Saturday, February 03, 2007
# Posted 7:11 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
As I mentioned last week, one priority of mine is to read up on the origins of the Palestinian refugee crisis. However, my attention has been diverted from that subject by two passionately argued books about the conflict. The first is Alan Dershowitz's The Case for Israel. The second is Norman Finkelstein's Beyond Chutzpah, which is devoted in no small part to refuting Dershowitz.
This post will focus on the introduction to Finkelstein's book. Later, I will turn to Dershowitz. But for the moment, I would like to point out two critical similarities between the two authors and their books. The first is that both men are unequivocally committed to the peace process and to the two-state solution to the ongoing conflict. That is good news. The second similarity is that both men have total, unflinching confidence in their diametrically opposed evaluations of the facts on the ground. This is a problem.
In general, there seems to be a consensus that the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is extraordinarily complicated. Men and women on both sides of the line have suffered greatly at the hands of the other. Men and women on both sides make powerful arguments for the justice of their cause. But Finkelstein will have none of it. He writes on the second page of his book that:
Looking back after two decades of study and reflection, I am struck most by how uncomplicated the Israel-Palestine conflict is. There is no longer much contention among scholars on the historical record... [emphasis in original]My sense is that scholars like Efraim Karsh, Benny Morris and Ilan Pappe are still at each other's figurative throats, but that is a secondary point for the moment. The bigger question is this one:
Yet if, as I've suggested, broad agreement has been reached on the factual record, an obvious anomaly arises: what accounts for the impassioned controversy that still swirls around the Israel-Palestine conflict? To my mind, explaining this apparent paradox requires, first of all, that a fundamental distinction be made between those controversies that are real and those that are contrived.So which are real and which are contrived? (pp.6-7)
Most of the controversy surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict is, in my view, contrived. The purpose of contriving such controversy is transparently political: to deflect attention from, or distort, the actual documentary record. One can speak of, basically, three sources of artificial disagreement: (1) mystification of the conflict's roots, (2) invocation of anti-Semitism and The Holocaust, and (3) on a different plane, the vast proliferation of sheer fraud on the subject.These issues deserve attention, but my mind immediately raced ahead to a subject that seemed to be the cause of a very real controversy: suicide bombing. As a supporter of Israel, I stand by the position that the intentional and unrepentant murder of civilians is morally depraved and absolutely never justifiable. But I don't dismiss out of hand as depraved or dishonest the argument that such atrocities cannot be considered apart from questionable Israeli methods that also result in great suffering.
The issue here is morality, not facts. Even if both sides were to agree on the facts, their moral significance would remain the subject of debate. Yet Finkelstein explicitly refuses to acknowledge that supporters of Israel even have a legitimate point to make about Palestinian atrocities. He writes that:
In the course of resisting European encroachment, Native Americans committed many horrendous crimes. But to understand why doesn't require probing the defects of their character or civilization. Criticizing the practice, in government documents, of reciting Native American "atrocities," Helen Hunt Jackson, a principled defender of Native Americans writing in the late 19th century, observed: "[T]he Indians who committed these 'atrocities' were simply ejecting by force, and, in the contests arising from this forcible ejectment, killing men who had usurped and stolen their lands...What would a community of white men, situated precisely as these Cherokees were, have done?"This kind of logic strikes me as extremely dangerous. Although Finkelstein doesn't explicitly condone suicide bombing, he tells us that it is pointless to condemn such acts, because the Palestinian cause is fundamentally justified. After all, what would a community of white men, situated precisely as these Palestinians were, have done?
Although Finkelstein seems to endorse the concepts of international law and human rights, his position on Palestinian "atrocities" is equivalent to an unmitigated assertion that those with a just cause (according to what standard?) can disregard both what is legal and what is right. In essence, Finkelstein wants to have it both ways. He wants to condemn Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights but write off Palestinian violations as a natural response to an unpleasant situation. As someone who believes that we are all responsible for the morality of our behavior, especially in matters of life and death, I disagree with Finkelstein fundamentally.
Perhaps the more immediate question is whether Finkelstein would consider my disagreement to be legitimate, or whether he would dismiss it as a contrived position designed to distort the factual record. While respecting the right of others to disagree with my argument, I would be extraordinarily suspicious of someone who sought to triviliaze my point by insisting that I have dark, ulterior motives.
I must admit that after reading only twenty pages of Finkelstein's book, I am approaching the conclusion that its author has been so consumed by partisanship that few of its contents can be trusted without extensive verification. But I will finish the book. Finkelstein is cited so often by advocates of the Palestinian cause, that I think it is simply necessary to read his work in order to enter the debate.
More importantly, my experience indicates that even the most committed partisans often have a fair amount of legitimate criticism to offer. To be continued... (6) opinions -- Add your opinion
I'm definitely not an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. However, I've read both books: Alan Dershowitz's The Case for Israel and Norman Finkelstein's Beyond Chutzpah. To my mind, both works are advocacy pieces as opposed to neutral attempts to set the factual record straight.
In other words, the Palestinians get a pass on the way in, justifying whatever they may choose to do, at any time. No wonder Finkelstein finds most versions of the debate more complex than they need to be!
"the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is extraordinarily complicated." Consider the possibility that American action is best in the opposite circumstance. Japan attacks Pearl Harbour; Hitler declares war on the USA; Stalin threatens all of Europe - perhaps it's on issues like these that US action can be so effective.
"I am firmly pro-Israel."
This may invariably hinder you in your quest. (What does it mean to you, presently?)
Afterall, if one wants "truth", either factual or moral, you ought not to start with certainties; or, if you do, make sure you leave room for doubts.
Besides, why wouldn't you be "firmly American" before you were "firmly pro-Israel"? I'm don't doubt that you are, but that question may linger until you settle it.
Again, you are "firmly pro-Israel." So what? I can say that I'm firmly pro-American. What does that mean? That I support illegal occupations and the usurping of others land? I agree with amicus, you're attempt at an objective quest has been crippled before taking the first step. Unless you can qualify "pro", and explain that you are using it in a way that is consistent with human rights and international law, you might want to deprogram and start again.
Study this map closely if you want an honest depiction of what is happening to the Palestinian people. Unfortunately, until Israel and the U.S. start abiding by international law, nothing will improve.
"Everybody has to move, run and grab as many (Palestinian) hilltops as they can to enlarge the (Jewish) settlements because everything we take now will stay ours...Everything we don't grab will go to them."
-- Ariel Sharon, Israeli Foreign Minister, addressing a meeting of the Tsomet Party, Agence France Presse, Nov. 15, 1998.
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