The Power of Perception – Israel, Oil, and Other Stuff

7 06 2010

This is a continuation of my previous post about the oil spill. Someone was kind enough to comment and I have so much to say, I needed a whole post to respond and elaborate on the topic.

For many, this photo sums up everything they feel about the Bush administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina. It’s not fair, but it’s the nature of the game. Hurricane Katrina – from the evacuation through to the rebuilding (still in progress, BTW) – was bungled every which way until it was nothing short of a boondoggle, but one man, George W. Bush could not have single-handedly wrecked it no matter how hard he tried. I’m not say he didn’t mess up, I simply stating the fact that he wasn’t the only one. There were plenty of mistakes made by a whole bunch of people who did a shoddy job thinking that somewhere along the line someone would pick up the slack and no one did – administratively speaking, that is. There are big-hearted individuals and groups that have done incredible work. There are some that still are working down there.
As for that picture of President Bush the Younger peering down at a devastated New Orleans from Air Force One, it isn’t all that it seems. Yes, he flew over and didn’t land to see the true plight of the citizens, but there was a very good, practical reason. When Air Force One shows up, it’s not just an ordinary day in the neighborhood. The Secret Service has to work alongside local law enforcement and, given the totality of the destruction of the infrastructure and such, those agencies would have run the risk of not being there to protect the local population if they were devoting what resources they had to providing the level of protection a presidential visit requires. They decided the risk wasn’t worth taking. See, it’s quite a valid reason, but when people are suffering and dying, reasons for not doing things that are seen as helpful all sound a bit like cop outs.

This is currently the image of Obama and the oil spill. While not entirely reassuring, he is there on the beach and that’s something. If an image comes along that carries more emotion – one of an oil-soaked wetland littered with dean animals, or something like that – then he will hear more cries that he hasn’t done enough. He still can’t go and fix the well himself or make all the oil disappear, but he is doing what little he can.

In other news, last week Israeli commandos were involved in a violent incident while boarding a Turkish aid vessel attempting to break the blockade Israel has imposed upon the Gaza Strip. I’m not going to try to piece together what happened that night on that dark, crowded ship. All we know is that something went very wrong, people died, and many were injured at the hands of military personnel. The image of elite troops killing and wounding civilians is almost universally unpalatable. The result – serious discussions all over the world about the efficacy and ethical implications of the Israeli policy regarding Gaza. Usually, such dialogues result in fierce accusations of the people, groups, or countries involved being “anti-Israel” or “pro-terrorist”, but this time, under these conditions is seems as though we might be able to cut through the bullfunky and get to the point. Some in Israel itself are calling for a review of the way Israel handles Gaza. If you’re wondering where the US stands, the Secretary of State issued the following statement.

Just a note, this is not a picture from that press briefing, it's a picture from her October 2009 visit to Israel. Why didn't I use a picture from the briefing? Because the briefing was supposed to be about her bilateral meeting with the Foreign Minister of Romania and I wanted an US/Israel image. It was all for aesthetics.

MR. CROWLEY: On his last day of covering the State Department, Nick Kralev of The Washington Times.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, Nick.

QUESTION: Hello.

SECRETARY CLINTON: We should sing Auld Lang Syne or something. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, thank you very much even without doing it.

Madam Secretary, I’d like to ask you a couple things about the Israeli situation which, as you know, is getting more and more serious by the day. I know there are many unknowns at this point, but do you accept Israel’s argument of self-defense? And do you think that the investigation should be done by Israel or by a third independent party, as other Security Council members have said?

And more broadly, we all know there are so many moving pieces to this. There’s Turkey, there’s Israel and in the Palestinians, there’s Iran, there’s Syria. What are the implications in your mind of this situation to the peace process and in the larger issues in the Middle East? Thanks.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Nick, on your last day, you’ve asked a very complicated set of interrelated questions. And let me put it into context as I respond. First, let me say how deeply we regret the tragic loss of life and injuries suffered among those involved in the incident aboard the Gaza-bound ships, and we offer our condolences to the families of the deceased and the wounded.

Turkey and Israel are both good friends of the United States, and we are working with both to deal with the aftermath of this tragic incident.

The United States supports the Security Council’s condemnation of the acts leading to this tragedy. And we urge Israel to permit full consular access to the individuals involved and to allow the countries concerned to retrieve their deceased and wounded immediately. We urge all concerned countries to work together to resolve the status of those who were part of this incident as soon as possible.

