Friday, March 14, 2008

Hau Lung-bin on Israel

Attending an exhibition titled The 60th Anniversary of Israel — Birth of a State Photo Exhibitions of Paul Goldman and David Rubinger & the Art of Design: Dan Reisinger, co-organized by the Taipei Fine Arts Museum and the Israel Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei on Thursday, Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) praised Israel’s achievements and said that other countries (ostensibly including Taiwan) should learn from its economic prosperity, democracy and technological achievements.

Such vapid comments could only have been made by someone who either has no clue how the state of Israel came into being or who has bought the false analogy of “Taiwan as the Israel of the East,” which I expose as altogether false and unhelpful in my Nov. 7, 2007, response to the “Our moral nakedness” piece by Ha’artez columnist Adar Primor. Once we look past the facile analogies, it becomes clear that Israel does not serve as a model for Taiwan. In fact, the only thing these two nations have in common is the fact that they are large recipients of US weapons.

On the democracy side, Hau seems to paper over the fact that Israel is a Jewish democracy as opposed to a universal one, meaning that the democratic rights of Jews are fuller, if you will, than those of non-Jews who live in Israel, such as Arab Israelis. This has implications for non-Jews living in Israel, from the ability to work in government to a set of social issues, such as housing. If democracy, as Hau would have us believe, were one of Israel’s achievements we should learn from, we wouldn’t be hearing the Palestinian Prime Minister on Friday saying that Israel is conducting “ethnic cleansing” in East Jerusalem. Although the term “ethnic cleansing” may be a little overdone, it is no less true that in recent years, through unequal laws and social repression, Israel has made life extremely difficult for those who remain in the Arab part of the city. Jewish extremists (how rarely we see the term used) have made no secret of their desire to see Jerusalem in its entirety as the capital of the Jewish state.

The same applies to the prosperity of Israel. Part of this success has been the carte blanche support is has received from the US as well as policies of outright theft of natural resources (mainly water) from Palestinian territories. The military assistance Israel receives from the US is so large that it can afford to develop its economy while it continues the longest occupation of another territory in modern history. Israel’s military-industrial complex, backed by the US, is also quite healthy, and that sector has sold many weapons to China, some of which could one day be used against Taiwan and possibly put at risk the life of the mayor who showered praise on Israel yesterday.

It is about time that those who ascribe to the “Israel as Taiwan,” or the “David of the Far East” analogies abandon them, for the similarities between the two nations are in fact minuscule. As I have argued before, the view that Israel and Taiwan are two small democratic islands surrounded by hordes of barbarians is not only misleading, but it fails to bring to the surface the root causes of that “hatred” and does not take into consideration the quite different power imbalances involved in those conflicts. In the Levant, Israel is very much in a position of power, and no group, state or combination of state could ever mount such a force as would threaten the survival of Israel. It is that advantage in military might, added to its indiscriminate use with full backing of the US, that has generated the resentment. One finds no equivalents in Taiwan’s situation. Whatever hatred Chinese may have for Taiwan certainly does not stem from Taipei’s military advantage against China, or use of force against it. Taiwan does not flex its muscles abroad; it does not occupy a people and its main backer, the US, never hesitates to berate its client publicly whenever the latter is perceived to be heading in the wrong direction (e.g., Washington’s overt criticism of Taiwan seeking to develop offensive weapons; of Taipei changing the “status quo” or, more recently, of its desire to hold referendums on joining the UN).

All that to say, if we really wanted to force the “Israel as Taiwan” analogy down people’s throat, a more militarized and less law-abiding Taiwan would have to invade and occupy a weaker people in, say, the southern Philippines, kill its people (mostly children and civilians) at a 1-3 ratio, convince the world it is doing so to (a) protect itself and (b) as part of the “war” on terrorism and receive the full moral blessing of Washington. Of course this little scenario is ridiculous, but so are analogies that Taiwan is like Israel, or that it can learn from its democracy and prosperity.

What Hau should have said instead is something like “Congratulations on your first 60 years; let us hope that the next sixty will not be as bloody — and the onus is on you.”

7 comments:

Taiwan Nushu said...

"Israel is very much in a position of power, and no group, state or combination of state could ever mount such a force as would threaten the survival of Israel."

