Israel/Palestine,  Your View

Their and our children

This is a guest post by S.O.Muffin

The late Golda Meir famously said that “peace will come once Arabs love their children more than they hate ours”. Since then the pithy quote has been endlessly repeated and recycled (recycling of quotes being a great contribution of blogdom to saving the environment), mostly as a convenient discussion gambit. I wish, however, to ponder briefly its meaning, in a more general sense (ranging beyond the particulars of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict) and claim that it represents the sort of mote in the eye which is inimical to proper understanding of conflicts, to say nothing of their resolution.

The kernel of Meir’s argument is that “Arabs” (presumably, Palestinian Arabs) are motivated by the hatred of Israelis/Jews in precedence to their own perceived self-interest, that they are indeed willing knowingly to sacrifice their self-interest and the future of their kith and kin if they can only damage their enemies. Similar argument is advanced by the sort of “anti-imperialists” that proliferate on CiF when the moon is full, who claim that the “Zionists” (fill-in “Zio-Nazis” or “Zio-Cons” or “Jews”, bloody or otherwise, if you wish) came to the Middle East in order to dispossess and expel Palestinians/Arabs/Muslims – thereby incurring warfare and death to themselves because, presumably, they hate Arab children more than they love their own.

The simple truth is that, almost invariably, in ethnic conflicts people love their children dearly, to the exclusion of everything else. Indeed, they love them so much that they are perfectly willing to do ill by their enemy and their enemy’s children. Actors in ethnic conflicts act in their own understanding of self-interest and their own perception of their historical rights, their victimhood, their dreams and, yes, their children. Their perception might be a caricature of reality, but it is a caricature that, by the dint of being embraced by individuals ruthless or desperate sufficiently to kill and die in its name, shapes reality.

Now, this is why it is, I believe, so important to understand this simple point and reject the implicit assumptions behind Golda’s quote. Because if she is right and actors in ethnic conflicts (whether only Arabs/Palestinians or all players in all conflicts) indeed hate their enemy even if it contradicts, in their own minds, their own self-interest, then there is no point in seeking conflict resolution. If indeed, to give one example, Hamas hates Israeli children more than it loves Palestinian children, then there is no prospect of peace. All that remains is to sit the conflict out, wait till in a next generation, or perhaps in the next-but-one, or perhaps never, they will love their children more than they hate ours. However, if Golda was wrong, if Hamas (like other actors in all ethnic conflicts) is willing to do awful, inhumane deeds to Israeli children precisely because, in their minds, they do so for the sake of Palestinian children, then there is hope (perverse as it might sound). There is room to persuade, to create conditions and understanding whereby they can do well by their own children without doing ill by ours. Alternatively, to wean the mass of their supporters by offering them a future in which, through compromise, they can do better by their own children.

Not that it is simple or straightforward. Perhaps it is destined for failure. Perhaps it is a noble, yet naive sentiment. Yet – and this is precisely the point – it is possible in principle. And, given the chance, small as it might be, of resolving the conflict, of bringing peace and security and justice to both sides, it must be attempted. This precisely is the reason why it is so important to nail down the misconceived assumptions underlying Golda Meir’s quote.