MAXWELL:  The compatibility of a nation’s values

10/24/2001 – Printed in the EDITORIAL Section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


How about a little straight talk about the relationship among Israel, the Palestinians and the United States?

“The murder of Israel’s tourism minister this week was a disturbing escalation of Palestinian terrorism against Israeli democracy.” Thus began the New York Times’ lead editorial of Oct. 19. “The group that claimed credit for shooting Rehavam Zeevi, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, has a history of terrorism and opposition to the Oslo peace agreements,” the editorial later comments.

I maintain that American values should not be confused with those of Israel, that the Jewish state’s policies toward the Palestinians should not be ours. Before proceeding, I must deconstruct some parts of the Times’ editorial.

The word “murder” in the first sentence, for example, is meant to evoke the heinousness of Zeevi’s death. Indeed, murder is heinous. The sentence goes on to say the killing was an act of “Palestinian terrorism against Israeli democracy.” Meant primarily for American consumption, the implication is that “democracy” itself _ a form of governance that all Americans can identify with _ is under attack.

Now to the second quote, which states that the PFLP “has a history of terrorism and opposition to the Oslo peace agreements.” The subtext is that a group claiming to be fighting for Palestinian autonomy does not want peace with Israel, which may be right.

All this sounds logical if we read the editorial in isolation. Although it later argues for Israeli restraint after Zeevi’s shooting, the editorial misleads by casting the powerful Jewish state as a victim that shares American values and ideals.

It suggests that our nation’s war against al-Qaida terrorism is the same as Israel’s half-century-old war against the Palestinians.

The comparison is wrong and dangerous. Yes, Israel is a democracy. But unlike the United States, it does not have a constitution, thus abrogating the rule of law. Against the principles of Oslo, Israel’s armed settler population continues to devour Palestinian land. Israel has created a diaspora inside and outside its borders.

For decades, the Jewish state has brutalized an entire people, bulldozed homes, dynamited others, raided neighborhoods with powerful gunships. Do these state-sponsored actions manifest American values?

Again, let us talk about “murder” in this troubled part of the world. Speaking of Zeevi’s assassination and Israel’s reoccupation of major West Bank towns, Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America said: “Would the U.S. respond with restraint if one of our Cabinet ministers was murdered by a terrorist? I don’t think so.”

On its face, the analogy is ludicrous. I agree that Zeevi was “murdered.” But what is missing in Klein’s challenge? Klein, along with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, conveniently forgets that Israel has carried out a policy of “targeted killings” of Palestinian leaders for many years.

Israel does not call its killings “murder.” The Times’ editorial does not mention Israel’s “murder” of Palestinians. Euphemisms will not change the fact that to gun down a stateless Palestinian militant in the doorway of his home is to “murder” him. To pack a man’s cellular phone with explosives, detonate it and blow off the man’s head is to “murder” the fellow.

The question, at least to me, is this: If I “murder” your man, should I expect you to “murder” my man in return? I am not condoning “murder” on either side. I am saying that “murder” begets “murder,” especially in a region where the rule of law is a Chimera.

Now, back to the Times’ observation that the PFLP has opposed the Oslo accords from the beginning. Well, guess what? So has Sharon. So did Zeevi, a powerful conservative who wanted to forcibly remove Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank. Sharon’s and Zeevi’s are not _ or at least should not be _ American values.

Alas, however, one of the best ways to determine the values of a nation is to follow the money. America is Israel’s most loyal and vocal international ally. We hand the Jewish state $270-million in economic aid and about $2-billion in military aid. How much of this money funds the continued dehumanization and disenfranchisement of the Palestinian people?

What does our largess say about our values? What does it say to the Islamic world? Do we care? This is no time for blind allegiance to past practices. This is a time for straight talk, fairness and wise action.