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Palestinians Are Not Mexicans
And Israel Is Not America.

by Derek Copold ([email protected]) The Houston Review August 19, 2001

Simplistic analogies are a lousy way to do foreign policy. It seems a truism to say this, but columnists who should know better still keep doing it. One of the most egregious examples is an attempt to turn Palestinians into Mexicans. It works like this: a columnist defending Israel rhetorically asks something like, "What if Mexico or the Mexicans did A, B, or C? We'd do D, right?"

For example, on June 4 Russell Smith, AKA "Mugger", wrote of the Palestinians ( in general, and Arafat in particular, "Put it this way: if Mexican militants were lobbing shells across the border and sent suicide bombers to discos in Los Angeles, the U.S. would immediately act."

Picking up on Smith's example, Jonah Goldberg fabricated a similar scenario in his August 17 syndicated column, ( "A Mexican suicide bomber walked into a pizza restaurant in a Santa Fe, N.M., mall this morning, killing at least 15 people, mostly children. Up to a hundred others were wounded; Militia in Tijuana, Mexico, fired rocket grenades into downtown San Diego, killing 20, wounding 50 and, once again, snarling morning traffic." The implication being that as a result we'd smack the Mexicans into next week.

There's a whiff of the desperate emanating from Goldberg's link between the two situations: "[America] took land from Mexicans -- America's claim to Texas and the Southwest is certainly far less morally compelling than Israel's is to its land."

Only if one overlooks a few important facts. For one thing, the Mexicans have long recognized the current borders in a number of treaties, giving our ownership of the southwest international standing. In fact, almost fifty years after the Mexican War, our southern neighbors sold us more land with the Gadsen Purchase; they even tried to get us to take Baja California off their hands as well. That cannot be said of the West Bank, Gaza or East Jerusalem. No one, not even Israel's ally, the US, recognizes their right to retain the land lying outside of their 1967 borders. The comparison fails at the personal level also. The Mexicans who were trapped on our side of the border after the 1845-48 war were made American citizens, whereas the Palestinians in the territories remain stateless.

Goldberg ignores these realities, preferring instead to use history like silly putty, something that can be molded to suit his taste: "When the European Jews not already living in Palestine arrived there after World War II, the area was largely empty. What is today called Jordan was the historic home of many `Palestinians.' And, after all, even the most militant Muslim must concede that the Bible places the land as the historic home of the Jews."

The first assertion is either willfully deceptive or embarrassingly ignorant, and the second one is irrelevant. In 1945, Palestine was full of people, mostly Arabs, who lived in established cities and tended numerous orchards. My wife's family is an example. They came from Ramallah and had relatives scattered throughout the area. Was it as crowded as it is now? No, but it was no more "largely empty" than, say, California is today. As to the biblical claim, so what? It didn't do the Serbs a lot of good when they argued that Kosovo was not only within their recognized borders but was also their historic homeland. If we don't respect that, why should we honor a 1900-year-old claim, even if it is in the Good Book. Now, if Goldberg wants to argue that what's done is done and that Israel, pre-1967 borders, is a reality and that the suicide bombings are barbaric and obscene, fine; I agree. But his dismissal of the Palestinians' right to make a claim as a people, as his bracketing of the word "Palestinians" with quote marks indicates he wants to do, is indefensible.

But going back to the main point: what if the Mexicans were launching suicide attacks against Americans? Yes, we'd respond, but wouldn't we also find out why these deranged Mexicans started killing civilians along with themselves? To do this, we need to extend the comparison: let's say the US seized Mexico and began importing settlers. And then, to house these settlers, let's say the US expropriated the land from the Mexicans, destroying crops, dispossessing families from homes they've lived in for centuries, and herding them into miserable camps. Then let's say that the American settlers began terrorizing the Mexicans who hadn't yet lost their homes, as is happening in the West Bank and Gaza. (Click for details.) Finally, let's say that, using these settlements as "facts on the ground" to justify Mexico's continued occupation, the US then began appropriating Mexico's natural resources, just as "[a]t present, Israel uses about 80% of the water of the Territories, leaving just 20% to their Palestinian inhabitants." (Click for source)

The Mexicans might first try peaceful protests, but it wouldn't be easy if we treated them like the Israelis do Palestinian dissidents. It's often overlooked, but crucial to note, that the current fighting wasn't so much ignited by Ariel Sharon's storming the Temple Mount with 1,000 troops as it was by Israeli soldiers shooting several Palestinians dead when they protested his visit the next day. Things have not improved. As the Independent's Robert Fisk noted of Israeli brutality at a recent demonstration: "It was, as one of the foreign protesters muttered, enough to turn a Palestinian into a suicide-bomber."

Under these conditions, how could we not expect the Mexicans to retaliate? Indeed, when the US moved into the southwest uninvited, the Mexicans did just that, and so did the Indians, whom Goldberg also trots in speciously. Yes, both groups lost, and they got a raw deal in the end, but for now their conditions cannot compare to that of the Palestinians. Neither the Mexicans nor the Indians are in a stateless limbo, chafing under the arbitrary dictates of trigger-happy soldiers and hiding from the frenzied fury of fanatical settlers. They vote, buy property and get jobs, even those who shouldn't be here at all, and thus the Mexicans don't behave like the Palestinians. They don't have to.

Therefore, the question "What if the Mexicans acted like the Palestinians?" has no meaning; it's baseless. We'd be better off asking ourselves more pertinent questions, like "Why do apparently intelligent people feel they must go to such lengths to concoct these ridiculous scenarios in the first place?"

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