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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Dear Larry...

Today's post is a rarity here on treppenwitz. It is directed at one person. That one person is my old friend Larry.

I have known Larry since my university days, and can say without reservation that my deep respect and genuine love for him has only grown from those days to these.

Larry was our children's pediatrician for several years, and if I were to ever become independently wealthy, I would fly him in to treat my kids' every sniffle and cough before letting anyone else touch them. And then I would buy him a house right next to mine.

But Larry and I do not agree on many things political. That's fine. I don't demand that my friends agree with me... and I assume they grant me the free expression of my mind. But that doesn't mean anyone should smile and nod without giving a response when they don't agree with something a friend says. Intelligent people can continue to be friends while expressing their profound disagreement, no?

That is what I intend to do today. I am doing it publicly rather than in a private email because my friend Larry is no crackpot with unique or crazy ideas about the world. No... his opinions are extremely mainstream and are shared by many people. So even though this post is meant to be a direct response to a comment Larry left on yesterday's post (see below), I encourage others to read along since it might also address opinions you hold:

Larry's comment on yesterday's post:

"If you are a Palestinian Arab and live in Ramallah, how do you fly to Paris? Is it an easy process, like if you live in Efrat? Can you vote in national elections (ie Israel's, since there is no internationally recognized Palestinian state)? Do you have representation in Parliament? Do you really believe they have equal rights under Israeli law? If not, do you believe the Palestinian authority is completely self-governing? Should they have their own state so that they can have a voice in their daily lives? I'm not saying that there is an obvious solution, or that there is any tenable solution to the political crisis, but your post seems to ignore the rights that the average citizen of a democracy takes for granted that Palestinians lack. I'm not pointing blame, but I think one has to face reality. Larry"

Heres' my response:

Dear Larry,

If you read yesterday's post, you will recall that I freely admit that the Palestinians have far from a perfect existence. In fact, I went so far as to say that the past hundred years has been a profound trial for most of these people, albeit only recently due to anything israel may have done (or not done, as the case may be).

Since you mention international travel as your litmus test for a free people, let's talk about that.

I'll admit I didn't know the first thing about the subject when I saw your comment, so I did a little research. It turns out that since April of 1995 the Palestinian Authority has been issuing passports to anyone born in Palestine who requests one. It remains unclear how they define 'Palestine', but suffice it to say that anyone under their authority who wants a passport can apply for one and will likely receive it.

Palestinian_Authority_Passport

That said, a passport is only as good as the number of states who will honor it. So I did some more research. It turns out the following countries recognize the passport document issued by the PA: Algeria, Austria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Colombia, Cyprus, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Malta, Morocco, Netherlands, Pakistan, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States and Yemen.

It is worth noting that Lebanon and Syria adamantly refuse to honor Palestinian Passports and will not allow a Palestinian to travel to, from or via their territory unless they hold another valid passport issued by another country. That means that Palestinians in those countries are prisoners and cannot leave or travel.

Even though there is a long list of countries who accept the PA Passport, that doesn't mean instant admission, of course. There are visas and immigration policies to be considered, and I have no idea how free any of these countries are with admitting PA citizens or anyone else for that matter.

In the course of my research I found out that if a PA passport holder also holds citizenship of another country (such as Jordan or some of the Gulf states, which is quote common among the Palestinian population), they are required, according to the terms of the Interim agreement with Israel, to enter and leave via Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport. Otherwise they may come and go either through Israel or Jordan.

That's in theory (and largely unenforceable).

In practice I don't have any way of telling you how easy it is for a Palestinian to reach Ben Gurion or Amman for an international flight. I know it happens all the time since Palestinian big wigs are turning up around the world in the news all the time, and the gulf states and north African countries are full of Palestiian workers who got there somehow.

But my guess is that given that Palestinians raised Hijacking to an art form in the 60s, 70s and 80s, anyone holding a PA passport is going to be asked a few extra questions by security in any airport in the world.

Moving on... You asked about voting in National elections ("i.e. Israel's") and their having representation in Parliament.. I'm confused. Why should they vote in Israeli elections when they have an internationally recognized government body (the Palestinian Parliament and Authority) for which they can cast their vote?

There have been elections already, as you know. Hamas was chosen by popular vote, although the PA has not honored the results of that election. This is actually quite telling since Israel is being asked to enter into an agreement with the PA when the PA doesn't even honor agreements made with their own citizens.

Do the Palestinians have equal rights under Israeli law? No, nor should they (at present). They have their own government, representation and laws. I don't have equal rights under P.A. law and they don't have equal rights under Israeli law. [~shrugs~]

Do I think the Palestinian Authority is self governing? Yes. Does Israel have unhealthy influence over them? Yes. But then there are few countries in the world who aren't beholden to richer, more powerful countries when forming policy and pondering action.

The PA isn't a full fledged state, so it can't do many of the things that states can... but they have representation and missions around the world, and have assumed the ability to enter into binding agreements with foreign sovereigns even though it is not clear that they are legally allowed to do so under international law.

Larry... you are a doctor (and a damned fine one), so I will frame the following in terms that I hope will resonate with you:

States are not created in the laboratory or delivered whole in a sterile delivery/operating theater... they come to be in the real world, many times under less than ideal (i.e. 'field') conditions.

Let's say you are out driving when you come upon a multi-car accident and being a doctor, you get out to see if you could help treat the injured.

When you get to where a crowd is gathered, you see another doctor trying to treat a gravely injured patient who is stretched out in the dirt next to his destroyed car. Instead of lending a hand, you begin criticizing the doctor loudly enough for the gathered crowd to hear: "Hey, you can't treat a patient like that? Where is the sterile field? Why doesn't he have a neck collar on? Why aren't you wearing a cap, gown and double gloves? Have you sterilized all the instruments and bandages you are using to treat this man?..." and on and on you rave.

My point is that yes, I agree with you that the Palestinians are not getting the gold standard of care when it comes to a people trying to assert self-determination. But that is not the fault of Israel. We were handed a gravely wounded patient on the battlefield in 1967, and that patient's wounds had been inflicted by multiple parties... and ignored for so long that the patient's condition was already critical.

Admitedly, Israel bungled the decision of how to treat this patient by thinking it could take a wait and see approach. Critical patients rarely thrive on such a regimen.

But at this point the one thing that everyone agrees upon is that something must be done. What that something is is open to debate, and while we debate, the patient's condition worsens.

Worst of all, many of the 'doctors' who have been performing first aid on the patient since long before Israel came on the scene (the UN, various GOs and NGOs) have created a situation where the patient may never be able to be weaned off of life support and breathe (much less stand) on his own.

Should the Palestinians have their own state? That's the $64,000 question. Most of the world (and much of the Israeli political spectrum) says yes. I'm not among them.

Personally, I have always been in favor of annexing the west bank and giving all the Arabs Israeli citizenship. The myth of the demographic time bomb is just that. I could go on, but I'd rather link to an excellent article that lays out this idea for more eloquently than I ever could: Enjoy.

I hope you take what I have written in the spirit it was intended, and that you won't stop offering your opinions here (or anywhere you see fit).

Sincerely,

David (treppenwitz)

Posted by David Bogner on March 9, 2011 | Permalink

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Great post. Thanks for doing the research!

Posted by: Andy | Mar 9, 2011 12:04:50 PM

A lack of flaming hostility on the Palestinian Arabs' part would help a lot, too!

Posted by: Bob Miller | Mar 9, 2011 3:09:57 PM

Excellent post, thanks.

Posted by: SaraK | Mar 9, 2011 4:22:16 PM

Excellent post. I was fascinated to see that the UAE and other Gulf States recognise a Palestinian passport. A small story. I lived in the Gulf for 7 years (worked in the aviation business). In my work environment, I met a number of Palestinian Christians who had lived for a couple of generations in Jordan (and that was where their family still lived). They told me it was very difficult for their family from Jordan to visit them in the Gulf, not because of their Jordanian passports, but because the GCC countries were deeply suspicious of anyone with Palestinian origins (which is a large percentage of people holding Jordanian passports). I had more than one GCC citizen (Emiratee, Qatari) say to me that they didn't want Palestinians anywhere near their countries, because they didn't trust them and feared the terrorism.
If you get the chance to do the research, it would be interesting to know how many of the countries you mention actually grant visas to those holding a Palestinian passport. Do they actually put their money where their mouth is?

