In Israel, Twisted Logic Skews Understanding
Gordon, Neve, National Catholic Reporter
Barak repeatedly says no and is called moderate
Many Israelis and progressive American Jews blame Arafat for escalating the violence in the Middle East and even contend that there is no real partner for peace. This position conveniently disregards Israel's occupation -- the torture, Jewish settlements, land confiscation, house demolitions, poverty and daily humiliations -- and advances a paternalistic interpretation of the events: Arafat decided to send his people to war, and like a herd they obediently complied.
The nifty maneuvers of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and President Clinton during the Camp David summit also swayed many Israeli peaceniks. These two leaders managed to convince the world that Barak was willing to make great concessions by offering Arafat municipal control over some East Jerusalem neighborhoods and sovereignty over three small villages located on the city's outskirts. The international media readily appropriated this position and helped form public opinion by presenting Barak as moderate and Arafat as an impulsive peace rejectionist.
But a critical examination of Barak's performance since entering office reveals that he ought to bear most of the blame for the current crisis. The prime minister owes his electoral victory, to the Palestinians -- he received 95 percent of the Arab vote, which comprises 20 percent of the electorate body. Yet following the elections he did not for a moment consider the Arab parties as prospective coalition partners, since, according to Barak's bizarre rationale, in order to make peace with Arabs one must cut off all relations with them. The premier's decision to exclude the Arabs from his government -- simply because they are Arabs --was not considered outrageous, since this kind of blatant racism informs the mindset of many Israeli Jews.
The deep prejudice against Israel's Palestinian citizens has manifested itself in many ways, but economic disparity is its most salient expression. Of the 20 towns that have the highest unemployment rate in Israel, 18 are Arab. National average unemployment rate is currently 9 percent, while the average unemployment rate in these Arab towns is twice that amount. In Israel's most impoverished Jewish towns, average per capita monthly income is about $180, while in the impoverished Arab towns it is less than $100. Since 1975, the Israeli government has built 337,000 public housing units, yet only 1,000 of them were erected in Arab communities. Israel has established about 600 new settlements since 1948, and all of them have been for Jews.
Although Barak inherited most of the problems, since entering office he has done very little to ameliorate them. Considering the racism, rampant discrimination and poverty, it isn't surprising that Israel's Palestinian citizens decided to rebel.
In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, matters are even worse. Since the 1993 Oslo agreements, the per capita gross national product, which was already dreadfully low, has declined by about 25 percent from $2,250 to $1,725. By way of comparison, Israel's per capita gross national product is currently around $17,500. The grinding poverty in the territories affects all aspects of Palestinian life. Amira Hass from the Israeli daily Ha'aretz reports that from the estimated 190,000 children under the age of 5 who are living in the Gaza Strip, 28,000 are in need of urgent treatment for malnutrition. …