Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Are Americans (or only Terry Gross) outwitted by the theory that the world is flat?

Most of my friends are fans of Terry Gross and listen to her show “Fresh Air” on National Public Radio whenever they can. Terry Gross is arguably the finest “interviewer” in the media today—her conversations with important people in the arts and politics are always interesting, are usually centered on the “interviewee” and not Terry Gross’s ideas, and are never polemical.

Hardly ever, that is. Like nearly 100% of media personalities in this country, Terry Gross makes absolute assumptions about the decades-old conflagration in the Middle East. Whenever she interviews anyone about the Middle East, those assumptions skew her questions and comments and lead both Ms. Gross and her guests down a path of thinking that is rigid, uncompromising, and based in a view of reality that is suspect at best, prejudiced for certain, and dangerous at worst.

Today (August 1, 2006) her guest was New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who had just returned from Syria where he was investigating the current tragic Israeli aggression against Lebanon. Terry Gross started her interview by asking Friedman why Syria is the key to sorting out the “trouble” between Israel and Lebanon (and by extension, the rest of the region).

Friedman carefully and in logical detail outlined the “role” Syria is playing in the conflict at the present time.
(If you want to know what he said, look it up on NPR’s website—I have no interest in repeating an argument based on assumptions that are false.) If only, he ultimately said, the U.S. would begin talking directly with the Syrian government and reestablish our traditional friendship with it, we could make progress in convincing Syria to forsake its somewhat artificial alliance with Iran. (It is, of course, in Friedman’s mind, the Iranians who are the real source of the trouble in the Middle East.) If Syria forsook its alliance with Iran, the “terrorist” groups in Lebanon and Palestine could not get their armaments, and the whole problem would vanish (presumably into thin air).

I have no doubt that Thomas Friedman’s analysis is based on the “facts” as he perceives them—he did, after all, have access to Syrian government officials, and he has been reporting on events in the area for decades. He is certainly one of the most knowledgeable “wags,” one of the most articulate of the “talking heads” we rely on for our news. He obviously knows what he’s talking about, and Terry Gross led him through the conversation masterfully as she always does.

His analysis and her questions, however, are based on an assumption that is so entrenched in U.S. policy and in Americans’ beliefs about the Middle East that it is almost (no, for most Americans, it is absolutely) impossible even to consider any other way of looking at that part of the world. Changing that entrenched assumption would be an upheaval so radical, a “paradigm shift” so dramatic that for most Americans—both private citizens and public officials—it is unthinkable. It would be a rearrangement of thought as drastic as the acceptance in the 15th century of the reality that the earth is round. It is as necessary a rearrangement of thinking for our time as abandoning the cherished belief in the flatness of the world was for the late Renaissance.

It is an idea so simple that hardly anyone will take it seriously: neither Syria, nor Iran, nor Hezbollah, nor Hamas, nor even Al-Qaeda is the key to peace in the Middle East; the key to peace is the government of Israel.

It is impossible for Americans to fix their minds on the fact that Israel caused the refugee problem in Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, and Gaza.

It is impossible for Americans to shift the paradigm of their thinking to consider for even a brief moment that Palestinians who fight (yes, sometimes violently and with horrible consequences) simply for the land that belongs to them and not to the Israeli occupiers (as declared by the United Nations) are resisting tyranny and oppression, not “terrorizing” Israel.

It is impossible for Americans to consider that the violence of Hezbollah, Hamas, and, yes, even Iran and Syria, began as a reaction to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and Israel’s attempt in the 1980s to destroy the Palestinians who resisted that occupation from across the border in Lebanon where they were living in refugee camps (and have been living since).

It is impossible for Americans to understand that the reason Syria is in a state of conflict with Israel is that Israel annexed the Golan Heights (Syrian territory) and not that Syria wants to destroy Israel.

These are only a few ways in which the entrenched “common wisdom” of the United States prevents this nation from truly promoting peace and freedom and democracy in the Middle East. Israel, not Syria, holds the key to ending the conflagration. As long as our nation remains hostage to the world view perpetrated by Israel, as long as we are unable even to consider that the anger of Israeli's neighbors is justified, and as long as we continue to sponsor Israel's aggression, we can never have peace. Anywhere.

And we might as well go on believing the title of Thomas Friedman’s latest book,
The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century.

