Sunday, June 7, 2009

Anthony Shadid, Justice, and the West Bank Settlements

First, I want to direct your immediate attention to this marvelous Anthony Shadid report I missed when the WaPo published it this week. (Begging pardon of one and all . . . but I'm trying to hunker down and finish writing my short history of Mesopotamia/Iraq, so I'm casting a somewhat smaller news net these days.) Shadid visited the town of Haditha in Iraq, where in 2005 US marines killed 24 Iraqis in an "incident" for which the marines have largely been exonerated by the US government and military - much to the anger of Iraqis, who feel strongly that justice was not done.

And please note that word - "justice" - because in the eyes of Iraqis specifically and people across the Middle East in general, a sense of justice (a principle deeply held in Islam) has been woefully AWOL over decades of US policy and interventions in the region, as has as a sense of the US taking their concerns with appropriate seriousness. Shadid puts it here very well:

Footnotes of U.S. history have become seminal events in the Muslim world. A half-century on, few people are unaware of the U.S. role in 1953 in helping overthrow Mohammad Mossadegh, the nationalist prime minister in Iran. Many blame the U.S. resupply of Israel in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war for delivering Israel a decisive advantage. Even in Iraq, the narrative before 2003 was rarely the United States against President Saddam Hussein, who enjoyed U.S. support during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. To many Iraqis, it was them against Hussein and the Americans, who backed devastating U.N. sanctions. In their view, he was overthrown only when he was no longer useful.

"They understand justice in the United States, but they've never applied it here," said Sundus Yahya, a clerk at women's clothing store in the Baghdad neighborhood of Karrada.

And we're not talking only about Iraq. Obama took an important step in his Cairo speech by referring to "Palestine," and by declaring that the Israeli settlements were wrong and had to stop. But if justice is to be served, just stopping the expansion of those settlements is too little and too late. They need to be removed, entirely, from the West Bank. Their construction was recognized as illegal in international law and condemned from their very start - both by the UN and by the US - so for the US now to simply say to Israel, "OK, no more expansion," isn't going to be enough, from the standpoint of either international law or justice. It basically gives Israel a pass on illegal behavior over the last 40+ years.

Which is why I find it incredibly short-sighted and, from a historical perspective, lacking in justice when Shadid's WaPo colleague (and Fox News "all-star" Charles Krauthammer excoriates Obama (and Sec of State Hillary Clinton) for insisting on an end to settlement expansion. In Krauthammer's view, justice lies entirely on the side of the Israelis, and to deny the settlers the opportunity of "natural expansion" of existing settlements is to deny them the chance to have babies, etc., etc. - in other words, it is to pose yet another existential threat to the Jewish people.

Krauthammer would do well to read this new essay by the Israeli columnist Gideon Levy - an Israeli Jew who actually lives in Israel and has been witnessing and documenting for years how the settlers (a huge percentage of whom are American immigrants) - with the support of hard-right "Greater Israel" Zionists like Ariel Sharon and Menachem Begin, not to mention Benjamin Netanyahu - have been allowed to shanghai the Israeli government into supporting a colonial enterprise that, perhaps more than anything else, prevents people across the Middle East - Arabs, Persians, and Turks alike - from accepting the presence of a Jewish state in the region. Indeed, one can make a very convincing argument that the settlers themselves are the single most dire threat to Israel's existence.

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