Strange Bedfellows: The United States, Israel and ISIS

mai abdul rahman              August 12, 2014

candle-children-483Palestinian children hold candles during a peaceful demonstration in Gaza City, July 3, 2006 (MaanImages/Thaeer al-Hassany).

As an American Palestinian woman, Arab, and Muslim, I am deeply concerned with the plight of the many displaced communities across the Middle East. It is heartbreaking to passively read of the forced expulsion and fragmentation of families, and entire communities in what appears to have become an open war on helpless women and innocent children. The consequences of each recent war and battle whether in Iraq, Syria, or Gaza are heart wrenching for any sane individual to contemplate.

Most troubling is the fact that in every instance, US policies and interventions have contributed to the tragic outcome we are witnessing. Our funding and support of the Mujahidin in Afghanistan gave rise to the Taliban, who then gave rise to the Al- Qaeda, and who then gave rise to Al- Nusra, and most currently, to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). This unfathomable situation has occurred as a result of US initiatives, and perhaps, an unwitting series of policies that fed and fueled each of these ill-fated events.The trajectory of our foreign policy decisions is ample evidence of Einstein’s theory of insanity. Nevertheless, the US can still play a role in reversing this awful trend that is sweeping the Middle East.

The wholesale displacement, yet again, of Palestinians of Gaza, where many of them were first forced into homelessness 66 years ago- could have been averted. Overnight during the month of July thousands of Palestinian women became widows and sole providers, meanwhile they helplessly watched as countless of their innocent children were senselessly killed, injured, maimed, or orphaned. For more than seven years and counting these same Palestinian women and children have been captive to an of Israeli administered, and US sanctioned Siege, that robbed them of their basic sense of normalcy, human rights, and security.

Equally troubling is the plight of the Christians of Mosul, the Yazidis, and the many Arab minorities who are enduring unimaginable atrocities. Soon after witnessing the death and killing of their fathers, many Iraqi children are forced homeless away from their extended families, by ISIS, which the US played a hand in its theoretical and practical foundation. Most worrisome is the long-term outcome of this mass and irreversible displacement of entire populations (Palestine, Syria, and Iraq to name a few), that is threatening the region’ stability, spreading hatred and resentment across every ethnicity and faith, and will more than likely embroil the US for many years to come.  

The US is responsible for advancing a number of policies that have contributed to each of the tragic events that are sweeping the Middle East. Perhaps these policies were knee jerk quick solutions to address one issue at a time and place, but since their initial formation they have become entrenched and institutionalized. The US removal of one authoritarian leader or another, has replaced them with bigger authoritarians, and more deadly militant leaders. Meanwhile, these short sighted initiatives have yet to be evaluated or altered.

For example our long term involvement in the Palestinian-Israeli discord has yet to bring an end to the decades long Israeli occupation of Palestine, or Israel’s seven year Gaza Siege and confinement of 1.8 million Palestinians. Maintaining the same old tired policies have in fact exasperated the situation in Palestine, where recurring violence has become predictable and accepted. Most critically our failed policies are threatening the cohesion among the various faiths and ethnic groups in the Middle East. If we continue on this path we will destroy the organic fabric of the many cultures of the Middle East, and we will tear the political order of the Arab world. Here are few illustrations to ponder:

  • The proliferation of militant radicals in the Middle East is the product of poorly designed US foreign policy initiatives that were intended to either transfer power, or counter one power by supporting another. We have failed to factor the impact of our actions, or adequately support the spread of homegrown democratic principles of inclusion. Most dangerously the US underestimated the direct result of spill over (Iraq, Libya, Sudan).
  • The void, created by our invasion of Iraq, and our subsequent policies was filled by those who claim to want to bring an end to the sectarian Maliki Iraqi government, that was picked, supported, and installed by the US.
  • If there is a void, there is a vacuum; Iraqis and Syrians are unwittingly consuming radical ideologies including the most militant- and violent- in desperate hope to end their collective oppression.
  • Our support of Israeli policies even when they contradict our own national objectives has emboldened Israel’s right wing leaders and weakened Israel’s peace camp. More importantly our newly adopted policy of accepting Israel’s exclusive religious national character are fueling extremism within Israel and militant ideologies across the Middle East.

