Monday, May 23, 2011

Piece and Change

There is so much to write about this week that it’s almost impossible to pick one topic. But unless I want this blog to run to thousands of words, I really do need to pick just one. So I think I’ll be a bit self referential and mention a comment that was posted on the NY TIMES website the other day. In response to the editorial PEACE AND CHANGE, I wrote,

So, if the Israelis go back to the pre-1967 borders, shouldn't the US follow suit and go back to the pre-1492 borders?

You can't make much of a long time claim for Europeans conquering the Americas. At some point, don't you think the land, especially Manhattan since now it's worth so much more than the rocky little island it was, should be returned to its original owners? 

Yeah, part of me was being very flip (one of my less endearing traits ...or so I‘ve been told) but the other part of me said it in all seriousness. At what point does an old border truly disappear? I mean, think about Alsace-Lorraine. Who does it belong to or does it belong to anyone? Okay, you don’t like Alsace? How about Basque? Or Northern Ireland?  Or Scotland? 

It’s not just over there, either. A whole lot of Native Americans know that their lands were stolen. The federal government not only took the land, it marched the inhabitants to locations far away and penned them up in reservations. No real restitution has ever been made, and no, casinos don’t count. When exactly did the tribal lands take precedence over original location? There are still court cases pending about just who owns the fishing rights. And this is only 400 years worth. 

In the Middle East, if you want to go all the way back, there’s Edom and Moab to think about. Whatever happened to them? Or Phoenicia? It ran from just south of Akko to north of Arwad in what's now Syria. The Persians conquered them around the same time they conquered Israel…but the Israelites went back to their own country after the exile. What happened to the Phoenicians? Are there any Phoenicians out there who want their country back?
Pre-1967 Borders -
8th Century B.C. E
You can’t consider Israel as outside colonization by some Yossi-Come-Lately. Jews have lived there continuously for over 3000 years. That’s a pretty respectable stretch of time in terms of residency. There’s archeological evidence to support that, as well as the liturgy to support the idea that this is a homeland and that context has never been set aside. Our dead are buried there, we built our cities there, and oddly enough, there are lots of written records from before the Common Era recording the history of Jews in that land.

We (and yes, I do mean we) are the other. Funny thing was that putting us in ghettos probably steeled us against outsiders and strengthened our resolve to survive. We became insular and protective of our own. Clannish some would call it, but whatever it was, it worked.

We survived. Can’t say that about a lot other ancient groups. Who's left to worship Kemosh, Ba'al or Astarte?

To those who say we don’t belong there, I say, “Guess again.” Our roots are as deep in that land as any water well. Do the Palestinians belong there? Yes; their roots are as deep as ours in the region. However, that does NOT give them or anyone else the right to deny the right of a Jewish state to exist in its own homeland.

The day Hamas and Fatah walk away from the platform of Israel’s destruction will be the day there can be a negotiation for peace. When the security of the state is guaranteed, Israel can inch back from the heightened stand to defend its citizenry. When everyone can agree that we ALL belong there, we will be able to live peaceably together.  Until that time, Israel has the imperative to defend itself.

TheWifely Person's Tip O'the Week
TWP's Rule # 1 for nation building: Set up a viable economy
TWP's Rule # 2 for nation building: see rule # 1
If there's no economy, there's no country.


  1. But Obama said ...... :)


  2. When I first read "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" it raised my consciousness, not only about the plight of the American Indians, but also about that of other cultures, particularly the Jews. I was only a teenager and I was appalled at what our own government had done... and then I looked further and read what had been done to the Jews throughout history.

    We cannot allow Israel to perish. I have written to President Obama to express the necessity for the U.S. to continue to be Israel's most ardent ally.

  3. Don't have the answer to the very complex boundary issues, but more importantly who's the cute young female climbing the steps?

  4. The Wifely PersonMay 25, 2011 at 5:32 AM

    That's some random girl on her 17th birthday going out for her first beer.

  5. Hi there,

    I clicked on your link in the comments section on Thomas Friedman's editorial in NYT. Thank you for your sober insights on an issue that many of us find hopelessly complex. You're right that Israel/Canaan/Palestine is the homeland of the Jews--and you're also right that it is not merely theirs. But please consider that for most non-Islamist non-wackos, the Jewish connection to the land is not the main, or even a secondary cause of Palestinian indignation. The main cause was and still is the theft of Palestinian land, lives, and dignity by force. The Nakba is still a watershed crime that Palestinians cannot bring themselves to forgive, and it is for that reason that no conscientious Palestinian leader will accept the occupation. Sadly elided into this position, however, is the misguided racism of many (but not most, by my experience) Palestinians who say they will never accept Jews. That's a problem within Palestinian society that has to be resolved there, with help from Israel. But please understand that the problem is not that Jews don't or do belong there. The problem is that Jews came back with guns.

    Respectfully yours,


  6. The Wifely PersonMay 25, 2011 at 4:50 PM

    Thank you for your comment. It's good to hear from all sides.

    Would that guns weren't ever needed! Both sides have blood on their hands, and both sides have let multiple opportunities to have some kind of accord.

    But that was then and this was now.

    Now we are faced with choices: choosing coexisting life, or choosing ongoing destruction. I can only hope that there are enough peaceniks on _both_ sides to call a halt to the destruction.

    Neither of us are going away. We must acknowledge each other's right to be there and we need to find a way to live side by side.

  7. Your insights would benefit from looking up Johnson v. M'Intosh, 21 U.S. 543 (1823) (Chief Justice Marshall, holding that Indians never possessed good title to the land in the Americas because they did not share the European concept of property), and the law of "Adverse Possession," perhaps Lessee of Ewing v. Burnett, 11 Pet. 41 (U.S. 1837) (Justice Baldwin holding that because Ewing had acted as the owner, and held the property for more than 20 years without contest of title, he was the owner).

