Neil Steinberg, Sun-Times
Sept. 9, 2001
Why does the United States control immigration from Mexico? The answer is simple. As much as the United States is a melting pot of races and cultures, it does have a certain makeup, a comfortable balance. The Latino population is 12 percent and growing. Should the floodgates open and the nation suddenly find itself 40 or 50 percent Latino, well, it would be a different sort of place. Maybe better, maybe worse--I won't enter into that. But I think it is fairly uncontroversial to say that the United States tries to keep change at a certain crawling pace.
All countries do this. The Australians turn away a ship filled with Afghan refugees; Germans foam about the Turks in their midst. The Japanese consider descendants of Koreans who have lived in their country 100 years to be Koreans still.
So universal is this idea of keeping Our Side from being too richly seeded with Their Side that it must echo some deep chord of human nature. No doubt a throwback to the 100,000 years or so when we travelled in small tribes and slept in big, smelly piles for warmth at night.
Given the basic, in-your-boneness of this desire to maintain the group, it would be almost funny--if it weren't so tragic--to see the Palestinians argue that Israel's attempts to preserve its own identity as a country and keep its people from being blown apart in public places as not only racism, but a particularly loathsome form of racism.
To return to the comparison with Mexicans, a number of Americans harbor antipathy toward Mexicans--they want those borders sealed tight. It's a mystery to me. As far as I can tell, the central crimes held against Mexicans once they get here seem to consist largely of working hard at low-paying jobs and tending to speak a language not our own.
Now, imagine the reaction if, in addition to these transgressions, Mexicans also lobbied for open borders by every so often showing up unannounced at local malls wrapped in dynamite and nails and blowing themselves up in crowds of shoppers.
We'd go berserk. We'd have a big wall along the Rio Grande so high it would put the Great Wall of China to shame. Our racists and haters--who are snarling and straining at their leashes on the best of days--would be liberated to run the countryside.
Palestinians reading this will no doubt point out that, unlike Mexicans in the United States, the West Bank and Gaza (and no doubt, Jerusalem and the rest of Israel) are their land. Being a sympathetic sort, I can appreciate the power of that argument--it must be very vexing to spend your life crouching in a blazing sandy nowhere, convinced that some usurper is relaxing in your olive garden.
The problem with the Palestinian logic is that it isn't true. It isn't their land--not anymore. Israel has it, and you can complain all you want about the injustices of history, but that doesn't change a thing. The United States got hold of Texas in a manner not nearly so fair and open as the creation of Israel, yet if Mexicans started to blow themselves up at Northbrook Court, trying to get Texas back, they wouldn't make nearly the progress that the Palestinians made before their hunger to have absolutely every inch of Israel undid them.
Before the West Bank was Israel's, remember, it was Jordan's. Jordan had it for years. They didn't rush to make it into a Palestinian homeland. The only reason Israel got hold of it was because, in 1967, the Arabs tried, for the third time in 20 years, to destroy Israel. The Israeli Army, as per tradition, kicked their collective butts. It took Gaza and the West Bank and Sinai and would have rolled into Cairo and done the hora around the pyramids, but with an eye toward future relations, pulled up short.
The Egyptians played nice, so they got Sinai back. The Palestinians would have gotten a country already, with stamps and coins and a code of maritime law, had they been able to forget the fact that what they really want is all the Jews in Israel dead and their heads placed on spikes all along the border.
You have to stand in awe of a hatred so hard and bitter you'd send your kids out to blow themselves up, just to give the hatred its daily exercise. I find it puzzling, though I try to ask myself how I'd feel if my grandfather fled the country where his family had dwelled for hundreds of years, leaving his land and possessions to be claimed by others.
Then I remember, oh yeah, my grandfather did flee the country where his family had dwelled for hundreds of years: Poland. He fled, and those who stayed were slaughtered, every man, woman and child.
And you know what? I don't want the family farm in Bialystok back. I don't hate the Poles at all--heck, I consider myself half Polish.
The Palestinians, who are scoring points borrowing a page from the Anti-Defamation League playbook for manipulating publicity, could also learn something from Jews when it comes to hatred. Jews have been done wrong all over the place. (I know Palestinians believe the Holocaust never happened, but we're fairly convinced. Nobody from the Polish side of the family shows up at reunions). Despite this, we are not overwhelmed by hatred, because we know that it doesn't get you anywhere. We've learned a secret--life is precious and short, and hatred only consumes the haters, sometimes literally, in a deafening flash.