Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Guns in America (part 3)

Identifying absolute causal relationships is a difficult business. We can make inferences, of course, but we need to be careful about going too far without rigorous statistical analysis and study. That said, though, it doesn’t necessarily follow that because we are unable to prove a causal relationship that we ought not take steps that might mitigate against a perceived problem.

Like guns and mass shootings.

Will increased gun regulations reduce the number of mass shootings and the number of dead children? I think so, but there are others who would, quite obviously, disagree and argue the point. But query whether we should wait to try material steps to reduce gun violence until we have empirical proof that those steps will work. How many more innocent people need to die while we wait to be absolutely sure that enhanced gun control regulations will work? And what is the downside to trying more gun control now? If it doesn’t slow down the pace of mass shootings, what have we lost? I mean, what have we really lost? I’m not talking about paranoid worries of liberty or tyranny (see part 2 of Guns in America).

Again I ask, how many children are we willing to see die as the price we pay for the paranoia of some that the “big bad government” is coming after them or that the Marxist Muslim Fascist Kenyan President is going to impose sharia law and subjugate American sovereignty to the United Nations? Are you willing to sacrifice your spouse or your child to those fears? I’m not.

But on the issue of causation, I do want to note one set of interesting observations. As I was first thinking about this, I couldn’t help but recall the old Sesame Street song “One of These Things Is Not Like the Others”.

  • Japan, Britain, Australia, and Switzerland all have people with mental illness, just like the United States.
  • Japan, Britain, Australia, and Switzerland all have violent movies with gunfights and explosions, just like the United States.
  • Japan, Britain, Australia, and Switzerland all have violent videogames with graphic depictions of blood and gore, just like the United States.
  • Japan, Britain, Australia, and Switzerland all have strict laws on who can own a gun and what types of guns can be owned, unlike the United States.
  • The United States has been suffering through an epidemic of mass shootings in public places unlike Japan, Britain, Australia, and Switzerland.

Should we talk about mental illness? Absolutely! Should we talk about violent movies (and music and books)? Of course! Should we talk about violent videogames? Without doubt!

But let’s not forget to ask ourselves why other countries haven’t had the gun violence that we’ve had when they all have those same issues to contend with. We should discuss those issues but let’s not wait to address the one issue where the United States is clearly different: The ease of access to guns, including assault weapons.

If your child is getting bad grades, it might be due to a heavy course load, a learning disability, poor teachers, or any of a host of other reasons. You could conduct a study of all factors that might contribute to your child’s poor grades before taking any action. But if you saw that among the possible issues was your child’s failure to study or do the assigned homework, I suspect that you’d be inclined to start with addressing that issue before (or perhaps concurrent) with examining other possible issues.

Isn’t that sort of what we’re talking about with regard to gun violence? Yes, there may be other societal factors influencing behaviors and we shouldn’t discount those. But what’s wrong with tackling what appears to be the one clear factor that we can address now. If we’re wrong, then it’s likely “no harm, no foul”. But if we’re right yet choose to do nothing, then more children, more innocent people, are likely to pay the ultimate price for our failure and timidity to act.

Does easy access to guns cause the violence we’re seeing? I don’t know. But I feel pretty confident that restricting access to guns (or the types of guns) won’t make things worse.

I have an idea: Let’s impose some new, reasonable regulations on access to guns, ammunition, and so forth. And then let’s see if that helps. What do we have to lose? Compare that to what we each might lose if we don’t try.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Guns in America (part 2)

Before getting into the precise subject that I want to discuss today (and before continuing with this series), it’s probably important to include the actual text of the Second Amendment, given that it’s at the core of many of the issues that I have discussed and plan to continue discussing.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

I’ve written before about the first clause (the “militia” clause) and I’m sure that I’ll come back to it again. Just remember, for the time being when thinking about these issues, that the militia clause exists and it was obviously included for a reason.

Anyway, what I wanted to talk about today was a bit of the why behind some people’s affinity for the Second Amendment. And I’m not talking about the desire of some to hunt or to engage in personal or home defense. Those are each discussions for another day. No, what I want to discuss today goes more to the issue of why people think that the Second Amendment gives them a right to assault rifles and armor piercing bullets and high capacity magazines and so forth. If you read gun rights blogs or listen to gun proponents talk about the issues, you will see one recurring broad sentiment, though often it is at least slightly camouflaged: The fear of tyranny. The fear of our government. The fear of the United Nations. In other words, the belief that those guns will be needed to fight off, not a burglar, but the invader who who wants to change our way of life or the government who wants to impose … something … that the gun owner fears.

By way of simple example, please watch this clip of an interview of Larry Pratt, the Executive Director of Gun Owners of America, by Chris Matthews on MSBNC on Monday:

Later in the interview, Pratt suggests that an appropriate time to use guns “to take on the government” is when “elections are stolen”.

Or, take a look at some of these images from Tea Party rallies that I’ve posted over the past few years:

1gallery-smalltea2420 [missing]1 [missing]2 [missing]IMG_1469 by NineTwelvePhotos.IMG_0027-4IMG_1461 by NineTwelvePhotos.

IMG_1419 by NineTwelvePhotos.

To help explain just when these Second Amendment remedies might be needed, I offer the following:

IMG_1448 by NineTwelvePhotos.

Obama Wanted Poster

There is a segment of our population — I don’t know how large — that appears to honestly believe that they need their guns in order to defend themselves against the government and/or to take on the government if it … um … does something they don’t like?

So ask two questions: First, who gets to decide when to take up arms against the government? If a majority of us elect candidate X but an armed minority think candidate X is a tyrant, do they have the right to take up arms against the lawfully elected government? What if there is a dispute as to whether a candidate was lawfully elected? Did Democrats have a right to take up arms against the government following the election of George W. Bush?

And does this right to take up arms against the government include a right to use force to curtail legislation that a minority opposes? If you don’t believe in universal health care, do you have the right to resort to Second Amendment remedies and take up arms against the government? If tax rates are increased for the portion of income above $250,000, do those in that income bracket have a right to take up arms? If we pass a law banning assault rifles, do owners of those assault rifles have a right to take up arms? And just who would the fighting be against? Against the government itself? Against elected officials that did something unpopular (or perhaps even popular, just not to the armed minority)? Against fellow citizens who do approve of a politician or policy?

Now add to all of this the so-called “sovereign citizen” movement or the various militias (many of which are white supremacist groups). Do they have the right to use the force of arms against the government that they perceive as a sort of tyranny? Why not?

If the police come to arrest you for doing something that you think you should be allowed to do — whether something simple like smoking pot or something more … um … wrong … like watching child porn — do you have the right to use your gun to stop the government’s “overreaching”? Again, why not?

I mean, it’s not like we have a system of courts or impartial justice to help resolve conflicts. Courts are probably all corrupt, too, right? So of course we need guns to protect us… Or at least I think that’s how the reasoning goes. And why shouldn’t you be able to take your assault rifle into the courtroom?

Also, and I realize that this is a bit of a dangerous step to take, but note how it seems that virtually all of those who talk about their “Second Amendment” rights in the context of protecting themselves from the government or from “tyranny” are white. We don’t see groups of African-Americans in the poorest parts of the country where gang violence is terrible talking about taking up arms to force the government to protect them or to redistribute more wealth to them. We don’t see Latinos talking about taking up arms to stop enforcement of racial profiling laws or what they may perceive of as an unjust immigration system or for the use of Spanish in official government acts and publications. You don’t see groups of armed Jews threatening to tear down Christmas trees and nativity scenes on public property. But you do hear groups of mostly white (mostly men?) people worrying about their liberty being trampled. Oh, and can you imagine how those white men would react if there were a group of Muslim men armed to the teeth with assault rifles and body armor?

And what liberty do they express concern for? Often it’s the right to bear arms. In other words, these fine folks need guns to protect themselves from the government that might want to keep them from protecting themselves against the government because the government is evil. Or something. I think. Seriously, though, what liberty are these folks really worried about losing and to whom?

Oh, and the UN. They’re worried about black helicopters and the UN takeover of the United States as some sort of “New World Order” plot. And they need their guns to defend against that, too. Don’t believe me? Just look at the UN treaty on people with disabilities that was defeated earlier this month because of fears of a loss of sovereignty to the UN and the imposition, again by the UN, of forced abortions or restrictions on home schooling. Seriously.

