Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Paradigm Shift In Thinking About Israel

Those of us with a liberal arts degree are familiar with terms like 'colonial', 'imperial', and 'native'. Many of us have toyed with moral relativism long enough to blur the line between terrorists and freedom fighters and, while embodying a liberal mindset that prides itself on openness and alternative narratives, we have become susceptible to propaganda that fits this world view.

There has been a lot of recent research showing that many American Jewish young adults don't have any connection with Israel. A lot of us feel that Israel shouldn't have a carte blanche in its harsh dealings with Palestinians. Israel's position as a pariah nation is further and further pushed through left-leaning media outlets and across college campuses.

The underlying narrative that has created this situation is that Israel is a country that was created because the European powers felt bad for the Jews after the Holocaust and decided to settle these white Jews in what was then the Palestinian mandate, uprooted thousands of brown people in the process. Classic colonialism, right?

Except that this oversimplified view of history is misguided at best, and at worst, totally incorrect. A very interesting article on Jewcy tackles the myth of Jewish colonialism head on and makes several very important points.

The first is that Jews are just as indigenous to the area between Sinai and the Jordan river as any of the peoples who have become known as Palestinian. Even following forced expulsion of Jews by the Babylonians, the Romans, the Christians, etc., there remained a continuous presence of Jews in the area now known as Israel.

The second point has to do with refugee rights. One gigantic issue which has time and again stalled the peace process is the 'right of return'. This is the idea that Palestinians have the right to return to the land from which they left, either from fear, direct threat, or otherwise. What the article brings up is that, more than 40% of Israel's Jews were, just a generation or two ago, living in Arab countries. Immediately after the end of the 1948 war, Jews were forced to leave every Arab country. Most were not able to take their possessions, and were forced to give up their land, homes, and money.

According to the article, the World Organisation of Jews from Arab Countries estimates that Jews in Arab countries lost many more billions of assets as the Palestinians, and four times as much land as the size of Israel itself. Now, while these facts do not lessen Palestinian claims, or abdicate the Israeli government for its actions, they do help to put certain things into perspective. This conflict is not simple black and white, and both sides have legitimate claims and illegitimate methods.

A true liberal approach to the conflict should examine all facts and viewpoints, even if it makes the conclusion unclear.

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