Tuesday, March 6, 2007

"The Wall as Prison"

Here's a telling snippet from Monday's White House press briefing; the discussion is about the latest in the long train of the incompetencies and oversights of tyranny, the Reed Army Hospital scandal—you might call it the military's version of Katrina-FEMA:

MR. SNOW: ...So we take a very exhaustive look at this. It is very important to figure out what's wrong, and get it fixed. And the President is committed to that.
Q But the President hasn't said in any way, shape, or form, this is my responsibility, this is on me?
MR. SNOW: Okay, well, I'll take the rhetorical flourish under advisement.

In other words, the admission of failure, even of simple error, is still, to this administration, beneath one's lorgnette to even discuss. Anyone who suggests that it might help for the powerful to start admitting to their mistakes is lightly accused of engaging in "rhetorical flourishes." It has gone so far past the point of revulsion that I can no longer come up with an appropriate rhetorical flourish of disgust to do it all justice. So we may leave it there, I suppose, but with a reminder that what follows below is all related to the sacrifices that these soldiers of ours have made, only to be treated little better than POWs in an enemy camp once they come home wounded from their service.

Introduction: check here for the results of the latest worldwide poll on public perception of various nations. Israel, Iran, and the U.S. rank #1, 2, and 3 for "most negative image." This may help to explain much of what follows.

I live in a true melting-pot style neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY. On my block, there are Chinese, Italians, Poles, Russians, and of course, Arabs. Most of the folks here are, in fact, Palestinian or Lebanese. The memory of 9/11 is still painfully fresh here, because we unwittingly harbored one of the terrorists, about a block and a half from where I am sitting now.

I forget the guy's name, but I remember recognizing his face when someone showed me a grainy picture of him in the Daily News, about a week after the attacks. He had lived among us for months, and no one was the wiser. FBI-looking types were here for a long time after that—maybe they still come around now, though more furtively and in fewer numbers than they did 5 and a half years ago.

This is to introduce what is to follow this week, so that you know how we came to our little book of the month selection here. One day, a few weeks back, a Lebanese fellow I know from the neighborhood handed me a book. I'm not going to identify him except to note that, like many of his countrymen here in Kensington, he has a deep personal history in the Mideast and its conflicts; and he is one of the most patriotic, as in pro-American, people that I know.

So he handed me a book and said, "Brian, if you want to know what's truly going on over there—you know, in the Mideast—please read this man's book. This is the most accurate account of what's happened there and what's going on now that I've seen."

I've been reading bits and pieces from this book—Jimmy Carter's Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid, but have been hesitant to write about it, because as much as I respect my Lebanese friend, I thought maybe he was pursuing a private agenda. Then something else happened.

Another friend came by one evening to pick up his daughter, who had been playing with my kid that day. He's Jewish, and he saw the book lying on my desk. "Ah, you're reading Carter's new book? I haven't read it myself, but I hear it's very accurate historically and has a lot to teach us about what's going on there."

I asked him if he found the imputation that Israel engages in apartheid, or is headed in that direction, offensive.

"No, not at all," he said. "After all, Israel is a country with a government and politicians who are trying to gain and hold power—you think they care what Americans think of them? Jimmy Carter has always stood firmly for Israel's right to exist; he just doesn't think they should dominate the region."

Indeed, as I came near the end of the book, I found Carter's list of "key requirements" for peace. Bullet point A of these reads as follows:

The security of Israel must be guaranteed. The Arabs must acknowledge openly and specifically that Israel is a reality and has a right to exist in peace, behind secure and recognized borders, and with a firm Arab pledge to terminate any further acts of violence against the legally constituted nation of Israel.

So why was this guy attacked as he was for this book? One FOX News pundit openly accused Carter of plagiarizing "his" maps! And an entire chorus of others called Carter's book "shameful" and an "attack against Israel". Those were the reasonably civil voices raised against this book; I won't even bother to cite what has been heard from many others since last December.

But one criticism I can't find of Carter's book is any fault with its history. More than half the book, I'd say, is a recounting of the history relating to the current nexus of conflict as it exists now (Carter was writing in 2006, amid the most recent occupation of Lebanon). Of course, since Carter himself was at the center of much of this history, as President during the talks that led to the Camp David accords, his accuracy is hardly surprising, though it is noteworthy.

I have discovered through personal experience that people who have the clearest view of the past tend to be right about the present and even the future. So overall, I found Carter's book to be just as my Lebanese friend had predicted—a lucid, balanced, and passionate plea for sanity and diplomacy before it becomes too late for peace to have a chance. Indeed, I found none of the supposed over-the-top hatchet job on Israel that the mass media (most of whom probably hadn't read it) reported. If anything, Carter is especially harsh on—guess who—the American government, as in this:

All Arab neighbors must pledge to honor Israel's right to live in peace...The United States is squandering international prestige and goodwill by unofficially condoning or abetting the Israeli confiscation and colonization of Palestinian territories.

Meanwhile, the killing, the escalation of violence , and the insanity of conflict over 40-year old wounds continue apace—right in today's news.

We'll have more on Jimmy Carter's book later this week. Meanwhile, if you have thoughts on the matter, even if it's to call me a friend of the terrorists (I've heard it before), by all means post a comment.

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