The bloody Jordan river now flows through America

By Gary Kamiya


Salon Staff
September 17, 2001 9:44PM (UTC)

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Having some sense of the sentiments on the ground in East Africa and the Middle East, from several years of teaching there, I salute the wisdom of your insights. Most young Muslims -- like youth everywhere -- are friendly, curious and proud. They are justly proud of the achievements of Islamic civilization, and are fond of reminding listeners that the development of architecture, music, philosophy and mathematics are indebted to the advancements of Islamic scholars. The majority of young Muslims I have known are fascinated with American popular culture, even while feeling dismayed at what they often assume to be a cultivated animosity of Westerners toward Islam. While many dream of touring or studying in the USA, they also recoil against the negative stereotyping of Arabs and Islam in the images of Hollywood and Madison Avenue.

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Yet as you have astutely pointed out, there is one issue on which a sense of grievance is focused. Rightly or wrongly, virtually every young Muslim I have known is appalled by the plight of the Palestinians.

Disturbing though it may be in the wake of the images of those Palestinians apparently celebrating the West's shock and horror, I believe America has at its disposal a potential for engendering a force of goodwill more among young Arabs and Muslims, which is much more powerful than any counterterrorism measure. It is well within the grasp of the Bush administration to pressure Sharon to implement the Mitchell recommendations. A just settlement for the Palestinians would not satisfy the fundamentalists on either side, but it would dramatically undercut the appeal of anti-Western rhetoric throughout the Islamic world.

Amid the clamoring for an even stronger alliance with the Israel military, I share your view that by identifying with the strategies and methods of Ariel Sharon on the West Bank and Gaza, America is very likely to enter upon the same vicious cycle of tragedy and escalating response. Thank you, Mr. Kamiya, for a courageous editorial. I do hope it is widely read.

--Fraser Thorburn

Gary Kamiya understands virtually nothing of recent Israeli-Palestinian history. Every trust-building initiative he recommends has been attempted, and all efforts have failed: not because of a lack of will on the part of the Israelis or the Americans, but because the Palestinians are not prepared to surrender even a part of their ultimate aim. We don't have an "endless cycle of violence," we have violence directed toward a specific goal, which is the eviction of all Jews from Palestine. That event alone will appease the Arab world. Heaping the blame on Israelis for our trouble in fashioning an international crusade against terrorism is like blaming bond traders for the temerity of working in such large buildings at Manhattan's southern tip. It is unseemly, disgraceful and disgusting. Shame on you, Gary Kamiya!

--Marc Valdez

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I don't believe Arabs and/or Muslims all over the globe give a damn about the Palestinians. If they did, as fellow Muslims they would be as enraged and committed to rectifying injustice in the Sudan, the Philippines, Indonesia and so on. I do believe they hate Jews, and I do believe anti-Semitism is the reason non-Muslim and non-Arab nations have helped keep the Palestinian conflict at the center of world politics since the 1960s. It is the intolerable presence of what used to be called "the Jewish state" in the Middle East that drives the external and presumptive support for the Palestinian cause, as an insult and an offense that must be removed. Don't kid yourself that Arafat, who again and again, to Arab audiences, without Western reporters present, calls for the destruction of Israel (as no Israeli government has called for the destruction of the Palestinians), and whose operation supports and sustains both organizing and propaganda for suicide bombers, promising money to their families and paradise for the martyrs, wants anything else.

--Greil Marcus

Your proposal for American action in the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire is superbly rational, superbly moral. Despite what seems almost universal American ignorance of the fact, we are and have been for decades complicit in the brutal Israeli suppression of Palestinian struggles for statehood; but the rest of the world knows it -- and much of that world hates us for it. It is high time for America to stand up for American ideals of fairness, justice, decency, respect for legitimate human rights. It is in these, not bloody-minded lust for revenge, that our strength against terrorism resides. The world now watches: Do we stand up and act in the service of our real ideals -- or descend to the hellish level of the terrorists themselves?

--Edward S. Twining

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In citing polls listing the Arab-Israeli conflict as the most important issue facing the Arabic world, Gary Kamiya only proves that he's as much of a dupe as the people who participated in the poll.

The fact is, Israel could announce tomorrow that it is handing all of its territory over to the Palestinians and moving to Uganda, and it still wouldn't change the fact that the overwhelming majority of Arabs are poor, have no democratic representation and lack basic human rights. I'm sure that all Arab and Muslim leaders -- from brutal secularists such as Saddam Hussein and Bashar Assad to repressive theocrats such as the Saudi royal family and the Ayatollah Ali Khomenei -- love to hear about their people's obsession with the plight of the Palestinians, since it deflects attention from their own illegitimate dictatorships.

If the United States really wants to bring the Arab world onto our side, we should help give the people not what they say they want, but what they really need -- democracy and human rights. This would truly be a win-win-win situation. First of all, we would be helping to improve the lives of Arabs everywhere. Second, democracy would represent the ultimate defeat for the Osama bin Ladens of the world. Contrary to popular belief, what most motivates bin Laden is not hatred of Israel, but rather hatred of the Saudi royal family for allowing U.S. troops on holy Arabian soil during the Gulf War. How much angrier would he be to see not just U.S. troops on the Arabian peninsula, but U.S.-style democracy and capitalism? And an Arabic state with representative government would be far less susceptible to the lure of Islamic fundamentalism. Indeed, the most successful fundamentalist movements, from Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza to Hezbollah in Lebanon to the Islamists in Turkey, have been those that provided the types of basic social services the ineffectual governments of those countries utterly failed to deliver.

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Finally, democratic Arab states would be far more attractive peace partners for Israel. It is no coincidence that the two Arab countries to make peace with Israel had leaders whose position was strengthened by their legitimacy (even if that legitimacy was never ratified by an election). Sadat was wildly popular after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and Jordan's King Hussein was a beloved figure (and had remained neutral during the Gulf War). A peace treaty struck with a democratic Palestine would be far more likely to last than one imposed by fiat or economic blackmail by the United States, as Kamiya recommends.

I don't pretend that democratizing the Arab world would be an easy task -- the region's stranglehold on oil alone guarantees that -- or that it can happen overnight. But can't we at least make it a long-term goal? Colin Powell is said to be itching to complete the "unfinished business" of the Gulf War: taking out Saddam. But what about the other unfinished business? At a time of supreme American influence in the Middle East, we restored an undemocratic, oil-soaked emirate in Kuwait and failed to press any reforms on the calcified Saudi royal family. I agree that the Palestinian people have gotten a raw deal. But let's not pretend that the Israelis are their only tormentors. The Arab states who now claim to want them to have a homeland weren't in such a rush to give them one when they controlled the West Bank and Gaza from 1948-67. And although he is not yet an official Middle Eastern head of state, Yasser Arafat has proven that he can be as corrupt and authoritarian as the best of them. The shah of Iran is reported to have said, "I shall behave like the king of Sweden when my subjects behave like Swedes." The statement was meant to be ironic; those backward Iranians would clearly never be as politically sophisticated as the Swedes. Yet in recent years, not only have Iranians displayed a zeal for democracy, they have expressed that zeal by electing moderates such as Mohammed Khatami. Democracy is not incompatible with Islam, and the sooner we come to that realization, the better off it will be for all of us.

--Greg Horowitz

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Gary Kamiya's article postulating that the only way to fight international terror is to get Israel to make peace with the Palestinians demonstrates the danger of the left getting lost in its own muddle. It is completely clueless on two counts. First, Israel already sued for peace along the lines that Kamiya advocates, and second, such a peace, even if accepted by the Palestinian leadership, would surely be rejected by the radical Muslims who form the core of the terror network that has presented itself so clearly as the democratic West's prime enemy. The question is not whether the Israeli negotiating team made this or that mistake. The question is whether, even if Barak had negotiated according to Kamiya's book, he could have reached an agreement with the Arafat leadership. Many of us on the Israeli left have reluctantly, sadly and with much egg on our face reached the conclusion that, no, he would not have and could not have. Sometimes the world doesn't work as we would like it to.

The question before the left in Israel since last year, and now before the left in the U.S. and Europe is: What role should the supporters of peace, human rights and individual liberties be playing in the conflict before us? We must address that question as war bares its teeth in our faces, and not try to pretend that it will go away if we throw it a dog biscuit.

--Haim Watzman, Jerusalem

Mr. Kamiya's piece, which argues essentially that Arab hatred and by extension terror attacks on the United States are the fault of Israel, is outrageous propaganda in favor of the enemies of the United States. Make no mistake, radical Islamists hate the U.S. because it represents competition for the hearts and minds of people they seek to have as adherents to their radical vision of religion.

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Israel's responses to multiple daily terror attacks have been limited. Remember, it is not the Israelis that bomb discoteques and pizza parlors to kill women and children -- it is the Arabs. More troubling, official Palestinian (end even Egyptian and Lebanese) media support suicide bombing, and children are taught the wonders of death and murder of civilians, so long as they are non-Muslim. Indeed, it is the lack of firm response on the part of Israel -- and the United States -- that permits the killing to continue.

Moreover, Kamiya needs to take a memory supplement of some sort. What he suggests has already been tried and failed. More talks will do nothing unless those who carry out the murder of civilians are apprehended by the Palestinian Authority and not released to cause mayhem whenever it loses a negotiating point.

No, it is not Israel's use of force against the Palestinians that is the cause of the United States' present problems. Rather, it is the failure of the U.S. over the past 50 years to forcefully root out terror wherever it exists and demand that all other nations do the same. Unfortunately, the U.S. apparently will seek the aid of states like Syria and Iran in its attempts to get bin Laden. This sort of "inclusion" of state sponsors of terror is a back step from what was promised on Sept. 11 and will surely result in more continued terror against American interest in the future.

Scapegoating Israel -- and by extension the Jews -- is absurd and vile. His op-ed piece does just this and gives comfort to the enemies of democracy.

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--Chris May

As a United States citizen who resides in Morocco and has traveled extensively in the Middle East, I applaud the content of your article. Here in Morocco, following the wake of last Tuesday's violence, numerous Moroccans have offered their sincere condolences and support to America, both personally to me and in the media. Yet even here, in a country that has no tolerance for religious extremism and has managed to keep relatively clean (considering the tragedies of its neighbor, Algeria), people continue to ask me when America will realize that the continued failure to offer an unbiased hand to peace in the Middle East will only result in more violence, certainly against American targets. Your article was a refreshing wake-up call that I hope our lawmakers will consider in trying to plan for a future that brings peace at home, as well as peace in the world.

--Rachel Newcomb

Gary Kamiya fails to make the most basic distinction in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: between the side that offered peace and the side that rejected it.

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The fact is that last year at Camp David, the Israelis made a settlement offer that included a Palestinian state with contiguous territory in the West Bank and Gaza, and sovereignty over Muslim holy places in Jerusalem. The Palestinians rejected the offer, made no counteroffers, and launched a protracted, bloody war on the flimsy pretext of a short speech Ariel Sharon gave on the Temple Mount.

A simplistic, unconditional moral equivalence between the Israelis and Palestinians prevents those who sabotage peace from being help accountable. We must rid ourselves of it.

--John Raley

Kamiya's premise appears to be that Muslim extremist are the result of the plight of the Palestinian people, and that the U.S. will continue to be a target unless it forces Israel to make peace with the Palestinians. The main error with this thesis is that it assumes that Islamic terror is a response to the plight of the Palestinian people. The fact of the matter is that the goal of most Islamic terrorist movements is the complete destruction of the state of Israel, regardless of whether there is "peace" with the Palestinians. This has not changed since 1948 when the Palestinian people rejected the U.N. partition plan and along with several neighboring Arab countries, attacked Israel, hoping to wipe it off the face of the earth. Instead, the Arabs were defeated, and many Palestinians who fled their homes at the urging of their leaders, who promised them their homes back and those of the "defeated" Jews, became refugees, as most surrounding Arab countries refused to absorb their displaced "brothers." The Palestinians rejected peace with Israel then (in 1948), just as Arafat rejected over 95 percent of the "occupied land" in the West Bank and Gaza, and joint control over Jerusalem, which was offered to him by Barak. Why? Not because of a lack of peace (which they reject), but because they want to eradicate Israel.

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--Glenn Ferdman


Salon Staff

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