Think about this for a minute: The reason that we have assault rifles being used in our theaters, shopping malls, and schools is because some of our fellow citizens are afraid of our government. In response, ask yourself who you fear more: The government or these armed citizens who are afraid of the government? For me the answer is easy. Here’s a hint: I’m not afraid of our government.

Another thing to think about: How many times, since the Revolutionary War (when we fought against the British…) have people taken up arms to fight against government tyranny. Offhand, I can think of one big example and a group of smaller examples: The Civil War and the Ruby Ridge/Branch Davidian-type militia or cult groups. One of the things that has made our country exceptional, is the fact that we’ve managed to retain a peaceful system for the transition of power and a government and society based strongly on the rule of law. We resolve our differences at the ballot box and in the courtroom, not on the battlefield.

One more thing that’s at least worth mentioning in this discussion: If it really came down to a fight between folks who fear “tyranny” or the “overreach” of the government versus the government itself, how do you think the gun rights folks would fare. Yes, they’d have access to assault rifles (probably fully automatic thanks to kits that they’ve bought at gun shows) with expanded magazines holding armor piercing bullets while clad in body armor. But they’d be up against this:

originalSome of whom would be equipped like this:

And who would be supported by this:

Oh, and this:

And this:

Taking off from this:

Protected by this:

With an assist from this:

Very little of which would be needed because of this:

And yet these people, in their minds, are willing to trade the safety of our children for their fantasy of a tyrannical government being defeated by “patriots and warriors” armed with some assault rifles. It seems that in their minds, these “patriots” still think that they’d be fighting this:

And because of their paranoia and delusions, our kids have to die.

No thanks.

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Guns in America (part 1)

In the tragic aftermath of yet another mass shooting, this one at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I’ve decided to start work on an open-ended series of posts about guns in America and, more particularly, where we go from here. I’ll be honest: The shooting really, really shook me, seemingly more than other people with whom I’ve discussed it; that’s not to say that they weren’t shaken as well, but it seems to have hit me even more strongly. Did I lose family members? No. I’d never even heard of Newtown before. But I think that because I’ve been so worried about gun violence in America, I was sort of hyper-sensitized to the issue. I don’t know. I do know that I’ve been writing about and advocating for stronger gun control laws for a long time. It seems that it took the death of 20 young children to force this discussion to the fore.

Anyway, pardon this first post if it’s a bit disjointed. I wrote most of it very late Friday night before taking a break. I thought about taking the time to refine and research, but in the end I’ve decided just to finish a few thoughts and post. There’s time enough in the days, weeks, and months ahead to get into more details.

Before I can drive a car I have to meet several requirements. First, I have to be of a certain age. Second, I have to have attended some kind of school to learn not only how to drive but also the rules of the road. Then I must go through a probationary period before I can get my license. During that probationary period, I have to practice my driving skills, usually in the company of an adult relative. Once my probationary period is over, I have to take a test. Usually the test measures both my knowledge of the rules and my abilities as a driver. If I pass both parts of the test, I am eligible for a license.

But the requirements don’t stop there. That license must be renewed every few years. If I do things wrong during the term of the license I may either lose it altogether or when it’s time to renew it, I may have to take those tests over again. Furthermore, I have to demonstrate, as a condition of my license, that I have insurance that will pay for damage to others that I may cause while driving. My license may also have restrictions on it. For example, my license may require that I wear glasses or contacts while driving; my license may provide that I am ineligible to drive at night. And my license only allows me to drive certain types of vehicles. If I want to drive a motorcycle or a big truck, I have to get a different license. If I want to drive a bus or a passenger van or a limo in which I will be transporting others, I have to get yet a different license.

And then let’s look at the vehicles themselves. They must have seat belts and I have to wear my seat belt. In most (many?) states, if I ride a motorcycle, I must wear a helmet. The car must have airbags. It must meet fuel standards and emissions standards. I can’t drive with a child in the front seat and the child must be properly secured in an approved child safety seat. The car must have certain lights to show other drivers what I’m planning to do (turn signals) or that I’m slowing down (brake lights). And I’m obligated to use that turn signal, to stop at certain traffic signals, not to change lanes at certain times, and on and on and on.

We also have license plates on our cars that help both the police and other drivers identify us as we drive around. Furthermore, we’ve empowered our police to drive around and watch for unsafe driving or driving that violates the law. We’ve given our police the ability to look at a license plate to see if the car has been stolen or if the driver ought not to be behind the wheel. We allow our police to periodically set up road blocks to be sure that drivers aren’t drunk. And, of course, we don’t let people drive when they’ve been drinking.

And why do we have all of those rules? Because cars are dangerous. They can hurt people. With many cars on the roads, we need sensible rules to be sure that our roads aren’t the scene of absolute chaos and mayhem. We need to be sure that when things go wrong, that we’ve minimized the risk of death or serious injury. And we’ve designed a system to be sure that drivers are in a position to be responsible (financially) for the damage or injuries that they’ve cause (and, in most states, we’ve created a state system to step in when a driver didn’t have the mandated insurance).

We can’t stop all injuries and damage caused by the careless or improper use of cars. But we have worked to minimize it and create a system of responsibility.

But cars aren’t built for the express purpose of killing people.

Guns are.

And yet we have far less regulation concerning guns.

Which is easier to obtain: A gun license or a driver’s license? So far as I know, to get a gun license, you don’t have to go to school or take classes. You don’t have a probationary period before you get your license. You aren’t tested on the rules or your skill in using the weapon. To get your license, you don’t have to provide proof of insurance to cover what you might do with that gun. Your license doesn’t restrict the kinds of weapons that you can use. In fact, I believe the only limitation is whether you are permitted to carry a concealed weapon. You may have to undergo a background check before you purchase a gun, but only if you buy one at a licensed gun store and not if you purchase one from a friend or at a gun show. Now we do provide that there are a few places where you can’t take your gun (but query how anyone will know if it’s concealed) and if you use your gun in some situations you may have committed a crime. Of course with so-called “stand your ground laws” all you have to do is claim self-defense or that you were trying to prevent a violent crime and your use of the gun may be unassailable.

Furthermore, we have very little regulation of the guns themselves. Yes, we have a prohibition on fully automatic assault rifles, but apparently it’s quite easy to purchase the parts (at a gun show) to get around this prohibition. But we don’t require that guns have trigger locks. We allow people to purchase body armor and ballistic shielding. Even more amazing, we have almost the opposite of fuel and emissions standards, in that we allow such things as armor piercing bullets and high-capacity magazines, things specifically designed for no purpose other than to enhance the ability to kill other people.

And guess what? Guns do kill people. Lots of people. Children, too. Kindergarteners learning their ABCs.

I don’t know (and I don’t have time to do the research), but I’d be willing to bet that there are 10 times more laws and regulations that come into play for the school bus that takes those children to and from school than there are for the guns that made sure that they never arrived home.

And that is sad.

It’s a tragedy.

It’s a shame.

And it’s something that we can — we must — do something about.

Will new laws and regulations stop every gun death? No. But might they reduce the violence. Perhaps. But can you look at the parents of those children gunned down yesterday and say that you weren’t willing to try? Should your children be scared to go to school, your wife scared to go to the mall, your family scared to go to a movie, because someone might have easy access to an assault rifle?

Think about this: A terrorist tried to hide explosives in his shoe, so now we all must take off our shoes before flying. Fertilizer can be made into bombs, so have detailed reporting requirements for the purchase of certain types of fertilizer. Sudafed can make drugs, so it’s not available over the counter anymore. Banks have to report certain types of cash transactions to stop money laundering. Even fireworks are subject to stringent licensing and illegal in many states.

But we’ve been unwilling to even consider similar types of reasonable gun regulations to stop the flood of gun violence on our streets, in our homes, in our shopping malls, in our movie theaters, in our houses of worship, and in our schools.

So what kind of reasonable restrictions and regulations might we think about adopting?

First, what’s wrong with education and testing before we issue gun licenses? Why not be sure that those who are going to acquire a gun know how to use it safely? Why not ask that they are aware of the laws of where they can have the gun and where they can’t? Why not require some small measure of competence so that if the person does find themselves in a position to use the gun, innocent bystanders aren’t at an even greater degree of risk? And as a brief aside, before you say “Second Amendment”, let me remind you that the Second Amendment makes specific reference to a “well-regulated militia”. Couldn’t the licensing and education component of a gun license be considered part of that “well-regulated” notion?

