Bydon Responds: Mohamad Bydon responds to Steven Menashi’s criticism of his column (send comments here for posting):

In his response to my column, Steve Menashi states “The wanton killing of civilians is unjustifiable for Europeans and Africans and Arabs alike.” I could not agree more. I would simply add that this general rule should apply to Jews as well, who themselves used horrific bouts of terrorism in establishing the state of Israel (as I noted in my column). The rule should also apply to Israel’s hawkish Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who declared his policy vis a vis the Palestinian people on March 5, 2002: “It won’t be possible to reach an agreement with them before the Palestinians are hit hard. Now they have to be hit. If they aren’t badly beaten, there won’t be any negotiations. Only after they are beaten will we be able to conduct talks. Our goal is to increase the losses on the other side. Then we can have peace.” Evidently, Sharon seems to advocate a policy of killing as many Palestinians as possible. It should come as no surprise that of the 1300 Palestinians killed in the past 18 months at least four hundred (according to the Associated Press, March 30) have been innocent civilians. It should also come as no surprise that this is the same Ariel Sharon who invaded Lebanon in 1982 even though the PLO had been carefully abiding to a cease-fire across the Israel-Lebanon border for up to nine months. In the first two months of that invasion, Israeli troops killed 17,500 Lebanese civilians (yes, civilians) and later proceeded to allow armed Phalangist militias to enter the Palestinian refugee camps of Beirut.

Now, there are many examples of horrible things that have happened across the world. Hitler killed 12 million Jews and non-Jews in the Holocaust. Turkey and Iraq have slaughtered Kurds regularly over the past fifty years. Syria killed 20,000 people in a vicious attack on Islamic fundamentalists in the city of Hama in 1982. But none of these acts should justify other horrible actions. Just because Saddam Hussein feels free to slaughter rebellious groups in his nation, does not mean that all other nations in the Middle East are justified in behaving this way. Israel, after all, is the only democracy in the Middle East (we are constantly being reminded of this). So why are its supporters constantly comparing Israel’s actions to those of fascist regimes in the Arab world while at the same time telling us that Israel is a visionary state? I decry Syria’s occupation of Lebanon and I thank Mr. Menashi for pointing that out. Lebanon is my home country and I was pleased to see several months back that there is a growing opposition movement to the Syrian presence. But the fact that Syria occupies my country should not mean that all other nations are justified in behaving as occupiers.

Saddam Hussein occupied Kuwait in 1990. Two months later, we went to war with him and demanded that Saddam withdraw completely. Had Saddam proposed to give Kuwaitis back 90% of their land (as Ehud Barak did at Camp David), would we have congratulated him and demanded that Kuwait (a nation defeated in war) immediately except Saddam’s “generous” proposal? The problem with Ehud Barak’s proposal is that it would have retained almost all of the settlements (80% to be exact) along with the security roads and checkpoints that surround them. Thus, the future “state” of Palestine would have split into four cantons and literally dozens of pockets populated by Palestinians but surrounded by Israeli soldiers and checkpoints. The Palestinian state would have had no territorial continuity in the West Bank or Gaza, no rights to water, no control of borders, and no rights to its own airspace. Some of these provisions are necessary to guarantee Israel’s security but others are not. Barak’s proposal would have above all retained a permanent Israeli military presence on the West Bank and Gaza. Thus it would not have been an end to the occupation, but rather a legitimization of a continued occupation. In December, after the breakdown of Camp David, both Barak and Arafat accepted Bill Clinton’s peace plan and began negotiating at Taba. Those negotiations brought us closer than ever to a real peace deal. For the first time, Palestinians made their own proposal, one which included strict limits to the right of return of Palestinian refugees. And Israeli Prime Minsiter Barak agreed to remove all of the settlements and checkpoints in the heart of the occupied territories and provide the Palestinians with real territorial continuity in the West Bank. Those negotiations were called off by Ariel Sharon, who declared that he would not negotiate under fire. I can understand Sharon’s stance. But I also feel that if Palestinians have to negotiate under occupation, then Israel has to negotiate under resistance to occupation.

Allow me also to clarify my statements from my previous column. I never suggested that the Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza was “illegal.” Occupation is perfectly legal and indeed it has occurred in several other places and to many other people. I stated that Israel’s settlement policy is illegal according to international law, specifically the Fourth Geneva Convention. Additionally, there are several laws (seventeen according to the United Nations) in Israel that discriminate against the Israeli Arabs, the 1.2 million Palestinians living in Israel proper. While the Israeli Arabs do enjoy many rights, they remain third class citizens by all accounts. But it is important to note that no act of terrorism has been committed by this group of Palestinians. Why not? After all, they are Muslim Palestinians living in the middle of the Jewish state. Why have they not conducted terrorism? Two reasons. First, they are not living under occupation: they have the right to vote and participate in the electoral process. Second, they have jobs. Palestinians are currently scattered across ninety countries (many of them living in horrible conditions). Only those in the West Bank and Gaza are behaving this way. Maybe, just maybe, Israel–the state that has ruled over every aspect of Palestinian life for the past 37 years–has something to do with the fact that Palestinians there no longer care to live.

Finally, the United Nations is a body that includes many countries. When votes denouncing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians come up, it is not simply the Muslim countries that vote for them, but the entire third world and increasingly the European nations. Outside the United States, the Palestinian narrative of dispossession is understood. If Zionism was justified in creating a haven state for Jews, then Palestinians are justified in creating their own state for the millions of refugees who are mistreated by Israel and the Arabs alike.