Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Turning the clock back

The Israeli army has vowed to turn the clock back 20 years for Lebanon. I turn back the clock over two decades myself, and here record how my own thought over this conflict has evolved in this time.

One of my earliest political memories is a special edition of Bangladeshi variety show Jodi kichu mone na koren (If you don’t mind) marking the massacres in Sabra and Shatila. I recollect clearly the images of tanks entering rubbles, and young men waving their AK-47s defiantly. Israelis were, of course, the bad guys.

That was in 1982. My second brush with the conflict came nearly a decade later in the form of history books at a Firangi school. GCE A Level texts portrayed Israelis as stoic pioneers taming a wild frontier. Israel was an oasis of liberty in a desert of despotism. Its victory in the Six Days War was a study in an underdog beating the odds. Israelis became the good eyes.

A few years and more serious history books at the university later I changed my mind. I came to think that, like Partition, the creation of Israel was one of the biggest historical mistakes committed in the 20th century. But I also thought that like Pakistan (the only other state created on the basis of a religion), Israel is a reality, and its existence ought not be undone. This was the mid-1990s. Arafat and Rabin were shaking hands and sharing a Nobel. It seemed that I was not the only one thinking a two-state solution would end the conflict.

We know that the peace process failed. That it would fail became clear by the beginning of the current decade. Around that time, I befriended a lot of people from the region. Discussions of that time frequently blamed Israeli intransigence for the failure of the peace process. Did the Palestinians not give up 78% of historical Palestine? If Israelis can, rightfully, seek compensation for the gold stolen by the Nazis, why should the Palestinian refugees not be compensated for the lost land?

But is Israeli intransigence unexpected? And by the same token, is Arab recalcitrance something that should surprise us? I argue here that it is not in rational interest of either party to seek peace. The land in contention is of the Bible, but I think the end will be that of Mahabharata. Wars apparently have no victors, only survivors. This war, I think, won’t even have them.

That’s what I think. I am of course just a taxi driver. You can read other ideas here.