none of whom is particularly well known in the world for encouraging free speech. Indeed, when Palestine will be an independent state (and I am confident that this is a matter of when, not if), its people will have some hard choices to make in terms of form of government -- choices that may truly influence (hopefully for the better) the rest of the Arab world.

But the Palestinians have another, much more urgent, choice to make right now: they need to make up their mind whether to pursue nationhood within the respect of the United Nations charter, or to continue to use terrorism as their alternative diplomatic tool. Let me be clear on two things here. On the one hand, I in fact think that there really is no choice: the Palestinians have to outlaw their violent Islamic group and incarcerate their leaders, the sooner the better. On the other hand, I am not here condemning terrorism in all forms and for all purposes (boy, is this going to cause some angry e-mails!). The United States of America was established out of what were initially terrorist actions against the British crown. Italy, my native country, started its own independence movement around the middle of the 19th century with an underground group of patriots called the "carbonari" (coal men, because of their habit of going around always dressed in black). The carbonari are patriot heroes for the Italians, but they were (justly) considered terrorists by the Austro-Hungarian government then occupying Italy.

What I am suggesting is that terrorism is simply the way poor people wage their wars: if you don't have tanks to roll into town, you can always throw a bomb at a vehicle full of your oppressors. However, terrorism -- like war -- is justified only under extreme circumstances, and only for as little as possible. While the Palestinian circumstances may at one point have called for violent action against Israel, they certainly have ceased to do so for many years. Ever since the international community (and in particular the United States), as well as a majority of Israeli themselves, have started to see a Palestinian state as eventually inevitable, suicide bombers have only delayed that long-waited moment to hasten which they have irrationally agreed to tear themselves into pieces.

The Palestinian people, then, are on the brink of an historic moment (in fact, they have been there for several years already). They are currently torn between two opposite forces that are attempting to bring them towards completely different directions. On the one hand, the terror of Islamic fundamentalism; on the other, the hope for the first Arab democracy to emerge by choice (the Iraqi one, if there ever will be such thing, is being imposed from outside -- something that is much more unlike to work in the long run). Palestinians simply cannot go both ways, and they better make the choice now, before yet another external power is going to make it for them, leaving them to live with whatever the consequences would be for generations to come.




Chris

"The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them"



Fri Feb 20, 2004 10:34 pm
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Post Re: Feb. 2004 - What's wrong with the Palestinians?
Quote:
Indeed, when Palestine will be an independent state (and I am confident that this is a matter of when, not if), its people will have some hard choices to make in terms of form of government -- choices that may truly influence (hopefully for the better) the rest of the Arab world.
I agree that this is an inevitability.

Quote:
What I am suggesting is that terrorism is simply the way poor people wage their wars: if you don't have tanks to roll into town, you can always throw a bomb at a vehicle full of your oppressors.
Amen.

Chris

"The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them"



Fri Feb 20, 2004 11:47 pm
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Post Re: Feb. 2004 - What's wrong with the Palestinians?
However, Chris, the military tank is a legitimate target. Terrorism that targets civilians is indefensible.

I believe the American revolutionaries aimed their weapons at the British military, on the land the revolutionaries claimed as their own. I may be wrong; the history one learns in school leaves out all kinds of inconvenient little details. (I read recently (in the Smithsonian magazine?) that they did execute fellow colonists who opposed the revolution, sometimes without regard for the law.) Certainly, though, they did not send sharpshooters into London's marketplaces to kill the shoppers, or blow up the Opera House during a popular performance.

I have not understood why Palestinians have not used the methods of nonviolent protest that were so effective for Gandhi and Martin Luther King. They could get almost everything they want (except the extinction of Israel and the Jewish people) if they chose nonviolent protest.

Of course, at this point, I'm sure any attempts at nonviolent protest would be sabotaged by a terrorist. It'd be a perfect opportunity to trap the Israeli army into appearing to massacre peaceful civilians. Just shoot at the soldiers/guards from the midst of the nonviolent protesters, and film the results.

Unless! Palestinians themselves pulled down (not killed, just held down) anyone offering violence.

I assume would-be Palestinian Gandhi's have been assassinated before they became widely known. Or has there never been such a person?




Thu Mar 11, 2004 4:15 pm


Post Feb. 2004 - What's wrong with the Palestinians?
I too am no fan of the way Israel handles things. Personally I believe that creating the state in the first place was a mistake but that bed is made and I don't see undoing it at this point.

