One of Jerusalem's benefits is the opportunity for Jews from different backgrounds, and Arabs, to converse and come to understand what one another brings to the encounter.
Some would say that Jerusalem's ethnic and religious mixture is dangerous, and it can be. It was part of the downside when this wave of violence began, and I felt it necessary to walk the neighborhood with a pointed stick.
That unpleasantness is behind me, hopefully for some time. The stick migrated gradually from my hand whenever I left the house, to hanging by the front door, and then to a closet.
It's not wise to begin an intense conversation with someone from another community chosen at random. Jews from backgrounds in Europe, the US, Latin America, the Middle East, the former Soviet Union, and Ethiopia may begin encounters across cultural lines with a bit of suspicion. Arabs and Jews meeting one another may have their antennae alert to hostile sounds or actions.
On the other hand, there is a lot to learn from those who differ on ethnicity or religion. Over the years my wanderings have exposed me to some individuals with whom I exchange only nods of recognition, with others a few words of greeting, and with some intense conversations on the day's events.
Two of the French Hill neighbors are Muslims whose academic credentials and personal experiences are no less weighty than mine.
I don't know, and I don't ask about everything from the people I walk with. In the same spirit, I've learned not to inquire too closely into the distant past of my spouse or all the activities of our children.
What I've leaned from recent conversations is that the prominent actors in the Middle East are stuck in unpleasant places, and not likely to move anytime soon.
Looking beyond the details of local dispute, i.e., who should have what in Jerusalem and the West Bank, it appears that the Muslims have gotten themselves into something like the religious wars of Christians from early in their history and up to a century or so before the French Revolution. From then until 1945, European powers fought one another not so much over the proper conceptions of Christ's legacy, but the benefits that should accrue to one or another leader or alliance. The death toll in World War I is estimated at 38 million and World War II at more than 60 million. It took all that blood for Europeans and their relatives across the seas to decide that comity was better than enmity.
A Muslim friend sees his co-religionists still a long way from the bloodshed necessary to move them away from the killing fields. Current estimates of two or three million deaths in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and elsewhere are nowhere near the carnage that Europeans needed to decide that enough was enough.
The Israel-Palestine tift is small in comparison. Worthies excite themselves over two thousand deaths in a peak year like 2014, while that may be a week's toll in Syria or Iraq.
Bernie Sander's comment in an interview,
"Anybody help me out here, because I don't remember the figures, but my recollection is over 10,000 innocent people were killed in Gaza. Does that sound right?"
Told that the number was “probably high,” Sanders responded:
Should ignorance would only be an embarrassment if he were a candidate for leading an insignificant place without an foreign policy that anyone bothers to notice.“I don’t have it in my number… but I think it’s over 10,000. My understanding is that a whole lot of apartment houses were leveled . . . Hospitals, I think, were bombed. So yeah, I do believe and I don’t think I’m alone in believing that Israel’s force was more indiscriminate than it should have been.”
Inflating the casualties by a multiple of five, adding hospitals that were not attacked, and considering all of the Palestinian casualties to be "innocent" ought to disqualify that old man from the office he seeks.
Neither Israeli nor Palestinian populations nor their politicians can move from incommensurate postures that have gotten in the way of agreement.
- Who should control the holy places of Jerusalem
- What to do about the refugees who fled or were pushed out of what became Israel in 1948
- What to do about the messy arrangements in the West Bank left by Jordan when it abandoned what was widely viewed as an illegal occupation in 1967, producing what is now widely viewed as an illegal Israeli occupation
It doesn't seem possible to create a Palestinian state without dealing with those issues, and with the equally knotty ones of defining borders between Jewish and Arab settlements in the West Bank, as well as which parts of Jerusalem, if any, should be transferred to a Palestinian entity.
Arabs as well as Jews agree tacitly that there isn't likely to be movement by either side on these issues.
Key among the problems of the Jewish left, with both Israeli and overseas elements, is that they fail to recognize that both sides are stuck. Israeli election results show the dismal standing of parties that continue to make the case that they could somehow make peace. Meretz and Labor/Zionist Union together have 29 seats out of the 120 in the Knesset, and are polling to get only 23 in a hypothetical election.
Leftist activists who say that Israel is losing its democracy to the extreme right do not understand the nature of democracy or Israel. Right of center parties have won enough seats in open, democratic elections, to form every governing coalitions since 2001. While some of those rightists may speak in the most incendiary of nationalistic terms, the government's actual performance has been moderate, and has managed to avoid anything like the conflicts elsewhere in the Middle East.
Tension remains, but exists alongside several hundred thousand West Bank Palestinians and Arabs of Jerusalem working in the Israeli economy.
None of this soothes the hurts associated with 34 Israelis killed in the recent wave of violence, or the 200 Palestinians who have died while pursuing their crusade, with the Palestinians leaving behind families who may be preparing to revenge them.
A surplus of ideals has little place in these conflicts.
Both Israeli Jews and Muslims from much of the Middle East join in ridiculing Americans and Europeans who aspire to what is not possible. The tough realpolitik of Vladimir Putin gets higher marks than the drivel associated with George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Illusions about democratizing Iraq, Libya, Egypt, or Syria are more appropriate to a seminar in a poorly staffed college than to the summit of the world's most powerful country. Americans pleading with Israelis, Palestinians, Syrian, Iraqis and others to act properly appears strange, indeed, to people who view the United States as riven by racial conflict and violence, obsessed with the free access to weapons as the essence of personal security, and unable to provide decent education or health care to large segments of its own population.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem