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What to do about Gaza?

Street Protests, or Political Action?

Arab-Jewish protest in Jaffa

What Israel is doing to Gaza is a war crime. Congress has now voted, almost unanimously, in favor of war crimes. Again. What are we going to do about it?

Actually, technically, the resolution is not absolutely unsupportable.  The bill's title reads, "Recognizing Israelís right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza, reaffirming the United Statesí strong support for Israel, and supporting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process."  But in the context of the ongoing situation in Gaza, it is an endorsement of war crimes, and there is not a word about stopping the violence. 

There are a lot of photos, many of them pretty graphic, about what is going on in Gaza right now.

Well, Gaza is hardly the worst war crime in recent history. Look at U. S. intervention in Vietnam or Iraq, or the genocide in Rwanda and Cambodia, for other nationsí contributions to this genre. Even a few of the stateless Palestinians have gotten into the act, indiscriminately targeting Israeli civilians. But weíre not sending money to Hamas or passing resolutions supporting them, either, and the number of deaths on the Palestinian side exceed the Israeli deaths by about 100 to 1. 

Mass demonstration (in Israel!) against the war, January 3

Juan Cole complains about the uselessness of street protests to correct the situation. He urges, instead, trying to change the American political equation by forming an America First PAC, suggesting that we raise sums of money from small donors on the web, citing the tactics of both Obama and Kucinich. I rarely disagree with Juan Cole; he is so well informed and persuasive on all things pertaining to the Middle East. So when I do disagree, itís an event -- at least for me.

My complaint is that this seeks a political remedy to what is really a moral, social, and cultural problem.  We shouldn't need to engage in extraordinary political action to stop our own country from aiding war crimes.  Unless you're going into politics as a vocation or avocation, voting and basic civic responsibility should be enough.  If more than that is required, it really means that we have a different sort of problem altogether.  

It reminds me of what is now required in order to be taken care of when you're old (in our culture, "retirement").  You shouldn't need to be a financial genius in order to retire.  Thrift, saving, and common sense should be enough.  

Now of course a lot of people haven't been doing this; but even the people who have been scrimping and saving all these years are in a difficult situation.  Fast forward to 2008: oops, there goes the economy! Another hundred billion in bailout money here, a few hundred billion there, and after a while it adds up to real money. And by the way, all of our pension funds and IRAís are vanishing, what do we do? Suddenly, a sensible and practical attitude is defeated by some unscrupulous banks, and of course all of our action is directed towards propping up them.

One approach is to say that you need better investment advice. Here comes someone who says, "hereís the key: invest in commodities, gold, and alternative energy until oil inflation exceeds 80% per year; then switch to mostly bonds, because at that point you know a recession is coming." In point of fact, this may be good advice. Maybe I should invest in commodities, gold, and alternative energy, switching to bonds when oil inflation goes over 80%.

But here is the problem I have with this strategy: why do I have to be a financial expert just to retire?  Does everyone have to be a financial expert to retire? Iím not trying to get rich, what I really want is social security. And now the economy is failing, my savings are taking a hit, and oops, now social security may be in trouble, too.

Itís true that if I had listened to Peter Schiff, or Stephen and Donna Leeb, I wouldn't be in this mess. But there is a more fundamental problem here, and that is that the economy is broken. This shouldnít be happening in the first place. We have hit the limits to growth, and efforts to revive the economy will ó especially if successful ó make the situation even worse. Weíve been going down the wrong road not just for the past 8 years, but for the past 58 years or longer. Even if I, personally, manage to invest successfully, that leaves most honest people out in the cold.  In short, the fact that thrift and common sense is not sufficient to assure that one will be able to take care of oneself when one is old, indicates that something more fundamental is wrong.

The same problem applies to Juan Coleís advice: why should I have to be a political expert in order to stop something like war crimes from being perpetrated by our own government?  Shouldn't studying the issues, civic responsibility, and voting be enough?  Or if there's some "visibility" issue, how about a street protest?

Iím not running for Congress, and I'm not pursuing a political career.  It may very well be true that with the kind of strategy Cole is suggesting, we might be able to put an end to the horrific business in Gaza. But there is a more fundamental problem here, and that is that the political process is broken.  Even if we formed an America First PAC and fought the extremists successfully on this issue, that would leave the rest of the political process out in the cold.  (And believe me, there are a whole stack of issues much more serious than Gaza out there -- think peak oil, the limits to growth, global warming, that sort of thing.)

Iím all for shifting the electrons in various computers of various banks attached to various candidates who, in turn, will shift the electrons of various television stations in the form of political advertisements, but is this going to solve a moral and cultural problem? Uh, I donít think so. The fact that it is even necessary to have a discussion of Gaza, much less a discussion which will resolve an issue which should have been resolved after the Second World War, indicates that we have a moral and cultural problem which can only be solved by a more fundamental change.

Street protests may not solve anything either (though in the U. S., this tactic has really yet to  be tried). The point is, that street protests should solve the problem. Street protests require a physical presence, not the projection of words or images on a screen. It indicates a seriousness of intent which is lost in the shifting of electrons, though I am all for shifting electrons, as long as I donít have to watch them on TV. It should be sufficient just to bring this to the attention of the public and the political leaders, and that should be the end of it. It doesnít mean that street protests should always prevail (you could have dueling street protests, or street protests for a bad cause), but street protests should at least be able to put a behavior, clearly condemned by the culture, on the political agenda. The fact that it doesnít, indicates that we have a different problem.

After the Second World War, we put the Nazi leaders on trial and condemned them for the very things that we have been and are now engaged in doing and supporting.  The U. S. still owes the world an apology for the war in Vietnam ó and another one, now, for the war in Iraq. The key issues surrounding the Second World War have been raised, all over again: genocide, indiscriminate targeting of civilians, and aggressive war.  These are issues that should be settled in our culture -- shouldn't they? -- and we should be talking about how best to eliminate war crimes, not how best to support them.  If the Second World War didn't settle these questions, do we need to refight the Second World War again? 

Thanks, Gush Shalom

And just to be clear, while I donít agree with the Israeli policies, there is actually more protest over Gaza in Israel than in the United States. Israel has a right to exist. 

So certainly, Iím happy to give some money to those brave souls in Congress who voted "no" on this resolution. But this is not going to "solve the problem." Only a revolution in our political, social, and economic order will solve the problem. I'd suggest street protests, rapid implementation of a steady-state economy, and the abolition of factory farms, just for starters.  

Keith Akers
January 12, 2009 (slightly revised January 14, 15)