In the past when I was a media baby (my term for someone who relies solely on American Media for their information and views), I was adamantly against the actions of the Palestinians over the decades. As time went on and I grew wiser and learned more about the history of this ever ongoing conflict I began to see the Palestinian point of view. I also believe that the establishment of a Palestinian state is inevitable. But there are some points I would like to make:

I always like to be careful when categorizing an entire people as having certain traits and views. In large part it seems like when people refer to "Palestinian actions" they are talking about the violent acts of terrorists. As with all oppressive leaders (Hitler, Castro, Saddam Hussein), Yassir Arafat gained his position by promising the people what they wanted: Change. He made people believe that by supporting him they would be supporting a position in which the outcome would be a better life for all the people of Palestine. It can hardly be argued that the average Palestinian hearing this, living the life they have lived, would not find this attractive. But this is not to say that every single last Palestinian was rooting for the annihilation of the Jews. They were just looking to someone offering them a way out. One can hardly blame them for this because as one would imagine, the average Palestinian could not have been any more politically savvy than the average American of today (If you want to argue that the average American is politically savvy that is a whole new ball of wax). And of course as history has shown they only succeeded in digging a deeper whole for themselves.

We have to examine too, the people who are acting in the name of the Palestinians. Organizations like Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), are no more representatives of Palestinian Interests as the Branch Davidians or Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge were of American interests.

In this respect I have to condemn many of the actions that the Israeli government takes against Palestinians as a whole. Instead of fostering a measure of internal control in the Palestinian lands, they demand it from a Palestine witch has a barely discernable infrastructure. Furthermore, when the Palestinians are unable to establish said control the Israelis take actions that further corrode said infrastructure. It's like telling a toddler to clean his room, tying his hands behind his back and then punishing him when he doesn't get it done. Describing this as a poor policy is kindness on my part.

For these reasons I do not think it is fair to say that the Palestinians "choose" to use terrorism as an alternative diplomatic tool. It is the choice of the extremists who claim to be acting on their behalf.

The argument can then be made that since these organizations recruit young Palestinian men to carry out their acts it is representative of the Palestinian mindset, but this to does not boil down to a mere choice. Many of these men (and more recently women) are recruited because they feel hopeless. They look at the life they have had, they feel trapped by it, and someone offers them a way out. They offer financial assistance to the would be "martyrs" family in exchange for their sacrifice. They also offer the promise of an afterlife in paradise. One has to ask themselves: If I lived in a hellish world and was offered a way out - if I believed that doing this would end both my suffering and that of my family - if I believed that I would be given paradise in the next life - what would I do?

The psychology of a suicide bomber can hardly be used with respect to a political mindset. They are people manipulated by an extremist organization. (Notice I used extremist organization, not fundamentalist - because Islam at its foundation does not advocate these actions.)

Regarding the differences between the terrorist tactics of today's revolutionaries vs. those of the American revolution, the sheer logistics of the comparison would invalidate it. It simply would not be feasible in that time to cross an ocean to fire on a crowd of British subjects. Had the line between The Colonies and England been simply drawn on a map it's quite possible that many more innocents would have been killed in their attempt to be free. It is also very likely that we could have been in the same quagmire that the Palestinian/Israeli conflict is in.

With respect to non-violent protest, I agree that this would get them much further than their current actions, but unfortunately the vocal minority believe that might is right, and what is lost by force can be regained only by force. This is a deeper and more difficult issue to address. Changing someone's perspective is one thing, but changing a belief



Tue Mar 23, 2004 4:30 pm


Post Re: Feb. 2004 - What's wrong with the Palestinians?
I enjoyed reading your post this morning!

I didn't have time to respond right then, and I only have a few minutes now. I'll surely not be able to respond to all your points.

My previous post was remiss if it left the impression that I lump all Palestinians together. People are people, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, etc., so of course each race, religion, etc. is made of people who display the entire bell curve of all possible human characteristics.

However - a nation's people are responsible for what their leaders do, are they not? I thought there was an international agreement to this effect after the Holocaust, but I cannot recall where and when I read this - I believe I was taught it as a child. Certainly it is easier for people in democracies to call their leaders to account than in dictatorships, as we can do so without risking our lives. The current resistance to the American presence in Iraq makes it clear that some people are willing to risk their lives, and take the lives of innocent countrymen, to speed the removal of foreign forces that are in their country temporarily. There seems to be no similar resistance to those Palestinian leaders who -as you point out- subsidize terrorism. If most Palestinians do not support terrorism, they are not demonstrating it. Yet over in Iraq, there are Iraqis willing to take lives, and give their own, to remove a presence they find abhorrent. So it is natural to conclude that, as a whole, the Palestinian people do not find their leaders so abhorrent that they are willing to do whatever it takes to remove them.

Eh, I really have to run! A couple more quick points. One - the whole Israeli/Palestinian mess is a direct consequence of the Holocaust. Israel was created as a haven for those Jews who survived Europe's antisemitism. The surrounding Arabic countries at once announced their intentions to annihilate Israel. Only one has since formally renunciated its stance.

If the majority of the Palestinians were ready and willing to make peace with Israel, would this be the case?

Second point - (and there had been something I'd wanted to say about antisemitic broadcasts in the mideast, but I can't pull my thoughts together well enough) - there were Americans in England and France during the war, so in fact it was not impossible to cross the ocean. I seem to recall a good bit of spying mentioned in a radio broadcast of Ben Franklin's diaries (he being in England then; Jefferson, I am told, was in France). It wasn't the ocean or distance that was the deterrent; it was the act itself.

