Israel: Buffeted by fate? Or a character in its own play?

I don’t have time for much today — I seem to be even busier than I think I am (witness the light posting since last week) — but I keep thinking about something that I want to get out there in the world.

There is something very curious to the right-wing Israeli/Israeli apologist insistence that, say, settlement building isn’t what will wreck the peace process — if the Palestinians walk away over settlement expansion, it’ll just be another example of (as the Foreign Ministry took it upon itself to tweet me the other day) the Palestinians “once again miss[ing] an historic opportunity for peace.”

Or: The fact that there is no peace today doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that Israel ignored the peace offer made by all 22 members of the Arab League in 2002 (and repeated in 2006) — it’s that the Arab countries rejected the division of Palestine in 1948, or attacked in 1967, or supported Lebanon in 1982, or call today for an end to Israel’s violent control of Palestinian lives.

Or: Anti-Israeli violence, from suicide bombings to Qassam rockets, has nothing to do with Israel’s occupation, its bombing runs over Gaza, its road blocks in the West Bank, its constant building on Palestinian lands, the human desire for freedom and dignity — no, Palestinian violence is an expression of hatred, pure and simple. Anti-Semitism.

Or – well, or any number of other examples.

And when people like me suggest that Israel has some responsibility for its current state of affairs, the right calls us revisionists. Because, if I understand this attitude correctly, suggesting that Israel has some responsibility for its current state of affairs is an act of going into history books and re-writing what reasonable people know to be true.

But here’s the thing: What underlies this approach is an essential infantilization, a disenfranchisement, of Israel as a state and the Israelis as a people.

Our behavior has no real-world implications, our behavior can do nothing to change our fate, our behavior plays no role in our relationship with the Arab world, beyond a base-level preservation of the state. Like the baby who can’t get the food he wants from the cupboard, but can at least clamp his mouth shut. Like the toddler who can’t make Daddy play, but can at least get his attention by breaking a lamp.

I prefer to believe that my country and I (both of my countries and I, come to that) have agency. We actually play a role in the way things are turning out — which, in turn, means that we can play a different role, if we choose.

I am aware, of course, that the right-wing approach is not predicated on a flat, cardboard cut-out reading of Israel and the Israelis, but rather on a flat, cardboard cut-out reading of “the Arabs.”

But there is always a flip-side to these things. If “the Arabs” aren’t fully-rounded characters, with all that humanity entails, from the lovely to the debased — well then, we aren’t really either. As an Israeli friend once said about the “Security Barrier” that now runs up and down the West Bank: “We forget that walls have two sides.”

In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as in any human relationship, when we’re able to claim responsibility for our actions, we can also claim a new kind of power. Rather than being buffeted by fate, we can influence the direction that fate takes.

Or is it easier to believe that Israelis are babies — and the rest of the world animals?



Israel/Palestine: the basics.

Israel/Palestine peace advocacy – places to start.

Israel/Palestine – a reading list.

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  1. debbie

     /  October 20, 2010

    I’d bet Netanyahu planned it this way — he never intended to extend the freeze and only agreed to it in the first place so it would seem like he was cooperating. I think he calculated that if the Palestinians walked away, he could then point to them as being the ones to kill the talks, when actually he had wanted to end them all along.

    Or maybe I’ve just gotten very paranoid after all the calculating and truth-twisting that has been the Middle East for decades. I recently read Philip Roth’s “Operation Shylock.” It was about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; it took place back in 1993, but it could have applied just as much to 2010. Nothing’s really changed in all that time.

  2. I wonder if the words of Bernard Lazare would be applicable. . . .

    In any case, prophecy: meet your self-fulfillment.

  3. amichel

     /  October 21, 2010

    On these three things, no Israeli government will ever compromise: Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, defensible borders, and no right of return for Palestinian refugees. So long as the PLO demands these things, there can be no peace. I don’t see the use for peace talks when both parties have irreconcilable demands.

  4. dmf

     /  October 21, 2010

  5. I had an awesome conversation with a Palestinian cab driver tonight. We discussed Rachel Corrie, and the American media suppression of Israel’s land grab in 1948 and 1967 and his love of Obama and peace. Will write about it when I have an actual keyboard!

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