About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Sadly, only Sharon could have done it

It has been fascinating (and a bit sickening) to watch the minute-by-minute coverage of the Israeli forced evacuation of the Gaza settlements. On the one hand, it is wrenching to see the pain of the families involved, people who genuinely (if deludedly) believe God gave them that land, and who have spent twenty years working hard to "strengthen" the very nation that is now "betraying" them with the forced repatriation.

On the other hand, one feels a sense of (belated) justice in the Israeli government finally seeing the foolishness and arrogance of its multi-decade attempt to force Palestinians out of their land. Billions of unwisely spent dollars (some of which paid up by American taxtpayers) are going to be buried by bulldozers, and rightly so.

But the most ironic thing of them all is that the man who finally had the "courage" of orchestrating all of this, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, is also the same person who was instrumental in pushing the Israeli government to start the settlement to begin with. Moreover, it is astonishing that it is this man, who in some quarters is known as "the butcher of Sabra & Shatila" (from the name of two Palestinian villages in Beirut were people were killed and raped by Israeli troops under Sharon's command) who will finally bring some justice and balance to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Let us hope he won't get nominated for the Peace Nobel Prize!)

Why did it take someone like Sharon? Because, for all the clamor on the Israeli extreme right, they really can't argue that he is a soft-hearted liberal! Had a liberal government attempted this, it would have never worked because it would have rallied all of the opposition in a strong unified front. But as it is, the Israeli right is too divided about their own leader, and progress is being made.

I wonder what that tells us about human reason (or lack thereof), and more importantly national and international politics. Perhaps we need a figure like Sharon in the White House to pass a national health reform? Hmm, anybody can suggest a candidate I can vote for in 2008?


  1. The scary thing is that there were only 8,000 settlers in Gaza. This pullout is certainly a milestone in the sense that it returns to the Palestinians a coherant, contiguous piece of land.

    But let us not forget that there are 250,000 settlers in the West Bank, whose presence breaks up Palestinian communities into geographically disjunct, ungovernable pieces. If there was this much hoopla and soul-searching by Israel over removing 8,000 squatters living in some of the most undesirable real estate on earth (Gaza is the most crowded, and among the most poor, places on earth, and has no natural resources), imagine what it will take to get those settlers out of the West Bank!

    Furthermore, I have very great doubts about whether Sharon has the will to do anything about the settlements in the West Bank. In fact, this evacuation of settlers out of Gaza can be viewed as an attempt to shore up logistical and financial resources to strengthen Israel's grip on the West Bank.

    The bottom line is that right-wingers are not to be trusted. If they were truly liberal, they would not self-identify with right-wing political parties such as Likud (Sharon's political party).

    Sadly, I think Massimo might be right that only Sharon could have pulled off this evacuation (and possibly also Yitzchak Rabin, the center-left prime minister who was assassinated in the mid-90's). Good leaders (in the sense of being appealing to, and being influential with, a large segment of the population) who also want to lead in a good direction seem to be a very rare commodity. :-(

  2. Well, you could try Pat Robertson or whatever his name... Kinda joking.

    But surely Sharon is not doing this to "contribute to the peace process". Could he be? Yeah, but unlikely, if you use a Bayesian approach to the situation.

    Now, what exactly are his real intentions - which his right wing nut friends cannot fathom either for that matter - I have no clue.

    Could be what Josh Banta said above, although the reason might be probably more "psychological" than financial/ logistical. Like: well, we (Israeli) are being reasonable and making concessions while YOU Palestinians keep blowing us up (as undoubtely Hamas et al. will continue doing)

    Oh well, will we see the end of it all (whatever way it goes) in our life times?


  3. J, your question was addressed just a minute ago on a segment on National Public Radio: the idea is that Israel is planning an increased activity in settling the far more strategically and economically important West Bank. Sharon's move, then, would be to show the world that Israel is being "reasonable," while in fact trading a relatively insignificant pawn for the queen of settlement prizes, obviously to his advantage. Can't trust these right-wingers, which is why I certainly don't want any of their American counterparts in power after the next round of elections, if we can help it!

  4. Some food for thought:

    In the evening of September 16th 1982, a group of the Lebanese christian militia of the Falange, entered the Palestinain refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila (near Beirout). During the following 36 hours, they murdered between 800 (official Israeli figures) and 3.500 (according to the investigations of the Israeli journalist Kapeliouk) people, including women and children. On the previous day, the [I]sraeli army had entered this part of the city during its campaign in Lebanon. It sealed the camps from the outside world and stood by to observe the events of 16, 17 and 18 September.

    This website of Sabra-Shatila Belgium gives some more background information at the slaughter of 1982. The context is the complaint against Ariel Sharon, filed by the victims at a court in Brussels, Belgium. Nowadays, Sharon is prime minister of Israel, but at the time of the events he was minister of defence. Therefore, he is political responsible for what happened to the people in the camps of Sabra and Shatila.

    Source: http://www.sabra-shatila.be/english/

  5. ...it returns to the Palestinians a coherant, contiguous piece of land.

    Josh, the Palestinians
    1) Were never forced out of the land that is now Israel, nor any other territories, by Israel. They were, on the other hand, refused entry to Arab countries.
    2) Never owned the land to begin with. There was an equal amount of Jews and Arabs living on the land when England decided to give the land it controlled to the Jews.

    While I do recognize that I'm biased in regard to this issue, I do try to understand both sides here, and I'm deeply convinced that Palestinians are taking a very wrong route here.

  6. "Moreover, it is astonishing that it is this man, who in some quarters is known as "the butcher of Sabra & Shatila" (from the name of two Palestinian villages in Beirut were people were killed and raped by Israeli troops under Sharon's command) who will finally bring some justice and balance to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

    I agree with your main point, but the Israeli's didn't kill or rape anyone at Sabra or Shatila. The crimes were committed by Christians of Lebanese descent. The debate was over whether or not Ariel Sharon was responsible for allowing people to be killed on his watch by not doing anything to stop it and possiblly even condoning it.

    It's also worth mentioning that the Israeli's were horrified by these crimes, and the peace movements in Israel have hated Sharon ever since. His defenders took his word that he didn't know about the crimes; had he confessed his role of allowing the crimes to happen, he probably would have been kicked out of the country quicker than you can could say "Shalom".


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