by Dror Eydar
1. The conflict is not about territory. The Arab nations have territory in abundance. The Palestinians have quite a bit as well: there are no Jews in the Gaza Strip, and Jordan has a Palestinian majority. The Arabs of Palestine could have established a state of their own long ago, but they chose not to do so.
For a century, and even more since 1967, we have tried to ignore the true nature of the conflict between ourselves and the nations of the region. We have talked about partitioning the land, territory, interests, security arrangements and such. But every time we thought we were about to sign an agreement, something came up. According to the Arab-Palestinian narrative, which many people among us and in the West happily adopted, the blame for the absence of peace was laid at our doorstep. Even the fair-minded people on the Israeli left, who do not accept the guilt narrative, act as if it were true. They think: If we give up a bit more, if we take advantage of the “window of opportunity,” then maybe our neighbors will agree to sign a peace treaty. Now, once again, they’re trying to sell us the Arab League’s proposal — worn-out merchandise that feeds the orthodox left wing’s illusion industry until the talks blow up. And then the cycle starts again.
What makes the Arab League’s proposal any better than the others? Nothing. The devotees of peace at any price among us need to justify their existence, so they keep mumbling their credo, which lacks any realistic grasp of the situation.
2. It’s only logical to think that the conflict is just about land. Blood-drenched conflicts took place in Europe for centuries until the voice of reason and interests finally prevailed, the conflicts were resolved and peace reigned. “Two people take hold of a cloak. One says: It is all mine, and the other says: It is all mine. In such a case, they should split it.” So said our sages almost two thousand years ago. The average Israeli diplomat and his counterpart in the political echelon follow that logic. They are convinced that the key to solving the conflict is rational negotiations, at the end of which we will reach the longed-for partition of the land and with it, finally, peace. But unfortunately, the West does not see things in this region as they really are. Time after time, this Western logic comes up against an impassable wall. Read the Hamas Covenant (an excellent translation is available on the Internet). Read the Palestinian National Charter by the PLO and Fatah, both secular movements. Visit websites, such as MEMRI and Palestinian Media Watch, that translate the Arab world around us. Read the language honestly and realistically, and you won’t hear the voice of logic. Hatred has logic too, and many conflicts can be analyzed. But not in this case. The countries of this region do not accept Israel as a Jewish state, an independent entity. Israel’s very existence poses a heretical, defiant challenge to the Muslim world, its beliefs and values. Israel is a wedge stuck between their eyes, an extension of the West in the heart of sacred Muslim soil. Keep reading the text and sources mentioned above and you’ll see that these voices go beyond mere religious conflict. The region we live in is the cradle of human civilization. The voices we will hear are those of its ancient myths.
3. Logos versus mythos — the word versus myth. Here, myth does not mean fiction or fabrication, but rather the founding narrative of peoples and nations. Islam is only about 1400 years old, but this region has been speaking in mythic language for millennia. Myth encompasses religion and goes beyond it.
The still-current custom of stoning, blood-feuds, beheadings, murders to protect or avenge family honor, the perception of space, inheritance and land, relations between tribes in the region, tribal loyalty versus loyalty to the kingdom and other such concepts that are so much a part of life in this region are in an existential conflict with the way the West sees those same concepts. Let us imagine a meeting between an Israeli diplomat and his Palestinian counterpart. Both speak in an international language (in this case, English), and both use the term “territory.” That’s not complicated. A territory is in dispute, and with good will on both sides, once we have had our fill of bloodshed, we can solve the “problem” by splitting the land so we can live normal lives as neighbors. But it doesn’t happen. Occasionally there’s a lull, after the Israeli makes “gestures.” Then they pick up where the last round left off, before the next outbreak of violence (for which Israel, of course, is blamed).
4. Here is a key to a behind-the-scenes understanding of the conversation. The Israeli diplomat was brought up in the 2,500-year-old Western tradition of thought, which puts logic above emotion or myth. Territory can be cut in half and shared. The border can be drawn wherever we wish. The Palestinian also talks about territory. But for him, the words are only signifiers, the tip of the iceberg, the tiniest glimpse into other worlds entirely different from ours. For him, it’s not about territory, but about the very soil — adama in Hebrew, from which the word for human being, adam, is taken. A human being without land is not a human being. His very existence is called into question. And this is where 'dam' — blood, which is also part of the word adama — comes in. Dam, adama, adam: if these concepts are what define your very existence, then you have no recourse other than to shed blood for the sake of the soil that defines you as a human being. I’m not referring merely to wordplay in Hebrew, but to the idea behind the words. The biblical perception that crystallized in this region thousands of years ago runs congruent to the region’s myths. No diplomat involved in the negotiations ever talks about these things — and this missing piece casts a giant shadow that goes unnoticed. This is the political unconscious that affects our lives much more strongly than our conscious will does.
5. Consider the refugee problem. Tens of millions of refugees were expelled and wandered throughout Europe in the 20th century alone, but were finally resettled. Why aren’t there any refugee camps in Europe? After all, millions of people were uprooted from their homes. Why didn’t they remain refugees until their demand to return to their homes was resolved? Because logic prevailed. It wasn’t necessarily the logic of the refugees, but at least it was the logic of the countries of Europe: to bind their wounds quickly and let the body politic heal. It wasn’t just in Europe. It happened here, too. For more than a decade, thousands of Jewish refugees lived in transit camps in the young State of Israel. They lived in tents, in tin shacks, in huts. I know. My parents were there. These were refugee camps in every sense of the term. The refugee camps became neighborhoods, towns and cities that our country could take pride in. We didn’t stop to wallow in self-pity. We came to terms with the loss of our property and our former lives and started building a new society.
So what’s unique about the Arab refugees of 1948? What stopped them from leaving the camps, turning them into neighborhoods they could be proud of? Why didn’t they establish a state before 1967 or even earlier, in 1947?
What we face is no conflict over territory. That sort of conflict does not enslave millions to an eternal war against us. There will be no peace here until the nations of the region recognize Israel as the Jewish people’s national home. All the other issues stem from that. Such recognition is not given in words only. We have had enough of words. It involves education, textbooks, the media, the streets and the political and religious discourse. Do you understand that a task like this takes a hundred years at least? What we need is patience. And faith.
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