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Dec
29 2011

Israelis and Palestinians: Competing Narratives

Syndicated from: Steve Paikin

For many of his 58 years, Yossi Klein Halevi was a journalist. His job was to be as objective as possible. But he’s changed. He’s made a choice. He’s taken a side. Israel’s side. But he’s quick to stress, that doesn’t mean he feels the Palestinian side has no merit. In fact, he now spends his life trying to figure out where the Israeli and Palestinian causes intersect, in hopes of bringing this deadly conflict to an end. Knowing where to start a discussion about Middle Eastern affairs is always tricky. Does the debate start with Israel’s capturing the territories where most Palestinians lived in 1967 in the Six Day War? Or with Israeli independence in 1948? Or with Abraham and the prophets 3,500 years ago? For Klein Halevi, for argument’s sake, it starts a little over a century ago with the Zionist movement, and the first efforts to get Jews to return to their ancestral homeland. “This is where the competing narratives really begin,” he says. Back in the 1880s, the Arabs (not yet identified as Palestinians) were the majority presence in the region. They belonged to tribes and in terms of nations, they were connected to Syria or the Ottoman Empire. Palestinian apartments in East Jerusalem.   Then, more Jews moved to the region continuing what Klein Halevi calls “a 3,500-year, unbroken historical narrative connecting them to this land.” This may be the first moment in modern history where the narratives collide. Arabs, Klein Halevi says, were content to have Jews live in the region as a religious minority, under Islamic rule. Trouble was, Jews saw themselves as a nation, not just a religion. Ironically, the father of modern Zionism, Theodore Herzl, didn’t want Jews to recreate Israel as a state in its present day location. He argued at the Zionist Congress in 1903 in Basel, Switzerland, that Jews needed to be practical, that a new homeland in an uninhabited part of Uganda that the British were offering made more sense. “But he was turned down,” Klein Halevi says.  “It was Israel, or bust. The thinking was, we’re not a colonialist movement. We’re an indigenous people returning home. A view outside the Old City in Jerusalem.   “It all flows from this,” he says. Next time, we’ll consider what the main roots of the Israeli-Palestinian problem are today.

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