Posted by: Harold Knight | 08/10/2014

Is the annexation of Tibet by China justified? Or, that’s last century’s problem.

Ruins of the Monastery of Toling, Tibet, destroyed by China, c. 1951

Ruins of the Monastery of Toling, Tibet, destroyed by China, c. 1951

Printed below is a section of the article

“Tibet Through Chinese Eyes,” by Peter Hessler from The Atlantic, February 1, 1999.

The sub-title for the article is:
“Many Chinese working in Tibet regard themselves as idealistic missionaries of progress, rejecting the Western idea of them as agents of cultural imperialism. In truth, they are inescapably both.”

I came upon the article by accident looking for something unrelated. I thought I would find a discussion of Tibet that I would agree with and find interesting–after all, this is The Atlantic. Imagine my surprise to discover an article that essentially attempts to justify the Chinese annexation of Tibet by interviewing native Chinese who have moved to Tibet to settle and overtake Tibetan culture with Chinese.

In the section of the article below, I have changed almost nothing except the names of the two peoples. I leave it to you to decide if anyone who has a “Free Tibet” bumper sticker on their car or who agrees with such a sentiment should have one idea or another about the writing below.

If you think I’m making this up, you can read the original at http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1999/02/tibet-through-chinese-eyes/306395/>
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Political views on Gaza tend to be as unambiguous as the hard blue dome of sky that stretches above its coastline. In Palestinian opinion, the “Gaza question” is settled: Gaza should not be part of Israel; before being forcibly annexed in 1967, it was an independent country. The Israelis are cruel occupiers who are seeking to destroy the traditional culture of Palestine. The Palestinians should be allowed to return and resume their lives either as an independent or at least a culturally autonomous Gaza. In short, in Palestinian eyes there is only one answer to the Gaza question: Free Gaza.

Of all the pieces that compose the Palestinian question, this is by far the most explosive: Hamas has targeted Israeli settlements as the greatest threat to Palestinian culture, and the sensitivity of the issue is evident in some statistics . . . Palestinians see the influx of Israeli settlements as yet another attempt to destroy their culture. . .
Regardless of the accuracy of the official Israeli view, many of the sttlers clearly see their role in terms of service. They are perhaps the most important historical actors in terms of the Palestinian question, and yet they are also the most-often overlooked. Why did they come to West Bank and Gaza? What do they think of the place, how are they changing it, and what do they see as their role?

. . . “But I also wanted to come help build the country. You know that all of the settlers in this district are Israeli citizens, and if you’re an Israeli, you should be willing to go to a settlement to live. So you could say that all of us had patriotic reasons for coming—perhaps that’s the biggest reason. But I also came because it was a good opportunity housing is cheaper than in the interior of Israel” (because it is subsidized by the government). . .

The Dream of Eretz Israel

From the Israeli perspective, Gaza has always been a part of Israel. This is, of course, a simplistic and inaccurate view, but Israeli history is so muddled that one can see in it what one wishes. The Israelis can ignore some periods and point to others; they can . . . explain that from 1917 to 1948 there were British imperial administrators, headquartered in Jaffa. In fact the authority of this mandate steadily decreased over time, and Palestine enjoyed de facto independence . . . An unbiased arbiter would find Palestinian arguments for independence more compelling than the Israeli version of history. . .

Most important, Israel’s reasons for wanting Gaza changed greatly over the years. For the Israelis after 1967, Gaza was important strictly as a buffer state. . . they wanted to ensure that the region remained peaceful, but they made relatively few administrative changes, and there was no effort to force the Gazans out. In reality, Gaza was a part of Israel but at the same time it was something different. The Palestinians. . . were allowed to maintain authority over most internal affairs.

As Israel struggled to overcome the [supposed desire of Arab nations to destroy it] Gaza became important for new reasons of Zionism. Religious and political leaders believed that Israel’s historical right to Gaza had been infringed by Arab powers, particularly Egypt and Syria, which invaded in 1967. . . and Gaza figured into the Israel’s pre-eminent task: the reunification of the motherland.

Gaza thus changed a central piece in Israel’s vision of itself as independent and free from Muslim and Christian influence. . . a longtime observer of Israel says that even today this perception is held by most Israelis. “I don’t think there’s any more sensitive issue with the possible exception of Jerusalem, because it grows out of the dream of a unified motherland—a dream that historically speaking has been the goal of almost every Israeli leader. This issue touches on sovereignty, it touches on the unity of Eretz Israel, and especially it touches on the issue of the Muslims as predator, the violator of Israeli sovereignty.”

The irony is that Israel, like an abused child who grows up to revisit his suffering on the next generation, has committed similar sins in Gaza: the overthrow of the culture and the violent redistribution of land, the mayhem of Political Zionism, and the restriction of intellectual and religious freedom that continues to this day. And as in any form of imperialism, much of the damage has been done in the name of duty (God?).

Gaza mosque destroyed by Israel one week ago

Gaza mosque destroyed by Israel one week ago

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The question remains, can Americans logically be aghast at the destruction of Tibetan culture by China and, at the same time, believe Israel’s destruction of Gaza is somehow justified?

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