Except maybe in 1948 and 1973. Twice, at least, was Israel very close to destruction. Israel faces a demographic threat with the Arab population in its midst growing faster than the jewish population... And Palestinian and Hezbollah rockets (with Iranian help) could make life in Israel unbearable when their range will be over 100 km.

As for the root causes, Israel was hated by its neighbors from day 1 of its creation (independance war). Actually, even before Israel was created, Arabs would launch attacks on jewish communities in the British Mandate.

Israel's strength is not the reason that it's hated, but the reason it still exists.

MikeinTaipei said...

Thanks for the comments, Nushu. Below is a response to both of your comments:

Don't get me wrong, I do not condone suicide bombings against civilians or the firing of rockets into civilian areas, and if this is the impression that my writing left you with, then my apologies. However, it must be said that Israel's response to such acts has been disproportionate by every yardstick. The 1967 and 1973 wars never threatened the survival of the State of Israel. Historical accounts show us that it never came close to that - except for the initial surprise blow. Palestinian and Hezbollah rockets, though illegal, have a risible kill ratio. In one intervention alone last month, the IDF killed more Palestinians than Israelis were killed in 8 YEARS of firing such missiles. None of these threaten the survival of the State of Israel; they are, at best, a nuisance. Should the attacks be stopped? Absolutely, undeniably. But the response should be (a) proportional and (b) one that addresses the root cause (not blind hatred, as you would have it, but something very much territorial) of those attacks. Before Israel was created, Israelis were using terrorism against the British Mandate, and in the long history of the Caliphate, Jews were much safer than in other areas under Catholic rule. And Palestinians depend on international humanitarian aid because they do not have a viable state; they are under occupation; its government is split mostly as the result of Hamas, which if you look into history you'll soon find out that it was created with the help of Israel; it is targeted by economic sanctions; Israel has long stolen its resources; it has no airspace of its own; no access to the sea; its workers suffer long lineups to go to work and long searches, severely affecting productivity.

As for Taiwanese being welcome in China, I have interviewed a number of such Taiwanese and many of them told me stories of discrimination and blackmail because they were Taiwanese, to such an extent that some of them have adopted the strategy of passing themselves off as Japanese; always speaking Japanese when in the presence of Chinese so that they will be left alone. The hatred is not specifically targeted at the DPP or Chen Shui-bian.

All tricky questions, extremely convoluted problems with different angles to look at them from. My intention with my entries was simply to point out that the Israel-Taiwan analogy is not a constructive one. My position, ultimately, is that everybody should be left alone and all should be able to live without fearing for their lives, be they Israelis, Jews, Arabs, Palestinians, Chinese or Taiwanese. Another difference, in that regard, is the fact that Taiwanese never claim that Chinese policies are based on a fundamentally racist view of Taiwanese and recognize its stance for what it is: geopolitical interest. Israel and its supporters often fail to see that and see everything through the lens of anti-Semitism. There is some of that, true, as there is some anti-Taiwanese sentiment in some pockets of China. But the large majority of people who oppose Israel do not do so because Jews live there, but rather because of the State's policies and indiscriminate use of force, breaking of UN resolutions and use of banned weapons such as US-made cluster bombs. Those who resort to violence turn to "terrorism" because they have no other means to try to break the untenable status quo. There is nothing about them, no genetic predisposition because they are Arabs or Palestinians, that makes them prefer the tool of terrorism, or, conversely, an Israeli gene that makes an Air Force pilot prefer to drop a bomb at 10,000 feet altitude and not see the immediate result of his equally deadly act. If you turned the tables, Israelis would be using the same techniques the Palestinians are using at the moment. Again, go back to pre-1948, and this is what Israelis were doing, including Ben Gurion.

Anyway, I've rambled for much too long. Thank you for prompting me to expand on those issues.

Taiwan Nushu said...

For each rocket on Sderot, there is an intent to kill civilians. The low number of victims is due to the fact that Israelis take refuge in shelters, go less out and that many have left the town. Palestinian casualties are high because rockets are fired from urban places and the Hamas asks for civilians to act as human shields. Either it prevents Israeli retaliation or, it Israel does strike back, it helps paint Israel black. Any idea what military response Israel should have to protect its civilians?

The idea of proportion in a war (the media prefers 'conflict') doesn't strike me as realistic or even desirable. Usually, wars finish because one party wins thanks to its use of military superiority. And the faster it's over, the less painful it is for civilians too. Attacks that weaken but don't destroy the ennemy prolong the conflict. And since you agree that Israel is more powerful, to engage it militarily actually means suicide for Hamas. Better (for the weaker party) would be to negotiate.

