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Robert Scheer Headshot

Treat Palestinians Like Jews

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It was an act of international terrorism, pure and simple. There can be no valid claims of self-defense on the part of Israeli commandos who attacked a ship of protesters in international waters, killing nine civilians and kidnapping more than 600 others -- including 15 international reporters who were prevented from filing their stories by a nation that claims to be the beacon of democracy in the Mideast.

Trust me, I do not come to this viewpoint lightly. This is an issue I have written about with anguish ever since I visited Gaza and the West Bank immediately after the Six-Day War 43 years ago, and the fact that those apartheid zones still stand in oppressive isolation from the norms of human rights is a sad commentary on our profession. There is no subject on which American journalists so disgrace themselves by embracing a double standard or about which our politicians are permitted the kind of hypocritical cop-out once again demonstrated by the tepid response of the Obama administration.

If nothing else, this assault on decency by the Israeli government was clearly intended to derail the peace talks that President Barack Obama has encouraged. But instead of calling Israel on its savagery, the U.S. is virtually alone in the world in its embarrassingly mild rebuke. The politicians cave so shamelessly because they know that media will be obsequiously tolerant of such immoral equivocation.

The last time I wrote about Israel and Gaza, the San Francisco Chronicle suddenly decided to stop running my weekly column. No great hardship -- I have other outlets -- but I would be lying if I denied the apprehension I feel every time I dare write critically about Israel and brace myself for the charge that I am yet another "self-hating Jew." A charge certain to be leveled against even Hedy Epstein, the 85-year-old Holocaust survivor who at last report was attempting to board yet another aid boat, the Rachel Corrie, named after a heroic American protester who was bulldozed to death by Israelis in 2003.

The first time I encountered that bewildering criticism of Jews who dare to be morally consistent -- despite that being our historical obligation -- was when I was an editor at Ramparts and nearly bankrupted the magazine in attempting to cover the Six-Day War, during which Israel grabbed control of Gaza and the West Bank. We had assigned the legendary journalist I.F. Stone to write about the war, thinking it a wise choice, given that he had accompanied the first boats of Jewish displaced persons from World War II traveling to found the state of Israel. Back then he celebrated that quest: "These Jews want the right to live as a people, to build as a people, to make their contribution to the world as a people. Are their national aspirations any less worthy of respect than those of any other oppressed people?"

But then he wrote after the Six-Day War that he felt compelled to deal also with the oppression of the Palestinians and their desire for a home. His report was balanced and fair, which of course was a problem to some of the Ramparts investors who strongly favored honest journalism on every subject except Israel.

I upset them further by traveling to Egypt and Israel at the end of the Six-Day War and visited newly occupied Gaza, where I questioned the assertion of top officials, including Moshe Dayan, that they would bring freedom to the Palestinians there that the previous Egyptian and Jordanian occupiers had denied. It never happened, because the intentions of occupiers to improve the lot of the conquered become moot if the occupiers insist on continuing their reign of power. How easy it is to forget that the Palestinians were not the ones who attacked Israel at the time of the Six-Day War. On the contrary, it was their previous overlords, Egypt and Jordan, with which Israel has long since had relatively good relations. An accommodation of occupiers made above the head of the occupied.

There is no such thing as a morally acceptable occupation, and as the oppressed resist they will become more violent in their desperation. In turn the occupiers will show their true colors as oppressors. As the great Israeli writer Amos Oz wrote in Tuesday's New York Times, " ... ever since the Six-Day war in 1967, Israel has been fixated on military force." He excoriates the prevailing Israeli view "that the Palestinian problem can be crushed instead of solved." That is the essence of the problem and the solution: End the crushing occupation and begin to solve the problem of providing the Palestinians, as well as the Jews, with a viable homeland.