Thursday, July 27, 2006

Tomgram: Sandy Tolan, Déjà Vu in Gaza

On the one hand, there's the madness of devolving Iraq where dead bodies and
sectarian bloodletting are now the daily norm; on the other hand, there's the eternal madness of the never less than devolving Israeli/Palestinian situation.

There, last week, the Israeli government functionally declared Ariel Sharon's unilateral policy of a no-negotiations withdrawal from Gaza a failure and moved back in, launching its latest round of mayhem.

This round added up to a massive collective punishment against the people of Gaza, the further degradation of their already desperately impoverished living conditions, an attempt to bring down any version of a Palestinian government, and the imprisonment of ministers and legislators of the elected one.

This wide-ranging operation was explained as a measured response to the kidnapping of a single Israeli soldier and to some inept Qassam rocket attacks -- or as the Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy put it recently:

"Israel is causing electricity blackouts, laying sieges, bombing and shelling, assassinating and imprisoning, killing and wounding civilians, including children and babies, in horrifying numbers, but ‘they started.' They are also ‘breaking the rules' laid down by Israel: We are allowed to bomb anything we want and they are not allowed to launch Qassams."

(According to the Jerusalem Post, the captured soldier's father, Noam Shalit, criticized the government for its response, saying that "it was 'delusional' that the state of Israel would attempt to reestablish its deterrence at the expense of his son.")

Such Israeli tactics are, by now, visibly a kind of madness to whoever cares to look.

As in Iraq, those on both sides who want to push the situation to the next level only bolster extremists, creating a hopeless situation for everyone else and planting a potential bumper crop of further seeds of bitterness.

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert,
Jonathan Steele of the Guardian points out, wants (as did Ariel Sharon) "to undermine every moderate Palestinian by showing them up as powerless."

As Juan Cole summed up the situation recently in a piece at Salon:

"The actions of… Olmert seem intended to create a failed state in Gaza and the West Bank, thus rendering the Israeli claim that 'we have no one to talk to' a self-fulfilling prophecy and allowing Israel to continue with its unilateral, annexationist policies, free of the need to even pretend to negotiate. This shortsighted "strategy," which both the United States and, to a slightly lesser degree, the strangely docile Europeans have signed off on, is a recipe for continued hatred, extremism, bloodshed, injustice and festering grievances."

Sometimes as events rush on, it's important to look back, to consider history.

As September 11th was a date of great significance to Chileans -- on that day in 1973, a military coup backed by the Nixon administration overthrew the government of Salvador Allende -- but one of no significance to Americans (until, of course, 2001), so July 11 is a day of no importance to us, but an anniversary of abiding significance to many Palestinians -- and one we should know more about.

Journalist Sandy Tolan has spent the last years writing
The Lemon Tree, An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East -- a book focused on a single stone house in Ramla, a town that was once an Arab community and is now a Jewish one.

His focus was on the two families, Arab and Jewish, that have successively inhabited the house -- and on the complex and difficult friendship that formed between a member of each family.

It is a moving book that the distinguished Israeli historian Tom Segev has called, "a powerful account of Palestinians and Israelis who try to break the seemingly endless chain of hatred and violence. Capturing the human dimension of the conflict so vividly… Tolan offers something both Israelis and Palestinians all too often tend to ignore: a ray of hope."

Now, when we find Israelis and Palestinians in an even more desperate place on that "endless chain," Tolan takes a moment to remind us of how deep the abyss of pain and resentment is by focusing on the part of the story we almost never hear about -- the Palestinian one -- and an anniversary few of us have ever considered.


The Palestinian Catastrophe, Then and Now

By Sandy Tolan
Click here to read more of this dispatch.

No comments: