Friday, March 20, 2015

The Truth of Bibi's Lie

Every time one thinks that the rabbit hole of U.S.-Israel relations has reached its nadir, something comes along to dig it even deeper. This past week’s election in Israel is the latest ‘something.’ In the weeks leading up to the elections, Prime Minister Netanyahu evidently feared that his mandate for a fourth term was in trouble, and he resorted to extraordinary expedients. First, he flew to the United States to give an impassioned speech to a cheering U.S Congress in the attempt to torpedo in advance the Obama Administration’s current attempts to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran, and to raise the specter of a new war. Still not satisfied, and fearing the desertion of his right-wing supporters, Bibi began to make desperate fear-mongering statements about the Palestinian threat: on the day before the election, he said openly what he had hinted at before, that there would never be a Palestinian state so long as he remained in office. Then he raised the fear level even higher, insisting that Israeli Arabs (who are citizens of Israel) were coming out to “vote in droves,” and indeed being bused to the polls by left-wing organizations intent on destroying the Israeli state.
            Each of these statements elicited a storm of criticism, both from President Obama’s White House, and from many European leaders, several of whom indicated that if Israel under Netanyahu was foreclosing the possibility of a Palestinian state—the core of U.S. policy for resolving the “conflict” between Israel and the Palestinians for decades—then the United States (and Europe) might have to rethink their policy of defending Israel, especially with vetoes in the United Nations. Nonetheless, Bibi plunged gaily onward, and when the election results were counted on Wednesday, he emerged triumphant once again. His fear-mongering and war posturing had apparently worked just as planned. The Israeli people, or enough of them to give him the victory, responded to the ‘security crisis’ he had evoked, and backed to the hilt both his racist remarks about Palestinian voters and his open repudiation of any idea of Palestinian statehood.
            But of course, that wasn’t the end of it. For Bibi Netanyahu is nothing if not a pandering, pusillanimous, prevaricating politician. Reading the alarm in both Israeli and foreign councils about what his remarks predicted, he knew he had to “walk back” what he had said so openly. And the walking back began almost as soon as he made his victory statements. He wasn’t going back on his commitment to Palestinian statehood, he insisted. He had merely said that conditions for that statehood, at present, were “not achievable.” As he said to ABC News, “I was talking about what is achievable and what is not achievable. We have to have real negotiations with people who are committed to peace.” Ah yes. Bibi wasn’t saying anything new (which he was, and only a craven press would let him get away with such open, outrageous lying): he was just re-emphasizing what he, and Israeli politicians, have always said: we need a partner for peace. We need someone we can rely on to uphold a peace agreement. And that someone would, naturally, be some brave quisling willing to ‘recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.’
            Ali Abunimah in his most recent book, The Battle for Justice in Palestine, has some crucial things to say about this last idea: Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. This is because, Abunimah points out, this alleged “right” is really an insistence that Palestinians must not only give up their right to self-determination (a right that they, as the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine, have greater claim to than the Israelis who are not indigenous, but rather immigrants from Europe, and indeed, colonizers of the land once belonging exclusively to Palestinians), but also their right to continue as a people at all. Here is how Abunimah somewhat ironically puts it:
            “Palestinian parents are trampling all over Israel’s right to maintain a Jewish majority by having children,” and their babies, by virtue of not being born to Jewish parents, are violating Israel’s right merely by living and breathing. Israelis themselves see the births of non-Jewish babies—whether to Palestinian citizens of the state or in the occupied territories—as an assault on their rights and on the very existence of Israel. The routine use by politicians and media of the term “demographic threat” to describe these babies attests to this phenomenon (p. 23).
So if the Palestinians, to have any chance of a ‘peace process’ leading to a state, are to give up their right to continue (reproduce) as a people, then who would inhabit such a state? If they are to agree to Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, which, according to writer Joseph Massad, translates into Israel’s right “to colonize Palestinian land, occupy it, and discriminate against the non-Jewish Palestinian people,” then what kind of state, what kind of self-determination can that possibly lead to? The answer, of course, is: none at all. And that is precisely what Israel’s real policy has been for years, and what Bibi Netanyahu, in his desperation before last week’s election, actually let slip from the shadows.
            This position—official Israel’s longstanding and usually covertly-expressed opposition to ever granting the Palestinians a state of their own—has been analyzed and understood for years by most informed commentators on the so-called ‘peace process’ that U.S. negotiators have long promoted. I wrote about this recently in a blog called ‘Fake Process, Fake Peace’ (July 29, 2013), reviewing Prof. Rashid Khalidi’s brilliant analysis of the “peace brokering” done by several American administrations in his book, Brokers of Deceit. Some of what that blog included was the fact that, even in the most-heralded ‘success’ in the American effort, that of the 1978 Camp David Accords, the chief aim of Israeli leaders has always been to prevent the formation of a Palestinian state. In fact, even acknowledging that there is a Palestinian people was written out of the Camp David agreements; for in a January 22, 1978 side letter to Menachem Begin five days after the Accords were signed, President Carter agreed that,
            wherever the expressions “Palestinians” or “Palestinian people” occurred in the text, they “are being and will be construed and understood by you as ‘Palestinian Arabs.’” This was a term of art among those Israelis who denied that the Palestinians were a people. (6)