Regarding Gaza, what can Israel do to address the root causes?
Let the people of Gaza choose democratically their leaders? (Something few Arabs are allowed to do)
Evacuate all the settlements?
End its military presence?
Let the civilians go to Egypt? (Israel has acted against the imports of weapons from Egypt to Gaza through tunnels, but it didn't intervene when Hamas broke the wall. And it's Egypt that rebuilt that wall. But nobody will call it apartheid when Egyptian Arabs and Palestinian Arabs are separated by a wall. Only if it separates Israelis and Palestinians.)

Israel did all that in Gaza and the rockets come from Gaza, not from the West Bank...

A viable state? Not all countries have an access to the sea or lots of natural resources. And despite the problems and economic hardship in Gaza, the living standard there is higher than in the Egyptian border town. Within a week, Gazans had bought everything they could there.
So, how do you know it's not viable? Palestinians didn't even try to make a peace agreement work. Is the current situation more viable to them?

I also agree that there is nothing genetic about this conflict. It is cultural. From early on, Palestinian kids are taught that Israel is their ennemy. This is what needs to change.

MikeinTaipei said...

Thanks again for the comments,

A few points. If you read up on the Camp David accord and other “peace” talks, you will soon realize that as the talks were ongoing Israel was breaking the very promises — mainly on the issue of illegal settlements and partitioning — that buttressed the talks in the first place. Palestinian negotiators were painted as killing the peace process, but to be fair Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak were also responsible for the demise of the process (especially the former).

On the issue of Hamas using Palestinian civilians as human shields: The IDF made similar allegations during its was against Hezbollah in the summer of 2006. Investigations by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B’Tselem, the UN and other groups (including Ha’aretz reporters Gideon Levy and Amira Mass) showed that in most cases, Israel's argument that Hezbollah militants were firing missiles from positions within or close to civilian populations were unfounded. I am not saying that Hamas never does this, for it does. But we need to treat IDF claims that all missiles fired at Israeli territory come from civilian areas with a dose of skepticism. Moreover, when the Air Force drops a bomb on a house in which a suspected Hamas militant is believed to be in and in the process kills more than a dozen civilians, half of whom women and children (while the suspect emerges virtually unscathed), we cannot say that it is acting in retaliation, or targeting missile sites. Israel’s refusal, post facto, to investigate such errors, or to make IDF internal probes public, cannot be helpful. And we must also not lose sight of the fact that on many occasions ceasefires were broken not by Hamas, but rather Israel, which makes claims of IDF counterattack, or self-defense, something of a lie.

Using the Egyptian town as a benchmark against which to compare the standard of living of Palestinians on the other side of the wall is akin to arguing that Tutsis in Burundi had no reason to complain about their plight because the situation of Tutsis at the height of the 1994 genocide against Tutsis in neighboring Rwanda was worse.

But all this is mere rhetoric, for in the end the cycle of violence will not end until negotiations are held in good faith, with both parties as equals. No people will ever allow itself to be subjugated by force, or compelled to give away more than its share. It's just not human nature to do so — hence the rocket attacks against Israel. The status quo is untenable to Palestinians, so they will do their utmost to make it untenable for Israelis as well. Once a real peace offer is made to Palestinians, one that addresses their grievances, the right of return and other, you will see that the daily attacks against Israel will fade away. Those who keep up the fight can then be justly catalogued as terrorists and dealt with appropriately. Failing to do that, the only thing we can expect is a further descent into tit-for-tat crimes of war and crimes against humanity.

I agree with you that the problem is also one of nurture. However, hatred and the language of hatred is used by both sides, and the belief held by some extremist Israelis that 100 percent of Mandate Palestine should be Israeli, or that the other is a “cockroach” or like “a cancer” (both used by a Canadian Rabbi to describe Hezbollah members and supporters) is no less intransigent than that of a Palestinian who says that Israelis should be forced to leave the land or cast into the sea. Both are unforgivable.

Your zero-sum solution to the conflict, wherein the stronger party wins the battle militarily and imposes peace, would (aside from being immoral) in the long run be the greatest threat to the survival of the State of Israel. Then and only then could we take seriously the rhetoric coming out of Tehran that Iran wants to wipe out Israel. (That view also makes me pause when it comes the Taiwan Strait. Gulp.)

