A Diplomat’s Case for Fairness in the Middle East

By Steve Buck
Bethesda, MD
May 2010

(Ed. Note:  From 1965 to 2002 Steve Buck, Pierson ’62, served at 8 posts in the Middle East, including Deputy Chief of Mission in Baghdad during the Iran-Iraq war (1986-88) and Consul General in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (1996-1999). From 1999-2001 he taught the Middle East security seminar, political science and energy economics at the National Defense University.  Since retiring in 2002 he has continued to teach at the National Defense University, serve on the editorial board of the Foreign Service Journal, and lecture at various universities on the Middle East. He has written a number of articles for our website on the Middle East and the folly of our invasion of Iraq.)

Last spring I was invited by the Council for the National Interest Foundation to lead the group’s 19th “Political Pilgrimage” to Egypt, Gaza, Jerusalem, Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.   A non-profit founded by a former U.S. Congressman and a number of retired U.S. Ambassadors, the Council seeks to educate Americans about the complexities of the Middle East and policies in the U.S. national interest.  Harriet Fulbright, widow of the Senator for whom the well-known Fulbright program is named, joined us, along with an investment banker, a lawyer with a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern studies, an eye surgeon, a Texas cattle rancher, and a retired Pennsylvania state trooper.

National Interest Foundation's 19th "Political Pilgrimage" group

In front of Israeli bombed American International School in Gaza. Mrs. Fulbright second from left, Steve Buck with white beard.

Because the Israel/Palestine dispute is so emotional and because U.S. policy on the subject is really made at the White House and in Congress, I had made it a point in my career not to serve in Israel and the countries bordering it, although I had studied Arabic (and met my wife) in Beirut and visited all of them a number of times.

I write what follows because what I saw on the ground shocked me – particularly how little it is reported in the mainstream U.S. media. I hope some in the class may find it eye-opening. It underscores a fundamental point that NSC advisor General Jones and Central Command General Petreaus have both emphasized – that the festering Israel/Palestine dispute threatens U.S. national security interests, particularly as it makes it far more difficult for U.S. forces and personnel to operate in much of the Arab and Islamic world.  While media in the U.S. rarely give much coverage to suffering in Gaza and the West Bank, media in the rest of the world do. Israeli actions foster a growing and dangerous hatred of the U.S. in the Middle East and beyond.

In what follows I share with you parts of our trip with a few photos, and then end with cautious hope.  I realize that some of this article may upset some readers, particularly those who see Israel only as a shining beacon in a troubled Middle East.  As “Dad 2.0” of a Jewish son-in-law with a large extended family who we dearly love, I am fully aware of the “existential fear” that exists on both sides of the dispute.  I ask that those who are well-versed in the Shoah (Catastrophe) be open to learning about the “Nakba” (Disaster) that burdens far too many Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza every day.

We started off in Cairo, then trekked through the Sinai desert (red lines) with a security escort to Rafah, the sole border crossing from Egypt into Gaza (the small red area poking into Israel from the Egyptian border on the map below).

Map of our trip

Map of our trip

It is one thing to be well-versed, to write careful briefing memos off quiet corridors at the State Department.  It is entirely another to experience and witness unnecessary human suffering face-to-face, on the ground.  In Gaza we experienced a highly urbanized area just twice the size of the District of Columbia, but at 1.5 million people, three times its population.  Land, air and sea blockades by Israel and a very difficult border crossing with Egypt make it the world’s largest open air prison.

In the hours it took us to go through the Rafah crossing from Egypt into Gaza, I first saw at a distance and then close up a young man in a wheel-chair.  He looked into my eyes and showed me horrible burns – down to the bone – from Israeli phosphorous canisters.  Phosphorous burns chemically until it exhausts itself and cannot be extinguished.

What amazed me was there was no anger, just hurt, dignified hurt we experienced over and over in Gaza – as for example,  when we listened to Gaza students with scholarships to study abroad who are not allowed to leave Gaza.  We were inconvenienced by the time it took us to get into Gaza.  Imagine what it is like for a graduate student who has slowly watched hope disappear in the two years he has waited for permission to leave.

