Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Perfect Metaphor for the Middle East

If you've been reading this blog for long, you know that I've long been aghast at the enormous bigotry and stupidity that fuels the endless conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Both sides claim to want peace, but each wants to have it on its own terms, and the religious fanatics on both sides are driving the train, throwing gasoline on the flames each time it looks like there may be a chance for a real breakthrough. My standard metaphor for the twisted political-religious morass has been the snakepit. Sadly, a better - and, perhaps, the ultimate - metaphor for the region has now arisen.

The Associated Press reported yesterday that the earthen embankment surrounding a huge cesspool above the village of Umm Naser in Gaza had ruptured, flooding the town with raw sewage and killing at least three people, injuring many others, and completely submerging at least 25 homes. Local officials blamed the disaster on shoddy maintenance and a lack of proper public health and water processing services. In fact, foreign donors had funded several major sewage treatment projects for Gaza, including one in Umm Naser, but these were frozen after Hamas, the militantly anti-Israel group widely designated as a terrorist organization, won last year's election.

As metaphors for the disastrous political situation in Gaza and the larger Middle East go, a village buried in sewage is somehow very appropriate. In a region where hating your neighbor is more important than taking care of your brother, where no good deed goes unpunished, where visceral hatred of "the other" is the order of the day, there's nothing like a flood of raw sewage to make a point about ideas and relationships. When the Israelis withdrew from Gaza, they left behind a great deal of useful infrastructure: towns, farms, greenhouses, waterworks, and so on. And what happened? Much of it was wantonly destroyed by the Palestinians because it had been built by the hated Israelis. Never mind that it might have served many Palestinian families well. Never mind that the it provided an initial economic investment on which more could have been built. It was more important to hate than to build.

Again, if you've been reading this blog over the past year of its existence, you will know that I'm not an apologist for Israel. I hold both sides of the dispute in equal, general disdain. But for utter, hopelessly hard-headed stupidity and mindless hatred at the expense of suffering people, it's hard to match the "ready-aim-shoot foot" attitude of the Palestinian leadership. The Fatah party lost the confidence of the Palestinians in Gaza for its relentless corruption, and so was voted out in favor of the less-corrupt but more religiously and politically intransigent Hamas, with predictable results.

If it hasn't happened already, the United States will surely ultimately be blamed for the disaster at Umm Naser. We will be accused of cutting off the funds that would have repaired the cesspool. Hamas and its apologists in the region and across the world will claim that Gaza could be a blooming, happy showcase if only the United States weren't so prejudiced against the Palestinian people. They will ignore the responsibility of Hamas and the militant factions on both sides for creating the situation that led to this horrible tragedy. They will not see that the flood of sewage that has ruined a small town provides a perfect metaphor for the actions of hard-line Palestinians and Israelis alike.

The cesspool at Umm Naser may eventually be repaired. The larger cesspool that is political and religious bigotry in the Middle East will only expand until men and women of goodwill decide that it's more important to help their own people than to hate their neighbors.

But, as I often sadly remark, I'm not holding my breath.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


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