    These thoughts have definitely been thoroughly vetted, and continue to be, but it should be noted that Israel's is a continuing occupation. The American conquest was more of a displacement. As Marshall said in M'Intosh, "Conquest grants a title the courts of the Conqueror cannot deny."

    Although query whether Conquest is actually legal anymore, and whether we will tolerate mass extermination any longer.

  8. 1) Alsace-Lorraine changed hands three times over three wars, and in each case both parties (i.e. France and Germany) agreed to the territory change. The Palestinians never agreed to lose their land.

    2) The Basque people, under the Kingdom of Navarre, lost their independence due to conquest and royal marriages. Israel has never had sanction from the UN from its creation to conquer Palestine (which the original resolution stipulated would exist alongside Israel), despite its best efforts that continue today with its illegal settlements.

    3) Scotland has a complicated relationship to England that is mostly tied to royal marriages and dynasties. James I Stuart was actually a Scottish King that ruled England, while the Act of Union in 1707 created a new nation altogether. Not analagous to Israel and Palestine in any way.

    4) Nothern Ireland was colonized by Britain, something Israel is trying to do to Palestine but which is illegal under international law.

    5) The various Native American tribes were conquered, and as previously mentioned Israel does not have a right to conquer Palestine. Treaties between Native Americans and the U.S. were broken yes, but throughout history treaties have been broken between states (sometimes between very powerful states) and peoples.

    Israel has a right to exist but it needs to realize that its overstepped its boundaries (literally and figuratively). If Israel doesn't want to accept a Palestinian state than it should welcome the Palestinians into its country. Its continued policy of colonization and de facto Apartheid is not only morally wrong but poor realpolitik -- the Arab world will not remain weak forever, and the U.S. cannot continue to offer its unconditional support to Israel forever. Eventually Israel will have to get along with the rest of the Middle East, and persecuting hundreds of thousands of Palestinians won't allow for that to happen. In addition to this, Israel's Jewish emigration rate has increased as of late, giving it a demographic problem of no small magnitude. If it wants to continue to exist, Israel needs to be democratic and flexible, not militaristic and narrowminded.

  9. The Wifely PersonJune 5, 2011 at 6:26 PM

    A very interesting response, so thank you for sending it. It's nice that someone took the time to write about those pieces of history, but I you might also find those who would disagree with your perspective. All of those situations were terribly complicated on both sides, and none of them had easy or quick solutions...which is why I selected those specific examples.

    I think if you were to look at the history of that piece of land called Israel and Palestine, you might notice Israel would've been happy inside its original borders, but three wars later, what's a country to do?

    They gave Sinai back, didn't they? I don't recall, however, Jordan wanting the west bank back. As for the Golan, there was no peace partner present to which the land could be returned. You might want to investigate why that was the case and by all means, please post again.

    You might also want to investigate what Lebanon and Syria did with their Palestinian populations, refugee or otherwise. Hmmmm. That might be worth investigating further.

    I don't think you could find too many Israelis who don't hold out hope for a peaceful two-state solution that doesn't include the words, "push Israel into the sea."

    The bottom line is this: everyone has to agree everyone has to share the land. Good neighboring is to everyone's advantage. Lobbing rockets in civilian populations is not helpful to anyone's cause.

    You should go visit both sides. You might be quite surprised.

  10. I'm very familiar with historical narrative and historiography, so I know that there are of course those who might disagree with my interpretations I laid out. That being said, I think that upon close examination each case is fairly clear cut insofar as its relationship to the Israeli-Palestinian mess, mainly that they don't hold up as good examples. The idea of "might makes right" in a general sense is there of course, but the international community has rejected this idea (at least in principle) and thus it's either a morally poor option for Israel or a politically poor one.

    Which brings me back to what I mentioned about Israel being democratic and flexible and not militaristic and narrowminded. Netanyahu's arrogant lecturing of Obama (and refusal to stop illegal settlements) will not be accepted by American presidents forever, and in fact it wouldn't surprise me in the least if a future president, sick of Israel harming U.S. standing in the Middle East and tired of giving it billions in aid, told Israel to deal with its own problems if disrespected again. If Israel can't find a way to make peace with the Palestinians, the withdrawal of U.S. support might spell the end of the state, which would be unfortunate.

    You make good points with your other examples (though in the case of the Palestinian refugee problems in Lebanon and Syria it should be pointed out that Israel was responbile for them being refugees in the first place). I already knew the general idea that you're getting at by bringing them up. The Arab world has definitely been intransigent when Israel has offered solutions that were reasonable, and Hamas' attacks on Israeli civilians are the height of stupidity when they should be peaceful in order to curry favor from the international community (as well as the American voter who views the Israelis as entirely innocent and the Palestinians as unreasonable, something confirmed everytime a rocket attack occurs).

    Good neighboring also goes both ways. Rocket attacks on Israeli civilians discourage the peace process arguably less than illegal settlements in Palestinian lands. In the end, Israel will have to swallow its pride and rescind the settlements and give the Palestinians enough land for a viable state if it wants to continue to exist. The time to do it is now while the U.S. still supports Israel. Unfortunately Netanyahu shows no sign of doing so, and his inaction might ultimately result in Israel being relegated to history as a "failed Zionist experiment."

    Only time will tell, but right now the future doesn't look bright for Israel.

  11. Lets stick with facts. In 1947, the UN voted to partition the British Territory into Jewish and Arab States. The Jews accepted the partition; the Arabs completely rejected it and attacked. The Arabs lost. In all the years since then, Israel has made peace with two Arab tyrants, but not the people of those nations, who cannot accept that they lost. These are facts, not opinions. There are no competing narratives here. Facts only.