Mideast children tell the tale

by Khalil Ayvar | 11/13/00 6:00am

In the midst of ongoing clashes in the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and College Trustee David K. Shipler '64 spoke Friday about the roots of hatred and the perceptions that characterize the region.

As a journalist, Shipler -- who is the former Jerusalem Bureau Chief of The New York Times -- was involved in the Oslo accords between the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the state of Israel in 1993.

At the beginning of his talk, he told the standing-room-only audience, however, that his grasp of the issues were based largely on his experiences in 1993 and earlier, since he has not returned since then.

One source of tension, Shipler claims, is that both peoples are "majorities of minorities" within their lands. Israeli Jews are a majority in their land, though a minority throughout the world, and even their region. The Palestinians are minorities as well, within Arab countries.

They are both victims, he said, quoting one of his friends who once told him "when you put two victims together, it is like mixing fire with kerosene."

Six weeks after the Oslo accords in 1993, Shipler spoke with high school students in two different schools, one of Israeli Jews, and one of Palestinian Arabs. He asked students from each school for the first ideas that came to mind when they thought of their respective counterparts, to ascertain how much has changed over the decades, or actually centuries, of conflict.

The Israeli Jews' initial responses, reported Shipler, were decidedly negative, calling the Palestinians "dirty, cruel" and their religion "cruel." He said that they recounted historical events in which the Palestinian peoples had wronged them, to prove their "brutality" and fault in violence.

The Palestinian's initial responses were actually positive, Shipler said, though inevitably they had much negative to say, as well. Their positive replies included the sentiment that the Israeli Jews were well educated, and a definite power in the world. Shipler explained that some said "we can take from their culture, and cooperate," stating that the Israelis had strong industries, and fair workers rights.

However, Shipler also said the Palestinian students described the Israeli Jews as "immoral and brutal," claiming that "we [the Palestinian Arabs] have a rich culture, they are searching for ruins ... they have none ... we are the original inhabitants ... the Jews are building and creating their own ruins."

This belief reflects a standard PLO argument: that the Jews had no right or legitimacy to the land, because Jews had been "making up historical ties."

Shipler also told the audience Friday that some Palestinian students saw the greater freedom of Israeli women as a positive, while others saw it as a negative.

When Shipler asked both groups of students whether the others were violent, both answered yes. However, when asked if they thought about cowardliness, the Israeli Jews said they did not feel they were cowards. Palestinians, on the other hand, did describe the Israeli Jews as cowards.

He also mentioned that the Israelis had revised and updated their textbooks in regard to the Palestinians, and current events in Jerusalem, but the Palestinians at that time had not.

Both groups of students told Shipler that they were the victims in this struggle, with the notable exception of one girl in each group, who firmly held that both sides were victims. Both maintained that "there have been deaths on both sides. Both sides have suffered." Both girls held their opinion in spite of the peer pressure of their friends and fellow students.

Shipler claimed that one the most important things about this crisis is that neither side has been able to see the others as victims, too.

Another important point he felt lay at the root of the conflict was the feeling of home that the Israeli Jews want to feel. They have no place else to go, he said, so they aren't leaving, and if the Palestinians could only accept that then maybe peace could be achieved.

Civil disobedience could also be a successful tactic, Shipler claimed, but he said the Palestinians never understood Israeli conscience, nor have they ever given rise to a peaceful authority figure in their culture -- a Ghandi or a Reverend Martin Luther King.

A local resident told The Dartmouth that he felt Shipler's speech was informative and interesting, though "a bit weak in some areas," claiming he had been expecting a little more "meat and potatoes, with less reiteration."

Professor Phyllis Katz of the Classics department commended the eloquence of the high school students evidence of how deep-rooted the strong feelings behind the conflict lay.