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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Shifting Perspectives

Every morning as I drive to work through the south Hevron hills, I pass through and around a bunch of Arab villages.  When I moved here a couple of years ago I couldn't help but see each of these villages as malevolent snake pits and potential ambush sites.  And while I only had one relatively minor incident, I still saw the morning crowds not as individuals, but simply as an enemy mob.

As the months passed I still looked on the villages with a jaundiced eye, but I allowed myself to notice that the residents were doing pretty much what I was doing; getting on with their busy day. 

I still would never consider stopping in one of these villages, but I started to realize that these people didn't seem to take any notice of me as I passed within a few feet of their stores and houses.

I spoke with some friends in my town about my inability to see the villages (and villagers) I passed with anything but suspicion, and was surprised to hear even some of the more strident among my right wing friends tell me about a better, or at least different, time before the Intifadas.

Jews rode Arab buses... Arabs rode Jewish buses... everyone shopped in everyone else's stores... goods and services were eagerly bought, bartered and exchanged.  This isn't to say that there weren't still suspicious glances cast in both direction... but commerce and mutual-dependence had a strong influence on the high level of ongoing contact, if not outright cooperation.

I don't know if it is a good sign or not, but lately my perspective has begun to change. During my morning drive I have started to notice individuals... 'regulars' , if you will... along my route.  I can even tell if I am early or late by taking note of where these 'regulars' are in the midst of their morning routines when I pass. 

There are the Arab school children who walk in rag-tag, uniformed groups towards an unseen school. 

There are the regular day-laborers gathered next to the village taxi stand waiting to be picked up for work in one of the settlements. 

And there is a dignified 50-ish man in crisp slacks, tweed jacket and tie who I always pass as he walks from his home in one small village towards some unknown office in another.  So punctual is this gentleman that a regular passenger in my car and I remark to one another about being ahead or behind schedule based upon how far up a particular hill he is when we pass him.

Obviously my perspective hasn't shifted overly much because while I don't consider any of these increasingly familiar characters along my commute to be remotely threatening... I still see their communities as universally malevolent and unsafe.  And while (hopefully) none of these people seems to feel specifically threatened by me, I know that the majority probably see my community (meaning Jewish Israelis) as their enemy.

I realize now that this was one of the primary goals - perhaps the only goal - of the terrorists who planned and set the Intifadas into motion. 

Each terrorist attack forced me to see every Arab as a potential stone thrower, sniper or suicide bomber... turning me into an unapologetic racist and bigot.

Every response to these attacks (curfews, road blocks, check points etc.) forced the Arab villagers to view each Israeli as the architect of their horribly inconvenient lives... turning them into unapologetic racists and bigots.

So can two communities of unapologetic racists and bigots ever come to terms?

All I know is that a couple of years ago I couldn't look at individual Arabs any differently than I did their communities.  Over time this perspective has changed.  Perhaps the terrorists are losing their ability to drive their wedges quite so deeply.... or perhaps the racism and bigotry hasn't taken root as deeply as I'd originally suspected.

It might just be a small shift in perspective on my part... but if it's happening to me, who knows where else perspectives might be shifting?

221_16_46

Posted by David Bogner on December 14, 2005 | Permalink

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» Plug o’ th’ Day: Treppenwitz’s Shifting Perspective from On the Contrary: Don's Mideast Musings
Treppenwitz does not, I suspect, need any help from me in attracting readers to his blog. Nonetheless, I’d like to recommend a post of his on the perspective shift between seeing Arabs as a faceless, undifferentiated, enemy collective, and a more compl... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 19, 2005 5:45:01 PM

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You’re alright David, for all the rice in China I wouldn’t view you as a racist. I think both normal parties need to ‘look through your eyes and see that you see’, I remember once being told of this restaurant that served falfalel so I was keen to go check it out, at the entrance I couldn’t help notice how everyone was seated facing the main door and everyone who walked in was subject to very keen visual scrutiny. It was obvious, most of them were Israeli Jews, you couldn’t blame them for the suspicion because many had died in other joints such as this targeted by suicide bombers. Walk into an Arab joint and there’s no suspicion, unless of course you’re an ‘Infidel’, it’s not fair but the Likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad keep rubbing it in, leaving no other choice.

Posted by: kakarizz | Dec 15, 2005 2:36:06 PM

I understand you completely. I witnessed a few terror attacks, and looked at all Arabs as terrorists, until I went to the army. Then I saw the villagers getting up before dawn, every day, walking to work, the children going to school, all of them just trying to live their lives, and always quickly and nervously walking past us, the "enemy soldiers". But we were only in their village because they had shot at cars on the road next to them, and killed people. It's a vicious cycle.

Posted by: David | Dec 15, 2005 3:20:46 PM

Welcome to the Dark Side.

There is a really nice post here: arimiller.blogspot.com about two Israeli Jews going into Bethlehem.

Posted by: Lisoosh | Dec 15, 2005 3:23:35 PM

David,

It is the sign of a person of character to see the distinctions between people, to recognize the the humanity in others.

I think that blogging can offer a similar experience to the one you described, albeit different because of the medium.

A snapshot of life that lends itself to promoting the humanity of all.

Posted by: Jack | Dec 15, 2005 4:03:20 PM

You have tapped into something that is absolutely true - that behind all the politics, universally we are all struggling for the same goals. I think it's even more evident when "enemies" are raised and living together, side by side, in a different country. The schools in the county where I live are becoming more and more diverse. You will have children from 25 or more different countries playing with each other, befriending each other. Parents becoming friends because when you stripped it all away, you are left with human beings trying to raise a family and dealing with the same issues.

David, do you think these programs that bring together Israeli and Palestians youth together to help learn and understand each other, really have a long lasting, positive influence on the possibility of peace? Am I optimistic to think that it doesn't hurt to try, or just naive?

And btw, Jack, I love how you phrased that.

Posted by: jaime | Dec 15, 2005 5:55:27 PM

We have experienced the same thing with the neighboring Arab villages here in Samaria. Initially there was a lot of mutually-beneficial cooperation. One clan in particular did a lot of the 'handyman' work for many of us, and even built many of the houses here.

Then Arafat's clique was imported from Tunisia, and they completely stamped out any of the grass roots cooperation - without supplying any alternatives to the income that was lost, and further burdening the villagers with their corruption and violent suppression.

The clan that used to work with us - once prosperous, they owned the local olive press - was systematically targeted for financial shakedowns and worse (after all, these day-laborers were "collaborators").

Now the money - and the most talented of the young people, those who tasted some aspects of Israeli democracy - are now in Detroit and other communities of the Arab diaspora.

While I miss the civility and the neighborliness - it would be a mistake to ignore the fact that these people had political aspirations even during the good times that contradict our own.

Posted by: Ben-David | Dec 15, 2005 6:39:29 PM

I understand your point completely. While it's difficult not to feel a general threat, given everything that's happening, being on your alert and best suspicious behavior 100% of the time is not only something very difficult to maintain, but completely undesirable. I think allowing oneself to relax and to make more specific observations is a natural step, which can only help in judging when the situation really IS threatening and when it's not.

Posted by: Irina | Dec 15, 2005 7:32:18 PM

I am inspired by your ability to see your Arab neighbors in a new light. I remember a little bit of what it was like before the Intifada - a wary detente. But after all the bombings, after going to Kobi Mandell's funeral, after watching people watch me with contempt as I walked down the street, after the fear for my own safety while riding a bus or in a car through Arab neighborhoods - I wonder what it will take for us to go back to the wary detente stage, if not beyond it.

Posted by: mcaryeh | Dec 15, 2005 9:04:42 PM

I'm sure that something on the order of 90% of the Arabs in those villages over .... say 30 or so, would love to see things go back as they were in the old days.

I'm equally sure that Saudi Arabi and Iran will continue to send all the billions and all the jihadis necessary to insure that the Israeli Arabs become ever more radicalized and murderous.

Those schoolkids are going to school with textbooks under their arms that teach them that Jews are monkeys and that suicide bombing is a glorious religious act.

The money the US and Eurabia sends the PA is skimmed off by the lead terrorists and used to further their terrorist war on Israel.

