On the limits of political solutions.


At some point next week, I’m going to publish the first of what will probably be two or three posts about the limits of political discourse about “solutions” to “the conflict” and suggesting some ways to move beyond these limits in an effort to advance more detailed and realistic plans of action.

But I recently received a stark reminder of just how limited any talk about macro-politics necessarily is. I was on a walk with my wife in the beautiful Wadi Qelt in the Occupied West Bank. We were trying to have a normal, romantic day in which we disconnect from the daily racism and creeping fascism that mark life in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, we were not so successful.

While walking back up the very steep mountain to where we parked the car, a Jewish couple driving down into the valley pulled up along side of us:

Them: How is it?

Us: Very nice.

Them: Are there a lot of people down there today?

Us: Nope. There aren’t many people at all today.

Them: I mean, are there a lot of Arabs?

Us: Goodbye, racists.

We left without explaining that there were any number of Palestinian Arabs in the valley, including those who live at or work at St. George’s monastery, shepherds, and several houses inhabited by families.

What is one to do with a place where that sort of conversation is normal? How is one to deal with people who are not only racists themselves, but assume that any stranger they encounter on the street must likewise be a racist?

Come what may after apartheid ends, these people will remain. And, if other post-conflict scenarios are any guide, they will likely maintain at the very least economic, if not political, power. Do we just wait for them to die out and hope that the next generation is better? Do we make all of them go through massive anti-racism training as part of a transitional justice program? Or do we just have faith that, unlike many other places, this time the racists will disappear once the institutions that spawn them are overcome?

In some way these questions need to be tabled, as the political ones are clearly the most pressing at the moment. But, even as the grueling work must be done towards changing an unbearable and unjust political situation in Palestine-Israel, we shouldn’t forget that these sorts of social issues will in some ways be even harder to overcome.

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