• Moving beyond history
    July 19,2014

    Moving beyond history

    While the editorial views of a small Vermont paper will not change major world events, those opinions offer an incalculable value in educating and shaping the understanding of readers. The Times Argus editorial pages focus on the cusp of important events — gutsy, accurate and progressive. Lately readers have gained insight about climate change, Vermont’s single-payer challenges, efforts at gun control, the latest upheaval in Iraq, all concerns that demand accurate editorial analysis.

    A recent editorial, “A world aflame,” in looking at the Middle East, I believe, veers far from that standard of fair, accurate analysis. After offering a tit for tat listing of the many reasons for the horrors each side inflicts on the other, the editorial states that Palestinian leaders have failed their people by maintaining “an intransigent, racist, hostile, aggressive stance toward Israel.” If fairness and compassion play a role in examining this decades-old tragedy, that precise litany of disparaging terms surely applies to the Israeli leadership as well.

    While the imbalance of power in the Israeli-Palestinian struggle might simply serve as the definition of asymmetric warfare, America’s $3.5 billion in annual military aid supporting Israel’s air force and high tech bombs vs. Hamas’ lethal yet futile rockets and Gaza residents scrounging bandages for their wounded, we must go deeper to understand the enduring bitter fruit of embedded emotions that sustain the struggle. Of course, the Palestinians resent the colonization of their prime aquifers and productive land by Israeli settlers. The Palestinians chafe at seeing the new wall incorporate into Israel West Bank fertile lands and wells far beyond the 1967 border. And one can understand the hatred engendered by being made a reviled second-class citizen in occupied lands your ancestors farmed for two thousand years.

    And the deep emotional mindset of Israeli leaders? What explains the needless slaughter and overkill repeatedly condemned by the countries of the United Nations Security Council, resolutions always blocked by a U.S. nay? Why the harvesting of the West Bank’s ancient aquifers to slake Israel’s thirst in direct contravention of international law? Many observers identify the unspeakable catastrophe of the European Holocaust in the 1930s and 1940s as today’s tortured justification for Israeli leaders to continually oppress their conquered neighbors. One can only imagine the monumental anguish of the Holocaust and the profound emotional response of, “We will build a nation, Israel, our own land, no matter the cost.”

    As the tragedy unfolds the emotional roots underlying the rationale of each side will be debated by historians for generations.

    My Jewish mother-in-law forbade her grown offspring from buying Volkswagens. When their family visited Europe one summer, she insisted they all visit a concentration camp. My late wife visited Israel many times. And at one point we spent more than two weeks together in Israel. My father-in-law’s longtime UN connections with many Israelis meant we visited with politicians, veterans, poets, educators, playwrights and kibbutzniks. We dined with Arabs in enclaves totally surrounded by Israeli territory, residents of Palestine who had not fled during the 1948 war. From farms under the Golan Heights to dining rooms in Jerusalem to the beaches of Eilat, our conversations unearthed the reality that Israelis possess countless different visions of their nation’s future. Let us hope that the leaders of each side, Palestinian and Israeli, can step beyond the understandable emotional drivers of the current crisis and forge a just and workable accommodation.

    Erik Esselstyn

    North Montpelier

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