Jan. 13, 2009

Gaza Continued

How do we hold in our hearts and minds the reality that is Gaza, the terrible crimes of Operation Cast Lead? If we aspire to follow the teachings of the Buddha the starting point, and ending point, must be the maxim, "Hatred is not overcome by hatred. Hatred is only overcome by love, that is a law eternal, spoken by all the Buddhas" (Dhammapada)

It does not help anyone to view the indisputable war crimes of the IDF and to fall into anger and ill-will. Tribalism is the problem here, and reflecting back with anti-Jewish tribalism, as the poster "anonymous" has here is to take the poison into our own being.

The path of peace is not a path of surrender or weakness. Look again at the Palestinian woman in the video, facing off the soldier. There is no hatred in her voice or her demeanour. She is making an honest attempt to confront the soldier at a human level. Yes, the soldier still fired his rifle but I think you can see a moment of doubt there. She may not have broken down his tribal mind-set, but she made a crack in it.

There are many points of conflict in the world; economic struggle for precious land and resources underlie most of them, and the blind ignorance of a tribal "us vs. them" mentality fuels the hearts of the combatants. We need to wake up from these nightmares and face our common humanity together.

The Middle East conflict is only one among many, but it commands our attention for all kinds of reasons; strategic, economic, historical, religious and cultural. Emotions run high and it is very difficult to keep a rational discussion going. Look around the internet and see how many comments fall into the mirror-image camps of the tribalists. One side denounces the "greedy murderous Zionists" and the other decries the "brutal terrorist fanatics." In reality, two groups of scared, ignorant humans just like the rest of us.

To think rationally about the problem is hard. We need to step back from all extremes and try and understand Israel and Palestine objectively. Maybe I might have an edge here, as a Buddhist I don't have a pony in the race between the competing deities.

The first thing that needs to be said is that in the broad picture, Israel is the oppressor. Israel has taken most of the Palestinian land and imposed a very harsh apartheid regime on the occupied territories. The settlements, more accurately colonies, in the West Bank are an intolerable violation of international law. So is the policy of collective punishment which resulted in the starvation blockade of Gaza.

Thinking historically, it seems to me that Israel represents an anachronism; a survival of nineteenth century colonialism into the twenty-first century. The closest historical analogy to the Israel treatment of the Palestinians is the way the Americans treated the natives. The Zionist movement grew up in an age of colonialism. What France did to Algeria, and Britain to Rhodesia, made the Zionist project respectable among nations. This behaviour is no longer tolerable.

There can be no peace in the Middle East without a just settlement for the Palestinians. How this can be accomplished is very hard to say, but it is certainly not to be found in check-points, apartheid walls and punitive campaigns. For a few years it looked like a two-state solution, essentially a reprise of the 1947 UN plan, was a viable option. But, foolishly perhaps, Israel has made that nearly impossible by stepping up the pace of colonization, leaving the Palestinians no room for a viable state.

Tariq Ali writing in the Guardian makes the case for the one-state solution; one state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan with all citizens equal regardless of ethnicity. This would not be easy either with the legacy of bitterness on both sides. It would be the end of the Jewish state but perhaps that is a good thing. States based on a single ethnic identity are a legacy of the past and a perpetuator of the tribal insanity. Who knows, given a generation or two perhaps the Jews and the Arabs could learn to live together and produce something new and valuable for the world.

I honestly don't know what the answer is, except that it is not to be found in piling up more bodies. If I could advise the Israeli leadership I would suggest that they open negotiations with all relevant parties on the other side, including Hamas, and begin by admitting the historical wrongs they have committed and asking in all humility for suggestions as to how to make things right. Start by recognizing that they will have to give some things up; land and money for starters, and perhaps even an exclusive Jewish state.

I have been critical of Israel here, mostly because in the big picture they are in the wrong, but it should be said in all fairness that the tribal stupidity is found on the other side as well. The Hamas tactic of firing rockets into Sederot is an example. These rockets have no value whatsoever towards the legitimate goals of the Palestinian people; they will not get them neither land nor peace. Even from a cynical military point of view they are useless, gnats biting on an elephant. The only motivation seems to be simple revenge.

If I could advise the Palestinian leadership I would say you need more people like the heroine in the video. Imagine tens of thousands of her, calmly facing down the Israeli guns and tanks, perhaps sitting down en masse and blocking the Jewish-only apartheid roads in the West Bank. This would take more courage than throwing rocks.

To paraphrase an old joke; if only the Jews and the Arabs could settle their differences like good Buddhists.

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NOTE ON COMMENTS

In general I do not like censorship and am happy to leave up comments with which I disagree. However, I think "anonymous" has crossed the line by promoting racism and violence. Those comments have been deleted.

Please feel free to disagree or agree for that matter, and to take any side. But please find someplace else to post hatred directed against any ethnic group.