Again and again we saw the crushing of hope, often for reasons that have little if anything to do with security.  We saw the ruins of the American International School in Gaza, designed to promote moderation, peace and openness.  Twice in 18 months extremists tried to blow it up without success.  Long after Israel controlled the area during its December/January Operation Cast Lead, Israeli jets did what the extremists were unable to do.

The people of Gaza are well-educated, with a 95 percent literacy rate.  UNRWA officials and an American-educated lawyer explained to us that prior to Israel’s clamp-down in 2007 following Hamas’ victory in a free and fair election promoted by the U.S., there had been flourishing trade between Gaza and Israel, with considerable interchange between Gazan businessmen and Israelis, and excellent large facilities for inspecting cargo.  Now with the clamp-down, Gazan trade with Israel has ended, with virtually the only goods getting through via tunnels.  Rather than building ties with Israel, the blockade cuts them off and will create a whole generation of alienated young Gazans, a growing pool for the very extremism that Israel says it wants to reduce.

We also learned that the number of trucks crossing into Gaza had declined from 2,350 trucks a week to 99 a week – 4% of the pre–closure number – just enough for the most basic necessities.  Until Senator Kerry intervened, the Israeli authorities refused to permit importation of  “luxury goods” such as semolina and tomato paste.  Other items, such as glass to replace bombed-out windows, fabric, thread, needles, matches, mattresses, sheets, blankets, crockery, coffee, light bulbs, crayons, clothing and shoes are also banned.  Concrete, rebar, glass, wood, anything that could be used for rebuilding is banned, despite Operation Cast Lead’s horrific destruction (photo below).  This is not banning goods supporting terrorism, this is mean-spirited deprivation and group punishment.  How this is supposed to promote long-term Israeli/Palestinian peace or security escapes me.   In our meeting with the leader of the Labor party in the Knesset, Daniel Ben Simon, he told us “Israelis want to be loved.”   Depriving a whole people of a minimally decent life and hope is a peculiar way of gaining love.

Because Israel refused to let us make the easy hour and a half trip from Gaza to Jerusalem, we spent 27 hours (4 for sleep) going back through Gaza to the Rafah crossing, then into Egypt to the Suez canal and through the Sinai desert to Eilat, and up to Jerusalem (see map).  Suffering from stomach flu, Mrs. Fulbright was a trooper throughout the trip.

In Hebron, on the West Bank, we saw graphic examples of a conscious policy to take over and strangle a once vibrant city.  The Mayor and Governor of Hebron explained to us that on the pretext of needing to protect 400 armed extremist Israeli settlers/colonizers, 520 shops in the center of old Hebron have been closed – their metal doors blowtorched shut by Israeli troops (photo below).  Another 1000 have closed due to harassment and security measures.   The Mayor and Governor cannot walk on the main street of Hebron, a street restored with USAID money, but settlers/colonizers have free access.  On one street we saw wire mesh strung to protect Palestinians from garbage – but not urine and feces – thrown down on them by settlers who have built above existing buildings.

Destruction from Israeli Operation Cast Lead, Gaza

Destruction from Israeli Operation Cast Lead, Gaza

Arab shops in the center of Hebron blow-torched shut by Israeli forces

Arab shops in the center of Hebron blow-torched shut by Israeli forces

Nets to stop garbage thrown down by Israeli settlers in central Hebron

Nets to stop garbage thrown down by Israeli settlers in central Hebron

Throughout our visit to the center of the old city we had to endure loudspeakers blaring out hard-rock Israeli music from a settler/colonist center financed by a pro-settler group in Florida.  The music blares 24 hours a day.  Muslims hear it while going through four security check points to reach what had been their mosque on the tomb of Abraham.  In 1994, the extremist American/Israeli settler Dr. Baruch Goldstein opened fire in the mosque at prayer time, killing 29 Palestinians and wounding 150.  A year later an Israeli commission gave two-thirds of the mosque to the settlers, who can enter whenever they want, and the remaining third to the Palestinians, who can only enter after humiliating security checks.  The settlers, many supported by tax-deductible contributions to U.S. “charities,” have erected a monument in their nearby settlement that reads “To the holy Baruch Goldstein, who gave his life for the Jewish people, the Torah and the nation of Israel.”

