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I am writing this post while the war in the Gaza area is going on but I plan to only post it after the violence has stopped. I understand how violence and war brings out the emotions in both sides and that is the issue I want to discuss.

In the interest of understanding and venting, I will be brutally honest, blunt and offensive: I have a problem with the way Arabs react. I am directing this to Arabs not to offend you but to understand. I don’t know how else to explain it but I find the way Arabs react difficult to creating dialogue. So let me vent and show you how I view the situation and then feel free to respond.

My issue with Arabs is the way of dealing with conflict. I find three parts to Arabs dealing with conflict:
1. Arabs are right and Jews are wrong. There is no room for compromise or negotiations. There is only the Arab view and Jews must do as they say.,
2. Emotional exaggeration. For example- 1200 deaths in Gaza is a “Holocaust” (forgetting that in Darfur , 400,000 people have died and 2 million refugees at the hands of an Arab government).
3. No distinction between the minor and the major. A death is the same as not having freedom of movement. An insult to Arab pride is the same as killing of children.

These three parts create a situation where Israelis (who are mostly Western in thought) and Europeans/North Americans, don’t know how to deal with you. I believe that is why most Americans and Europeans don’t speak out more for the Palestinians. I think they generally know what is going on but they don’t know how to deal with how you describe it.

I know as a student of conflict that people who feel powerless have a hard time admitting how they have contributed to the conflict. People who are traumatized have a hard time differentiating between minor and major threats. But the only way in the Western mind to solve conflict without force is through problem solving. Problem solving requires not doing a ‘pile-on’ as I call it- where every issue to blame someone is thrown at the person regardless of importance. Problem solving can only be accomplished by separating each issue and dealing with it one by one until both sides are satisfied.

I know that Arabs feel like the world is not listening to their needs, that no one sees or hears their cries for help. I see it in the emotional language and black and white thinking in forums like this. The problem is that I feel like it is pointless to dialogue. If I don't agree 100%, I am wrong. If I don't speak out for how bad Israel is at all times, I am wrong.

Debating is even worse. You see it all the time here, where Israelis/Jews will say "yes, but..." but the other side is never heard. For example, I spent a long time explaining what Zionism is and isn't to a few Palestinians. I thought I had cleared up some myths about Zionism when I am met with silence from the Palestinians I am explaining to. I then see other posts by these people saying the same things about Zionism that I corrected. What is the point of dialogue if no one ever listens? I personally am left with the feeling that this is pointless. I know for the majority of Israelis who believe in peace, they also see dialogue as pointless because they feel like “there is no one to talk to”.

I say all these things not to offend but out of years of desperation of trying to understand the reactions from Arabs I see and hear. In order for there to be conflict, there needs to be two parties contributing otherwise it is not a conflict. To create peace, there needs to be two parties dialoguing and listening otherwise it is not true dialogue.

I know that Israelis and Jews react in certain predictable and unhelpful ways (claiming anti-Semitism to everything, etc.) I know this is a product of our history so I know the Arab reaction is a product of your history. I need someone to rise above emotions and help me understand and know what to do that creates positive results.

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Comment by Yigal D. Kahana on February 5, 2009 at 6:30am
Corey,

My viewpoint of the blog above is that you are unrealistically generalizing about Arabs!
I've found a great variability, and spectrum of opinions among Arabs.
At least, among those who have not bought into the Wahhabi model and PR machine...

And let's not forget the natural sort of support that members of every healthy group give each other,
sort of as a reflex?

I do get your point.
It was kind of like everyone asks about the same questions, criticizing Israel basically.
But when you respond thoughtfully and to the point, everyone responds in their own unique way.
Comment by Corey Gil-Shuster on February 2, 2009 at 11:15pm
Sweety, dialoging is a messy thing! There is an impression that if you can just get the two sides into the same room, they will understand each other and solutions will be found. The truth is that each person comes with their own baggage, their own worldview, their own definitions for the same words and concepts. The clash of these ideas, backgrounds, viewpoints are rarely even noticed by those who take part. The two parties generally leave the room feeling they are right, the other is wrong and there is no one to talk to.