What about a probationary period? Perhaps people should have to wait six months or year after they learn how to use a gun before they’re allowed to purchase one. Or perhaps they should be required to shoot at least some number of rounds at a shooting range with a competent instructor. And maybe that instructor should also teach some simple gun safety lessons, especially ones aimed at being sure that children don’t have access to their parent’s guns.

When you get a driver’s license, you have to take an eye exam and your license may show a restriction on the basis of the results. I don’t know if there are other sorts of medical conditions that are investigated or noted in the driver’s licensing process. But what’s wrong with requiring some kind of medical examination with regard to gun licensing? An eye exam seems to make sense in the automobile arena because the obvious relation between poor vision and the probability of making a driving error as a result. Given that so many people who use guns to commit acts of mass violence appear to have mental illness of one form or another, why not require the gun licensing process to include a simple exam to look for evidence of mental illness? Is that unreasonable? (And perhaps that could lead to better efforts to try to help people with mental illness, but that’s a discussion for a later post.)

And why, under any circumstances, should someone be able to avoid a background check when purchasing a weapon? The very notion that someone can avoid a background check simply by purchasing their weapon from an unlicensed dealer at a unregulated gun show seems so ludicrous as to be … um … ludicrous. Gee, I’m a felon with a history of mental illness so I can’t buy a gun at a gun shop, so I’ll just go to the gun show, avoid the background check, get myself a high power assault rifle and, while I’m there, I may as well buy the kit to convert it to full auto!

For that matter, did you know that even if you’re on the governments terrorist watch list you can still buy a gun? Seriously. Even al-Quaeda is aware of this loophole; they’ve written about it in their training manuals!

What a great world, huh?

From what I’ve read, even a majority of NRA members support eliminating the gun show loophole. So you’d think that would be an easy change to make. Wouldn’t you?

Maybe we should also think about things to make law abiding gun owners take a bit more care of their guns. For example, we could require them to keep a trigger lock on the gun when it’s in the home. You know, so that when their five-year-old finds the gun he can’t accidentally kill a friend. Or maybe we should make it a crime, punishable by significant jail time, if your gun is used (or maybe even touched) by a child. I’m sure that people worried about defending their homes from an intruder can still find a place to keep their gun where a small child can’t find it. We have very strict laws and punishments for underage drinking or even possession of alcohol (not to mention drugs); so why not have similar laws for children or the parents who enabled the child to have the weapon?

And why not a concept like “gun insurance”? Folks on the right love to talk about letting the market control things. Well, how would the insurance market change the gun industry and gun culture? Hey, we could build in exceptions for use of guns to prevent tyranny and stuff, but it seems to me that if your gun hurts someone (other than in real self-defense), than you should pay for those damages. If your gun is stolen and you don’t report it immediately (24 hours?), then you remain responsible. If you want a gun license, you need to present proof of insurance. If you want to purchase a gun, you have to present proof of insurance covering the type of gun you’re buying. Thus, a hunting rifle would probably have a lower premium than a Bushmaster .223.

While I understand the Second Amendment provides a right to bear arms, it says nothing about the right of the government to tax. So, for example, why not impose an enormous tax on guns (or at least certain classes of guns). Or, perhaps, we limit the tax to ammunition. The Constitution says nothing about the right to buy bullets. You want bullets but don’t want to pay the tax? Make your own. And why don’t we track ammunition sales, especially sales made in bulk? We track fertilizer sales. We track sales of Sudafed. But not bullets? That’s insane.

I suspect that many of the people who oppose additional gun regulations are the same people who favor racial profiling for crime prevention. Why then shouldn’t the police be able to use information on the sale of weapons and ammunition to help profile, anticipate, and maybe even prevent tragedies like Sandy Hook Elementary School?

And of course, the obvious elephant in the proverbial room is the types of weapons and equipment that are available. I’ve written before about what the Founding Fathers knew of when the wrote the Second Amendment. There is an enormous difference between a single-shot, muzzle-loading, flint-lock rifle and a 30-shot, semi-automatic assault rifle with armor piercing bullets wielded by a person clad in body-armor. Why do we allow individuals the ability to purchase and possess military-grade hardware? It’s not for hunting. And I doubt that these high capacity assault rifles are really that much use for individual defense against a burglar or rapist. Instead, I think that part of the allure of these weapons is the Red Dawn fantasy of standing up to tyranny (a subject that I’ll discuss more another time). But consider the true effectiveness of that Bushmaster .223 or any other assault rifle against an RPG, Abrams battle tank, drone with Hellfire missiles, F-18, stealth bomber, or any of the host of other weapons possessed by our military.

It seems to me that it is more than reasonable to limit the types of weapons that we allow. Similarly, it’s more than reasonable to restrict possession of expanded capacity magazines and things like armor piercing bullets. To those who ask where we draw the line, I’d respond in kind. Where do we draw the line? Why aren’t all explosives permitted? Can I walk down the street with an RPG or flamethrower? Am I allowed to own a sniper rifle with a range in excess of a mile? Can I have my own drone armed with missiles? A tank? Why not? Where are you drawing your line?

Yes, I like action movies and books. Maybe more than many. I’m a fan of Rambo and Reacher, Rain and Bourne, and all the others like them. But to those who think of themselves as a virtual superhero who, if confronted by a gun-wielding assailant could step in and rescue the day with their own gun … dream again. Sure, there might be some people out there with the training and skills to successfully intervene. But I’d be willing to bet that the crossfire would be as bad as or probably worse. Just look at the recent shooting in New York where the police shot several (9?) innocent people in the chaos and confusion. More guns on our streets will not make us safer. And guns in our classrooms? Seriously. Fuck no.

I’ve got more to say on the subject. Lots more. But it’s late. I’m tired and almost unbearably sad. Hopefully this post will be but the first of a many on the subject. More importantly, hopefully the thoughts at the core of this post will be echoed and repeated in other venues by other writers and by our elected leaders. Hopefully, the deaths of those children will lead to real change and a safer America.

Let me finish tonight with one last thought: If you agree with me that it’s time for the implementation of additional, reasonable gun regulations, then please don’t just nod your head as you read this. Pick up the phone and call your legislators (both state and federal). Right them a letter or send them an email. And then do it over and over again. Tweet them. Post on their Facebook wall. And tell your friends to do the same thing. Should you happen to be a member of the NRA, tear up your membership card and send the dues you would have paid next year to an organization like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

We can make a change. But only if we work at it. Only if we raise our voices. Only if we make our politicians understand that we’ve had enough. Only if we make it starkly clear that it’s time for them to prioritize our safety and the safety of our neighborhoods and schools over the blood money that they get from the NRA and the gun lobby. The power is ours. It’s time to exercise it. Now. Loudly.

Because if we don’t, then the next shooting might be closer to home. And then who will you have to blame? If your loved one doesn’t come home from the mall or movie or school and you didn’t call your Congressman… Answer that one on your own.

Good night.

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christianity & the Cross Aren’t Religions or Religious Symbols? Well, That’s What O’Reilly & Scalia Tell Us

I'm a bit short on time, but I really couldn't resist sharing some of this, especially after attending my son’s holiday band performance last night in which the “Hanukkah Medley” included an excerpt of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and in advance of my daughter’s choir performance next week in which she gets to sing four songs praising the birth and divinity of Jesus. Did I mention that she attends a public school?

Anyway, with that short lead in, I give you the following video from Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly.


Hopefully, at some point in the future, I'll have a chance to go through O'Reilly's "analysis" (sorry, I can't even write that without practically falling out of my chair laughing) line by line, but in the meantime, let's see how Jon Stewart responds:

For what it’s worth, I’ve asked several of my Christian friends if they view Christianity as a religion or a philosophy. Generally, I’ve been met with looks of disbelief at the idiocy of the question, but not one has agreed with the proposition that Christianity is a philosophy and not a religion.

While viewing these videos and reading a bit more on the subject, I came across an interesting article by Dahlia Lithwick (a great writer on legal issues) about a 2009 case before the Supreme Court. In Salazar v. Buono, the issue was a cross erected on public land. The decision in that case isn’t the issue; however, some of the comments from Justice Scalia during oral arguments are very illustrative of the worldview from which O’Reilly’s argument seems to spring:

[Justice Scalia] looks particularly queasy when Peter Eliasberg — the ACLU lawyer whose client objects to crosses on government land—suggests partway through the morning that perhaps a less controversial World War I memorial might consist of “a statue of a soldier which would honor all of the people who fought for America in World War I and not just the Christians.”

“The cross doesn’t honor non-Christians who fought in the war?” Scalia asks, stunned.

“A cross is the predominant symbol of Christianity, and it signifies that Jesus is the son of God and died to redeem mankind for our sins,” replies Eliasberg, whose father and grandfather are both Jewish war veterans.

“It’s erected as a war memorial!” replies Scalia. “I assume it is erected in honor of all of the war dead. The cross is the most common symbol of … of … of the resting place of the dead.”

Eliasberg dares to correct him: “The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of Christians. I have been in Jewish cemeteries. There is never a cross on a tombstone of a Jew.”

“I don't think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead the cross honors are the Christian war dead,” thunders Scalia. “I think that's an outrageous conclusion!”

Stephen Colbert agreed with Justice Scalia (in a way that only Colbert can…):

I’m curious to hear from my Christian readers (well, actually, from all of my readers): Is Christianity a religion or a philosophy? Is the cross a symbol of the Christian religion or … um … something else? Should a Jew, Muslim, or atheist object to a cross on his or her grave (or, I guess more appropriate, the grave of a loved one)?

Oh, and one more quick question: O’Reilly repeatedly talks about our country being founded on Judeo-Christian principles. I’ve found myself carelessly echoing that from time to time. But I’d really appreciate it if someone could identify precisely how our foundational documents reflect a Judeo-Christian philosophy. I don’t recall the Bible (Old Testament or New) talking about democracy or representative government. I seem to recall the Bible talking about monarchy not independent branches of government with checks and balances. Last I checked, the Bible included a deity giving commandments with humans obligated to follow those laws rather than humans electing leaders who then met to discuss which laws to adopt and enforce. I’ll agree that the Bible seemed to permit slavery, but that seems a shaky component to be the sole similarity between the Bible and our Constitution. I’m pretty sure that we’ve never gone in much for selling disobedient children or stoning those who work on the Sabbath. So really, what do we mean when we say that our country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles? And don’t go for the easy “be good to other people” mantra as your answer because I suspect that we’d find many religions (monotheistic or otherwise) share that core concept. No, what I want to know is what specific elements of the Judeo-Christian philosophy, unique from other religions and philosophies, formed a basis for our foundational documents.

When you find an answer, let me know. I’ll be waiting.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Palestinian Worldview: Through the Looking Glass, Mendacity & Threats (Part 2)

In Part 1 of The Palestinian Worldview: Through the Looking Glass, Mendacity & Threats, I wrote about Mahmoud Abbas’ speech to the United Nations General Assembly as that body considered the request to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state. But the rhetoric and vitriol of Abbas’ speech was but an appetizer to the speech given this past weekend in Gaza during the “celebration” of the 25th anniversary of the founding of Hamas.

The speech in question was given by Khaled Mashaal, the political leader of Hamas. Some refer to Mashaal as being “exiled” but I don’t think that is quite correct. His family chose to leave the West Bank after the 1967 Six Day War. He was later exiled, but not from Israel; rather, he was exiled from Jordan after that country outlawed Hamas. He has most recently lived in Syria until the breakdown in relations between Syria and Hamas as the Syrian uprising has taken root.

And so on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the founding of Hamas, Mashaal was able to visit Gaza for the first time ever, when Egypt, now controlled by Hamas’ “parent” the Muslim Brotherhood, allowed Mashaal to cross into Gaza. Um. What? Wait. I thought Gaza was “occupied” by Israel. But if Gaza is occupied, how exactly would the “exiled” leader be allowed in and, even more importantly, be able to make a public speech at an open air rally attended by tens of thousands? For those who like to compare Gaza to a Nazi concentration camp, can you point me a time when the Nazis allowed a Jewish leader to freely enter one of those camps and give a speech to the inmates in safety? Right. Didn’t think so.

Anyway, so let’s get on to Mashaal’s speech.

But first, a few visual aids from the rally to sort of set the mood (some of these should call to mind my previous post Hamas Child Care). As you view these images, please remember the words of Mahmoud Abbas that I quoted in Part 1: “[O]ur people always have strived not to lose their humanity, their highest, deeply-held moral values…”. And that’s why we have pictures of children in fatigues with missiles and guns and suicide belts!


I don’t know about you, but in this next picture, it looks like even the kid in the background is a bit incredulous about the fashion statement of the younger fellow in the foreground of the picture.

And look carefully at the crying child in the middle of this next photo. Unless I’m mistaken, not only is he wearing a machine gun with an ammo bandolier, but he’s also wearing a walkie-talkie on a suicide vest. Because, you know, what father doesn’t want to toss his screaming child up on a stage dressed with a gun and a suicide belt?

Hmm. I wonder what long term plans the parents of this baby might have for their child.

To further set the mood, here are a few pictures of the crowd and the stage. The giant rocket in the middle of the stage is apparently supposed to be Hamas’ version of the Iranian Fajr-5 that was launched toward Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Model of the M75 missile during a rally marking the 25th anniversary of the founding of Hamas, in Gaza City, 8 Dec 2012 Bonus photo (not from the rally, but too visually important to pass up):

Yes, that’s a Palestinian mother placing a “toy” suicide built on her child. What should we make of a culture that would do this? And what is the likelihood that this child will grow up with an understanding of or a desire for peace? (For more similar images, please my May 2009 post Hamas Child Care.)

OK. Now I really will get to Mashaal’s speech. Really. Are you strapped in and ready?

Excerpts and transcript from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (with some formatting corrections):

A. “The resistance”

“Liberating Palestine, all of Palestine, is an obligation, a privilege, an objective and a goal. It is the responsibility of the Palestinian people and of the Islamic nation … the jihad and the armed resistance are the true and correct way to liberation and to the restoration of our rights. There are different types of struggle — political, diplomatic, public, legal, etc. — but they are worthless without the resistance. This missile [Mashaal points to the model] is a symbol of the fact that policy is a product of the resistance. A true statesman is a product of the rifle and the missile.”

B. “Palestine from the river to the sea”

“Palestine — from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea, from the north to the south [i.e. all of Israel] — is our land and our right and our homeland; there will be no surrender of even the smallest piece of it. Palestine was and still is Arab and Islamic. Since Palestine is ours, and it is the land of the Arabs and Islam, it is unthinkable that we would recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation of it. There is no legitimacy for the occupation and no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how much time passes. Palestine belongs to us and not to the Zionists. Let me emphasize that we adhere to this fundamental principle: we do not recognize Israel or the legitimacy of the occupation or anything that’s happened in Palestine — the occupation, the settlements, Judaization, hijacking [our] history, falsifying [our] character … all of that is nullified. The Palestinian resistance will crush it and sweep it away, be it Allah’s will.”

“The West Bank, Gaza, the 1948 territories [Israel] — these are Palestinian lands, they are all Palestine. Not one part will be separated from any other part, and whoever thinks that Gaza can be separated from the West Bank is mistaken. Gaza and the West Bank cannot surrender Haifa, Jaffa, Beersheba and Safed [Israeli cities].”

C. Jerusalem

“Jerusalem is our eternal capital. We cling to her and we will liberate her inch by inch, quarter by quarter, stone by stone — Jerusalem and all the other places holy to Islam and to Christianity. Israel has no right to Jerusalem.”

D. Common platform with Fatah, based on “resistance”

“I am happy to see the diversity here among the leadership and the diversity in Fatah's flags… We are prepared to reach political agreements — on the Palestinian and on the Arabic level — on political platforms that are compatible with our political platform … we must not let any national plan come at the expense of our fundamental principles concerning the land, Jerusalem, the right of return, and the resistance… Let us reassess, draw conclusions, look for the options open to us, use our bargaining chips and bet on the resistance — the resistance that will continue to be the backbone of our plans.”

E. On the PA’s political moves

“Listen well, colleagues in the factions and forces: first liberation, then a state; a real state is a product of liberation and not of negotiations. There is no alternative to a free Palestinian state, with genuine sovereignty over all of Palestine's territory.”