The seriousness of this denial was reinforced in a 1982 CIA memo (when Reagan was president) cited by Khalidi, which again refers to Prime Minister Menachem Begin:
“Begin asserts that the C[amp] D[avid] A[ccords] rule out the emergence of a Palestinian state. In Begin’s view, the agreements ‘guarantee that under no condition’ can a Palestinian state be created. In practice Begin effectively rules out any exercise of Palestinian self-determination except one that continues Israel’s preeminent position in the West Bank.” (19)

Most importantly, Khalidi made clear that this was the position of not only Prime Minister Menachem Begin, but “the enduring position of every Israeli government since.” So while there has been an almost endless procession of American “negotiators” diligently striving to forge a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine resulting in a secure state for each, this has all been a ruse—a way to drag out so-called peace talks endlessly, endlessly giving Palestinians and the world the illusion that a Palestinian state was right around the corner (as soon as knotty little problems like “facts on the ground” could be ironed out, or a “real partner for peace” somehow found).
            Now it can be seen how Bibi Netanyahu fits perfectly into this long and sordid sleight-of-hand. His real policy—which his fear of defeat forced him to let slip on the eve of the election—has always been the received standard policy of all Israeli politicians and the Israeli people in general. There can never be a Palestinian state, period. To the Zionist project, an independent Palestinian state sitting right next to Israel would constitute an ‘existential threat.’ The fact of Palestinians themselves, whether or not they inhabit a state, is considered an ‘existential’ threat—because ‘these people,’ these Arabs in ‘droves,’ keep having these babies which ‘violate Israel’s right to exist merely by living and breathing.’ Somehow, and this is what successive Israeli governments keep trying to buy time for with their lip-service to the ‘peace process,’ Palestinians must be forced to understand that their ‘right to exist’ does not rise to the same exalted level as the Jewish state’s ‘right to exist.’ Indeed, it does not rise to any level at all. It is, so long as the United States of America keeps supporting the rigged game called the ‘peace process,’ literally ‘nonexistent.’
            If all this were not clear before the past week’s Bibi Show, it certainly should be blindingly, revoltingly clear now.
Lawrence DiStasi

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Future Canceled

Not long ago (Jan. 15, 2015) I wrote a blog I called ‘Climate Depression.’ In that piece, I tried to express the truth as I understood it from the writings of Guy McPherson—i.e. that we are already, because of the CO2 our industrial civilization has put in the atmosphere, on a path to the extinction of most life we know and value on this planet. Together with what other scientists have been telling us about the accelerating extinction of species, the expanding poisoning of the soil and the oceans, the destruction of rain forests, and other insults to the web of life—the prospects for the future of life on Earth (the only planet we know of with life at all) seem grim indeed. It is for this reason that Joanna Macy in her recent book World as Lover, World as Self (Parallax Press: 2007), makes this statement:

The loss of certainty that there will be a future is, I believe, the pivotal psychological reality of our time (p 151).

What Macy is saying is that not just her, not just me, not just scientists who measure it on their instruments, not just a few aware people on this planet, but EVERYONE is feeling the same uncertainty, anger, fear, and grief. We are all assaulted by the grim question—will there even be a future?—at every turn. We see the increasing severity of storms (including winter storms, which are only a more subtle form of the same crisis), the steadily increasing global temperatures (2014 was the warmest year, globally, on record), the steady melting of the Arctic sea ice and the Greenland ice sheets and the snows and glaciers in the Andes, the Sierras, Mount Kilimanjaro, and the alarming evidence of methane seeps that could accelerate the whole warming process beyond even our worst fears. We see it, we see reports of it, and we tremble. We grieve. We mourn the loss of a livable planet for our children, our grandchildren, and all those who are scheduled to follow us but who, if the dire predictions prove true, may not follow at all.
            Unlike others, however, Joanna Macy does not stop there. She does not go along with the dominant paradigm which says, ‘just don’t think about it, don’t dwell on it, don’t bring everyone down by giving voice to your fear and your despair and your grief.’ No. What Macy says and promotes in her writings and her workshops is precisely the opposite: do give voice to your grief. Do not be ashamed of feeling what you do, for it is natural, adaptive and even healing to do so. Here is how she puts it:

When we mourn the destruction of our biosphere, it is categorically distinct from grief at the prospect of our own personal death.
            Planetary anguish lifts us onto another systemic level where we open to collective experience. It enables us to recognize our profound interconnectedness with all beings. Don’t apologize if you cry for the burning of the Amazon or the Appalachian mountains stripped open for coal. The sorrow, grief, and rage you feel is a measure of your humanity and your evolutionary maturity. As your heart breaks open there will be room for the world to heal. That is what is happening as we see people honestly confronting the sorrows of our time. And it is an adaptive response (152).

