Monday, August 25, 2008

The Israel Question

Before I state anything, I'd like to direct you to this photo gallery of female Israeli soldiers, and ask you to both look through the gallery and read the authors statement with an open mind and in the spirit of respecting art.

After checking that out, feel free to form opinions of your own. If you want some pre-made opinions, many can be found here.

Israel is and has been the pressing issue of the middle east. It's a nation born in the aftermath of tragedy that finds itself in a perpetual state of alert. Public service, most commonly military service, is compulsory for Israelis when they turn 18. The photographer does, in my opinion, a really good job examining with minimal judgment the juxtaposition of adolescence with military service, and by using pictures of female soldiers she's allowed to open up a new avenue for understanding what military service does to young people. Soldiering is too often tied up in definitions of masculinity and male duty, so it is fascinating to see it in another context.

And then we have Israel itself, as discussions over anything related to Israel must return back to the state. My family has a small personal history with the nation; my grandfather, Alfred Leroy Atherton Jr (Roy), was ambassador to Egypt for the United States from 1978-1979. He was present during the assassination of Anwar Sadat. And he personally met with Yassar Arafat. This legacy, as a burgeoning student of history and politics, informed my understanding of the world and of international relations. At the center of this legacy is figuring out a right relationship with Isreal.

Israel is a state whose origins I will not dispute and whose right to exist is an anarchronistic question. The modern state of Israel is, and will be, a reality. There is no sense in arguing otherwise, and there is only ill will to be gained that way. Besides, saying Israel shouldn't exist is much the same as arguing that Global Warming isn't happening - both statements delay real, meaningful debate, and both fly in the face of obvious and accepted fact. So what is the debate I have in mind?

The classical debate over the US and Israel is what the relationship should be. Under the Carter presidency, and when Roy was ambassador to Egpyt, the US backed off from it's standard unwavering support for Israel and tried to create a meaningful dialogue with the parties in conflict. Since then, the attitude and tone have changed from administration to administration, but the general purpose has been the same: to secure a stable relationship between Isreal and its neighbors, with accomodation for Palestine that still leaves Isreal in a position of strength.

To there benefit, Palestine and Isreal can rely on world media coverage, and the fact that many nations have a vested interest in the outcome of a peace process. To the detriment of most any cause elsewhere, Isreal takes media priority. This is a tricky balance - Isreal is a democracy of sorts, and Isreal is a western country. We (being the West) have high standards for Israeli conduct, and constant media attention helps keep things honest. And it is important to be aware of and acknowledge the Palestinian grievances as real and meaningful, and media attention helps with that as well.

The problem is that almost any government could use the same scrutinty in its actions, and that this media attention has been an objective of terrorist action. That helps no one, and while grievances need to be aired and addressed (and don't think that I am anything like in favor of letting Isreal off the hook for what has amounted to serious crimes ans flaws in conduct), terrorism undermines moves for stability, it undermines the potential for democracy, and it doesn't allow for any other option besides the destruction of Israel. It is, to put it mildly, unrealistic. And the media does a disservice to the public by continuing to focus so much on Isreal.

I have no answers for the Israel question. I have general notions, ideas of way more carrot and way less stick, and an emphasis on responsible diplomacy. Human dignity as a cornerstone of US policy would be a good plan, especially if the plan emphasized Palestinian and Israeli human dignity as equally important. But I don't think the solution for Isreal is high-profile and external, and I don't think that every slight development in Isreal needs the world media pouring over it. Again, grievances recorded and tragedies documented and protested, but the emphasis on covering Isreal over every other crisis in the world isn't beneficial. Israel is an important nation, but it is not the only important nation. And Israel has interesting and modern problems, but it is not alone in that.

My point is this: the Israel question is not as important as we make it, and the issue is too divisive, too complicated to really be dealt with well. I think that we, as a civilization, can collectively move on. I think we'll be better for it, and I think on the whole it will help the situation.

1 comment:

Conor said...

While I agree with your premise (I would hold it true for the VAST majority of new events covered.) I would draw attention to alternate views on a few of your points. The first is that you say "grievances recorded and tragedies documented and protested." I think much of Palestine has tried to protest, both to the UN and to the United States. This has produced little if no result. (Yes I understand the UN has a glaringly unfair position on Israel.) This then brings up the problem of terrorism. If the only way for Palestine to get media coverage is to perform terrorist actions, then while I don't support life taking terrorism, I think they have a legitimate complaint. For analogy I don't think Apaches had ground to torch United States civilian bases, it was the only way they could slow down the push of the United States army. I understand that terrorism is useless as the rushing sound of inevitability was on the side of the US and is on the side of Israel.

I think terrorism is not a good result, but I find it a highly inevitable result of any group treated as second class citizens on land they viewed as their own land. I agree the argument of Israel's existence is moot, but until Israel stops treating Palestinians as second class citizens (arguably because of the terrorism I understand) the issue should be covered just as the apartheid was covered in South Africa, or as France's repression of its Muslim population. Perhaps even slightly more so then those because we are strongly monetarily supporting the area. To cover every detail is a bit excessive but to ignore it would be to ignore a major humanitarian issue from both sides (the Israeli's right not to be killed, the Palestinian's similar right.)