F. The refugee question

“The right of return of all the refugees, the uprooted and the expelled, to Palestinian land — in Gaza, in the West Bank, in the 1948 territories [Israel] — the right of return is sacred to us, and we will not give it up… In this context I would like to say that this is an unshakable principle of Hamas. There will be neither a permanent settlement for refugees nor an alternative homeland. There is no substitute for Palestine…”

Peace? With that worldview? And if all of that wasn’t enough, here are a few more choice quotations (or alternate translations) from the transcript provided by MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute):

  • “Politics are born from the womb of resistance. The true statesman is born from the womb of the rifle and the missile.”
  • “Oh Palestinian statesmen, oh Arab and Muslim statesmen, learn your lesson from Gaza. Anyone who wishes to take the path of diplomacy must take a missile along with him. He must rely upon the infrastructure of the resistance. Your value, oh statesman, is derived from the value of resistance.”
  • “How wonderful was your shelling of Tel Aviv. May your hands be blessed. May your hands be blessed. We are proud of what you have done.”
  • “For us, resistance is the means, not the end. I say to the entire world, through the media: If the world finds a way other than through resistance and bloodshed to restore Palestine and Jerusalem to us, to implement the Right of Return, and to put an end to the loathsome Zionist occupation — we will welcome it. But we gave you a chance for 64 years, and you did not do a thing. That is why we opted for resistance. Don’t reproach us. If we had found another way — one that did not involve war and battle — we would have proceeded upon it, but history and the laws of Allah tell us that victory and liberation cannot be achieved without resistance, battle, and sacrifice.”

And I can’t omit this responsive chant:

Man: Oh Mash’al, our beloved…

Crowds: Oh Mash’al, our beloved…

Man: Your army shelled Tel Aviv…

Crowds: Your army shelled Tel Aviv…

Man: Your army struck Tel Aviv…

Crowds: Your army struck Tel Aviv…

Man: Oh Qassam, do it again…

Crowds: Oh Qassam, do it again…

Man: But this time, strike Haifa…

Crowds: But this time, strike Haifa…

Man: But this time, strike Jaffa…

Khaled Mash’al: Allah willing…

Man: Say: “Allah Akbar.”

Crowds: Allah Akbar.

There really isn’t much that I can say about this speech; it largely speaks for itself (sorry for the pun). That said, there are two quick historical clarifications to make for those who may read this speech but who don’t have a deep knowledge of the history of the region:

  • Mashaal makes reference to “Haifa, Jaffa, Beersheba and Safed” as a part of Palestine that cannot be separated from the West Bank and Gaza. The most important point to note here is that Safed has been the home to Jews since the time of the Biblical Twelve Tribes; in the 1500s, the Ottoman census recognized that the town was about one-half Jewish families with 32 synagogues. The other cities are within present-day Israel.
  • Mashaal also claims that “Jerusalem is our eternal capital”. However, this simply isn’t so. Jerusalem has never been the capital of a Palestinian state (and, for that matter, there has never been a Palestinian state). When Jews pray, they turn and face Jerusalem. When Muslims pray, including Palestinians, they don’t face Jerusalem; they face Mecca. When Jordan occupied East Jerusalem, the Palestinians weren’t demanding return of their “eternal capital” from Jordan. Most importantly, Jerusalem has always had a Jewish population (controversy exists over precise demographic data and the relative percentages of Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Jerusalem).

Here is video for those interested in seeing excerpted portions of Mashaal’s speech (with translation from MEMRI):

Finally, in last week’s post Palestinian Statehood (repost plus a few new thoughts) I included the yellow flag of Fatah, the largest faction in the Palestine Liberation Organization and the party in control of the Palestinian Authority. Well just this past weekend, the Palestinian Authority published the new logo that Fatah is using to celebrate it’s 48th anniversary:

Once again, note that the logo depicts all of Israel and not just the West Bank and Gaza. Two states fro two peoples, huh?


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Monday, December 10, 2012

The Palestinian Worldview: Through the Looking Glass, Mendacity & Threats (Part 1)

Last week, I reposted some older thoughts on Palestinian statehood (with a few bonus new ideas, too). Then, over the weekend, I read what Hamas’ leader said during a massive open air rally in Gaza (more on that in part 2, hopefully a bit later this week). I realized then that I’d never taken the time to read Mahmoud Abbas’ speech to the United Nations General Assembly and so I took some time to do so. Wow. I think a few parts of his speech are worth reading and deserve some comment. If you want to read the entire speech, you can find it on the website of the Council on Foreign Relations. (Note that the excerpts of the speech below are in order, but I have omitted those paragraphs that I chose not to discuss; you can read the whole think at the above link.) But by and large I think that I can safely say that the world and worldview that Abbas describes in his address to the UN reflects nothing so much as a mirror universe in which right is wrong, up is down, the sun rises in the West, and … well, you get the point. Read on and see what I mean.

So here is how Abbas began his address:

Palestine comes today to the United Nations General Assembly at a time when it is still tending to its wounds and still burying its beloved martyrs of children, women and men who have fallen victim to the latest Israeli aggression, still searching for remnants of life amid the ruins of homes destroyed by Israeli bombs on the Gaza Strip, wiping out entire families, their men, women and children murdered along with their dreams, their hopes, their future and their longing to live an ordinary life and to live in freedom and peace.

Palestine comes today to the General Assembly because it believes in peace and because its people, as proven in past days, are in desperate need of it.

Note a few things: First, the West Bank is relatively peaceful. Rockets haven’t been launched from the West Bank and Israel hasn’t sent airstrikes into the West Bank. The violence Abbas talks about was all in Gaza. And though he may say that Palestine “believes in peace” the unabated rain of missiles upon Israel would seem to bring that belief into question. And note further that in a speech, supposedly about peace, there is talk about Israeli bombs “murdering” families, but no comment at all about Hamas’ aggression towards Israel or about Israelis killed or wounded. Do the Israelis who live in fear of Hamas rockets not want peace, too?

The Israeli aggression against our people in the Gaza Strip has confirmed once again the urgent and pressing need to end the Israeli occupation and for our people to gain their freedom and independence. This aggression also confirms the Israeli Government's adherence to the policy of occupation, brute force and war, which in turn obliges the international community to shoulder its responsibilities towards the Palestinian people and towards peace.

This is why we are here today.

I say with great pain and sorrow… there was certainly no one in the world that required that tens of Palestinian children lose their lives in order to reaffirm the above-mentioned facts. There was no need for thousands of deadly raids and tons of explosives for the world to be reminded that there is an occupation that must come to an end and that there are a people that must be liberated. And, there was no need for a new, devastating war in order for us to be aware of the absence of peace.

Again, note how he frames things entirely as Israeli aggression, as if there was no cause whatsoever for Israel to institute its action against Hamas in Gaza. If you were to just read Abbas, without having followed any news, you’d think that Israel decided one fine fall afternoon that it was bored and felt like murdering some Palestinians for fun. Note too that he talks about the “occupation” without noting that there is no occupation of Gaza! Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and only instituted a blockade when Hamas came to power. Had Hamas not launched those rockets, Gaza would have peace and there wouldn’t be a blockade. And there is no occupation of Gaza!

Abbas is right that there was “no need for thousands of deadly raids and tons of explosives”; however, I think that he was referring to the Israeli effort to destroy Hamas’ rockets rather than the terrorist raids and indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza toward Israel. Had Hamas not launched rockets, there wouldn’t have been either raids or explosives.

And here is the paragraph that I found to be the most galling:

The Palestinian people, who miraculously recovered from the ashes of Al-Nakba of 1948, which was intended to extinguish their being and to expel them in order to uproot and erase their presence, which was rooted in the depths of their land and depths of history. In those dark days, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were torn from their homes and displaced within and outside of their homeland, thrown from their beautiful, embracing, prosperous country to refugee camps in one of the most dreadful campaigns of ethnic cleansing and dispossession in modern history. In those dark days, our people had looked to the United Nations as a beacon of hope and appealed for ending the injustice and for achieving justice and peace, the realization of our rights, and our people still believe in this and continue to wait.

I’ll forgive the use of the term Al-Nakba (though referring to the creation of Israel with the Arabic term “the Catastrophe” isn’t exactly a peace-seeking olive branch). But look at the next thing Abbas claims about Israeli independence: He says it “was intended to extinguish [the Palestinian people’s] being and expel them in order to uproot and erase their presence…” Really? Is that why the United Nations adopted a partition that called for two states, one Jewish and one Palestinian? Is that why Israel accepted the partition and the Arab states invaded? Is that why Jordan and Egypt captured and did not relinquish the land set aside for the Palestinians? Is that why the Israeli declaration of independence called for peace with all of its neighbors?

