LINES IN THE SAND: AMERICAN REPRESENTATIONS OF ISRAEL AND PALESTINE

By Taylor Marvin

The conflict between the Israeli state and Palestinian people has held a place in the American consciousness since its inception. In addition to its seemingly constant presence in evening newscasts, American media frequently features the perceived character of both the Israelis and Palestinians. These representations reveal a complex narrative about these people in American public discourse – representations constructed by both the American foreign policy experience in the Middle East and its own cultural history. These narratives, which tend to depict Israelis positively and Palestinians negatively, are both popular and enduring because they simplify a complex conflict into easily understandable terms and confirm popular American world views. American policy is shaped by popular opinion, and understanding these narratives is vital to understanding American foreign policy.

“Why are we fighting… you? The answer is very simple… Because you attacked us and continue to attack us in Palestine. The Jews… have occupied [Palestine] for more than 50 years; years overflowing with oppression, tyranny, crimes, killing, expulsion, destruction and devastation. The creation and continuation of Israel is one of the greatest crimes, and you are the leaders of its criminals.” – Osama Bin Laden, November 2002.

Few wars have generated as much controversy and fervor as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Despite its confined scope and seemingly unchanging stalemate, the confrontation between the modern, wealthy nation of Israel and the stateless and improvised Palestinian people is an emotional flash point that draws anger and passion around the world. The United States is the primary supporter and ally of Israel, and al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden identifies the conflict as the primary motivation for Islamic extremist’s violence around the world. As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict enters its sixtieth year, it appears to be both more significant and unending as ever.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict entered its current stage in the destruction of 1967’s Six Day War. After its stunning victory, Israel controlled two key areas, the West Bank and Gaza Strip captured from Jordan and Egypt. These conquered lands were not empty. They were the home of millions of Palestinian Arabs, many who had fled the borders of Israel after its creation in 1949. In the aftermath of the Six Day War Israel embarked on a military occupation of these territories. Israel holds these Occupied Territories to this day, sparking a seemingly endless conflict between Palestinian resistance fighters and the Israeli military. Brutality has been a hallmark of this confrontation; the modern Israeli Army and Air Force operates with impunity in the crowded territories, inflicting many civilian casualties. Likewise, in their fight for independence and the destruction of Israel, Palestinians have not hesitated to use terrorist tactics, even suicide bombings, and have specifically targeted Israeli civilians. Despite decades of military stalemate and peace talks, the conflict seems unlikely to resolve itself and the cycle of violence continues to claim more lives.

Regardless of the conflict’s location in the Middle East, the United States is heavily involved in the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. The United States has been a firm ally of Israel since its birth, and U.S. diplomacy was instrumental to Israel’s creation in 1948. Additionally, Israel depends on massive financial and military support from the United States, which totals nearly one hundred billion dollars since 1948. During Israel’s countless military crises, the United States has airlifted vital military supplies that are essential to the Israeli war effort. The Israeli armed forces utilizes large amounts of U.S. military hardware, and Israel is one of the largest consumers of American defense industry products. For example, Israel flies the world’s second largest fleet of modern American F-16 fighter aircraft after the United States Air Force. Likewise, America also holds deep interest in the Palestinian cause. The United States led the effort to organize most of the attempted peace treaties between Palestinians and Israelis, and has invested an enormous amount of time and effort into the failed peace process. The suffering of the Palestinians has angered Arab societies throughout the Middle East and has inspired Islamic militancy around the world. As long as the Israeli- Palestinian conflict continues stability in the Middle East will remain elusive.

America is an integral factor in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and American citizens to a large extent, determine its actions. The United States is a liberal representative democracy; elections determine its government and public opinion guides its actions and policies. Attempting to understand U.S. involvement in the Israeli- Palestinian conflict without understanding Americans popular opinion about the two peoples is futile. The American public’s understanding and perceptions of Israel and Palestine have transformed over the last fifty years, yet continues to influence the developing conflict. While these conceptions of Israel and Palestine are varied and complex, they are both created and sustained by similar means. First, current media depictions of Israel and Palestine reinforce both these narratives. Second, centuries of the American cultural experience have shaped American’s understanding of Israel and Palestine. And finally, the United States’ complex experience in the post World War Two world influences America’s perceptions and policy towards both peoples. Overall, America’s narrative of Israel is shaped by a socially over-represented admiration and cultural kinship, while that of the Palestinians is a product of both unfamiliarity and outdated Orientalist influence.