Posted by: scott | Dec 15, 2005 9:06:00 PM

Kakarizz...That's where you're wrong, and it's important to be completely honest in discussing this kind of thing. I am a bigot and a racist... as I suspect nearly everyone is to a certain extent once they accumulate enough life experiences and bad information. The good ones will expend the necessary effort to unlearn the bad information and set aside life experiences that aren't statistically worth applying to large groups of people. I grew up in a fairly liberal family in an upper middle class neighborhood so I probably got less of these things than most. But I have collected some ugly ideas and convictions despite a rather sheltered upbringing. When I visited your country I found myself in a nearly constant state of anxiety. It took me almost a whole day before I realized it was because I was quite frightened by the prospect of being the only white person amongst large crowds of black people. This isn't instinctive behavior... it is learned. I'm not proud of what I'm telling you, but it illustrates something that happens to most people. After that first day in your country I forced myself to look at the crowds and see the busy people rushing off to work... and the potentially worrisome people hanging around on street corners. Once I did this I realized that the skin color was a non issue... but a 24 hour learning curve still labels me as a racist and a bigot.

David... Other than your use of the term 'cycle' I agree completely. It's a silly thing, but the western press has robbed the word cycle of many of its meanings and has been used too often to distribute blame where it doesn't rightly belong. 'Cause and effect' is probably better.

Lisoosh... I didn't really care for the post you linked to. He was going for edgy and just came off as offensive. Also, while I admire his courage I question many of his observations and conclusions for their accuracy or validity. Lastly, by their own admission they broke a very serious security law in order to enter 'Palestine' and then made a sarcastic comment about the fact that the only person who hassled them the while day was an IDF soldier who noticed them on the way across the checkpoint. These asshats didn't bother to think about the fact that if some Hamas, Islamic Jihad or Al Aksa Brigade thugs had decided to attack them it would have been the IDF soldiers having to risk their lives to come in and rescue them from a place they shouldn't have been. I'm all for understanding and seeing people as individuals... but these guys were just foolish.

Jack... Well said. It is one of the reasons I started reading blogs.

Jaime... I think such programs may be helpful for the few that attend them, but there is very little 'trickle down' effect from them. The only thing that will restore any of the trust taht was lost during the intifadas will be a return to large scale economic contact. When and if that will ever happen is up to the people that destroyed that relationship.

Ben David... Nothing wrong with political, or even national aspirations. I simply have a problem with the methods of nation-building employed by some of the Palestinians. Under the best of circumstances I doubt a Palestinian state and Israel will ever have cordial relations... but I would settle for the marriage of convenience that we have with Egypt and Jordan over the present situation with the Palestinians any day.

Irina... Too true. However many good-intentioned people ask that I not only stop looking at the crowds with fear... but also the individuals. Unfortunately, not all of the individuals are deserving of my trust... yet.

Mcaryeh... Probably quite a bit. For instance, within 24 hours of posting this post about how my drive through the south Hevron hills has helped me see the Arabs as less individually threatening, a father of 5 was gunned down along my commute route for the crime of being Jewish. The mob didn't gun him down... it was an individual who picked him as a random Jewish target and murdered him. That could easily have been me. This process I described in my post will obviously be a long one.

Scott... No argument from me. If anything I think the % of people who want a return to the way things were is probably even higher. However at some point we (the people who live here) are going to have to figure out a way to shut out the outsiders and work things out ourselves... or not.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Dec 17, 2005 9:41:34 PM

Sorry, I found it funny. Oh well, we all have a different perspective.
Curious - are we talking first or second intifada?

Posted by: Lisoosh | Dec 17, 2005 10:23:06 PM

Lisoosh... If the story were purely hypothetical I might have found it funny as well. Unfortunately it just made me anxious. I'm glad nothing happened to them, but I still think it was a foolish thing to do. They put themselves needlessly at risk and could have endangered the lives of others if the IDF had had to respond to an attack on them. I long for a return to a situation when Jews can go shopping in Bethlehem... but we're not there yet. Just so we're clear, I think that most of the people in Bethlehem pose no threat and would be delighted to see tourists and shoppers return. But there is a tiny, dangerous minority that make that impossible right now. Until some semblance of law and order returns to the PA controlled areas it really is quite foolish to do what they did.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Dec 18, 2005 12:34:10 AM

work it out:

How has the record of history shown us in what manner fascist antisemites 'work out' their problems with Jews?

Rhetorical of course. Peace does not come through working things out once one side of the other has sworn by thier gods that they shall destroy the other side. Peace is possible but not through working things out. I don't know how this silly idea got into our collective heads.

Yes you can work things out with your neighbors over a lot of differences but once they start killing your children, grandparents and making it a tenent of their religion to annihilate you ....

