Tuesday, April 8, 2008

James Earl Carter: part 2

I say this up front. I have watched the documentary Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains, but have not read the book which is the main focus of the film Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. I am going to be re-presenting Carter's thesis, though I only know it in a shortened version, the summary of the list of criticisms from the book that he discusses in the movie.

In 2002, there were many attacks on Israel by Palestinian suicide bombers. Israel's solution was to build a 40 foot tall wall around both the West Bank and Gaza. There are some Americans who might see the logic in this, as many feel we should have a similar barrier between the U.S. and Mexico. But even those who think that this is the solution to the immigration problem would not consider it reasonable to build the wall on Mexican soil, but instead on the U.S. side of the border. If it was found that Mexicans were taking small boats to sea and sailing to the U.S. to find work illegally, even Pat Buchanan would not favor that we build a wall inside Mexico restricting their access to the sea.

This is the main criticism of Carter about what the Israelis did after 2002. The 40 foot wall they built, part of it shown on the cover of his book, is built entirely on Palestinian land, with some incursions cutting deep into Palestinian land. On the West Bank, it cuts off the Palestinian access to the Jordan River, which is the border between Palestine and Jordan, not Israel. In Gaza, the wall stops the access to the sea and entrance into Egypt. There are two exits from Gaza in the wall, one checkpoint into Israel and one into Egypt. The Israelis control both.

Moreover, the Israelis built a series of roads criss-crossing the West Bank, connecting all the Jewish settlements. Palestinians are forbidden from driving on these roads in their own land, and at the time of the making of the film, an Israeli driving on the road would be forbidden to have a Palestinian passenger.

Demme presents the controversy engendered by the book, or should I say largely by the title of the book. When the book comes out, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, known by the acronym AIPAC, begins a well-orchestrated condemnation of the book and of Carter. Without reading the book, both Nancy Pelosi and John Conyers condemn it. This is in late 2006, when some of us still had hope that Speaker Pelosi would bring meaningful change. I can safely say that day is done. Even Conyers' light has dimmed in my eyes by now, and his promises of investigations and action regarding the crimes done in our name look more like a fund-raising scam than a principled stand.

Carter's position is quite simply The Golden Rule. He puts himself in the position of a Palestinian who wants peace. He thinks about what it would be like if some foreign power built a wall through his land in Georgia, restricted access to the creek that runs through his land, chopped down the trees that had been on his land since he was a boy. He is not against Israel's right to defend itself. He is against these actions which are provocative insults to the Palestinian people, and only serve to inflame the situation.

Inside Israel, there is debate on these policies. In the United States, these facts are not well known. Carter used the word "apartheid" in the title as a deliberate means to provoke debate. Some said it was unfair to make that comparison. Carter doesn't mention it on camera, but director Jonathan Demme does say this in the commentary that Carter was not the first to use the word. Archbishop Tutu visited the West Bank in 2002 and called the actions of the Israelis apartheid.

Of course, Demme gets to edit the footage, but he let one of the main critics, Alan Dershowitz, have his say without being questioned. The only thing that Dershowitz is questioned about is his use of the term “cockroaches”, which he says applies to Hamas and not to all Palestinians. Dershowitz was one of the election monitors in the 2006 Palestinian election which brought Hamas into power, as was Carter. He calls it a free and fair election, like the Nazis were freely and fairly elected in 1933. He says actions have consequences. He is not questioned by Demme on these statements.

To Prof. Dershowitz, I say this. The election of the Nazis was preceded by vicious street battles, so their rise to power would not meet the standards of "free and fair" today. Also, while he obviously believes the actions of the Palestinians have consequences, he does not seem to think the building of the wall in 2002 had the consequence of legitimizing Hamas in the eyes of the humiliated Palestinians who went to the polls in 2006.

Other critics do not come off as well as Dershowitz. Demme shows footage of two counter demonstrations, one pro-Palestinian and one pro-Israeli or more accurately, anti-Carter and anti-Palestinian. While it is hard to make out exactly what anyone is saying in the shouting, one fellow makes himself clear enough. He holds the position I have heard for more than three decades from the most strident of the pro-Israeli side: There is no such thing as Palestine. All the non-Jews on the territory claimed by Israel are simply Jordanians who haven't moved home yet.

As it is with me and the anti-immigration crowd in the U.S., I have some common ground with the defenders of Israel. When people say that jobs in America should be held be people legally entitled to work in America, I have no argument with that. When someone says Israel has the right to defend itself, that is unquestionably true. It's the people who deny the humanity of the other side that make it hard for me to stand with some people with whom I agree. It is the arguments of Jimmy Carter, a man of the land, a landowner and a Christian, that hold the most weight for me, a city boy, a wanderer and a man whose faith is known to God alone.

Here endeth the lesson.


CDP said...

Great post, the last paragraph in particular.

FranIAm said...

Matty, I read but did not comment yesterday -today I do both.

What a great service you do here. I have the book, in fact from the original print, before some modifications were made.

I am and always have been profoundly influenced by Jimmy Carter; he is a true hero to me. He is the wise man that is heckled and ignored; Nero fiddles and Rome burns.

I believe that you know I have been to Israel twice; in 2004 and in 2006. I have not written as much as I would like to about this- it is very emotional because it includes passionate and often hurtful words between my ultra-Zionist cousin and me.

The AIPAC crowd (which Hillary is tightly tied to) wants to portray a vision of Israel as oppressed, rather than oppressor and there is the rub.

It should be pointed out that aforementioned Zionist cousin (who is now in the IDF, the Israeli army) went to college at a school at which Alan Dershowitz was a frequent visiting lecturer. My cousin is profoundly influenced by him.

Anyway how I ramble on. I would love to see this film and I am enjoying your thoughtful and well written series here. Trivia note- Jonathan Demme lives in my old town of Nyack, which I so recently left behind. He is one cool dude.

dguzman said...

He is such a decent man, one who doesn't confuse his politics with his own ego. I've always respected him.

On the other hand, I think it's proof that our "system" of government doesn't work--he was a kind and decent and wise man, and he was chewed up by the DC machine for all his troubles. Further, he tried but was unable to stop the roll of the American Empire over the rest of the world. And if he couldn't stop it, who can?

Jess Wundrun said...

Dershowitz is a twat.

(There, the conversation was becoming far too adult)

Distributorcap said...

carter may have had his faults --- but he his a king among men and a stellar president compared to the dickwad currently in office.

i am one of the few who didnt think carter was as bad as the world makes him out to be as a president. he made bad decisions -- but surely no worse than reagan or bush.

and while the iranian crisis was horrible and handled poorly -- those people came home. 4000+ americans george bush sent to the middle east are not