Note next the casual reference to the “hundreds of thousands of Palestinians … torn from their homes and displaced” from their “prosperous country to refugee camps” in a campaign of “ethnic cleansing”. That would all be great if it was, you know, true. Yes, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced, and yes, some by the acts of Israelis (or Jews prior to the declaration of statehood). But many of those displaced left of their own accord or at the behest of the invading Arab armies. Unfortunately, Palestinian leadership has repeated this part-truth/part-lie so many times over the last 65 years that their own populace now believes the myth in its entirety. As to those refugee camps, ask yourself why the Palestinian Authority, which has controlled the West Bank since 1993 or so, still maintains refugee camps? Ethnic cleansing? Go back to my prior post and read what the Palestinians have to say about Jews living in the West Bank. Oh, and don’t forget the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were forced to leave Arab countries after the formation of Israel.

In the course of our long national struggle, our people have always strived to ensure harmony and conformity between the goals and means of their struggle and international law and spirit of the era in accordance with prevailing realities and changes. And, our people always have strived not to lose their humanity, their highest, deeply-held moral values and their innovative abilities for survival, steadfastness, creativity and hope, despite the horrors that befell them and continue befall them today as a consequence of Al-Nakba and its horrors.

Stop! Go back and read that again. I’ll wait. OK. You done yet? Picked your jaw up off the floor? I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me. But I can’t seem to find the citation to international law that says that it was cool to attack and murder athletes at the Olympics. Or to hijack airplanes and cruise ships. Or to bomb airplanes. Or schools. Or pizza parlors and discotheques. Or to create suicide vests with ball bearings laced with rat poison. To have women pretend that they were pregnant to smuggle explosives. To teach children that the highest aspiration is to grow up to be a shaheed (martyr, often as a suicide bomber). And when I remember that it is the Palestinians who have had a children’s television show (loosely based on Sesame Street) that advocates martyrdom and espouses outright racism towards Jews, it’s hard to square with the notion that the Palestinians have done much not to lose their “deeply-held” moral values. Remind me which moral value names a soccer tournament after a terrorist? Which deeply-held moral value causes a man to grab a child and smash her head against a rock? Which deeply-held moral value leads to throwing a disabled man (in a wheelchair, no less) over the side of a hijacked cruise ship. Which moral value repeats, almost ad nauseum that Jews use the blood of Muslim children to bake Passover matzah, argues that the Holocaust was a myth (have I reminded you that Abbas’ doctoral dissertation was a Holocaust denial screed?), or that Judaism has no attachment to Jerusalem. Need I go on? I’ll give him one point though: Palestinians have certainly been creative in their ability to think up new ways to try to kill Israelis and Jews.

We have not heard one word from any Israeli official expressing any sincere concern to save the peace process.

Hmm. So I guess Abbas never listened to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the UN just 60 days before Abbas’ speech, in which Netanyahu said:

We won't solve our conflict with libelous speeches at the UN. That's not the way to solve it. We won't solve our conflict with unilateral declarations of statehood.

We have to sit together, negotiate together, and reach a mutual compromise, in which a demilitarized Palestinian state recognizes the one and only Jewish State.

Israel wants to see a Middle East of progress and peace. We want to see the three great religions that sprang forth from our region — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — coexist in peace and in mutual respect.

Or perhaps Abbas forget the following comments from Netanyahu, issued in response to Abbas’ own refusal to negotiate until Israel freezes settlement construction:

In the UN I said to President Abbas, “Look, we’re in the same city. We’re in the same building, for God’s sake, the UN. Let’s just sit down and begin to talk peace.” Why are we talking about talking? Why negotiating about negotiating? It’s very simple. If you want to get to peace put all your preconditions on the side. Sit down opposite a table.

But in Abbas’ black is white, inside out, topsy-turvy world, those statements by Netanyahu apparently don’t show a sincere concern to save the peace process while Abbas’ refusal to negotiate does show such a concern. Huh?

Anyway, back to Abbas:

However, above all and after all, I affirm that our people will not relinquish their inalienable national rights, as defined by United Nations resolutions. And our people cling to the right to defend themselves against aggression and occupation and they will continue their popular, peaceful resistance and their epic steadfastness and will continue to build on their land. And, they will end the division and strengthen their national unity. We will accept no less than the independence of the State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, on all the Palestinian territory occupied in 1967, to live in peace and security alongside the State of Israel, and a solution for the refugee issue on the basis of resolution 194 (III), as per the operative part of the Arab Peace Initiative.

Peaceful resistance, huh? I’m not sure that rockets from Gaza or suicide bombers count as “peaceful resistance”. And note the formulation that Abbas uses before negotiations even begin: “We will accept no less than the independence of the State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, on all the Palestinian territory occupied in 1967…”. (For a discussion on the importance of this phrase, see my post Palestinian Statehood (repost plus a few new thoughts), in particular the discussion toward the end of that post.) If the Palestinians will accept no less than that, then what, pray tell, is the point of negotiation? If you will accept no less than everything that you want (wait, has Abbas been listening to Congressional Republicans?), then what is does Israel gain by “negotiation”? An end to the “peaceful resistance”?

Sixty-five years ago on this day, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 181 (II), which partitioned the land of historic Palestine into two States and became the birth certificate for Israel.

Sixty-five years later and on the same day, which your esteemed body has designated as the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, the General Assembly stands before a moral duty, which it must not hesitate to undertake, and stands before a historic duty, which cannot endure further delay, and before a practical duty to salvage the chances for peace, which is urgent and cannot be postponed.

The General Assembly is called upon today to issue a birth certificate of the reality of the State of Palestine.

Of course, had the Palestinians accepted their own birth certificate back in 1947, then we might have had 65 years of peace instead of 65 years of war. The UN has already issued the birth certificate that Abbas wants, but his people took it, ripped it up, and commenced a half-century of warfare and terror. And now the Palestinians want the world to forget that they rejected the chance for peace; they want to be rewarded for their “peaceful resistance” of war and terror.

(In Part 2 of this post, I’ll look at this past weekend’s Hamas rally in Gaza. If you haven’t heard what Hamas’ leaders had to say… well, stay tuned. Oh, and just wait for some of the pictures!)


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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Palestinian Statehood (repost plus a few new thoughts)

In September 2011, I wrote about the Palestinian plan to seek statehood from the United Nations. In light of last week’s vote to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state, I think that it’s worth reposting my thoughts from last year as, unfortunately, not much has changed.

This month, the Palestinian Authority will petition the United Nations to recognize a universal declaration of independence (UDI) that will form an independent nation of Palestine. The United States has vowed to veto this act in the Security Council, preferring instead for issues to be resolved via negotiation rather than unilateral acts. Presuming that the veto is cast, the Palestinian Authority will then petition the General Assembly for something just short of statehood (which only the Security Council can, apparently, recognize). Given the makeup of the General Assembly, this petition will almost certainly pass (just think about it: How many Arab and Muslim countries are represented in the United Nations?) with, most likely, overwhelming support. As Abba Eban once said: “If Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions.”

This whole endeavor raises several interesting points that are, I think, worth at least discussing.

First, why now? In 1947, the United Nations voted to accept a partition plan creating an Arab state and a Jewish state. The Jews accepted the partition plan and announced the creation of Israel. By contrast, the Arabs rejected the partition and launched a war against Israel, which eventually resulted in a cease fire, a victorious Israel, and a host of defeated Arab armies. So why didn’t the Arabs (note that they weren’t really called Palestinians in 1947…) accept the partition?

More critically, let’s look at what happened at the conclusion of the 1948 war. The new nation of Israel was now a fact (though with almost completely indefensible cease fire lines serving as a de facto, though not de jure, border). And Jordan occupied the area now most commonly known as the West Bank while Egypt occupied Gaza. That was largely the status quo until 1967. So query why the Palestinians didn’t seek independence or statehood from Jordan or Egypt during that 20-year period?

It is also worth remembering that during that 20-year period, Jews were not allowed to visit East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City of Jerusalem and the holiest place in Judaism. Subsequent to the Israeli capture of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel not only continued to allow Muslims to access their holy sites in the Old City, they even allowed the Arab Waqf to maintain control over the Temple Mount and al-Aqsa Mosque.

Another thing to note about this timeline: The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was founded, not in 1967 when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza, but rather in 1964. So, at the time of its formation, what exactly did the PLO want to liberate? That’s right, the goal of the PLO was not to create an independent Palestine next to Israel, but rather, in place of Israel.

It is also worth noting that over the last 15 years or so, the Palestinian Authority has been offered an independent state by Israel over virtually all of the West Bank and all of Gaza. The borders of these offers were largely based on the 1967 armistice lines with swaps of land so that large Jewish communities would remain part of Israel. But, in each case, the Palestinians rejected the offer. Think about that for a minute. The offers extended to the Palestinians gave them almost everything that they wanted, but still they said no.

