Thursday, June 5, 2008

Posttravel Reflections

Travel they say “broadens the mind”. That may well be true but it also empties the wallet and exhausts the body.

These reflections are prompted by our return from a family trip to the USA, including a visit to Arizona and the Grand Canyon and, on the way back, a two day stopover in that bizarre and fascinating desert experiment – Dubai.

In our relatively brief absence major natural disasters befell China and Myanmar, the xenophobic pogroms in South Africa gained high-profile treatment in major world news, Hiliary Clinton put her foot in it with a reference to the Robert Kennedy assassination, Bush visited Israel, talks between Israel and Syria (and even Hezbollah) were pursued further and pressure on Olmert continued to mount from all sides.

I missed the past 3 weeks of the debate within South Africa surrounding Israel’s 60th anniversary, but just before I left Johann Hari’s poisonous piece of political pornography (originally published in the UK Independent) was published in The Star. In response to a request by Bev Goldman, I hurriedly wrote an article in response which apparently never saw the light of day. Nevertheless, it can be found on my blog (Solar Plexus) and can be distributed to all who are interested.

Postmodern conflict is as much psychological as economic or military. Lies, distortions and selective simplifications are the tools of this devious craft whose objective to is weaken the enemy and gain popular support. Ugly though it is it must be fought. In so doing it poses its own ethical dilemmas similar to those confronted by conventional military conflict.

We all know the world seldom divides itself neatly into the categories depicted in political propaganda. Even those with right on their side make mistakes and commit sins. How do we defend ourselves against those without scruples or who are so caught up in the fervour of their cause that such considerations never cross their minds?

For myself I try to stick to the truth as far as I can perceive it at a given moment while bearing in mind the deeper and often unstated ramifications of the “debate”. One point which arises again and again are the “settlements” in the West Bank and continued construction therein. Seldom does one see reasoned debate around this issue which is assiduously exploited by those opposed to Israel’s existence and, to a more limited extent, those opposed to Israeli strategy and tactics.

In the best of all worlds, one would hope to see Israel as an inclusive “Jewish State” with a contented Arab minority enjoying all the rights and dignities of full citizenship alongside a Palestinian-Jordanian entity which is the mirror image of the Israeli situation. In this imagined world, the precise boundaries would not assume great significance, since the minorities in the two neighbouring states would enjoy all the rights and privileges of citizenship, including ease of travel and communication.

In reality, hostility, mistrust and hidden agendas make such a solution extremely difficult to attain. Neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis have any overwhelming moral right to some clearly defined portion of the Middle East. Thus any solution is a pragmatic-moral balance between two claimants with some, but not definitive, arguments to support them, though I believe that Israel has the stronger arguments on its side.

But, under current political conditions, no resolution will satisfy everyone. Every group on both sides will calculate where the line between advantage and loss is drawn and will try to achieve the best possible outcome for itself. All this is caught up in greater battles both regional and global. Neither we nor the experts can find any simple solutions to these intertwined conflicts. The best we can be do is to remain on guard against those seeking maximal advantage for their side and, simultaneously, open to opportunity for peaceful resolution – a tricky balancing act.

Yet this is the uncertain and precarious path whereby we humans eventually reach resolution of seemingly intractable conflicts.

Mike Berger

To see Dubai Images as slideshow click here