Monday, November 19, 2012

National Narrative and Received Wisdom

Nations have national flags in order to give the population a nice visual to identify with. A narrative is fashioned to associate with that symbol, all according to good stimulus-response behavioral psychology. The narrative relates more or less to history, usually less. The former Soviet Union for example had a story where the workers triumph over the corrupt capitalist, monarchy and opiate religion, ever vigilante as they build a socialist paradise. In reality the story, though rooted in real concerns and yearnings, was put forth for maximum control by a sociopathic, if charismatic, control freak. The U.S., lest “we” get too smug, has its own narrative of democracy by for and of the people but only in so far as corporations are the people.

Miko Peled relates, in his book The General's Son, is the son of a highly decorated Israeli General who in his later years went public with the misgivings he’d had all along about Israeli policy toward Palestinians. He and his family experienced the predictable social shunning, tempered a bit by the general’s sterling reputation and service to the nation. The general while alive, and now his son, endeavored to point out that the goal of Zionist Israel is, and has been from day one, to make life for Palestinians so miserable and hopeless that they will leave the land to those who, some believe, “God gave to his people”.

The national narrative attempts to mask this policy, inventing stories about Israel’s formation ranging from voluntary Palestinian evacuation to denial of their very presence at the beginning of the 1947 lop-sided U.N. two-state partition. The myth portrays the Jewish population of 500,000, mostly immigrants, triumphing over a much larger hostile Arab force. In fact Israel had a 40,000 strong army and Palestinians virtually none. A Zionist Jewish militia began ethnic cleansing immediately after the partition, destroying 500 towns and villages and forcing a million people into exile. It was only months later that Egypt and others responded with a failed invasion. Zionists expelled  many Palestinians and confiscated their homes, offering them to Jews. Peled’s Mother refused, seeing at once the injustice. His Father suggested a solution and a bridge to peace with the neighboring Arab countries in granting the Palestinians the West Bank and Gaza. Instead Israel continued to confiscate the best land in the West Bank and to drive out the Palestinian population. Even today, 50,000 Palestinians are being displaced near Jerusalem with the specious claim that the neighborhood sits on top of the biblical King David’s land. General Peled spent his last years searching for reconciliation but the government eventually made it illegal to meet with Palestinians.

An instance that shows the intertwining of Israeli and U.S. narratives is when peace talks broke down with Arafat’s intransigence being blamed in the U.S. press. Actually Arafat had bent over backwards, accepting conditions of no-return for exiled Palestinians and 80% of the land going to Israel. The real reason for break-down was Israel wanting it all, one Israeli commenting, “It isn’t the guy on top who has to say uncle.”

Miko, though born and raised in Israel, was 39 years old before he sat down and talked with actual Palestinians. This he could only do outside Israel.  He got an earful, realizing how inaccurate and self-serving the national narrative and how correct his Father’s view. He remembered when serving his military obligation, going into a Palestinian village and being ordered to, “break every bone in the body of anyone who so much as looks at you”. Miko explains that even Palestinians who are citizens of Israel suffer discrimination. They need permission, which is never granted, to build an addition on their homes and getting a mortgage is nearly impossible. They are subject to arbitrary confiscation, as in the Jerusalem case cited above. Non-citizen Palestinians are completely at the mercy of military whim. Peled refers to the Israeli army as the most well-armed and funded terrorist organization on the planet. The mainstream U.S. press describes Israeli military actions as war but the truth is, says Peled, that these actions are massacres. In January 2008 Israel enacted a 21 day assault on Gaza, dropping 100 tons of bombs on the first day, killing 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians. At this writing Israel is once again conducting operations(!) in Gaza. These are war crimes but what we get out of our politicians is scolding of the Palestinians for soiling the bayonets of our distinguished ally. U.S. law forbids the use of weapons we provide to any country against civilians but U.S. narrative has it that Palestinians are terrorists, Israelis the good guys and you will find little to contradict that in mainstream accounts.

Most progressives (and the international community, aside from U.S. and Israel) support a two-state solution. Israel’s settlements intentionally defy this consensus and the U.S. uses its U.N. veto to shield Israeli intransigence. U.S. mainstream media, as with so much else, keep us uninformed on the subject. Peled calls for a ONE land, ONE state solution, a non-Jewish state. He argues that half of the population is Palestinian and should not be forced into second class status. Each side in the conflict has its extremists, Peled believes, but they are in the minority. The vast majority on both sides could happily adapt to what Peled envisions, a free, non-Jewish, secular democratic state.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Justice at the School of Assassins

                                "This Democracy stuff worries me. Thank Dios
                                       we always have Sam to back us up."

As the annual converging on Fort Benning, Georgia approaches, organized by SOA (School of the Americas) Watch (November 17-18) it is perhaps helpful to review: the Salvadoran army officers who murdered Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and young daughter in 1989, were pardoned in El Salvador. In outrageous contrast the thirteen U.S. citizens who reenacted the 1989 murders, as part of a demonstration against the School of the Americas (S.O.A. - School of Assassins) where the officers were trained, were sentenced to prison. This has happened every year since the murders and will continue, according to organizers, until the school is closed.

The pious, if sleepy, Judge Elliot, who found the defendants guilty April 29, 1998 also imposed on them a telling anecdote: if a man steals bread for his starving children he has good motives but criminal intent, has broken the law and therefore should go to prison. Apparently the learned judge has not read Les Miserable, or perhaps did read the sad tale and identified with the sociopathic prosecutor, cheering on his obsessive pursuit.

The defense took two basic strategies: to call for dismissal of the charges (engaging in banned political activity at Fort Benning where the school is located) on the grounds that only those opposing the S.O.A. were banned while those in favor were allowed to express their support; and that a higher moral law justifies the "illegal" action taken by the group. The analogy was drawn that citizens would have been breaking German law if they had stopped the death trains to Auschwitz but a higher moral law would have absolved them.

Reverend Bill Bichsel, in his eloquent pre-sentencing statement, said, " We are not afraid of your jails or your police. We will be back to demonstrate on each anniversary of the murders until that school is closed. I hope one day you (Judge Elliot) will join us." Spontaneous and sustained applause erupted in the packed court room, sending the Sheriff in charge of security walking in circles  frantically wondering what to do about it.

The S.O.A. claims that its instruction aims to instill "American" values in its students. Some folks from the area might point out that they too are “Americans”, if Central or South Americans. Critics claim that the school actually teaches torture techniques (verified by the leaking of a manual). The fact is that many of its graduates have engaged in undemocratic activities, coups and assassinations, such notorious figures as Manuel Noriega and El Salvador death squad leader Roberto D'Aubuisson. It is a dubious proposition that a rigid hierarchical military is the appropriate teacher of democratic values. The school’s unspoken mission, and one of the reasons it should be closed, is to establish relationship with Latin American military officers so as to have coup-influence in the event leaders down there get the idea that democracy is more important than U.S. corporate interests, as happened recently in Honduras. Our dear Senator Shameless responded to my letter asking him to push for democracy there by claiming that the over-thrown president, I paraphrase, had it coming. He was attempting to extend his term. My! Far worse a crime than violently taking over a country and banning the legitimate, elected president who may or may not have been planning to, through legal means, extend his term. His real crime of course was putting the needs of his fellow citizens before corporate and elite interests and – shudder – associating with (elected) Venezuelan President Chavez (routinely referred to as a dictator in mainstream "American" media). U.S. yearning for democracy and freedom seem to run consistently along these two lines: flamboyant and self-righteous rhetorical concern contrasted with apparent fear and loathing of the real thing. The annual SOA event is one opportunity for citizens to oppose this murderous hypocrisy.