Two weeks ago, an American protester named Rachel Corrie stood in front of an Israeli bulldozer, then tripped and fell. The bulldozer continued in its path and crushed her.
Something of a media hurricane erupted. Though fellow leftists all but deified her, the general consensus seemed to be that her motives, while honest, were deeply misguided; that her death, while tragic, was hardly noble. After all, she was protesting the destruction of a house occupied by terrorist fanatics. Right?
In a world where Fox News reports unsubstantiated (and, it often turns out, untrue) claims as fact, where almost one in five Americans think the Bush administration has presented evidence that Saddam Hussein helped organize the September 11 attacks, and a majority think Iraqis helped hijack the planes, the public's ignorance on this matter is hardly surprising.
Still, the extent of that ignorance is staggering; at Metafilter, the most connected people on the planet spent kilobytes debating the merits and demerits of demolishing homes of the relatives of suspected militants before someone finally pointed out that the occupant, Dr. Samir Nasrallah, was an ordinary citizen with no connection (personal or familial) to militant activity; his home was destroyed because it was within a wide area along the Egyptian border that Israel had designated a "security strip." Like the other 10,000 houses Israel has demolished, it was destroyed without regard to preserving any of the possessions of the occupants, without ample warning to evacuate those possessions, without any compensation, without any chance for appeal.
In short, very few Americans know just how much Israel's policies in this area suck. Ninety-four percent of the homes it has bulldozed in the occupied territories were, like Dr. Nasrallah's, demolished for "administrative reasons," not because of any connection with terrorist activity. Other Israeli policies (the permanent curfew, for instance, and the strict controls on movement), while understandable, have decimated the Palestinian economy; more than 70 percent are now unemployed, and half live below the poverty line. In the short-term, some suicide bombers were prevented from crossing into Israel; in the long-term, coupled with the Israeli government's disregard for property and due process (again, understandable; again, counterproductive), it seems inevitable that frustrated Palestinian rage will erupt into further terrorism and incomprehensible that Israeli hawks ever thought the hardline policies could work.
But Palestinians and retributively slain Israelis are not the only victims. Outside the Middle East, a new wave of anti-semitism is rearing its ugly head. On French playgrounds, where Jewish children coexist with the children of Muslim immigrants, "feuj" (a slang form of "juif," the word for Jew) has become a new all-purpose pejorative. As an American fifth-grader steeped in South Park might say of a boring class, "This is so gay," a French child would call a broken calculator "completely feuj."
There is no excuse for prejudice, of course, but it is inevitable that some people will conflate the world's only Jewish state and the world's Jews, and when that state's government perpetrates inhumanities, rage will not be confined to government officials or to the people they represent.
I have Jewish relatives on three continents, but even those who needn't be concerned for their family's safety should have an interest in fighting anti-Semitism. Groups like the Union of Progressive Jews of Belgium, which visits Muslim neighborhoods to help explain the difference between Zionism and Judaism, are a start. The single most important contributor to anti-Semitism is overflowing anger at Israel, though, and the single most important contributor to anger at Israel is Israel's treatment of Palestinians.
Of course, many ask why it is only Israel that should be pressured into concessions. After all, the current conflict has radicalized Palestinians just as much as Israelis; 41 percent now say the goal of the intifada is not simply to gain a state in the West Bank but to overthrow Israel's regime.
But Israel, unlike Palestine, is led by a unified government, not a fragmentary patchwork of grassroots organizations spanning the ideological spectrum from liberal to Islamic fundamentalist. As such, that government can be cajoled into immediate, nationwide policy shifts. And cajole we should, for we certainly have leverage: The U.S. currently gives more financial aid to Israel than to the whole of Africa.
I know I'm going to hell for drawing a reference from The Last Action Hero, but in real life, games of chicken end in death. America must do whatever it can to break the cycle of escalation.