Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Suffering of Palestinian Children

Yes, I hope the peace talks are real and not another "Yes But" game, for the sake of Palestinian children of Area C. Amineh

Published in the on 17.09.10

Suffering of Palestinian children is something both sides can agree

Even Israelis should be able to realize that they are responsible if Palestinian children in Area C are malnourished and worse.
By Margaret Atwood

More than 40 years ago, a psychiatrist named Eric Berne published a best-seller called "Games People Play" that is still instructive reading for those involved in difficult negotiations or complex debates.
West Bank school children

Berne defines "game" as "an ongoing series of complementary ulterior transactions progressing to a well-defined, predictable outcome. Descriptively, it is a recurring set of transactions, often repetitious, superficially plausible, with a concealed motivation; or, more colloquially, a series of moves with a snare, or 'gimmick.'"

All of Berne's "games" are basically dishonest, as they have an ulterior motive, and some are self-destructive as well as destructive to others. The word "game" suggests frivolity, but some games are grimly played and deadly serious - deadly in the literal sense. The term "war games" is no accident.

One of the games Berne describes is called "Why Don't You - Yes But." In this game, the player complains about a problem, and the dupes - who are conned into "helping" - propose solutions; but for every "Why Don't You" offered, the player comes up with a "Yes But" - a reason why the solution can't possibly work. Finally the helpers run out of ideas and are left feeling stupid and inadequate, and the player wins: His problem is smarter and bigger ... The only trouble is, he still has the problem. But maybe that's the goal he was aiming for all along: maintenance of the status quo, so that he can keep on doing whatever he was doing already.

Has Israel been playing a very long game of "Why Don't You - Yes But" when it comes to the "Palestinian problem"? Is there a mirror-image game in which Israel itself is "the problem"? Certainly the outside commentators - pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian - are ready with a "yes but" whenever someone they consider an opponent proposes anything like a logjam-breaker. The ideological positions are by now so dug in that the field of discourse resembles the western front in World War I: There are trenches everywhere, and anyone who sticks his head up is met with a barrage of well-worn verbal missiles: "mental defective," "idiot," "criminal" and the like. If some witless innocent lacking a trench wanders into the line of vision babbling of human brotherhood or something seen as equally fatuous, all those entrenched let fly.

Why anyone considers it an aid to positive resolutions to heave these overblown nouns and adjectives through the air is anyone's guess: If convincing others is the goal, this tactic fails, as the heavers sound like irrational fanatics. It does, however, deter anyone not already entrenched from taking an interest. ("Don't touch it! It's a swamp!" ) Perhaps the adjective-heaving comes from frustration, which is understandable considering the lack of positive momentum. Or perhaps it's a universal human characteristic: Having chosen and dug one's trench, one feels the need to defend it.

Meanwhile, the game of "Why Don't You - Yes But" goes on. "Return the Golan Heights to Syria." "Yes, but we need the strategic position for security." "Join the whole area politically and give Palestinians equal rights, thus making the state a true democracy." "Yes, but then Jewish Israelis would be outnumbered and unsafe, as in the Diaspora." "Invite Hamas to the peace talks, because nothing can be resolved otherwise." "Yes, but they want to destroy us." "Tear down the punitive walls." "Yes, but then we would get blown up in cafes again." "Acknowledge Israel's right to exist behind the 1967 borders." "Yes, but Israel is not a legitimate state, and anyway all the land is Palestinian by right, and anyone who would accept less is a quisling." "Stop kicking Palestinians off their land and making it impossible for them to reach what land they still have." "Yes, but this is allowed by our laws, and it's for security, and you are an enemy of Israel and also an anti-Semite." "Stop killing Israeli civilians." "Yes, but that's the only weapon we have left." And so forth. Surely the nature of the conversation has to change, on all sides - that is, if it's not really a game of "Yes But."

I proposed a different sort of game to myself: Would it be possible to choose a subject on which all those entrenched could agree, for which there is a clear solution, and to which there would be no plausible "Yes But" response? Let's give it a try.

For instance: What about the Palestinian children of Area C? (Area C, for those witless innocents who have never heard of it, is not that part of the West Bank controlled by the Palestinian Authority, nor is it Gaza, for which Israel now claims no administrative responsibility other than blockading it. Instead it is that part of Palestine entirely occupied and controlled by Israel since 1967. ) According to a 2009 report by Save The Children U.K. called "Life on the Edge," the rate of malnutrition of the children in Area C is higher even than that in Gaza, and many kids are not only developmentally stunted, but are dying from related illnesses.

Is Israel responsible for this situation? Yes, because it alone controls the Area C Palestinian population's access to food and its ability to earn a viable living. Is there a "Yes But" that could possibly justify the conditions being imposed on these children? Unless the report is lying, I can't think of one. Even the most wild-eyed extremist can hardly claim that children under the age of seven are terrorists.

There's a traditional china-shop sign: If you break it, you own it. Israel owns this problem, and Israel should fix it. Or does it really want an international campaign in which every doughnut shop in North America features a collection box, a sad-eyed child holding a dead sibling, and a stack of outrage-generating leaflets? Write your congressman: Tie aid to Israel to action on Area C child malnutrition and deaths? Give at church, save an Area C baby? Or how about: On the Day of Atonement, when considering wrongs to other human beings for which you bear some responsibility, start with the children of Area C?

As the peace talks begin again, some Israeli help on behalf of the children of Area C would be a signal that those talks are real, and not just another "Yes But" game.