Thursday, September 24, 2009

On the Middle East

I came across some photographs in one of the archive boxes I was working in the other day. Normally, anything that isn’t a telegram, airgram, memorandum of conversation or – always a favourite – a letter to the president from a desperate housewife, is welcome. However, these weren’t photographs you were supposed to enjoy.

They showed the remains of some villages at the West Bank in (at the time) Jordan, destroyed in one of the many “border incidents” between Jordan and Israel. What mostly got to me when watching these pictures, however, was not the horridness of the photographs themselves – demolished houses; the remains of a child’s bed (I don’t want to know what happened to the child); sad-looking people outside what used to be their homes. No, what really struck me was the realization that nothing has changed. These pictures were taken in 1966, but aside from the fact that they were black-and-white, they might as well have been taken yesterday. It illustrates a tragic side effect to living in constant conflict for more than 60 years: these areas have next to no chance of any development – politically, financially or otherwise. It makes me terribly angry and equally sad that the conflict that back then already had been going on for almost a generation is still hindering the development today.

As a historian it is important to try to keep one’s distance to the material one studies; and above all, to try to not be prejudiced in ones findings (the historian’s task is more complex than what I depict here, but I’m conveniently skipping any methodological or theoretical debate since a) I don’t think it belongs here; b) I know for a fact it would bore you all; and c) it would also bore me). However, seeing pictures like these; reading hundreds upon hundreds of documents about the “border incidents” of various gravity; and knowing that after the events of which I am currently reading followed more than 40 years of equal or worse – with no imminent prospects of improvement even today – it is hard not to draw at least one conclusion: there must be a lot of people whose intentions are to avoid peace in the Middle East. Otherwise, why would the parties in the conflict continue, doing the same things they have been doing for decades? Continuous attacks – from either side – with the inevitable retaliations, will not lead to peace. Falsely claiming to want negotiations to win political victories, internally or externally, will not lead to peace. The conflict in the Middle East will not go away if we stop paying attention to it, just as it will not go away if we pay attention merely by distributing blame.

It can be depressing, to say the least, to study the quagmire that is the Arab-Israeli conflict. In addition, my time-frame spans a eleven years when the patterns that were to dominate the conflict the following decades were forming. I can see – quite clearly – that it goes wrong, but I cannot do anything about it. Unfortunately, it seems that taking a step back in order to reset those patterns does not appear to be an option for the parties involved – today, as it wasn’t forty or fifty or sixty years ago. It’s out of fashion for historians to believe we can “learn from history”, but nevertheless – wouldn’t it be worth trying?


Watery Tart said...

You know if they'd just all get naked they could finally get along...

Seriously though-you're absolutely right. It isn't any wonder the mess leads to cynics like my husband saying we should just bomb the hell out of all of them (not something he ACTUALLY advocates, or I wouldn't be married to him, but the kind of thing he says when it's so clear there's not a damn thing that seems to help)

I think you may very well be onto something when you look for who is benefitting (not the individuals, they change over time, but the institutional powers, the movements).

It's THOSE people we need to stick into lingerie and make them dance!

Galen Kindley--Author said...

It’s very insightful to see the past as equal to the present. It’s also kinda debilitating because you have to ask, “Can anything be done? How long with this drag on?”

Who, indeed, doesn’t want peace in the region. Most probably the political forces that aren’t suffering. Anyone in those photos…or who will be in the next set of photos would want peace, that’s most assuredly so.

What’s really sad is the world get bored with or depressed by the same sad news and just tunes it out literally and metaphorically. The next crisis comes along and the news moves on, and the world forgets…until, one day a photograph surfaces.

Best Regards, Galen

Imagineering Fiction Blog

Rayna M. Iyer said...

Galen is right, the problem is that when we get bored of reading about things like this, we just blank it out. Even if it is happening right around us, we blank it out.

Perhaps if we did not, we would realise that while some things are worth taking a stand for, nothing is worth taking someone's life for.

Division has got us nowhere, why then can we not unite and life happily ever after? Or am I being naive, not idealistic?

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