Letters

Readers weigh in Gary Kamiya's "A Tale of Two Miseries," Catholics' view of the presidential election, and Sen. Zell Miller's recent attack on Bush's critics.


Salon Staff
April 1, 2004 1:39PM (UTC)

[Read "A Tale of Two Miseries," by Gary Kamiya.]

This is the first letter I have ever written to an online publication, but Gary Kamiya's "A Tale of Two Miseries" is just too fine a piece of writing to go unheralded. Like Adam Smith, who famously coined the expression, I am a citizen of the world, neither Jew nor Arab yet sympathetic to both.

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Kamiya captures the tragedy of the Israeli-Arab conflict in the most balanced piece of journalism I've read on the subject in a long time. It brought a tear to my eye, made me angry, and caused me to reexamine my faith. Not bad for one short story based on an international horror show that has been unfolding for as long as I've been alive.

Kamiya offers a commonsense solution to the problem, which, he correctly points out, affects us all. His optimism is gratifying and necessary, a refreshing tonic to the usual pessimism. But with the current players on the world political stage, I fear his message of hope will go unheeded.

-- Valerie Gregory

I hear pro-Palestinian activists complain about the road blocks. I couldn't care less.

I hear pro-Palestinian activists complain about settlements, i.e. a Jew building a house somewhere they don't like. I couldn't care less.

I hear them complain about Muslim humiliation. And I couldn't care less.

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Especially when these trivialities are used to justify war and murder. Sorry, but that doesn't cut it.

Gary Kamiya is a fool if he thinks the Palestinians made it "clear" that all they want is the West Bank and Gaza. Maybe some do, but Arafat clearly does not, and if he wants to pretend that Barak's offer in 2000 didn't happen, then he can keep pretending. But it did.

He's a creep if he wails about the Palestinians in 1948 who were "wronged" by the founding of Israel. A nation is founded by refugees from the great mass murder of the Holocaust, and this is an injustice? I continually hear the pro-Arabs claim that the Holocaust wasn't "their fault" (in spite of the fact that they sided with the Nazis.) So why should they "suffer" the "indignity" of living near Jews who rule themselves?

-- Benjamin Epstein

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Gary Kamiya's article was a welcome profile of that calamity known as the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. Particularly refreshing to me was that, in his previous articles on the region, I had the feeling that Kamiya had no sense of the genuine brutality Israelis face. The occupation is corrosive and cruel. It never was pretty. But it has become increasingly cruel for a reason.

Israelis are facing forces that aren't just desperate but nihilistic as well as narcissistic. Something sadly endemic to an era where nationalism, modernization, and religious faith all seem to have congealed to go amok. And this particular firepot of geography has for years been fueled by an ideology that goes beyond the immediate situation. Too often I see leftists do to the Israelis what the right did to the Palestinians for years: simplify their pain by dismissing it with ludicrous and ignorant, easy answers. Translated, they basically came down to "Just be nice and nobody will hurt you." Having spent time there in the late 1970s, I always felt that what was most tragic was you had two enormously creative groups of people, fueled by their past but also outside actors (cheerleading foreigners left and right) leading them to deny the other's existence.

There are no easy answers. Kamiya does an amazing job of capturing the psychosis and pain. If nothing else, that's a start. He showed a lot of courage for going to be witness and returning with his lucid report. For that he deserves a lot of credit.

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-- Jonathan Field

Sure, life is tough for the Palestinians. Think about some of the following:

1. In 1948 the U.N. passed a partition law quite unfavorable to the Yishuv (the Jewish population of Palestine). The Jews accepted it; the Arabs didn't. Had they accepted the partition, Jerusalem would have been an international city, and there would have been an Arab Palestine. Instead, the Arabs rejected the partition, thinking they could invade and sweep the Jews into the sea. They lost. This created the first wave of Palestinian refugees. In the 1940s there were lots of people uprooted. Does anyone now agitate for the legitimate right of the Sudeten Germans? As many Jews left Arab countries with only the shirts on their backs as Arabs left Israel. They were absorbed into the new country. But the Arabs failed to absorb their refugees, leaving them to fester in squalid camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Gaza.

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2. The Arab countries swore to obliterate Israel and continued to swear it until 1967, at which point they threatened war. (Nasser ordered the U.N. peacekeepers out and closed the Gulf of Akaba to Israeli shipping: an act of war.) They lost again. When the refugees lived in Jordan, there was no talk about giving the West Bank to the Palestinian Arabs. Now that they live in Israeli-occupied territory they talk about Arab Palestine.

