Monday, December 25, 2006

identity crisis in the Middle East

Uri Avnery is an Israeli activist and writer whom I respect deeply.

On December 23rd he wrote the following lines addressing the Israeli conception of their Arab neighbors.

"I believe that one of the most profound causes for the historic conflict between us and the Arab world in general, and the Palestinian people in particular, is the fact that the Zionist movement declared, from its very first day, that it did not belong to the region in which we live. Perhaps that is one of the reasons for the fact that even after four generations, this wound has not healed.

In his book "The Jewish State", the founding document of the Zionist movement, Theodor Herzl famously wrote: "For Europe we shall be (in Palestine) a part of the wall against Asia…the vanguard of culture against barbarism…" This attitude is typical for the whole history of Zionism and the State of Israel up to the present day. Indeed, a few weeks ago the Israeli ambassador to Australia declared that "Asia belongs to the yellow race, while we are Whites and have no slit eyes. "

One can perhaps forgive Herzl, a quintessential European, who lived in an era when imperialism dominated European thought. But today, four generations later, those forming public opinion in Israel, people born in the country, continue along the same path. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak declared that Israel is "a villa in the middle of the jungle" (the Arab jungle, of course), and this attitude is shared by practically all our politicians. Tsipi Livni likes to talk about the "dangerous neighborhood" in which we are living, and the chief advisor of Ariel Sharon once said that there will be no peace until "the Palestinians turn into Finns."

Avnery goes on to explain the roots of a deep seated Israeli fear.

"So where does this fear of annihilation come from in the 59th year of the state? A part of it surely emanates from the memory of the Holocaust, which is deeply imprinted in the national mentality. But another part comes from the feeling of not belonging, of temporariness, of the lack of roots.

That has, of course, domestic implications, too. Consciousness also affects practical interests. The assertion that we are a European people automatically reinforces the position of our ruling class, which is still overwhelmingly Ashkenazi-European, over and against the majority of the citizens of Israel, who are of Asian-African Jewish and Palestinian-Arab descent. The profound disdain for their culture, which has accompanied the state from its first day, facilitates discrimination against them in many fields."

In 1947 Uri wrote the following words in "War or Peace in the Semitic Region" trying to give his people direction and help them determine their identity,

"When our Zionist fathers decided to set up a 'safe home' in Eretz Israel, they had the choice between two roads: they could appear in West Asia as a European conqueror, who sees himself as a beachhead of the 'white' race and a master of the 'natives'…(or) see themselves as an Asian nation returning to its homeland."

So much of the conflicts around us are determined by our understanding of self versus others enforcing their
conception of us upon us. How do we perceive ourselves? Do we belong to the community we are living in? What are the sources of our self-hood? These are questions that Israelis must be asking themselves, and they are questions that Palestinians have consequently been forced to address as well. As Israelis find themselves planted in a region that is often foreign to them culturally, spiritually and socially they have imperatively become a political thorn in the flesh of their Arab neighbors. Their closest neighbors, the Palestinians have thereupon been hurled into an identity crisis of their own. The consequences of this are one dimension of the violent reality we are seeing played out on the streets of Gaza today.

With the world denying the existence of a Palestinian state and some even denying the existence of a Palestinian as Palestinian, the question looms, who and what is a Palestinian? With a majority of Palestinians having lost their land to the Israeli occupation and ending up as refugees across the region, many must be asking who they are? With Palestinians seeking a solution to their existential dilemma many are looking to party ideology or religion for an answer, seeking some reference point to guide them out of their suppression. Could the process of seeking autonomy to ultimately define oneself be driving Palestinians to violence?

One needs to have some say, just some self-determination in life.

Uri's article


Buntifer said...

peace be with you

Anonymous said...

while I agree that the palestinian are living an identity crisis, i have yet to come across an article or statement by a palestinian that addresses the issue as such. even edward said seems to focus both source and solution in the direction of the west, not on the palestinian identity. perhaps i have misread. in any case, can you provide reference to other palestinians that may have raised this issue?