Friday, July 11, 2014

ISRAEL-PALESTINE: DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN

A lot of what I want to say is in the post from 2012, the last time the Israel-Gaza War flared up. Here's the link.

So rather than repeat myself, I want to share an excerpt from an important book by a Palestinian scholar we have sat and talked with a couple of times in Jerusalem, Sari Nusseibeh. The book is titled "What is a Palestinian State Worth?" and is a philosophical look at the conflict, it's roots, and the workings of the human mind. In a chapter titled "How can we move the World?",  Professor Nusseibeh discusses the example of Gandhi changing the way of thinking about freedom and violence.

Ghandi here clearly refers to India and its civilization not as race or religion but primarily as a system of moral values or a humane order.  Patriotism is not racial chauvinism or self-love and self-adulation, but "the welfare of the whole people."  Thus if Palestinians were to take their cue from Gandhi, they would cease looking upon their own patriotism as a religious or national cul-de-sac, and begin viewing it instead as an overarching affinity with the land and its multifaceted racial as well as religious history.  They would have to transform their vision of a free Palestine from that of a princedom to be ruled by Arab Palestinian "princes" to that of a land of a free people living by moral values.  In such a land, an Israeli could be just as patriotic a Palestinian as could an Arab Palestinian!  Indeed, to adopt such a perspective on patriotism is to see the political landscape in a radically new light.  The chasm in that landscape is suddenly no longer between "us" and "them"; rather, it is between "us" in the currently prevailing system of values and "us" in the new one.  More particularly, in this light, a philosophy of renouncing the use of force means more than simply restoring to nonviolent action: more significantly, it means renouncing our underlying assumptions of what the conflict is about, and replacing them with new assumptions which will henceforth guide our pursuit of a moral order.  

This is what is missing in Israel and Gaza and the West Bank and the surrounding region. The existing conflict, part of which I consider to be war between the governments of Gaza and Israel, the only accepted course of action is violence against violence. This has not worked now for 66 years, and will never work as a solution unless one side completely obliterates the other (spawning different endless cycles of violence, of course). 

I would also add my own view of the religious bases for this conflict. The stated struggle for The Land is not really about land, it is about the location of the religious myths of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Every piece of dirt has some religious, i.e. mythical importance as the place where so-and-so walked, slept, died, was buried, rose up, ate lunch, took a nap and etc. and etc. Really? All this killing over mythologies? Even if some of these mythical persons existed at some distant time in history, so what? What is so important that people kill each other to defend it? 

So yes, as our Cousin-neice Erin said so eloquently on her blog, there are two (I would say at least two) narratives operative in Israel-Palestine, and each has validity that needs to be recognized by the other(s). There are options different than war, there have to be. Human history is not just made by war, it is made by people to people interactions, mostly positive and peaceful. And it is often, in fact it probably has to be driven forward by new and different ideas that break societies out of endless cycles of business-as-usual. 

Let us hope for a quick end to the bloodshed in Gaza and Israel. Let us also hope, and work for a different way of conflict resolution that moves towards a new moral order. I think the majority of people in the world would be happier with that. 

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What is a Palestinian State Worth? Sari Nusseibeh. 2011. Harvard University Press. (also available on Kindle) [I highly recommend it.]

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