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Palestine as metaphor.
February 10, 2003 10:28 AM   Subscribe

Palestine as metaphor. Is "linkage" of the Palestine/Israel situation to a wider peace in the Middle East valid? Some say yes, some say no. But it seems clear that most (except the Palestinians and Israelis themselves) view the situation more as a metaphor for wider Arab/Western relations rather than as a conflict between two peoples. I approach this post with fear and trembling.
posted by mrmanley (18 comments total)

 
Okl. I am insured so I can take a few hits. When you refer to Palestine as metaphor you are talking abstractions. There is a country there called Israel that might have been instead have been called Palestine (by its own choosing), and goodbye metaphor.

No one can say what will take place after the American invasion of Iraq. Might be that the US will insist that Iraq have an Israeli embassy in Baghdad and that Iraq recognize the existence of Israel!

But, alas, be you pro-Palestinian or pro-Israel, I suspect that much will remain the same, both sides fearful of each other, distrustful of motives on either side, spewing hatred etc etc.
posted by Postroad at 11:05 AM on February 10, 2003


Most Arabs and and many non-Arab Muslims take the Palestine/Israel issue very, very seriously, and very personally.

Hezbollah, for example, which consists mainly of Shi'ite Lebanese, with no inherent stake in what happens in Israel, has the defeat of what they call the "Zionist entity" as its principal goal. Hezbollah is in turn principally supported by Iranian clerical conservatives, who not only lack a geographic stake in the matter, but aren't even Arabs themselves.

There certainly is a good case that Arab and Muslim autocrats have used Palestinians as a way of distracting their own subjects from their personal lack of freedom ... but whether or not that's true, it cannot be seriously argued that the "street" doesn't care about this.

The story linked to makes a good point that the most Palestinian-friendly position which Israel and the US could adopt is almost intolerably inadequate from the standpoint of Arab politics. So, agreed, there's not an easy solution, but the problem is anything but abstract or metaphorical.
posted by MattD at 11:13 AM on February 10, 2003


MattD:

I would argue exactly the opposite: the Palestinian cause is entirely metaphorical to most Arab/Persian peoples. How could it be otherwise? The situation, ugly as it is, is not all that different from that of the Balkans or West African nations. But Palestine carries a freight of religious and historical overtones those other places do not; and it seems to be the mental Palestine rather than the actual place that concerns most Arabs (and Westerners, for that matter).
posted by mrmanley at 11:29 AM on February 10, 2003


Matt D, did you read the article? I think he makes the case that there is a Palestine-as-metaphor that is a tool of inter-Arab politics.

Arguably, the metaphor is more important, given how little serious attention the Arab world has paid to peacemaking. There isn't today, for example, a Palestinian consensus on what is an acceptable settlement. Wheras the majority of Israelis have a notion of what they are willing to accept, on the Palestinian side, a muzzled press, lack of civil political discourse, worthless political leadership, attachment to sloganeering, romantic violence, and the reality of fighting their war has prevented the kind of political consensus building that they need if they are to ever make peace.

The importance of Palestine as metaphor actually makes peace harder to achieve because it raises the stakes of compromise.
posted by ednopantz at 11:34 AM on February 10, 2003


I was thinking about this today when I noticed Bush constantly referring to the UN as 'irrelevant' if it did not approve an attack on Iraq; and I was wondering if he was imitating Sharon's rhetoric re. Arafat, or sending some kind of signal to Sharon.
posted by carter at 11:53 AM on February 10, 2003


This is really interesting. On some level, the conflict really is about metaphors. What does it mean to the Jewish people to have a piece of land they see as their historical homeland, and location of culturally and religiously significant events? What does it mean to those of the Muslim faith -- for the same reasons?

Personally, I think that the big mistake involved in the founding of Israel was the underlying attitude of "never again." You can hardly blame the Jews for a seige mentality after centuries of being demonized, pogromed, mobbed, genocided, etc. But going in and creating a state based on the principle that the security of a safe place for the Jews to live was paramount above all other principles was asking for trouble. One wonders what might have happened if they'd seriously stuck with the idea of a state like the U.S. -- where everyones civil and religious liberties are supposed to be taken into account. Maybe the culture/geography still would have meant a lot of tension and violence. Maybe not.

