Since we went to Israel and the West Bank, I haven’t been able to read the news from those places in the same way. Before, it generally depressed me. Now I find it painful with a more personal edge.
But on a profounder level than that, I am made crazy by the incompleteness — the narrow lens through which reality in this most intense of human and religious places is filtered. We often only get one side of something that has countless sides, at least more than two. Or we get the tail end of a story that is multi-layered and can’t be told validly without something of its beginning and its middle. And always, in the West, we are focused on what is happening at the tip of the iceberg — the high-level, political arena of negotiations, of votes, of posturing.
So there were big news flashes recently that Fatah and Hamas are resolving to work together. But that did not happen because they had a change of heart. While we were there, thousands of citizens marched on streets of Palestinian cities, inspired by the Arab Spring in Egypt, calling on their two governments to grow up, talk to each other, and better represent their people. That story was buried, understandably, under other unbelievable headlines that week: a Japanese reactor that looked ready to melt down, Saudi tanks rolling in to squash demonstrations in Bahrain, the early days of a Libyan revolution.
I’ve started to look with extra vigilance for pieces of writing that tell more of the truth and suggest more possibility.
This commentary in the Guardian, while fiercely partisan towards the Palestinian cause, also reveals that what we digest as “news” lags behind the real human story on the ground. I’d also recommend a slim, remarkably thoughtful and readable book in a very different tone by the Palestinian philosopher Sari Nusseibeh, What is a Palestinian State Worth? (I also interviewed him, in East Jerusalem, and we’ll turn that conversation into a show later this year.) As one reviewer wrote about Nusseibeh’s book, “There is nothing like it in the literature of this conflict. Every year thousands of articles and blog posts are produced about how to end the conflict. They all feel stale. This book does not.”
The truth is, the “literature of the conflict” is limited by its focus merely on conflict and high-level solutions.
A larger truth that increasingly grips me, as my Israeli conversation partner Yossi Klein Halevi says, is that there is something at stake in the Holy Land that gets at what makes all of us human. It matters, and it matters that we aspire to see it with greater nuance.
About the image (bottom): Sari Nusseibeh during our interview in his office at Al Quds University. (photo: Trent Gilliss)