I have not written about the Middle East before (and have not written much lately at all due to excessive demands on my time), as I do not feel very qualified to address many of the issues there. In some ways the interesting thing to me about Israel and the Palestinians is not so much what is happening but the strange way people report what goes on there.
Both sides seem to view Israel as somehow ‘special’. Its detractors point out its lousy human rights record and the ethnic nature of its definitions of nationality as if somehow that made Israel worse than the vast majority of other non-Anglosphere countries in which these facts also apply. I wonder why so much is said by the detractors about Israel’s beastly treatment of non-Jews and yet so little is said about Belorus or Burma or China’s beastly treatment of everyone within their borders.
Its supporters on the other hand seem extraordinarily sensitive about negative remarks, reacting with ‘shock’ when even reasoned criticism about Israeli behaviour is made. Some months back I recall seeing a harrowing film clip of a young Palestinian child being shot dead by Israeli troops whilst he cowered next to his terrified father and yet the murmur from the usual talking heads in the Western media amounted to a shrug and saying ‘shit happens’. I recall seeing a blog (I forget which one) which said in its sidebar that it was writing about US and Israeli ‘exceptionalism’. Well frankly I don’t buy the notion of American ‘exceptionalism’ let alone that of some dusty Middle Eastern quasi-socialist quasi-religious ethnically defined state. The world is full of dusty quasi-socialist quasi-religious ethnically defined states.
And so if you detect an air of indifference in me, well I suppose I care as much about the conflict between Jews and Arabs as most Jews care about the conflict between Croats and Serbs. Which is to say, not much. Perry shares my lack of enthusiasm about the subject but he at least knows a bit more about it than I do.
And so the reason I find myself writing about the Middle East, at least indirectly, has less to do with the rights and wrongs of what Israel is and is not doing than with my own subjective perceptions and emotional baggage. I was watching CNN in a hotel in Zagreb earlier to day whilst waiting for a business appointment. As I watched, I heard a report from a female reporter near Jenin who said that Israeli tanks and armoured personnel carriers were moving through the area instructing all Palestinian males between the ages of 15 and 50 to come out of their homes and wait for transport to a place where they can be ‘questioned’.
Now I have no idea what the Israeli military actually has planned for these people but I felt a sudden surge not unlike panic inside me when I heard the reporter say that. In my part of the world many times within the last ten years, powerful armies have moved into a community and taken away entire male populations based on the simple fact of their ethnic background. I found myself desperately hoping that those Palestinian men would find some dark cellar or attic to hide in rather than be bused off somewhere, their fate entirely dependent on the wishes of armed men who by and large feel no commonality of community with them.
I am not on anyones side in that conflict. Israel (and the Palestinians) did not help or hinder Croatia in its recent war and I feel much the same about them, yet I cannot help but pray that my feelings when I heard that report were baseless and irrational. There are already enough communities in the world with no young men in them.