3. Barak offered to give back 93 percent of the occupied territories. Arafat turned him down flat.

4. Sheik Yassin, the spiritual leader, had as his goal the obliteration of Israel, not a return to the 1967 borders. If you substitute America for Israel, and bin Laden for Yassin, you get identical statements. Would anyone wring his hands over the assassination of someone who has sworn to destroy the United States? Why should Israel not be able to deal with Yassin the way the U.S. wants to deal with bin Laden?

5. Emmanuel Kant spent his entire life in Koenigsberg, a city now in Russia, named Kaliningrad. Countries do lose territories when they lose wars. If Jordan had not invaded Israel in 1967, they would own the West Bank still. Nonetheless Israel is willing to evacuate most of the territories (except for a few places around Jerusalem) if they could get peace. But no Arab leader has, in the Arab press, stated that Israel should exist.

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6. The Palestinians do have a choice: They can abandon their terrorist tactics, truly come to the peace table, admit that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state, allow Jews who want to live in Jewish holy places in the West Bank to do so in peace and safety under a Palestinian government. Or they can continue their present course until the last Palestinian Arab is dead.

-- Michael Goldberg

Thank you so very much for writing something sane about the situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I lived in Jerusalem last year for 12 months, and I still cannot watch American TV news on the subject -- it's all too flip, too stupid, too bent on selling soap-flakes to talk about the real suffering on both sides of the tragedy.

You touched on something that informs the Israeli side in profound ways: the spectre of the Holocaust. Keep in mind that many of the people who lose their children on a blown-up bus are children themselves of families that were decimated by the Holocaust and its aftermath. For all the (tattered) trappings of middle-class life, this is a country which has been at war for its entire existence, which came into full statehood in the shadow of genocide. Hamas still has as its stated reason for existence the obliteration of the State of Israel. Take that context, then try to decide what day to go to the grocery store. Forget cafes: just figure out how to get to work, and how to get milk for your kids.

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I appreciate that Mr. Kamiya remembered that his was a tourist's-eye view of life on both sides. Mine is only a student's-eye view -- I expected to be going home at the end of a year, and courtesy of my U.S. passport, I could go home anytime. Neither of us really knows what it is like to call either side of the fence our home.

-- Ruth Adar

Amid all the hate-filled rhetoric on both sides, Gary Kamiya's article distilled the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a compact series of truths: Both sides are suffering past the point of human toleration; both sides have leaders that are incapable of making peace; and the United States is the only entity capable of doing so, provided that our government look past its own myopia and greedy self-interest.

Americans should insist that the Bush administration take the following steps to get the peace process back on track:

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1. Ensure that both Arafat and Sharon leave their respective positions and are replaced by persons each side can trust.

2. Pledge support for an Arab Palestine, with borders based on the 1948 U.N. partition plan. Israeli settlements on the West Bank and in Gaza would be abandoned but not destroyed, so they could be useful homes for displaced Palestinians. Jerusalem would be a shared city, containing the seat of both governments.

3. Pledge massive reconstruction and investment and development aid for Palestine.

4. Call for a U.N. peacekeeping force that would concentrate on disarming both Hamas and their followers and right-wing Israelis.

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-- Ira Lacher

[Read "The Catholic Factor," by Andrew Greeley.]

I am a Catholic in the state of Michigan lead by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, also an active Catholic. We witness here the phenomenon that Andrew Greeley mentions when he makes the argument that Catholics tend to vote Democratic by nature. While our bishop in the archdiocese, Cardinal Maida, routinely launches stinging campaigns against Granholm's positions on pro-choice and sets the official tone of a hostile church toward her governorship, ordinary churchgoers are much more sympathetic to the complicated choices she has to make as a competent and responsible official.

Though our leadership and popular culture would have us vote against our own purely on the litmus of one issue, the real pride I have in being Catholic is that we are a lot more sophisticated than conventional opinion allows for. A significant portion of us may even be ahead of the curve as progressives go. The sad part is witnessing the knee-jerk reaction against our best leaders by dour bishops (read here: stupid white men) who feed off certain hot-button issues to the exclusion of all else that the Gospel and reality confronts us with.

