Monday, July 14, 2014

American Hypocrisy re: Israel and Palestine

Fighting has broken out between Israel and Palestine again. It's part of a war that has continued since even before partition in 1947. It's a complex history that many people today seem to be clueless about. My comments are not directed at who is right or wrong. This is NOT about choosing sides, and frankly like all things human, there is much good and bad for each. With certainty there are no innocents in this struggle.

If you talk to people in Israel or Palestine, there is a host of opinions.But when you come to America, people are taking sides and their eyes glaze over and the basis for their feelings are too often based on certain religious beliefs or a compulsory need to side with the underdog. Precious little is based upon the actual facts, including the history and realities for both peoples.

Furthermore, and this is what led to this post and where the hypocrisy lies. In defending Palestine, too often I hear the argument that since the Israelis have such overpowering superiority militarily, it's an unfair fight and therefore somehow wrong. Innocents are killed, most often on both sides. Had we not used geopolitical power chess in the region rather than seriously finding solutions after partition, this might have all been avoided. The same goes for many countries in the region. Look, war is wrong and EVERY war kills innocents (and innocence) and I believe war should be opposed for no other reason. But seriously, are we as Americans going to complain about a lop sided military advantage? After we were attacked in 9-11, we have had wars in two countries, and killed countless thousands more than we ever lost. One of the countries we went to war with wasn't in any way connected with 9-11, but that didn't stop us. Still today, drones attack and kill innocent men and women along with the guilty in Pakistan, Yemen, and in certain African nations. I just find it extremely hypocritical to blame somebody else for what we do all the time.

It's an arrogance born of power, and one of the inevitable results of privilege born of colonial power. We don't have colonies as much in the traditional sense, but we nevertheless control those many other people around the world through our wealth and might. Indeed the entire Middle East is made up of nation states informed not by the needs of the people who lived there, but for European and then American convenience. Some conflicts in the region today find their roots in the late 19th and early 20th century when we arbitrarily drew lines and ruled from afar. Troubles in Syria and in our dealings with Iraq and Iran stem from our arbitrary replacement of Sunni leadership with Shia under Bush.

I'd like to make another point here. Israel is not America. Yet we've elected officials who act as if American and Israeli issues are one and the same. In truth I would argue that the people of Israel are far more similar to the Palestinians than anybody else. But after fighting a struggle with each other going back to the 1940's, the rise of the Likud party who still dominates in the nation consensus party of today,we find an Israel that does not care to compromise. The Bible would and did refer to them as "a stiff necked people." The horrible conditions of the people in Palestine aided by the way by Arab nations including Trans Jordan who refused to allow the refugees in because of tribal differences ensuring the ghettos of today) and the uncompromising attitude of a defacto dominant Hamas (despite a ruling Fatah), ensures compromise is unlikely anytime soon. Both are trapped by their own intransigence.

I'm under no illusions. Our arrogance knows no bounds. But our leaders taking the role of cheerleaders for one side is not good foreign policy nor does it support American interests. Then we have the religious figures intent only on their really bizarre alliance with one side based on the idea that the great battle will take place there and Jesus will return and God will kill off all Jews who do not convert, oh please give me a break! We only provide fuel for the disputes to continue. Only yesterday I learned that the American boy who was so brutally beaten by Israel authorities the other day had to deal with his local Congresswoman siding with the Israeli police against her own constituent. On what planet does that make sense? If he was joining the other kids in harassing the authorities and that has not been established, it does not matter. When is it ever okay to handcuff an under age boy and then beat and kick him senseless? How can you side with a foreign nation against your own citizen and constituent? On the other side, I see thinly veiled anti-semitism in some of the opposition to Israel, as well as the threat of the accusation used by those on the other side. Historically both sides can lay claim to some pretty serious oppression and ignoring one for the other seems, well, oppressive.

So I as an American am pissed off at Palestine. I'm also pissed off at Israel. But most of all, I'm pissed off at America. Truly your hypocrisy is showing, once again. Let's work for peace and security for all people, rather than marching lock step to the drums of conflict. While we are at it, pretty good time to do some looking inward as well.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Summer of '67

Rear left to right: Grady (my Dad), Uncle Franklin, Uncle Wilburn, Uncle Hilyard
Front row left to right: Uncle Jerry, Grandpa Jimmy, Uncle J.B.

