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[Chalice] On the [Chalice]
Israeli-Palestinian Situation

Presented September 26, 2004, by Paul Findley
(Republican Congressman from Illinois, 1961-1983)

A Beautiful church, a wonderful congregation, including many faces I remember from yesterday; My first visit to the Unitarian Church here in Quincy. I've often heard of the church, but I've never really learned what I should have about the faith. By just being here this morning, I feel I've gained a lot. So, I thank you very much.

Reverend Knapp was kind enough to write a letter to me after he read my most recent book, Silent No More. In that letter he supported the thoughts I presented in that book and he told me he was moving to Nashville, a community that I've come to know because one of the most ardent pro-justice persons I've ever met lives in Nashville. Her name is Zainab Elberry, born in Egypt, came to this country as a single girl, received a master's degree, became a success in selling insurance, married a man named Dr. Nour Naciri; and has been an ambassador of goodwill on all causes in Nashville. I encouraged Nour and Zainab as well to get acquainted with Calvin Knapp, I thought it would be a wonderful team. Alas it never happened, but I'm thankful for the heritage that Reverend Knapp has left here in Quincy and wherever else he had occasion to visit.

I'm not a familiar figure in a pulpit. Politicians seem almost out of place in a pulpit. On one occasion I was invited to speak to the First Baptist Church in Rushville, and before I began to speak, the choir sang Come Sweet Death. So, then I felt right at home. I'm mindful of time. I had a colleague from Massachusetts, Silvio Conte, he once told me that he never gave a speech lasting more than 15 minutes; no matter where he was, it was a 15 minute deadline. Which isn't a bad idea. I haven't always observed that limit, and I've not always won on election days.

Let me reminisce a little bit about my life. I'm 83. I've seen my country through some very dreadful times and some very wonderful times. I'm a child of the depression; member of a family of seven. We were very poor during the depression, but we didn't know it. We viewed the poor people as those who were going up and down the railroad tracks and would occasionally stop by the back door for a sandwich.

Along came WW II. I did not enlist immediately. I was then a Junior in College. I thought it made sense to finish my college degree if I possibly could before joining the Navy, which I did. As a Junior in College, I read a book called Union Now which proposed a daring idea in political arrangement; proposed a federation of the English speaking British Commonwealth, with France, the Low Countries, Scandinavian countries and the U.S. It would be a giant new federation, modeled to a great extent on the U.S. Federal Union. It quickened my spirits. The author of the book, a man named Clarence K. Streit, a foreign correspondent for the New York Times, quit his job to spend his full time advancing the idea. To me it seemed like a marvelous way to prevent future wars and at the same time secure the liberty of the people within this large and ever expanding union. That was one of the reasons why, after WW II, I sought election to congress.

But before I came to that stage, I served in the liberation of Guam. I saw war close up; the vision of dead bodies scattered all over the place; the stench of rotting bodies never has left my being. Shortly after the surrender of Japan, the battalion to which I was assigned went to Sasebo Japan. I borrowed a Jeep shortly after we landed and with a buddy, drove to Nagasaki. We saw the devastation of the second atomic bomb dropped on that city. It killed probably 60,000 innocent people instantly and perhaps several times that maimed for life. But it did end the war. As I looked around that spot, with nothing but rubble and devastation for a mile across the diameter of that space; it made me realize the potential for human disaster that already lay within the reach of humankind. I felt that the best I could do in gratitude for surviving that war, was to do the best I could to prevent wars in the future. That's one reason I ran for Congress; to advance this still noble idea.

I worked on that dream for some time and quite by accident, I became thrust in the middle of the Middle East. One of my constituents, you may have heard, was arrested in South Yemen, now a part of The Republic of Yemen. He was tried as a spy and sentenced to five years solitary confinement in one of the most undesirable places on earth, South Yemen. I knew I had to go there to get him out if he was going to be able to survive. Which I did - I was able to get him out. During the week I was there in advance of the government's decision; my guide was eloquent in English, we had very little to look at in South Yemen, it's a very desolate place. He talked quite a bit about his religion, Islam. This came to be a part of my life. It never dawned on me at that moment that I would almost be the captive of Islam before too long. Back in congress I changed my ideas about Middle Eastern policy. I had totally supported Israel and toasted every victory they had. For the first time in my life I heard the Arab side of the equation. I realized the mass of humanity that lives in the Arab world, most of them being Muslim. I knew it was against the national interest of the U.S. to be so biased in favor of one small nation, and therefore against so many other people who had sensitivities and natural interests that any human being would have.

