Tuesday, January 06, 2009

What If San Francisco Were Gaza?

I've been proposing a lot of my own analogies on various website comment sections and facebook discussions ever since I heard Israel's defenders say "the U.S. (or Europe) would never tolerate rocket fire," and "what would you do if you lived in Sderot (though not everyone in Sderot supports the IDF slaughter in Gaza).

My analogy was as follows: What if China or Mexico or Japan (pick your nation-state) took over California and brutally forced most people from a particular ethnic group to move out of their homes and into the San Francisco peninsula. The conquering nation then tightly controlled all the resources into San Francisco, any movement in and out, and regularly fired missiles at the most militant parts of the city (probably the Mission District, maybe the Tenderloin), always alleging they were targeting terrorists. What would the people of San Francisco do? What should they do considering the conquering nation becomes the most powerful force in the region with unwavering support from the most powerful force in the world and San Franciscans are impoverished, sick and hungry?

Contrast this with Haaretz.com's senior editor Bradley Burston's analogies for the situation on his blog. Let's deconstruct them:

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Analogy One: A fanatical religious party wins a string of elections in Mexico's northern states, then stages a civil war to drive out the federal government and take full control.

The party's charter demands the return to Mexico of the occupied territories of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Texas.

Firing homemade rockets and more advanced projectiles smuggled in from Iran and China, the party's gunners can hit a total of one of every seven Americans, or 43,598,000 people, in a broad swath which includes Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Austin, San Antonio and Houston, and Las Vegas.

In all of these areas, pre-schools, grade schools, and universities are all forced to shut down. Families sleep in bomb shelters, and return to them several times a day during air raids. Businesses are shuttered, and the economy shuts down.


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The brilliantly evil aspect to this analogy is that it ignores the situation in hypothetical Northern Mexico. As if the U.S. (Israel) were just minding its own business. There are many injustices about how the U.S. and Mexico coexist, but the wars fought over the southwest are nearly 170 years old - the occupation of Palestine began just over 60 years ago and continues to this day. The U.S. does not treat the people of Northern Mexico the way Israel treats the people of Gaza. There are not refugees in Northern Mexico that were forced from their homes in Texas or California just a generation ago. There are controls on the U.S.-Mexico border, but there is also a lot of trade and freedom of movement across that border, and we don't control the miles of coastline or other borders that Mexico has and can use as it pleases. Israel has had vast control over Gaza's borders, airspace, and coastline - and had these powers even before Hamas was elected.

If this was the situation between the U.S. and Northern Mexico, I'd be protesting in
San Francisco just as thousands have protested against the IDF operation in Tel Aviv, Haifa and elsewhere in Israel.

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Analogy Two: A man comes into your home. He has a gun he made himself. He points it at your family. He fires, but misses. The gun has little accuracy. He fires repeatedly, missing again and again.

You have a much better gun, made in a real factory. It is in the drawer in the bedroom.

Demonstrators in London and San Francisco - who are distant relatives of the gunman - stage a protest, calling you a murderer and demanding that you keep the well-made gun in the drawer because it would be a disproportionate response.

The man with the homemade gun, it turns out, is a religious fanatic who lives across the street. You were once his landlord. There is much bad blood between you.

He races back across the street. He has a larger weapon that he smuggled in through his basement. He shoots from behind his younger son. He wounds your daughter. You take out a rifle. You aim for him and hit the son, killing the boy.

The demonstrators are now calling you a Nazi and chant "Slaughter the Landlord!"

[In his defense, the neighbor explains that you have kept him and his family locked in the house, and have at times, failed to pay his water, gas and electric bills, causing them to be turned off.

This is some years after the neighbor send out his older son, nicely dressed, to knock on your door. Your older daughter opens the door. He greet her politely, and presses the detonator on a homemade bomb.]


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Wow. This one blew me away. Again it is pretty dismissive of the complaints of the Palestinian people. Israel is just trying to live its life and this crazy family keeps trying to kill them.

So, the first major problem here is that it presumes the story starts with a suicide bombing (although that part is at the end). In fact the killing of Palestinians and the injustices they have endured have gone on for decades and continue. Gaza is and has been under a brutal occupation and again, many of the people in Gaza were forced from their homes. A better analogy would be not only that the neighbor and his family have been locked in their home, but that the other home used to be theirs and they were violently forced out, resulting in the death of one of their children. I would add that the neighbor's house is regularly shot at with high powered weapons - at people who are locked inside!

