Letters to the Editors
Peace requires independence for the Palestinians
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000
Re: Beyond the madness, Oct. 14.
Your editorial on the situation in the Mideast turns reality on its head. It fails to recognize what most of the world knows -- that in the "occupied territories" (Ever wonder why they are called that?) there are occupiers (the Israeli military and settlers) and the occupied (the Palestinians). You speak of violence as though there are two equal parties in this conflict.
Your editorial unabashedly states that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "has failed to control his security forces and used the violence as political cover for rebuffing a historic offer for peace." It is as though the Palestinians are mere puppets, simply dancing to the tunes of puppeteer Arafat who, incidentally, has lost most of his credibility with his own people by selling them down the river during the course of the "peace process." This is not to mention that virtually all the violence has come from Israeli bullets and not from Palestinian stones.
And what of this "peace process" that you say "Barak, a man of exceptional courage" is committed to? Barak has authorized more Jewish settlements in the occupied territories than any of his predecessors since Oslo: Rabin, Peres or Netanyahu. For the Palestinians, the Oslo agreements have essentially created apartheid-style "Bantustans," "self-governed" areas that are surrounded by Israeli settlements and at the mercy of the Israeli military.
The "peace process" has dashed hopes that Palestinians had for an independent state (in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 242) that included all of the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as capital, and the right of return or compensation for Palestinians driven from their land.
There are currently 4-million Palestinian refugees the world over, many of them living for two generations in squalid conditions in camps in Lebanon. Palestinians who live in the occupied territories are subjected to daily subjugation and humiliation by the Israeli army and settlers. For most Palestinians, the peace process has escalated their oppression, land theft and denial of self-determination.
It is small wonder that the Palestinians revolted again. Ariel Sharon was merely the current spark. The "peace" your editorial seeks may come in a week or two, but rest assured that unless the Palestinians achieve their independence, the occupied territories will explode again and again. And unless your editors understand that this is a struggle for independence by a people whose land was stolen from them, you will repeatedly write the same editorial, making the victims into oppressors and vice versa.
Your editorial claims that Washington "has a constructive role to play, even as it becomes increasingly difficult for the United States to operate as an honest broker." Really! Our government supports Israel to the hilt -- and has since 1948. Honest broker, indeed!
Rights must be respected
Former Defense Minister Ariel Sharon's visit to the Muslims' holy sites in Jerusalem with a large police force was extremely provocative. It was Israel's way of telling the Palestinians and the Muslim world that the Israelis will achieve final sovereignty over Jerusalem whether by negotiations or by force. The uprising and the ensuing demonstrations throughout the Arab and Muslim world have responded by saying that they will not concede their control or rights in Jerusalem.
My family and I are Americans who have visited relatives in Lebanon throughout the years. We have been terrorized, as have the Lebanese and Palestinians, by Israeli air raids and bombing attacks on civilian areas. I asked myself, "How could the American government allow Israel to do this?" I felt their sense of powerlessness, frustration and injustice when their freedom and rights were not being respected, especially because international law was not being enforced. I believe this is what best explains the current uprising by the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
Israeli aggression and military might failed to achieve their objectives in Lebanon and only stirred up the Lebanese resistance to fight the Israeli occupation until human and political rights were restored. Israeli military superiority and excessive use of force in Palestine will not win the Israelis peace either. They cannot dictate peace terms to the Palestinians with American prodding, if those terms do not guarantee the Palestinians' basic human and political rights of self-determination.
What the rock-throwing youths are telling the Americans, Israelis and the world is: They have suffered, struggled and waited for so long that they cannot compromise these basic rights. Can we blame them? We must understand that there cannot be peace without justice and there cannot be justice until the Palestinians gain their human and political rights. If both parties' rights are established and respected, there can be peace and co-existence.
A questionable peace process
The outbreak of violence in the Mideast is tragic -- for all parties. Rocks can wound and kill; firebombs can destroy. For the U.N. Security Council to say that Israeli reaction is "excessive" is a cheap response for those who do not have to bear those attacks. The Oct. 11 Times reported that a Jewish "mob" shouted "death to the Arabs," as it attacked an Israeli restaurant. What have the Arab rioters been shouting as they hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails: "Have a nice day"?
