Time out

Cross-posted from Gabriel at The Liberal Zionist

About three years ago, I was sitting in a busy café patio in central Tel Aviv. An American woman wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh stormed into the middle of the patio and started yelling at the Israelis sitting and sipping their coffees.

“Do you know what your government is doing? How can you sit here and do nothing? Shame, shame, shame!”

Everyone ignored her and she stormed away. The reason I mention this is the September 13 Time magazine front-cover article entitled “Why Israelis Don’t Care about Peace”. The central thesis of the piece is that Israelis are too busy living their lives, making money, going to the beach, drinking coffee, to care about peace. Personally, I do wish Israelis were much more engaged in peace, more realistic about what it would entail, more willing to take on Israeli extremists, and less susceptible to right-wing propaganda. What is so irksome about the woman at the café and about this article is how they put a responsibility on Israelis that no citizen of any other country has. It does what so many critics and demonizers of Israel do– try to make what is really normal behaviour, what everyone all over the world does, exceptional in the case of Israel.

Israelis, apparently, should be constantly politically engaged and protesting their government’s policies. Americans, Brits, Turks, Australians, everyone else in the world, is allowed to work and live. Everyone else is allowed to go to eat, to go to the theatre, and to work– only Israelis must live in a state of perpetual protest, disallowed from all pleasure or from making a living until every Palestinian is happy. During the Iraq war, Brits still went to football matches and to pubs, Americans went to the beach and to movies. In general for almost the entire population of those countries, their world’s continued exactly as it had before and exactly how it will in five years. This is just the way people are. They are not particularly politically active– and if they are, it is usually based on local issues. People just get on with their lives.

This is hardly the only problem with the article. Logically it is simply impossible to understand: If Israelis don’t want peace because they are doing so well, would doing worse make them want peace more? Would another intifada make Israelis think about making peace? The last intifada was largely responsible for turning Israelis away from peace in the first place. When Israelis wanted peace in the early 90′s, was it because they weren’t too rich? And what about the Palestinians? Why don’t they want peace (and they don’t anymore than Israelis do)? Is it because Palestinians in Gaza are doing so well? I don’t think so. Hamas, which controls the incredibly poor Gaza, is not only uninterested in peace, they are actively against it. How can poverty and relative wealth both lead to not wanting peace? What is the GDP of a country which wants peace?

The truth is that Israelis are not, unfortunately, particularly interested in peace, but the reasons for this are complex. The Palestinians for their own complex reasons are also not particularly interested in peace. Hopefully, this will soon change but in the meantime, Israelis and Palestinians alike will try to live their lives.