Summing our visit to the West Bank, one of our group, an investment banker from New York who had spent 10 years in South Africa in the 80’s, remarked wryly that “Israel is giving Apartheid a bad name.”

Returning to Gaza for a moment, the inevitable question arises, “What about Hamas? They don’t recognize Israel. Israel is just trying to root them out.”  In Gaza we were told that Hamas would accept whatever agreement was worked out between the Palestinian Authority and Israel so long as the new Palestinian State would be within the pre-1967 borders and any agreement were ratified by the Palestinians’ Legislature.  For them this is in effect recognition of Israel.  As for renunciation of violence (the second of three conditions the U.S. has asked of Hamas), Hamas had honored a cease-fire it declared in June 2008 and Israel violated this cease-fire (a point corroborated by former President Jimmy Carter).  As to the final U.S. condition, recognition of previous accords, it was pointed out that Israel’s then new Prime Minister and Foreign Minister had refused to do that.  We were left with the impression that Hamas would like to move towards negotiation and be in some sort of contact with the United States Government.

Now, and the future –

At this point I am sure some readers will say “this only gives the Arab perspective,” What about the Israeli? What about Hamas rockets firing into Sderot?”  Obviously any violence is wrong and to be condemned.  That said, the number of deaths and damage from inaccurate rockets was miniscule compared to the over 1200 deaths and massive destruction of apartment buildings in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.  And this does not deny Israeli fears and concerns.   They are best addressed in real peace talks that include the whole Palestinian population, not just the West bank.

I am sure at this point, or much earlier in reading this article, some readers will ask “What about Arab recognition of Israel?”   In 2002, then Crown Prince Abdullah, now King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia proposed a peace plan that would involve the recognition of Israel by all members of the Arab League if there were a settlement between the Palestinians and Israel.   The Bush administration gave the plan short shrift, as they did any activity on the peace process.   The Arab League has continued to endorse the plan.

As I write this in mid-May 2010, the talking heads in Washington are busily discussing “proximity talks” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which Arab states and Netanyahu have endorsed. Talks are fine – but seven years of talks in the 90’s only led to expansion of Israeli settlements and a doubling of the number of Israeli settlers.  As a diplomat I of course am in favor of talks – but not if they are a clever way of diverting attention from continued Israeli expansion, depopulation of the West Bank and creating yet more “facts on the ground.”  It is time that Americans see this and hold Israel accountable as President Obama and Secretary Clinton have been trying to do.

As it has been for decades, a major problem is that most in the U.S. Congress are petrified of the power of the Israel lobby, as exemplified by the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).  In the 80’s I worked on Middle East issues in the State Department’s Congressional relations bureau.  When I talked with Congressional staff and members on any Mid-East matter, even one far removed from anything having to do with Israel, the first comment usually was  “Is State’s position the same as AIPAC’s?  If not you have a problem.”

This March, in the middle of Vice President Biden’s visit to Israel to revivify a moribund “peace process,” Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government announced it would build 1600 new housing units in East Jerusalem, infuriating Biden and President Obama and greatly complicating any hopes for peace.  Netanyahu rejected Obama’s request to stop building settlements in a speech before AIPAC and AIPAC quickly got 333 congressmen and 76 senators to write letters to Secretary of State Clinton reaffirming unyielding support for Israel and suggesting that any differences be kept out of the public domain.

Possible Hope –

“Existential fear” – In our conversation with David Ben Simon, the leader of the Israeli Labor Party in the Knesset, he told us he had talked with the leader of the party, former Prime Minister now Defense Minister Ehud Barak four days before and Barak had told him that Israel had “no good intelligence” on Iranian nuclear development.  “It is a black hole,” Simon quote Barak, “Our fear is existential, not based on intelligence.”

In politics, alas, perception is usually far more important than reality.  U.S. policy has been and should remain one that reassures Israel about our commitment to its existence and security.  This should not mean a blank check for Israeli actions that have little to do with security, such as a “security fence” that cuts deeply into the West Bank, or settlements in East Jerusalem.  It does mean encouraging unity talks between the PLO and Hamas, rather than discouraging them, as the U.S. government has been doing, and exploring ways to bring Hamas into final status negotiations.  Peace talks that only involve half the total population of the West Bank and Gaza are unlikely to lead to any real peace.