And now they’re looking to the United Nations to give them what they didn’t take when offered in 1947, didn’t take when they were occupied by their own “allies” from 1948 through 1967, and didn’t take when offered, repeatedly, by Israel in the course of negotiations.

One possible answer to the “why now” query is a bit counterintuitive. I have to wonder whether the Palestinians so expected President Obama to “be on their side” that they’ve come to the recognition that the current American position is as good as it’s going to get for them. I personally don’t think that President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus or made substantial changes in American policy toward Israel (though I will agree that he has made some mistakes, in particular his efforts to get Israel to agree to a settlement freeze, though I understand the reasoning). But if an African American President that many Americans believed to be a “sekrit Muslim” isn’t going to push Israel to bend over and … er, to surrender to Palestinian demands, and if there is the possibility of a far right Christian Zionist to be elected, then the Palestinians may think that they need to act now.

And the Palestinians refuse to engage in additional negotiations with Israel. Why? Because the Palestinians demand that Israel halt settlement activity in the West Bank before they will resume negotiations. Forget that a settlement freeze had never been a demand of the Palestinians in the past prior to engaging in negotiations and forget that one of the things to be negotiated is the actual border between Israel and a newly independent Palestine. Forget too that Israel has agreed that land swaps would be a part of that negotiation. But do ask yourself this: Why is a cessation of settlement activity so important to the Palestinians?

The answer you’ll most often hear from Palestinians is that settlement activity is an attempt by Israel to pre-establish the borders or a “land grab”. But when we recall that final borders are a part of the negotiations and that final borders will include land swaps, then this argument doesn’t really make much sense, does it? If the negotiations are supposed to include land swaps, then why does it matter if Israel gets one particular parcel on which Jews have built houses if the Palestinians are given a reasonably equal parcel in its place?

No, the real answer is much more insidious, though you rarely hear this from the Palestinians. They don’t want any more settlements because they don’t want to swap land. Rather, they want all of what they think is theirs. But here’s the problem. The Palestinians don’t want Jewish communities in the newly independent state of Palestine. In fact, just last week, the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to the United States admitted that:

The Palestine Liberation Organization's ambassador to the United States said Tuesday that any future Palestinian state it seeks with help from the United Nations and the United States should be free of Jews.

"After the experience of the last 44 years of military occupation and all the conflict and friction, I think it would be in the best interest of the two people to be separated," Maen Areikat, the PLO ambassador, said during a meeting with reporters sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor. He was responding to a question about the rights of minorities in a Palestine of the future.

Ah, you say. But the headline of the USA Today article says he didn’t really mean Jews, just Israelis. Um, not so fast. Note that USA Today doesn’t tell us the exact question that prompted the response, but The Jerusalem Post does provide that information:

When asked by Jamie Weinstein, senior editor and columnist for The Daily Caller, whether a Jew could be elected mayor of Ramallah in an independent Palestinian state, Areikat said, “after the experience of 44 years of military occupation and all the conflict and friction, I think it will be in the best interests of the two peoples to be separated first.”

Hmm. So somehow, querying whether a Jew (not an Israeli) could be elected mayor of Ramallah, the Palestinian ambassador to the United States says that the “two peoples” should be separated. Now one would presume, wouldn’t one, that you’d have to be a citizen of Palestine to be elected mayor of a Palestinian city. So the ambassador is, in effect, saying that Jews and Palestinians (not Israelis and Palestinians) should be separated and that a Palestinian Jew (remember that they are an enormous number of Muslim Israelis…) could not be elected mayor of a Palestinian city.

Ah, you say, but he must have simply been misunderstood or he didn’t understand the question or that’s not what he really meant or …. Nope. Sorry. Here’s what Ambassador Areikat said a year ago (formatting revised for readability purposes):

Interviewer: When you imagine a future Palestinian state, do you imagine it being a place where Jews, if they wish to become Palestinian citizens, could own property, vote in elections, and practice their religion freely?

Areikat: I remember in the mid-’90s, the late [PLO official] Faisal Husseini said repeatedly “OK, if Israelis choose to stay in a future Palestinian state, they are more than welcome to do that. But under one condition: They have to respect and obey Palestinian laws, they cannot be living as Israelis. They have to respect Palestinian laws and abide by them.” When Faisal Husseini died, basically no Palestinian leader has publicly supported the notion that they can stay.

What we are saying is the following: We need to separate. We have to separate. We are in a forced marriage. We need to divorce. After we divorce, and everybody takes a period of time to recoup, rebound, whatever you want to call it, we may consider dating again.

Interviewer: So, you think it would be necessary to first transfer and remove every Jew—

Areikat: Absolutely. No, I’m not saying to transfer every Jew, I’m saying transfer Jews who, after an agreement with Israel, fall under the jurisdiction of a Palestinian state.

Interviewer: Any Jew who is inside the borders of Palestine will have to leave?

Areikat: Absolutely. I think this is a very necessary step, before we can allow the two states to somehow develop their separate national identities, and then maybe open up the doors for all kinds of cultural, social, political, economic exchanges, that freedom of movement of both citizens of Israelis and Palestinians from one area to another. You know you have to think of the day after.

(And note that in that same interview, the Ambassador claims that ancient Israel was never in Jerusalem. Seriously.)

People accuse Israel of Apartheid and “ethnic cleansing” all the time (though usually without any sort of context or understanding of those terms). Yet here are the Palestinians petitioning the United Nations to recognize their new state that they acknowledge will, in fact, exclude Jews. You tell me which is the “Apartheid regime”? Israel, which grants the 20% of its population that is Muslim full voting rights and participation in civil society (including, among other things proportional representation in the Knesset, a judge on the Supreme Court, ambassadorships and consul postings to other nations, and participation on Israeli sports teams and beauty pageants [Miss Israel 1999 was an Arab]), or Palestine which will be essentially judenfrei (free of Jews)?

Can you imagine the international outrage if Israel’s ambassador to anywhere were to say that a Muslim could not be elected Mayor of an Israeli town, to the Knesset, to the Supreme Court, or participate in another part of Israeli civil society? But if a Palestinian admits this, well, that’s OK. Certainly Israeli politicians who have said anything similar have been (rightly) lambasted.

Even some Palestinians are troubled by Ambassador Areikat’s statements, but not for the reason you’d expect:

[T]he real victims of the [Ambassador]’s espousal of apartheid will not be Jews — whom the PA already conceded would remain in settlements to be annexed to Israel — but Palestinian citizens of Israel.

That’s right. The real victims would be Palestinians because Israel, being an Apartheid state and all, would use those statements as justification to ethnically cleanse Arab and Muslim citizens of Israel.

To be fair, at least one representative of the Palestinian Authority has tried to walk back Ambassador Areikat’s statements, as has the Ambassador himself:

Trying to tamp down a controversy over whether a Palestinian state would be Jew-free, Mahmoud Habbash, the Palestinian minister of religious affairs, said a future state would be open to people of all religions, including Jews.

“The future Palestinian state will be open to all its citizens, regardless of their religion,” Habbash said, according to USA Today. “We want a civil state, which in it live all the faiths, Muslim, Christian and Jews also if they agree, (and) accept to be Palestinian citizens.”

Maen Areikat, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s ambassador to the United States, told POLITICO that his comments earlier this week which some interpreted as meaning Jews would not be welcome were misconstrued.

“In no way was there a suggestion that Jews cannot enter Palestine or be in Palestinian state in the future,” Areikat said.

So which statement do you find more credible?

Of course it’s not just Jews who will be unwelcome in Palestine. Gays aren’t welcome, either:

In response to a query from John McCormack from The Weekly Standard about whether homosexuals would be tolerated in a newly-formed Palestinian state, “Ah, this is an issue that’s beyond my [authority].” said Areikat.

Nor, for that matter, are Palestinians.

Um, what was that? Yep, you read that right. Even though the goal is an independent state of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza, citizenship in that new nation won’t be extended to Palestinian “refugees”, including those (and their descendants) who have been living in refugee camps for 60 years or more! Nor will Palestinians who don’t presently live in the new state of Palestine have a right to claim citizenship. Thus, the Palestinian “refugees” (and their descendants) living in Jordan, Syria, or elsewhere in the Middle East (or the world), won’t be entitled to claim Palestinian citizenship. That’s what the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to Lebanon told Lebanon’s The Daily Star:

Palestinian refugees will not become citizens of a new Palestinian state, according to Palestine’s ambassador to Lebanon.

