On walls and olive trees

In the Washington Post, columnist Richard Cohen — generally speaking one of Israel’s more reliable defenders in the American commentariat — has some admiring words for "Budrus," a documentary film about Israel’s attempt to construct its security wall at the expense of some Palestinian olive trees. 

Those of us who have watched Israel trying to control the West Bank have always wondered why the Palestinians have not tried passive resistance. This is what Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King did — and Israel is weak in the way Britain and America are. It has a conscience.

In the end, Israel moved the fence. It compromised. Most of the olive trees were spared, and the barrier was kept back from an elementary school. Hamas and Fatah cooperated with the Israeli peace activists and to a degree with the army. It was a genuine kumbaya moment.

Stephen M. Walt, a professor at Harvard and co-author along with John Mearsheimer of the extremely controversial book "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," has for some time been carrying on a running dialogue with almost anyone to make the point that supporting Israel is not in America’s best interest. In the sense that America’s best interest has to do with oil and Muslim nations and fighting Islamic radicalism, he is right. But if America’s interest is enlarged to encompass shared values, he is wrong. It is in America’s interest to support Israel.

But "Budrus" the film and Budrus the village are emblematic of why America’s support for Israel is being questioned. The pretty Israeli soldier aside, those appealing peace activists aside, the eventual compromise aside — the awful sight of cranes yanking olive trees into the air sinks the heart. The current leaders of Israel, intent on expanding settlements and thus retaining the West Bank, ought to see "Budrus" in a theater. They won’t like the film, but they won’t like the audience’s reaction even more.

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