The weapons in the analogy are another problem. An inaccurate gun versus a more accurate gun? It would be more accurate to say an inaccurate bb gun versus automatic weapons and hand grenades. And at the end a suicide bombing - but with so many more Palestinians killed you'd have to change the analogy to say one suicide bombing and a few bb gun shots versus an entire neighborhood of Palestinians wiped out.

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Analogy Three: Gaza as the Warsaw Ghetto

Jew-haters the world over adore this one. It solves a number of problems at once:

It denies and diminishes and exploits the Holocaust, does disrespect to Holocaust victims and survivors alike, alleviates European guilt over complicity with the Nazis, alleviates American guilt over inaction in the face of the annihilation machine, misrepresents both the cruel reality of the Gaza Strip and the cruel reality of the ghetto, dismisses the humanity and the vulnerability of the million Israeli Jews and Arabs within rocket range, and ignores completely the role of Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, in having sent thousands and thousands and thousands of rockets and mortars into Israel.

As a bonus, pro-Palestinian demonstrators in San Francisco [where else?], referencing the the Warsaw Ghetto analogy, recently beat up a small number of pro-Israel demonstrators, reportedly shouting "Slaughter the Jew" at them in Arabic.

Way to bring peace.


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How does this analogy deny the holocaust? In fact it acknowledges the injustices endured by the Jewish people and attempts to assert that we must condemn injustice regardless of who the perpetrator is or who the victim is. The people I know who use this analogy are people who, when thinking historically, condemn American inaction against the Nazis. The comparison to the Warsaw Ghetto is not an attempt to say the situations are exactly the same, it is a way to say in one short message, that we condemn anti-Semitism and bigotry toward Palestinians, and we respect the rights of all people to resist injustice.

Finally, I live in San Francisco and have not heard of anyone being beat up or shouting hateful slogans at the multiple protest that have been happening here against the Gaza slaughter. No arrests, no mention in the local media, nothing. And there are plenty of reporters and cameras at these protests. Perhaps such a serious allegation was mentioned without reference to sources because it was just in a blog on the Haaretz site, but considering the reputation of Haaretz and the way these rumors spread over the internet and influence opinion, this seems pretty irresponsible.

Even if true, however, it in no way justifies anything that Israel is doing in Gaza. Israel continues to kill hundreds of people with multi-million dollar weapons, chemical weapons, shelling schools, mosques and homes.

Way to bring peace.

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UPDATE

John Stewart tackled the analogies rather well tonight: "I guess it depends if I forced that guy to live in my hallway, and make him go through checkpoints every time he has to take a sh**t." If impatient, scroll forward to 4:24:

Friday, January 02, 2009

Gaza Action: American Divisions Not Reflected in Washington, Corporate Media

A poll out December 31 showed Americans were about evenly divided over whether or not they supported Israel's military bombardment of the impoverished Gaza strip. The same poll also showed a majority, 55%, of Democrats are against the action. Glenn Greenwald analyzes this issue fairly well, though I think he is too ambiguous and unwilling to condemn the belief, whether held by political leaders or ordinary Americans, that Israel is simply defending itself and has every right to bomb Gaza

Israel does not have the right to bomb Gaza - a land that it occupies and controls, a land full of refugees that it created, and a land that is punished daily in multiple ways by Israel, and was even before the latest escalation. This part of the story is rarely acknowledged by political leaders or the American corporate media, who tend to simply repeat what Israeli officials say or at least treat their words as their starting place and maybe add a bit about the unfortunate suffering of civilians in Gaza.

See Nancy Pelosi's view that "when Israel is attacked, the United States must continue to stand strongly with its friend and democratic ally," this story on the White House spokesperson's statement that Israeli actions were "in response to the mortar and rocket attacks on Israel," and rather than sift through the right wing and reactionary cable news pundits' views on this, try the liberal Rachel Maddow who describes Hamas rocket attacks as "unprovoked" and concedes that Israel was a country "conceived by war," but not because of the war and ethnic cleansing it conducted against the Arab inhabitants of the land it desired (even before declaring independence), but because a day after it declared independence, neighboring countries declared war on it?!



This is why the poll showing Americans are about evenly divided is so remarkable. Despite all of the propaganda from and unity among American politicians, and despite all the misinformation and biased coverage in the American media, ordinary Americans have not entirely bought the lies. As more Americans learn the truth about the situation in Israel/Palestine and that their tax dollars are largely paying for the injustice, I hope American policies toward Israel will finally begin to move in the right direction.