Two Sets of Keys
Published on: December 5, 2012
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  • I’m reminded of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s dream of a United Arab Republic, a precursor to the Iranian “push Israel off the map”, and Tom Friedman’s book, “The Lexus and the Olive Tree,” both of which raise the reality about the falling of homeland dominoes: the line can fall either way, depending on which end the first push comes from, and the tension between those who face up to modernity and those who want to hold it at bay so they can return to a golden age of tradition in the past that never existed.

    Thomas Wolf, in a different context, said “you can’t go home again.” Palestinian children are taught that Palestine was an area in which Arabs lived long before the Jews “occupied” the land and called it Israel (a technical accuracy in terms of the modern state). But if one goes back 3,000 years, one could make the case that it is Jews who have the “right of return” to what is now Israel.

    And that raises the chicken and egg question relevant to all indigenous people on all populated continents: who came first? How far back does one go, as a closer look reveals that whoever is there now acquired it in conquest (many being land grabs) over a group that had also acquired it in conquest/land grab, going back over how many changes by conquest?

    An equally relevant question is, does it matter, and why? Those who claim to be modern citizens of a globalized world are hard pressed to make the argument. And even though the memories of our early childhood homes indeed have no immediate political implications, the raising of it to the forefront of our consciousness in terms of the world has enormous relevance and implications for development and peace.

    I was in High School when the UAR was formed between Egypt and Syria, with overtures over time to Iraq, Yemen and the Sudan. None of these “places” had a single sense of the area also being a shared place with Jews, and certainly not in any sense of a Jewish state. Jews were considered trespassers. Nasser sought to bring a new period of modernization and socialist reform but with an overlay of traditional Arab culture without Jews.

    Before the 1967 Six Day War, Nasser told Arabs living in Israel to leave, as they would come in and kill everyone, after which they could go back home. So, again technically, the Arabs were not driven out by the Jews but rather volunteered to leave so the Jews could be slaughtered before they returned. Instead, the only thing that worked for the Egyptians, as the joke of the time stated, was the back up lights on the Egyptian tanks.

    If the right of return is the right to return home, how far back does one go for those for whom it is truly home? Where in the modern world is “home”, and is home a geographic place or a mental place? Does this presuppose a great problem of cognition in the Middle East, that as they look back trying to go forward they wind up with the vertigo that comes from feeling they have “homeless minds”? And how does the common humanity of religion help or hurt the attempt to enable people to feel “at home.”

    How does one reconcile the notion of a traditional nationalist home (the olive tree) with that of being a modern “citizen of the world,” especially in a world of globalization (the Lexus). If, as Friedman claims, a globalized international system has replaced the cold war system, how are the young today in the Middle East, half of whom are unemployed, to talk with their elders about “home” in the face of the fact that there are no national borders for the globalized integration of capital, technology and information, creating “a global village,” a term Bucky Fuller referred to as “space ship earth”?

    The Arab Spring today is asking anew where is “home.” Can a sense of a common humanity help to lead to understanding places to be shared in common as well, as homes / homelands? Will shared humanity in the Middle East only be possible once Israel and the Jews have been pushed off the place into the Meditteranean Sea, or can it be achieved together by the Abrahamic people of brother Ismael and the people of brother Issac?

  • Michael McKegney

    Prof. Berger: “. . . and it’s outcome not surprising.”?? You really consider a vote of 138-to-9 (40 abstentions)as “not surprising”?! With so many “Western democratic allies” voting against the USA and Israel!? I suspect many were indeed surprised by this tally. World opinion is shifting rapidly – and high time!

  • Michael, I don’t understand your comment. If I read Berger correctly, he is saying that the vote “to accept Palestine as a non-state (and thus non-voting) member” of the U.N. was expected, and thus “not surprising.” If I read you correctly, it is a vote you hoped for but did not expect, and that it is you who was surprised. Thus I am surprised by and don’t understand what your criticism is. Is your real question that you are surprised that he described the event without putting a “right or wrong” value judgement, that he indeed acknowledges what you describe as “world opinion is shifting” without saying one way or the other whether it is “high time” or not?

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    In his magisterial history “Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations” (2008), Martin Goodman describes how Jerusalem ceased to officially exist after 130 A.D. The Roman ruler Hadrian officially changed the name of the province of Judea to “Syria Palestina” which was based on the ancient Greek designation of the region that referred to the ancient enemies of the Jews the Philistines.

    In 130 A.D., Hadrian changed Jerusalem into a mini-Rome with Roman religious shrines and rites. The pagan sect of Jupiter ideologically dominated Jerusalem.

    Jews became invisible afterwards. Goodman states: “Without a Jewish state during the one-hundred and seventy-five years between Bar Kokhba’s defeat and the accession to power in 312 A.D. of the first Christian emperor, Constantine, Jews feature only rarely in the historical narratives composed by the Romans.”

    Ironically, the Roman emperor and Christian apostate Julian reconstructed the Jewish Temple not particularly to placate the Jews but to spite the Christians. Christians viewed the Temple destruction as a sign of the legitimacy of their version of the Judaic religious tradition. Justin Martyr asserted in the middle of the second century that Jews were forbidden to live in their homeland. According to Goodman, many Jews in the new province of Syria Palestinia eventually ceased to identify themselves as Jews.