Posted by: Kiwi Noa | Mar 9, 2011 8:21:51 PM

If you are a Palestinian Arab and live in Ramallah, how do you fly to Paris?

You take a taxi to Amman through the Allenby bridge border crossing near Jericho and board a plane at the Amman international airport. Travel time about 1.5 hours. Since Jordan does not recognize Israeli sovereignty in the Jordan Valley, Israeli passport holders are not issued visas at Allenby bridge whereas PA passport holders are.

In practice this means that to reach Amman an Israeli Jew such as myself has to travel through the Arava crossing some 6 hours from Jerusalem (where I live), or through the King Hussein border crossing, some 4 hours away. From there it's another 2-3 hours to Amman.

Now let's talk about how difficult (or impossible) it is for Israeli Jews to travel to the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia with an Israeli passport, and compare this to the thousands of Arabs with PA or Jordanian passports who travel to these parts of the world regularly on vacation.

And then let's talk about real estate holdings and businesses that Palestinians own throughout the Arab world, and contrast that to the number of Jewish properties and businesses in Arab countries.

And how about employment opportunities for Israeli Jews in OPEC countries, compared to the thousands of Palestinians engineers, laborers and businessmen who work in the Arab oil industry? Or Palestinian trade with Arab states and the Arab embargo on Israel.

I would go on if I thought it made a bit of a difference to people who have chosen to look at a complicated situation in black and white. People who have chosen Israel to be the scapegoat for the world's ills have forfeited reason for ignorance.

Posted by: alex | Mar 9, 2011 9:45:38 PM

I wonder if a poll has been taken of West Bank Pals,and also those in Jerusalem,asking if given the choice between being a citizen of a new Pal State or a citizen of the racist,apartheid,State of Israel,which would they choose. If they selected the latter,(which I think many would)why would they want to be a citizen of a state that descriminates against them?

Posted by: ED | Mar 9, 2011 10:42:44 PM

@ED
I saw a poll like that in January:
http://www.jpost.com/NationalNews/Article.aspx?ID=203350&R=R1
It is just one of the many things that makes you realize that the "conflict" is not at all black and white.

Posted by: Av | Mar 10, 2011 11:52:29 AM

Well, I agree with you on one point: Larry is a great doctor! (I would know. I married him.)
Interesting research, but I can only imagine what it would be like to show up at Ben Gurion with a Palestinian passport. First, it's about "getting there." Then, ahhhh, the security. Quite a pat down that would be.

Posted by: cs | Mar 10, 2011 4:03:41 PM

another fan letter (see below re: the boxy swedish backpack): i've rarely, maybe never, seen a post so well written and argued- if you could really call it that- describing this particular kind of "old and dear friends who happen to have different political views" kind of situation- one which i (and many other american and other expats in israel) also happen to share with some old and dear friends.

your understanding of the political/ethical situation, at least as far as this post goes, is COMPLETELY in sync with my own. i envy your ability to put it out there so clearly, and not (as often happens with me and, i suspect, many others) get bogged down with frustration or emotional stuff or, in fact, anything negative at all.


your post gives me hope that a mature, mutually respectful political disagreement IS possible. i've had varying degrees of success with this sort of thing and, thank god, never actually lost a friendship over politics, but it can be (as i'm sure you know) pretty hairy out there, even between good friends, and i've never gotten anywhere near as good as you show yourself to be here. i don't know how old you are but have you ever considered the diplomatic corps.? not even kidding. kudos for the inspiration, and long live friendship that transcends political disagreement. sniffle.

now that i've gushed i'll stop before getting maudlin. :)

