Wednesday, July 26, 2006

"Our Territories"

I told myself that I wasn't going to talk about the situation in Israel and Lebanon, but I can't ignore the interesting comments by Syria's ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha. He has said more or less the same thing on several news shows, but none of the interviewers have followed up with the questions that come to my mind. You can see an example in a transcript of his recent appearance on PBS. Mr. Moustapha says:

We are talking about half a century of occupation, of humiliation, of
despair.

A half a century... hmn... that would be 1956. Israel didn't occupy anything anywhere near that time. So one has to wonder: when Mr. Moustapha speaks about a half century of occupation, is he talking about the taking of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights (1967)? Or is he talking about the creation of the state of Israel itself (1948) as the "mother of our evils that should come to an end"?

Perhaps some light can be shed in his next sentence:

Israel is a country that continuously occupies our territories, including the
Syrian Golan, the Shaba Farms in Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories...

The use of the word "including" is interesting. It implies that the following list is not exhaustive, that there may be other "occupied territories" that aren't included in the list. What other "occupied territories" do you suppose Mr. Moustapha thinks there are? The state of Israel itself? After all, Mr. Moustapha is a representative of Syria, which does not recognize Israel's existence nor even its right to exist. But Mr. Moustapha is not a native speaker of English, so perhaps this is not what he meant.

It is also interesting that Mr. Moustapha uses the phrase "our territories," implying a commonality of interest between Syria, Lebanon (which claims Shaba Farms) and the Palestinian Authority. Many Americans and Europeans think of the Israel situation as a conflict between big powerful bully Israel and little weak Palestine, with Israel backed by the might of the United States. But Mr. Moustapha's remarks imply what Israel's supporters have said all along: that the Palestinian authority may be weak on its own, but it is part of the larger Arab community that is heavily armed and that can pressure the West with its control of a large percentage of the world's petroleum supply.