The U.S. media plays an important role in developing the American narrative of Israel and Palestine by presenting and shaping both current events and America’s cultural heritage. Overall, the dominant American narrative of Israel depicts it in a highly romanticized and positive way while the Palestinian people are typically underrepresented. When American media features Palestinians, it typically depicts Palestinian characters in a simplistic, stereotypical manner. The 1986 American film The Delta Force is notable for the degree to which it depicts both of these simplistic views. The film, starring Chuck Norris, and produced by Israeli filmmakers, follows the hijacking of a civilian airliner and the rescue attempt by the elite United States military unit Delta Force. After the terrorists force the hijacked airline to fly to Beirut the Delta operatives arrive, and in a stunning display of military prowess successfully rescue the hostages and kill the Lebanese hijackers. Finally the former hostages and Delta operators fly to the safety of Israel.

Despite changing the nationality of the counterterrorist force, the film is clearly based on Operation Entebbe, a successful 1976 Israeli Special Forces operation to rescue a hijacked Air France airliner flown to Uganda. To 1980’s America, still recovering from the humiliating debacle of Vietnam and seemingly beset by the growing threats of international terrorism and resurgent communism, Israel’s military success and counter-terrorism expertise inspired both admiration and envy. The Delta Force clearly played on the American desire to replicate Israel’s stunning military success in the face of terrorism. The film plainly establishes Israel as a firm ideological partner of the West, and as a skilled comrade in arms standing against a cruel terrorist enemy. The film also uses religious themes to reinforce the kinship between America and Israel. When the terrorists round up all the Jews on the flight, a American priest risks his life to join them. “You called for all the Jews. I’m Jewish, just like Jesus Christ,” he says. “You take one, you gotta take us all.” This statement, expressed in the familiar rhetoric of the action movie, firmly supports the religious kinship between the mostly Christian United States and the Jewish State of Israel. Additionally, this scene depicts the implied Muslim hijackers as an alien menace that the Judeo-Christian tradition must unite together to defeat. The Delta Force clearly asserts that in the dangerous and threatening world of the Middle East the only firm friend of America is Israel, a depiction that draws on both the American historical regard for the self-sufficient pioneer and post- Vietnam fantasies of military success. Though the film does not specifically mention the Palestinian people, it repeatedly implies them outside the natural Israeli- American kinship and of little importance.

The depiction of Israel’s link to the West is common in American media, and is particularly clear in the 1998 Tom Clancy novel Rainbow Six. The novel, which follows the creation and operations of a new, NATO based counter-terrorism team dubbed “Rainbow”, features a simple cover that clearly depicts this relationship. The stark white cover’s focal point is the four flags of the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Israel surrounding the title. Placing the Israeli flag with those of the powerful military and economic leaders of the NATO alliance clearly reinforces the idea that Israel is an integral part of the West, an equal to these quintessentially Western nations. Israel’s military expertise lends credibility to Rainbow, along with the might and leadership of the United States. Overall, the novel’s cover encourages a simplistic “us versus them” view of the world with Israel, along with Europe, as securely part of the “us.” By extension, the Palestinians are firmly placed in the “them,” separate from and opposed to the rational modern order. These characterizations mirror an antagonistic worldview in both the American populace and leadership. As George Washington University scholar Melani McAlister claims, “in the postwar period, the realities of U.S. power have structured the process of defining a rich variety of American -and “un-American” -identities.” This characterization attracts the American people because it is fundamentally a simplification; it reduces the infinite complexities of the modern world into a well defined and concise narrative, one that is clearly understood and can be decisively acted on. While the Israelis have benefited from such a reduction, the Palestinians have not.

