Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Holy Land

We’ve been in Israel almost a week, and have been living and breathing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the whole time. It’s intense. We’ve met with a Fatah leader, the Israeli foreign ministry, Zionists, Pastors in Jerusalem, and the US Embassy, and numerous human rights organizations. We went to Bethlehem and walked along the wall. We went to the Holocaust museum and Mt. Herzl. We did the Via Dolorosa. We’ve eaten excessive amounts of Falafel. We had shabbat dinner with Jewish familes, and visited a synagogue. We’re staying at the Austrian Hospice in the Old City, which is right on the Via Dolorosa in the Arab quarter – we get to use our Arabic here, even if they make fun of our Egyptian dialect. It’s a really great hostel – they serve fantastic breakfast, with real coffee. It makes my life.

As Dr. Heather likes to tell us, experience without processing is tourism. So feel free to skip the following paragraph if you want – it’s just me processing. If you want a heads up to what I’m thinking when I try to talk to you about the Middle East when I get back this might be a good place to start though. The issues we’re discussing are ridiculously complicated. Sometimes I find myself just disengaging completely because there doesn’t seem to be a solution. At all. My unfortunate tendency to insist on solving problems when they’re presented to me regardless of whether I’m qualified or not, makes it hard to deal so closely with stuff that’s so obviously beyond what I can fix. But just checking out definitely isn’t going to help anyone. So I’m trying to deny my “fix it” syndrome and am concentrating on just learning and listening. In so far as Nationalism offers a valid claim to a state, I see both Israel and Palestine as having legitimate claims on the Holy Land. Since Palestine, as a distinct nation-state didn’t exist prior to the British Mandate, their claim of “we were here first” rings a little hallow. But the land did belong the individuals who now call themselves Palestinians. And the Jews right to self-determination is just as valid as any other people group’s right. But the fact that the land they chose as the place of their nation-state was already home to another group of people seriously undermines that validity. So basically, it’s a mess. I think the only possible solution is a 2-state solution. If we attempted one state, the Palestinian population would rapidly overtake the Jewish population, and the hope of a Jewish state would be lost (which, is bad, unless we want to completely reject the Nationalist rubric…which would mean questioning the legitimacy of basically every single country in the world). This realization led our speaker from the Embassy to comment that there are 3 things Israel wants, and they can only get 2 out of 3: 1-The whole land, from the river to the sea. 2-A democracy. 3-A Jewish state. Hence, 2-state solution…there can be a Jewish democracy, but only if it doesn’t take the whole land, and leaves a viable option for the Palestinians. Two-state however, requires solving the question of Jerusalem. The Dome of the Rock and the Wailing Wall are the same place, but both sides claim them as holy: problematic, to say the least. Clearly, in order for the 2-state solution to proceed, settlements have to stop. Israel can’t take Palestine’s land. The question though – for me, anyway – is what the heck America’s role is supposed to be in all this. I mean, many of the people we’ve talked to are pretty disillusioned with the US involvement in the peace process. George Bush is basically hated. We were told by a Palestinian speaker that “your policies are killing us”. While I’ve always known that recent US foreign policy has upset a lot of people, but it’s still hard to encounter, because I still love America. Basically, there’s way too much feeling involved in any US Middle East policy. Again though, that doesn’t mean I can just check out. Dang it. Soooo, according to the guy from the embassy, we need to maintain our strategic relationship with Israel because of our historical alliance (justified by the Cold War), and because they support core US values – i.e. democracy and free press. Also, according to the Embassy, the US is the only state with the ability to negotiate between the two sides. As such we have to be careful to maintain our credibility with both. Which still doesn’t solve the settlement issue! In order to “maintain credibility” with Palestine, the US needs to force Israel to freeze settlement. But in order to maintain our cred with Israel they have to be sure we will defend their borders – i.e. protect their settlements. But the settlements are against international law, and hurt a lot of Palestinians. But I still think Israel has a valid claim to its state….

Also, along with trying to figure out all the intricacies of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I’m trying to figure out what I think about conservative thought. I mean, I’ve always been pretty libertarian, if we’re going to go around sticking labels on things, but in general I fall more republican. The more I’ve learned about conservative foreign policy however, the more I disagree – that definitely intensified through being here. But for domestic policy I still agree with basic things like states rights, capitalism, gun rights, etc. So next elections should be fun in my life. J The US really needs a multi-party system, so that people don’t get shoved into these boxes…!

Too bad I have to write papers on all of this. Paper week might be incredibly mentally stressful.

In other news…Kandyce is here, which is great! I haven’t gotten to hear her side of the story yet, but apparently she tells it in about 15 minutes – Jon took 3 hours. We have also discovered the joys of playing Mao – you’d think we spend enough time arguing, but apparently MESPers don’t know how to do anything else. And we found really cheap candy in Jerusalem, which is cool. Ohh, and I ate THAI food for the first time since my SPU going-away party in June. It was exciting, even though it wasn’t very good. AND I got to talk to Meghan and Dan on skype the other day. I’m pretty excited for them!! J I wish I could be in AK to help them make decisions – apparently they need it. Meghan does know one of her colors will be blue, though. Big surprise. :) Final Point: I haven't gotten lost in Jerusalem yet!!

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