the "debate"

What a conversation we had today. Uzi, an executive from our trip organizer came to talk to us as a guest lecturer on "politics." He prefaced his talk by stating that he was "neutral" in his views of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. He jumped right into discussing the current security dilemma of Israel and a story began to emerge:

Uzi (our guest speaker) -- Those [Arab] countries don't have existential questions.
Israel is a unique bastion of "purity of arms."
[by "existential", I'm not sure whether he meant that Israel's existence is still uncertain (a paranoid and hyperbolic claim), or that Israelis engage in profound thought over their lives and their ethical choices whereas Arabs do not (a racist claim)].

But Uzi didn't even need to say very much since the guides and participants on the trip were helping bolster his narrative thread. I sat scribbling furiously in my notebook, hoping that their words would be incriminating enough:

Rivkah (Israeli tour guide) -- They [Arabs] don't value life like Israelis do.

Uzi -- I don't understand why Palestinians see the return of political prisoners as a victory, instead of Israeli goodwill.
Richard (trip participant) -- When are the Israelis going to say 'enough is enough' trading terrorists (ie. Palestinian political prisoners who are accused of being terrorists) for Israeli soldiers?
Leah (Israeli guide) -- There's a third party that's involved in this conflict; the media. The media is antagonistic to Israel, and holds the Israeli military to a higher standard.

[I find it hard to believe that anyone could say this after watching only a few hours of American cable news. I have no qualms about saying that I have never heard anything positive said about a Palestinian group on an American news show, and I have never heard anything deeply critical about Israel.]

Uzi -- Absolutely right about the media. It's extremely frustrating when the media takes politicians to task. We just need to trust our leaders to make decisions about Israel's security policy.

I could not stand it! All of these assertions were going unchallenged as facts. The authority figures were monopolizing the conversation and telling 21-25 year-olds how to think. I needed to stop this farce in progress, so I raised my hand to ask what I thought was a particularly soft question: "Since you're referring to the existential crises of Israel, is there anything that the Israeli military has done which you are deeply ashamed of? I'd appreciate it if the soldiers want to speak on this as well."

Uzi spun right into the old "every country's military does bad things" hustle, while jumping straight into a laundry list of the various atrocities that Arab terrorists have committed. He lists these atrocities for about ten minutes. Then, perhaps realizing that he is completely evading my question, finally gets into talking about a specific case of Israeli wrongdoing, Jenin. However, his entire discussion of the events at this refugee camp focused on the fact that this "massacre" was exaggerated by the Palestinians, Arab media, and international community.
[He was probably right. What happened in Jenin was not large-scale mass murder, however there is agreement among human rights groups that there were civilian deaths, dozens of destroyed houses, and instances of war crimes. He spoke of Jenin, but could not bear to talk about things like the Deir Yassin massacre, or the current occupation's day to day violations of human rights.

Uzi motioned toward the soldiers to speak, but we were faced with a wall of silence. Our medic, a former IDF soldier, spoke vaguely of soldiers who are bored and at times "act like children," but nothing more was said.

Not even allowing this meager accusation to go unchallenged, Uzi assured our group that every offense by IDF soldiers gets investigated and that the guilty are punished justly. He was invoking a judicial Disneyland. At this point, time ran out and we had to travel to our next stop on the trip.

Luckily, he looked so absurd that people realized he was totally biased. Our group leader apologized and even offered an extra discussion session about politics. Sadly, it's exactly how I assumed Birthright would present things: through only one fairly consistent framework; that it's Israel versus the "terrorists."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

nice post. i'm looking forward to seeing what's next.

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