Hillel intended to show us our place and role in the Universe, not only in time and space but in relation to others as well. Mutilating the phrase and presenting only one (or sometimes two) parts of it, changes its meaning to make it into a support for one philosophy or another. As Einstein and Hillel, also History is mutilated and twisted beyond recognition...
Probably in no other part of the world is History more powerful and ever-present than in that part of the world where Western Civilization started – the Middle East. And probably arguments over History are at its most passionate and emotional when it comes to the conflict between Arabs and Jews over the land we know as “Eretz Israel” and other refers to as “Palestine”. As with the quotes, partial rendition of History is a powerful way of changing he meaning and understanding of the conflict. Here are some examples:
“Palestinians were expelled from their villages in 1948”. According to serious historians and the contemporary sources such as newspapers and magazines, this is partially true. Some Arab Palestinians were indeed expelled (in many cases due to their attacks on Jewish communities), but many others left of their own accord fleeing war, others heeded the call of their leaders to get out of the way to facilitate the extermination of the Jews, and yet others were forced out of their villages by their Arab brothers. In addition, Jews were also expelled (or left) communities which remained in Arab hands, such as Bnei Yehudah, Kfar Etzion, Givat Ze'ev, the Jewish quarter in the old city of Jerusalem, etc. By mentioning only one and only one situation, the intention is to create a false black & white dichotomy. The realities of war are messy and they generally cannot be described in clearly defined categories such as black and white. Reality tends to be gray...
“Palestinians are poor and suffer because of the occupation”. This is generally interpreted as the Israeli occupation of the so-called West Bank and the Gaza strip in 1967. The phrase, however, ignores the fact that Palestinians were mired in poverty much earlier, from even before 1948, because of the inability of their leadership to focus on building a society and a nation rather than focusing on the destruction of another one (Israel). The very name “West Bank” reflects the Hashemite rule over the land and the people – in other words, the Hashemite occupation. The fact that Gazans were confined to the Gaza strip between 1948 and 1967 by the Egyptians, who imposed a military rule over the strip, is also ignored. But ignoring all this serves the purpose of those who use the phrase to prop up their own ideology.
“Israel is the ancient land of the Jewish people”. While this is absolutely true, it ignores the reality that another people was also living on the land. Much has been argued over whether that people was native or come from neighboring lands to take advantage of the economic development brought about by Jewish immigration. And while the historical record supports the immigration theory, the fact that after 65 years these people see themselves as a collective with a common national identity cannot be denied either. Had the issue of Arab refugees been resolved in 1948 through their absorption in neighboring Arab countries, that collective identity would have probably never come to be. But it did come to be, so any solution to the conflict must take that into account in some way.
There are many other examples to show how a complex issue like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be “simplified” to make a point, and by doing so robbing the conflict of its historical context and reality. At its foundation, the conflict is really about accepting the other and sharing the neighborhood. Israelis have come a long way in accepting the existence of an Arab Palestinian people and in recognizing their right to self-determination in a State of their own. Palestinians have yet to come to terms with the presence of Jews in Eretz Israel, much less the acceptance of a sovereign Jewish State called Israel.
My contention is that in the same way that Einstein and Hillel can only be honestly understood from the full context of who they were, so is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict solvable only if we look at it in all its complexity and both sides, not just the Israelis, recognize the need to accept the other.
Conflict is not Black nor White but also, like life, a shade of gray...