Monday, February 8, 2010

Seeing the conflict from another perspective…

Today I joined one of my CDAs who was attending a speaker on her campus. The speaker was addressing the topic of the Jordan River and the prominent role of water resources in addressing the Arab –Israeli conflict. Anyone who has spoken to me about world politics knows that my “trigger” topic is the Arab-Israeli conflict. I have strong opinions on the topic (which I believe are well founded and based on information gathered from multiple sources… yet there is probably some emotion mixed in there), and I could talk for hours about various aspects of the issue.

I went to the speaker excited. Not only was I able to learn something new about a topic I am genuinely interested in, but I was able to share the experience with a student who was equally interested. My CDA invited many other students, but was a little disappointed when none joined us. Despite the let down, we grabbed our seats and prepared for a great lecture. I did learn a lot – nothing drastically new, but more detailed information about water in the directly affected area, a topic of which I only had general knowledge. The speaker based his lecture around the Johnson Plan (from the Eisenhower administration) and its lasting impact on water issues in subsequent negotiations, and its application to currently efforts. As someone who considered myself well versed in this particular political topic, I was surprised at how little I knew about the past and current efforts to address water while addressing the overall conflict. I am so glad I went, because I can look at the issue from a whole different perspective.

One thing that surprised was the comments made during the question and answer session following the lecture. I tend to lean pro-Palestinian when it comes to the issue, and at times get really frustrated with Israel (I know, why should I get frustrated, I have absolutely no power to affect the issue and am not directly influenced by the issue… I should not let it frustrate me… but I do). When listening to speakers or having conversations about the topic my ears perk when I hear pro-Israel statements or blatantly biased or unfounded statements. I was impressed that this speaker really addressed this topic from a resource perspective and the impact on all involved. He did not “take sides” and if anything “called out” Israel on its unethical usage of water (meaning subsidizing water costs for Israelis while creating a system that raises costs for refugees and others in the West Bank, and allowing a system of water usage where illegal settlers use 6 times the amount of water as legal inhabitants of the West Bank). I was shocked when most of the comments were challenging the speaker for taking Israel’s side. What? I did not see that at all! After thinking about it, here is my explanation for these reactions. The individuals responding to the speaker come from a demographic that is connected to the conflict in a much more personal and cultural way (the respondents were all Arab, one was Egyptian, one identified as being from the Gulf, and the other two I only know they are Arab but not more about their background). They also appeared to have very firm views of the issue, that may more may not be tied to “information” but that are clearly tied to “emotion”. It might be that by the speaker not opening stating that he was against Israel, they assumed that he was pro-Israel. I do not know if this is the case, but it did help me understand why these individuals might have reacted as they did. I am glad I was able to attend this lecture in a different environment that had people who were so passionate about the topic. I am excited to attend the next lecture about politics in the region.

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