“Wherever we stand, we stand with Israel,” is the phrase stamped onto hundreds of T-shirts donned proudly each year by student activists on campus. I never get over how silly the people wearing them look, so convinced that they have a firm grip on the snafus that are the ongoing Arab-Israeli wars. Personally, I took a class on the conflict through the Political Science Department and left with more questions than I had answers for, but these students apparently have all the answers, and the T-shirts to prove it. I suppose it must be nice to be so enlightened and worldly – to know exactly who is to blame for a half-century of violence. Where do I sign up?
Really, these shirts serve two functions: first, to create the appearance of a united pro-Israel group on campus, and also to piss off local pro-Palestinian factions. Why else would you make a special effort to wear such a blatantly nationalistic statement, and one that is potentially confrontational, as a manner of casual dress? Such is the true nature of the Israeli-Palestinian debate in Ann Arbor, the intensity of which is nearly unmatched in its ability to spark fervent student reaction. Take for example the issue of University divestment from Israel.
For starters, the likelihood of the University following through with divestment is extremely remote at this point, as it doesn’t appear that this is even an option being considered seriously by University officials. Divestment has virtually no potential to alter in a significant way the plight of the Palestinian people. It has little deterrent effect on the Israeli government, and equally remote financial repercussions. Nonetheless, it remains one of the most hotly contested issues on campus, and dearly important to those who advocate it. I could probably spray the Diag in green and white sparkle paint and draw less outrage than if I were to weigh in one way or another on divestment from Israel.
Unfortunately, the actors directly involved in the conflict suffer from similar misplaced priorities. I wasn’t a bit surprised that Ariel Sharon rationalized his attack on terrorist elements inside Syria on Sunday as a response to terrorist attacks on Israelis, as if that alone justified the raid. A Sharon adviser, Dore Gold, said it best in The New York Times, “Israel had to send the message that it cannot be repeatedly struck with impunity.”
I would remind Gold that Israel has been attempting to send this message with brute force for decades, and yet the terrorists aren’t getting the message. Israel is not getting any safer. Every time there is a suicide bombing of some emotional or violent significance, Sharon uses his military to pin prick the terrorist elements believed to be at fault, then calls it good in the name of national defense and kosher apple pie.
Then after the bombs stop falling, and another half-dozen terrorists are sent back to hell, six new civilians take their places in the line. While it may have a been a “just” attack, it did nothing to advance the security of the Israeli population, or for that matter the populations of the region as a whole. Sharon and others don’t seem to realize that more important considerations are for the collective good: how are policy decisions going to impact the terrorist threat? Is another “successful” Israeli attack going to thwart or deter terrorism? Eventually, Israeli leaders will have to learn that while bombs and bullets are effective against the human flesh of the terrorists, they are utterly useless against the terrorism itself.
Swept away yet again in this attack were all notions of a U.S.-led peace plan. Even if President Bush wanted to stop the attack, his hands were tied. After two years of shaking a stick at the international community, using vague justifications for his own military endeavors, and launching two invasions, the United States has no ability to put the brakes on the retaliatory or preemptive strikes of its allies. We started this “war on terror,” and I’m sure Sharon was happy to oblige in widening it.
So regardless of potential reservations, Bush bit his tongue and said nothing, as his “roadmap to peace” was blown to ashes by American planes and American bombs. If it weren’t so bloody awful, it’d be funny: Unilateralist U.S. policy designed to exercise American autonomy has instead left U.S. officials with a shortened list of diplomatic options. Now, when someone else decides to follow our lead and shoot first, all we can do is watch and pray the situation doesn’t worsen.
I ask those who stand for Israel, what do you have underneath those T-shirts? Is it a love of Israel or a love of peace? Careful with your answer, for the two are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, I would argue that for Israel to have its security, it must first have its peace – not the other way around. If it is guarantees that you seek, there will be none forthcoming from the families of the men Israel has just killed. There will be no solution, no peace, and no security in the Middle East until those who choose the narcotic of nationalism opt instead to set it aside in favor of concession and negotiation. Standing with Israel is noble, yet it must be subservient to a dedication to peace.
Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.