War: Making the Complex Simple
War is a tool for many things, but I find myself wondering about the way in which the situation in Israel is being somewhat simplified through the extreme divisions that the latest violence have inevitably created. If I was aware of complexity in Israeli/Palestinian society before I visited the area, I suppose the sheer depth of that complexity was what I learnt most about…
There is a fight in the Holy Lands that has been going on for far longer than the Israeli – Palestinian struggle. It involves the rather inauspicious household item known as a ladder. The ladder in question stands in a window above a door. It is now almost unthinkable that the ladder would be capable of holding a humans weight, but it has come to symbolise the way conflict just seems to rise from nothing in this contested space.
I’m talking of the church of the Holy Sepulchre (or Church of the Resurrection, no one seems to agree), in which 6 different Christian Churches claim residence of one kind or another. The Holy Land just doesn’t do simple.
Neither does Israeli society. Suppose, as the Israelis would have us, we ignore for a moment the Arab population (not to mention the fact that the Jews themselves are basically Arabs, but anyhow…) do we end up with a nice simple society? No. Instead there’s those who sit at the top, those who descend from the Conquistadors of 1948, then those who arrived shortly afterwards. Right down the bottom are the embarrasment of the Jews who arrived prior to 1948, or rather, resided there throughout the near-eternity. They’re an unfortunate upset to the claim the land was empty if ever I heard one.
There’s enormous divisions, between rich and poor, between the different social classes made up from people who have chosen to dedicate their lives in different ways to the Israeli cause, and those who are basically economic immigrants from Russia. Obvious, you can queue jump this if you are a holocaust survivor, seeing as you provide the justification for almost everything that goes on.
Then there’s the Arabs who live in Israel who have the right to reside there. They are a minority in everyway and are denied all but the lowest jobs, despite often holding very good degrees in such things as engineering. If the Russian Jew who arrived because they couldn’t find work in Russia (rather than actually fort a war) is a second class citizen then the Arab residing there is a 3rd Class citizen. Which makes the Palestinians in Gaza an even lower class of individual.
As putting everyone into 1 group would leave the Israeli government with the unfortunate problem of having to solve real issues like health, welfare and education, not to mention corruption, simplest solution to the problem of a multi-way fractured society is to put people neatly into 2 groups: those who are with us, who’s singular, united, simplified concern can be forced to be security from those in the other category, those who are not.
If Israeli society were to witness peace on the Israel-Palestine level, it might be quite a disturbing experience, for the internal racism and classism, the prejudices and the caste system it has created on the most baseless of lines, would all fall under question. It is, and ever since 1948 has been, a war society, one in which military involvement counts for status.
And so, with tourists thankfully returning to Bethlehem after all these years, a welcome sign that things might be on the up, the Israelis have cynically chosen the time when most world leaders are sleeping off the effects of too much dinner and George Bush is doing everything he can to mess up the world so Barack Obama can be made to look like he’s failed his duty on day 1.
What a wonderful world we live in!