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-- Edward Sweeney

Fr. Greeley's reliance on his colleagues Brooks and Manza to support the contention that Catholics "from the available data ... continue to be left-of-center" is news to us Californians. My family (formerly Democratic pre-Reagan) is solidly Republican because of the abortion issue. Let's see, that's one matriarch, six children, five spouses, three sons-in-law and eight grandchildren who vote (from Riverside to San Luis Obispo) solidly Republican. My sister-in-law is Chicana and my son-in-law is Salvadoran.

We Catholics are communal all right, but for parish and family and friends. You know, humans of all types, sizes and colors. Including those nascent, as yet unborn ones.

Fr. Greeley is a thoughtful man (the Catholic Imagination remains one of my favorites). However, to paraphrase a recent dissent of Justice Scalia's: Sociological studies do better with strictly logical thinking, but (out here in California, at least) the daily life of us Catholics often does better without it.

-- Jonathan Kinsman

My decision to vote against President Bush is definitely influenced by his vocal alignment with Evangelical Protestants. I grew up Catholic in the least Catholic diocese in the country (east Tennessee), and while I don't practice now, the factors cited by Fr. Greeley (Have you been saved? Ya'll worship Mary, right? Well, you're not really Christian) have always driven me up the wall. I am very pro-separation of church and state, not because I have a problem with religion in public places, but because it would be the Evangelical Christians coming after me and telling my kids they were condemned to hell.

I do appreciate Fr. Greeley's point that Catholics think more communally, because social justice and community service was very much a part of my education, in the tradition of good works as one means to achieve salvation. I had never seen it articulated that way before.

In Alabama, where I live now, we had to vote on a tax increase last September. Many Evangelical Christians preached against it, saying that "government doesn't belong in the business of caring for poor people -- that's for the charities." They seemed to view current laws and codes as a priori and immutable, and never seemed to think that we could easily structure our society so that there wouldn't be as many "poor people" to begin with. There is also a strong racial element involved with it.

My mother always thought that one should lead by example, and Paul himself says, "They will know we are Christians by our love." I have no use for the hypocrites who stand on the street corner and pray so that everyone can see them, while their actions only benefit themselves.

So I will vote for John Kerry, not because he is Catholic, but because he chose to put himself bodily on the line, and then came home and spoke up against the wrongful policy that put him and thousands of others there -- though I've no doubt his Catholic upbringing influenced him to make both of those decisions.

-- Andrea Rossillon

[Read the Associated Press coverage of Sen. Zell Miller's latest attack on President Bush's critics.]

"It's obvious to me that this country is rapidly dividing itself into two camps -- the wimps and the warriors," Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., said. "The ones who want to argue and assess and appease, and the ones who want to carry this fight to our enemies and kill them before they kill us."

Wimps and warriors?

I have a question for Sen. Miller: How many of his relatives are in the U.S. military? Or, for that matter, for the president or Mr. Cheney or Ms. Rice or anyone else in the current administration: Are your children in the military? Exactly what can this war cost you, personally?

My eldest son is a Navy Reservist. He is not active -- yet. Many other mothers and fathers in the United States have sons and daughters who are on active duty. I cannot imagine what they go through each time they hear that another car bomb has gone off in Baghdad.

Our all-volunteer U.S. military is made up primarily of two groups of people, with a great deal of overlap between the two groups. Some of them are men and women who have chosen to serve our country as a career, or for a time, out of conviction: They want to keep America free and strong. Some joined because it was their best economic option. Either way, they have chosen to restrict their own freedom in order to preserve the freedoms we all enjoy. The least we can do for those who choose to serve in our military is to hold their lives dear. This mother wants to ask Sen. Miller, who's the wimp? Where is your child, your grandchild?

A warrior is not someone who sends other people, and other people's children, off to die for a pack of lies. A warrior is not a fool who sets off on a fool's errand. A warrior is not someone who plays dress-up for photo ops. A warrior is someone who actually fights.

Pardon me, Senator, but in my book, you and your friends are wimps. You are worse than playground bullies: You send other people to take your risks. I am the proud mother of a man who has chosen to serve America. Every time I listen to the news, I ache for the other mothers who dread the news. Every time I listen to the news, I wonder how these self-proclaimed "warriors" can look at themselves in the mirror. Every time I listen to the news, I ache for America.

-- Ruth Adar


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