Posted by: wtfwjd? | January 7, 2009

Palestine and Palestinians

I’m conflicted even writing about this as I’m not nearly as knowledgeable about the issue as some friends like this fellow and I see plenty of blame to go around on both sides.

But I will write something anyway, in order to ask a question that I’m not even sure I’m comfortable asking, due to my own lack of knowledge, and the implications of even asking such a question, but it’s a question that comes to me a lot, and maybe some of both of my readers can help educate me on it.

I’ll start by stating my general position: I support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, though I do believe there are serious ethical issues in having a state which allows the immigration of all the world’s Jewry while denying the return of individuals who were born in and who owned property in the state’s territory. I think the only solution is a two-state solution, and think this would be possible and peaceful if not for a radical minority on each side. I think Hamas was wrong to launch rockets at Israel, and Israel was wrong to impose a crushing embargo on Gaza. I think Israel is wrong in engaging in the current campaign of full-scale war on Gaza. I think the fact that the US provides a perhaps existential amount of foreign and military aid to Israel makes American criticism of Israeli politics more useful and relevant than does condemnation by Americans of stateless actors over whom the US has no control. If my kid beats up another kid, and I scold him for it, should my kid ask me why I am not scolding the kid down the street who called him names? I can disagree with what he did, and talk to his parents but my condemnation of the other kids is basically irrelevant. So with the “special relationship” comes a special responsibility to advise our friend Israel to act wisely. We are not doing that, and Americans who criticize Israel, the recipient of our aid, are accused of somehow supporting Hamas, which of course is absurd.

So, having said all that by way of introduction: my question here relates to the treatment of use of the Palestinian people by the Arab world:

Does the Arab/Islamic world do enough to help the Palestinians? I don’t mean help them as “the displaced Palestinian people whose homeland has been stolen by the Zionist occupiers” — I mean help them in non-political humanitarian ways. If I lived with my wife and young children in Gaza right now, all I would want, more than a state, or the right of return, or anything else, would be to get them somewhere safe and to then stay there. Does such a place exist? Could it exist? Yes, some Palestinians leave. But many don’t. Do they stay by choice? Does Egypt offer to take refugees in? Does Jordan? Do other countries? Does the West?

For the Arab world, to support a Palestinian diaspora would be to give up on the dream of a Palestinian state, and for some to give up on the dream of a Palestinian state that pushes Israel into the sea. And I wonder how much this dream is worth to the Arab world. We have all heard stories of beggars in Rio de Janieiro, Cartagena, Cairo, and other third-world cities where disfigured children are used as beggars by parents or bosses, and that sometimes they have been mutilated by their own parents so their twisted limbs will earn them more alms. It seems to me that some in the Arab world use the Palestinians like these children, and that for these, the Palestinians are of most use when they are in refugee camps, in dire poverty, hungry, being bombed, having their children killed. How large a group is this “some”? Is it some, many, or most in terms of Arab/Islamic political and religious leaders?

Maybe I have it all wrong. Maybe Arab states do try to take in and integrate Palestinian refugees. (I don’t mean sub-citizen permanent refugee status as in Lebanon.) Maybe they can’t get them out, or the Palestinians don’t want to leave.

My thoughts on this aren’t formed, basically due to a lack of knowledge, but I do think it’s an important question, and one I don’t see asked except by vehemently “pro-Israel, anti-Arab no matter what” voices, so I would appreciate any insights more moderate voices can provide.

Basically, the question I’m asking I guess is: is nationalism trumping humanism, and are the Palestinians paying the price for it? As people, not as a people. As individuals rather than as a tribe or nation.



  1. to answer your question: not much. the palestinian people have the total rhetorical support of leaders of the arab world. but when it comes to actual support, there is very little.

    palestinian refugees have still not been fully integrated into the societies of any surrounding arab country (under the premise that to do so would be to recognize the legitimacy of the palestinians displacement in the first place). every arab leader claims to be working on behalf of the palestinians, and some governments do give money to charitable institutions that operate in the west bank and gaza. but many of those charities are also affiliated with various militant groups. hamas, for example, has a pretty substantial social services operation in gaza.

    meanwhile, for all it’s railing about the gaza blockade, egyptian troops maintain the blockade on gaza’s border with egypt. and for all their rhetoric about supporting a palestinian state, syria won’t permit a palestinian to enter its territory with a palestinian authority issued passport (because syria does not recognize the oslo process and those passports came as part of the oslo deal)

    that’s not to say that there isn’t widespread and genuine support of palestinians among the arab public. there is. the blood drive for gaza in jordan last week was a huge success.. but when it comes to arab leaders, their words are a lot more pro-palestinian than their deeds.

  2. I feel like the Western Left has been a little quiet on this point. I would like to see the Palestinians have a home. I don’t think they’re ever going to have the right of return, not without Israel first suffering a horrible fate. So what is their future? For all the cries of solidarity I hear from Arab leaders, it seems to me the Palestinians are most useful to them exactly where they are: displaced and besieged. Meanwhile, more “enlightened” minds in the West tend to support humanism over nationalism GENERALLY, but not, I would argue, in the case of the Palestinians. PART of a long-term solution, I would think, would be integrating Palestinians into neighboring countries or other parts of the world, as citizens or citizens-to-be, possessing security and treated with respect and dignity and a decent future for their children. Wouldn’t some dispossessed Palestinian families choose such a fate? I would think so. Is it the most just fate? No.* Is it preferable to most of the perceivable future fates? I think it probably is. Would the other nations of the world be willing to facilitate such a transition? I don’t know. I think nationalist Arab leaders would be most resistant of all.

    * In a truly just world, the descendants of Leni Lenape tribes that occupied your land and mine might be given their land back, and our families would have to squeeze back into Europe. Not gonna happen here, and not in Israel.

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