Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Personal, the Political, Karma, and the Free Gaza Flotilla

Storm over Beirut (16:9)
Storm over Beirut, Lebanon, 2005

The Middle East isn't much fun. Interesting, yes, but also frustrating and depressing. If you want to see the karma wheel turning, look no further than the Israelis and the Palestinians, trying to outdo each other at giving it a shove for over sixty years now. And no, I won't get into the "who started it" game, not this time.

At an individual level, Buddhist ethics are pretty useful for dealing with compulsive destructive feedback cycles like that one. As in, just stop turning the damn wheel. It's no secret that that simple piece of advice is hellishly difficult to act upon, but at least if you're dealing with something like an abusive relationship or an addiction, it's possible. If you really want to, you can break the habit. Sometimes, anyway.

Collectively, at the political level, it gets a lot more complicated. It's difficult enough for even a single individual to walk away from an abusive relationship. For groups of millions, it's as good as impossible. So we get into cycles like the English and the Irish, which went on for a half a millennium before finally starting to wind down a decade or two ago. I see no immediate reason to think the Israeli-Palestinian mess is about to sort itself out any quicker.

So here we are, in 2010. The peace process is as dead as a doornail, with Abbas and Netanyahu pretending to go through the motions for the benefit of Saint Barack of Obama. Hamas continues to lob a half-hearted bottle rocket over the wall every once in a while, and Israel continues to make sure their falafel taste bland by not letting them have any coriander.

Then something a little bit unexpected happens.

Some Turks load up a cruise ship with cement and blankets, and attempt run the blockade. The IDF, figuring they'll be received by a bunch of hippies sticking flowers in their guns, rappel onboard from a helicopter. They get beat up with sticks instead, and before you know it, people are dead, and a massive backlash against Israel is in progress. Predictably, the usual hasbara starts to flow—it's a "hate boat" not a "love boat," the people onboard are "Hamas supporters" (no lie, that's how Jerusalem Post refers to them), and the poor beleaguered IDF marine commandos were only defending themselves against a "lynch mob."

Then somebody triumphantly points out that the operation was a provocation, that the point wasn't to deliver humanitarian supplies to Gaza. Well no shit, Sherlock. Of course it's a provocation. That's the whole point of direct mass action, to provoke the bad guys into doing something that makes them look bad.

My counterpoint to all that is simply this: let's suppose for the sake of the argument that the whole shebang was dreamed up by Osama bin Laden, Khaled Meshaal, and the ghost of Adolf Hitler, in their secret hideout. Wouldn't that mean that they've decided that blowing their supporters up at checkpoints and lobbing rockets at Thai field hands isn't getting them anywhere, and nonviolent action might work better? If so, how in the name of all that is holy is that a bad thing?

Yet the very same people who have been saying that the only reason there isn't peace in the Middle East is that the Palestinians aren't making like Gandhi or Mandela, but are terrorizing Israeli civilians instead, are now denouncing the Free Gaza Flotilla, if possible, even more furiously.

I'm enormously impressed by this turn of events. It's something new, and it's proving to be more effective—or at least less woefully ineffectual—than violent action. If the Palestinians, encouraged by these events, take this up in greater numbers, more creative ways, and more frequently, hope will spring again. It will take a long time for this particular karma wheel to stop crushing hopes and lives under its tread, but this, at least, is new; something that just could be the beginning of the end, or at least the end of the beginning. Perhaps there will come a day that I'll be able to drive down to Jerusalem from Beirut. It's not a long drive. Just an impossible one, for now.

I've already agreed to meet a few good people there for beer and falafel, the first day after the war.

Perhaps next year.

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