So long as AIPAC can muster overwhelming congressional support for anything the Israeli government does, even if it undercuts U.S. national interests, President Obama is unlikely to be able to make much progress in promoting real peace talks.  Netanyahu and the extremists in his cabinet can ignore Obama’s calls for a settlement freeze, as they have done up to the present.

In a thought-provoking recent talk on this reality, University of Chicago University Professor John Mearsheimer, a leader of the “realist” school of foreign policy, broke down the American Jewish community into three broad groups – the “righteous Jews,” who support Israel, but not its oppressive policies; the “new Afrikaners,” who “will support Israel even if it is an apartheid state,”  and a majority in the middle. (full text at The Future of Palestine: Righteous Jews vs. the New Afrikaners )  1

A reason for hope, Mearsheimer noted, is that the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee and prominent Jewish organization leaders who have long supported any action taken by the Israeli government no longer have a monopoly on speaking for American Jews regarding Israel.  A new organization, “J Street,” is active in telling congressmen that there are many people who support Israel, but not settlements, oppression on the West Bank or the collective punishment of Gazan civilians.  Whether “J Street” will make a difference is an open question, but it at least provides an option.

——————————————

1  For more background see Mearsheimer and Walt, “The Israel Lobby” London Review of Books

(Steve’s email is rowyourboat@verizon.net.)

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  • Benjamin Walter (YC '52) October 18, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    By now the historical record is so jammed with assertions and counter-assertions; allegations well-founded and allegations purely conjectural, that one can fish and catch what he chooses. As to outrages, both sides have committed them and it is futile to debate whether blowing up kids in a Jerusalem pizzeria is better, worse, or no different from Dr. Goldstein’s massacre. (Goldstein, it should be noted, has not been transformed into a national hero.)

    The key lies in this quotation, snatched from an earlier response: “In politics, alas, perception is usually far more important than reality. U.S. policy has been and should remain one that reassures Israel about our commitment to its existence and security.” Hamas, now controlling Gaza because the Israeiis thought it would be a token of its good will, has made no secret of its will (dare we call it “A Final Solution”) of ob;iterating Israel and replacing it with an “Islamic Republic” every bit as open-minded and tolerant as Iran. How does one negotiate in good faith with forces sworn to eradicate it? What inducement can there likely be?

  • Chip Neville, Ph.D. June 25, 2010 at 11:03 pm

    A second comment from Steve’s geekish Yale roommate. (Truth in advertising department, “Chip Neville, Ph.D.” departs considerably from his professional expertise in mathematics and computer science.)

    Wonderful article, Steve. I admire the way you humanize things. Others above have said pretty much all that needs to be said, so I will just make a few additional comments on Dr. Kaufman’s observations: He is correct when he asserts that “the Arabs of the region sided with Hitler during WW II and told him they would kill the Jews in the Middle East.” What he neglects to say is that other Arabs, for example the King of Morocco, made a point of sheltering Jews. They had read Mein Kampf and knew that they were next on Hitler’s list.

    Dr. Kaufman is correct when he asserts that “essentially no other country in the ‘civilized world,’ including the United States, would give them shelter, cost six million Jewish lives in the Holocaust.” We Americans should remain ashamed of this for all time.

    Dr. Kaufman is correct when he says that “the Arabs told their people to leave Israel and then kept them in camps.” What he neglects to say is in 1948, at the beginning of their Independence War, the Arab strategy of blockading Israeli cities and settlements was working and the Jews were facing defeat and the very real and horrible prospect of annihilation. In response, they implemented “Plan D.” As Benny Morris describes it in his Spring 2009 article in The Quarterly Journal of Military History (MHQ), “1947-1948 lashing back: Palestine’s Jews responded to the Arabs’ first attempt to wipe them out with a fierce, all-out war,”

    “From early April, although Haganah leaders did not agree on or institute a blanket policy of expulsion, an atmosphere of ‘transfer’ took hold among them as margins of safety narrowed and as the prospective pan-Arab invasion loomed. Facing a war for survival, the Yishuv took off the gloves.

    “(Arab and pro-Arab chroniclers, like Walid Khalidi and Ilan Papper, were later to define Plan D as the “master plan” for expelling the Palestine Arabs–but it was not, although in putting the plan into effect, commanders depopulated large chunks of Arab territory.)”

    “… So, for different reasons, was a second incident during Nahshon (the first operation of Plan D): the conquest of the village of Deir Yassin by Irgun and Stern Gang troops (marginally assisted by Haganah) on April 9. In the course of the fight, four Jewish soldiers were killed and several dozen were wounded. One hundred ten of the villagers, including women and children, died, some massacred after the battle. The survivors were then trucked to Arab East Jerusalem where they told horrific tales of Jewish atrocities, some of them true. These were subsequently broadcast by Arab radio stations–who exaggerated the number of Arab dead–in the hope of persuading other Arab villages to fiercely resist conquest.

    “Instead, the broadcasts had a boomerang effect and triggered mass Arab flight around the country. The Haganah Intelligence Service defined Deir Yassin as “a major accelerating factor” in the mass exodus that was set off by the Haganah shift to the offensive. Between 250,000 and 300,000 Arabs left their homes from April through June 1948, becoming displaced persons.”

    In other words, men, women and children fled for their lives, or believed they were fleeing for their lives.

    It is important for Dr. Kaufman and the rest of us to get the history right if we are going to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is also important to understand that nobody has a monopoly on good or bad in that conflict.

  • Chip Neville June 25, 2010 at 10:57 pm

    A brief geekish comment from Steve’s geekish Yale roommate: the Mearsheimer link is already dead. A live link is

    “The Future of Palestine: Righteous Jews vs. New Afrikaners” by John J. Mearsheimer, the Hisham B. Sharabi Memorial Lecture, Palestine Center, Washington, D.C., 29 April 2010, in the Monthly Review’s MR Zine, April 30, 2010, http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2010/mearsheimer300410.html

  • Steve Buck June 5, 2010 at 11:10 am

    Further to Dick Fairbank’s comment “What keeps optimism flickeringly alive is that future governments will not be myopically Likud (and alies even farther right) dominated.” I commend to his and classmates’ attention an article by Peter Beinart in the latest New York Review of Books,”The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment.” http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/jun/10/failure-american-jewish-establishment/?pagination=false

    The article is remarkable in that Beinart for many years was editor of the New Republic, which has published many articles supporting Israeli government positions. In the article Beinart describes demographic and ideological trends in the Israel that I suggest Dick factor into his prediction that future Israeli governments will not be myopically Likud.”

    The above said, perhaps if Netanyahu continues on his “right is might” path things could change, but Beinart’s in depth analysis does not point in that direction.

  • Steve Buck June 3, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    Thank you Gary. I really appreciate your comment. As one whose grandchildren will be at least half Jewish, I find it hard watching Israel turn against once idealistic principles. On the off chance that you missed it, there is an excellent op-ed in the June 2 New York Times by Nicholas Kristof at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/03/opinion/03kristof.html.

    I hope to see you and other classmates at our “mimi-reunion” October 15-16.

    Best,

    Steve Buck

  • gary salenger June 3, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    My father was a major fund raiser for Israel from 1948 until the 1970’s, and I have always been inclined to a bias for the Israeli view. However, over the past few decades, I have to admit that my belief that Israel can do no wrong has taken a U-turn. The hard right wing factions there have subverted the policies and I find that I am taking the Palestinian side over and over in arguments. Clearly without a major change in American policy, there will be no sea change in Israeli policies. Thank you for a thoughtful
    article.

  • Steve Buck May 31, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    Thank you Al for your thoughtful comment. It is very sad, especially today after learning that Israel had stormed peaceful, unarmed vessels and killed 16 people and injured many more. One of those on the ships seized is Ambassador Edward Peck, a Foreign Service colleague and friend (we served together in Algiers) and former executive secretary of the State Department. Of Jewish background, he has always stood for saying it like it is and speaking truth to power, winner awards for dissent at the State Department. I hope, if the israelis release him, that the talk shows will have him on, rather than the usual talking heads.