When the American media features Palestinians, they predominantly depict them as archaic and irrational. The portrayal of Palestinians home scene in a 2008 Philadelphia Daily News political cartoon by artist Singe Wilkinson is typical. A mother hands her son a rock while explaining it to be his inheritance, the same rock both his father and grandfather threw before being “gloriously martyred” by Israeli forces. Their house is sparsely furnished, and outside the window the skyline burns. On the wall, a portrait of Yasir Arafat looks down over the caption “our leader.” The cartoon depicts the Palestinian people as both helpless and ignorant, unable to resist the Israeli occupation in any meaningful way. The father and grandfather are both irrational and primitive, and the son fated to follow in their footsteps. The smiling portrait of Arafat facilitates this fate, unable to change the Palestinian people’s destiny from ignorant and futile resistance.

This cartoon conveys a common American representation of the Palestinian people; that their leaders are indolent and ineffectual, and the people blindly follow them to destruction. This perception completely ignores the varied complexities of the Palestinian experience. By grouping the Palestinian people into this one grossly simplified representation, the artist disregards the differences between those living in the West Bank and Gaza, members of different political movements, or any number of social groupings. Additionally, the cartoon implies the Palestinians to be ignorant of their situation, comically unable to see the self-destructive results of their method of resistance. However, to the mainstream American viewer, this view seems accurate. In the absence of credible information on conditions in the occupied territories, the view presented in the cartoon seem plausible.

Attempts to contradict the dominant narrative are often unsuccessful. The 2005 American film Kingdom of Heaven is noteworthy for its attempt to give a balanced illustration of the complex roots of conflict in the Holy Land. The film, primarily set in twelfth century Jerusalem, follows a young French knight in his pilgrimage to Palestine and battle to defend the Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem against an Islamic army. Despite its historical setting, the film clearly mirrors the present, depicting different religious groups fighting over the land that would become Israel and Palestine. Similarly to the Crusader kingdoms, Israel is often seen by Arabs as a colonial outpost of the West, and the many of the Arabs portrayed in the film are the ancestors of today’s Palestinians. The film avoids adopting simplified representations of the Crusaders or Arabs, which makes Kingdom of Heaven a useful counterpoint to more negative depictions of the Palestinian people in Western media. However, while the film prospered overseas, especially in Arab countries, it did not succeed in the United States, earning less than half of its budget.

Much like Kingdom of Heaven, director Steven Spielberg’s 2005 film Munich18 attempts to give a complex, accurate portrayal of the current Arab-Israeli conflict and was largely unsuccessful. The events of Munich take place in the months following the attack on the Israeli team attending the 1972 Munich Olympics, and the film follows Israeli operatives in their mission to track and kill the Palestinians responsible for plotting the assault. The film depicts both Israeli and Palestinian society crumbling under the conflict, and the film refuses to endorse any political solution beyond an end to violence. While Spielberg’s film provides a model for a non- idealized, realistic view of Israel and Palestine and received highly positive critical reviews, Munich failed to recoup its budget in the United States. While pragmatic films that advocate understanding and condemn all forms of violence may be socially beneficial, they are rarely popular. Overall, media that attempts to give an accurate, nuanced view of Palestine and Israel are not commercially successful.

The American narratives of Israel and Palestine are a result of both the American cultural experience and contact with the Middle East. While the media is the primary vehicle for distributing and reinforcing these narratives, they have not created them. Media, claims McAlister, “…is often the first step towards understanding how culture works, but it is only a first step.” The American media exists to make a profit, and continues to utilize these narratives because they sell. For example, The Delta Force’s view of Israel as a survivalist in the wilderness is popular because it plays deeply in the American cultural heritage. By depicting Israel as both a pioneer and a religious warrior the film tapped the American admiration for self-reliance and religious piety. The Wilkinson cartoon’s simplistic view of the Palestinian people is fashionable because it does not challenge common cultural perception and reaffirms American superiority to the Third World. The media does not attempt to portray the real Middle East because the real Middle East is not entertaining, but dangerously unfamiliar and infinitely complex. It gives us the Middle East we want to see, a world of moral certainties and American virtue, a vision that has sold for all of American history and is unlikely to vanish.

