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March-April 2012

Vol. 37, No. 2

 

Middle East: Mis-education in the U.S.

Dome in JerusalemThe first part of the following article is an edited version of a letter to the editor by Maryknoll Fr. Doug May, originally written in 1992 while he was at the University of Notre Dame on renewal. It was written in response to a political cartoon published in the campus newspaper which depicted then Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir saying to then Secretary of State James Baker: "I suppose you're going to blame us for this growing Jewish settlement, too, Mr. Baker?" In the cartoon, the two are overlooking an Israeli cemetery with nine gravestones saying: "Stabbed to death by terrorist." "Blown up by terrorist bus bomb." "Murdered by terrorist gunmen." "Hacked to death by PLO terrorists." etc. Fr. May updated this piece in 2002, and now, 20 years after the original, updates it again.

After commending the paper's editor for a generally well-done daily campus publication, Fr. May writes, All went well until I hit page 7 with Shamir and Baker looking out over a Jewish cemetery. The gravestones implied that most of those buried were killed by "terrorists," presumably Arab. My initial feeling was one of shock followed by anger that I would see such a racist cartoon in any paper let alone reprinted in yours. The next morning I looked at the drawing again and tried to make excuses for the paper and the responsible person saying to myself that ignorance of Middle Eastern history was to blame.

Apparently there are those who are still so misinformed that they are unable to realize what has been going on in Israel/Palestine for the last 44 [now 64] years and especially the last 25 [now 45]. Even though many students weren't even born at the time of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war [or the 1973 one], most students should at least have been in high school when the (first) Palestinian Uprising began in December of 1987 [or the second one 13 years later].

I asked myself, "Could anyone except a fanatical Jewish or Christian Zionist still be able to reduce the injustice and bloodshed in the Holy Land to terrorism by Arabs?" I reminded myself how I had rooted for Israel in the 1967 War and again in 1973 one and how I had worn a "Star of David" around my neck in 1971 to show my solidarity with Jews and Israel.

The first time I heard the name "Palestinian" or saw a man named "Arafat" on television was during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Back then it was I who automatically thought that "Arab/Palestinian" equaled terrorist. "How could the Arabs pick on those poor, defenseless Jews who had suffered so much throughout the centuries, especially the current [past] one?" …

Then in 1977, I went to live and work in the Middle East for the first time and met Arabs, some of whom were Palestinian. From that year, I listened to and read about Arab/Palestinian history and a large crack appeared in my pro-Israel/anti-Arab position. Over the last fifteen [now 35] years, I have lived and worked more than a decade [now 20 years] in the Middle East. Most of that time has been spent in Egypt and some in several other countries including Israel and the West Bank where I spent the last several weeks of the [first] Gulf War.

Working with Palestinians in Egypt and visiting them in the West Bank have convinced me (along with many other foreign government and non-government organization workers as well as most mainline Christians, and even some Jews) that Israel represents an abused, victimized and oppressed people who have become the empowered abuser, victimizer and oppressor of others, namely the Palestinians. I have met Palestinian youth beaten up and shot by the Israeli military. I have eaten with students whose homes have been blown up without any judicial proceeding and others who have only lived in refugee camps (along with their parents and grandparents for 64 and 45 years). I have sat with friends whose sons, brothers, fathers or husbands have been in administrative detention camps for months (and years) without trial. I have looked on as Israel has raped the Palestinians of their land, their water, their history and their future, but not their dignity nor their dream of a nation called Palestine.

Terrorism and terrorists can be found among Jews as well as Muslim and Christian Arabs. However, Israel cannot justify its dysfunctional behavior against the Arabs simply by recalling the Holocaust and Western anti-Semitism. Palestinians have a human and internationally recognized right to their land. I would say that most Palestinians see themselves as members of a "resistance movement" against an occupying colonial force. They have sometimes responded with violence, but Palestinian casualties far outnumber those of Israel.

I have seen the human face of the Palestinian and I have cast my lot with them while still hoping for a just and peaceful solution of the issues that would allow for Israel and Palestine to prosper together. The drawing which appeared [in the March 6, 1992 Notre Dame paper] shows that anti-Arab racism is still okay in America. It shows that pro-Israel propaganda still dominates … It shows that many Americans are still ignorant of and/or indifferent to Middle East politics and history. [End of original letter to the editor.]

Did you know that the U.S. has vetoed almost every UN resolution condemning Israel and, one week before Sept. 11, 2001, walked out of the Durban Conference in protest of what seemed to be an upcoming resolution against racism in Israel? Did you know that the building of settlements which was supposed to be halted in 1992 – not only as a part of the Oslo Accords but also as a condition of a $10 billion loan guarantee from President George H.W. Bush – continued unabated? In December 1993, I helped photograph the expansion of a Jewish settlement near Bethany three months AFTER the signing of the Oslo Accords.

Despite UN Resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), which call for Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders, and years of summits and attempted negotiations, the creation of a viable Palestinian state remains highly elusive; illegal settlements by Jewish communities on Palestinian land continue to be built, and generations of Palestinian refugees still are denied the right to return. As I and many others have been saying, the U.S. and Israeli idea of a Palestinian state is a scattering of Indian reservations selling cheap gas and cigarettes.

In response to my article 20 years ago, a Jewish student at Notre Dame told me that I should replace the cross around my neck with a swastika so that people could see me as the anti-Semitic moron I really was. Is it anti-Semitic or ignorant to want a secure land for Jews while also wanting justice for Palestinians? Wouldn't true Shalom/Salaam with justice be truly pro-Israel?

Suggested books: Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour; Prophecy and Politics by Grace Halsell; The Question of Palestine and other books by Edward Said; The Papacy and the Middle East by George Irani; Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation by Naim Ateek; A Jewish Theology of Liberation by Marc Ellis.

Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler

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