The Writings of Israel Shamir

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The elusive peace


For right-minded people everywhere, the quest for peace is the first thing that comes to mind whenever the subject of the Middle East is broached. Some of the best intellects in the world have been applied to this quest, constantly probing in a decades-old expedition to arrive at the solution for one of the world's most compelling conflicts. But the reason they have been unsuccessful so far is because they have failed to accurately define that which they so avidly seek: They know full what they want for the region but have absolutely no idea what it will look like when and if they find it. This unfortunate state of affairs was made almost inevitable by the nature of the Zionist dream and by the massive resources required of the Zionist project. The belief that God himself promised Palestine to the Jews was troublesome enough, implying as it does that non-Jews were somehow inferior. To make matters worse, though, "building the Land of Israel" would have been impossible without heavy funding from international Jewry, and it was determined very early on that attracting such donations could best be accomplished by selling the process as a venture allowing "pioneers" to "make the desert bloom." The prime obstacle to this scenario was the inconvenient presence of a people, the Palestinians, on the land in question and so they were ascribed the role of "savages" whose lack of civilization justified Jewish claims to be "taming a hostile climate" in "uncharted territory."

From this troublesome seed came all that has followed, so that even today, many Israelis advocate what amounts to apartheid as a means to achieve the "peace" that has been so elusive. They don't call it apartheid, of course, but the term "separation" fools no one, especially when one considers the collective fate of those Palestinians who have accepted Israeli citizenship. Their "separate" villages, "separate" municipal councils, "separate" schools, and "separate" state services all have in common that they pale in comparison to those enjoyed by Israel's Jewish citizens: The Arab-Israeli community has horrendous unemployment, grossly under-funded municipalities, a comparatively dilapidated educational system, and paltry access to household and irrigation water. To make matters worse, they are banned from certain types of employment, and their political representation has been deliberately diluted. This sprawling collection of economic and socio-political depredations cannot help but fuel distress when one considers that so far, official Israeli visions of peace whether they contemplate a "final-status" agreement or unilateral "separation" must of necessity have an even worse fate in store for the Palestinians, who would not enjoy the "benefits" of Israeli citizenship.

On top of all these temporal issues sits the Holy City of Jerusalem, one held dear by all of the monotheistic religions but illegally annexed politically and steadily devoured culturally by a state that freely admits to speaking only for one: Judaism.

Against this backdrop of institutionalized racism has grown up an Arab response whose sorrows have been outnumbered only by its failures. US aid to Israel made military victory impossible, but that was never the most essential front in the first place: The key venue was the ideological one, the one that decided the outcome of the propaganda struggle, the one that determined the two sides' claims to credibility the one on which the Arab world has failed more spectacularly than on any battlefield because its leaders lack the cloak of legitimacy that democracy alone can provide. The Arabs have not fallen behind in this all-important race because they are stupid, but because their governments have ranged from the benignly dictatorial to the unforgivably despotic.

Principal among the failures of these graft-ridden and incompetent regimes has been their refusal to accept that Israel is home to more than just the Ariel Sharons of this world. It also features people like Israel Shamir, whose passionate and eloquent words in defense of Arab rights graced this page yesterday. This is hardly the first time Shamir has expressed such enlightened opinions, and his views carry considerable influence on public opinion in the Jewish state. If Arab countries were competently ruled, this man would have more invitations than would be possible for him to accept. Anyone who can help the Arab cause is ipso facto a friend, be he Israeli or Martian, Jew or fire-worshipper. What sort of entity rules out the possibility of making new friends and therefore the chance to change the thinking of its enemies? One whose faculties are clouded by the laughable notion that governments know best and must therefore prevent their citizens from mixing with their opposite numbers on the other side of the great divide; one whose outmoded dogma seeks to further a siege mentality by keeping its people from discovering how much they have in common with those whom they have been told to despise; one whose greatest fear is that "peace," whatever it looks like, will make tyranny that much more untenable and therefore jeopardize its own ability to retain power.

Israel Shamir should be warmly invited to visit Arab countries such as Lebanon, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, where he would no doubt find that the great majority of people harbor no intrinsic hatred for him or his religion: After all, Jews lived among Arabs Muslims and Christians both for an awfully long time before all of the tragedies engendered by Zionism. The resentments that exist in Lebanon, for example, are the result of what his governments have done to our country, not of anything that he as an individual has ever done to any one of us.

After all the stops and starts, after all the conflicting effects of local and world wars, Arab nationalism, Arab socialism, the Cold War, and the staggering peace process, the principals Arab and Jew are still the same. Much of the clutter has been lifted, but we still cannot see what peace looks like. That's why bringing people like Shamir here would be so helpful. Real peace looks like him but only if we are willing to take him by the hand and look him in the eye.

DS: 21/02/01

Copyrightę 2001 The Daily Star. All rights reserved.




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