    But Goodman notes that Palestinian Jews weren’t all integrated into the Roman world. Jews went underground. But Flavius Josephus, a Jewish general and historian, became a Roman citizen, historian, and propagandist. Conversely, 200 years later the Roman citizen Cresces Sinicerius converted to Judaism.

    Again ironically, today it is American evangelical Christians who support Jews in their right to Israel as their homeland. The New Romans – the United States – have historically supported Israel in the Palestinian dispute (see Thomas F. Madden, Empires of Trust: How Rome Built and America is Now Building a New World). And the “Palestinians” are the heirs of the ancient Roman occupation and invisible-ization of Jews in Israel.

    It is very difficult for vying groups to recognize their common humanity when an area is being used as a political football and outside forces are calling the plays. Political football refers to a problem that doesn’t get solved because of the power politics involved.

    At the end of Goodman’s book he states that 2,000 years after the Jewish Temple was destroyed and 60 years after the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, it is still too early to say whether the “legacy of prejudice created and entrenched as a result of political ambitions of a series of Roman emperors after 70 CE finally expunged.”

  • David

    Just wanted to make a more general point (so apologies as this is off topic). Prof. Berger’s book Invitation to Sociology was a key book in my life and sparked my interest in sociology, social theory and philosophy. So, many thanks.

  • Wayne lays out an excellent recap (indeed “magisterial” as he notes) of the Judea / Syria Palestina / Israel – Palestine nomenclature naming progression since the beginning of the common era (“after Christ,” as some might say), which could also include / “British Mandate,” as well as the “two state solution of Israel and Palestine” (not to mention the “one-state” and “three state” solutions).

    Going back to the whose nationalization prejudice or homeland ox got gored first, Wayne notes that “Justin Martyr asserted in the middle of the second century that Jews were forbidden to live in their homeland,” some five centuries before Mohammad received his first revelation in 610 (which could be construed as a long time recognition and thus key for who is first in line for “right of return”).

    An earlier Berger book has noted that there is a need for and quandary about having to “Face up to Modernity,” and thus juggle cognitively our memory “home” of childhood and adolescence, and our current geographic/nationalistic homes of who/why/and how we are.

    Thus, too often the politically irrelevant “evocation of a common humanity” gets trumped by those who want to insert an exclusionary “linkage” of “common nationalism” to “common humanity.”

    Depending on whose list we review, there have been, since the early 20th century, a dozen attempts by both Jews and Palestinians, separately and together, to answer how to establish a geographic / spiritual / cognitive home for Jews and Arabs, whether on a “both/and” or
    “either/or” basis.

    Attempts have ranged from the attempts of secular Jews in Europe and America to purchase Jewish land from the Turks (a kind of Jewish Liberia area mostly on the Mediterranean coast and around Jerusalem), to the recent vote by the UN to recognize Palestine as “a non-state (and thus non-voting) member of that body,” the key word for the UN vote being “member,” as “member” suggests holding the more credible and righteous key, at the expense of both Israelis and Jews.

    This “exclusionary” key is to the door of refusal, that unlocks and exposes that Arabs will not accept a two state solution (first proposed as a simultaneous act when Israel was granted statehood). Twice the Palestinians have been offered “two state”), including turning it down even when 95% of their demands were met, illustrating that for Arab movement leaders there is room for only one set of keys for one place to be called one name: Palestine.

    This denial of the reality of other realities (culture, religion, polity) is how to deny a common humanity, leaving only a common desire for a one state solution: non-Jewish Palestinian (just as the legend has the Pharaoh of the “let my people go” days, ordering the removal of the name Moses and all things Jewish).

    It is hard to conceive of a workable solution when Arab leaders ignore polling showing their people are ready for two states and instead persist with their Metternich approach (no principles, no friends, only interests), refusing to accept, acknowledge and embrace the win-win starting point of our “common humanity,” and instead hold on to their win-lose exclusionary “heads we win, tails you lose” approach of Arab only humanity.

  • Michael McKegney

    Belated response to Peter Jessen: While it is correct that the Israeli/US “no” vote on this resolution was expected to lose – I don’t think the dimensions of the loss (138-to-9, with 41 abstentions) were expected – hence the vote WAS a surprise (which different observers will of course interpret in different ways)

  • Belated response to Michael McKegney: agreed: “different observers will of course interpret in different ways.” Then the questions becomes the assumptions based on what evidence or observations that are behind the different interpretations.

    In all fairness to Berger, he was referring to “its outcome not surprising” and did not say anything about the vote numbers. But also in answer to your question is your own observation, that reflects a lot weight supports the “no surprize” for the vote numbers as well: “World opinion is shifting rapidly – and high time!I.” My question is the one Berger sometimes raises about Bishop Inge’s statement that he who marries the spirit of the age soon becomes a widower. It will be interesting to see if there is another shift in the UN if the current middle east trend to Islamic theocratic government wins out against secular forms or Islamic democratic forms.

    That combined with what some have called Islamization of Europe — Eurabia — will make Berger’s question of what is the “key” for what is felt as “home” in Europe, democracy or Islam. Oriana Fallaci has written in depth about this, which is another useful place to use Berger’s term “contestation of ideas,” as we watch unfold the next round of Middle East “pedantic utopias” exercises, that, for now, have turned bloody and deadly, as the question remain, given past actions, will there be a homeland for two (“dual”) or will the continued holdout prevail that of one only. If that takes place, how will the UN then vote in general, and, in particular, Europe if that becomes the idea whose trend prevails?

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