Friday, June 10

[the profane in the holy land]

I've spent the last few weeks trying to gain a better understanding of what daily life in Palestine is like. From everything I've read thus far, it seems to me that the Palestinian experience and identity is shaped not only by a shared narrative and intense collective memory, but also by interactions with the 'Other'. In this way, Palestinians define themselves, but Israel, or opposition to Israel, also defines Palestine.

Israel claims a monopoly on legitimacy, politics, resources, morality, and international support. I recently stumbled upon an article with an accompanying video that I'd like to share: ("Israeli police wrestle US citizen to ground, put knee on his neck," from

The video includes 19 year-old Lucas Koerner's explanation for his presence at the rally, and shows footage of at least three Israeli police roughly pushing Koerner to the ground and pinning him down beneath their knees as they handcuff and carry him to their vehicle.

(Lucas Koerner, from electronicintifada's article)

From what I can tell, the young man (American-Jewish) was being a nonviolent presence and standing in solidarity with the Palestinians at an Israeli settler rally on Jerusalem Day earlier this month. He had affixed a Palestinian flag to his kippah and another to his keffiyeh. The video showed the clear transition from surprise to confusion to anger at this seeming clash of symbols. As the young man stated on his blog,

"For them, Judaism and its physical symbol, the kippah, were inseparably bound up with the particular strain of ethno-religious nationalism associated with the state of Israel. It simply never occurred to them that a Jewish person would, in the name of Jewish ethics, stand in solidarity with the oppressed Palestinian people in their struggle for freedom. I feel that it was precisely this cognitive dissonance on a societal level that formed the motivation for my arrest."

I am interested in identity formation at the societal/communal level and how such an identity can aggravate conflict or set the stage for peace. Koerner mentions the conflation between national and religious symbols in mainstream Israeli identity. Israel is guilty of portraying Palestinians as hopelessly fused with Islam, fundamentalism, and terrorism. And it's not alone.

Not all Jews are Israelis, and not all Israelis are Jewish. Not all Palestinians are Muslim, and not all Muslims are Palestinian. It may sound ridiculous to state such obvious facts, but the way that we characterize, conceptualize, and use our language to frame a situation have great impact on how we perceive the participants, behavior, and possible solutions.

It's not about anti-Semitism. It's not about Arab terrorism. It's not as simple as Israelis versus Palestinians. Those categories are so much bigger and more complex than a single person, a community, a religion, or a state.

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