From behind a desk topped by a miniature model of Palestine’s hoped-for blue United Nations chair, Ambassador Abdullah Abdullah spoke to The Daily Star Wednesday about Palestine’s upcoming bid for U.N. statehood.

The ambassador unequivocally says that Palestinian refugees would not become citizens of the sought for U.N.-recognized Palestinian state, an issue that has been much discussed. “They are Palestinians, that’s their identity,” he says. “But … they are not automatically citizens.”

This would not only apply to refugees in countries such as Lebanon, Egypt, Syria and Jordan or the other 132 countries where Abdullah says Palestinians reside. Abdullah said that “even Palestinian refugees who are living in [refugee camps] inside the [Palestinian] state, they are still refugees. They will not be considered citizens.”

Abdullah said that the new Palestinian state would “absolutely not” be issuing Palestinian passports to refugees.

How can that be and, more importantly, why?

The unfortunate answer to the “how” is that the world simply doesn’t pay attention. The Palestinians can largely do or say anything and bear no responsibility. They can continue to air television programs that encourage martyrdom, they can honor suicide bombers, they can use textbooks that omit Israel entirely or claim that the Holocaust didn’t happen (raise your hand if you knew that “moderate” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ doctoral thesis claimed that “only” several hundred thousand Jews were killed in the Holocaust and calls the “claim” that 6 million were killed a “Zionist fantasy”). And they can try to establish a Jew-free, gay-free nation that won’t even open citizenship to other Palestinians. And the world will turn a blind eye.

Ah, but why? Now that is the more interesting question. Let’s think that one through. First, if the Palestinians living abroad were to suddenly return to their new homeland, how easily could the new nation absorb and integrate that population? Don’t forget that Israel absorbed refugees from the Holocaust as well as about 800,000 Jews who left or were forced to leave Arab countries, plus another 100,000 or so Ethiopian Jews (oh, and for those who claim that Israel is a “racist” country, I’d really like to hear them explain that view to the black Ethiopian Jews that Israel had to rescue via airlift…). I mean, come on, we’d hate for the new government of Palestine to have to, you known, strain itself to take care of the Palestinian people. And note that the Palestinian Authority has even claimed that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the agency responsible for Palestinian [and only Palestinian] “refugees”, must continue to be responsible for Palestinian “refugees” in Palestine; the new government won’t assume that responsibility.

But there is an even more important reason that citizenship won’t be extended to Palestinian “refugees” already living in the West Bank or Gaza. You see, if those people were citizens of Palestine, it would be hard for them (or the PLO) to argue that they should also have a “right of return” to Israel. But by preventing the “refugees” from becoming citizens of Palestine, the “promise” of a right of return to Israel remains intact. If those “refugees” become citizens of Palestine, then they have no reason to need to “return” and, in essence, the original partition plan will be largely operative. But if those “refugees” remain just that — “refugees” — then they can continue to agitate for their “right to return” to Israel, a major issue of contention between Israel and the Palestinians will remain unresolved, and those “refugees” will remain either a weapon or bargaining chip in the ongoing conflict.

And just in case you think I’m making this up, let’s go back to that interview with the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to Lebanon:

Neither this definitional status nor U.N. statehood, Abdullah says, would affect the eventual return of refugees to Palestine. “How the issue of the right of return will be solved I don’t know, it’s too early [to say], but it is a sacred right that has to be dealt with and solved [with] the acceptance of all.” He says statehood “will never affect the right of return for Palestinian refugees.”

The right of return that Abdullah says is to be negotiated would not only apply to those Palestinians whose origins are within the 1967 borders of the state, he adds. “The state is the 1967 borders, but the refugees are not only from the 1967 borders. The refugees are from all over Palestine. When we have a state accepted as a member of the United Nations, this is not the end of the conflict. This is not a solution to the conflict. This is only a new framework that will change the rules of the game.”

Furthermore, when considering this point, remember that the Palestinians claim to support a two state solution. Yet by holding out the promise of a “right of return” they are, in essence, still laboring toward a one state solution. Should Israel be compelled to permit millions of Palestinian “refugees” to “return” to Israel, then the demographic character of Israel as a majority Jewish nation would be destroyed and, even were Israel to remain (briefly) democratic, it would quickly become just another Arab state and probably become linked with Palestine. Oh, and remember what I said before about Palestine being judenfrei?

Two final points: The goal of the negotiations toward a two state solution is to eventually have a Palestinian state and a Jewish state. That could prove difficult:

That’s right. The President of the Palestinian Authority said, just a few weeks ago, that the Palestinians could never recognize Israel as a Jewish state. And he notes that the “refugee” problem will never be solved by the Palestinian state. Well, then.

And I also thought that a point of symbolism chosen by the Palestinians was also important, but not for the same understanding:

The Palestinian Authority chose the mother of 4 terrorist murderers, one of whom killed seven Israeli civilians and attempted to killed [sic] twelve others, as the person to launch their statehood campaign with the UN. In a widely publicized event, the PA had Latifa Abu Hmeid lead the procession to the UN offices in Ramallah and to hand over a letter for the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.

The official PA daily reported that she launched the UN campaign last week, and noted that she is the “mother of seven prisoners and of the Shahid (Martyr) Abd Al-Mun'im Abu Hmeid.” However, the paper did not mention that 4 of her imprisoned sons are murderers.

What does it say of the Palestinians that they chose this woman, of all possible representatives of the Palestinian people, to launch their bid for statehood from the United Nations? Of course, given that former PLO Chairman and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat once addressed the United Nations while wearing a holster (his aides say it was empty) and that the Palestinian Authority continues to name streets and squares after and hold soccer tournaments in the name of terrorists, then I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised.

So anyway, when you hear about the Palestinian petition for statehood, remember to think about some of the issues that you may not otherwise hear about.

There is one further critical point of which I just became aware yesterday. The formulation for peace negotiations for the last twenty or more years has been on the general basis of the 1949 armistice lines (the so-called 1967 border, pre-1967 border, or the Green Line) with agreed upon land swaps. That last bit is critical because that is how the issue of Israeli settlements (especially those that are essentially suburbs of Jerusalem) will be resolved (and perhaps the issue of some Arab communities within Israel). However, the resolution adopted by the United Nations speaks only of a Palestinian state “on the basis of the pre-1967 borders” without mention of land swaps and recognizes “the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence in their State of Palestine on the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967”.*

Moreover, the UN resolution mentions nothing about Israeli security, failing for example, to note the text of Security Resolution 242 (adopted in the aftermath of the Six Day War) which notes the “right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force." The reason that Resolution 242 did not demand that Israel give back all of the land captured in 1967 was the recognition that those pre-1967 borders were indefensible.

So how now does Abbas go back to his population and say, “Gee, the UN said that we should get everything in the pre-1967 borders but we’re actually going to give some land to Israel while they give us some?” In other words, how does he sell his people on something less (or at least) other than what the UN has recognized? The text of the resolution adopted by the UN will, unfortunately, make peace more difficult to achieve.

You might also be interested to read Are Israeli Settlements Really Such a Problem? A Primer (posted in November 2009).

*I hate to be hyper-technical (OK, so maybe I don’t really mind…), but there was no “Palestinian territory” occupied in 1967. No nation of Palestine has ever existed. Prior to the 1947 partition plan, all of the land was occupied and controlled by Britain. In 1947, there could have been a Palestine, but the Arabs rejected the UN partition plan. Moreover, at the end of the 1948 war, there was no Palestinian land or Palestinian state. Instead, Jordan occupied and controlled the West Bank and Egypt occupied and controlled the Gaza Strip. So, when Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, those lands were taken from Jordan and Egypt, not from “Palestine” or the “Palestinians”. So one has to wonder whether the UN reference to “Palestinian territory occupied since 1967” is merely a reference to the West Bank and Gaza or actually a broader reference to all of Israel. Perhaps if we look at the emblem of the Palestine Liberation Organization (recognized by the UN as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”), we can find an answer to this question:

Hmm. Is it my imagination or does that green image in the middle of the emblem resemble the current state of Israel plus the West Bank plus Gaza?

Perhaps we should look, instead, at the flag of Fatah, the largest political party in the PLO and the current ruling party in the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank:

It’s a bit harder to make out, but once again, the green “stripe” in the middle of the flag is all of Israel, not just the West Bank and Gaza.

So perhaps that is the answer as to what is meant by occupied “Palestinian territory”.


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