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A clear look at the challenges faced by Israel

Published September 26, 2003

Re: Weapon of mass population, Sept. 21.

Thank you for this most informative article. Perhaps now your readers will have a somewhat clearer view of what Israel has been up against for so many years. How is Israel, a modern, Western country, supposed to deal with a Palestinian culture whose raison d'etre is to "get the Jews out"? How many of Majed Eshbear's 20 children - some of whom he cannot afford to educate - will become tomorrow's homicide bombers? Yes, there have been travesties committed by both sides, but if one thing is certain, it is that the intifada has done nothing but kill people and destroy the Palestinian economy.

What will the quality of life be for so many uneducated, unemployed people? High unemployment serves only to feed the cycle of despair and hatred. Hopefully, some of the children of the "biological bomb" will come to understand that only peace and a commitment to coexistence will lead to a better future for themselves and everyone in the region.

-- Stuart Berger, chairperson, Tampa Bay B'nai B'rith Anti-Hate Committee, Clearwater

Living on U.N. aid

Re: Weapons of mass population.

Susan Taylor Martin's article adds an important and oft-neglected dimension to our understanding of the endemic conflict in the Middle East. Many of your readers will ask: How can a man who stays home all day watching cartoons and smoking cigarettes hope to support 20 children and two wives? The answer is: He doesn't have to. You and I, through the United Nations, will support them.

Fifty-five years after the end of the first Arab war against Israel, millions of Arabs continue to live in "camps" that are supported by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). During the post-World War II period, tens of millions of people were forced to move from their homes by conflict: Germans from Czechoslovakia and Alsace, Austrians from the Tyrol, Hindus and Muslims from their homes during the partition of India - and, yes, Jews forced from Arab lands that invaded Israel. All of them resettled in the lands to which they fled and none of them today maintain irredentist claims - except for the Arabs, many of whom were encouraged to flee by the invading Arab armies, and who were then denied settlement in the Arab lands to which they fled. Generations later they continue to remain as pawns of the Arab nations that caused their plight.

In the 1950s, UNRWA recognized that this condition should not be allowed to continue, and raised a fund of over $100-million to build homes and communities for these refugees. The Arab world rejected this initiative - preferring to keep their own people living in camps "as an open sore, as an affront to the United Nations and as a weapon against Israel," as Ralph Garroway, former director of UNRWA, put it. And so the United Nations continues to support the camps, and provide food, shelter and clothing - however meager - to the inhabitants. At the same time, the Palestinian Authority, which has administrative authority over Gaza and its camps, diverts $900-million to a private bank account of Yasser Arafat (as we learned from the same issue of the Times); money that was contributed by the European Union and others for the development of a viable economy there.

And so Majed Eshbear and his compatriots can continue to sit at home and smoke cigarettes, nurture their hatred and dream their fantasies of throwing Israel into the sea - while we pay for them, their children, their wives and their deadly fantasies.

-- Barry Augenbraun, St. Petersburg

It is a question of rights

Re: Weapons of mass population.

Susan Taylor Martin's article on the birth rate in the occupied Palestinian territories, particularly in the Gaza strip, makes some troubling assumptions.

Why are Palestinian (or Israeli Arab) births a "problem"? A symmetric claim could easily be made by the Palestinians: With each Israeli birth, the prospect of their own state recedes further. This is especially true in the occupied territories, where settler populations, particularly among the Haredim, have seen the greatest rates of growth under Ariel Sharon. Population growth in the settlements was three times higher than in Israel proper in 2002-3.

Furthermore, the suggestion that "huge amounts of humanitarian aid" allow Palestinians to live long, healthy lives and reproduce without consequences is disingenuous. Aid from UNRWA and Islamic charities is the only factor that prevents total economic and social collapse in Gaza. Thanks to the complete closure that is frequently imposed, Palestinians are unable to travel to Israel to work. Internal checkpoints and closures further restrict commerce, not to mention life-saving medical assistance. At least 75 percent of Gazans are living in poverty (Norwegian Refugee Council, Sept. 1, 2003), and at least 50 percent are unemployed. The intimation that Palestinian families are living high on international aid is absurd. As an UNRWA report in 2002 noted, "humanitarian conditions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have deteriorated to levels unprecedented in decades."

The issue is not the Palestinian birth rate per se. It is whether legitimate Palestinian aspirations for national self-determination should continue to be subjugated to the dreams of the settlers. Only if Palestinians' rights are less valuable than Israeli rights are Palestinian births a crisis.