George W. Bush is outwitted by MORALITY every time

President George W. Bush said yesterday that the United States is working for a “sustainable cease-fire, a cease-fire which will last” in Lebanon.The problem with his statement is that he and Condoleezza Rice and (temporary) UN Ambassador Bolton are “working” with the wrong party in the devastation. The policies of the government of Israel are the root cause of the conflagration that has continued since (well before) 1948 in that part of the world. And it is precisely the government of Israel that the United States refuses to work with for a cease-fire—or for any lasting peace in the area. The United States, for reasons that are incomprehensible for a country that says its goal is to spread “democracy” and “freedom” around the world, ALWAYS takes the government of Israel’s side in all conflicts, not only takes its side, but provides it the weaponry to perpetrate its horrors on its neighbors.

Israel is not a democracy in any sense that most Americans would willingly live under. (That is another subject, one for which there are numerous sources.) The Lebanese (of any party, political or military) do not occupy anyone else’s territory. The Lebanese, not the government of Israel, are host to untold (hundreds of) thousands of refugees from the Israeli “victories” in wars of 1948, 1967, and 1973. The government of Israel, not Hezbollah, is building a wall around its “enemies” to control their movement, their commerce, their industry, and their religious/social/intellectual lives.

Yet, when any “conflict” in the area takes place—the current one between the Israeli government and Hezbollah is simply the latest manifestation of the resistance to Israel’s aggression against its neighbors and the Palestinians whom they hold in complete subjugation (“freedom” and “democracy”?)—the American people lap it up and side with Israel almost as if they were at a Nascar race and cheering for the winner.

My continual question is (I have asked it so many times that I am weary of it), “Where is the morality in supporting the 4th largest military machine in the world against two home-grown RESISTANCE movements, (even if they are supported by their friends, they are resistance movements), Hezbollah (which came into being the last time Israel tried to destroy Lebanon), and Hamas (which came into being when the government of Israel began illegally expanding “settlements” into the Occupied Palestinian Territories and annexing land that was intended by the United Nations to be the sovereign state of Palestine) ?

George W. Bush is correct when he says, “Stopping for the sake of stopping can be OK, except it won’t address the root cause of the problem.” But his statement has at least two GLARING FLAWS: 1) What other moral reason is there to stop killing civilians and destroying the fabric of a nation than for the sake of stopping it? 2) When is George W. Bush (and by extension, the government he leads—even Dick Cheney) going to accept the fact that it is the actions of Israel, actions that the world community has condemned over and over again, that are the “root cause” of all of the violence in the Middle East? Probably not in my lifetime is the sad, immoral, brutal, and overwhelmingly tragic answer to the second question.

In case anyone is interested in the view of the Middle East “conflict” that most of the world (except Americans, whose attitudes are simply unfathomable) holds, below are about 5% of the United Nations Security Council Resolutions that have been passed concerning Israel. When George W. Bush REALLY wants a "sustainable cease-fire, a cease-fire that will last," he will begin by telling the government of Israel that it must follow UN Security Council Resolution 162 (1961) and comply with UN decisions.

RESOLUTION 509 (1982) : “. . . demands that Israel withdraw all its military forces forthwith and unconditionally to the internationally recognized boundaries of Lebanon . . .”

Resolution 162 (1961) : “ . . . 'urges' Israel to comply with UN decisions . . .”
Resolution 237 (1967) : “ . . . 'urges' Israel to allow return of new 1967 Palestinian refugees . . .”
Resolution 242 (1967) : calls for “. . . withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict . . .” and “ . . . Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area . . .”
Resolution 252 (1968) : “. . .Considers that all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, including expropriation of land and properties thereon, which tend to change the legal status of Jerusalem are invalid and cannot change that status. . . Urgently calls upon Israel to rescind all such measures already taken and to desist forthwith from taking any further action which tends to change the status of Jerusalem . . .”
Resolution 446 (1979) : “. . . determines that the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East . . .”
Resolution 459 (1979) : “. . . Calls upon the Government and people of Israel to cease, on an urgent basis, the establishment, construction and planning of settlements in the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem . . .”
Resolution 465 (1980) : “. . . determines that all measures taken by Israel to change the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure or status of the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, or any part thereof, have no legal validity and that Israel's policy and practices of settling parts of its population and new immigrants in those territories constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and also constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East . . .”
Resolution 608 (1988) : “. . . requests that Israel desist forthwith from deporting any other Palestinian civilians from the occupied territories . . .”
Resolution 681 (1990) : “. . . declares that the action of the Israeli authorities of deporting four Palestinians on 18 May is in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which is applicable to all the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem” and “. . . deplores this action and reiterates that Israel, the occupying Power, refrain from deporting any Palestinian civilian from the occupied territories and ensure the safe and immediate return of all those deported . . .”