Not to mention calling it Israel. But that's part and parcel with the concept I expressed above.

P.S. I'm picking on Israel here and pointing out what I see as a flawed concept in founding of the state. Just want to point out I don't think Palestinian hands are clean -- it takes two to tango, and either side has been guilty of leading. I especially agree with ednopantz about some of the Palestinian problems.

Good article.
posted by namespan at 12:55 PM on February 10, 2003


NameSpan: One wonders what might have happened if they'd seriously stuck with the idea of a state like the US -- where everyones civil and religous liberties are supposed to be taken into account

From the Declaration of Independence of Israel:
...will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of creed, race or sex; will guarantee full freedom of consience, worship, education and culture...

posted by PenDevil at 1:14 PM on February 10, 2003


Israel, so far as I know, became a state because the UN voted (33-13) to create two states where none existed. There had been Jews and arabs living in this general area for many years, in much the same way that there had been Jews and Arabs living in many of the Arab lands--some 700 thousand Jews in Arab states.

Israel had represented the "idea" of the West--many who immigrated where from Europe. But then Sephardic, Russians, Ethiopians etc--all Jews--alswo immigrated. What makes it symbolic of the West today is the fact that we identify Democracy, Jewishness, etc as Western.

Thus there is a seeming clash of civilizations, and much of Islam wants the area to remain Muslim. But wait: only 20% of the world's Muslims arein the Middle East!

If we have nearly as many Jews living in America as in Israel then no wonder Israel is seen as a "territory" of America and the Jewish people.

A mistaketo create a Jewish state? No such "entity" truly exists according to many Arab nations in the world, and for those that pretend it does, they are to be taughty a lesson by ridding the region of them....metaphor turned literal.
posted by Postroad at 1:21 PM on February 10, 2003


Oops pressed submit by mistake. But anyway the point I was trying to make is that for all Israeli citizen's those points still hold. Granted there have been some times when Israel has not treated all it's citizen's fairly. But with Israel under the level of attack it has been under (from it's neighbours and terrorist groups) it has done remarkably well upholding the values enshrined in that quote.

If the US was under constant attack like Israel, the govt would have done a merry dance on the Constitution years ago.
posted by PenDevil at 1:22 PM on February 10, 2003


Would have?
posted by gottabefunky at 1:28 PM on February 10, 2003


PenDevil you make a mistake in confusing Israeli citizens of Arab descent and Palestinians. Arabs who are Israeli citizens are almost never involved in terrorist attacks because they have almost complete rights in the state of Israel. Palestinians who live under Israeli occupation have no such rights, and are treated as fourth-class citizens by the Israeli army, have virtually no rights, and experience taxation without representation. It is true that those living within the boundaries of Israel set out during its founding have had their rights protected, but that is not the issue, the issue is the rights of people living under de facto Israeli rule.
posted by chaz at 1:58 PM on February 10, 2003


Israel, so far as I know, became a state because the UN voted (33-13) to create two states where none existed

I thought the UN was a useless, treasonous, terrorist Third World debating society whose decisions must be mocked, despised and disregarded by every good red-white-blue-blooded American.
posted by matteo at 2:21 PM on February 10, 2003


Well, this thread had been amazingly civilized....
posted by languagehat at 4:58 PM on February 10, 2003


i kinda had a post about this earlier :)

btw just saw this article by edward said on worldnewyork: "We have in our tradition an entire body of secular and religious discourse that treats of beginnings and endings, of life and death, of love and anger, of society and history." he essentially advocates seizing the reins of a discourse dictated by lewis' "clash of civilizations" and proposing an alternative (or i guess a synthesis if you're marxist!). unfortunately he doesn't see anyone stepping up (or even listening :) so engrossed in metaphor that we are!
posted by kliuless at 5:23 PM on February 10, 2003


Palestinians who live under Israeli occupation

live under Israeli occupation because the surrounding Arab nations attacked Israel in 1948, 1956, and 1967. In '67 Israel got tired of this and decided to keep somewhat of a defensive perimeter. Period.
posted by billsaysthis at 5:48 PM on February 10, 2003