The Middle East commonly presented in popular media, the Middle East we want to see, fits into a narrative that American’s have harbored since the birth of the United States. This narrative, composed of both eighteenth and nineteenth century American and inherited European conceptions, depicted the Middle East, specifically the Arab world, as a sensual and decadent land, full of mysteries and danger. Historical Westerners saw the Middle East as timeless land, untouched by Victorian restraint and technological progress, remained rooted in the past and existed in inherent opposition to the rational West. This narrative, first termed “Orientalism” by American-Palestinian academic Edward Said in his 1978 text Orientalism, arose both to characterize common Western values and justify Western colonial expansion across the Orient. By describing the entire African and Asian continents as the irrational and primitive “Orient,” the varied Western cultures and nations were able to define themselves in terms of common values existing in opposition to what they imagined abroad; the stagnation, brutality, sensuality, and submission of the East contrasted the progress, rational logic, determination, and morality of the common West.

Orientalist rhetoric also existed to justify the European and American colonial expansions into Asia and Africa. “For… Orientalists,” states scholar Douglas Little in American Orientalism, “Ottoman despotism, Islamic obscurantism, and Arab racial inferiority had combined to produce a backward culture that was badly in need of Anglo-Saxon tutelage.” By constructing a narrative of the once grand but failing Arab civilization, Westerners were able to justify their conquests in the Middle East. The Orientalist views of Europe were exported to America and deeply ingrained themselves in US culture. Popular films, from 1921’s The Sheik to 1992’s Aladdin, and print media such as early issues of National Geographic all spread the Orientalist worldview among Americans by depicting Arabs as decadent, indolent, brutal, and uncivilized and Middle Eastern society as backwards and inherently violent. For Arabs, including the Palestinians, these negative perceptions of their society in American culture has reduced their depictions in popular US media to little more than simplified caricatures.“When an Arab sees a woman he wants,” claims an character in The Sheik, “he takes her.” Despite Palestine enjoying one of the most literate and educated populations in the Middle East, Americans continue to see its inhabitants as backwards and irrational, the same characterizations that Americans held a century ago. However, after the Iranian hostage crisis the romantic view of the Middle East was largely replaced in American popular culture by the perception of the Middle East and its inhabitants as dangerous and inherently violent and fanatical.

Despite their differences, these two views of the Middle East are fundamentally a product of an Orientalist mindset willing to accept these simplified views of the world that reaffirm Western superiority. These views have proven so popular in America, because they are what the American public expects; they confirm a characterization most Americans have been taught from birth. With this presentation of Palestinians so marketable, commercial media has little incentive to change it. This, combined with the lack of accurate current information on the largely inaccessible occupied territories, perpetuates the common American perception of Palestinians as illogical, violent terrorists, a view clearly illustrated in the Philadelphia Daily News cartoon.

Americans’ perceptions of Israel are also rooted in their shared cultural heritage. Though Jews suffered discrimination in America, their long history in the United States and assimilation to traditional American culture linked them to the West in a way the Palestinians were not. Additionally, the Zionist goal of establishing a Jewish homeland enjoyed widespread support among Americans, including that of senior policy makers including President Roosevelt. After the tragedy of the Holocaust, many American’s “seemed to regard sympathy for a Jewish homeland in the Middle East as a form of symbolic atonement” for being unable to prevent the genocide, a linkage repeatedly referenced in The Delta Force by the film’s repeated usage of Holocaust themes and imagery. When Israel was founded in 1948, the majority of Americans viewed the Jewish settlers as bringing civilization to an empty desert. Additionally, the perception of Israelis as religious refugees settling in a barren land deeply appealed to Americans, drawing on both America’s religious heritage and expansionist mindset. It was easy to see the parallels between the Israelis and the refugee Pilgrims, and Israel’s isolation and desert expansion was a reminder of the great American cowboy and settler mythos. Israel’s self reliance appealed to independent Americans, and the story unfolding in the Middle East was seen as a retelling of the Cowboy and Indian struggle at the heart of America’s imagined heritage. The Jewish state, surrounded by hostile Arab nations, became David the biblical hero at the heart of the faiths of both America and Israel. This powerful imagery, combined with respect for Israel’s military prowess, resulted in a deep American admiration and support for Israel, despite Israel’s later shift to a regional Goliath in the biblical metaphor. Ironically, despite their parallels to early embattled and outgunned Israel, the Palestinians have not inherited the role of David in the American mind.

