The Middle East ‘Separations’ — Could its citizens adopt Einstein’s ‘Romantic and Beautiful’ plan?By Tom Aitken in London
The Iranian film A Separation has won an Oscar and numerous other awards. It concerns a professional couple in Tehran whose marriage is in difficulties because the wife wants to take their daughter abroad to be educated.
In Israel (which I visited recently) it has provoked a sad and revealing reaction: Some Israeli filmgoers told an AP reporter that they didn’t know Iranians had fridges and washing machines.
Couples in conflict
A Separation’s qualities have deservedly earned it great success. It has also surprised. It moves very quickly, unlike many earlier Iranian films. It shows people recognized by film-goers worldwide, including me, as ‘just like us’.
In Iran the film’s portrayal of an unhappy marriage and of people who wish to leave Iran have angered right-wingers. The authorities have withdrawn permission for a film industry celebration of the Oscar.
Meanwhile, with Israel threatening a pre-emptive strike on the site where Iran may be developing a nuclear capacity, Iran threatens a pre-emptive strike on Israel.
We may say, ‘So, what else is new?’ It is difficult to be in sympathy with either side in this confrontation, but the fears it provokes are real.
Can there be a satisfactory solution?
Even the terms under discussion are disputed. Some Israelis argue that ‘Palestinians’ are an ‘invented’ people. Many non-Jews––and, indeed, some Jews––believe that the Jews are also ‘invented’.
The name ‘Palestine’ derives from the Philistines, who inhabited a strip of the south-western coast during the Biblical period. It occurs only four times in the Bible and never in its modern sense.
‘Palestine’, as a convenient term for the land west of the Jordan River, gained official status in 1920 when the League of Nations placed the area under British Mandate, which lasted until 1948. When that ended, Jewish leaders declared independence.
Recognised, but not by Arabs
The new state was recognized by most non-Arab States, but no Arab ones. This has changed somewhat since, suspicions and hostility continue n some countries. (If you plan to visit the Middle East and to visit Arab countries after being in Israel, you should ask Israeli immigration not to stamp your passport.)
Are the Jews really ‘a people’? This conception of them is thought by many people to be an invention of the Jewish Bible. Many people argue that there is no independent evidence for the Exodus or the Kingdom of David. (Archeologically, the pendulum is swinging back a little.)
In 2008, Schlomo Sand, of Tel Aviv University, published The Invention of the Jews, in which he argues that today’s ‘Jews’ are mainly descended from converts scattered across the Middle East and Europe. It ends thus: ‘If the nation’s history was mainly a dream, why not begin to dream its future afresh, before it becomes a nightmare?’
The book aroused energetic dispute, but it is a straw in the wind.
But the argument that Israel must change its nature and demands if it is to survive, is opposed by a conviction that Arab states will never be content until Israel has ceased to exist and Jews have accepted Arab rule or emigrated.
(About six million Jews live in Israel; there would be logistical problems.)
Some writers have suggested that the ‘Arab Spring’ will eventually create a series of democracies that will be more amenable to the continued existence of Israel. But the ‘Arab Spring’ has run into stormy weather, as in Libya and Syria, or, as in Saudi Arabia and other smaller states, not yet begun. Egypt lies somewhere between the extremes.
‘No country would gain from war’
It seem obvious that no country would gain anything from a war, even less by use of nuclear weapons, and no conflicting group can gain anything by wilful provocation or taking of offence.
But they do it. Recently Israeli’s Supreme Court said goodbye to its Chief Justice. During proceedings they stood to sing the National Anthem. One man, Salim Joubran, the first and only Israeli Arab member of the Court, remained silent rather than sing these words:
‘…the hope of two thousand years to be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem’.
His silence did not send away wrath. ‘He had spat in the face of Israel,’ according to a right-wing politician.
To stand on the Mount of Olives gazing at Jerusalem… …is to see a Judeo-Christian-Arabic city dominated by the Muslim Dome of the Rock. Would Arabs wish to destroy that? If there is a serious war, can Jerusalem, as it is today possibly survive?
Separation, it seems, is our theme. If, somehow, Israel continues, the separations between points of view and gut reactions that divide the Middle East today will surely continue also. Somehow, they must be tolerated and lived with.
As I sign off, news comes that Albert Einstein, writing to the editor of Falastin (Palestine Newspaper) in 1930, proposed a joint council of four Jews and four Palestinians to work towards a Palestine as ‘the scene of peaceful co-operation between the two peoples whose land it is.’
Professor Hanoch Gutfrund of Hebrew University, which will soon release the documents online, comments: ‘’It’s great, it’s romantic, it’s beautiful and maybe one day if nothing else works this is the way to go about it.’