Friday, July 6, 2007


So I've been asked what I think about recent events in Palestine, specifically the clashes between Hamas and Fatah. Well, I was fortunate enough to be in the Middle East when the worst clashes were happening, so it was just a little blur that I saw when I took a few minutes to check the Western media outlets.

Yes, that's right. Because I was in the Middle East, I was sheltered from following the gory details of what was happening elsewhere in the Middle East. I find that to be true often, actually. If I'm in a country involved, there's a huge furor and excitement, but rarely do I catch the details of the situation. If the event is in a different country, I may or may not hear about it. This is probably for a couple of different reasons:

1. I don't watch the news in Arabic. I should, but I don't. So when I'm in the Middle East I am just that much more likely to avoid the news.
2. My friends don't care. Maybe it's being a girl, maybe it's my choice of sweet-natured friends. But the fact is that my friends, even those who do follow the news, do not find it all that important. (I was in the UK when Tony Blair got appointed to be a Middle East envoy, but I was a bit busy and missed that announcement - but more than one person mentioned it to me within a few days so I caught up quickly. That doesn't happen to me in the Middle East.) If I miss that Hamas and Fatah are fighting, I continue to miss out blissfully.
3. Internet is not as readily accessible there than it is here.
4. I think there might be a personal emotional element involved. When it's close to home it's hard to talk about. Unless it's so close to home it's hard to avoid (or so globally noteworthy you can't avoid it - like the start of the Iraq war). My Arab friends feel very passionately about supporting the Palestinians, so either they go all out and demonstrate on the streets, or it's hard to talk about. (I'm not sure about this, it's just a hunch)
5. Shame - this is terribly generalised and therefore not entirely true, but in general: Arabs never talk about disagreements with other Arabs, especially in the presence of a non-Arab.

That last point probably is most significant. I'm not going to resolve the Palestinian question here - I'll leave that for a future post - but I'll try to quickly describe the lens through which I have come to see Palestine, maybe it will give you some new ways to consider events -

A. I know history is important but in this situation figuring out, or discussing, what really happened, in my opinion does more harm than good. The two biggest examples are the Holocaust and the actions of other Arab nations in 1948. I would never dispute the significance or evils of the Holocaust, but bringing it up when discussing contemporary Middle Eastern affairs seems to me to have confused the discussion and justified evil, not helped bring peace. In 1948, the year of the Palestinian "disaster" (when most Palestinians became refugees and when Israel was founded as a nation), the neighbouring Arab nations made some very bad decisions, but bringing those bad decisions up today again leads to confusion and justification of evil, not peace.

B. Collective memory, on the other hand, is significant. Everyone born within, say, 300 miles of Jerusalem has very pained memories of things that have happened in the past century, and that pain feeds their actions today. Whether historically justifiable or not, that pain is very real and plays more of a role in events than anyone in government circles ever seems to acknowledge.

C. The Palestinian people have suffered many things, but perhaps more than anything else, SHAME. And for them, that shame is unbearable. For many Palestinians, having to flee their house was not as awful as seeing others treating that house like it's their own, for example. I don't know enough about Israeli culture to speak for it, but my impression is that both sides are working very hard to shame the other side, in hopes of restoring a bit of their own dignity.

(The above three points look more at Palestinian-Israeli conflict as opposed to inter-Palestinian conflict. What's happening within Palestinian circles today is very much influenced by Israeli politics and treatment of Palestine, though, in many ways.)

D. Because of A-C, RELIGION, has become a driving factor. In cultures and periods of time throughout history, we see that when life gets tough God becomes much more important in people's lives. When all else is lost, the thread of hope that religion provides to many becomes a life support. Specifically, it should not be surprising that Palestinians are not only religious, but increasingly so, and supportive of a religious extremist group (Hamas). And the worse things get, and the more support non Islamists (like Fatah) get, the more Palestinians will grasp onto religion. And not just any religion, but a very extreme version of their religion.

E. I just read a very good book about Christians in Palestine and Israel (Light Force, by Brother Andrew). It ended with a story that led me to really ponder the following question: What would happen if instead of defending what is their own, people started to empathise with others and do things to help others?

1 comment:

tony said...

Indeed what would happen if everyone could see the other's side? It would take courage, quite frankly the courage of a true martyr to be able to concede to the other sides suffering. Yitsak Rabin gave us that example.

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