Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Monday, August 09, 2010

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

I saw an interesting article in The Boston Globe by James Carroll, the third in a series about the problems in the Middle East (he has a book coming out soon - Jerusalem, Jerusalem: The Ancient City that Ignited the Modern World). I didn't know much about him so looked him up first. Here's a bit of what Wikipedia has on him .....

James Carroll (born 22 January 1943 in Chicago, Illinois) is a noted author, novelist, and columnist for the Boston Globe. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1969. Carroll served as Catholic chaplain at Boston University from 1969 to 1974. During that time, he studied poetry with George Starbuck and published books on religious subjects and a book of poems. He was also a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter (1972-1975) and was named Best Columnist by the Catholic Press Association. For his writing on religion and politics he received the first Thomas Merton Award from Pittsburgh’s Thomas Merton Center in 1972. Carroll left the priesthood to become a writer, and in 1974 was a playwright-in-residence at the Berkshire Theater Festival .... Carroll has been a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a Fellow at the Center for the Study of Values in Public Life at the Harvard Divinity School. He is a trustee of the Boston Public Library, a member of the Advisory Board of the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life at Brandeis University, and a member of the Dean’s Council at the Harvard Divinity School. Carroll is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and is a member of the Academy’s Committee on International Security Studies ...

Here below is part of the first installment of the series on the Middle East problem in The Boston Globe (the second is Pursuit of the holy land and the third is Enter Christianity) .....


In this corner

[...] Israelis and Palestinians are trapped in a corner. But the walls of that corner were constructed by someone else — an unacknowledged third party. Those walls are anti-Semitism and colonialism, each of which is thought to be well understood. But their recombination begets something new — a lethal feedback loop, as the historic hatred of Jews mixes explosively with the contempt for native peoples that defined imperial expansion.

Now Europe, together with its legacy culture America, sends representatives, such as Mitchell and Blair, claiming to offer disinterested “help” to the stubbornly warring parties. Yet that broader culture is fully complicit as the source of the two momentous animosities. Because that complicity is never reckoned with, energetic diplomatic interventions, going back past Jimmy Carter and Henry Kissinger to successive British “white papers,” have come to nothing.

If the past is remembered as a tapestry, take only a single thread, one that leads back through World War I. The arrival in Palestine of the British under Lord Edmund Allenby in 1917 established the permanent pattern. The overlord method of British imperialism was to ignite conflict within local populations, and the new rulers made contradictory promises to Arabs and Jews alike. This double game would last a full generation.

When Palestinian Arabs, claiming a national identity distinct from Pan-Arabism, finally mounted resistance in 1936, the British response was brutal, involving more royal troops in Palestine than there were in the entire subcontinent of India. Zionist fighters struck at Arabs, too, but overwhelmingly this was a London-ordered colonial war. In three years of fighting, more than 5,000 Arabs were killed. Whole villages and neighborhoods were destroyed. Political institutions and economic systems were devastated. The Palestinian social fabric was ripped asunder, never fully to be restitched again.

This crippling of Palestinian hope in its infancy partially explains the Zionist complaint at the lack of local leaders on the other side with whom to deal. If Palestinians seem invisible, as they often protest, the phenomenon begins not with willfully unseeing Jews, but with British eradication. Thus, the Palestinian historian Rashid Khalidi writes that the Arab defeat of 1948 was “no more than a postlude, a tragic epilogue to the shattering defeat of 1936-39.” Who remembers that today?

Of course, those were the precise years in which European anti-Semitism was reaching its grotesque boil with the Nazi assault on Jews. Juden raus! Of the nearly 500,000 Jews who lived in Palestine in 1939, most had arrived in that decade.

The return to the land of Israel was momentous for people who had prayed for most of two millennia, “Next year in Jerusalem.” From the Arab point of view, however, Zionism could only be taken as a manifestation of the colonialism that native Palestinians had by then every reason to detest. Just as it is wrong to take Zionism as colonialism, it is wrong to take Palestinian hatred of Jewish arrival — and, even more pointedly, of Israeli occupation — as anti-Semitism.

It makes the point to note that even a fierce partisan like the late Palestinian scholar Edward Said saw the double-ruff connection between anti-Semitism and colonialism, how both peoples bear a brutal legacy for which neither is responsible. Said described “orientalism,” which he defined as Europeans’ colonialist contempt for the “East,” especially the Arab East, as “a secret-sharer of Western anti-Semitism.” Indeed, the empire-enabling European (and American) denigration of indigenous peoples, especially the Muslim “infidel,” was itself patterned on Christian contempt for the Jew.

When Palestinian and Israeli negotiators finally face each other across one table, these common notes of experience should be paramount — but only for the sake of moving beyond them. Two peoples who have each defined themselves positively by negative hatred of the other have been at the mercy of a broad culture that created this very habit of mind. Jews and Arabs can renounce this history without renouncing themselves. Each can then receive the other’s account of the past, and, perhaps for the first time, hear it respectfully.

That, more than anything else, is the prerequisite to peace. The Palestinian and Israeli negotiators need the diplomatic support of outside powers. But in this long history, the West has not been a disinterested bystander. By naming it as a secret-sharing third party to the conflict, historic creator of the double-sided trap of Jew hatred and colonial contempt, Israelis and Palestinians can leave the trap to find the way forward. They can focus on what remains between them, which is enough.



Blogger Liam said...

That's a very good passage.

Said's Orientalism is very interesting.

9:05 AM  
Blogger victor said...

As we all know, I'm certainly not a scholar.

crystal, you must forgive me for some of the things I was thinking when I read this post.

I know nothing about this guy and I know that it is wrong to pre-judge anybody so please forgive me when I'm thinking that you've picked this guy cause he serves your interest and your beliefs.

I can also imagine hearing many saying things like, And what's wrong with that Victor?

I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with "IT" but like Henry, some don't like playing ping pong and call me crazy for asking but are my imaginary spiritual friends right and you really are playing mental ping pong with Christians or am I way off The Mother Ship? :)

No matter what your intentions,I still like you.


12:42 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Liam,

The other two articles seem interesting too, maybe because I didn't know much about the history of the situation. Said was at Columbia?

12:44 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


I didn't actually pick him - just saw his article mentioned in the Google news. I remembered his name as the writer of Hitler's Pope, so I did think he might be sympathetic to the Israeli side of the problem (which I am too) so in a way I did pick him, I guess, but in the articles I mentioned he seems to be trying not to take sides but be fairly fair, I thought.

12:48 PM  
Blogger victor said...

Thank you for replying.

Good enough!

God Bless

2:17 PM  

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