Billsaythis, for one thing I didn't assign blame either way for the occupation. But for the second thing, does it make sense if you are building a "defensive permiter" to confiscate thousands of acres of land from its owners in order to move hundreds of thousands of your citizens there, and build hundreds of kilometers of special roads to link them all together? It doesn't sound like a defensive perimeter to me. A defensive perimeter might be a super-fortified border with a large area (mined?) inbetween.
posted by chaz at 6:16 PM on February 10, 2003


Turning back for a moment to the Dec. of Independence that notes what seems an inconsistency for one poster:
check out theAmerican Declaration and then tell me why slaves and women were not allowed the vote. All men (but not slaves and not women) are created equal etc etc.
Christians and Arabs have the right to vote in Israel. When was the last vote in PLO? Saudi Arabia etc etc? Or, simply: why do the millions of Arab-Israelis remain inside Israel rather than leaving?
posted by Postroad at 6:45 PM on February 10, 2003


PenDevil:


From the Declaration of Independence of Israel:
...will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of creed, race or sex; will guarantee full freedom of consience, worship, education and culture...


Having read an autobiographical account of an individual living in a bucolic village in Palestine when the state was created, I'm skeptical that the above statement was "stuck with". Elias Chacour related how his family was driven out of the village at gunpoint. To be fair, he also gave an account of how the elders of the village petitioned the state for the right to return. Eventually, the state granted the request. On their return, however, the armed forces occupying the town shelled it before they left.

I'd encourage anyone to read Chacour's stuff. It's an interesting perspective -- not the only one, to be sure, but the conclusions Chacour comes to lend him a high degree of credibility (he'd rather be an MLK than an Arafat. Whether that will get him or Israel/Palestine anywhere is another question).

But anyway the point I was trying to make is that for all Israeli citizen's those points still hold. Granted there have been some times when Israel has not treated all it's citizen's fairly. But with Israel under the level of attack it has been under (from it's neighbours and terrorist groups) it has done remarkably well upholding the values enshrined in that quote.

The frightening thing is how quickly those values break down in the face of threats, and how easily that feeds the threat itself. I was aware that Israel was supposed to have been different in principle, but the fact seems to have been that there were many for whom the principles described in the declaration you referenced above took a backseat to "never again." Hence my statement about "sticking with" the values.

I think I understand that such a thing is difficult -- to be sure, not at a visceral level, but a mental one. But it's starting to hit close to home here in the U.S....


If the US was under constant attack like Israel, the govt would have done a merry dance on the Constitution years ago.


As has been demonstrated in the last year and a half. Or this week on metafilter (I like to think Nyarlathotep was kidding). This is as scary as the attacks. Are we really so uncommited to the principles as to simply turn them over at the sign of a threat?

And should we be learning something from the fact that hard-line approaches haven't made Israel a more secure place?

And Postroad:
Christians and Arabs have the right to vote in Israel. When was the last vote in PLO? Saudi Arabia etc etc? Or, simply: why do the millions of Arab-Israelis remain inside Israel rather than leaving?

I think your point is that relatively speaking, Israel is closest thing to a model of democracy that the Middle East has, and the corrollary would be that if it couldn't work, the reason has more to do with the struggle mentality engrained in the culture of the non-jewish Arabs of the area. I can buy that to some extent, and certainly think it's a factor. But the reading I described above leads me to believe that the Israeli state (or various actors within it) simply did not live up to those values, feeding a crisis of credibility for the idea of the state -- something they would have faced anyway. My (probably hopelessly idealistic) idea was that if Israel had been willing to defend itself militarily, but also remain rigidly committed to the rights of non-jewish Palestinians within its borders, they still would have faced terrorist actions, but perhaps, overtime, terrorist actors would have been robbed of any hope of credibility.

I think it's telling, though, that even after slavery was abolished and on a national, philosophical level in the US, race was not an issue, civil liberties and racial harassment were a big issue here. It's also telling how the victims managed to go about getting the issues addressed. Making a declaration is one thing. Getting a society to ascribe to it is another.
posted by namespan at 3:49 AM on February 12, 2003


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