Saturday, August 22, 2009

A few replies and the first speaker analysis (Pinchas Inbari)

To reply to Shalom: The ethnic cleansing I speak of consists of a massacre of over 100 Arabs at Deir Yassin during Plan Dalet along with various other events.  Haganah, Palmach, and Irgun conquered several cities including Haifa and Acre, with the result of over 250,000 displaced Arabs.  There were also instances of Jewish terrorism, including the December 30th bombing in Haifa in which Irgun members threw two bombs into a crowd of Arab workers, killing 6 and injuring 42.  Of course, this part of a larger scenario of attacks and reprisals by both sides, often against civilian targets.  Neither the Palestinians (a term I am using here for simplicity, although your point is well taken) nor the Israelis are blameless since both sides targeted and killed civilians.  You already did a good job of noting Arab violence against Jews during that period so I'll leave others to read your comments :)

Anyway, on to the speaker analysis.  After we arrived in Israel, we had a short stop at the Tomb of Samuel (Nebe Samuel) where we got to know each other and ate a small snack.  Summer in Israel is much different than winter; while the weather during my Birthright trip this February was occasionally hot, summer heat is stifling.  We checked into our somewhat grubby hotel in Jerusalem and tried to sleep off our jet lag.

The next morning, we woke early, ate breakfast, then took a bus to our first speaker, Pinchas Inbari, a journalist and Palestinian affairs analyst..  This talk was titled "Palestinian Political Culture" and it generally lived up to its name.  Mr. Inbari was obviously very knowledge; unfortunately, his English was not strong which did not work well with his tendency to ramble.  He did manage to give a decent if fragmented account of the histories of Fatah, Hamas, and the PLO (for more background on this, Wikipedia is a decent source.  Really.).

In his view, Fatah is willing to negotiate for peace despite its continued non-recognition of Israel and terror attacks.  Unfortunately, a willingness to negotiate is not enough.  Any Palestinian political entity worth negotiating with must be able to enforce any agreements reached.  Right now, none exists since Hamas controls Gaza and Fatah controls the West Bank.  Even if peace could be achieved with Fatah, Hamas would not recognize it, thus perpetuating the violence.

Mr. Inbari also highlighted the fact that Israel presented generous offers at Camp David and later, Taba, all of which were rejected.  There is significant contention over exactly how good these offers were when all of the details were taken into account but it does show that reasonable negotiations are possible.  Unfortunately, those talks fell apart although the exact reason (either Palestinian refusal to negotiate in good faith or unreasonable Israeli demands depending on your POV) is still disputed.  Mr. Pinchas also emphasized that most Israelis and Palestinians today do want peace; the conflict is over the shape of that peace.  This is important to keep in mind as the analysis moves forward.

On a sidenote, there were points were our group's leader, Yitzhak Sokoloff, took over the lecture and provided his own thoughts on the topic.  At first, I thought this was likely an isolated incident arising from Mr. Pinchas' halting, rambling English.  However, Yitzhak overstepped his bounds at several other points during the trip.  I will talk more about that at the end of the speaker analysis section but it is something to remember when I mention the bias toward the Israeli right inherent in the trip and its selection of speakers.

Sleep Deprivation and Historical Narratives

Before I start the section on speaker analysis, a few housekeeping notes are in order.  First, we were on an extremely tight schedule during the Israel Diplomatic Fellowship 2009 trip.  This arose from a combination of over-scheduling, difficulty counting off (how hard is it to pay attention and count to 49?  Seriously?), and socializing.  The first two were outside of my control while the last was certainly within my control.  Regardless, everyone on the trip was horrendously sleep deprived.  Thus, I was a bit more irritable than normal so some of my observations may be phrased in harsher terms than I would normally use.  Now that I am slowly catching up on sleep, I'll try to couch things in, ahem, diplomatic language when possible.

More importantly, we did not speak about historical narratives.  I probably repeated this a million times during the trip but the point bears repeating.  The Israelis and Palestinians have entirely different historical narratives and thus disagree about the meanings and implications of events even when they agree on the temporal order and existence of those events.  All of our speakers, with a couple exceptions, spoke with the truthfulness of the Israeli historical narrative as a given.  This wasn't surprising but it was disappointing.  Any program ostensibly aimed at improving "diplomatic" relationships between Arabs and Israelis needs to represent both sides fairly.

Since we lacked any significant alternative to the Israeli narrative, we squandered countless opportunities to discuss difficult issues in a constructive manner.  For example, speakers routinely portrayed the 1948 War, or in Israeli nomenclature, the Independence War, as a war of self-defense against Arab aggression following the failure of the Palestinians to ratify the 1947 UN Partition Plan.  However, before Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon invaded, both Jews and Palestinians engaged in what would now be considered ethnic cleansing, with the Israelis finding more success due to their superior training and armament.  It is possible to view the invasion as Arab intervention to protect the Palestinian population and prevent the Jews from forcing a rejected agreement upon the Palestinians.

Both sides have their merit and an objective observer can readily identify the flaws in each side's logic.  However, it is impossible to address the core claim of the Palestinian national movement without recognizing the historical basis for their rejection of Israel's legitimacy.  In their eyes, Israel's seizure of territory in 1947-48 was illegal since the UN plan was not ratified by both parties.  In Israel's eyes, the UN's passage of the partition plan gave them the legal right to form a state.  The recognition of the legitimacy of the state of Israel by the international community, albeit with a few notable exceptions, further bolsters this claim.  It is fairly obvious that these historical narratives are fundamentally at odds with one another.  Viewing later events through one lens or the other leads one to different positions, with each being entirely reasonable given the assumptions with which one is working.

Many members of the Fellowship stated that they felt like they are better able to advocate on Israel's behalf.  But without understanding the Palestinian historical narrative, to whom can they advocate other than to those who already accept Israel's version of history?  Aren't we supposed to do more than preach to the choir?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Shalom from Israel!

Hey everyone!  This blog is dedicated to observation, reflection, and analysis of my travels in Israel during the past couple weeks and the following months.  I already completed the Israel Diplomatic Fellowship 2009 trip and will begin my posts with a speaker by speaker analysis of that trip, along with tidbits about the non-academic aspects of our over programmed lives.

Feel free to leave questions and thoughts in the comments sections of each post!  I'll try my best to address all comments so we can have a great dialogue.