Wouldn’t it be embarrassing to look back at the year 1983 and recall being on the fence about Apartheid in South Africa?
“Gosh,” you thought, “I mean, I don’t think it’s ideal that blacks and whites are separated in that country. But S.A. does plenty of good things. And I can’t imagine those wild terrorists, the ANC, taking over.”
I hope I’m not really describing you here. My point is, with the power of hindsight, it’s hard to see how anyone would have shied from denouncing Apartheid, let alone openly supported it. Yet plenty of powerful people stood by while one of the most ruthless and distasteful political systems in modern history thrived for more than 40 years. Our own Reagan administration blocked sanctions against South Africa and believed the racist government could be nudged toward reform by helping Apartheid’s architects get richer. (His plan didn’t work.)
Nearly 20 years after Apartheid ended in South Africa, the world finds itself at a similar juncture with regard to the Palestinian people. With Israel’s blasting of Gaza, there’s no better time to make sure that, 20 years from now, you don’t find yourself in your own embarrassing hindsight moment. It’s time to get on the bus for the Palestinian people, especially if you’re an American. It’s time to demand that Palestinians receive the same rights that Israelis have. That they have the same opportunities to live long and prosperous lives. That they are not physically confined to walled, impoverished homelands (like the black “homelands” in South Africa) based on their ethnicity.
The current bombardment against Gaza shows the injustice that Palestinians face in bold outlines. Forget the three-fifths compromise. The loss of Palestinian life in Gaza is like a 1/100th compromise: if the Israeli government reckons that it’s attacks, which have killed more than 400 Palestinians, are a fair response to Hamas rocket fire, which has killed 4 Israelis, this shows what the accepted exchange rate is for lives of the two peoples. And the United Nations estimates that 25 percent of the Palestinian dead have been civilians. This atrocious, completely lopsided violence (take a look at the Guardian’s dramatic comparison) is only the latest episode of a dehumanizing, months-long blockade against the 1.5 million people of Gaza. Gazans, who face the highest unemployment rate in the world of more than 45 percent, were reduced to eating grass even before bombs started destroying whole families.
But our outrage, piqued by this violence, must extend beyond it. As horrific as the attack and blockade on Gaza is, it is only the most glaring crime in an untenable political system that, at its most basic level, punishes Palestinians for the blood that flows in their veins. I am moved by Israeli author Avraham Burg’s observation on the tragedy and irony of this predicament, quoted in The New York Times:
“I realized that Israel had become an efficient kingdom with no prophecy. Where was it going? What is a Jewish democratic state? What does it mean that Jews define themselves by genetics 60 years after genetics were used against them?”
The racist logic behind the oppression of the Palestinians, and the $3 billion a year in aid that the United States provides to the perpetrator of that oppression, is what makes it crucial that the plight of the Palestinians be a humanitarian cause on every campus, taken for granted in mainstream editorial pages and a prerequisite on the platform of every politician. The restoration of the basic rights of the Palestinian people represents everything that America stands for.
You don’t have to be anti-Israel to get on the Palestine bus now. Personally, I think Israel and the Palestinian Territories must one day undergo a radical reintegration — along the lines of South Africa — where all peoples are allowed to live together in one territory with civil rights predicated on their citizenship, not on their race or religion. But you can take your own view of how Israelis and Palestinians will achieve coexistence. Please, though, agree with me that the current annihilation of Palestinian rights and lives must end immediately.
You most certainly should not be anti-Jewish to get on the Palestine bus. If you are, we don’t want you here. Thing is, many of the Jews I know (including those in my immediate family) oppose what Israel is doing. They (and I) see Israel’s actions as a stain on the history of a noble people whose intellectuals — outside of Zionism — have always stood up for the downtrodden, whether in Mississippi, Europe, South Africa or elsewhere. For anyone who loves Judaism, Jewish heritage and Jewish people, it is imperative to oppose Israel’s actions — just as it is imperative for Americans to oppose the war in Iraq that is being carried out in our name.
You don’t have to be pro-Hamas to get on the Palestine bus. I’m not. To avoid seeing Israel’s slaughter of Gazans as part of a legitimate Global War on Terror, however, it might be useful to understand the group’s rise in context. (Read Tariq Ali’s op-ed.)
What you should support to get on the bus, however, is the notion that the condition of the Palestinian people is one of the important causes of our time, and that there is no justification for the misery being visited upon Gaza today. You must oppose the antiliberal, Orwellian future of images like these:
Still not convinced? Brother, I’ll see you when you get there.