[News] Palestine in the Mind of America

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Feb 14 13:39:05 EST 2008


February 14, 2008

Talking to a Wall

Palestine in the Mind of America


You would think that showing maps clearly 
delineating the truncated, obviously non-viable 
area available for a possible Palestinian state 
and showing pictures that define Israel's 
occupation of Palestinian territories would have 
some kind of impact on an audience of astute but, 
on this issue, generally uninformed Americans. We 
recently spoke to a small foreign affairs 
discussion group and devoted much of our 
presentation to these images of oppression -- 
images that never appear in the U.S. media -- in 
the probably naïve hope of making some kind of 
dent in the impassive American attitude toward 
Israel's 40-year occupation of Palestinian territory.

But our expectations that these people would 
listen and perhaps learn something were sadly 
misplaced. Few among the elite seminar-style 
discussion group seemed concerned about, or even 
particularly interested in, what is happening on 
the ground in Palestine-Israel, and the event 
stands as starkly emblematic of American apathy 
about the oppressive Israeli regime in the 
occupied territories that the United States is 
enabling and in many instances actively encouraging.

The maps that we displayed of the West Bank, 
prepared by the UN and by Israeli human rights 
groups, clearly depicted the segmented, 
disconnected scatter of territorial pieces that 
would make up the Palestinian state even in the 
most optimistic of scenarios -- Palestinian areas 
broken up by the separation wall cutting deep 
into the West Bank; by large Israeli settlements 
scattered throughout and taking up something like 
10 percent of the territory; by the network of 
roads connecting the settlements, all accessible 
only to Israeli drivers; and by the Jordan 
Valley, currently barred to any Palestinian not 
already living there, making up fully one-quarter 
of the West Bank, and ultimately destined for annexation by Israel.

The maps make it clear that even the most 
generous Israeli plan would leave a Palestinian 
state with only 50-60 percent of the West Bank 
(constituting 11-12 percent of original 
Palestine), broken into multiple separated 
segments and including no part of Jerusalem. The 
photographs, taken during our several trips to 
Palestine in recent years, depicted the 
separation wall, checkpoints and terminals in the 
wall resembling cages, Palestinian homes 
demolished and official buildings destroyed, vast 
Israeli settlements built on confiscated 
Palestinian land, destroyed Palestinian olive 
groves, commerce in Palestinian cities shut down 
because of marauding Israeli settlers or soldiers.

We have shown maps and pictures like these myriad 
times before, but have never been received with 
quite such disinterest. Here was a group of 
mostly retired U.S. government officials, 
academics, journalists, and business 
executives, as well as a few still-working 
professionals -- all ranging in political 
orientation from center right to center left, the 
cream of informed, educated America, the exemplar 
of elite mainstream opinion in the United States. 
Their lack of concern about what Israel and, 
because of its enabling role, the U.S. are doing 
to destroy an entire people and their national 
aspirations could not have been more evident.

The first person to comment when our presentation 
concluded, identifying herself as Jewish, said 
she had "never heard a more one-sided 
presentation" and labeled us "beyond 
anti-Semitic" -- which presumably is somewhat 
worse than plain-and-simple anti-Semitic. This is 
always a somewhat upsetting charge, although it 
is so common and so expected as to be of little 
note anymore. What was more noteworthy was the 
reaction, or lack of it, among the rest of the 
assembled, who never disputed her charge but 
spent most of the discussion period either 
disputing our presentation or trying to find ways to accommodate "Jewish pain."

Our brief conversation with this woman progressed 
in an interesting fashion. We tried to engage her 
in a discussion about what exactly was one-sided 
in our depiction of the situation on the ground 
and what she would have liked to see to make it 
"two-sided." She did not answer but indicated 
that she thought whatever Israel did must be 
justified by Palestinian actions. "Someone had to 
have started it," she said. We laid out a little 
history for her, noting that the first action, 
the "who-started-it" part, could be traced back 
to Britain's Balfour Declaration pledge in 1917 
to promote the establishment of a Jewish homeland 
in Palestine, at a time when Jews made up no more 
than 10 percent of the population of Palestine. 
Then we came up to the 1947 UN partition 
resolution, which allotted 55 percent of 
Palestine for a Jewish state at a time when Jews 
owned only seven percent of the land and made up 
slightly less than one-third of the population.

