We are all brothers

The Thinker by Rodin

There are people out there
unafraid of revealing
that they might have a feeling,
or they might have been wrong.
There are people out there
unafraid to feel sorrow,
unafraid of tomorrow,
unafraid to be weak,
unafraid to be strong…

Mother, “Back to Before”, from the musical Ragtime *

You can learn a lot from diversity training.

That is how I spent this Wednesday afternoon: in four hours of diversity training. You can say it is bunk or you can say it is smart, but it is the requirement of my employer that as a supervisor I see workplace diversity as an asset.

Intuitively, embracing a diverse workforce makes a lot of sense. If everyone who worked for me thought and acted like me, would this be good for the organization? Not likely. I like to consider myself a talented guy, but my skills and knowledge are limited. I need the best from my team. I need to take advantage of the strengths that they have that I do not. Consequently, on those few times when I am in a hiring position, I should be looking for people with different skills and perspectives.

Whether people are black or white, whether they are pretty or ugly, whether they are gay or straight, whether they are skinny or obese, each person has potential. According to my training, that potential can only realized when I am able to be accepting of their differences. I need to see beyond the surface and the stereotypes and connect with the person within. By accepting who they are in all their complexity and quirks, it becomes possible for them to feel valued for who they are, and thus give me their best. If everyone who works for me can feel the same way, we become a more harmonious unit. Everyone is happier and more productive because their essential humanity is acknowledged and appreciated.

These observations should not be startling to you. They are almost intuitive.

However, with my mind fresh from diversity training, the whole Israeli-Palestinian conflict took on a new perspective. A light bulb went off above my head. This was the essential problem between Israelis and Palestinians. It was not that mixing Arabs and Jews is like mixing oil and water. It was both sides failing to see and respect the essential humanity of each other.

Because “Arab” and “Jew”, like “fat” and “ugly”, are just labels. Here is the thing: being Jewish does not really matter. Being Arab does not really matter either. They mean as much as if your eyes are brown and mine are blue. This means that it means nothing at all. It is an artificial and superficial distinction that was elevated to the level of importance that is undeserved. Self-segregation may be an unpleasant fact in much of this world, but it is wrong. Ironically, it was one of the greatest Jews of all times who taught us this lesson: Jesus. He told us that all men are brothers. And that includes those Samaritans and Palestinians too.

This does not mean that we should all try to be brothers; it means all men are brothers. How do we know? Count our chromosomes. Yep, we all have 46. We all belong to the same species: homo sapiens. We each have two eyes, two ears, one nose, two legs and two arms. If there is a real difference between us, it is by gender. I do not have ovaries. Women do not have penises. Perhaps that is why some biologists consider males and females to be different species.

Therefore, if we all are brothers, anyone who says otherwise is spreading lies. Why did apartheid finally fail in South Africa? Because the world recognized this fundamental truth: everyone who lived there deserved equal rights, respect and opportunities because they were all human beings.

Why was the Holocaust so evil? It was evil because some of us chose to act on their erroneous belief that we were not brothers. It was a fallacy that killed millions of our brothers.

The current state of Israel is a direct result of the Holocaust. A homeland for the Jews seemed like a natural way to permanently address the Holocaust. At the time, it seemed both compassionate and logical. Let us give the Jews their own place where they can be free to be Jewish. The Jews can go there to be with their own kind. (Perhaps the subtext was, “We do not want the Jews in our country anyhow, because they are not really one of us, so let them go to Israel.”) It seemed like a neat resolution at the time. A permanent Jewish homeland meant that Jews could be free to be Jews without worry of discrimination.

There was, unfortunately, one flaw: there were people already living in Palestine. In order to create a Jewish state, others necessarily had to suffer. More specifically, most of the non-Jews in the state that would become Israel were pushed across the Green Line to start a new life of permanent refugees. Many others were simply murdered.

Yet this consequence was tacitly okay with the United Nations. Yes, there were dissents when the U.N. authorized the creation of Israel. Nevertheless, it was, in retrospect, perhaps the most boneheaded decision made by this august governing body. It was very clearly deliberate discrimination: Jews are wanted in Israel, and non-Jews are not, and the world says that is fine.

Antisemitism is defined by dictionary.com as “Hostility toward or prejudice against Jews or Judaism.” Semitism, on the other hand is not quite the opposite of anti-Semitism. It is “a policy or predisposition in favor of Jews.” Thankfully, I am not anti-Semitic. I have no prejudice toward those who are Jews. Therefore, I need to invent a new word: “non-semitism”. I will define it as “the belief that Jews should not be especially favored nor discriminated against”. I believe in non-semitism. I believe it because I believe all men are brothers. To me this is self-evident. I believe it is wrong to favor the Jews or any group over any other group. This does not mean that I am unmindful of the horrors inflicted on the Jews over the millenniums. They were horrible and they were wrong. However, they were not horrible because they were inflicted on Jews; they were horrible because these were crimes against humanity. Some of our brothers chose to kill because they chose to believe we are not all brothers. In my mind the Holocaust was a monstrous crime of large-scale fratricide.