You trivialize the impact on the Israeli community when your Oct. 10 story, Few vegetables but plenty of ammunition, reports on the "relatively minor" effect of the Arab rioting on the availability of vegetables from Arab farms. Israeli citizens fear for their lives and for the safety of their holy places. No Arab or Christian religious site has ever been desecrated or closed to Arab or Christian access since Israeli control of Jerusalem and the West Bank. But when Israeli forces turned Joseph's Tomb in Nablus over to the Palestinian police recently on their promise of protection for this holy site, those very police led Arab rioters to demolish the site and burn the books and religious artifacts there.
For the Israeli citizens, the most terrible aspect of this violence has been the role of the 30,000 Palestinian "police," who were armed by the Israeli government in exchange for Yasser Arafat's pledge that they would serve to keep the peace and prevent exactly this kind of mob terror. In fact, rather than keep the peace, they have turned their guns on their Israeli counterparts and have contributed to the escalation of violence.
We must all pray for an end to this violence, even while we also ask what it shows about the reality of a "peace process" that has led Israel to give over to Palestinian control large areas that helped it maintain its security, while arming a "peace" force that seems to have a very different understanding of the meaning of that term.
All because of one Jew's prayers
On Sept. 29, as Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, was just hours away, one Jew went up to the Temple Mount to pray for his land and for his people. He went to a Jewish site, in a Jewish city, in a Jewish land. A place under the authority of a Jewish government. The same site where Abraham proved his righteousness to God by showing his willingness to give his only son, Isaac, in obedience to God. The same site where the Jewish Temple was built by Solomon and was rebuilt by the Jewish returnees from Babylon, hundreds of years before 70 CE when the Romans destroyed it again. And the same site which finally returned to Jewish hands in a 1967 war in which the innocent Jewish people successfully defended themselves against an unprovoked massive invasion by the Arab nations.
In the process of defending against the 1967 invasion, the Jews won back this Temple Mount, this same spot where on Sept. 29, one Jew went to one Jewish place to pray. So, what is the big deal?
Seven years of conceding land that was won in a war in which Israel was the party being attacked, now comes to a violent end because one Jew went to pray at the Temple mount. Now, as the Jewish state braces itself for more senseless outbursts of violence against its innocent citizens, somehow, the only thing that the Times can see fit to print on its Oct. 11 front-page is an off-beat story about a few overzealous Jews who destroyed a restaurant that employed Arab workers. Hardly an accurate picture of what is truly happening in Israel right now.
In our eight-day Sukkot festival (the Feast of Tabernacles), I join my people in prayer at yet another moment of crisis in our turbulent history, and we hope, as always, for a peaceful end. We also hope for more responsible journalism by the St. Petersburg Times.
Religion too often sends us to war
The recent barbaric events in the Mideast and elsewhere ought to be reminders to those advocates of public religion here in the United States of why our First Amendment is hostile to the notion that religious affiliation should be a matter of state concern. Religion has always been a catalyst that transforms the anguish and unhappiness of a bad situation into a morally compelling narrative that summons the believer to extreme militancy, even violence in the advocacy of "God's will."
Fundamentalists in Islam and Judaism invoke the imprimatur of the divine in contesting their conflicting claims regarding a pile of dusty rocks. Millions call for arms and offer themselves, their families and nations as cannon fodder in the "holy" war. But in the end, we are only human beings, and all our pious posturing serves only the interests of demagogues and contributes much to the misery whose ultimate product is still more war. It would be better if we invested the energy and resources spent on such nonsense toward more fertile ends, such as the relief of poverty and ending social inequality. Better to take the money spent on arms and religion and put it into improving life for ourselves, our planet and the human future.
When serving humanity becomes the ethical measure of religious observance, only then will humanity know its own full measure. Until that happy time is reached, however, we would be wise to pay heed to Madison, Washington, Jefferson, Paine and others in their resolve to keep religious posturing at some great remove from the ongoing construction of our civil republic.
It's a job for the U.N.
The Mideast peace process was deliberately and intentionally aborted by the actions of Ariel Sharon. In Israel needs an ally in the U.S., not a broker, William Safire's Oct. 13 column, he is completely in error.
This is the very situation that should be handled by the United Nations to prevent a world conflagration. The disruption and hate have permeated this area for far too long to be possibly quelled by a U.S. brokered settlement.
Perhaps the time has come again for the city of Jerusalem to be declared an "open city" and protected by the U.N. troops for all people to have access to the holy shrines.
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