Thursday, June 3, 2010

Freedom From Hostility: On the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

" 'He insulted me, hit me, beat me, robbed me'- for those who brood on this, hostility isn't stilled.
" 'He insulted me, hit me, beat me, robbed me' - for those who don't brood on this, hostility is stilled.
Hostilities aren't stilled through hostility, regardless. Hostilities are stilled through non-hostility: this, an immortal truth." (The Buddha)

So goes one of the Buddha's most famous quotes, from the Dhammapada (1:3-6). It's applicability to the current situation in Israel will strike many people as obvious. But in what way it is to be applied will jump out differently to different people, and in telling ways.

Some will say that Israel needs to stop brooding on the violence that Palestinian terrorists have perpetrated against Israel and extend the hand of friendship to the refugees in Gaza and the West Bank. If only they would do this- tear down the wall, open the blockade, and invite Palestinians to live freely in Israel without restrictions of any kind, or to give them their own state on as much land that is currently under Israeli occupation as necessary. These gestures of love, of non-hostility, will solve all problems.

The problem with that hopeful analysis is that while many Israelis live in fear and hostility towards Palestinians, the situation is magnified when we take an honest look at contemporary Palestinian culture. The Palestinians  two contesting governments, Fatah and Hamas, are both openly hostile to Israel's existence in any form. Both fund propoganda and education which presents Israel to Palestinian children as an evil state which kills children, poisons arabs, steals land- murderers, thieves and worse. The Zionists illegitimate state will eventually be removed entirely from Palestine, their schools teach.  Both fund terrorist campaigns against Israel and celebrate "martyrs" who die or are imprisoned attempting to kill Israeli civilians. In Hamas's case, their charter promises to kill all Jews in Israel and destroy the Jewish state. These attitudes of fear and hatred of Israelis and paranoid Anti-semitism are rife in modern Palestinian culture and major obstacles to the peace process.

We can thus see that while Israeli hostility and fear towards Palestinians is obviously harmful, it is only one side of the story. As Amos Oz once said very well (in his great book "How To Cure A Fanatic"): "The Israeli- Palestinian conflict is not a wild west movie." It is not a tale of good guys vs. bad guys. Our task does not lie in attending to the CNN reports, choosing who we think is the good guy, and then routing for them. The situation is complex, and if we choose to make it a concern of ours it behooves us to understand it in its full complexity.

Certainly it will not help if we add our voices to the chorus of people shouting about who robbed who, who beat who, who insulted who. Surely if we choose to judge we must do so judiciously, sifting through reports, claims, evidence. But let us remember that what we are studying is a human tragedy with many actors and causes where everyone involved is in some way implicated. The situation of the Palestinians is difficult and tragic. So is the situation of the Israelis. For those of us fortunate enough to be armchair spectators to a horrible situation, let us try not to be too quick to render judgement on those trapped in the conflagaration, faced with existential pressures we can not easily imagine.

While we sit in our armchairs watching the flames of the conflict burn, let us at least try not to throw more logs on the fire.

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