Monday, December 28, 2015

The Lynchpin - Understand the “Other”

The Middle East is a complicated neighbourhood, often making it difficult for Westerners to understand. However, there are two conflicting outlooks that lie at the heart of the Arab/Israeli conflict. To understand this disagreement is to hold the key to understanding all aspects of this lasting crisis. It comes down to this: 

There are two ways to understand the modern state of Israel. 
  • The Jews are a semitic nation returning to their homeland in the Middle East. 
  • The Jews are a religious community stuck in the Middle East by Western colonial powers after the Holocaust. 
Let’s call the first opinion “Z”, as it is the underlying belief of Zionism. We’ll call the second one “A”, as it has been adopted by the majority of Arabs and Muslims around the world. Once one of these perspectives is chosen, one can understand both sides of the conflict. 

Consider the classic questions debated on this topic, and you will see how A or Z will determine your answer. 
  • Is Israel a colonial power? According to Z, it can’t be. According to A, it can only be. 
  • An Apartheid state? According to A, Israel is racist and discriminatory based on religion. According to Z, the Jewish nation treats its Arab citizens as equal, and allows Jewish nationals to return home. 
  • Should five million Palestinian refugees be told that they will receive homes throughout Israel? According to A, the Right of Return is the only just solution. According to Z it would mean the destruction of our third Jewish State, and Arab refugees should be treated the same as any other refugees after a war. 
  • Should there be one state for Arabs and Jews in Palestine? According to A, there is no reason people of the Jewish faith couldn't live in a Arab/Muslim country as they have for ages. According to Z reestablishing our national statehood after 2,000 years as wandering refugees is not something to be surrendered for any reason. 
  • What was the Zionist movement doing for decades before the Holocaust, starting in the mid 19th century? And why were so many of its members and leaders non (if not anti) religious? According do Z this is self explanatory. It was trying to reestablish Jewish self rule in their national home, and break with Rabbinic acquiescence to exile. This is often ignored by A. 
One can continue along the same lines ad infinitum. If there is an aspect of this conflict that these two understandings don’t explain, I haven't figured it out yet. I’d be happy to learn if this is not the case, but it seems clear that this a major point of contention, if not the major point. 

The tragedy lies not in the Arab and Muslim world not accepting premise Z. One can argue with reasonable people in support of A or Z, but ultimately they can decide which approach is best. This decision can be based on which is better supported by facts as evidence, which will create the possibility for better outcomes, or really any criteria they see fit. 

No, the tragedy lies in the fact that so many of those who have chosen A refuse to believe that those who have chosen Z really believe it! That they have devoted their lives to this idea, and are willing to die for it. Even sacrifice loved ones for it. Violence and public relations attacks work as tactics to remove a colonial power. Against a native population, however, it will only entrench and marshal the people. 

One can be concerned about Palestinians and subscribe to approach A or Z. But to deny the reality that millions who live in (and out of) Israel hold Z to be self evident, is to doom Palestinians to a future of failure and suffering. 

Is that a goblet, or two Semites arguing?
I'm just saying.