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Israel and the Middle East


Professor Zachary  Braiterman, who teaches Modern Jewish Thought and Philosophy, is authoring an excellent blog called Jewish Philosophy Place. I recommend you to take a look.

In a post called  Politics & Imagination (Nissim Rejwan: Israel’s Place in the Middle East) he reviews mentioned book by Nissim Rejwan, a review I found interesting enough to consider buying the book myself.

In the review Braiterman talks about Israel’s role in the ME, and attitudes and relation connected to this. I won’t talk so much about the review itself, rather encourage you to visit Braiterman’s blog and read it for yourself, but it did make me think a little about Israel and the ME myself. Well, truth be told, that is a subject I do think a lot about, considering that I live here.

As things are now, we most likely won’t see neither peace nor justice, whether it be for Israelis or Palestinians – or probably more correctly; Jews or Arab Palestinians. Sure, many Israelis, at least the Jewish Israelis (or non-Israeli Zionists even), probably feel okay with the status quo, but here’s why you shouldn’t be satisfied with that. In the south it has become “normal” to experience rockets being fired into Israel. Of course we could attempt to stop that by attacking Gaza, and maybe even re-occupy it, but my guess (and that’s in no way the guess of an expert) would be that the militants (or extremist jihadist fundies, as some like to call them) just continued from Egypt instead. We have already seen this being the case, though only once with rockets (targeted at Eilat) but more seriously several attempts to infiltrate the border, of which at least one attempt has succeeded. That is status quo, and we can’t live with that.
In the north we have Hizbullah pointing several thousand missiles at Israel, and we know from bitter experience that they are able to hit some of the larger cities, such as Haifa, and most likely by now have the capacity to hit even Tel Aviv. Sure, as it seems now the situation seems a little like between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but – seriously – who like to live with that status quo? The solution, you might ask. I don’t know. Of course, war could be one, but I’m not much for wars if it can be prevented. But having to be honest, I don’t know if a war with Hizbullah can be prevented, I don’t trust them much, and I certainly don’t see them as just freedom fighters as many of my Muslim friends do. I always have a problem with groups demanding and taking authority and power the way Hizbullah has.

And then we have the general Palestinian population, which is a chapter on its own. As it is now we don’t leave them much hope. Honestly. I’m not saying that Israel is solely to blame for this, they also have a bunch of lousy and corrupted leaders (I believe Salam Fayyad is the only example of an actual political leader with visions). Not that the Israeli ditto differ much from the Palestinian leaders (sadly), but at least Israel does hold elections once in a while, though I’m not always sure that it makes much of a difference. Anyway, we need a solution which involves the Palestinian’s acceptance. Of course we could just throw them all on trucks and transfer them to Jordan, as some people would suggest, but come on, let’s be rational here. That simply won’t happen. Let’s say – for the sake of argument – that all the Israeli citizens, every Jew, and the whole world would be totally okay with this (here’s one Jew who won’t), but to take around four million people and move them from their homes, is even more insane to talk about transferring 600,000 Jews from their homes (and here I’m thinking about the settlements), and that’s only from the West Bank (sorry, Yehudah v’Shomron). We probably have to find another solution here also.

I’m not going to mention Iran (well, just did), since I believe that that’s a totally different case, which isn’t only a threat against Israel, and most likely only use the Palestinians as a (bad) excuse, to spread propaganda against Israel. If I was a Palestinian living in the West Bank, I would be as terrified for what the regime in Iran would do, as I would being a Jew in Tel Aviv.

So what to do? Braiterman mentions four points (he does write five, but I see only four) we need to consider:

[1] to place discussions about Jews and Arabs and Israel and Islam in a historical arc that is broader than this 100 year old conflict. [2] to establish commonalities between Jews and Arabs,, [3] to highlight the fungible nature of identity, and [4] shift the argument away from nationalism and other collectivist ideologies towards democracy and shared citizenship.

I agree with these five points, at least to a certain extent.

