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Stephen Gottlieb: Guns Versus PR In Palestine

Whenever I speak about Israel and Palestine, I get angry and anguished letters from both sides. I understand. The world is going to heck in so many ways – growing population, destroying our environment, killing each other – why not have a few dreams about the good life in the Middle East. Dreams are much more fun than reality. Only a few have the strength to look with clear eyes and at both sides.

Perhaps you heard Matty Friedman in On The Media discussing the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.[i] I looked at his very interesting essay and recommend it.[ii] He makes clear some truths that should be self–evident.

Somebody is building tunnels – somewhere. Some people are armed Palestinian soldiers – somewhere. But they are playing by the rules of guerrilla warfare, not the Geneva protocols for uniformed armies – they hide; they hide themselves; they hide their tunnels; they hide their rockets. Where do they do that? Very intelligently they do that where it will unite world opinion against Israelis – they hide their tunnels and rockets under residences and under UN and other international buildings so that the Israelis would aim their weapons at them.

That's all very intelligent. And the Israelis aren't so smart – they comply. They fight back with guns and settlements instead of cameras. The Palestinians are fighting a PR war; the Israelis are fighting a shooting war.

So the Palestinians are winning the PR war and the Israelis are winning the shooting war. Hmm: rock, paper, scissors; PR v. guns – which is stronger?

Not much different from the way some foolish Americans want us to solve every problem by shooting at it – shooting at Sunnis, shooting at people in our own streets, using walls and guns to keep refugees out – shoot, fight, force so we can have our way. Wonderful how they systematically insist we play the heavy and never mind the values of generosity with which the world once credited us. If we could just kill enough people we could stand alone on a worldwide wasteland – or be buried in it.

Unfortunately Israel’s problem is a symptom of the hijacking of Islam by what the press euphemistically calls radicals or extremists. It’s a symptom because these self-proclaimed Islamic bigots have been fighting to destroy every individual and religious group inside and outside of Islam who does not conform. This has been a battle on the boundary of Islam and Christianity in Africa, the Middle-East and Afghanistan, as well as parts of Russia and China. Yazidis, Coptic Christians, Baha’i and Shi’a are in the sights of radical Sunnis. Jews are one more people that don’t fit their radical agenda and although Mohammad gave a pass to what he called “the people of the Book,” both Jewish and Christian, these radicals ignore that part of the Islam they claim to fight for.

The fight is also inside Islam, between sects, and between those who seek a peaceful and real world education and those, like BokoHaram, who treat it as evil. And don’t misunderstand Iran – they are trying to deflect the terrorists who are roiling Sunni Islam – though of course Iraqi Shi’a have not helped.

We need a consistent strategy to deal with this. We must stop assuming that all problems will disappear if only Israel would behave differently. We should separate and drive a wedge between the radicals and the progressive, welcoming Islamic nations, communities and people and make every effort to avoid radicalizing those not already radicalized, to deprive the radicals of the recruits they depend on.

[i] http://www.onthemedia.org/story/ethan-bronner-and-matti-friedman-coverage-israel-palestine/transcript

[ii] http://tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/183033/israel-insider-guide?all=1

Steve Gottlieb is Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor of Law at Albany Law School and author of Morality Imposed: The Rehnquist Court and Liberty in America. He has served on the Board of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and in the US Peace Corps in Iran.


The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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