Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Two Trees

With the exception of a crazy weekend that I spent in Hebron several years ago, my only real time in the territories was at a friend’s settlement called Givon HaHadasha. Givon HaHadasha is essentially a suburb of Jerusalem. It is religious, but not fanatical. At this time, I saw for the first time the extent to which the Holy Land is truly two states/peoples living on top of each other. In my friend’s neighborhood, there is actually a Palestinian home with Jewish neighbors on either side. They all lived in harmony for some time, but when the first intifada started, a fence had to be built. They literally put a fence around three sides of the Palestinian home to take it out of the Jewish neighborhood. I saw a Jewish garden that virtually intertwined with an Arab field. They are two neighborhoods and they have grown together like trees, given enough time, but not enough space. Keeping with the metaphor, it is debatable at this point if one could survive without the other, but at the same time, they are constantly battling each other for precious resources and space to expand. Since I have started traveling the West Bank on a very regular basis in the last few weeks, I have seen that it is the same with the Jews and the Palestinians throughout. You drive the streets, which in theory are Jewish only, and see that they are far from that. You pass an Arab town with minarets and Arabic style homes, and then see that it is surrounded by small Jewish settlements on every side. You see the Jewish city on a hilltop overlooking Arab villages in every direction. You begin to realize that in this region, when they talk intractable, it means something that affects everyone every day. They may look the other way, they may even scour at each other’s mention, but they are neighbors and they live together. Jewish owners hire Palestinian workers, they buy each other’s goods, they pass each other on the streets. Their roots are interconnected. They are two trees desperately attempting to stretch their branches and reach more and richer resources. Both grow and thrive at a cost to the other. Each wishes the other would simply leave, pack up its trunk and go away. It is a war story. And a love story. And while each wishes, and occasionally works for, the other’s demise, it is very possible that neither could survive without its partner. A dead tree, in that proximity, would be a burden on the survivor. An unnatural demise for one could cause disaster for both. These two trees can never merge, they are two trees and two trees, no matter how much time and how little space they have, can never become one. But if they can learn to live together, to share their meager resources and to appreciate rather than resent the other its needs, they may both live to see another Spring.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The States' Ripples

**crossposted at my academic blog**

I know it's cliche, but spending time in another country makes you realize a lot about where you're from.

The news in America is a funny thing. Generally, something happens that the establishment media deems newsworthy. Let's take Obama's Cairo speech. The Times and the Post will put an article and maybe, just maybe, a picture on the front page. For the “important” issues, they might editorialize on it. Certainly Charles Krauthammer and EJ Dionne, Jr. will hold dueling columns.

That morning the folks of MSNBC’s Morning Joe and Fox and Friends will discuss it, making jokes that only folks in the Washington Establishment could possibly find funny. Chris Matthews will have a couple “strategists” argue about it despite the fact that they had never considered the issue beyond reading their Parties talking points. Bill O’Reilly will deliver his “Talking Points Memo” and Olbermann may deliver a “Special Comment.”

Then, whoosh, it disappears.

But it is not the end for all people. In the United States the healthcare debate does not end when a bill fails to overcome a filibuster. For people like my mother, who do not have health insurance, it goes on.

So it is in foreign affairs. Obama said a lot of things in Cairo. I was in the Middle East, but I already know what happened in the states—a lot of people debated, but never said anything. Then the news cycle ended.

Whoosh. Gone.

But here in Israel, the ripple effects keeping on rippling. Everyone we have met - and I do not believe they were humoring us because we are Americans - have, in some way, mentioned Obama’s speech. The Arabs are encouraged, as are many respectable Israelis. The settlers are terrified and angry. I can only imagine that in other parts of the region, al-Qaeda is running scared.

Obama gave his speech, and it is affecting daily life here. It may be out of the news cycle, but it is not gone.

What happens in the United States matters to so many people. Traveling abroad has made me realize how much of a responsibility the citizens of our republic carry.

Monday, June 22, 2009


Truth is around here. Let's find it.

Friday, June 19, 2009