I don't want to paint such a negative picture. I have seen some very good mediators point out these dynamics in ways that could be understood. But it isn't as easy as it seems. See you wednesday!
Comment by Corey Gil-Shuster on January 30, 2009 at 4:41pm
Just to clarify a few points, although many Jews get annoyed when words like ‘holocaust’ are appropriated or misused, that is not my point. It is not the word, it is the tendency to exaggerate and embellish. I can intellectualize that this is a product of a group who feels powerless, a group screaming for attention, a group who truly is suffering and is in great pain. I can see that intellectually. Emotionally I have two issues: first is that the use of exaggerated language actually detracts from the argument because the listener focuses on the language and not the issue. For example, ‘apartheid Israel’ is thrown around a lot. People around the globe debate if what is happening is apartheid or not. Pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian people will search the web for sources that support their argument (for or against), but the average Palestinians still live in the same horrible situation, the average Israeli barely even hears about this debate and couldn’t care less. The focus should not be on language or words but on actions. Second, my original question is how do Jews/Israelis respond or deal with or create true dialogue from exaggerations?

On Israelis exaggerating the effects of the missiles on Southern Israel, I agree. Intellectually I know that the chances of dying in a car accident in Israel are MUCH higher than being hit by a missile (I can give you the stats). But emotions take over from intellect and the feeling of being powerless is much more frightening. The people of Southern Israel really are living in terror and no amount of intellectualizing or rationalizing will stop that. I know this because I have felt it living there. I can see now living in Canada why it seems irrational compared to what happened in Gaza but when you are constantly under threat, with everything around you reminding you are under threat, it is terrifying. And it becomes easy to justify why the other side is suffering because you become filled with rage and frustration and you want them to suffer.

This leads to the powerful vs. powerless argument. I could see this once I met Palestinians in Canada. I can appreciate what they are talking about- Israel seems larger than life, a world power controlling everything. In Israel though, this is not the perception. Most Israelis feel a constant state of powerlessness, that it is just a matter of time before the Arabs and Muslims join forces to kill us all. It is based on our 2500 year history as a minority (often abused) and only hearing the battle cries from the Arab/Muslim world. Think of it like a pair of binoculars- if you look through them one way, things seem closer and larger than they really are (threats of annihilation), turn them around and things seem further away and smaller than they really are (conciliatory statements). That is how Israelis view the world. We are powerless and few, they are powerful and many. It is just a matter of time … so we need to create a deterrence to survive. None of this is rational. None of this makes sense. In fact it is a self-fulfilling prophecy- the Arabs hate us so we will act in a way that creates this result. Palestinians have a self-fulfilling prophecy too- “we are victims, we are weak”. We are in a dance of two irrational self-fulfilling prophecies where neither group sees the dynamics and how they reinforce each other.

About Jews doing something similar with exaggerated language, inability to compromise. I agree completely. I think this is much more a product of Jews outside of Israel (who are the majority voices on the internet). They feel a need to protect Israel as a symbol. Israelis feel a need to protect their homes, families, lives. Even the most combative are open to ideas for dialogue because they are tired- although it may take them a while to get there. Jews outside Israel get to a point where they feel they cannot give in because they don’t have to live with the results of stubbornness. As a general rule, what people say about Israelis outside of Israel may not be as true as you perceive. That includes the anti-Semitism cries, etc.

I suppose in my explaining my question I am partially answering it. People who live an emotionally dangerous existence feel that they are the only victims, people also create their identity based on this sense of victimhood and people do not like to question their own identity. I guess I am still looking for answers and new ideas in how to engage Arabs. I will give you an example: I used to be like most Jews and Israelis in that I assumed that every Arab wanted to potentially kill me because I am Jewish. If an Arab had approached me and the first statement was “I recognize Israel’s right to exist” this would put me at ease and open my mind to finding compromises. What does that statement have to do with (an irrational) fear of Arabs? We all work in code words which help sum up all that we know and all that we feel. Recognizing Israel’s right to exist to most Jews means recognizing Israel as a Jewish state (whatever that means), not supporting violence, not wanting to throw the Jews in the sea, recognizing that we are just as indigenous as Palestinians, and an ability to see the situation from our perspective even if you don’t agree. All that in a statement which is completely meaningless to most but Jews. But after saying those words, my defences are down and I am able to see a different perspective.

I want to find similar statements which create a similar effect in Arabs. Open them to understanding both perspectives. Part of the problem is that what Palestinians want, directly threatens what Israelis want. For example, Israelis want a safe place to exist. Palestinians want to return to their original homes. To Israelis, there cannot be safety if millions of Palestinians live with them because all they know of Palestinians is violence and threats. To Palestinians there cannot be peace/safety for Israelis until they return (justice argument). So we are caught in a catch 22 at this time until each side can learn how to not threaten the other.

Did I make everything muddier? :-)

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