    What is particularly appalling is that the Israel authorities were stopping goods such as crayons, because these would somehow promote “terrorism.” GISHA, an Israeli non-profit organization founded by an Israeli woman Yale grad – B.A. ’93, LLB 96, has petitioned the Israeli government to provide the list of goods it prohibits from entering Gaza, so far with no success.

    One can get information from GISHA by emailing newsletter@gisha.org

    I paste their latest newsletter below –

    Gisha Response to the Interception of Ships Bound for Gaza

    Gisha expresses sorrow at reports that dozens of civilians have been killed or injured during the Israeli military’s interception of boats bound for the Gaza Strip, carrying humanitarian assistance and hundreds of foreign and Israeli activists, including elected representatives.

    This incident is proof that despite claims to the contrary, Israel never “disengaged” from the Gaza Strip but rather continues to control its borders – land, air and sea.

    Gisha notes that Israel cannot maintain such control while at the same time renouncing responsibility for its effects on the 1.5 million human beings whose access to the outside world has been cut off nearly hermetically for the past three years. International law requires Israel to permit the kind of access necessary for Gaza residents to live normal, dignified lives.

    It would be better for all concerned – Israel, Palestinian residents of Gaza, and those seeking to visit Gaza – if Israel would allow the regular and free passage of people, raw materials for industry, building materials, and export goods in and out of Gaza, subject only to concrete, individual security checks.

    For a position paper about Israel’s refusal to reveal information about the transfer of goods into the Gaza Strip (despite a Freedom of Information Act petition brought by Gisha), click here.

    For a position paper on Israeli legal obligations in Gaza, see Gisha, Disengaged Occupiers, January 2007.

  • Al Chambers May 24, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    Hi Steve. I miss our conversations. In reading your latest, and as always interesting and controversial views, I couldn’t help think again about how this issue has been in the forefront for our entire adult life without finding a lasting solution. For professionals such as yourself, and people who deeply care like Hala and the all of your family, it must be very sad. Even without the politics of a Congressional election year, one senses that the Obama Administration is struggling with just how much of its broad international and domestic agenda it can maintain. In the Middle East, don’t you think that all the principals understand this probable limitation in short-term U.S. involvement?

  • Steve Buck May 20, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    Thank you Richard. I hope that your optimism proves right about the “righteous Jews” in Israel. Most polls in Israel indicate that the country has shifted sharply to the right because of the second Intifada. My wife and i go to an international summer institute every year that started in Israel and has a significant Israeli contingent. Many of these Israelis were in the israeli peace movement but increasingly bemoan the devastation of liberal viewpoints in israel and the many secular Jews who have left and are leaving israel. If you click onto Mearsheimer’s piece cited in the article you will see a further analysis of these trends, which alas, point to Israel moving farther in the direction of the Likud, not in the other direction.

    Since Dr. Kaufman has cited one professor at Harvard, Alan Dershowitz, I suggest he also consult another, international lawyer Richard Falk. No amount of hatred justifies repressive policies. Confiscating houses and collective punishment have little to do with security.

    Best,

    Steve Buck

  • Howard Kaufman May 20, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    It is necessary to respond to Mr. Buck’s recent article as I believe there is much more that must be said to fully clarify the situation in the Middle East. I think it is also necessary to point out that many, such as Alan M. Dershowitz, the brilliant scholar who was the youngest law professor in the history of Harvard Law School, have documented that the “facts” cited and the opinions that derive from them of Mearscheimer and Walt and of Jimmy Carter are highly questionable.

    A little background is needed. Just in modern times, the Arabs of the region sided with Hitler during WW II and told him they would kill the Jews in the Middle East. Lack of access to their ancestral homeland, when essentially no other country in the “civilized world,” including the United States, would give them shelter, cost six million Jewish lives in the Holocaust. Almost a million Jews were ejected from Arab countries, but Israel absorbed and settled these refugees. This is while the Arabs told their people to leave Israel and then kept them in camps. There are Muslim citizens of Israel and even Muslim members of Parliament and the army. This is certainly not the case for Jews in Arab countries.