Macy goes on to say that expressing our grief for the planet and for all the beings that our insane behavior of the past 300 years has put at risk of extinction is precisely what we need to be doing at this time. More of us. All of us. This is because the crisis of mass extinction

derives from a dysfunctional and pathological notion of the self. It derives from a mistake about our place in the order of things. It is the delusion that the self is so separate and fragile that we must delineate and defend its boundaries; that it is so small and so needy that we must endlessly acquire and endlessly consume; and that as individuals, corporations, nation-states, or a species, we can be immune to what we do to other beings. (152).

            If this—that the notion of the separate self is a delusion; that the self is actually more like some interactive process whose boundaries can hardly be named—sounds like something a Buddhist or a spiritual leader (like Pope Francis) would say, that is because it is. Joanna Macy is indeed a practitioner of Buddhism and her take on the crisis of our time is informed by her practice. But it is not just that. She also uses the systems theory of Gregory Bateson to shore up what might be dismissed as spiritual or religious or New Age mumbo jumbo. And what she uses Bateson to confirm is his idea (and many neuroscientists are now reaching similar conclusions) that the conventional notion of the “self” or “consciousness” cannot be reduced, as it normally is, to the “isolated subjectivity of the individual or located within the confines of the skin.” Rather, Bateson says that

“the total self-corrective unit that processes information is a system whose boundaries do not at all coincide with the boundaries either of the body or what is popularly called ‘self’ or ‘consciousness’”….and…The self as ordinarily understood is only a small part of a much larger trial-and-error system which does the thinking, acting, and deciding.” (153)

For Macy, of course, this notion of a self-corrective feedback system involving self and other approximately coincides with her main point about the Buddha’s teaching, i.e., that self and world are not separate, are not individual entities where one or the other is primary; but rather, self and world arise together, or co-dependently (the doctrine is called paticca samuppada: dependent co-arising). They are inextricably intertwined and cannot be separated. Self acts on other just as other acts on self. Mind acts on matter just as matter acts on mind. Neither can exist without the other, nor is one the primary cause of the other (recent news about how the Big Bang may not really be the origin of it all, for there may be no origin, period, tends to fit with these ideas). Once this wisdom is felt or absorbed or seen into, one can no longer contemplate or even countenance doing damage to any other being or entity in the “outside” world, for there is no outside world. You grieve when you see a mountaintop being removed as much as you do when you observe birds and bees being poisoned by pesticides or helpless children being worked to death in gold mines or polar bears being starved because they can no longer hunt from the sea ice necessary to their being. You grieve because you know via your senses and every other mode of perception that you and they and all the beings of the past and those to come are ineluctably connected; are one web of life in which every part, no matter how small or humble, is necessary and critical to every other part and ultimately to the whole.
            Hence, for Joanna Macy, grieving for what we see and hear is happening to that web of life is not something to avoid, or deny; it is something to embrace, for it is only through facing it, through “being present to and owning our own pain” that we can begin to comprehend how much all our “selves” are intertwined and at risk with all others and, therefore, begin to find ways to change the way the world, in its ‘normal’ operating procedure, does them violence. Whether it will be in time to prevent the global catastrophe that appears to be bearing down upon us is not the point. Or not the only point. The point is to be alive to what is happening, to break open, and from that feeling of being part of that “great net from which one cannot fall,” to derive the courage to stand up to the deadly forces now in charge. 
            This is the healing message that Joanna Macy voices for us. And it is a courageous and healing message that, in the present state of things—with the ever-more-ignorant Sen. James Inhofe throwing snowballs in the Senate chamber to ‘prove’ that global warming is a hoax—is more necessary than ever. Take a look at her book. Give it to those who are young enough to get aroused. And take heart that there are indeed masses of people all around the globe who feel as you do and will, if we are very lucky, wake up before it’s too late and take the selfless (which is just another word for ‘heroic’) actions that are so necessary.
            In this regard, I would also recommend the most recent work of renowned Stanford psychologist Philip Zimbardo (his Stanford Prison Experiment has become the gold standard for investigating what Hannah Arendt called the “banality of evil”), who has embarked on a new path—not investigating what makes ordinary people evil, but rather what it is that makes ordinary people heroic. Though it is not a simple idea or a simple effort, Zimbardo has stated its basic premise quite simply, and it accords with what has been outlined above:

Simply put, then, the key to heroism is a concern for other people in need—a concern to defend a moral cause, knowing there is a personal risk, done without expectation of reward.

That’s it precisely, and is precisely what is needed now to counter the dominant delusion of selfishness, of ‘looking out for number one’ regardless of the consequences to others be they animal, vegetable or mineral. One can only hope that Zimbardo and his colleagues are successful in promoting this paradigm shift among the young. For it is the young, after all, who are going to have the bear the real burden of the failure of the rest of us—our failure to realize what we truly are, our collective failure to act swiftly and courageously enough to rescue what’s left of the only home we have.

Lawrence DiStasi