Taiwan Nushu said...

Well, as a German, I'm very glad that Germany lost the second World War militarily and that peace was imposed on us. It came with territorial losses for Germany and my family. My home is now Taiwan and I don't regret this loss at all. This was the price (the punishment) to pay for Germany's folly. Accepting this brought peace, which enabled us to thrive economically and even reunify after 44 years. This was no zero sum game. By accepting a loss of territory and stopping the war, Germany gained more so much more. Even if the deal was not perfect to begin with. (Germany remained partitioned in 4 occupying zones until 1949 and foreign forces are still present to this day). Of course, it took time and a lot of progressive steps to show that Germany could be trusted again.

To win peace, Palestinians need to accept that they lost their wars against Israel. That Israel is here to stay and to renounce violence completely.

So far, unfortunately, I don't see this happening.

Also, why not comparing Arabs in Gaza with Arabs in Egypt? And if the situation of Arabs in Egypt is worse, why focus on the lighter plight of the Palestinians? Double standard?

Fili said...

As always, it seems you have a clear view on things and that you're passionate about this topic. As an Israeli, I naturally find your views to be biased, as I'm sure you'll find my views biased.

I disagree with most of your points, but it's a matter of perspective and what you believe in.
Giving a few examples -

Democracy : I've never seen any country where you have one of its parliament members visiting, while in office, a neighboring enemy country and supporting using force against the state he represents... or welcoming freedom of speech of those parliament members who hold the most extreme anti views, some even supporting terrorism. Say what you will, Israeli Arabs are free to vote, group together, express their minds, appeal to court, as they are welcomed to take part in Israeli affairs such as joining the army, doing social work or running for office.

While you claim Israeli extremists make no secret of their desires to see Jerusalem in it entirety as the capital of the Jewish state, which I think is true not only for extremists, you fail to mention the Palestinian aspirations that go far beyond Jerusalem as a capital. How to resolve such conflicting views? nobody really knows.

Prosperity of Israel coming from theft of natural resources? military assistance as driving Israeli economy up? selling weapons to China as what's behind Israeli economy?
You do have a special take on things. Israel has never been a natural resources country, and the politics in that region has done nothing but to keep the economy from growing. The Americans are doing what they're doing for a reason. The military support given to all countries, including Taiwan, can only be used to buy arms from the states to support their local arms industries. I'm not sure either Israel or Taiwan can decrease that kind of support without creating a political crisis with the states. And ofcourse, both countries feel threatened, Taiwan from China and Israel from constant regional threats (Iran? Syria?).

The fact that you find that Israel is at the "position of power" isn't trivial. I actually think it's a miracle it has come to that. 1948, 1973, and even 1967 to some degree - in many's minds was a feeling that their lives might come to an end. Whether you agree with that feeling or not is a different issue. Many Israelis still feel threatened, especially when it comes to fighting terrorism, which you almost justify at some point. You mention mis-use of force and you believe it's not-proportional. While I might agree that the results are problematic many Israelis have a hard time seeing alternatives. I would only say that I don't think any country, anywhere, would accept daily rocket rain on its population, soldier kidnapping within its borders, or terror attacks on civilians within its cities. How any country would respond to two sides of its territory becoming terrorist hives controlled by different extremists groups, constantly threatening its population, is anybody's guess. If 911 leads to the occupation (/"liberation") of Afghanistan and Iraq, imagine what a situation like that would have America do. What normal country would go on taking that for more than a day?

I could go on further about each of your points and the ones you'll make in the future, but my main point is that you use "facts" in a very one-sided way while the situation is a lot more complex and complicated than you suggest it is. The comparison to Taiwan, which was initially your subject for this post, is valid in some points while not that strong at others, as any comparisons are.

I also replied to your last post in : http://www.filination.com/blog/2007/11/30/our-moral-nakedness-taiwan-china-israel-palestine-and-the-un/

Take care.

MikeinTaipei said...

Wow, this posting is generating quite a few comments. Many thanks for that. Two great responses today by Taiwan Nushu and Fili.

