Let’s start with a little quiz. Tell me where this happened:
The young boys were throwing stones. We're talking about pieces of rock that a teenager can pick up in his hand and hurl for some distance. Stones can hurt. Admittedly it’s remotely possible that a stone can kill, but very remotely, especially if the target isn’t naked. Certainly stones are not weapons of mass destruction. But the border guards responded with real guns and live ammunition, so a boy died. “It was self-defense,” the murderers said.
Oh! Those Scary RocksSounds like a chapter from Tales of the Intifada, doesn’t it? It’s well known that, in Israel, an exchange between boys with stones and soldiers with Uzis is considered a fair fight. Ditto guns and metal pipes and other primitive weapons, as during the recent Israeli attack on the Gaza aid flotilla in international waters. Can’t help feeling sorry for those Israeli commandos! Dropping in for a friendly conversation and getting the cold shoulder!
But we aren’t in Gaza here. We’re on the bridge between El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. American border guards have murdered a Mexican teenager on the Mexican side of the border. We’re told it was pretty “intense” for a while. Mexican guns faced American guns across the border for the first time in eons, and the Mexican President condemned the over-reaction.
To my mind, the Mexican government should have immediately broken relations with the U.S. and demanded an official apology from President Obama himself. But Mexico still toadies to the U.S., just as (though the dynamics are different) the U.S. toadies to Israel from which, for some reason I fail to comprehend, we seem to have drawn many of our most self-defeating national security tactics these days.
A Little Reality, PleaseShooting stone-throwing kids is a new and particularly reprehensible borrowing, but the border fence that’s marching along the U.S./Mexico border comes straight from the Israeli song book. It’s expensive. It’s insulting. It’s ineffective. So it’s a public relations disaster, except possibly among worried people who don’t understand that America isn’t a stand alone state. North America is a functional economic unity. That’s Mexico, the U.S. and Canada. Not only do we benefit from one another, separation would be like disjoining Siamese twins sharing every organ—with a difference. Siamese twins are disfunctional. The North American nexus isn’t. And it would be truly synergistic if we could settle down and deal with it realistically. What are the labor needs? What are the capital needs? What are the appropriate social justice considerations? How about seriously limiting demand as well as supply when it comes to the narco nightmare? What cultural fears are rational? Which are demagogic fictions?
The Disproportionality Problem
Similarly, along the Israeli-Palestinian border, Israel has built fences to keep people out. But Israel has also killed as many Palestinians as possible in the process of pursuing “legitimate” military ends, which is to say, in total defiance of its situational realities. Israel has flooded the west bank with “settlers.” Israel has tried to wipe out the next generation by murdering stone throwers. Israel has turned Gaza into a concentration camp. The goal, of course, is to get the Palestinians to give up and emigrate, every one of them, leaving all the land between the sea and Jordan to Israel. But those Palestinians! They keep fighting back, with their pip squeak rockets, the wobbly weapons of the weak. And Israel is aghast.
Please! How many Israeli children have been killed? How many Palestinian kids? How may Israeli civilians? How many Palestinian civilians? Hamas holds one Israeli soldier. How many thousands of Palestinians languish in Israeli jails?
Thus, a recurrent serious charge against Israeli military actions is disproportionality. This was the crux of the U.N.-sponsored Goldstone report after the last punitive incursion into Gaza, the one preceding the inhumane blockade that the aid flotilla was trying to run and break. For decades, the Israel defense establishment has acted on the assumption that overwhelming force is the antidote to Israel’s vulnerability. One hopes that those competing for power in Israel have begun to see the folly of this approach. Crass reliance on brute force may have lost Israel its only friend in the Muslim world, i.e. Turkey, and Israel’s support in the U.S. is also eroding badly.
Even American Jews are UnhappyFor instance, yesterday, when I went to the post office to collect my mail, I ran into a demonstration in front of Santa Fe’s Federal Building. Placards condemned Israel’s violent reaction to the Gaza flotilla. Who had organized the demonstration? Santa Fe has plenty of doctrinaire Leftists who have been advocating the Palestinian cause for decades. But these people weren’t anti-Semites by any stretch of the imagination. They were Jews condemning Israeli policy in Gaza—and even they were chanting, “Two, for, six, eight, Israel is an apartheid state!” They marched from the Federal Building to present a petition to Senator Tom Udall. Recent articles in the New York Times Magazine and the NY Review of Books also indicate that a growing number of the Americans who happen to be Jewish, especially among the younger cohorts, no longer resonate emotionally with the existence of Israel. It’s easy for them to criticize Israeli actions.
The Helen Thomas debacle provides touching evidence of consensus breaking down. Thomas was intemperate. She crossed a line and deserved to be called on it. If Israelis are to be sent back to Poland, etc., all descendants of Europeans in the New World should be sent back to England, Spain, France, Portugal, et. al. Nonsense. But to be outcast? For exploding? For expressing an extreme degree of frustration with Israeli policy toward Palestine? A bit much. In fact, many people are so unhappy with Israel nowadays that they question the wisdom of its founding. Once upon a time, traitors were fired from canons. Helen Thomas has been fired from the canon of political correctness. Not for the first time, Americans have countenanced censorship to protect Israel. But silencing Helen Thomas will not make Israel popular again.
Don’t Copy Losers
It’s a delicate situation. Some people say Medicare is the third rail of American politics. Domestically it is, perhaps. On the foreign affairs front, however, Israel has been the third rail. When Israel bulldozes Palestinian houses, then builds more settler housing on the West Bank, U.S. officials sputter a little for effect, but they dare not cut the billions we supply to Israel. It’s American money that builds those settlement houses, American money that pays for the out-of-control defense establishment, American money that keeps Palestinians down. Why shouldn’t the Muslim world find American protestations of friendship just a little dubious?
Assuaging the historic guilty conscience is one thing, although that exorbitant aid regime sometimes seems more like an extortion or blackmail scheme. But let’s not borrow tactics from Israel. Shooting kids. Building walls. Killing civilians disproportionately, then lying about the death toll. Torture and targeted assassinations. Propagandistic double talk aka strategic communications. Let’s be smarter and more humane in the use of our power.
If that's not in the works, maybe it’s just as well that the power of the U.S. is declining relatively, in spite of its still intimidating military capacity, which, by the way, is bankrupting the country, so that the U.S. will, in due time, implode like the Soviet Union. Has America been turning into the kind of hegemonic power no one loves and everyone fears, an idea I was still resisting a couple of years ago when the empire issue was a hot one? If so, it’s a trend that needs to be arrested.
However, when the U.S. Attorney General can’t stand up and declare outright that it is wrong to shoot a rock-throwing kid across an international border (or ever), it may well be that the U.S. has traveled too far on the dark side to correct course.