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Another perspective on Mideast conflict

My turn

Posted: Sunday, November 26, 2000

I read with interest Rev. Beran's opinions about the Middle East problems. As in his previous letter, a generous helping of Israeli "atrocities" was included without any context whatsoever, along with fairly vague suggestions about justice, freedom, dignity and similar human aspirations on which we can all agree. Here is another perspective on the situation.

First, all Palestinians are portrayed as innocent victims, with the Israelis, by extension, the sadistic oppressors. In reality, Palestinian groups such as Hamas have declared war on Israel, but they wear no uniforms and live among the general population without regard to the risk they pose to them. The suicide bombers, snipers, Molotov cocktail throwers and car-bomb builders are all "civilians." They operate without regard for the civilian casualties they engender because they know that these crossfire casualties instill hatred and further politicize moderates. That's why they continue to encourage young people's participation in the riots.

Mr. Beran seems to insinuate in his second article that if the Israelis would simply abandon the West Bank and make it a Palestinian state, peace would reign. In actuality, the PLO was founded before the 1967 war and Israel's occupation of those territories. Its purpose at that time was to destroy the state of Israel, not to get Israel out of the occupied territories. Many Israelis view the West Bank as simply another step in the PLO's long-term goal of destroying Israel. Arafat has long told one thing to the foreign press and very different things to his Arab supporters. If you had to stake your life on it, which Arafat would you believe?

When the PLO says that "Palestine will be a state and Jerusalem has never been a Palestinian capital," they neglect to mention that Jerusalem has never been a Palestinian capital. Jews have been the majority population in Jerusalem since 1844. In 1920, they outnumbered the Arabs 3 to 1. In 1948, the ratio was more than 2 to 1. When Jordan seized control of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount in 1948, they tore up Jewish headstones and used them as paving stones, as well as burning many Jewish synagogues that had been there since the Middle Ages. Additionally, Jews were denied access to the "Wailing Wall" of Solomon's temple, (also sacred to Islam) which had been the Jews primary holy site for 1,300 years before Mohammed was born. With that history, would you be eager to surrender it to Palestinian control again?

It's easy to portray Israel as the bully if you ignore that Israel is a tiny country of 5,000,000 surrounded by much larger countries that are in a state of war with them and are eager to seize on any perceived weakness for their own advantage. The Arab states, while willing to arm the Palestinians or hold them in refugee camps, have rarely been willing to grant them citizenship or lend their hand in a solution that does not involve the destruction of Israel. Security matters are not a philosophical issue for the Israelis. Any war they lose will be their last.

This is not to say that the Palestinians don't have a legitimate complaint; they do. They lost out in a power struggle to people that were as desperate as they were. I do not support all Israeli policies, particularly in the West Bank. However, one man's "freedom and justice," may well be another man's annihilation, and spouting those terms along with a one-sided recounting of Israeli "aggression" does nothing to further a solution. In my opinion, the length of the Israeli's stay in Israel will be determined by the quality of the solution they can find with the majority of Palestinians and, even more, by their strength of arms and refusal to be bullied by extremists and religious fanatics on either the Arab or Jewish side of the issue. I do not think a quick solution can be imposed by simply drawing new boundaries around old hatreds.

If the Israelis move cautiously towards peace, it is partly because trusting an enemy who has made a career, if not religion, out of your annihilation is something of a guessing game. Unlike American visitors, they cannot simply flash their passports and fly home if they guess wrong.

Stuart Cohen is a writer who lives in Juneau.



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