The End of War, or Endless War?

Thoughts on Capitalism, Communism and the MidEast .


by Michael I. Niman, ArtVoice 4/25/02


The Soviet Union , heralded as the original “evil empire” by an intellectually declining Ronald Reagan, disappeared from the geopolitical landscape about 13 years ago.  At the time, America was quite jubilant.  The cold war was over.  We won.  The evil godless so-called “communist” threat had passed.  There’d be a peace dividend.  Life would be good.

The Death of Communism

Dogmatic new-right conservatives celebrated the supposed triumph of capitalism over communism – the heralding of an age George Bush Sr. would brand, “The New World Order.”  It was the death of communism.

I remember walking around, telling anyone who would listen, “I don’t know about this – in my gut I know something’s wrong.”  Of course, the world had been turned upside down.  The pervasive overwhelming threat of thermonuclear annihilation that hung over my life like a spring thunderhead had vanished – and suddenly, I was blinded by the seductive glow of unfettered free market global capitalism.  But more importantly, that yin yang balance of “our” world verses “their” world had suddenly disappeared.  And we were left without a new reality.  I wasn’t a communist, and I certainly wasn’t a fan of the stone cold gray Soviet police state.  But for a moment, I missed the enemy I was weaned to hate.

Then it hit me with the force of a tumbling Berlin Wall.  This wasn’t really the death of communism, as giddy celebrants tagged it.  It was actually the death of capitalism.  Capitalism was given a free ride for most of 20th century.  In the ominous dark shadow of East Bloc totalitarianism, it was packaged to offer bohemian eroticism and godly purity.  Against a backdrop of “evil,” it nurtured the human spirit and offered hope – or at least that’s what 1,000 Reader’s Digest articles would have had us believe.   

The Death of Capitalism

Without communism to hide behind, however, capitalism would have to prove itself.  And given the state of the emerging corporate capitalist order, I just couldn’t see that happening.  In the end, I was right.  The collapse of the Soviet empire did herald the end of capitalism – or at least the utopian promise of capitalism.  The “if only we had a free market” line gave way to the free market.  Since then, we’ve seen the quality of life, as measured by almost every economic indicator, decline in almost every former Soviet state and satellite.  The Soviet Union was a brutal human rights abuser, but when it wasn’t trying to kill them off, it kept its citizenry fed, housed and healthy, in body if not in spirit.  In it’s place we have hunger, homelessness and pandemic disease.

In the 90s, global capitalism faced off with its most vibrant foe yet, and it wasn’t stodgy communism, but the trans-national WTO, IMF, GATT, NAFTA, FTAA, World Bank bashing global democracy movement.   Corporate capitalism trumpeted a true free market, and the human spirit was once again crushed by a pervasive all encompassing evil empire – corporate globalism.  The unmitigated brutal greed of the new global corporate pillage served to unite students, clergy, peace activists, environmentalists, labor activists, indigenous rights activists, farmers, retirees, anti-racist activists and a host of others into a never-before seen global culture of resistance.  Damn, did capitalism fuck up?!

That was “the end of communism.”  Now lets fast-forward to the present day.  Every political sore in the world is festering – oozing a rancid pus of hatred and death.  The world is embroiled in what more and more people are calling “World War Three.”  The US is pursuing a foreign policy agenda no more sophisticated than that of a schoolyard bully, with the intellectual tykes in the White House opening up new fronts weekly, backing themselves into corners while still thumbing their noses at the principal.  American arms are killing people in places across the globe from Columbia to Israel .  Our heavy-handed policies have destabilized countries like Venezuela and Argentina (more detail in coming weeks).  In this age of suicide bombers, suitcase-sized nuclear explosives and pea-brained politicians, many people see the “end of civilization” on the horizon.  I don’t.  To the contrary.  I see the end of warfare. 

The End of Warfare 

If the Israelis and Palestinians have together taught the world anything, it’s the futility of warfare.  Since it’s become politically untenable to hold land taken through force, the barbaric notion of war has become obsolete.  All it does is fuel hatreds and incubate future generations of warriors.  With weapons getting more and more lethal, someone’s bound to toss a Big-Boy Boomeroo.  Then there’ll be nothing left to fight over.

Many people now argue that the Israel-Palestine conflict is not a war between Israelis and Palestinians, but between those who believe one party can prevail, and those who know no one can ever win.  The insane verse the sane.  The zealots verse the pragmatic survivors. 

The Mid-East war is a difficult conflict for journalists to cover or for peace activists to protest.  One journalist in the national press corps told me that after writing about the Israeli incursion into Palestinian territory, he was called everything from an “anti-Semite,” and a “Self-hating Jew,” to a “Zionist pig.”  More alarming is the case of Adam Shapiro, a Jewish peace activist whose parents were literally run out of Brooklyn after their son met with Yasser Arafat and spoke on behalf of the Palestinians.  It’s not only journalists who are pressured to keep mum on the issue.

