I try to avoid politics in this blog, but this is a land where our very existence is considered a matter of opinion.
As I wrote yesterday, I am ensconced in a discussion about the crisis in Gaza over at Global Voices Online. I wanted to move the discussion over here because I respect your opinions and want to hear what you have to say. (I also respect the opinions of the commenters and my fellow authors at GVO, but I suspect that the opinions expressed here and there will differ.)
Wafa Sultan on Secularism
Lee Cornfield of the Tidbits Nuggets and Brainbabies blog sent me a video of Arab American psychologist Wafa Sultan being interviewed on Al Jazeera television. I was most struck by her ideas regarding secular humanism. I’ve excerpted the conversation below (starting at 3:13 in the video).
Sultan: “I am not a Christian, a Muslim, or a Jew. I am a secular human being. I do not believe in the supernatural, but I respect others’ rights to believe in it.”
Host: “Are you a heretic?”
Sultan: “You can say whatever you like. I am a secular human being who does not believe in the supernatural.”
Host: “If you are a heretic, there is no point in rebuking you since you have blasphemed against Islam, the Prophet, and the Koran.
Sultan: “These are personal matters that do not concern you. Brother, you can believe in stones, as long as you don’t throw them at me. You are free to worship who[m]ever you want, but other people’s beliefs are not your concern. Whether they believe that the Messiah is god, son of Mary, or that Satan is god, son of Mary. Let people have their beliefs.”
Israel and Palestine: Solving the Conflict Secularly
I find Sultan’s discussion of secular humanism really appealing. Not in the sense that the secular is pitted against the religious, but because I believe that approaching the Israeli Palestinian conflict from the perspective of religion taints it and plunges it deep into an historical quagmire from which we will never escape.
Am I saying that the Israeli Palestinian dilemma can only be solved from a secular perspective? Yes. Must the people engaging in discussion be secular? No, but they must approach the conflict from a modern, practical, and future oriented perspective that takes us to where we want to be– on both sides of the conflict– rather than relying on the dysfunctional relations of the past.
Our Lenses to the Crisis
Personally, I despise the idea of collective punishment. As a former 8th grade teacher– to give you the smallest of microcosms as an example– I can tell you that nothing will make people angrier.
On Global Voices, I find myself striving to write balanced articles accurately portraying the opinions of the English language Israeli blogosphere, but when it comes to the comments section, things seem to get a little out of control. As seems natural on the internet, we assume the worst of each other and take each word, every chosen syntax, to be in defiance of our right of peoplehood. A simple clarifying question or request for more information is interpreted as condescension, unwittingly so.
My core belief in this whole situation is in human beings’ right to a high quality of life first and foremost, including their right and ability to control their own resources and provide for themselves.
Somewhere down the line we all choose sides based on existing alliances and our understanding of how the world works. When it comes down to it, I also believe in the rights of people to exist within national boundaries and borders that will protect them. It is necessary for both Israel and Palestine’s existence to be able to defend themselves against their enemies.
Leaving the World Blind
But wait, if we have the right to defend ourselves against our enemies and both of us have enemies that we perceive as active and violent, then we are necessarily lead into military conflict against each other. In the land of an eye for an eye (you know what I’m going to say), this leaves us all blind.
A number of commenters on Global Voices stated their belief that Israel was more of an aggressor than Palestine based on the fatality statistics. One user, Sarfaraz, urges us to: “Consider the death toll comparison on both sides before reaching to a conclusion [sic],” citing B’Tselem’s study of violence on both sides. He says, “The Palestinian actions are nothing but symbolic in comparison to massacres perpetuated by Israelis.”
But this is where we get sidetracked and thrown into the issue of whose bullying is most “effective.” The number of casualties as a measurement of success is a complete perversion of the human issue at hand. You cannot claim, as Lee says in her response, to both care about humanitarianism and also to use death rates as measurements of right and wrong. The two issues are necessarily bifurcated. They will never intersect.
Jews as Futurists: Where Do We Go From Here?
As Jews and Israelis, our Zionism pushes us to be futurists and think about what comes next and how to plan for it. For me, although I recognize why others are attached to historical ideas about land possession and occupation and see why they hold value, I don’t find them as getting us anywhere. I don’t see them as providing any answers.
I completely understand that it is offensive for me to say “1948, let’s move on,” when for a Palestinian his whole existence and identity as a person in conflict source from that time. Rather than devaluing that, I want to raise the issue higher and say, okay, so where do we go from here?
What can we do this year, next year, in the next five years that will move Israel and Palestine to a healthy, non-violent, two-state solution? We don’t have to like each other, but we do have to coexist without violence for both of our sanities.
Statehood x Two
In November, Olmert and Abbas, on symbolic behalf of the people of Israel and Palestine, agreed to actively and aggressively pursue a two-state solution with the goal of establishing Palestinian statehood by 2008.
Can the establishment of a state change opinions on both sides? What needs to happen for peace to occur?
“No matter what part of the world we come from, we are all basically the same human beings. We all seek happiness and try to avoid suffering. We have the same basic human needs and is concerns. All of us human beings want freedom and the right to determine our own destiny as individuals and as peoples. That is human nature.”
Photo by The TibetSite.com
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