If we take them from the top:

1: to place discussions about Jews and Arabs and Israel and Islam in a historical arc that is broader than this 100 year old conflict.

Most definitely, and that’s what I’m attempting to do with most of my posts, while not expressed clearly (they are most and foremost part of my studies). Of course, I’m not the person the world, or even a small part of it, refer to, so what do my posts and thoughts matter in this. But still, I – as well as you – am part of a wider discussion, and I do believe that to base the relation between Jews and Arabs, or Jews and Muslims, only on the last hundred years is a, well, bit ignorant. Surely, we can find many bad examples on how Muslims have treated Jews terrible, but so can we with the Christians. We can also find many good examples on Jews being treated better and even saved by Muslims. Especially the Ottoman empire is an example on this, as well as Muslim al-Andalus, with the exception of the Almohads. As the ME historian Bernard Lewis expressed it Jews were “never as bad as in Christendom at its worst, nor ever as good as in Christendom at its best.” It is worthwhile to note here, that what he means about “Christendom as its best,” found its place within the last three hundred years, where we saw a magnificent change of attitudes in the Western world. But even here we still witnessed Russian pogroms, the French Dreyfus affair, and the Holocaust.

2: to establish commonalities between Jews and Arabs

I don’t see Jews and Arabs as being that different, at least not here in Israel. And that is both when we talk in the positive and the negative. I do believe that we have many similar interest, hopes, dreams, and so on. For sure there are corporate projects involving Arabs and Jews, on several levels.

3: to highlight the fungible nature of identity

Identity is something wonderfully confusing, ’cause it changes all the time. When you, the readers of this blog, relate to me and my identity, you surely don’t relate to me the same way my wife, my mother, my friends or the stranger on the street relate to me. Identity changes as we meet other people. And even on the general level. Being a Jew is one thing, but being an Israeli is another. Israel have around 7.2 million citizens. Of them around 2.5 million are not Jews. So does being Israeli mean being a Jew? Most likely not. And what do we talk about when talking about Jews? Israel offer a different definition of who is “Jewish” enough to receive citizenship, than what Judaism does. And what about Arab? When are you Arab? It also depends on terms of definition, having some Muslim scholars (e.g. Imam Shafi’i) stating that he who speak Arabic is an Arab, making Arab-speaking Jews Arab. How do we define?

4: shift the argument away from nationalism and other collectivist ideologies towards democracy and shared citizenship

Here is where I might differ a little, not thinking that the “collectivist ideologies” is a threat in itself. In Israel we already have shared citizenship, as I already stated. You don’t have to be a Jew to be Israeli. I would rather believe that Israel, as a state, needs to embrace its minorities as well as majority – or that is to say, I don’t believe Israel has a majority per ce, since there always are ways to define oneself different from the other: Jew-Arab, Jew-Muslim-Christian-Druze, Religious-Secular, Zionist-non/post-Zionist, and so on.

But changing these things takes will and effort from all players, not only Israeli leaders or Palestinian leaders, also religious leaders, civilians, and Arab Israeli leaders. It is a problem when an Arab-Israeli politician, who is elected by voters to take care of their interest the best way possible, is seen with the enemy (and I mean enemy literally), whether it be visiting Hizbullah or participating in a “peace flotilla.” Most important of these are the religious leaders, I believe. Religion plays a huge role here, and if we look at the rhetoric it isn’t hard to say that some of the elements being presented are based on religious rhetorics, such as Israel being “the Promised Land,” or “Jerusalem is being Judaized” and “the Zionist attempt to destroy al-Aqsa.” Both sides are so steeped in religious self-understanding, that the religion cannot be left out, and both sides feel that the other side attempt to eradicate their religious connection to the land. And I somehow understand it, for both sides. As I have stated in other posts, Islam has played a huge role here in Israel, maybe even more so than Christianity. But so has Judaism, and this is the center of Judaism, there is no place anywhere else, which is so steeped in Judaism as here, maybe besides Babylon (or Iraq, as we call it today).


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