Our reactions to the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington have been shock, anger, grief and revenge. Why we were attacked is seldom asked. Those who connect our foreign policy and the explosion of Arab hatred toward us have had their patriotism impugned.
President Bush says we were attacked because we are a free country and the terrorists hate us for that. The national columnist Leonard Pitts thinks we were attacked out of envy and disgust because Arab kids want our blue jeans and Moslems don't want their women to wear bikinis or speak their minds.
History offers a more human explanation. If you don't believe me, go to the library and read "The Palestinian Problem and United States Policy," which is a short compendium of essays based upon histories and newspaper reports on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
In 1917, the British were mandated by the League of Nations to control what was Palestine and is now called Israel. "The British ignored the right of the Arabs in Palestine to self-determination and imposed upon them a pro-Zionist solution that could only be carried out by force of arms." During the course of the mandate, others argue, an important part of the Balfour Declaration was disregarded (i.e., the clause noting the clear understanding "that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine").
In 1947, thousands of surviving European Jews, traumatized and displaced by the Holocaust, needed a home. The U.S. would not allow them to immigrate to America because polls indicated it was not popular with the American public. Instead, President Truman decided to give the displaced Jews someone else's country, i.e., Palestine. Near East experts at the State Department knew this would anger Arabs and destabilize the Middle East and American interests in the region, but it was done anyway. "While the plight of Europe's surviving Jews clearly necessitates heroic efforts on the part of the world community, the world's reluctance to accommodate them, and the survivors' need for redemption from the trauma of the Holocaust, ultimately pointed to a solution that could be effected only at the expense of the Arab majority in Palestine and against the wishes of the Arab world. Rectifying one injustice by helping perpetuate another, American policy supported the creation of a Jewish state while helping to sow the seeds of future conflict."
For the last 54 years, Palestinians who have lost their land and their rights have been fighting Israel to obtain justice. They started out imploring the world community for help, but were ignored. Then, out of despair, they became terrorists.
In 1982, when the U.N. General Assembly voted 120-2 in favor of granting the Palestinians a state of their own, Israel and the U.S. dissented. Twenty other countries abstained. Israel wants the Arab world to recognize it as a legitimate state but it won't accept the legitimacy of a Palestinian state.
Some have suggested that the West Bank of the Jordan River, which Israel annexed during the 1967 war, be turned into a Palestinian state. Israel objects because: 1) Israeli conservatives want to restore Israel to its biblical borders and the West Bank encompasses what was once Samaria and Judea. 2) By occupying the West Bank, Israel buffers itself against attack from Jordan, increasing its security. The conservative and powerful Likud Party rejects any land for peace deals.
As of 1986, when the aforementioned book was published, foreign aid made up one-half of Israel's GNP. Seventy-five to 85 percent of that aid came from the U.S.A. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict exploded at our front door on Sept. 11, killing over 6,400 Americans and shattering how many families? The Palestinian issue has long been the fire that keeps Arabia boiling, feeding hatred in refugee camps, breeding terrorists and fueling future misery for the world. If we have to cut off foreign aid to Israel to encourage fairness, so be it. The fire consuming the Middle East which has just burned us could be extinguished with justice for the dispossessed.
Lisle Hebert is a social worker and filmmaker. He lives in Juneau.