Monday, December 21, 2009


This is a feeling that is all too familiar. Tightly shoving as many articles of clothing as possible into a ridiculously small duffel bag, avoiding saying goodbye to as many people as possible, waking up in the middle of the night in a frenzy about the whereabouts of my passport/flight details/suitcase/brain, et cetera. There's a lovely panic to the preparations of travel, and although this is just a short trip for me (relatively speaking) it is a much needed and long-awaited one. As much as I hate to admit it, I really do think I'm just one of those people who thrives amidst chaos, and honestly, what better chaos is there than one involving 12 hour plane rides? I am really ready to leave D.C. and go on an adventure of sorts, even if it is for just under a month.

Today I received the reading list and "extra" reading materials that I need to internalize before I depart. It is the most intimidating yet fascinating zip file I've seen in a while. "Advancing Human Security Through the Sharing of Water Perspectives in the Middle East" "The Formation of Environmental Conflicts in Israeli Arab Towns: Case Studies from a Changing Galilee" and so on. I'm quite excited to dig into this reading, and am convinced that by the end of it I will be the life of every party and holiday function to come. (Speaking of which, at a dinner party last night a young man-- undoubtedly charmed by my wit-- asked me what I was doing in Israel. About 20 seconds into my explanation his eyes began to glaze over. Awesome.)

But enough with the silliness. Onward to geeky ramblings about what I've learned thus far:

Something I'm interested in studying within this specific layer of this conflict is the way it can be viewed through the lens of identity. While environmental policy and identity don't seem to overlap in any obvious manner, it is important to understand the ways a nation view themselves (and consequently, the outgroup) because it will undoubtedly impact their manner and willingness to negotiate certain key points.

Just gathering from what I've studied this past semester, the concept of nationhood is paramount. Viewed as a basic human need, the desire for acknowledgement and legitimization has long been a point of contention between both parties of this conflict. Land is not something easily negotiated-- particularly on a grassroots level, since it involves people's homes and livelihoods as well as their access to natural resources. It is, without a doubt, attached to the very identity of the people living on it. Therefore, in addition to the mere logistical difficulty of negotiating land, it is imperative to understand what land actually means to both parties.

Historically, the territory known as Palestine was never autonomously controlled. Instead, it had a long history of colonial rule, under Britain and later the League of Nations, and Imperial rule, most notably under the Ottoman Empire (Khalidi, 1997). While it has been argued that "Palestinian" isn't an identity that existed prior to the creation of Israel, it is important to acknowledge that there was a people with a history and identity living in the territory. Furthermore, attachment to land via bloodlines is extremely common in Arab culture, and the concept of "selling land" is not nearly as light an issue as other cultures may perceive. (as one Lebanese friend told me: "You can have nothing, but you cannot sell your land.") This connection to the land is important to remember when discussing boundary lines between Israel and Palestine in any future two-state developments.

From the Israeli standpoint, land holds a different significance: security. As in all conflict situations, there were key events that lead up to the build up of the 1948 war over the territory, and the subsequent creation of the nation of Israel. In the 19th and 20th century, there was a rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, which some say culminated with the events of the Holocaust. As a consequence of this increase in ethnic persecution, Zionism-- as a political movement—gained popularity throughout Europe and America. This movement consists of the ideological perspective that the protection of the Jewish people could only be achieved by the construction of an ethnic Jewish state and nation.

Nations are strong communities that share historical narrative and perceive a shared future. Within the concept of a nation, there exists the phenomenon of imagined community (Anderson, 1991). This phenomenon is characterized by the common belief in a bond that ties each person living as a part of the physical territory of the nation. Each person within the boundary of the nation is believed to hold some similar perspective and perception (Anderson, 1991) This shared perspective, both draws the nation together as well as distinguishes the boundary between itself and other nations.

With a conflict such as this one, that involves disputes even regarding the mythic history and narrative of each party, it is difficult to remain objective. Almost every material published on the matter has some form of bias or slant. I will do my best to present what I learn in an objective manner. My own opinions on the conflict should not affect my ability to gauge the situation. This will prove rather difficult, considering I'm a prototypical bleeding heart, but I will try my best.

I think you've had enough for now :)

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