While in general the law in Israel does not discriminate against non-Jewish citizens, in practice there is a lot of discrimination. The situation is not too much different from the status of Negroes in much of the 20th century here in the United States. While they had equal rights in theory, in practice discrimination was widespread. Our own State Department noted this in its most recent report to Congress. It also catalogued the obvious discrimination that occurs on Middle East territories occupied by Israel, which includes East Jerusalem and The West Bank. You have no doubt seen pictures of the unilateral demolition of Arab homes in these areas so that Jews can occupy these lands. (Incidentally, it is forbidden under international law for any occupying force to colonize an occupied territory.)

It is ironic that in Israel of all places, we see a modern version of apartheid. It is like George Orwell’s Animal Farm where some animals are more equal than others are. In doing so, of course, in some small way Israeli Jews are emulating the injustices done upon them. It is much like child abuse. “My Dad used to beat me with a belt, so it is okay for me to beat you with a belt.” One can understand why someone would feel this way having gone through such a traumatic experience, but it is still wrong to act on those feelings.

Yes, it is wrong. Just as no child deserves to be beaten, no person should lose life, home or liberty for not being in the right ethnic class, in this case for not being a Jew. It violates our inherent human worth and dignity. It supports the insidious lie that we are not all brothers in fact.

In trying to conjure a way out of this horrifying Israel-Lebanon-Hezbollah conflict that threatens to turn into a Third World War, I cannot help but believe that the real crime is that both sides will not acknowledge that they are brothers. They are all human beings. We should aspire to treat everyone with dignity and respect, even when we do not agree with them, because we are brothers.

Israel is now engaged in a battle for its survival. That is why this war is so dangerous. As I said a few entries ago, these rockets launched by Hezbollah have changed whole balance of power. At some point, perhaps sooner rather than later, Iran will be able to lob its own missiles at Israel from inside its own territory. By then, it will not need proxy militias like Hezbollah to do it for them. There is no military answer to this emerging reality other than devastating nuclear war. Even that would not solve the problem, but it would leave millions of our brothers dead.

How do we get out of this box?

There is an answer, but it takes much more courage that sending tens of thousands of Israeli troops into Northern Lebanon to ferret out Hezbollah militias. It can come from either side, but in my opinion, it should come from the Israelis. It should be something like this:

To our Arab brothers,

For many decades, we have engaged in overt and covert wars to hurt and kill each other. We must stop this because it is wrong and it will kill more people. We must stop thinking of each other as Arab or Jew. We must start thinking of each other as brothers. We must all make the deliberate and sustained decision to heal, not hurt.

For our part, we acknowledge our terrible transgressions against our Arab brothers over many decades. We look forward to finding ways where we can redress past wrongs and live together in peace and mutual respect.

Please, together, let us find a way to stop the bloodshed immediately. Then let us work earnestly together to build a new Palestine built on mutual respect for each other and peace.

Continue reading “We are all brothers”

Ozymandias

The Thinker by Rodin

In Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows: –
“I am great OZYMANDIAS,” saith the stone,
“The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
“The wonders of my hand.” – The City’s gone, –
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.

We wonder, – and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragments huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

–Horace Smith.

I am certainly no Middle East scholar. I suspect even if you grew up in the Middle East and earned a degree in Middle East studies that you would still be challenged understanding the current situation there. I believe that there are too many permutations between the nations, races, ethnic groups, religious groups, paramilitary groups and shifting alliances to understand the totality of the issues and conflicts. As if things were not confusing enough just in Iraq and Afghanistan, now we have this war between Israel and Hezbollah, the Shi’ite paramilitary group, which has blossomed into a larger war. Lebanon is now unjustly receiving the bulk of Israel’s fury.

Make no mistake. This is not a “police action”. This is not a “limited incursion”. This is a war. Israel has always seemed proactive when it comes to their national security, yet they were blindsided by this one. From their actions to date, it is clear they do not understand that the conflict has changed in a fundamentally new way and that the existence of Israel itself is now in serious jeopardy.

The capabilities of their enemies have morphed. In the last couple of decades, short-range rockets have become cheaper to make and easier to move around. In addition, those funding Hezbollah (which doubtless includes Iran) have dug deeper into their pockets. Hezbollah now has longer-range rockets that are reaching deep inside of Israel. Some of these rockets can reach twenty or more kilometers into Israel. They can be moved with relative ease and are often hard to detect. In a way, the Israelis are fortunate that most of these rockets are low tech. Hezbollah soldiers point, shoot and hope they are effective. So far, their effect has been more psychological than lethal. However, these rockets have killed Israeli citizens far from the front lines. Even if the Israelis could shoot them down, given the large quantities of them and the short flight time, it would be impossible to intercept them all.

Therefore, they are left to try to secure southern Lebanon by clearing it of all of Hezbollah’s fighters and missiles. This is already proving to be very daunting. It is a large territory. To secure it and hold it now requires a large and continuing military presence. Moreover, this territory is not desert. Much of it is wooded. Hezbollah is imitating the Vietcong by digging tunnels. This makes destroying all the missiles and removing all the Hezbollah fighters a very iffy proposition for Israel. Moreover, once they capture all this land realistically they cannot secure it indefinitely. They hope that some other armed force will keep it secure for them. If they return the land to Lebanon, there are no guarantees that Lebanon can keep the land secure.

