San Francisco Chronicle – April 14, 2002
Dear Palestinian people: We all need your help, though I know it is above and beyond what we have the right to expect from you. Everyone caught in the maelstrom of Holy Land intifada and occupation has lost, but you, Palestine, have lost the most – measured in innocents dead, in families displaced, in homes destroyed, in self-determination thwarted and in dreams deferred. That some stray American should now expect you to bear the brunt of transforming this dead end and thereby save not only yourselves and your nation, but your adversaries and the rest of us as well is unfair on its face. But I have no choice. There is no one else to ask.
I could have asked the Israelis, but you, of all people, know what that’s like. They worship their own national experience but refuse to credit anyone else’s. They are self absorbed under the best of circumstances, but under attack and led by a man you quite properly consider a war criminal and terrorist for what he ordered done to the camps in Lebanon, Israel is now positively myopic. That the terror your suicide bombings has brought to their lives might bring them to recognize the terror their occupation inflicts on your own stands to reason, but reason is not working very well in either Israel or Palestine these days. Driven by the pain you have inflicted on them and the entrenched politics of the greater Zion lobby, the government of Israel has chosen self-righteousness over reconciliation and is only speaking the language of military assault these days.
I also could have asked my own government, but I find that as laughable as you do. The president of the United States has long since given up any pretense of evenhandedness. The Israelis, quite shrewdly, have spent the last six months repeating the word “terrorism” in the president’s presence and pointing in your direction. This incantation – perhaps the only nine-letter word the president knows how to spell – coupled with your own assault on Israeli territory, has stirred the president to, in effect, grant Israel American permission to do whatever it wants to you, whenever it wants to. There is not much chance resolution to this frenzy of lawlessness will be generated from Washington. The president is obviously in over his head and is quite comfortable holding Israel’s coat while it smashes the few pitiful national institutions you had been able to grow over centuries of statelessness and 40 years of occupation.
So that leaves you, Palestine, the weakest and most desperate party to this escalating nightmare.
I wouldn’t ask if it weren’t such an important moment to the future of the human race. Through several decades of collective missteps and blindness, we now find ourselves on the brink of a religious war that might very well torch most of the planet before it finds some far off end point to mutual intolerance and devastation. And the situation hinges on you and Israel finding a way to live next door to each other without having to wear body armor and duck from incoming grenades. Millions will suffer, die or live far worse lives for decades to come if the current conflagration continues. You, Palestine – dispossessed, battered, poor and proud – are their last hope. Now is the moment to transform your national movement. Disarm yourselves and take to the street with your cause. Confront the Israelis as human beings, stripped of the instruments of war but armed with the righteousness of your right to govern yourselves and your own territory. It is not at all an unprecedented approach. Similar tactics were responsible for creating India and Pakistan and ending the British empire. They also finally chased the French from Algeria. More recently, unarmed political uprising overthrew the monarchy in Iran and established the world’s first Islamic republic. You have other options than blowing up your best and bravest in order to terrorize unsuspecting Israelis.
Without your guns, some of you will die. But, of course, you are dying with your guns now and have been for 50 years. More importantly, without your guns, the Israelis will be stripped of the only leverage they have in their current assault – repugnance at your tactics. By focusing your movement on noncooperation, civil disobedience, unarmed confrontation and political appeals to the international community, you will be able to reframe the issue from one of “peace” – in which your national agenda has always been given short shrift – to one of “justice,” in which your plight will be laid squarely on Israel’s doorstep, where it belongs. In so doing, you will have seized the moral high ground.
At that point – much as the judoist yields to force used against him in order to thwart it – your disarmament will have transformed the leverage in the situation in your favor. Your revolution will have international backing, American sympathy and even allies inside Israel. And, through your sacrifice and understanding, a lose, lose, lose situation can be transformed into a win, win, win. You will get a nation out of it, Israel will get peace, and the Americans will get a much needed lesson in how wise people behave.
And everyone else will, quite appropriately, sing Palestine’s praises for a long time to come.