We support in the strongest terms the Security Council’s call for a prompt, impartial, credible, and transparent investigation. We support an Israeli investigation that meets those criteria. We are open to different ways of assuring a credible investigation, including international participation, and we will continue to discuss these ideas with the Israelis and our international partners in the days ahead.

The situation in Gaza is unsustainable and unacceptable. Israel’s legitimate security needs must be met, just as the Palestinians’ legitimate needs for sustained humanitarian assistance and regular access for reconstruction materials must also be assured.

We will continue to work closely with the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority along with international NGOs and the United Nations to ensure adequate access for humanitarian goods, including reconstruction and building supplies. And we welcome efforts to promote the reunification of Gaza and the West Bank under the legitimate and internationally recognized Palestinian Authority.

Ultimately, the solution to this conflict must be found through an agreement based on a two-state solution negotiated between the parties. This incident underscores the urgency of reaching this goal and we remain committed to working with both sides to move forward these negotiations.

I think the situation from our perspective is very difficult and requires careful, thoughtful responses from all concerned. But we fully support the Security Council’s action last night in issuing a presidential statement and we will work to implement the intention that this presidential statement represents.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thank you very much for taking this question.

On an almost-related note, today Helen Thomas, veteran opinion columnist for Hearst Newspapers’ and Dean of the White House Press Corps, retired today over inflammatory remarks about Israel – namely that they should “get the hell out of Palestine,” and “go home.” Obviously, these statements are incendiary to say the very least and especially given the fact that, against all odds, peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians are still set to begin soon. Kudos to George Mitchell. As for Ms. Thomas, she should have, and did, issue a statement of apology. She should not have been made to retire, but it’s fine with me if she chose to do so. She is approaching ninety after all. It is always unfortunate when an illustrious career is ended with a mind-bogglingly stupid comment or action. She broke a lot of ground for women in journalism, but will be remembered, in the short-term anyway, as the old woman who didn’t like Israel. Freedom of speech is protected, but it isn’t always popular and there are some things you just can’t say in public – especially if you’re “somebody”. Sorry, but that’s the way it goes.

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6 responses

7 06 2010
MacGregor

To me its our politically correct nature that is just as shameful as Thomas’ comments. Her comments basically reiterate the majority of the world, and the majority of American liberals.

As far as Israelis go, remember over 1.5 million Arabs live a freedom filled life, many of which hate Jews all the same as the rest. An Israeli Parliament member who happens to be Arab was on the flotilla, and was caught telling lies about the events on the ships.

For people to see the shamefulness in Thomas’ comments, but not in the garbage from the UN Security Council and Mrs. Clinton, just shows the moral gap we have not only in the world, but in our country.

“The situation in Gaza is unsustainable and unacceptable. Israel’s legitimate security needs must be met, just as the Palestinians’ legitimate needs for sustained humanitarian assistance and regular access for reconstruction materials must also be assured.”
How so Mrs. Clinton, and why do the legitimate needs for sustained humanitarian assistance need to be assured. Its an internationally recognized terrorist enclave, that already gets tons and tons of aid on a daily basis. Our admins attempts to bridge moral equivalents drive me up a wall.

8 06 2010
discourseincsharpminor

Hello and welcome! Thanks for commenting.

“… remember over 1.5 million Arabs live a freedom filled life…”
That depends a lot on where they’re from, how much money they have, their gender, their family name – a whole host of things and even then “freedom” is relative.

As to Secretary Clinton’s comments regarding aid to Gaza. Gaza needs “sustained humanitarian assistance” because that is the only way many items essential to everyday life can enter. Here is an article for Ha’aretz, an Israeli newspaper, on banned items. Israel’s policy dictates that many items can’t been imported by private merchants. The Israeli government will only allow humanitarian aid organizations to bring them in. Israel bans more items when they want to try to put pressure on Gaza and, in a way, those who aid them. This was intended as a means by which to keep the economy of Gaza weak and therefore weaken Hamas, the anti-Israel, extremist group who controls it. It was a good idea, except that it didn’t go the way it was expected to, has given rise to an economy fueled by a thriving black market, and actually damages Israel in several ways.
– Black market activity is usually run by unsavory characters and, by making the black market part of the daily life of the average Gaza citizen, they are desensitizing them both to dealing with criminals and breaking Israeli law themselves which weakens the view of Israeli authority in general.
-Those with criminal connections more often than not can gain access to weaponry. The more well-established and well-connected the smuggling operation, the larger the range of items that can be smuggled including weapons, explosive and other things that are doing the population at large no good at all.
– Hamas is getting a cut from the black market – they have to be – so the intended economic effect is voided.
– Banning things like mattresses, books, candles, toys, and chocolate makes the Israeli government look as though they are doing this for no reason other than that they can. Obviously, there’s more to it. Israel has serious security concerns – that’s a fact – but this whole post has been about perception and the banning of items that are not threatening raises eyebrows. In addition, neighboring nations who might be less than inclined to aid Hamas simply because they don’t want Hamas in their country for any number of reasons – not the least of which being repercussions from the US – might feel differently if the import ban seems extreme.