I became noisy. I recommended that our government suspend aid to Israel until it obeyed the law which governed the use of U.S. supplied military equipment. I had the temerity, I guess is the right word, to meet with Yassir Arafat the Palestinian leader, for the first time in 1978. I, at his request, brought a proposal back to Jimmy Carter. I wasn't able to see Carter at that time, but I conveyed it to his national Security Advisor. In it Yassir Arafat proposed the terms under which the Palestinians would live in peace with the state of Israel. He still stands by it. He talks about that as the answer to the conflict. This made me a target of the lobby for the state of Israel, and it shortened my tenure in office. Although I wasn't happy about losing my bid for a 12th 2 year term, it turned out to be a turning point in my life. It opened doors that never would have been opened to me otherwise. It enabled me to write books on the subject which I think has had some effect in educating the American people about the Arab world, about the aspirations of the people there. And the need for understanding. It has been a splendid experience. I've met Muslims throughout the United States. In large crowds and in small ones. I've lectured at many Universities. I've traveled to most of the Arab States. I've renewed my acquaintance with Yassir Arafat as well as with the leaders of Israel. He still survives. He is the survivor in the Middle East. It is amazing that a man of his controversy should be able to simply survive in that place of dreadful conflict.

At the age of 83, I find it impossible to turn loose. I'm here for one thing. I'm here because I'd like to help you to understand what our nation has done, itself, to promote violence and division and to bring terrible violence to our own shores. Because we have been biased, severely biased, year after year for over 35 years in our relationship with the Middle East. The Declaration of Independence talks about All Men, including women of course, All Men being endowed with certain inalienable rights. It didn't say anything about color, or religion, or national heritage. All are endowed by God with certain inalienable rights. But to read the record of the U.S. Policy towards the Middle East, you would never think that the Declaration of Independence even existed, or certainly if it existed was ever read by government officials. I found immediately when I got on the House Foreign Affairs Committee that any criticism of U.S. policy in the Middle East was a No-No. Might as well be considered forbidden, because debate about Middle East policy never existed, never occurred. Never a word worthy of the terms "debate" or "free speech", is ever uttered today in Congress about Middle East policy. And yet the U.S. is the one superpower in the world; with all kinds of varied interests in the Middle East and elsewhere, has literally closed its eyes and its mind and its ears to the non-Israeli world. That continues today.

I could, I believe, take you through a step by step progression of events; starting with the denial, the absence of free speech on Middle East Policy in the congress, step by step to nine-eleven, the dreadful day that caused such death and misery and also caused such great over-reaction. We are at war. Would we have gone to war if we had a balanced policy towards the Middle East? I think not.

Nine-eleven was a turning point for America and let's say not a turning point for the good. A panicky Congress gave near dictatorial power to our President. And our President saw fit to announce new doctrines on foreign policy; plainly stating that henceforth we are to be the self appointed policeman of the world. Henceforth, our president takes unto himself the right to use military force against any place on earth that he deems to be a security risk. Think of the magnitude of those two decisions. The concept of Sovereignty of nations which dates back to the treaty of Westphalia about four centuries ago, as the foundation for International Law is simply gone, discarded, demolished. The idea of international organization has almost vanished. Follow the U.S.; you're either for us or you are against us. A dreadful new idea in foreign policy.

I mentioned at the outset that my life has spanned many difficult times for America. The depression, looking back on it was a dangerous time, yet we surmounted it. WW II was a great testing. Vietnam was a disaster. The Korean War could hardly be said to have had a "Happy" ending. But what we are in today is much more vast, much more dangerous than anything that has gone before with the possible exception of the Civil War. We are now reviled as a government, where a few years ago we were revered, worldwide. Respect for America has taken a downward slide.

What hope is there for tomorrow? I wish I could bring glowing words for the future, but all I can do is express the belief that I have that the underpinnings of this great experience in constitutional self-government are so strong that we will survive, even though we are in a deep and bloody hole that keeps getting deeper and deeper all the time. It is going to take understanding. It is also going to require a new attitude on the part of our government. Our government simply must recognize the feelings and the aspirations of other countries and we don't today. We need to end the bias. It is this bias that keeps alive a form of religious discrimination that most people would reject as bigotry! Yet we use billions every year to keep that bias alive. The rest of the world knows it far better than our people know it. Most Americans are simply unaware of their own complicity in what has happened to the Palestinians. They are just unaware, but the whole world knows about it, and that's why today, we are reviled.

I'm glad that the Unitarian Church exists. It is obvious to me that your church encourages people to keep their eyes, their hearts, their minds open to the truth. I'm sure the day will come when someone will rescue us from this dreadful, deep, bloody hole we are in today. I've enjoyed very much being with you.

©2004 Paul Findley

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article:
Findley, Paul. 2004. On the Israeli-Palestinian Situation, (accessed July 13, 2020).

The Quincy Unitarian Church Home Page.
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