-- Daniel A. Weiskopf, assistant professor of philosophy, University of South Florida, St. Petersburg

Formula doesn't fit

Re: Weapon of mass population.

The story says: "It is a war fought not just with F-16s and suicide bombers, but with diapers and Similac."

This statement is a sad reflection of mainstream culture, which has nothing to do with the story. Are the women of Gaza City not breast-feeding? Or are you just saying that because you are so accustomed to seeing babies with bottles that you assume they are all fed that way? The reference to a brand of formula just does not fit with the story line.

-- Wanda Daniels, St. Petersburg

Beware the bitterness

Re: Weapons of mass population.

I was brokenhearted by the picture and caption on the front of your Sunday paper. What a warped view of children to see them as future weapons to get rid of your enemies. A perverted view of justice has been transformed into an unrestrained hatred. This poison, infecting both sides it seems, is passed from generation to generation by parents, teachers and leaders.

This letter is not intended to take sides on the Palestinian issue. I would, however, like to point out that there is something worse than not having or losing your own nation. It is worse by far to let your soul become a prisoner of bitterness, resentment, unforgiveness and lust for revenge.

If I could speak for two minutes with the ladies interviewed for your article, I would pass on this message. There once lived a leader in Jerusalem who invited all men to a brotherhood which was "neither Jew nor gentile." He taught that forgiveness is one of the prime attributes of the God of Abraham. This crucified sin-bearer offers to heal our hearts and reconcile us to God and our fellow man.

-- Mike Carlson, Weeki Wachee

Focus on our connections

Three distinct items caught my eye in the Sept. 22 Times. The first was the Paul Szep editorial cartoon portraying a terrorist (a Palestinian type as opposed to an American Timothy McVeigh-type terrorist) taking his place quite low in the evolutionary chain from ape to man. There was also a very small article about the Dali Lama's presentation in New York's Central Park earlier this week, and a column by William Raspberry on the "epidemic of disconnectedness." There is a profound relation between the three items.

A biologist once wrote that he finally discovered the missing link between apes and civilized man - it is us. Many of us are more familiar with the cartoon character, Pogo, who proclaimed that we have met the enemy, and he is us. Fooling ourselves into believing that evil is perpetuated by others who don't look like us, or are in other ways different from us, is turning our backs on the real issue that faces our species. It's really not about Jews versus Palestinians, or whites versus blacks, or any other disparate groups of peoples. It's about our humanness. It's about our connection with each other, as opposed to our differences. When people recognize the importance of the Dali Lama's message and cease to focus on our differences, we will have progressed toward a just and lasting peace.

Raspberry bemoans the fact that our children are becoming more and more disconnected, and thus less invested in the social good. He likens the phenomena to the proverbial canary in the mine shaft - observable measures of the the human penchant for survival. He concludes that we do indeed have cause for concern unless we balance love with firm expectations in the family. Connection begins in the home. Citing the Commission on Children at Risk, Raspberry reports that we are "hardwired for transcendent connections as well - for an interest in ultimate meaning."

I suggest that all of us take a deeper look within for this ultimate meaning before more canaries die. Do we understand and honor our connection with each other? Are we truly civilized in our actions and intent toward our neighbors in this village called Earth?

-- Douglas Bonar, Pinellas Park

Casket cartoon is not funny

I had planned on writing to you regarding the new "comics" added to your paper. Most of them are not funny and not worth the ink used to print them.

Most of all I found Bizarro very distasteful when it portrayed Charlton Heston in a casket. This man is not dead and there is nothing funny about it.

I hope you are more careful in what you print in the future.

-- Betty Mundy, Gulfport

Advice preferred

Re: Comics vs. Dear Abby.

-- I would much rather see the complete Dear Abby column, which is usually educational, than your cut-down version. This was done so you could make room for your "stupid" new comics. I'm sure others would agree.

Donald F. Kelly, St. Petersburg

List those leanings

After your two editorial cartoons of Sept. 20 and 21, your obvious left turn in the "comic" pages, and your unabashed stance attacking President Bush at every turn, why not add one line to your masthead to make your position clear: The St. Petersburg Times, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic National Committee.

-- Vance R. Lackore, Madeira Beach

A worthy addition

As a long-time reader of the St. Petersburg Times, I've enjoyed the recent addition of Paul Szep's cartoons on your opinion page.

It's great that your paper finally has a cartoonist who deals forcefully with state issues and political leaders.

-- P. Clark, Largo

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[Last modified September 26, 2003, 01:49:38]


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