Isaac, Ishmael and Uncle Sam

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I’ve had it! Never in my recent memory have I been so frustrated with the government I live under and never before have I felt like doing something reckless and ultimately pointless. Why do I feel this way? Why do I fell like I understand how somebody from Palestine or another country in the mostly-Muslim world can hijack a plane and crash it into buildings or strap a bomb to their body and blow themselves up with whatever other people happen to be in the area?

I’ll tell you why. A couple of minutes ago I was sent a photograph from the Reuters News Agency that showed a seven-year-old boy laying dead on the ground. The caption read, in part: “A neighbor watching 20 meters away on his balcony told Reuters that an Israeli tank crewman had beckoned a group of children to approach his vehicle, and Mahmoud was then gunned down by four bullets of the tank’s machine gun when the party came near.” This photograph followed one I had seen perhaps three days earlier on another news agency’s website of two members of the Israeli Defense Forces standing in full combat fatigues next to a wall in one of Palestine’s occupied villages. At their feet was the dead body of a Palestinian. The soldiers stood behind the body while one of their compatriots took a photograph.

It was as if the human they had killed was a piece of game they shot while on a safari. Needless to say (at least in my mind), these photographs are disturbing beyond definition, as are the innumerable pictures of Israeli teenagers killed by suicide bombs outside coffee shops and nightclubs and the stories of Palestinian women in labor being denied passage to a hospital or, as has happened three times this week alone, being shot by Israeli soldiers.

When I was younger I was fascinated with the story of Israel and its founding in the wake of the unspeakable horrors visited upon the Jewish people under the Nazis. I found books like Exodus and the movies made based on them to be inspirational and even considered the possibility of becoming Jewish myself. When I was in high school, I listened in awe when Jewish friends of mine came back from summers spent working on the kibbutzim. I even agreed with Israel’s rationale for going to war in 1967. After the battles of Black September between the Jordanian army and the Palestinian guerrillas I truly believed that the Israeli government would do everything in its power to insure that the Palestinians would gain their own homeland. After all, wasn’t the Israeli struggle somewhat similar to that of the Palestinians and wasn’t the Israeli government fundamentally a just government?

Then, in 1972, a group of Palestinian fighters took several Israeli athletes hostage at the Summer Olympics in Munich. This was after a series of plane hijackings and other acts carried out in the name of the Palestinian people. The actions in Munich and their aftermath convinced me there was much more to this picture than I knew. So I began to read. I read histories of Israel written by Zionists and others and I read stories of the Palestinian expulsion from the villages in what is now Israel. Still, I didn’t feel like I knew the whole story. For one thing, it was hard to find information that was unfavorable to Israel in the English language unless it was written by Nazis and that material was obviously not worthwhile. Then, one day as I sat at a table for a radical group in front of the University of Maryland Student Union, some rather menacing college students came up and asked me why I had literature supporting the Palestinians on my table. I began to explain that the Palestinians deserved a hearing when suddenly I was struck in the chest by one of the students. It turned out that these guys were members of the Jewish Defense League. By the time they were finished, the table had been turned over, my eye was cut and the literature was strewn across the lawn. In addition, my opinion of the fairness of Jewish supporters of Israel was severely diminished. As I continued to read about the country over the years I began to realize that there was more to its history than the noble words of its founders, just like the history of the United States. There had been expulsions of people to make room for Europeans and the denial of the natives’ culture and right to land, but I still thought that the basic sense of justice of the Jewish people would do a better job with its errors than the United States had done with its.

I no longer believe this and haven’t for years, although I admit that I did believe there was a glimmer of hope after the first Intifada in the early 199os. Now, however, the recent actions of the current government in Israel have only strengthened my conviction that, as far as Sharon and his cronies are concerned, the only peace in Israel will occur only when there are no more Palestinians within it ever-expanding borders. To top it off, the current government in Washington is even less concerned with the appearance of making peace in the Middle East than any of its predecessors. Indeed, Washington has basically given the Israeli army the go-ahead to do whatever it wants to the Palestinian people and any hopes they have left. To help them out, it recently guaranteed the sale of several more F-16 fighters and other military hardware to Sharon and his generals in their fight against the barely armed Palestinians. Like the rest of GW’s foreign policy, there is no such thing as negotiation, only death.

Does this mean I support suicide bombings? Of course not. Does it mean I understand why someone living under the conditions that most Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza live under might decide that becoming a suicide bomber is a reasonable thing to do? Yes, it does. Do I believe war is the answer to the Palestinians’ plight? No, but it is not the Palestinians who expanding this war. It is Israel, with her army and her billions of U.S. dollars without which she could not exist.

If you are as tired of seeing the pictures I referred to in the beginning of this piece, it is imperative that you let those people in Washington, DC know that you are. Write them, email them, march in the streets against their policy. Think about it, if Israel did not get close to $5 billion of our tax money every year its government would have to deal with the situation it has created by its intransigence and trickery in Palestine. No longer could this government founded in the ashes of one of humankind’s greatest tragedies-the Holocaust-be able to continue to kindle the flames of another. It is not a holocaust yet, nor can we let it become one.

Mr. Ron Jacobs is the author of “The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground” (Verso, 1997).

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