Posted by: scott | Dec 18, 2005 2:58:52 AM

Scott... Therein lies both the current problem and a potential solution. Despite some of the terror groups using religious motifs and rhetoric, the Palestinian population is currently among the most secular (or at least non-fundamentalist) in the Muslim world. I'm not saying that Israel should involve itself directly in this aspect of their society, but I do think that we are very likely at a point where our actions can tip their society either way. Given no hope of economic solvency and a radicalized leadership (e.g. Hamas, Islamic Jihad, et al), the entire society could slide quickly in the direction of an Iran-style theocracy. But if something happens (I'm not sure exactly what that 'something' might be), that builds the opposite end of the spectrum as a viable life-style choice, then perhaps we will have a neighbor one day whose religious beliefs don't explicitly call for Israel's destruction.

Posted by: David | Dec 18, 2005 8:49:06 AM

Granted, with all of the daily terror attacks that we are faced with, it becomes increasingly difficult to view individual Arabs in a non-suspicious, positive manner, but I do not agree that this makes us racists or bigots.

I for one have no problem with any Arab who is willing to accept the right fo the Jewish People to a Jewish State in the Land of Israel and is not taking any steps to negate that.

I do have issues with those who work towards our destruction, either passively or actively, but does that make me a racist for opposing those who seek to harm us?

Posted by: Ze'ev | Dec 18, 2005 12:52:10 PM

Ze'ev... You seem to be confusing theory with practice. In theory you have laid out a set of circumstances by which you would be able to look upon every Arab as a peaceful, non-threatening business partner or even friend. But in practice you (and I) don't have the luxury of such Utopian thought. Quite simply, we have no way of differentiating between Arabs who want to kill us and those who simply want to go about their daily lives in peace. Therefore we make certain assumptions about every Arab based on a statistically insignificant sampling of the whole. Call it racism, bigotry or simple prejudice, but I do it... and you do it. I'm not proud of it, but right now I don't think quibbling over definitions makes a difference in how we deal with our world.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Dec 18, 2005 1:04:10 PM

David - I never even thought in terms of the IDF having to rescue them. I guess my perspective would be that as grown men, if they knowingly go to an area administered and policed by the PA if they get into trouble then the PA police are required to get them out. Why does Israel deny entry to non-military Israelis? (Thats new or I just wasn't paying attention). Why not just warn that you "enter at your own risk"?

Zeev - I always find that if you start with "Jewish People to a Jewish State in the Land of Israel" when discussing issues with pro-Palestinians you quickly come against a brick wall of old hashed out arguments and a true discussion never occurs. I usually point out that Israel has now been around for almost 60 years and that millions of Israelis were born there, frequently to people who were born there, that this is their home and Hebrew is their first language. It kind of takes things back to basics and breaks the monologues up.

Posted by: Lisoosh | Dec 18, 2005 4:12:14 PM

Lisoosh... There are a few issues at work. First and foremost is that the PA does not want the responsibility for protecting Israeli citizens in an area where they can barely maintain order among their own people. On the few occasions where Israelis have accidentally entered Ramallah and other areas under PA control, they have been arrested and turned over to the Israeli authorities for processing. Basically the pA doesn't need the added responsibility. A less clearly understood point is that while these areas may be under PA control, there is still no actual sovereignty, so Israeli citizens that come under attack in those areas would put Israel in a peculiar legal position. The IDF maintains the right to re-enter these areas for pressing security reasons, and one would assume that kidnapping or attacking an Israeli citizen would qualify for that to happen. Obviously the IDF wants to minimize the possible scenarios where they would have to put soldiers at risk... so it is strictly forbidden for citizens to enter these areas. Exceptions are made for journalists and a few other professions... but that's it. Yes, these guys were adults when they took their little joy ride, but it would be the worst kind of self-delusion for them to think their little jaunt couldn't have had far-reaching consequences for a lot of people.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Dec 18, 2005 4:29:57 PM

David - thanks for the info.

Posted by: Lisoosh | Dec 18, 2005 5:17:12 PM

Are these folks Israeli Arabs, Palestinian refugees, Druse, or what?

Posted by: t | Dec 19, 2005 1:45:37 AM

t... None of the above. There are no Druse living in this area so it can't be them. This is outside the green line so these aren't Israeli Arabs. These aren't refugee camps, they are villages so they aren't refugees. What does that leave? Oh, I know... people who are responsible for their actions, just like I am.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Dec 19, 2005 6:49:04 AM

"Oh, I know... people who are responsible for their actions, just like I am."

