Portland peace activist William Seaman returned on July 5 from a three-week journey to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, with a delegation organized by Faculty for Israeli Palestinian Peace. Seaman, who is Jewish, traveled to the Middle East to visit his familys kibbutz in Southern Israel and to see firsthand the results of the ongoing battle between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Seaman first visited Israel in 1978 when, he admits, he was profoundly ignorant. It was his family who encouraged him to take a closer look at the conflict. On this trip, he looked at it from the standpoint of cutting through the misinformation [that] people in the Jewish community in the U.S. are subjected to. Misinformation, he said, which is perpetrated by a U.S. media who are only interested in elite opinions, no matter what the issue.
The Palestinians are unfairly vilified in the American media, Seaman said. History has been buried, obscured, and oppressed. Israeli Jews are more willing to take a second look at the conflict and empathize with the Palestinians, Seaman said, although the Israeli media obscures the truth just as much as the American media. Israelis are susceptible to fear mongering much like the U.S. is after 9/11, Seaman said. Many of them simply do not know the extent of the occupation.
According to Seaman, there are many reasons why the U.S. supports Israel, which it considers a key ally in the region. Many believe that Israel is the underdog, and it represents the only possible safe haven for Jews in the world. Some would also say that there is a lot of Jewish support in the U.S. government in general. Many also believe that the U.S. has a history of supporting democracy around the world; therefore it makes sense for the U.S. to support Israel.
But Seaman doesnt agree with these arguments. You have to see how support for Israel falls within a larger pattern of U.S. foreign policy, Seaman said. Its misleading to say that the only reason U.S. supports Israel is because Jews run foreighn policy. He points to the fact that the U.S. has a history of suppressing democratic movements in many places, including East Timor and Latin America.
[Israel] represents American interests in the Middle East, Seaman said. Throughout history, Israel has shown it has the ability to kill Arab and indigenous nationalist movements, such as the Nasser regime in Egypt, and through its attack on Lebanon. Israel has also assisted the U.S. in fighting other indigenous uprisings in countries such as Guatemala. It is in the interest of the U.S. to suppress Arab uprisings in rder to maintain control over oil and other resources, Seaman said.
In the eyes of U.S. policymakers, Israel deserves military and financial aid of more than $3 billion a year. According to Seaman, it is this aid that is the most contentious factor for Palestinians. The U.S. has to suspend military and other financial aid to Israel until the occupation is ended, he said. Sharon wont change policies unless and until the U.S. cuts Israel off. This is in spite of an apparent shift in U.S. policy toward the region. President Bush recently unveiled his Road Map to peace, which includes Israel pulling out of the Occupied Territories, as well as increased aid to the Palestinian people.
Seaman sees it differently. After election season, this will be dropped, he said. According to Seaman, the settlement policy remains unchanged, and Israel continues to isolate Palestinians and separate them from their agricultural lands. The separation wall is one more criminal act, he said. The wall, which is ostensibly being built on the Green Line that marks Israels pre-1967 borders, is actually being built around and through Palestinian villages. 60 percent of the Israeli population wants to go back to the Green Line, Seaman said. Israelis would agree that the separation wall runs close to the Green Line. It doesnt. Also known as the Apartheid Wall, it is a concrete structure 23 feet high in some places, with barbed wire and lookout towers.
And, Seaman said, roadblocks are still in place despite TV images of them being torn down. They will be torn down one day, and put back up the next, he said. This uncertainty is one more way Israel succeeds in disrupting Palestinians everyday lives. Roadblocks are not for securitythey are not going to stop anybody who is determined to get around them, he said. In fact, his delegation was turned away at a roadblock into Jenin and simply took the back roads into the city.
To many people in the U.S., the main reason peace hasnt been achieved in the region is because of groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, some of whose members engage in suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. However, Seaman said that it is important to remember the history behind these groups. Israel, for a very long time, supported Hamas as an opposition to the PLO, he said. He also pointed out that Hamas engages in many good works for the Palestinian people, such as providing funding for food and medical care.
The Israeli government is using the divide and conquer approach against the Palestinians, Seaman said. When the Israeli government says that the Palestinian Authority must destroy Hamas, that means starting a civil war between Palestinians, he said. Often you will find the same Palestinians who support Hamas who disagree with the killing of civilians, Seaman said. Many Palestinians dont want an Islamic country, and support a secular government, he said.
Yasser Arafats leadership is also portrayed in the media as a main factor affecting peace, but Seaman believes the Sharon government is using Arafat to Israels advantage. The more the U.S. and Israel try to sideline him, the more the Palestinian people rally around him, Seaman said. Its ridiculous to think Arafat is somehow irrelevant. He was elected by the people. The Israeli government also cant say that he isnt legitimate, while his appointed Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas, is legitimate. Ultimately, Seaman said, it is up to the Palestinian people to elect their own leaders, and the world community must be willing to work with them to bring peace.
Seaman supports a two-state solution for peace in the region, but concedes that some think this is impossible. Many Palestinians expressed fear that so much land has been taken that there will be no possibility for a Palestinian state. Also, he said, people must consider that 20 percent of people living in Israel are not Jewish, and face terrible discrimination. Arab villages in Israel are not recognized by the Israeli government, he said. Still, Seaman argues there has to be a two-state solution if there is to be any level of self-determination for the Palestinians.
More and more people are looking around and seeing how Palestine has been divided up, he said. The Israeli government continues to build illegal outposts on Palestinian land, which often just consist of a trailer set up with or without electricity. More and more of these outposts are being built with or without formal approval from the Israeli government, but more often than not with tacit approval, Seaman said. Americans would be astonished at how much U.S. tax money goes to highways and tunnels to build up settlements in the Occupied Territories, he said. But, he added, this doesnt mean that the Israelis are there to stay, pointing out that Israeli settlements in Sinai were given back to Egypt.
Seaman also points out that the Israeli government doesnt necessarily reflect the views of the majority of Israelis. There are expansionist, colonialist, right-wing elements of Israel that may bring about its own destruction, he said. If we care for the future of Israel we have to be working toward an end to the occupation.
Jennifer Polis holds a journalism degree from Penn State and is trying to get by without working for corporate media.
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Last Updated: July 31, 2003