Americans of all faith need to consider the implications of insisting that Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish” state. While initiatively many acknowledge that the spread of theocratic principles are an alarming development, nonetheless most have refrained from seriously reflecting on the implications Israel’s new definition on the Middle East. Few if any are willing to discuss the inherent flaws of advancing theocracies in the Middle East, and fewer are seriously examining how will Israel’s new and narrow theocratic definsition impact, or validate the spread of sectarianism in the Middle East and the region. Unquestionably, theocracies are rife with special interests and entitlements, they advance the exclusivity of one faith over another, and disallow honest discourse; inhibit the growth of democratic principles, and undermine the concept and practice of equality under the law. Our endemic silence in the face of this fundamental change in Israel’s character will certainly have serious consequences.

Challenging common held beliefs regarding Israel may sound aggressive or caustic for some, however stating the truth is most critical at this juncture. To deny a “Jewish” state, means we deny a “Sunni” or “Shiite” only state. Such a statement of principle does not negate the fact, that Israel since 1948 has been a functioning state where Jews have lived and thrived. The adoption and acceptance of Israel as a “Jewish” state, rather than a “state for Jews”, will deny the rights of Israeli citizens who may not be Jewish and will advance far right militant extremists within Israel. It will also  promote the growth of another theocratic ideology across the Middle East. This definitive change will also substantiate the objectives of the many militant factions who are actively adopting similar sectarian ideologies. Uncorrected these policies are promoting exclusivity, institutional decay, and sectarianism across the Middle East, and beyond.

Collectively- one and all are advocating Dark Age ideas that should have been rendered obsolete in the 21st Century. We must recognize and arrest this fundamental change that Netanyahu first advanced for Palestinians to recognize Israel as a “Jewish” state before it is too late. No one should be willingly supportive and encouraging of the militant sectarian groups like ISIS who are calling for  Muslim Sunni, Shiite, or any other entity endorsing the domination of one group over another. So what will it take to change this alarming trend? In the spirit of forward thinking these alternative policies have the potential of reversing the progress of this worrying trend:

  • Advance Truly Secular States in the Middle East- To end and mitigate the spread of radical extremists of any faiths we must allow democratic Islamic leaning parties to participate along side a variety of nationalist, progressive, democratic, and left leaning factions. Their presence must be tolerated as part and parcel of the natural and dynamic political landscape of the people of the Middle East. Only a truly secular state that involves all its citizens, where its laws are equally respectful of every citizen regardless of faith and ethnicity, and where a variety of ideologies are represented will have the means to effectively curtail and end the spread of ISIS and their likes.
  • Allow International Monitors in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and GazaTo end what has become predictable and recurring violence among Palestinians and Israelis where negotiated truces are temporary agreement for the cessation of hostilities until a later date, the US must support the deployment of international monitors. Independent monitors can play a crucial role in giving both parties the necessary security to begin the transition to a final just peace. In addition, the deployment of international monitors such as the UN and EU forces across the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, will afford Palestinians and Israelis the necessary protections that they have been lacking. The presence of international monitors will protect the Palestinian population from harm, and will assuage Israel’s fears and insecurities. Also the deployment of international monitors will help control and limit Palestinian violence against Israelis, and will also monitor and curb young Israeli soldiers from indiscriminately accosting young Palestinians, and minimize the taunting and abuse of peaceful demonstrators.
  • Recognize the Palestinian Non- Violent Movement The US must recognize the Palestinian non-violent Movement as a viable credible national movement. Our intentional disregard of the decades long and well established Palestinian non-violent movement is counter productive for both Palestinians and Israelis. Furthermore, continuing to ignore the Palestinian non-violent movement will discourage its growth and adoption by others in the region who are witnessing the continued futility of the Palestinian non- violent movement, while observing Israel’s long standing occupation, and military conquests. Without US and international acknowledgement of the viability of the Palestinian non- violent movement, by default we are encouraging Palestinians to use force to end Israel’s oppressive polices. In the words of Nelson Mandela “I followed the Gandhian strategy for as long as I could, but then there came a point in our struggle when the brute force of the oppressor could no longer be countered through passive resistance alone.”
  • Support Truth and Reconciliation– Just as the end of Apartheid gave rise to the Truth Commissions in 1996 and provided an authentic opportunity for two peoples to heal. The US must find partners in the region willing to shoulder such an undertaking. The successful outcomes of such an endeavor will help build the necessary mechanism for people who have suffered, to address their grief, loss, concerns, and forgive one another. It is important to note that this form of reconciliation is within the organic culture of the people of the Middle East where many large and small disputes have been resolved, meaningfully addressed, and put to rest. Also implementing such a strategy within the Palestinian- Israeli context may heal the scars of the Israeli occupation- that both Palestinians and Israelis carry, and could help others in the region follow such a constructive path.
  • End the Practice of Allowing US Citizens to Join Foreign Armies– Americans today are serving in several form and informal armies across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. More than a thousand young Americans are serving in the IDF, and countless others are part of multiple armies in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Somalia to name a few. While the US Supreme Court clearly states that it is illegal for foreign countries to enlist Americans- yet Israel, the Syrian opposition, and others clearly promote the enlistment of young Americans in their respective armies on line, and through their many US affiliates. These young Americans who join the IDF, Iraqi, Libyan, and Syrian opposition are open to be charged with war crimes committed on unarmed women, innocent children and civilians. As a matter of fact, US citizens fighting for the IDF, or ISIS are by default given permission to kill and maim young children, and can be legally held accountable for their crimes. The US needs to put an end to this practice that has harmful ramifications for our young. Instituting such a measure will protect our young from having to commit acts dictated by foreign entities that most legal experts define as crimes against humanity. Many young Americans have already lost their life to advance foreign interests that are not inline with our own national interests or values.

Instituting one or several of these initiatives may not solve the ISIS crisis in particular, however these strategies will help undermine the theological and political foundation of extremism and radical militant groups who falsely claim to be protectors of persecuted people of one nation, group or another. They may also lay the foundation for changing the hostile climate that is gripping the Middle East, and end the culture of war and theocratic ideologies that now pervades across the region.

The Arab world was once a haven of tolerance, and if we are not careful we will soon jeopardize one of the longest standing secular societies in the Middle East. Palestinians can become a model for others in the region if the US is willing to allow them measurable success. In fact, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the officially recognized Palestinian representative, still holds true to these principals. The PLO still welcomes the involvement and participation of Jewish Palestinians, and represents the tapestry of the Palestinian people, their faiths and ideologies- right, left, and center.

Yes Muslims, Christians, Jews and their many sects were once neighbors, friends, and partners in trade and learning across the Arab world. ISIS and other narrow minded organizations, groups, and nations who slaughter unarmed men, women, children, and those who crucify Christians, or others for their faith, sect, or ethnicities do not speak or represent the faithful interpretation of any of the Abrahamic religions that many hold in the region. Most importantly we need to counter this worrying trend before it obliterates the cultural fabric of the Middle East, and spreads beyond. Historical, cultural sensitivity, and experience should better inform our decisions that are impacting the future of the multitudes of people across the Middle East.

We can no longer afford to employ the same ill-founded policies that have contributed to the growth of ISIS and other militant ideologues in the region. The recent developments should not be allowed to tear a region that for many centuries was a haven for all peoples of faith. Hindsight is 20/20, now that we know of the polluting and damaging influence our policies have had on the people of the Middle East, will we end formulating policies based on past short sighted initiatives? If not are we willing to shoulder the pain and sorrow our policies are exacting from the innocent children, and their helpless mothers who had no say in our political pathology?

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