Sunday, February 6, 2011

From Lucknow to Israel/Palestine

Yesterday was a fascinating day. I went with a friend to the LA County Museum to see an exhibit on the art and culture of Lucknow, a prodominantly Muslim city in Northern India. See The art of Lucknowwas amazingly rich, with lots of surprises. One of the most surprising images for me was a miniature scene of an extremely realistic, half-dressed Prophet Mohammad being visited in bed by the angel Gabriel, a very handsome, scantily clad young man (the prophet's wife was sleeping nearby). Images of the Prophet Mohammad are strictly forbidden in Islam, and portraying him in his provocative way would cause riots among many contemporary Muslims, so I am still trying to wrap my mind around what this image means culturally and religiously. Clearly the inhabitants of Lucknow had a more sophisticated notion of art and religion than many who live in this region today.

The city of Lucknow was incredibly opulent, and its way of life was beautiful and refined. But all this glory was to end abruptly. In 1857, the Muslims of Northern India revolted against British colonialism, and the city was destroyed. Fortunately, reminders of its glorious past remain in the form of art.

After visiting the museum, I went to hear Richard Falk and Jeff Halpern at the Iman Center in Culver City. This event was sponsored by LA Jews for Peace and other progressive Jewish groups. The hall was packed with Jews and others who support a just solution to the Israel/Palestinian conflict. Halper and Falk presented a pessimistic assessment of the current situation, with few glimmers of hope. What thing was clear: unless there is a huge shift in American public opinion, especially among the Beltway politicians, the situation for Palestinians will grow increasingly bad and so will US standing in the Middle East and throughout the Muslim world. It is clear that Israel/Palestine is a key factor in peace throughout this region, and throughout the world.

Halper is a founder of Israeli Committee Aginst Home Demotions: Many Americans are unaware of the fact that Israelis have demolished over 5,000 Palestinian homes and uprooted over half a million olive trees, and that Jews of conscience stand opposed to cruel acts of oppresssion. Halper writes on this site:

Struggling as I have for the past decades to grasp the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and find ways to get out of this interminable and absolutely
superfluous conflict, I have been two-thirds successful. After many years of activism and analysis, I think I have put my finger on the first third of the equation: What is the problem? My answer, which has withstood the test of time and today is so evident that it… Read more

In his talk at the Iman center, Halper told us to "let go of our fatalism" and imagine that peace is possible. Look at how unexpectedly and quickly political situations can change, e.g. Egypt, Tunisia, the Phillipines, Eastern Europe, Seoul (Korea), etc. We need to have a world-wide movement to make a difference. We have to push the US government to make a just peace, since Israelis don't really care about peace. They believe that the Arabs don't want peace and never will. Therefore, the Israelis don't really try to bring about peace, as the recent Palestinian papers revealed. No matter what concessions the collaborationists on the West Bank offered, the Israelis weren't interested. In Halper's view the Israelis don't care about peace because are doing well financially and have effectively "warehoused" the Palestinians into enclaves that are invisible to the average Israeli. "Thailand seems closer to Israel than the West Bank," is how Harper put it, echoing a commoon sentiment in Israel. The plan is to confine the Palestinians to smaller and smaller areas, and to make their lives unendurable so many will leave and the rest will lose hope and become docile.

Israelis is profiting from the anti-terrorism business and uses the West Bank and Gaza as a testing ground for its weapons and strategies, which it then sells to the rest of the world. Israel is dying to attack Iran.

The cost of supporting Israel is huge, both politically and economically. Not only does the US give 3 bilions in military aid to Israel, it gives tens of billions of military aid to repressive Arab regimes like Egypt and Saudi Arabia to support Israel.

Israelis believe that the Arabs don't want peace, but Halper says the evidence shows otherwise. The Arab League met and said it would recognize the state of Israel if it abided by UN agreements and went back to its 1967 borders and let the Palestinians have a viable state--something Israel refuses to do.

Falk has a similar bleak assessment of the situation, which I don't have time to sum up. Falk was a political science professor at Princeton and an expert on the Middle East. He has served a UN rapporteur for Israel, a fact-finder. His efforts have been so honest that, like Goldstein, he has been vilified and is not allowed to returnh to Israel.

Finally, ICAHDUSA published a legal study funded and coordinated by the government of South Africa which argues that Israel meets the criterion of an aparteid state and therefore nations around the world have a legal obligation to "not recognize the illegal situation as lawful, 2) not render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation, 2) cooperate to bring the illegal situation to an end."

This is a damning but utterly persuasive and sobering assessment. If anyone should be able to recognize and name aparteid, it should be the government of South Africa. Yet many Jews refuse to acknowledge the obvious and one Jewish lawyer in New York is even trying to sue Jimmy Carter for 5 million dollars for his book "Peace or Apartheid," claiming that this book is a work of fiction that defames Israel. How dare Carter suggest parallels between Israel and S. Africa!

I'm grateful to Jeff Halper, Richard Falk and other Jews of conscience for insisting on justice for all, regardless of religion and ethnicity. We must do all we can to insure that Palestinians have the same human and legal rights as Israeli Jews. Until that day comes, there will not be true shalom or salaam in the Middle East.

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