Taiwan Nushu: Your perspective is one that stems from the "total warfare" military school, and it is shared by many. So whether I agree or disagree with you is beside the point. The only thing I will add on the matter, though, is that history teaches us that total warfare and the complete destruction of the opponent breeds problems for the future. Many excellent books have been written about the fact that the US did not need to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that most Japanese generals and diet members were quite ready to negotiate peace. What the decision to completely defeat the Japanese military by dropping the atomic bombs did was, for all intents and purposes, spart the Cold War. Out of the ashes of a subjugated Japanese emerged a militaristic Soviet Union. My point is that Israel cannot afford to go fown the "total warfare" path with regards to Palestinians. Who knows what a total military defeat of Palestinians would give rise to in future? Then what? More war, an arms race in the Middle East? Coming myself from a military/security background, I cannot accept that countries would choose that option. Maybe I'm wrong. But I'll never advocate that because the upward momentum to the use of force can only bring us to the brink. Avner, the main Israeli character in George Jonas' Vengeance, says as much after he comes back from his mission in Europe to assassinate individuals responsible (and some who aren't) for the Munich massacre.

We evidently come from very different backgrounds and both inspire our views on the matter. You make excellent points and our disagreement has forced me to revisit my assumptions and expand on my points. I appreciate that.

Fili: Many excellent points. First and foremost, please note that I would never condone the use of terrorism or the indiscriminate targeting of civilians. The closest I will ever come to doing that is trying to pout myself in the shoes of the underdog and seek the rationale behind their actions, their choice to target civilians. All of this boils down to resolving the underlying causes of the conflict - not all the external ones we and the media tend to focus on: the actual fighting.

I did not say that US military assistance has boosted the Israeli economy; rather, what I argue is that military assistance to Israel has allowed it to develop its economy while it wages a war of occupation (or call it a far-reaching antiterrorism campaign, if you want). States that do not receive such aid and that must invest their own capital to sustain their military would therefore have less money left to develop their economy. Without US assistance, Israel woould likely be a little more reluctant to go into military adventurism.

I agree that any state that faces Israel's situation would likely react in the same manner, and in many ways this is what the US has done in Afghanistan and Iraq, or Russia in Chechnya, or Pakistan in the NWFP, or China in Tibet. But this doesn't mean that it is the right thing to do. I will just as readily decry US actions in Afghanistan (and perhaps even actions by Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, some of whom I studied with). My main argument on this point is that gradualism in use of force only engenders more violence. We saw this in Vietnam; the USSR saw this in Afghanistan; NATO (or rather, Kosovars) saw this in 1999, with the killing of civilians acually increasing while NATO was bombing Serb positions and infrastructure.

I believe I did mention that most Palestinians would support a just and pragmatic solution to the conflict, which as I write is mostly one of territory as opposed to pure hatred or religiously inspired. As I wrote, once a just peace agreement acceptable to both sides is reached (no such thing has been propposed to date), those Palestinian extremists who continue to advocate the destruction of Israel would find themselves a minority, disredited and justly dispatched with by either Palestinians themselves or the Israelis. The idea that all Palestinians - or even the majority - are radicalized to such an extent that they mindlessly seek the unattainable - the destruction of Israel - has more in common with Hollywood movies than reality. Again, I am not saying that there are no such individuals, or that some schoolchildren are not taught hatred in school, but those arguments would soon be discarded if a just peace were proposed.

Many of the "facts" that I rely on come from Israeli journalists, and I don't believe they suffer from Stockholm Syndrome. The suffering and fear on both sides of the divide is tremendous - I know that. I am 100 percent in support of a viable State of Israel that can live in peace with its neighbors, that does not feel threatened and that does not have to face the ugly anti-Semitism that exists in some pockets worldwide (I absolutely abhor discrimimination and racism in all its forms). But at the same time I also believe Israel should do more to ensure that when it negotiates peace with Palestinians it does so in a just manner. So far, once we look into the actual peace offers themselves (Oslo, Camp David), it soon becomes clear that what the Palestinians were offered was less than the pre-1967 border they have asked for, or 22 percent of Mandate Palestine, as I recall.

One thing I must add, as where we've been plays a large role in what we are: For three years I dealt with security officials from your country and their rhetoric gave me very little comfort. Perhaps those encounters are tainting my views, but in the end, the very military solution to the Palestinian problem that has been adopted by Israel is drawn and drafted by those very same people. I'm quite sure that the region would be a much better place today if it were ordinary Israelis and Palestinians who were given the lead. But there as elswehere, the cynics have taken over.

Anyway, I hope this is an acceptable response to your points and that I haven't left too much out.