Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Glamour of Protest

It's been all over the New York Times for a week, so I won't link to a specific article. But the Isreali pullout from Gaza has received the royal investigative journalism treatment, repleat with interactive guides and in-depth interviews.

It's been illustrative: so much of the daily lives of Isrealis, what one might call the "Jewish side of the story," has gotten overlooked in the last few years of Infatada coverage and Palestinian/Isreali negotiational struggle. For a few weeks, now, we see Jews in an internal struggle, debating land for peace in a very viceral, and emotional, way.

It makes for great newspaper copy. The newspapers love a story of protestors, conflict, heartrending and vivid emotion. Plain old tragedy - an endless parade of bombing deaths, life under terrorism, etc. - that gets old pretty fast. (Witness Iraq.) What's news is chants, civil disobedience, clashes with police.

In a very real way, the coverage of this story has humanized the difficulties of the Isreali situation. Up until now, it has been Hamas and Palestinian terrorists who have received the sympathetic coverage, the media bluster, and the faux analysis. Perhaps that's why world sympathy has tended to sway toward the Palestians.

Will coverage of the protests by Jewish hardliners and religious extremists sway public sympathy back the other way? My guess is that it will, at least for a time. The public loves this stuff: the passionate young people, the clash with police. We love the bad boys, the martyrs, the hardliners precisely because they seem so passionate and so committed: whether or not the cause is just, or historically accurate, or logically necessary.

In this case, I believe that intellectually, Sharon is right and the protestors wrong: the pullout from Gaza will strengthen Isreal. It is not a retreat but a strategic regrouping. Why waste precious Army resources guarding a few thousand settlers and imprisoning millions of Palistinians into a makeshift fortress, when you can pull back to more defensible lines, better distribute resources, and focus on core territory? Whether or not this will lead to further road map negotiations, I don't know. It's really less important. The key is that it's militarily sound. Even if Gaza became a "terror hotbed," it would certainly lead to more easily defendable borders, more ability to strike back and defend. So it's a strategically wise move.

However, I've come to actually appreciate the protests by the religious hardliners. Those people are not only making a point - that Isreal is being asked to give up land in exchange for nothing (no peace, no settlement, not even a real truce). But rather, that people who are actively living lives and have created homes, communities, a future out of a desert landscape, are giving all that up largely without violence (the little violence today I find very disturbing), but with a forceful, heartfelt petition that is the core of a democratic society. Their voices are heard, yet they are still one with the army, one with the Isreali state, and even with the government they disagree with.

Contrast this to the lawnessness we see all around in the region: from Sunni terrorists blowing up Shiites in Iraq, to the petty bickering, self-aggrandizing, and distrust in the Palestinian Authority, to the mysogeny, non-democracy, and secrecy of the Syrians and the Saudis. We owe the religious hardliners and anti-withdrawal protesters in Isreal a real debt: they've demonstrated, once again, that Isreal is the only democracy in the region, and how a democracy registers, deals with, and implements diffucult, wrenching decisions as a society. And that moral equivalencies between Isreal and the Palestinians simply do not work, when one side is a functioning democracy, and the other a poor, unrepresented and fractious populous ruled by gangs of theives, blood-royalty, and terrorists.

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