Monday, August 22, 2005

Reciprocity

Did you catch the essay by Elie Wiesel, Bush, in yesterday's New York Times, about the genuine anguish of those Gaza settlers as they were evicted from their homes of nearly forty years? No matter what the rights and wrongs, no matter the international legalities, no matter how badly some of them might have behaved, or even their religious fanaticism, the human situation is fraught with suffering, and for this reason alone these people are deserving of a modicum of compassion.

In this light, the unseemly public demonstrations of glee on the part of Palestinians evoke little sympathy from me. As Wiesel reminds us, it recalls the dancing in the streets when Saddam's SCUD missiles were raining down on non-combattant Israel during the first Gulf war. It's a sad spectacle to observe people gloating over the suffering of fellow human beings, and one which makes it that much harder to remain even-handed in one's response.

The crowing in the streets was echoed, on the political scene, by the trumpeting of outrageous prononouncements by Hamas, claiming that it was their violent actions in the intifada that drove the Israelis to abandon Gaza. Declaring specious victory in this way, they make public avowal of their intention to return to their bloody tactics once the withdrawal is complete--imagining that the slaughter of more innocent civilians will gain them, next, the West Bank and Jerusalem.

To which I say, Bush, watch out. This lion may be taking a voluntary nap, but dancing on what these folks prematurely take to be the corpse will serve only to awaken it with redoubled wrath. And when it comes to returning violence for violence, history has surely made it clear enough that this particular lion is no slouch.

Mahmoud Abbas, to my mind, does no service to the cause of the majority of the Palestinian people by pandering to this fanatical minority, taking the podium to promise loudly that Gaza is only the beginning. This appeal to the passions of a people who--rightly or wrongly, Bush--feel disempowered and cheated of their national heritage, can easily lead to a conflagration that will rage out of control, bringing only further grief to all concerned. This distinctly unclever tactic is generally called shooting oneself in the foot.

I had occasion once to experience the power of collective Palestinian rage at first hand. It was in Berlin, several years ago. Ellie and I had just visited the Holocaust Museum (nice timing!) and were returning to our hotel, when we found the streets blocked by a demonstration--I forget the details of the occasion--against the occupation. Hundreds of Palestinian men led the way, in serried ranks, charging in a phalanx of hot fury through the streets, followed by the women, grouped separately, in a ululating frenzy. The sheer, raw energy of concentrated rage was something that I'll never forget.

I do believe there's right and wrong on both sides of this intractible issue, Bush. I believe that Israel has made terrible mistakes, has behaved, too, with nationalistic arrogance and insensitivity. Even the history of the holocaust does not give them that right. But here, at last, is a door that has opened to allow of mutual respect and conversation. It's simply a shame, in this tit-for-tat provocation, for the Palestinians to turn it into an opportunity for gloating over a non-existent victory. It's their turn to reciprocate--not by capitulating or relinquishing all their future goals--but at least by demonstrating the capacity for a little common humanity and generosity. They'd get a lot further, a lot faster that way.

1 comment:

Fred Thompson said...

Peter,

I'm afraid it would require super-human restaint for the Palestinians to muffle their joy at the departure of their occupiers in Gaza. I do agree that it is wrong for them to believe that Hamas is responsible in any way. It was Sharon's decision to preempt any outside resolution of the settlement issue that would probably have left Israel with less real estate in the West Bank territories.
Regards, Fred