Must run! May need to clarify/correct later. My memory is quite fallible. I've just read it over, and it needs work. Can't do it now, so I'll post and hope you'll allow me to clarify later, as needed.

:)




Sun Mar 28, 2004 2:08 am


Post Re: Feb. 2004 - What's wrong with the Palestinians?
I'll gladly allow you time to revise you points as you see fit, althought I would like to make a few points of my own for you to reconsider:

You pose the question: "However - a nation's people are responsible for what their leaders do, are they not?"

First of all let me point out that Palestine is not currently anation. That being said, if the leaders were chosen by said people I would agree with you but if you look into the current "leadership" (using that word in the loosest sense) you will see that it in fact did not come about in this fashion.

Yassir Arafat was a leader of an organization called the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). This group was comprised of radicals, Palestinain and forigners alike) who claimed to be fighting for the plight of the Palestinian. No one asked them to do this - they took it upon themselves. I hardly think one could call this organization the Palestinain Leadership with any legitimacy.

As time went on Arafat realized that he would never have legitimacy in this fashion and gave up his position as the leader of the PLO, becoming a politician. In a sense the group disolved. This was about the time that Hamas and the PIJ came into the picture. Again, ogranizations I would not call "Palestinian Leadership".

Also, while I am fairly certain of that you are saying I want clarification any way. You said: "The current resistance to the American presence in Iraq makes it clear that some people are willing to risk their lives, and take the lives of innocent countrymen, to speed the removal of foreign forces that are in their country temporarily."

Are you really advocating that the Palestinians begin taking actions in which they would kill their own innocents?

You also said: "There seems to be no similar resistance to those Palestinian leaders who -as you point out- subsidize terrorism."

Can you point out where in my post i said that? I am having trouble finding this statement.

With regard to this situation resulting from the aftermath of the Holocaust, it's a little more complicated than that. I can't at the moment make an intelligent agrument as to the complexities involved, but One you make you clarifications I have to have gathered my sources at which point I will get into that issue.

Lastly, I don't believe I ever said that it was impossible to cross the ocean. My words were: "It simply would not be feasible in that time to cross an ocean to fire on a crowd of British subjects." While it may be true that Franklin and Jefferson were overseas ( I don't know this for a fact I am trusting you on this one) they were the advocates of the colonies freedom, not ignorant foot soldiers as are the suicide bombers. I don't belive it would be feasable to have expected a colonial radical to cross the ocean for the purposes of attacking a crowd of British subjects and expect it to have any real success in furthering their cause. This being said I can't say with any certainty that something like that didn't happen. This is simply my opinion.

I also would like to take a moment to say that I am in no way an expert in these matters. The claims I make are my opinions alone and are based on what I believe to be true. Their could be mistakes in what I have said, and if so I would be glad to see any proof that would refute the things that I believe to be true.

I look forward to your next post. :)




Sun Mar 28, 2004 6:05 am


Post Re: Feb. 2004 - What's wrong with the Palestinians?
Hi, slider! :) Sorry to take so long to reply.

I certainly accept your argument that the Palestinian 'leadership' (and I confess I was using the term very loosely) wasn't freely chosen by the people for whom they claim to speak. However, the people allow them to speak for them, do they not? There is no groundswell among Palestinians demanding a cessation of terrorist acts against Israel, is there? (Honestly asking, as my primary source of news is my newspaper, which means I don't know much. :\ )

You are correct, I am not advocating that Palestinians start attacking their own innocents. I am saying that if most Palestinians strongly opposed using terrorism to try to gain what they want from Israel, they would do something about it. Evidently not enough Palestinians disagree so much with the terrorists' approach that they are willing to speak out against it, and possibly risk their lives demanding that their leaders find a peaceful solution for their problems with Israel.

I took "They offer financial assistance to the would be "martyrs" family in exchange for their sacrifice" as an acknowledgment of the subsidizing of terrorism. Probably the problem is my loose usage of the word "leader." Are the heads of Palestinian terrorist organizations Palestinian leaders? The press essentially presents them as such, but you are right, that's like saying the head of the mob in any given city is a city leader. Of course, in some cases, that would be true... Is it true in Palestine?

I hope I find time to do a little research. In particular, I want to find some of the 'antisemitic broadcasts' that I've heard about. What is being said and by whom? I'd be better able to carry my side of the argument if I knew more.

If expertise were required to participate in this discussion, I for one would not be here! I greatly appreciate the gentle way you point out the holes in my argument. It's so easy to miss one's own illogic. :)

edited to add: I have a mess of links now to Arab news sources (in English). Anyone want me to post them? I'd be interested in links anyone else has.

Edited by: Tiarella at: 4/9/04 4:00 pm



Thu Apr 08, 2004 2:21 pm
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