Posted by: jonathan becker | Mar 10, 2011 4:11:48 PM

Dear David,
Sorry that it took me so long to respond. Yesterday was a hectic day, and when I got home from work, intent on writing a response, I fell asleep on the couch with my mouth open (What in medicine is called the "positive'O'sign") and then staggered up to bed at a late hour. Chasing minyan 3 times a day while maintaining a full work schedule does that to me.
Now it's quiet in Teaneck and everyone's asleep in the house, so I'll give it a go.
Thank you so much for your considerate and well thought out response to my comments. One of the reasons I read Treppenwitz almost daily is not just because you're an old friend, and not just because I long to ride a red Vespa to work every day--although Teaneck to Paramus, NJ is not nearly as scenic as Efrat to Be'er Sheva--and live vicariously through your travel posts, but because of the wonderful balance you maitain in your writing. You may not agree with everyone who comments, but you give everyone an even-handed consideration that I personally appreciate. Also, of course, I appreciate what you have to say.
First, a few background comments. I consider myself only slightly left of center in the real world, but in the Jewish world in which I live, I suppose I'm regarded as a pinko, liberal, Ha'aretz and New York Times reading, NPR listening, ACLU card carrying, hybrid driving, Leftie. So be it. I consider myself relatively mainstream.
I try not to comment on Israeli politics too often, especially to Israelis. After all, what right do I have to comment on Israeli politics from the comfort of my armchair 6,000 miles away? But every once in a while I feel the need to say something. Shoot me.
My personal bias is that of someone who was raised in the shadow of the Enlightenment and a 1960's to 70's view of the US Constitution and believes in equal rights for all, irrespective of their origins. It's very pollyanna-esque, when you get right down to it. So that makes me blind sometimes to political vicissitudes and more focused on individual rights. That's me.
Now to the matter at hand.
When I asked about Palestinians and getting to Paris, it was not because I did or didn't know whether they could receive visas or passports; it was more as a comment to the end of your post from 2 days ago. You suggested that Palestinians can travel on any road in Israel, while Israelis are restricted from Palestinian roads. To you, that was an example of a double standard.
In Israel, there is a museum of the blind, where people can imagine what it is like to be sightless by simulating the experience for them. My travel analogy was the same. Imagine what it's like for the average Palestinian to travel overseas (not a "big wig" who gets easy travel clearance). How many searches do they endure to get to NaT BaG? What happens when they try to get on a plane? It was more of a metaphor, but the point was that Palestinians may have private roads, but they do not have it easy. Perhaps their standard of living is higher now, but it appears that they desire more. They are not the first people to want self-determination and complete unmitigated self-rule, but one should at least aknowledge that reality. Nationalism came late to Palestine, but it's there now.
As for the Palestinian Authority's autonomy to which you allude, I don't really get that. It's like living in Washington D.C. (lehavdil). You get to vote on some level, but you don't really get to make absolute and complete self-legislating decisions.
I wrote more, but I just deleted it. It was even more sanctimonious than what I already stated, and I think you get the idea.
Thanks so much for taking the time to address my comments.
Stop by the next time you're in Teaneck. I can't play a wind instrument for beans, but I'll spring for the barbecue. :)

Posted by: Larry | Mar 11, 2011 7:20:54 AM

Larry... We share more background AND opinions than you suspect. I want the Palestinians to have a normal life. But they must accept some responsibility for the deep suspicion which with they are viewed - in Israel and around the world. The occupation did not radicalize them or turn a portion of them into terrorists. They were carrying out terror attacks against Israel, and any nation they thought might be a friend of Israel, long before 1967. And much as I would love to see Palestinians have the ability to drive to the airport and board a plane as easily as I do, events like yesterday's discovery of a Palestinian trying to smuggle several bombs through a check point (http://www.jpost.com/Headlines/Article.aspx?id=211702) make it clear that they require extra scrutiny. They caused the current state of difficulty for themselves by choosing armed resistance, not Israel. Would you let your wife and kids board a flight from Ben Gurion knowing Palestinians were being given the same cursory screening that I get? I'm a liberal too when it comes to human rights. But I check my liberalism with my luggage when I board a flight. The Palestinians always had the option of a Gandhi or MLK approach to their struggle. So long as even a few of them cling to the armed struggle... all Palestinian lives will be lived under conditions that neither you nor I would want for any human being. I hear you already about to respond that the few militants can't be controlled by the leadership or the majority, so why should the entire population be punished. And I would answer that if they can't control them now... why should Israel make sacrifices in a potential peace deal when our day to day reality will not change afterwards?

