Over the last few days’ media coverage of Israel’s botched interception of the aid flotilla in international waters off the coast of Gaza, I kept hearing cries in the U.S. press – mainly by politicians and right wing pundits — justifying Israel’s actions on the basis that Hamas doesn’t believe Israel has the right to exist. Without any intention of passing judgment whatsoever on Israel, I kept wondering why Hamas’ opinion mattered. First of all, why would anyone even bother to lend credibility to such nonsense unless they purposefully wanted to empower Hamas? Does a farm league baseball team get air-time to question the Yankee’s existence? But more importantly, Israel does exist. It is the region’s only true military super power, backed by the unconditional support of the most expensive, powerful and technologically advanced military the world has ever known. Furthermore, Israel is fully autonomous and frankly couldn’t care less what anyone else thinks (not even the U.S.) about its actions and proceeds accordingly.
But with so much focus on the well-resolved question of Israel’s existence, it surprises me that no one ever asks whether the existence of the Palestinians is at stake. For example, when 89 year-old Helen Thomas is rightfully criticized for her clearly anti-Semitic (and politically ridiculous) comments, shouldn’t logic dictate that comparable anti-Arab statements be followed by similar condemnation? Why is it that Ms. Thomas resigns while prominent right wing journalists (and politicians) who make anti-Arab statements never meet the same fate? As Glenn Greenwald writes,
As for the Helen Thomas condemnation fest and subsequent resignation today, the central issue — as both my Salon colleague Gabriel Winant and The American Prospect’s Adam Serwer adeptly document — is not the perception that she’s guilty of bigotry, but the wrong kind of bigotry. Anyone who doubts that should compare the cheap, easy and self-righteous outrage orgy against the powerless, 89-year-old columnist to the total non-reaction in the face of the incessant and ongoing anti-Arab bigotry of The New Republic’s Marty Peretz, or to the demands of then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey that the Palestinians leave the West Bank and go back to where they came from, and similar statements from Mike Huckabee (still gainfully employed at Fox News).
That’s because, as I wrote the last time Peretz had one of his vicious anti-Arab rants, severe punishment is meted out to those who engage in the wrong kind of prejudice while those who spout the right kind do so with total impunity. That, and the fact that there are consequences for the actions only of the powerless in Washington, but never the powerful.
Not that it should make any real difference, but the standard-issue “they’re Muslims and we are the enlightened West” chauvinistic rationalism doesn’t quite apply. When referring to Arabs, we should understand that the term also includes Christians. As a matter of fact, the Catholic Church just produced a study that found that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a key factor in the diminishing presence of Christians in the Middle East. A large chunk of Palestinian Christians have left and those who have remained suffer the same fate as their Muslim compatriots. (Arab Christians are also important minorities in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and in Iraq until the fall of the Sadam Hussein – ironically, a collateral effect of the U.S. invasion of Iraq was to topple one of the only secular governments in the Middle East with an important Christian political class in government.) The study also made reference to the fundamentalist (and principally American Protestant) Christian belief in the Rapture — that frighteningly quirky belief that Israel must be first cleansed of all non Jews in order to prepare for Jesus’ second coming.
So recognizing the obvious – that Israel’s existence is a given while that of the Palestinians is precarious — and taking into account the ongoing, unrepentant settlements and that Gaza is a virtual prison of 1.5 million people comparable in modern times perhaps only to Soweto, there is one question the righteous should be asking: do the Palestinians have a right to exist?
I think that answering that question in the affirmative and with conviction would resolve much of the problem, including defusing the raison d’être, demagoguery, and feigned outrage of many of the Region’s biggest instigators.