The simplified vision of Israel, based more on American cultural heritage than reality, has become the dominant one expressed in US media. The Delta Force, Rainbow Six, and many others follow this narrative: Israel as the warrior, the brave pioneer – a mirror image of a young America. This vision of Israel is popular because it is what Americans want to see; it is idealized, impassioned, and reassures us of the eminence of Western values. It is a good story, a triumph of effort and determination, an inspiring history of rebirth after the horrors of the Holocaust, and a final victory for the Jewish people after millennium of suffering that is deeply appealing. While the story of Israel may be all of these things, it is much more, a real, complex history that the idealized and simplified narrative ignores. This disregard for the complexity of real history characterizes the American narratives of both Israel and Palestine, and while comforting, is deeply lacking.

The American narratives of Israel and Palestine have also been shaped by the American foreign policy experience. The post World War Two era witnessed a major shift in American perceptions of the Middle East. No longer a land of sensual mysteries and timeless romance depicted by classical Western Orientalism, the Islamic Middle East became a much more dangerous, alien land, one inherently hostile to Western civilization. This cultural shift was primarily driven by the American military defeat in Vietnam, the Iranian hostage crisis, the military successes of the increasingly threatened Israel, and the growing threat of international terrorism and was critical to the evolution of the American narratives of Israel and Palestine.

“Our failure in Vietnam still casts a shadow over US intervention anywhere, and our other setbacks- notably… in Lebanon – have left some… pessimism in our ability to promote US interest in the Third World.” The effect of the United States military and cultural defeat in Vietnam is hard to overstate, and is hinted at in this remarkably dry government report. This failure of the world’s preeminent military at the hands of poorly trained insurgents demonstrated that the United States was largely unable to use military force in the modern world, and cast a deep humiliation over the US military and government. This defeat increased US sympathy and respect for Israel, who alone among the Western power seemed able to succeed in utilizing military force. By the mid 1960’s, America’s commitment in Vietnam was becomingly increasingly open-ended, and the U.S. military seemed unable to secure any decisive victories against the Communist insurgents. In this uncertain environment, Americans reacted to Israel’s stunning victory in the 1967 Six Day War with admiration for Israel and distain for the Soviet-supported Arab armies that were unable to defeat the Jewish State despite their superior numbers and firepower. “Many Arabs,” stated a CIA study of the conflict, “simply weren’t up to the demands of modern warfare… and [lacked] understanding, motivation, …and courage.” This assessment was reinforced by both common American Orientalistic preconceptions of the belligerents and US media coverage that stressed the danger facing the encircled Israelis. The outcome of the Six Day War fit perfectly into the existing American narrative of the Middle East; Arabs appeared both malicious and incompetent while the Westernized Jews epitomized modern efficiency and military skill, two characterizations clearly reproduced in The Delta Force. Opinion polls taken in the immediate aftermath of the war confirmed that America clearly identified with Israel; nineteen times more of the Americans polled supported Israel rather than the Arab states.

In the years after the US withdrawal from Vietnam, both the American government and public struggled to deal with the implications of their defeat, and the realization that despite its massive military and advanced weapons the United States was unable to decisively utilize military power. Israel’s military successes provided a counterpoint to the West’s military impotence, earning it the respect of both the American public and leadership. Much as films like Rambo: First Blood Part II allowed America to fantasize about an eventual vindication in Vietnam, Israel’s victories showed a Western state not affected by the growing malaise and impotence that threatened America in the 1970’s.

However, America’s changing views of the Middle East were not solely influenced by Israel. On November 4th, 1979, enraged Iranian students stormed the United States embassy in Tehran and took over fifty American citizens hostage. The international crisis sparked by the incident lasted for over a year and deepened the divide between Revolutionary Iran and the United States. The crisis also contributed to the growing American hostility to the Arab world, and Middle East in general. “As the discourse of terrorist threat developed, during the Iran crisis and after, it helped to construct a subtle but crucial change in the imagined geography of the Middle East,” claims Melani McAlister, “…a reframing of [the Middle East] in terms of proximity to ‘Islam’, which itself became conflated with ‘terrorism.” Despite the Palestine’s geographical distance from the crisis and vast cultural differences from Persian Iran, Palestinian Arabs and revolutionary Iran’s shared faith inherently linked them in the minds of mainstream America.