Posted by: Treppenwitz | Mar 11, 2011 8:58:24 AM

You are correct; we are similar in outlook.
My hope is not that they get screened getting on a plane at Ben Gurion.
My hope is that they board a plane in the new, shiny Yassir Arafat International Airport (Yes, irony-- an airport named after a terrorist who blew up planes-- kind of like naming an airport JFK when JFK JR died in a plane crash) located outside sunny Jenin.
In other words, although the security issues are dicey, I dream of total separation from the Palestinians and a peace that develops over time between the two peoples.
Now, that dream seemed much closer before Hamasistan occurred in Gaza. Once that happened, it even made liberals like me nervous about a Palestinian state. Still, a guy can dream.
Larry

Posted by: Larry | Mar 11, 2011 4:30:10 PM

Dear Dr. Larry,

I do not know you (nor David for that matter) and you don't know me, so let me give you a little background before I comment. I am from the US and I, too, grew up in the 60's and 70's. My older sister was in college and involved in the anti-Vietnam marches while my father (a university administrator and a US Army veteran) helped to patrol university buildings to protect campus properties from my sister's associates -- many of whom broke windows, set fires, etc. in the name of peace. As you can imagine, there were some tumultuous times in our house! To frame it another way, I'm a Christian, NRA-supporting, Ronald Reagan-loving, SUV-driving, Heritage Foundation conservative Republican.

While I agree that each individual should enjoy their God-given freedoms and be able to pursue life, liberty and practice their own religion, but I disagree with your points about Palestinian self-determination. You say nationalism came late to the Palestinians... I respectfully disagree. Muslim (Palestinian) organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas, The Palestinian Authority, et al. have repeatedly rejected a dual state solution -- even when Israel was created by the U.N.

These groups repeatedly call for the total destruction of Israel. They are not so much concerned about establishing a nation of Palestine as they are concerned with eradicating all Jews from the Earth. This will, eventually, include you and your heirs. Since I am confident the fanatical Muslims will also focus on Christians as well, that puts my family next of the their hit list of infidels.

I look at the Muslims who follow (what I would call) radical Islam and I see a culture of death. They disrespect women. They teach children to hate Jews at the earliest age. They not only condone, but they encourage women and children to strap bombs on themselves in order to attain glory by killing innocent Jews (and any non-Jews who happen to be in the way). These are not nation-builders who support self-determination. They are the worst kind of threat to all who don't support their brand of hatred. Many of the leaders are fanatical, evil terrorists -- there are no other word I can find which are more appropriate.

I look at the Israeli "friends" I've encountered through the internet and I see people like myself. People who love life. They want their children to get educated and grow up to have babies and make the world a better place. To enjoy the blessing G-d gives us each and every day. In the Muslim world, I see mothers and fathers encouraging their kids to die (and kill others) in order to reach martyrdom. I see terrorist leaders cut the head off of Jews because they are "infidels" in the eyes of this so-called "religion of peace".

No, the Muslims who follow hatred and death are not just misguided souls who can "see the light" if we show them enough understanding and compassion. Their leaders don't just have a different mindset, they have a black soul which celebrates death. I fear (for all peace-loving people on this planet) that we're about 1,000 years too late to enlighten the Muslims who follow these leaders. I fear that only death (theirs or ours) will end this chronic conflict in the world. If I'm right, I pray that God will grant the worthy victory and have mercy of the losers' souls.

ProphetJoe

Posted by: ProphetJoe | Mar 11, 2011 4:49:03 PM

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