Refugee camp invasions. Suicide bombers. House demolitions. Suicide bombers. Arrests of children, curfews, roadblocks, collective punishments, dropping one-ton bombs on densely populated streets. Suicide bombers.
Only two years ago, a Syrian-American friend laid out for me a vision for the Middle East. Both Israelis and Palestinians, she said, were modern, entrepreneurial people who valued education and technology. She foresaw a kind of Middle Eastern co-prosperity sphere that would gradually draw the two closer as their economies meshed and bygones became bygones. That would have been a happy ending, but what are its chances now?
The Sharon government seems bent on beating, bombing, demolishing, humiliating and starving the West Bank and Gaza into submission, while appropriating more and more land for settlers (forty-five new settlements have gone up in the year and a half since Sharon’s election). Unemployment in the occupied territories stands at 75 percent. According to a report about to be released by USAID, malnutrition among Palestinian children under 6 has risen from 7 percent to 30 percent over the past two years. In the current issue of Tikkun, Jessica Montell, executive director of B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, details the damage wrought by the Israel Defense Forces in their siege of Jenin and other West Bank areas this past spring: the flattening of whole streets and the trashing and looting of homes, civic centers, Palestinian Authority offices and those of numerous human rights organizations; gross violations of human rights, including the use of civilians as human shields; and denial of access to food, water and medical care, resulting in the deaths of three children and an elderly woman.
Is this what “defending Israel” necessarily involves? So you might think from the hefty numbers who turn out for pro-Sharon rallies in this country, like the 100,000 who gathered on the Washington Mall in April. Not everyone agrees: Opposition to Sharon’s policies was a major theme of the 75,000-strong antiwar demonstration on April 20; petitions and open letters opposing Sharon are flying around the Internet, and new groups are forming by the minute–Not in My Name, Jewish Voices Against the Occupation, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace. But the big, well-organized and well-connected Jewish American numbers are still on the side of using military force to crush the Palestinians. I signed the open letter organized by Alan Sokal and Bruce Robbins calling for the evacuation of settlements and Palestinian self-determination and felt I knew half the people on it. Nonetheless, there is enough criticism, from enough quarters, to puncture the old accusations (in which there was sometimes a grain of truth) that US critics of Israeli policies are anti-Semites, “self-hating Jews” or Third World-infatuated America-hating leftists. None of those terms could conceivably describe the neoliberal (and Jewish) historian Tony Judt, whose trenchant and bitter critique of recent developments in The New York Review of Books (“The Road to Nowhere,” April 11) did not stop short of describing Israel as a thoroughly militarized colonial power. Nor is it easy to see recent New York Times coverage in this light–although the paper is currently being bombarded with mail and protests for its imaginary pro-Palestinian tilt, and the Zionist women’s group Hadassah has even called for a boycott of the paper (just for three months, though, because you can’t ask too much of people).