Additionally, the United States’ further failures to confront terrorism and successfully utilize force in the post-Vietnam era contributed to the growing American hostility to the Arab world. Operation Eagle’s Claw, the April 1980 attempt by American Delta Force operatives to rescue the American hostages held in Iran was a humiliating failure, ending in a helicopter crash that killed eight American soldiers before even encountering the Iranian military. This catastrophe became of symbol of America’s failure to combat the new forces in the Middle East and elsewhere hostile to US interests. The fantasy of The Delta Force clearly depicted the deep American wish to emulate Israel’s successes. When an Israeli officer expresses his wish to join the American operation to rescue the hostages, the American commando declines his offer, saying “You boys have done it before. Now it’s our turn,” a clear reference to the Israeli success at Entebbe. Indeed, The Delta Force originally planned to depict Operation Eagle’s Claw, but retold to show the American Delta Force soldiers successfully rescuing the hostages. The producers only abandoned this plot after the American military reacted with disgust to the attempt to forget the sacrifice of the servicemen who died in the failed rescue attempt. The entire narrative of The Delta Force can be viewed as a fantasized redemption for the American failure in the Iranian desert and a fictional depiction of American force and valor succeeding in the face of terrorism, a wish clearly on the minds of Americans in the 1980’s. The Iranian hostage crisis allowed the threat of international terrorism to dominate American public discourse and fears in the 1980’s, and was highlighted in President Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural address as a critical danger facing America. After the conclusion of the hostage crisis America’s response to the terrorist threat continued to be ineffectual at best.

In 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon in an attempt to destroy elements of the Palestinian Liberation Organization operating from the south of the country, and the American military joined a multi-national peace keeping force stationed in Beirut in an attempt to stabilize the situation. However, in 1983 a US suicide bomber detonated a massive truck bomb in the US Marine barrack in Beirut, killing 241 American and 58 French military personnel. Despite pledges from the US government to continue the mission in Lebanon, American forces soon withdrew in a humiliating display of US impotence. Israel remained in South Lebanon until the end of the 20th century, and while Israel’s occupation ended inconclusively, its commitment earned the admiration and respect of the United States. In the decades after Israel’s creation the Jewish state provided a model of military potency and driven resolve to the rest of the increasingly ineffectual West, a characterization that greatly enhanced Israel’s image in America.

As the fear of terrorism came to dominate American foreign policy Israel became both a firm ally and role model for the American response to the Middle East. By extension the Palestinians, whose goal of independence existed in inherent opposition to Israel, were exiled to an alien “otherness,” outside of the understanding and concern of the West. The growing American perception of an unknown and hostile Middle East “contributed to the polarity that was set up between democratic Israel and a homogeneously non-democratic Arab world,” states Edward Said in Culture and Imperialism, “… in which the Palestinians… came to represent ‘terrorism; and little beyond it.” This polar view of the world was an offshoot of the growing theory of a “clash of civilizations,” which predicted that cultural and religious differences were becoming the primary cause of conflict in the world. The clash of civilizations theory was enormously significant. The popular 1986 text Terrorism: How the West Can Win and influential American intellectuals such as Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington all endorsed the idea. The term “clash of civilizations,” despite its obvious over simplifications of the complex and fluid world, grew to be part of American public rhetoric, creating a popular American perception of a balkanized world. This world appealed to Americans because it was simple, with clearly defined cultural borders, allies and enemies, and an unambiguous endorsement of Western values. In this divided world, Israel was an established Western power, deeply linked both culturally and politically to both Europe and America, the Western heartland. The Palestinians were cast into the ill defined “Islamic” civilization, inherently opposed to the reason and progress of the West, a redefinition of the classic tradition of Orientalist values. Shaped by America’s traumatizing experiences in the Middle East and constantly reinforced by popular American media and cultural values, these views of Israel and Palestine became deeply ingrained in American public culture.

