Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Letter to the Editor of the Florida Sun-Sentinel

I take exception to the recent editorial denouncing Jimmy Carter’s new book "Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid". As is common amongst apologists for the state of Israel, the editors call Jimmy Carter dishonest and biased yet not one example of his “dishonesty” is given (of course, this may have something to do with the fact that the editors never read the book they are denouncing).

The editors claim that the Israelis and Palestinians do not occupy the same land, and this much is true. Palestine is not part of Israel, but only one people are occupiers. The editor may claim that, “Israel has no obligation to return it (the so-called “disputed land”, in fact occupied land) until a permanent peace is achieved”, but this is not the law. The settlements in the West Bank are not Israel, and they are not on disputed land, they are on occupied land, and Israel has international obligations that it is flagrantly ignoring in continuing it's expansion of these settlements.

The editors found no comparison to Apartheid. Perhaps I can elucidate a few. A wall has enclosed the West Bank, locking Palestinians into ghettoes where they are prisoners at the mercy of their Israeli jailers. Furthermore, nearly 9000 Palestinians including women and children are incarcerated in Israeli jails without charges. Palestinian homes, businesses, orchards, and olive groves are regularly and systematically destroyed under the guise of numerous Israeli laws that specifically target the Palestinian population. Is there any clearer example of Apartheid than the fact that there are two major road systems throughout the West Bank- one for Jews only- traveling from Israel proper to their homes in the illegal settlements throughout the West Bank, and one for everybody else? Is there any clearer example of Apartheid than the hundreds of military roadblocks, closures, and checkpoints throughout the West Bank denying movement of the Palestinian population, but allowing the settlers free movement and access? Is there a clearer example of Apartheid than the fact that large areas of the West Bank are closed to the Palestinian population through military closures but access is freely given to settlers? How about the city of Hebron, where entire Palestinian neighborhoods have been locked and shuttered by the Israeli Army in order to allow unfettered access to the militant settlers who reside there? Is this not Apartheid? Perhaps the editors have a better name for it.

These policies seriously undermine claims of democracy. Claiming a state is a democracy, as your editors do, does not absolve it of its racism, enacted through laws, unequal enactment of those laws, the enforcement of those laws, and the states’ tendency to discriminate against whomever it chooses. Because America is a democracy does not mean it is not a racist state, ask any resident of the 9th Ward, ask any black NYC resident who may be subject to the treatment Abner Louima was subjected to, ask any black man who has been subjected to stints in America’s prison system, ask any Native American whose family was forced from their lands and placed on reservations, their children stolen and forced to learn the oppressors ways in boarding schools far from their homes. These are truths of America’s democracy. They are not pretty, but they are the truth nonetheless. No, certainly claims of “democracy” do not ensure justice, nor freedom, nor equality.

The same goes for Israel. Israel treats its Arab citizens as second-class citizens at best. Israeli government officials are very upfront when speaking about preserving the “Jewish character” of the state and the threat posed by the Palestinian “demographic bomb”. This bomb may be a greater threat to the current Israeli state than suicide bombers, and is the main reason the state of Israel has no intention of actually seeking peace (as opposed to spouting rhetoric about peace) with its Palestinian neighbors.

Israeli law and practices takes this “demographic bomb” into account. These policies severely restrict non-Jewish immigration to the state, but ensures the “Right of Return” to anyone who is Jewish, whether or not they have any historical connection to Israel. Restrictive land laws prohibit non-Jews from the right to purchase land. Israel’s Nationality law, recently upheld in court, does not allow Palestinian families to reunite in Israel. When renewing the law, former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said, "This law will be guided by demographic considerations meant to ensure a solid Jewish majority for years to come. There is no need to hide behind security arguments. There is a need for the existence of a Jewish state."

Israeli Arabs are regularly denied permits to build or expand their homes, when they build anyway, they, like their West Bank counterparts, face home demolition. Israeli Bedouins are being forced into villages, denied their traditional grazing rights, and their culture is being destroyed. Throughout Israel’s brief history, the non-Jewish members of society have been marginalized and discounted. In closing, I cannot fail to mention Avigdor Lieberman, a racist and the new Deputy Prime Minister of Israel who openly advocates for the involuntary transfer of undesirable communities (the Arabs) out of Israel.

On calling Israel a “wonderful democracy”, Jimmy Carter was far too kind to the state of Israel. In denouncing Carter and blindly advocating for the state of Israel, your editors do a grave disservice to the community. This may be willful ignorance, or, just perhaps, it is your editor’s own dishonesty that is (as they claim of Carter's viewpoint) beyond “unfair, vicious and inexcusable”.

Original Editorial:
Posted December 23 2006
South Florida Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board
Carter's Book
ISSUE: Former president lambastes Israel.

Jimmy Carter, one of America's most ineffectual and incompetent presidents, has nevertheless in his post-presidential life gained a well-deserved reputation as a decent and honest man of peace. But he has now written a book, that, if published reports about it are to be believed, damages that reputation.

The very title of the work -- Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid -- sends a troubling message. While it's not wise to judge a book by its title, published excerpts from the book as well as interviews Carter has given suggest the former president's latest take on world affairs is pretty dishonest.

Where is the "apartheid" in the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians? In an excerpt from the book released by ABC News, Carter himself defines apartheid as "two peoples occupying the same land but completely separated from each other."

But Israel and the Palestinians do not occupy the same land. "Palestine" is not part of Israel. It is disputed territory captured in war. Under international law, Israel has no obligation to return it until a permanent peace is achieved. Comparing the situation in the territories to South African racism is beyond unfair. It's vicious and inexcusable.

Israelis aren't racists. Carter acknowledged as much in an interview with Tim Collie of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, calling Israel a "wonderful democracy with freedom for everybody," including Arabs.

Worst of all, Carter ignores the fact that the Palestinian leadership to this day remains committed to Israel's destruction. Thus, what he calls "apartheid" is, by any honest reckoning, self-defense. He also ignores the fact that Israel has twice withdrawn from occupied territories only to subsequently be attacked from those areas.

This is a book that, by most accounts, reveals a shocking and appalling bias against Israel and Israelis. It is not Carter's finest hour.

BOTTOM LINE: The book, by most accounts, is dishonest and biased. Jimmy Carter has damaged his reputation.