David, I'm not sure what this means and what tone you are trying to transmit, nor whether you sensed something I did not intend in my question that offended you.

I honestly was trying to ask what type of Arabs these people are.

I am not familiar with and am curious about the demographics of your area. Also, since you left a fake email address (something I generally don't allow), I made a snap judgement about your motives. In the future please use a real email address where you can be reached.

Posted by: t | Dec 19, 2005 11:54:13 AM

t... Sorry, you caught me at a weak moment and you're correct that my tone implied an answer to a question you clearly weren't asking. I got several emails regarding this post about how I 'have some nerve looking askance at these poor refugees since [I'm] the one who put them there in the first place', etc. When I saw the word 'refugees' in your question I assumed the worst. I apologize. The truth is these Arabs are a mix of families who have been here for decades or even centuries... and relative newcomers from elsewhere in the region. By 'region' it could be as close as the next village or as far away as Saudi Arabia. My sensitivities on the subject stem from the fact that the UN agency that oversees their aid has a very loose definition of what constitutes a refugee, and we are now seeing unprecedented 4th and 5th generation refugees here. Sorry again about the tone.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Dec 19, 2005 12:38:36 PM

David,

Thank you for the explanation. I understand your snap judgement, and I'm glad we could work past it.

I'm sorry you were the recipient of e-mails such as you describe.

Saying that they are responsible for their actions, as are you (us), actually strikes me as a very good statement of equality, equality of what should be expected from each other instead of what each deserves.

I had used the word "refugee" meaning to indicate those Arabs who had, to my understanding, fled in 1948 in preparation for the war against us. Not the best word to describe that, and a loaded term at that.

I don't mind using "Palestinian" in some contexts as an adjective (Arabs who left what was then Palestine), but I do mind using it as a noun to describe a current nationality, so I did not do that. But, in answer to my question, these are Arabs who self-identify as that way, living in PA-controlled areas, and not Israeli Arabs or Arabs living in a bordering country?

You appended your note about my fake e-mail address to my comment instead of to yours.

I do understand that using a made-up e-mail address puts me at a disadvantage, both for being taken seriously and for being able to communicate with you privately, and that is regrettable. And I do understand you typically do not publish e-mail addresses, but since you sometimes do (or maybe the software does when no URL is entered?) and for other reasons of privacy I don't feel I can use a real address at this time. My reasons do not involve wanting to hide with the intent to be incendiary.

I didn't think it would be a problem, with respect to your recently-outlined policy, as I wasn't posting any opinions of great importance, not posting any offensive opinions while refusing to come out from behind anonymity. But I see that my intent may not be what is received. (And also I see that in this comment, I am posting opinions a bit less trivial, and personal feelings that some might find offensive.)

That being said, it is your blog, and as long as I continue to use a non-real address, I need to accept your stated "bye-bye comment" consequence should the need arise.

Best,
t

Posted by: t | Dec 19, 2005 6:05:34 PM

t... I have no problem calling someone a Palestinian any more than if someone wants me to call them a Tel Avivi. It is their right to identify themselves any way they like. I do object to people throwing around the word Palestine as if it were a current sovereign nation that is in a legal dispute over land with Israel. The Palestinians may one day have their state, and it will most likely be on land that currently is either owned by Israel or under Israeli control. But it is the worst sort of revisionist history for people to pretend that the nation of Palestine was a party to the conflict where any or all of that land changed hands. OK, enough about that. As to the email address issue, the simple solution is to upon a gmail, yahoo or hotmail account (all are free and quite good) and use it for this sort of thing when you don't want to use your regular email address. How often you check it is up to you... but this is an easy thing to fix.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Dec 19, 2005 6:17:23 PM

The UN's definition of "refugee" is different for the Palestinians than for anyone else, because UNWRA (War Relief Agency) defined the descendents of original 1948 Palestinians who left as refugees too, whereas the UNHCR's (High Commission on Refugees) definition does not include descendents. By assigning Palestinians to UNWRA from 1948 to this day, the UN and its Arab member nations have encouraged a permanent temporariness to the Palestinian camps in the disputed areas of this land.

Posted by: savtadotty | Dec 19, 2005 6:35:09 PM

Regarding the use of term Palestine to indicate a current sovereign nation and revisionist history and all, we agree.

I think that might color my dislike of using the stand-alone term Palestinian as a nationality.

I'll look into the e-mail issue.

Posted by: t | Dec 19, 2005 8:45:58 PM

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