Monday, June 7, 2010

Why Did Helen Thomas Apologize?

Helen Thomas had the nerve to say that Israel "should get the hell out of Palestine" and now she has apologized, blandly calling for "mutual respect and tolerance." Why did she apologize?

The vast majority of people everywhere except Israel probably agree with her. Probably even in the "head in the sand" provincial U.S. most people agree with her, but no one would have the courage to admit this in public.

Israel is the last gasp of old-style European colonialism, with the British conniving with European Jews and stabbing Palestinians (whom the British had colonized) in the back every step of the way to the Jewish conquest of a small territory that was then recognized by the U.N. That recognition was nothing more than an historical blip; the Jewish forces (more precisely, Zionist forces, for all Jews did not support ethnic cleansing) continued their war of conquest and ethnic cleansing, quickly occupying all of what became the internationally recognized 1967 borders of Israel and, at the same time, with well documented (by the IDF!) massacres to drive home the point, pushing the ethnic cleansing program. Then in the 1967 and 1973 wars they continued Israeli expansion, capturing the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and Gaza, three colonial areas Israel holds and is at various stages of absorbing today. The details are complicated; the basic story is not. Think of it this way: the Israeli bandits are in the Palestinian house, living comfortably on the main floor and occupying the master bedroom upstairs; the Palestinians are penned into two bedrooms, one of which is a ghetto (Gaza) into which Israel passes just enough food to prevent absolute starvation and one of which is divided into little junks of floorspace on which the Palestinians can sit, with pathways for the Israelis to run through to spank those who "misbehave."

Now, someone please tell me exactly what it means in that situation to call for "mutual respect and tolerance." Does that mean the Palestinians half starved in the Gaza bedroom should "respect" the Israelis who prevent the world from giving them food and medicine (e.g., the recent Israeli military assault on the aid)? Does that mean the Palestinians in the West Bank bedroom should "tolerate" Israeli troops marching through the bedroom on the Israeli-only pathways separating the bed from the dresser? The next time you get burglarized, go ahead and show the burglar "mutual respect:" offer him the permanent use of whatever room he happens to be in and negotiate with him for rights to share the bathroom.

So why did Helen Thomas feel the need to apologize? What was done to her to pressure her into giving up her right to free speech? She did not call for violence; she simply said the Israelis should get out of Palestine. Indeed, they "should." That word refers to principle, not action. No one anticipates that they actually will. In practice, a serious, sincere negotiation would be the way to proceed. That has, to my knowledge, never occurred since the founding of the state of Israel, but there is always a first time. But Israelis do not have a "right" to appropriate Palestinian land just because some co-religionists lived there two thousand years ago. Are the Angles and Saxons going to give England back to the Celts (and who, today, might they be?)? Are the French going to walk back to the German forests many of them came from? Are the Americans going to return to...uh...wherever and let the Native Americans get their land back? Are the Russians going to give their land back to the Mongols? We might, as a species, want to think before asserting such a principle.

Jews took control of Palestine because they were Europeans with European weapons and covert backing by European powers. Those are historical facts; those facts say nothing about rights.

Negotiation, with mutual respect and tolerance, would be a wonderful way to resolve this issue. The Palestinians might be so kind as to offer to accept the idea of Israelis living within their legally recognized 1967 borders, or any other idea might be tossed on the table. But first Israel needs to show some respect and tolerance of its own - by ending apartheid on the West Bank, by ending its policy of ethnic cleansing, by ending its policy of expansion into the West Bank, by ending its collective punishment of the 1.5 million people in Gaza. Until it takes those actions, Helen Thomas was right the first time.

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