So last night checking my Facebook, my cousin Melinda mentioned a show with Billy Crystal where he talks about his Dad and lessons learned over the years. His father died when he was 15. Her Dad, Mark, was 17 when his Dad (and my Uncle Wilburn) died. Instantly I was transported back in time, even more when I tuned into the show she mentioned.

There are times in our lives when it seems everything swirls out of control. It's like the universe is realigning, and that includes the person you are as well. My year of reckoning was '67. On July 9th, I celebrated my 20th birthday. That very next day we would get the call. There had been a terrible accident. My Uncle Wilburn had been killed, My cousin Mark was in Parkland Hospital with a closed injury, and the other family members were scattered about town in other hospitals.Immediately we left for Dallas. After the funeral, we returned to Tyler for a couple of days before me heading back out for Irving, spending as much time keeping an eye on Mark. He had a closed head injury, and any fall could be deadly.

Before going on with this story, I've an observation to make. amidst all the chaos, some of the most mundane details were stored in my old and often fading memory cells. What we talked about around Aunt Louise's kitchen table. My cousin Gary was released from the Marines and together we would talk into the wee hours waiting for our next shift at the hospital. The memories of this time are as if it all happened yesterday despite the fact almost 47 years has elapsed.

So this all went on until July 18th. Then Dad called. My Aunt Vi on Mom's side had a coronary and had died. I hopped a bus back to Tyler and we set out for Arkansas where her funeral was held. In a family filled with preachers her brother in law delivered the eulogy and she was laid to rest in a small country cemetery, then back to the old family homestead in the back woods. Wow, two family members so close together. Back to Tyler we went, where I spent a couple of days helping Dad build a corral.

I should say the corral from hell. Working in that hot East Texas sun, we pounded away putting it all together. Towards the end of that last day, both our tempers were worn thin. Daddy apparently asked me to hand him something and I didn't hear him and then he exploded. He was yelling and screaming and I was yelling and screaming back and both of us were so furious it's a miracle we didn't come to blows over it all.

Now I used to talk about how Daddy didn't know how to use the word "sorry." In fairness at that part of my life, neither did I. So we didn't talk that evening, and the next morning I headed out for Irving once again. I got into the routine of all night sojourns at the hospital, sitting in the kitchen at Aunt Louise's chatting and visiting. Daddy called once, but the conversation was strained. Oh how I wish I had not been so proud and stubborn.

On August 1st, 3 weeks since my Uncle had been killed, Mom called. She was in tears, sobbing and crying and it was hard to understand her. Daddy had been back out with an old War Buddy visiting to the farm and he'd done some more work on the corral. This morning, he seemed totally exhausted. He collapsed to the floor in front of Momma and my brother Marlowe where he died. She had called the doctor and he had rushed over to the house, but it was too late.

I gathered my clothes, and Gary drove me back to Tyler. We made the trip in record time, and immediately I was busy helping make the funeral arrangements, picking a casket etc. Life from this day forward would be very different.

I did not realize at the time yet how much that fight had affected me with Daddy. I drank a lot which numbed some of the pain. But somewhere in all this I had developed a nervous twitch in one hand and it was there for some years. Many years later, through a program of sobriety, I sat down and began talking to an empty chair, where sat my imagery of Daddy. I talked about that day. About all I had done wrong that day. Then I asked him to forgive me. From that day on, the hand never shook again.

The lessons from all that are pretty clear. We never know when a loved one or friend will go away. Take the time to tell them you love them, and don't let arguments have time to fester into resentments. Funny thing: One person I was pissed of with was Daddy for dying before we could make amends. Pretty lame eh? But my hunch is talking with others that it's not that uncommon. Oh and relish the moments you have with family. Most of my family doesn't communicate with me any more because of my "difference." A few do and I love each one of you so. Still I've got memories. A game of dominos, or five card draw, or Monopoly, mixed liberally with plans to save the world, laughter, arguments about what cards are wild, adventures in the great outdoors,telling our stories as only a family of storytellers can, each forming a memory mosaic that encircles the heart.