Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Assuming the Worse About the Other

When I read articles and op-eds, I recognize phrases or sentences that tell a lot more about a subject or topic than a few words usually do. These phrases usually have global, psychological and philosophical implications which can be expanded a hundred different ways. They are good starting points for a sermon. But this isn't a sermon. I always think sermons have to mention a passage in the Bible and I'm not going to do that. Torah/Bible/Koran studies are sort of like group sermons where all the participants add to the overall message of the sermon and contributes to the collective Biblical/moral insight of the group.

So back on topic: assuming the worse about the other. In this JPost article about the new American Middle-East envoy Senator Mitchell and the idea of internationalizing the peace process, the author quotes the conclusion of Mitchell's May, 2001 report on how to re-ignite the peace process in the wake of the second intifada. The last sentence in the quote is "Amid rising anger, fear, and mistrust, each side assumed the worst about the other and acted accordingly." I think this sentence tells a lot about human conflicts in general, but let's focus on the only conflict we in the West and Arab world care about - the Israel- Palestinian one.

What do the respective parties assume about the other? I can't really tell you what the Palestinian/Arab really assumes about Israelis except what their political and religious leaders say to the press and in public. In this op-ed by Jeffrey Goldberg, published in the NYTimes, Goldberg explains why Israel can't make peace with Hamas. He provides many quotes from an interview he had with Nizar Rayyan who was an influential leader in the Hamas organization who was killed in the recent war in Gaza. I suggest my readers (if I have any) read Goldberg's piece. Any Westerner who isn't sympathetic to Hamas would understand what Israelis assume about the Arabs - that they are, at least indifferent, to antisemitism. Also, Israelis assume that as soon as the Palestinians get their state according to '67 borders, they will ask for more - as stated in the Hamas Charter. The Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and other "host" countries don't care that much to be resettled in the West Bank or Gaza. They want to go back to where their grandparents once lived. Some of the more right-wing Israelis and Evangelical Christian Americans are either just racist and would never trust the Arabs no matter what.

In I wrote about a Christian woman I met on election day. Her world view of Biblical prophecy chiseled in stone would need many discussions with Israelis and Arabs to melt away.

On a recent program on Al Jazeera English, an Israeli and a Palestinian talk about the recent war in Gaza and international law. The Palestinian and the Arab mediator assume the worse about Israel - that Israel kills civilians in order to terrorize the population and to pressure on Hamas into submission. That's why the Arabs and the European lefties said from the get-go that the operation wouldn't work. They assumed that the goal of the operation was to terrorize and they tried to prove to the Israelis that they weren't scared. Hence the operation was doomed to failure.

Nine minutes into this other Al Jazeera program an Arab business man says exactly what I just said. He assumes that "anti-peace" Israelis want to terrorize the Palestinians in Gaza and it will fail because they are not afraid. At least he acknowledges that there is more than one view in Israel.

So where does that leave us; those that care about Israel, Palestine, and humanity? Try to recognize that you, too, have assumptions and prejudices. Confront and challenge those in your communities. And seek the 'other' to get understanding of his life and a feel for his shoes. At the end of the day, we all breath the same air and harbor the same germs.

No comments: