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second coming

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- a real champaign moment
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- second coming
- close the deso
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Occupied Minds : A Journey through the Israeli Psyche. Arthur Neslen. Pluto Press, 2006.

'Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold'. W.B. Yeats' oft-quoted 'The Second Coming' seems to be the current theme song in the Israel-Palestine drama. After the elections in the Palestinian Authority which brought a Hamas-led government to power, followed shortly by elections in Israel which reflected the wide divergence of attitudes, all sides fear that there is no 'valid partner' with which to negotiate, and it is not clear what it is that is negotiable.
If these were the elections that are to take place in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the attitude of many would be 'Wake me up when it is all over.' However, the Israel-Palestine area for a host of reasons - ranging from the Crusades to the idea of the return of Jesus - has always been an area of concern to 'outsiders'. Those of us who have worked for a negotiated settlement and for reasonable relations (if not reconciliation) have our work cut out for us. There seems to be little willingness for direct negotiations among government officials. This may open a door for Track Two, non-governmental efforts. More than ever, we will have to see what peace movement people in the UK and the rest of Europe can do to be helpful both directly in the Middle East and in the Jewish-Arab communities at home.
One necessary step is to try to understand what Israelis and Palestinians are talking about and on which issues there is real passion. When one is not directly involved in an issue, there is much that falls outside our ability to 'feel' the issue. If we are not waiting for the Messiah, or the return of Jesus, or the Madhi, it is difficult to understand why Jerusalem can not be divided followed by cooperation between the administrations of the two (or three, if the Christian holy places are given a special administrative status) sections of the city.
One good place to start in understanding is to read Arthur Neslen's interviews. The author (or the publisher) chose 'occupied' minds as a reference to the occupied territories of the West Bank. A more accurate title would have been 'preoccupied minds' - what issues keep coming back over and over in the minds of the Jewish Israelis.
The book is a set of 50 interviews, well carried out by a UK journalist of Jewish background. He lets each person speak with a minimum of direct questions. There are useful footnotes which explain references made by the speaker to history, Israeli society or Jewish theology. Although some 20-25 percent of Israelis are Arabs, nearly all of whom are Muslims or Christians, the interviews are only with Jewish Israelis. Thus the recurrent reflections on what it means to be a Jew and especially what it means to be a Jew and not believe in the Divine, often referred to here as G-d, the non-vowel of the Hebrew carried over into English.
There must be Israelis who are concerned about the weather or what they will eat at the next meal, but they are not found in this book. As Neslen writes 'The project was conceived as a platform for an unrepresentative but enlightening cross-section of voices to tell their own stories in the own way...The opinions expressed in this book are those of the interviewees, and not necessarily those of the author or publisher.'
Thus there are more interviews with Rabbis who are able to articulate the changing relations between the religion and the state of Israel than with farmers, more with intellectuals and with former government - especially military - officials who have to transform the ideology into practice. As Neslen writes 'Individuals in societies that see themselves as permanently at war often view each other through military field glasses, as combatants, infiltrators, morale boosters and traitors. Zionism, the belief in an ethnically centered Jewish state, still commands overwhelming support among world Jewry. Israel is revered as a safe haven in extremis.' A good number of interviews are with people who left difficult situations - Iraq, Russia, Ethiopia - or less difficult situations but with complex motivation, people from France, Iran, and the USA..
Nearly all the interviews have a good photo of the person speaking so one has the feeling of participating in a real conversation. This is a book to read in segments, not continuously. I had the feeling of being in a greenhouse like those for vegetables and in need of 'coming up for air'. This is a useful book especially for those who wish to be directly involved in facilitating cross-cultural dialogue. In the same way, it may be useful to read the earlier interviews of Palestinians: Wendy Pearlman Occupied Voices: Stories of Everyday Life from the Second Intifada (New York: Nation Books, 2003). It is from these preoccupations and experiences that the curtain may ring up on a new drama. As Yeats wrote in Wheels and Butterflies ' Yet we must hold to what we have that the next civilisation may be born, not from a virgin's womb, nor a tomb without a body, not from a void, but of our own rich experience.'

René Wadlow


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