The dominant American narratives of Israel and Palestine are fundamentally simplifications. Israel is reduced to a hardened warrior, an outpost of the West and a righteous pioneer. Palestine becomes a simple terrorist, too disorganized and illogical to see the futility of violence. While both these representations are gross simplifications of reality, they continue to drive US policy in the Middle East. Policy is created by popular opinions, which in turn is shaped by history and the social values born from our cultural myths. Opinion constantly refashions myth, and policy is the result of this cycle. History is not objective, but is simply stories that constantly change. The imagined story of Israel appeals to Americans because it mirrors America’s idealized image of itself, into the complex mold of American admiration. Israel has greatly benefited from this appeal, gaining a deep cultural link to the world’s preeminent power. Palestine, on the other hand, has inadvertently slid into Orientalism’s centuries-old expectations of what it should be: powerless and ineffectual. Outside of the comforting cultural family of the Western powers, the Palestinians are part of the other, the alien unknown that defines what the West is not. As America’s diversity and acceptance of a truly multicultural nation grows, it has become harder to classify Americans in terms of what we are, to find terms that encompass the wildly different American cultures and experiences. This results in the growth of a polar world view, because with a firm idea what we are not, we can clearly define who we are. The result of this Palestinian otherness is the American indifference that has doomed years of peace negotiations and the detachment of the one power that could bring peace to the Holy Land.

These representations exist because they are simple and comforting, unlike the real world’s infinite complexity and defiance of simple understanding. Any attempt to see the reality of Middle East reveals a tangled web of cultures and histories that cannot easily be unraveled. Representation, the act of simplification and a retelling of history, exists to reduce the web of human societies into terms we can understand. These narratives comfort us because they conform to our beliefs and judgments. We continue to be drawn to them because in them we see our own values and have the satisfaction of seeing the world exist on our own terms. By simplifying the world, we create a vision we can understand and act on. But society cannot be deconstructed like this. Fantasies, no matter how comforting, cannot be confused with reality. Only through a full, honest view of the world can we hope to understand what really exists. If peace is ever to be achieved, America must cast aside its comforting illusions and see the world as it really is.

References

Advertisements

4 responses to “LINES IN THE SAND: AMERICAN REPRESENTATIONS OF ISRAEL AND PALESTINE

  1. You also forgot to say that American children are taught that their’s is the greatest country, most powerful, most rich, and smartest, and most fair, and most beautiful. Then we were told in history class how the land was discovered and worked hard for. Only by holding independent beliefs and a tough atitude were we able to survive here. So as an American child, you are taught how other countries and cultures don’t have it as good as America. So, as an American, I think our problem is that we are a new country and still have to stay on our toes in order to protect our country from possible threatening strange cultures. Being cut-off from Europe and the ancient lands, we feel we have to protect the whole western hemisphere on our own. I guess this leads us to thin we have to have the whole world on our shoulders also. You also forgot to mention Christianity. America is a Christian country. In many ways, Jerusalem is our holy city. I bet if America were right next to Jerusalem, we’d have taken it. Youv’e got to respect that Israel were the first owners of the Holy Land; they owned it before the Arabs conquered it- and the Arabs conquered it in an unfair way- by burning the Temple.
    Jerusalem was literally stolen from the Jews. You talk about Americans feeling sorry for the Jews because of the Nazis. Well, Christians don’t see Judaism as being very different from Christianity. It is Judaism’s mystical writers that formed Christianity. There’s not one person in America who doesn’t idealize Jerusalem and wish that Israel would once again have the Temple. Israel deserves the Temple- it belongs to them. Israel owned “Palestine” for more than 8,000 years before the “Arabs” decided to say , “Hey, we want your land to be ours now.” Some people think that is quite unfair. Muhammed traveled the whole of the continent. Why did you have to select the exact temple of Jesus where you must place Muhammed’s temple, when you had all of Asia at your disposal to put your temples everywhere? Why did you have to steal Jerusalem’s temple? So you see, that is why America likes Israel more than Arabs.

  2. Pingback: American Public Opinion in the Middle East » PROSPECT Blog·

  3. It seems that typically people will accept only such information as fits easily into their existing framework of understanding, which for them constitutes the world as it really is. Is there really any way to cast aside illusions or step outside of a framework and confront unmediated fact?

    Previous poster Julie clearly feels that the Zionist narrative rings true, whereas I feel that it went rather the other way around and Julie is falling victim to a worn-out trope. Which one of us has a grasp on what “really is”?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s