Sunday 17 October 2010

Six Weeks Later and The Time Article Looks So Different

The article published in Time Magazine on the 2nd September 2010 went under the heading "Why Israelis Don't Care About Peace." The heading was not a question, it was a statement. The article tried to create the impression that Israelis have no interest in the peace talks with the Palestinians, or whether a peace agreement is achieved or not. After interviewing 3 or 4 Israelis who sent the message that the ongoing peace talks were not on the forefront of their minds, Time writer Karl Vick concluded that this attitude applies to all Israelis.

The article was taken by many Jews around the world to be anti-Semitic, and as an unjustified criticism on Israelis and Israeli society. It is certainly a judgement on Israelis in the sense that it expects them (us) to be preoccupied with making peace with the Palestinians, instead of concerning ourselves with daily issues. Millions of citizens around the world are entitled to live their lives by worrying about their children, making a living, and other daily concerns. Israelis, however, are seemingly obliged to be preoccupied by peace-making. In the event that Israelis have the audacity to enjoy the "good life" and reap some of the benefits of 62 years of sweat and toil, does this mean that they are doing the wrong thing? Is it a requirement that Israelis not have fun or enjoy everyday activities until there is peace with the Palestinians? This could produce generations of very miserable people, as peace does not seem imminent.

The reality is that, when the article was written some 6 weeks ago, the prospects for peace were looking more optimistic. The Palestinians had decided, seemingly against their better judgement, to enter into direct peace talks with the Israelis. There was talk of peace within 12 months, which seemed to ignore the reality that, over decades and even hundreds of years, there has been an inability to reach a peace. There was the sense of being on the verge of a great achievement, which was particularly felt by the USA and other countries who were involved in attempts to bring Palestinians and Israelis to the negotiating table. Optimism was felt by many people around the world, and the impression was that it was only a matter of time before peace would suddenly break out. For Israelis, however, the same level of enthusiasm was not felt. After all, this is the nation that has been through similar events over many years at Wye Plantation, at Camp David and numerous other peace meetings. All of the previous peace-making attempts proved to be unsuccessful, even when it seemed as though many of the most important issues had already been agreed upon. It is surely unwise and inadvisable to begin to pop the champagne corks before even the first key meeting has taken place. History has made the Israelis realise that it is better to lower expectations until the final outcome is decided. This is the way to avoid feeling disappointed, and let down over and over again.

Now, 6 weeks later, with the Palestinians refusing to return to the negotiating table, it would seem as if the "lack of interest" in peace may have been justified. Whether the Israelis are to blame for not unilaterally agreeing to extend the construction moratorium, or whether the Palestinians are to blame for not agreeing to recognise Israel as a Jewish state is not really the issue here. The fact is that the peace process is, once again, in tatters. It is just as well that nobody raised their expectations or devoted too much of their time to it. Perhaps the optimism of a couple of months ago was simply an illusion created by the international community for public consumption, which was not necessarily felt by the parties to the discussions? I wonder whether Karl Vick would still be so critical of Israelis for not caring about peace under the current circumstances. The question that I ask is "what peace?"

Despite the impression that Vick left readers of his story with, Israelis do care about peace. They care very deeply about peace, due to the fact that each and every citizen has an interest in a peace agreement. The main reason for this is because a lack of peace continues to put Israel at war with its neighbours. This is a war that has lasted for 62 years and even longer. In order to fight this war, Israel has been forced to call upon every citizen of the country to participate in fighting the war. All the time that young men are conscripted for 3 years, and young women conscripted for 2 years in the defence of their country, Israelis are "forced" to care about peace. As the parent of conscription-age children, I know that any peace agreements will go some way towards creating a safer environment for my children during the time of their national service. There is no family in Israel that does not have some link to children currently serving in the army, or due to serve in the army in the near future. There can be no greater incentive to care about peace than this.

The colloquial term to describe an Israeli is a "Sabra", a prickly pear. The reason why Israelis are called Sabras is because they are believed to have a tough and prickly exterior to those who first meet them. The comparison continues in the contention that, once the thick exterior is peeled away, there is a soft and sweet interior which is only visible to those who care to delve deeply enough. The hard outer shell not only allows Israelis to somehow survive 62 years of incessant war, it also gives protection against the raising of expectations, which are largely dashed soon afterwards. After all, this seems to be part of the daily cycle of life in Israel. This may give the impression that Israelis don't care about peace, but nothing can be further from the truth. After all, their very existence and future is ultimately dependent upon finding a secure, just and lasting peace.

It may be that Karl Vick has not been able to see pass the outer shell of the prickly pears that he has met. His article shows an extremely superficial analysis of the way in which Israelis think, and sees past the things that truly affect their lives. The fact that the people that he interviewed succeeded in convincing him that they are able to continue with their lives despite the unstable political and security situation in which they are forced to live, is perhaps a tribute to the determination and the resilience of the Israeli spirit. But don't, for a moment, interpret this to mean that we do not care.

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