A full list of banned items has not been made public but this partial one is from Gisha, an Israeli aid organization. It’s current as of May and was most up-to-date one I could find.

8 06 2010
MacGregor

Thanks for the response. I get your point, and have read the banned list on Business Indisder. But you’re missing the big point that there is an ethnic terrorist enclave controlled entirely by Hamas who was for the most part democratically elected. Yes they violently ousted Fatah but they were nonetheless elected, even though most believed the uS supported elections were too soon.
We can argue over what goods are banned and what goods arent, and the possible goals of Israel with the limited ban.. But what we cant argue is that they still do get a lot of aid, and if it does anything to empower their brainwashed citizens to realize they elected genocidal terrorists to lead their government the better. Simply providing more welfare to them all will only empower those who lead them.
Ill concede the fact that it may do more harm to the avg decent citizens of the area that did nothing wrong but be born, but ill also assume thats why the Israeli Govt said they will look at easing up some of the restrictions.. My BIG problem is with the propaganda being spread by appeasers and supporters of terrorism, and the moral equivalence given to nations that decry the Jews while forcing their civlilians to live under theocratic tyranny. Cognitive dissonance abounds with these types.

9 06 2010
discourseincsharpminor

The mistiming of the elections, I feel, had a lot to do with Hamas being elected. With such an overwhelming sense of uncertainty accompanying the new-found level of independence, the people were looking for strength and the guys with the guns and the message of ethnic/religious superiority seemed like they were well-equipped to provide it. It’s a mistake that has been made by desperate people throughout history and has resulted in some of its worst despots coming to power. As has happened time and again, once the militant fringe gains power, they do nothing to improve the lives of their people. It’s in their best interest to keep their people’s desperation intact because that’s the only way they can hold onto power once their true intentions become apparent. Freedoms go away, elections either disappear or are far from fair and then, by the time the people realize what’s really afoot, are trapped by the unintended consequences of their misguided choice. Cutting the aid and leaving those in Gaza with only the very limited items that can be imported through the private sector will only increase the desperation of the people and strengthen Hamas. All they would need to do is use the connections they have to do a little Robin Hood-ing to gain support.
The propaganda has several causes and I too, believe it or not, have issues with governments that berate Israel as a mindless oppressor when they have their own problems with human rights though I’m sure we’d argue over which nations belong in that category. The biggest problem I have with the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict is that it is unheard of to try and think the issue through in a rational, even-handed manner. You are either Pro-Israel and will support anything and everything that country does because you believe they have a right to exist, or you are Pro-Palestine and will support anything and everything they do because they have a right to exist. With either position also comes the implied belief that the opposing side is the definition of evil and has absolutely no right to exist and should be dealt with accordingly. Nothing in adult life is that black and white. The issue gets further tangled when a government and its policies become inseparable from its people which is utterly ridiculous. It’s like saying that, because I belong to political party A, I have to detest, with a near-biblical passion, anyone belonging to political party B or, because I don’t like the healthcare policies of a country, I am compelled to hate everyone coming from or in any way connected to that country. That’s nuts and it gets even worse when religion is added to the mix. Now picking a side may put you at odds with your chosen faith. It’s this type of narrow thinking where no opportunity for compromise or reaching any sort of middle ground exists that allows extremism to flourish and, without a change in this area, the peace process with remain a process as opposed to a reality.

By the way, I’m glad you came back.

10 06 2010
MacGregor

I agree with most of what you say. Its tough to fault democratic elections, and blame them for morons voting in known terrorists, but thats what they know and thats what happened and all accounts say the elections were WAY too soon. Few things though.

“Cutting the aid and leaving those in Gaza with only the very limited items that can be imported through the private sector will only increase the desperation of the people and strengthen Hamas.”
Possibly true, but then again the North Koreans, exponentially more mistreated and having no part in “electing” their Dear Leader dont get world-wide welfare, let alone ton after ton of free aid as it is on a daily basis. So Whether or not it will only strengthen Hamas has yet to be determined. You’d hope that Gazan Despotism would turn a switch in their brainwashed masses…

Why would we argue over which nations belong in the human rights oppressors list? Just curious.

I completely understand your understanding of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, i just believe you’re seeing it largely through the guise of the media constructed crisis. Just rmeember, NO ONE IS SAYING that the Palestinians dont have the right to exist. They are a people, not a sovereign nation, never were. That argument is a strawman, because any thoughtful person shouldnt have to make a choice of recognizing Israel or recognizing “Palestine”. Thats like asking someone if you think California is part of the US, or part of Mexico..
Yes the region was called Palestine early in the 20th century, but it was not an Arab nation or state. How far should we go back to determine who should be where?
Trust me i get it, i have no skin in the game for supporting ISrael, just see the absurdly irrational hatred against them on a daily basis. Its pathetic to me that hundreds of millions of people in this world could so feverishly hate a group of people so routinely decimated and so small in number. I often tell people that anti-Semitism is the greatest support for Religion in the world…. Theres no other reason such vehement hatred would span the world for thousands of years.

7 07 2010
discourseincsharpminor

It’s been an age, but I didn’t want to let you go unanswered.

Cutting aid to Gaza would hurt Israel in two ways. 1 – It’s impossible to win the PR war when you aren’t allowing all food into a country. It sounds wrong because food generally poses no security threat unless it’s in the hands of Macgyver. It’s the difference between being seen as protecting their people (perfectly natural) and oppressing another people (heavy-handed, possibly cruel) and, should something bad happen in the future, it would be harder for Israel to get support from their neighbors if they are seen as a nation of oppressors. Also, charity is one of the pillars of Islam. Israel’s banning of various necessities provided an opportunity for Hamas to cast themselves as a group of good, righteous people. It makes it all the more difficult to make the population see what they are. It provides the wolf with the sheep’s clothing. The policy has been changed and we’ll see if it makes much difference.

We might argue over a list of oppressive regimes simply because I tend to be a bit of a softie.

“NO ONE IS SAYING that the Palestinians dont have the right to exist.”
– Yes, there are. The difference is that those saying that Israel shouldn’t exist are shouting it from rooftops while brandishing AKs or burning flags and effigies. The agrument that Palestinians should simply be wiped off the face of the earth is being made over brunch in Manhattan coffee shops and such. I’ve heard it often enough and from enough people that I have to disagree with you. It isn’t as loud as the cries for the end of Israel, but it’s out there. The main reason for this, I believe, is that it hasn’t ever had a charismatic enough leader to get it moving. The one who came closest was Mier Kahane in the eighties, but the Israeli political party he formed, Kach, was banned from Israeli politics as “racist” and it’s activist group incarnation Kahane Chai is on the State Department’s List of Foreign Terrorist Organizations to this day. Rest assured, there are plenty of people who believe Palestinians have no right to live in Jerusalem, any Palestinian State of some sort, or anywhere else.

As to how far back in history one needs to go to find the “rightful owners” of that bit of land which is, incidentally, only about the size of Rhode Island, it depends on who you ask and what books you want to use. Ask someone who is very fundamental in their religious views and you’ll most likely hear that the Torah, Bible, or Koran is the only possible answer. Ask a more secularly-minded person and they’ll go into names and dates and property documents. Ask a historian and they might bring up the Phoenicians (which is where the name Palestinian comes from) a civilization in the area from about 5 BCE. I say the first thing to do is stop Israel from taking homes from Palestinians right now and then we can all get together and talk about history. (Full disclosure – I hate eminent domain as well. I don’t like the idea of legally binding documents like deeds being overridden.)

I’m an agnostic of Western European ancestry. I have no personal stake in any of this, but I do see the destabilizing effect that any shooting in the region could have. For example, a third intifada could destroy what has been established in Iraq at the cost of so many lives by getting every wingnutish crazy within 300 miles who’d ever thought of joining an extremist group all suited up and ready to make life hell for Americans and Israelis and anyone western enough to draw attention to themselves in the Middle East. If things developed further into a larger conflict, it would start pulling other countries including ourselves into war à la Sarajevo in 1914. In short, it’s a mess. The name of the game is trying to keep it from getting messier. So far, we’re succeeding.

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