The face of America

By Ronald M. Horvath | Aug 18, 2010

Here's an interesting story from out of our Southwest. It was reported by Jeff Schwilk, the founder of the San Diego Minutemen -- an anti-immigration militia -- that the dreaded Zeta gang of Mexico had crossed the border near Laredo, Texas, and, in an armed assault, captured two ranches in American territory. The story flew around conservative Web sites, even showing up on the blogs of Michele Malkin and Andrew Breitbart (notorious for doctoring the video of Shirley Sherrod). The Laredo Police Department was flooded with calls. It was an invasion story to rival Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds."

Except, of course, it never happened. Local authorities, when questioned, had no idea what everyone was talking about. In the end many bloggers had to issue apologies. Malkin and Breitbart backpedaled into denial. But the damage was done, and the propensity for the conservative side of the political spectrum to believe anything no matter how outrageous as long as it fits their paranoid worldview was once again confirmed.

That worldview has a ready made invasion scenario, one that fears illegal immigration more than for the supposed lack of American jobs, or even the importation of terrorists in Mexican disguise. It is called the Reconquista and though it is just as imaginary as the other claims against illegals it has more foreboding sentiments. It is actually the fear that Mexican migration northward is an attempt to retake the southwestern states for Mexico to whom they once belonged. In fact they were Mexican (or Spanish) territory for far longer than they have been American -- from the time of Desoto and Coronado in the 1500s. They were lost in the Mexican War of 1846, a war for which there seems to have been little cause except American expansionism. Even Lincoln -- a member of Congress at the time -- criticized the government for starting a war of conquest in a suspected attempt to spread slavery.

So naturally the more rabid conservatives see all immigration from Mexico as a plot to retake old ground. Yet these same conservatives have no sympathy for people who are suffering a very real version of that fate.

In Palestine today illegal settlements by Israelis are being built on Palestinian lands three times faster than Israeli population growth. In fact since Israel currently has 223 Jewish-only settlements and "outposts" built on confiscated Palestinian land. Arab citizens of Jerusalem are being "evicted" by the military or armed settlers almost daily while Israeli police stand by and do nothing. In 2009, 1,500 people were forced out of 88 homes in East Jerusalem in an attempt by the government to strengthen its hold on a part of the city that Palestinians claim as their capital.

Helena Cobban, a columnist for the Christian Science Monitor, wrote, "since Oslo, the Jerusalem Palestinians have been cast into a cut-off form of limbo, and their once-proud institutions have been either suffocated or shut down completely by the occupation authorities, even while the building of Jews-only settlements and Israeli ministries and other forms of national institutions has continued."

"We must expel the Arabs and take their places," said David Ben Gurion, the father of modern Israel, in 1937, yet confiscation and colonization of land taken by force is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel has recently been warned by the UN that forcibly evicting the residents of 22 houses in East Jerusalem and the demolition of those homes may constitute a war crime under international law. Forty UN resolutions have demanded Israel end the practice. All have been ignored. Complaints by our government usually meet with smiles and agreement -- in principle -- while this ethnic cleansing continues.

So, why do conservative Americans, so totally paranoid about our borders and sovereignty, expect such different behavior from others? With armed, citizen militias patrolling our southern border on nothing but fear and suspicion how can we expect Palestinians, who are living the reality of actively being removed from their homeland, to just hang their heads and walk into the desert without a struggle? Why do we expect others to tolerate what we would not? Even worse, why do we finance this violation of human rights? Our tax dollars, from the pockets of Americans who would fight to the death rather than suffer the same treatment, pay for this to the tune of more than $3 billion of aid to Israel per year.

While conservatives actively preach against American Muslims practicing their First Amendment rights by building an Islamic Center near the "sacred ground" of lower Manhattan, the Wiesenthal Center of New York plans to open its next "Museum of Tolerance" in Israel proper by violating the graves -- many generations old -- of a Muslim cemetery. Even Hezbollah, the radical, Shiite anti-Israeli militia of Lebanon, has given its OK to the reconstruction of a synagogue in Beirut for the remaining Jewish-Lebanese population. Hezbollah's only comment was, "We respect Judaism, just as we respect Christianity. Our only problem is with Israel." Could it be that Israel's enemies are more tolerant, more principled, than America or Israel itself?

What face are we showing to the world in all of this? Is it the face of the ideal America, an open face, of tolerance and acceptance, a face that practices what it preaches? Or is it the face so often displayed by our conservatives that preaches freedom and liberty, but only for themselves, and those who look and speak like them? Is it not, in fact, the face of the same prejudice, tribalism and xenophobia that we claim for our enemies?

Ronald M. Horvath lives in Camden.


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