    Israel has offered the Palestinians opportunity upon opportunity to make peace. But the Palestinians have “never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” They have denied the legitimacy of Israel despite the historical record of its settlement by Jews since biblical times, British backing for a Jewish state, and the establishment of Israel by the United Nations. The Palestinians advocate the destruction of Israel, promote hatred toward it, and glorify suicide murderers. Yasar Arafat was offered almost everything he ever asked for in return for peace and a state, but refused to make peace time and again while stealing billions of dollars meant for his people. Suicide murderers killed hundreds of Israeli civilians, and were stopped only by the security wall. Israel voluntarily pulled out of Gaza, only to have their civilians shelled by over 3,000 rockets. How long would the United States have tolerated rockets from Mexico or Canada hitting our citizens? Not as long as Israel tolerated these rockets! Mr. Buck cites positive attitudes and desires of Palestinians and other Arab states, but these are easy to enunciate and have never led anywhere, and they cannot unless there are negotiations and concessions on the Arab side.

    Mr. Buck suggests that every dispute can be solved peacefully, which the international community recognizes is not the case. He does not distinguish between the internationally recognized legal and moral right of self defense, including the right to stop unconscionable terrorist attacks on innocent civilians. United States foreign policy certainly recognizes this principle, as evidenced by our military activities in Afganistan and Pakistan. However, even when forced to act to protect its citizens, Israeli soldiers put themselves in danger to save civilians and civilians were warned in advance about bombings, which decreased their effectiveness against terrorists, during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. Meanwhile Hamas lied time and again both about Israeli efforts to minimize damage and casualties and their own nefarious activities, including hiding in mosques, hospitals, and schools, and behind women and children. Parenthetically Israel provides medical care in Israel for thousands of Gazans every year.

    The people in Gaza rejoiced when hijacked planes struck in New York and Washington in 2001. And attacks by fanatical Muslims in the mold of Hamas, most recently the aborted attempt in Times Square, are continuing in our own homeland – so we have personal knowledge of the destructive acts of terrorists and understand that they cannot be tolerated and require a response. England and Spain, inter alia, have had similar problems. This terrorism and intransigence is a recurrent pattern caused by the hate fostered by radical fundamentalists and encouraged by articles claiming reasonableness such as this. The author cites one attack by one deranged Israeli as apparently indicative of usual or accepted behavior, but in truth it was unique and condemned by Israel, while Palestinian murderers are celebrated in Gaza and the West Bank.

    The totality of the facts speak for themselves. And Americans are aware of these facts. Indeed, in one recent poll, sixty four percent of people in the United States had a favorable opinion of Israel, while only eighteen percent had a favorable opinion of the Palestinians. The Palestinians destructive hatred for Israel has been brought on and fostered by their leaders, who caused their current problems. This is the real impediment to negotiations and peace – this is the true tragedy.

    Howard H. Kaufman, MD, JD, MPH, FACS, YC ‘62

  • richard fairbanks May 19, 2010 at 10:35 am

    Having served as Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations and later as chief U.S. negotiator for the Middle East Peace Process, I agree with some of the observations, but think that not having served in Israel makes Steve Buck a little blind to the internal political dynamic within the country. What keeps optimism flickeringly alive is that future governments will not be myopically Likud (and alies even farther right) dominated. There are many “righteous Jews” i country, not just in U.S. lobbies.

  • Steve Buck May 18, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    Thank you Bill and Greta.

  • Greta Berlin May 18, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    When governments are castrated and government officials do nothing in the face of Israeli war crimes, it is up to us, the people of the world, to do the work that needs to be done. The people of Gaza are locked into a concentration camp with no access to the outside world. They are the only territory on the Mediterranean with no access to their own sea. Fishermen and farmers are brutalized daily by Israeli military, and the U.S. funds all of it.

    It’s time we Americans expressed our outrage to our government. And it’s time for those of us who believe in justice to act. Watch our flotilla as we leave for Gaza this week. We can make a difference.

  • BILL WEBER May 18, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    Steve and I have corresponded on this topic since pre-invasion of Iraq and I admire his knowledge and empathy for the Arabs/Palestinians. It seems such a great pity our government cannot do the right thing and recognise that the action of the Israelis is costing American lives in the never ending presence we have in Iraq, Afghanistan and probably Pakistan next. Where will it end? I keep thinking of the long ago European wars of 30 and 100 years—can we learn nothing from the past?

    Bill Weber