Shocked and saddened by the horror in Norway? Sick and tired of the debt-limit morass in Washington? Allow me to distract you with some opinions about another of the world's well-worn trouble spots.
Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has posted a nice educational/PR/propaganda -- your choice -- video on YouTube. It's just a six minutes long, done in a light style, and well worth watching for the educational value of the too-little known facts it presents.
You'll find it here: http://youtu.be/XGYxLWUKwWo
However, my posting it here does NOT mean I endorse everything it says. As I'll explain below, much as I like it, I think it's flawed, and I have some serious problems with the underlying attitude it stems from.
While it's generally very informative and convincing, I do think there are a couple of weak points in its argument.
The first is its appeal for justification to the unilateral decision of the British Empire in 1917. Imperialism doesn't have much legitimacy these days.
The second is the further basis of its argument in that British decision's later affirmation by the League of Nations. The League is a long-defunct body only history buffs remember, that no one much respected even when it was still around.
It's hard to see anyone, even someone neutral toward Israel, let alone someone hostile to it, being very impressed by those two points.
But let's grant the argument that these historical facts give Israel legal justification for its current activities beyond the green line, and therefore for its negotiating position. Even so, this film still suffers from the failing I see, and am exasperated by, in both parties to the conflict.
That failing is what I call wishfulness.
The Arabs don't want to deal with the reality of a long-established, successful Jewish state with a deep-rooted history in the region that predates their own arrival. Instead, they've actively tried to drive us out, and when they're not doing that, they negotiate, or pretend to, as if they could unwrite our long history and wish us away. But we're not going to disappear.
The Jews don't want to deal with the reality that in the process of restoring the Jewish state they displaced thousands of people who were not themselves guilty of usurping us, and radically disrupted their lives.
They don't want to deal with the fact that those people (and, increasingly, their descendants) aren't going to stop being angry about that because Israel waves a piece of paper from 1917, nor if a deal is made that doesn't have some semblance of justice. Instead, we Jews just wish those troublesome people would please emigrate elsewhere. But that's not going to happen, and they're not going to disappear.
The Jews also don't want to deal with the fact that they are eventually going to be outnumbered in their own country, making the perpetuation of Israel as a democracy and a Jewish state impossible. Instead, they wish the Arab citizens of Israel, the descendants of those people who chose _not_ to run away from the Jews in 1948, would just stop having kids or somehow just politely leave. But that's not going to happen, and they're not going to disappear either.
In other words, both sides base their actions on wish fulfillment fantasy rather than practical facts and actual people in the real world.
Until those facts are acknowledged, until each side admits that the other side is just as stubborn and determined as they are, and that they are not going to just conveniently disappear, the middle east mess will continue. All the clever PR the Ministry of Foreign Affairs cares to post to YouTube isn't going to change that.
It's recently occurred to me that the story of Israel and its neighbors can be summed up by the two most famous quotations attributed to the revered sage, Hillel.
After the horrors of the Shoa, we Jews justifiably told ourselves "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?" On that basis, we took back our homeland, restored Jewish sovereignty for the first time in 2,000 years, and created a modern, prosperous, enlightened state we have a right to be proud of.
But six decades later, basking in our success, I think it's time to recall that Hillel also said, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.''
No reasonable person can deny that we've treated the people (I'm talking about the individuals here, not their rulers) in the territories and Gaza in a way we'd find hateful if it were done to us. Yes, some of that was done for reasons of national survival and to save Jewish lives, but there comes a point to recognize that if circumstances repeatedly force you to behave hatefully, it's time to make a deeper change, so you can behave like a mensch instead.
That's why I think Jewish history obligates us to preserve, protect, and defend Israel, and also why I think Jewish values (and, ironically, hard-nosed realism too) obligate us to do so in the most humane and generous way.