The hate mail, however, is telling.  After my last ArtVoice piece on the Middle East , an anonymous writer posted a retort on the Illuzzi Letter, a local political news and gossip web site.  The writer argued that Palestinians are not “a distinct people” and  “weren't invented until after Israel captured Jordanian territories in the 67 War.”  When I read this, I could only sit there dumbfounded.  Why write such trash?  Why incite hatred while offering no real insight into the problem at hand.  Why throw gasoline on a fire?   What purpose does this sort of logic serve other than to aggravate and infuriate Palestinians?  The Palestinians I’ve met during my life sure as hell think they’re Palestinians.  As an ethnographer, that’s good enough for me.  Denying the existence of a people smacks of ethnocide.  This is not rational discourse - it’s hate speech.   It poisons dialog and perpetuates war. 

Of course there’s no shortage of such speech in Israel .  According to Ben-Gurion University Political Science professor Neve Gordon, writing in The Nation, billboards are sprouting up, urging Israelis not to employ ethnic Arabs, and to boycott businesses that employ Arabs.  Such blatant racism is reminiscent of the early Nazi-era European anti-Semitism that drove so many Jewish refugees to Palestine .  It poisons both the Peace process and Israeli society.  It’s indefensible.  Many Palestinians, for their part, have also poisoned the peace process.  There have been huge symbolic funeral marches celebrating terrorist suicide attacks – attacks that increased in number after the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords.

No Ancient Battle

Many people in the media like to write this conflict off as an ancient “tribal” battle.  But it is anything but ancient.  What we are now seeing is the last battleground of a rather recent conflict - World War Two.  Displaced Eastern European Jews, not welcomed in the US or Western Europe, fled Europe as refugees heading to Palestine, exasperating an already volatile conflict fueled by over 100 years of Zionist migration to Palestine and Arab resistance to Zionist plans to convert their homeland into a sectarian Jewish state.  These European refugees were joined by Jews fleeing World War Two era anti-Semitism in places like Syria , Lebanon , Yemen , Iran and Iraq .  Today they are dug in to a country that is a fraction of the size of Ontario ’s Algonquin Park .  At it’s narrowest, it is eight miles wide.

These refugees went to Palestine , because, at the end of World War Two, Europe made no provision to accommodate them in their native countries, nor did many of them want to return to the places where their families were barbarically slaughtered.  Their refuge, the Israeli nation, however, was born out of violent terrorism, directed against both the British administrators of Palestine , and its Arab occupants.  In 1948 the British turned the problem over to the UN who partitioned Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab Palestinian state, displacing both Jews and Arabs from their homelands while giving the best fertile land to the Jewish minority. Syria , Jordan , Egypt , Iraq , and Lebanon immediately attacked the new Jewish state.  Israel prevailed, grabbing some additional Palestinian territory.  Syria Jordan and Lebanon , for their part, also grabbed Palestinian territory, obliterating the Palestinian state. The current Palestinian territory and proposed Palestinian state consists of land taken by Israel from Jordan and Egypt during the 1967 war.  Those countries have since relinquished their claim on Palestinian land.

Today, 54 years after the creation of Israel, descendents of displaced Palestinians are living as political pawns, with many still kept in refugee camps both by their fellow Palestinians and by neighboring countries.  They number three million people, and many Palestinians argue that there will be no peace until they have the “right of return,” to move into Israel proper.  The Israelis argue that demographically, this would turn Israel from a majority Jewish state into an Arab state – and they won’t ever again accept minority status in a hostile society. 

And then there are the 300,000 Israelis who have built their homes in the occupied Palestinian territories.  They claim a biblical deed to the land.  The only catch is the fact that since Islam evolved out of Christianity, which evolved out of Judaism, the Palestinians share that ancient claim.  The difference is that the Palestinians also are universally recognized by international law as also having a contemporary legal claim to the land – something the settlers, whose government took the land by force, lack.

The solution to this conflict is as simple as it is elusive.  There is currently an internationally recognized boundary.  The Israelis must return to their side of this line, and the Palestinians must agree to remain on their own side as well.  Reparations can be negotiated in lieu of any “right to return.” 

There are many people in the world, however, who are not content to let this happen.  According to The World War 3 Report, Yasser Arafat’s wife, Suha Arafat, who lives in Paris , recently spoke in support of suicide bombings during an interview with a London magazine, al-Majallah.  The Saudi ambassador to Britain, Ghazi Algosaibi, Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, a prominent religious scholar at al-Ahzar University in Cairo, and Greek Catholic bishop Hilarion Capucci, have all joined the ranks of outsiders who have gone on record supporting Palestinian suicide bombings.  And two weeks ago, thousands of “pro-Israel” demonstrators in Washington, DC cheered as Janet Parshall, an evangelical Christian radio host, proclaimed that “we” will never return sections of the occupied territories to the Palestinians.  The same demonstrators also cheered in support of Ariel Sharon, despite a growing body of detailed evidence showing that he ordered Israeli troops to commit massive human rights violations against the Palestinian population.

There were also signs of hope, however, this past weekend in Washington as thousands of American Jews joined tens of thousands of Palestinians and other concerned people in demanding and end to US support of Israel and an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory (see my column next week).

The sad reality, however, is that there is still no end in sight for this war – only further escalation.  What’s next for this tortured region is unimaginable.  But as these stubborn adversaries destroy both their enemies, and the civil fabrics of their own societies, maybe the world will learn a lesson about the futility of war.  One way or another, this is the war to end all wars.


Dr. Michael I. Niman’s previous ArtVoice Articles are archived at

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