Thursday, October 7, 2010

Israel as a Pressure Cooker

October 7, 2010

Over the past few days, I have had very interesting conversations about Israel as a place and as a people. In a session with Tamar and Avital, our volunteer placement coordinators, they were talking about how there is so much tension in Israel, and that is very apparent in the schools. When Tamar and Avital were 12 it was the first gulf war, and they had to go to school at staggered times so they could all have class in the bomb shelter. They had to bring gas masks with them at all times, and had a gas mask decorating class so they would be pretty. And that was their middle school experience. Plus, I’m sure, all the bullshit that comes with being 12 no matter where you are. Wtf.

And later the day (I think? Maybe the next day?) Amy and I were talking about Israel as a whole and about the conflict. I was saying that I think if I were to design a sociological/psychological experiment (without any sort of ethics, mind you) to test how long humans can undergo tension and fear before they annihilate each other, I could not have designed it any better than the Israel/Palestine situation. A situation born of overwhelming fear of annihilation for the Jews; fighting about religion, which is one of the most tense and overwhelmingly personal identities a person can have; living in a tiny area with dwindling resources where it is very hot; with global support torn between the two; with generations of propaganda and hatred having become an essential part of the cultures; and with the militarization of nearly every single Jew in Israel…honestly how could it be any worse?

And it is super tense. Every time you walk into the bus station or the mall your bag is checked by a security officer and you are wanded with a metal detector. There are often fireworks set off here in Yafo, and every time you wonder if they are gunshots or not. Every single apartment and house and school has a bomb shelter in it. There has not been a single day that I have walked outside my apartment and not seen a gun. Seriously, it could not be a worse situation.

And you see that tension in the people. The way everyone pushes and is rude, the way the kids at the kindergarten are fighting with each other – it is clear that a huge part of Israeli identity, for those who are accepted into the Jewish majority of society and for the Arabs who live on the margins of it, is determined by this immense pressure cooker of a county and a conflict. And for me, that explains so much. It explains why things aren’t getting better, because it is being passed down to the children every day. It’s not just the conflict that’s tense, it’s not just when you talk about Palestine that’s tense. It’s like the whole country is tense all of the time. How can you possibly live your life like that and not be profoundly fucked up? I don’t think it’s possible. I think this country and this life, and especially the life for those who serve in the army, is profoundly fucked up. And how can we expect people who are so fucked up from living here to be able to solve this conflict?

I don’t know. I don’t know any of the answers. I know that neither side would accept a third party coming up with and instituting a solution. Obviously that would not go over very well. But every day I am doubting more and more how much they can do on their own.

Earlier that day, Hannah and Dante and I were talking about how in the entire history of the world we cannot think of a single example of an invading/colonizing force that didn’t exterminate, convert, or enslave the local population that ended up living and coexisting peacefully there. “Americans” exterminated and relocated Native Americans. Spaniards converted the native peoples in South and Central America. Colonizers in Africa and India eventually had to leave those nations because of civil wars or civil unrest. Never has this Israel/Palestine situation worked out. And Israel should have known that. This is a “nation” built in the 1950s. They should have learned the lessons of history. They should have learned from the mistakes of America and England and the brutal histories of ethnic cleansing and enslavement. With all those centuries of knowledge behind them, how did they not see that this would never work out? Obviously I’m not saying the Jews should have exterminated, converted, or enslaved the Palestinians. Obviously. I’m saying they should have known that this was never going to work. They shoulda gone to Baja.


  1. What about the Muslim occupation of Spain in the 1100s/1200s? The "Golden Age of Spain." Fascinating times.

    I think you'll enjoy visiting my in-laws' kibbutz, if you get a chance. It's... peaceful.

    I feel like I have more to say, but I'm not sure how to put it succinctly. I'd really like to have an in-person discussion with you about your time in Israel when you get back next year.

  2. If they had gone to Baja, think how much better the food would be!