In order to provide international perspective in the debate over US foreign policy, The Nation asked foreign intellectuals to share their reflections. This is the fifth in that series.
Growing up in Nazareth, an Arab in a Jewish state, a secular Christian in a Muslim society, a leftist in a Baptist school, I learned firsthand how managing ideological, religious and national differences helps us evolve peacefully. Succumbing to them generates fundamentalism and antagonism. Applying brute force to overcome them–as Israel, my country, has done to my people, the Palestinian Arabs–fails utterly.
So it puzzles me as to why America now views the Middle East through Israel’s eyes, and why, since 9/11, it has adopted an apocalyptic Israeli vision of an irredeemable world that “hates us.” Such fatalism on the part of Bush and Sharon is rendering diplomacy a prelude to imminent war in Iraq and Palestine. Their justification–“If it doesn’t get worse, it won’t get better, and when force doesn’t work, more force will”–threatens to globalize the violent impasse of Israel/Palestine. Judging from the January Israeli (and last fall’s American) elections, more people are buying into this dangerous paranoia.
In order to confront this logic, I feel it is indispensable to debunk the myths behind America’s misplaced identification/fascination with Israel, best captured in a post-9/11 headline: “We Are All Israelis Now.” As seen in this light, Israel is a “peace-seeking” victim of Arab hostility, a “true democracy” that shares “our” values, an “ally” that serves “our” interests, whose “success” in a “hostile neighborhood” is inspirational in a Hobbesian world. In reality, Israel has consistently expanded its frontiers, embarked on a number of offensive wars and even contemplated the reconfiguration of Lebanon and Jordan, while rejecting UN resolutions and America’s own initiatives. That hardly qualifies as peace-seeking.
The myth that Israel serves America’s interests, while hardly a compliment or honor to any nation, goes against the logic of history. Traditionally, Arabs identified with an America that stood as a symbol of the right of self-determination against the British and French colonial powers. Their relations with America turned sour only when Washington supported Israel’s aggression.
America’s interests could be secured without imperial support for Israel’s hegemony. A Middle East that is safe for its Arab inhabitants could also be safe for America (and Israel). America’s main interest, oil, is best secured through the market’s supply and demand, not another war in Iraq. Needless to say, Arabs–moderates and radicals alike–seek to sell their oil, not drink it. As for the “democratic oasis” fallacy, Israel, by definition, cannot be both a Jewish state and a democracy with one-fifth of its population Palestinian. Israel has stripped us, its Palestinian citizens, of two-thirds of our own land, and it has enacted laws that discriminate against us simply because we aren’t Jewish. Calls to “transfer” us–that is, to push us out of Israel altogether–have been gaining momentum among my fellow citizens. Acting with impunity, thanks to Washington, my country has transformed its conflict into perpetual war by justifying its occupation on security and theological grounds and condemning the entirety of my people’s struggle for freedom as terrorism.