Tag Archive for 'Israel'


Some random links

Several of these are via Tyler Cowen.


More on Northern Ireland vs. Israel/Palestine

After my last post on this, I’ve been listening to the responses of Sinn Fein to the recent murder of two guys in the British Army by the “Real IRA” and, believe it or not, thinking about the parallels with Islam.  There’s nothing particularly original in my thoughts, but I thought I’d put them up here anyway.

a) I think that many beliefs – and often more importantly, many practices that are based on beliefs – change only very slowly over time. Often, the practices retain importance even when the beliefs they’re based on have long since evaporated.

b) What’s more, beliefs – and practices – change much more across generations than within them, so that once you reach your first full set of beliefs at around the age of 20, they’ll change extremely slowly, if at all, over the rest of your life. Real change comes when children choose to differ from their parents. This sort of thing is not particular to ideas of religion or morality. There’s been some recent work showing that people’s attitudes to risk-taking are essentially shaped when they’re young.

c) When somebody makes the discrete choice to turn to violence, it’s common to conclude that they are an inherently violent person (or, in the case of the radical Islamist stuff, operating under inherently violent beliefs). Contrary to this, I suspect that the violence emerges at a point of inflection (a “tipping point”) in how they cope with perceived opposition to their beliefs. It doesn’t matter if their beliefs are constant but their perception of society’s opposition to them is changing, or if their beliefs are changing and their perception of society is constant. At some point, the distance between their private beliefs and their perception of what the world is imposing on them becomes great enough for them to break from their previous behaviour and move to something disjointedly different. Violence from radical Muslims is one example, but so is violence from Republicans in Northern Ireland, or violence from working-class gangs in Northern England in the early ’80s.

d) There is an important difference between the distance between two two sets of beliefs and the level of opposition between them. Opposition might be more likely to increase when the beliefs are a long way apart, but it doesn’t necessarily have to. It is the sense of opposition that leads to the disjoint jump into violence.

e) Therefore, what brings about peace in the long term is long periods of calm. Calm with grumbling, certainly, but calm. The newly migrant family might stick out like a sore thumb, but so long as they are tolerated and they tolerate their new home, then their children (or their grandchildren) will eventually conform to the society they find themselves in.

I think the greatest victory in Northern Ireland was in convincing people to put down their guns for a while. The details of any particular agreement are less important, because the real details will emerge from the ground up as the people who had previously been spitting in each other’s faces find themselves (awkwardly, painfully) interacting with each other instead. Yes, the details of the agreement are what helped put the guns down in the first place, but that was all.

I read somewhere that before the recent crap in Gaza, Hamas had offered Israel a 30-year truce. Not a peace agreement. Not an acknowledgement of Israel’s right to exist. Just a truce. If it’s true, I think Israel made a mistake in not accepting it.


One of the challenges in negotiation for Israel/Palestine

There’s a perennial idea of proposing Northern Ireland as a model of how progress might be achieved in the fighting between Israelis and Palestinians.  After reading this recent posting by Megan McArdle, one of the difficulties in such an idea becomes plain.

In Northern Ireland, both sides had moral, if not logistical, support from larger powers that were themselves allies.  So while the nationalists found it difficult to trust the British government, they would generally trust the US government, who in turn trusted the British government, while the same chain applied in reverse for the loyalists.

By contrast, while Israel receives moral and logistical support from the USA, none of America’s close allies really comes close to giving the Palestinian cause at large, let alone Hamas in particular, the sort of tacit support that America gave the Irish nationalists.


The cantankerous nature of Hamas

Jeffrey Goldberg writes in the NY Times:

What a phantasmagorically strange conflict the Arab-Israeli war had become! Here was a Saudi-educated, anti-Shiite (but nevertheless Iranian-backed) Hamas theologian accusing a one-time Israeli Army prison official-turned-reporter of spying for Yasir Arafat’s Fatah, an organization that had once been the foremost innovator of anti-Israeli terrorism but was now, in Mr. Rayyan’s view, indefensibly, unforgivably moderate.

I don’t want to take a side here, just marvel at the incredible ability of the human mind to twist itself into such knots of conspiracy and ideology.


Are Israeli backpackers jerks? Why do people think so?

I recently attended my first Jewish wedding (Debbie and Alex, if you’re reading this, congratulations again).  It was great fun, the bride was resplendent and I even got to keep my kippah!

While I was there, I went out for some celebatory drinks a couple of nights before The Big Day and one of the fellas, himself an Israeli-American, threw out this question-pair:

Why does everyone hate Israeli backpackers so much?  Are they really such jerks?

Never one to let cultural sensitivities or personal ignorance get in the way of a good conversation, and having met the odd Israeli in my backpacking travels [*], I threw myself at this with a level of gusto that some of the more boring people in society might have labelled “ill advised.”  Luckily enough for me, I managed an answer that somehow managed to avoid me swallowing my foot or somebody’s fist.  Here it is:

Firstly, the vast majority of Israeli backpackers are doing their travels just after finishing their (mandatory) stint in the military and no matter what your views on Middle East politics, that is a tough job.  I cannot think of another force where the chances are as high that people will actively try to kill you or that you will be required to actively try to kill other people.  You’re going to see death, and not just of an accidental nature.  These guys are coming out with a genuine nugget of pain that they need to deal with.  I’m only guessing, but I reakon that backpacking for an Israeli is the ultimate combination of soul searching and letting off some steam.  They probably want to spend a month or two (or six, or twelve) pretending that the entire Middle East doesn’t exist, or at least doesn’t exist for them.

Secondly, you’ve got the fact that everyone else on the backpacking circuit is curious and debate-prone.  Part of the reason for going backpacking is to meet and talk to people from other places, so they keep asking about it.  It makes sense.  If you meet an Israeli, you want to know what they think about the Palestinians, about the Syrians, about the Iranians, about The Wall, about the settlements, about, about, about …  But that’s the last thing the Israeli backpacker wants.  They’re happy – eager, even – to talk about anything outside of the Middle East, but nobody will let them.  Everyone keeps poking, not realising that they’re pushing and pulling at an emotional scab.  Nobody’s doing it to be an arsehole, but that doesn’t matter because even the friendly questions grate.  So the Israelis close off, become insular.  They only travel with other Israelis.  They become defensive and arrogant, while the other backpackers, who just see them acting like jerks, resent them for it.

[*] The first person to mention “sample size” gets a clip ’round the ear.