Her answer was, "Well, but it wasn't Jews who did 
this." We disabused her of this and briefly 
detailed the deliberate Zionist program of ethnic 
cleansing against the Palestinian population 
conducted during 1947-48 war, as described by 
several Israeli historians, including 
particularly Ilan Pappe, whose The Ethnic 
Cleansing of Palestine is based on Israeli 
military archives. Her eyes actually began to 
bulge, but she held her tongue. Apparently 
deciding that she had no way of refuting these 
facts, she finally decided that going back in 
history was of no utility -- a common Zionist 
dodge -- and that Israel had not been established 
in any case to be a democracy but was a haven for 
persecuted Jews and as such has every right to 
organize itself in any way it sees fit. The 
moderator finally called on others who wanted to 
speak, and the discussion moved on.

But not very far. The talk now circled, for over 
an hour, around what passed for profound 
discussion: around someone's curious remarks 
about Zeitgeist, someone else's equally curious 
insistence that there was "something out there 
that no one would talk about" that was 
influencing the situation, a few remarks about 
Palestinians as terrorists and how even if Israel 
made peace with the Palestinians Hamas would 
still try to destroy it, a lot of talk about how 
to accommodate Jewish pain and, taking off from 
this, a psychologist's attempt to draw an analogy 
between Jews who live in fear of persecution and 
the rape victims she counsels who live in 
constant fear that they will be raped again or worse.

A few people did ask interested questions about 
the situation on the ground and about various 
aspects of Israeli policy. After the discussion 
had centered for quite a while on Jewish pain, 
one person pointed out that Palestinians too feel 
pain and live in fear, but no one else picked up 
on this. No one challenged the first speaker's 
personal charge of anti-Semitism against us, and 
in the end there was almost no mention of the 
destructive Israeli practices that had been the subject of our presentation.

We had occasion to email several of the 
participants the next day. In one message, we 
lodged a mild complaint with the three group 
organizers about the fact that the charge of 
anti-Semitism was allowed not only to stand but 
to set the tone for much of the discussion, with 
no refutation of the substance of the charge by 
anyone except us. In another message, sent to a 
man who had expressed puzzlement over why the 
Jewish vote was thought to be important in U.S. 
elections, we forwarded without comment an 
article from Mother Jones about Barack Obama's 
difficulties with the Jewish community and his 
concerted effort to demonstrate his bona fides by 
pledging fealty to Israel and justifying Israel's siege of Gaza.

Finally, to the psychologist, we wrote a comment 
on her analogy between Jews and rape victims, 
observing that as a psychologist she undoubtedly 
did not encourage her rape victim clients to 
perpetuate their fear or adopt an aggressive 
attitude toward other people, but most likely 
gave them tools to help them regain trust and 
move beyond fears for their personal safety. This 
kind of restorative therapy for Jews has never 
been employed, we noted, but on the contrary 
Israeli leaders and American Jewish leaders have 
encouraged Jewish fears, along with an 
aggressive, militaristic Israeli policy toward its neighbors.

These were all gratuitous overtures by us, but 
they were not inappropriate or uncivil. Yet not 
one of these people saw fit to answer our 
missives or even acknowledge their receipt -- 
indicating, we can only assume, the general level 
of unconcern among Americans about the atrocities 
being committed against Palestinians, including 
the siege and starvation imposed on Gazans. Then, 
too, the lack of response probably reflects 
feelings on the part of most attendees that we 
are somehow responsible for having involved them 
in a discussion that turned out to be fairly unpleasant for them.

Why is this interesting to anyone but us? Because 
this in-depth discussion with a small but 
representative group of intelligent, thinking 
Americans is indicative of a broad range of U.S. 
public opinion on foreign policy issues, and 
their level of disinterest in the consequences of 
U.S. policies is quite disturbing. The 
self-absorption evident during this meeting, the 
general "don't-rock-the-boat" posture, the 
overwhelming lack of concern for the victims of 
Israeli and U.S. power amount to a license to 
kill for the U.S. and its allies. The same 
unconcern allowed the United States to get away 
with killing millions of Vietnamese decades ago; 
it gives license to mass U.S. killing in Iraq and 
Afghanistan; it is the reason Democrats still, 
after seven years of Bush administration torture 
and killing around the world, cannot fully 
separate themselves from Republican militarism. 
It gives Israel license to kill and ethnically 
cleanse the entire nation of Palestine.

Kathleen Christison is a former CIA political 
analyst and has worked on Middle East issues for 
30 years. She is the author of 
of Palestine and 
Wound of Dispossession. She can be reached at 
<mailto:kathy.bill.christison at comcast.net>kathy.bill.christison at comcast.net.

Bill Christison was a senior official of the CIA. 
He served as a National Intelligence officer and 
as director of the CIA's Office of Regional and Political Analysis.

They can be reached at 
<mailto:kathy.bill.christison at comcast.net>kathy.bill.christison at comcast.net.

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