It is unlikely though that Israel will succeed in controlling Southern Lebanon. On some level, I think they know this already. Therefore, they are blowing up much of Lebanon instead. The plan seems to be that if they bomb Lebanon enough, its government will start securing its Southern border. Yet it makes no more sense to expect Lebanon to secure its southern border for Israel than it makes sense for us to expect the Mexican government to keep illegal immigrants from entering our country through Mexico. The Hezbollah militia is far bigger than the Lebanese army is. Even if it had the means, Hezbollah and affiliated Shi’ite parties democratically control 35 of the 128 seats in Lebanon’s parliament. Hezbollah itself has 14 of these seats. Many Lebanese welcome Hezbollah. If Israel is serious about having the Lebanese government control its own territory, it is hard to see how destroying much of its infrastructure aids their cause.

In addition, they are working against their own long-range interests. The Israelis seem to suffer from cognitive dissonance. It amounts to if you hurt me, I will hurt you back ten times worse, and then you will learn never to bother me again. What actually happens, of course, is they leave people deeply traumatized, upset and eager for retribution. In short, they inadvertently sow the seeds for their own destruction.

Most likely Israeli partisans that read this will insist I am anti-Semitic and want to see the destruction of Israel. Aside from the obvious problem that pro-Israeli advocates just love to paint broadly with their anti-Semite brush, I am not stupid. It was not Israel that lobbed the first missile, but Hezbollah. All this is beside the point: the game has changed.

To really secure Israeli citizens, a DMZ is needed. Since indefinitely occupying Southern Lebanon is not practical, the next step is to withdraw civilians from northern Israel and relocate them further south. Hezbollah has demonstrated that Galilee is no longer defensible. Unfortunately, even if Israel were to embrace this strategy, it would only be a stopgap measure. For rockets and missiles will get cheaper and more accurate. It is possible that within years all of Israel will be vulnerable to rocket attacks.

Israel goes after governments like Lebanon because they do not know what else to do. Perhaps it gives the illusion of doing something that will bring results. They have all the firepower they need to render most governments in the Middle East ineffective. Unfortunately, even if they can destroy the governments in Lebanon and Syria, that does not mean they have won this war. For they are no longer battling other nations. They are fighting paramilitaries. Anarchy is what paramilitary groups like Hezbollah prefer. If the state does not exist, their mobility improves. No central government is left that can constrain their behavior.

Although wars between nations are not yet obsolete, their days may be numbered. The future will see more of what we are seeing now: wars between states and paramilitary groups, or, in the case of Iraq, simply wars between paramilitary groups. Cheaper and more accessible armaments, some of it coming from our defense contractors, have lowered the cost of waging insurgencies and paramilitary efforts. Few nations can totally control what happens inside their own borders. Real control requires the overwhelming consent of those governed. The people who live in the country have to have an emotional commitment to their country to keep paramilitary organizations from having any traction. This loyalty to country must come before loyalty to ethnicity, religion or political cause.

One result of this trend will be the slow dissolution of the nation-state. My thoughts on this will likely be the subject of another entry. In brief, I believe the future will move either toward global anarchy or toward one world government. The nation states of today will eventually become as obsolete as kingdoms.

Whether Hezbollah and similar paramilitary groups understand this or not is beside the point. This is the new reality. What it amounts to is a country cannot effectively fight paramilitary groups using armies trained to attack other nation-states. Ready or not, the paradigm and tactics of modern war have changed. We are already learning this lesson painfully in Iraq. I am left to conclude that Israel simply has no future. I believe that in fifty years, maybe less, it will be a memory. Insurgencies and paramilitary groups will have nibbled it out of existence.

How do you counter a trend like this? I know I would hate to try to find a formula that would bring peace to Israel and its neighbors. Frankly, I do not think that one exists. What would help is a pragmatic vision of hope that all parties can latch onto. Perhaps what is really needed is not a Jewish state, but a Semitic state. Semites in this context does not mean Jews. It means the Semite race, and that includes the Palestinians, who are also Semites. There has to be consensus that all that live there must dwell together in peace and brotherhood, or no one can. It is hard to see how this can be achieved when the hatred continues to grow on all sides due largely to Israel’s latest actions in Lebanon.

Meanwhile, here in the United States, more than a few wacked out religious nut jobs are taking this conflict as a sign that Armageddon is near. They are nearly in rapture because they are convinced the Lord is ready to return. Soon they figure they will be occupying their reserved spots inside the pearly gates, for they are the true believers. Arguably, there are more than a few of these nutcases in the West Wing. From my perspective, it looks like Armageddon is already here. Only it is not quite what evangelical Christians had hoped. Armageddon appears to consist of eternal skirmishes, bloodshed, death, destruction and the sad defilement of the area that gave birth to our greatest religions. With each crime against their neighbors, sides dig in their heels further and refuse to learn any karmic lessons. Somewhere up there Allah, Yahweh and Jesus are watching, and they are crying.