Nestler’s Wespeak (“Response from Nestler on Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” Feb. 6, 2009, Volume CXLV, Number 3) is an interesting attempt to unleash a deluge of “facts” upon the debate. Facts are relevant, but do not themselves make an argument (well, especially when they’re incorrect). In the interests of my reader, I will present a short summing up of Nestler’s points and my rebuttals in the next two paragraphs, and then later I will go into details.
Nestler claims the Palestinians weren’t historically a people and then recognizes the need for a two-state solution. I disagree (they were), but to keep this short and sweet, it doesn’t matter whether or not they were; for the practical purposes of a political solution, they are a people (so get over it), and at the time of Israel’s creation even if they were the same like every other Levantine Arab, they were still kicked out of their homes. He plays specious number games (Palestinian refugees, Gaza death tolls) that distract from the simple fact that Palestinians are, as I originally stated, under occupation, refugees, or in diaspora. This came about with the creation of Israel, and no honest political solution can ignore the effects of occupation and expulsion (again, Israel’s “intentional” expulsion of the Palestinians is hotly debated, but the simple fact is they haven’t been allowed to return to their homeland). Nestler invokes racist myths about “Arabs” as a homogenous mass, as if they’re all the same. He selectively talks about them when they are attacking each other, and other times ignores his own argument and makes it appear as if they don’t have serious conflicts of interests (thus why Palestinians are mistreated in some of their host countries).
Ultimately, Nestler appears at pains to expand the debate to such a length that the reader either stops paying attention (and forgets the original injustices) or thinks that “Nestler’s really smart” because he can quote lots of dates and figures. Nestler throws facts at my arguments and speaks past me (“Hey, you forgot this!”) instead of actually writing critically about the severity of the Palestinians’ situation. I will repeat again: Palestinians are responding, and it is Israel’s obligation to start making serious gestures towards peace and justice beyond token solutions that pit Palestinians against each other for a few scraps (for example, Palestinian “Bantustans” after the Oslo agreement; also consider the settlements, roads, and barriers that criss-cross the Occupied Territories).
Nestler, last time I checked, the UN condemned Sudan too. Are you a right-wing nut who thinks the UN is some fantastic conspiracy against the US and Israel? I hope not, since that conspiracy defies logic; the US is also on the Security Council and helped create the UN. Also, in General Assembly votes it’s usually the US and Israel voting against, ahem, the world. For example, in 2004 it was 150 to 6 against the West Bank separation barrier.  That’s countries voting, not 150 anti-Semitic rat bastards. But I guess everyone’s anti-Semitic; including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B’Tselem and every other organization (or persons) of conscience.
Please don’t talk about “Palestinian rejection” (to the reader: common phrase, though Nestler didn’t use it specifically). How would you like it if I took over half your house and when you complained, I said you had to come up with a decent peace proposal? I’m sorry if it seems like I’m over-simplifying things, but coherent arguments must be self-limiting, and I don’t think I’m making unjustified abstractions. Ultimately, as Norman Finkelstein said, the Palestinians have the prerogative to determine what peace demands they have (of course, there’s also a question of what’s “practical,” but that’s for them to decide). In 1988, for example, the PLO accepted the two-state solution. So – gasp – has Hamas, although that’s not publicized, just its charter.  Well, of course they’re going to keep a bargaining chip (denying Israel recognition).
How can you talk about the Israeli government defending itself (“Jews” according to you; though not necessarily equivalent as many of my anti-Zionist Jewish friends will tell you)? The creation of Israel caused what is now one of the world’s biggest refugee crises, and Israel regularly attacks the Occupied Territories; where Palestinians live without a government to protect them. That doesn’t sound like “defense.” If you think I mocked your point, you should have brought a better argument; honestly, I’m still wondering, how you “humanely” subject a people to occupation.
As for Hamas missiles: those were actually a response to Israel’s siege of Gaza. This is not to justify Hamas’s attacks, but to place them in proper context of the occupation. Hamas was democratically elected in 2006 and almost immediately the US and Israel started stoking a civil war between Fatah and Hamas (just like they encouraged antagonisms in the late ‘80s, though at that time in Hamas’s favor). In fact, the US and Israel gave weapons to Fatah.  How generous! But, they weren’t done yet: Israel, “effectively occupying Gaza,” used siege as a tactic of collective punishment against the Palestinian people.  So now we can understand the rocket attacks, and the true psychological terror Israelis had to face in the context of the effective decimation of Gaza.
Yes, Jews were expelled from Arab countries (in response to the creation of Israel); this was terrible, but this doesn’t dismiss the fact that Palestinians were expelled and continue to live without a state. Also, Benny Morris said “700,000 or so.”  That was a stupid numbers game we just played. Point: hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled their homes (also in response to news of massacres like Deir Yassin, where around a hundred Palestinians were killed by Zionist terrorists [Irgun and Lehi]). And yes, around 1,300 Palestinians were killed in the recent Gaza carnage, and this has been confirmed by almost all major media outlets. Israel must have really cared about the death toll anyways since by January 22, 2009, “Israel has not provided its own version of a Palestinian death toll, though [Ehud] Barak said he believes dead militants outnumber dead civilians.”  (Neo)colonial rhetoric of “human shields” and “counter-insurgency” is used to justify the effective destruction of a people caused by occupation, and the real massacre carried out by our very own US-made Apache helicopters and Hellfire missiles. In addition, you neglect to mention why the al-Aqsa Intifada (2000) began. I’m not going to go into it (for example, settlements, or Ariel Sharon visiting Temple Mount with around one thousand police officers), but needless to say Palestinians are not irrational and didn’t just up and reject a great peace offer.
In sum, I hope I have not appeared self-righteous. My life has not been at stake in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and I appreciate that I’m writing for a school newspaper from the safety of this privileged institution. But I try and put my two cents in when appropriate, because racism, oppression and massacre should never be justified.
 “Israel’s legal obligations are heightened by its continued effective occupation of the Gaza Strip. Israel withdrew its military forces from Gaza in September 2005, yet it still maintains effective control over the territory via its control of Gaza’s land borders, airspace, territorial waters, tax collection, and population registry.”