I know that any blogger worth their day in the sun should be expressing a view about the Israel/Lebanon conflict, and/or Iraq and/or Iran, and I have tremendous admiration for my co-bloggers in their attempts to understand and come to terms with the complexities of these situations. But I am an amateur: the motivations of the people involved in these conflicts is so far from my experience and comprehension as to leave me without firm grip.
The difficulties came home to me on my first visit to Israel about 8 years ago, I suppose. Tel Aviv seemed like a rather frantic version of many southern European cities, but Jerusalem, especially the old city, was beyond comparison. It was astonishing to see Welsh Baptists, in their sensible shoes and coats, dragging a large wooden cross up the via Dolorosa, under the eyes of the Arab traders who had seen it a thousand times before. Muslims, Christians, Jews and Armenians (I never understood what they were doing there) live uneasily side-by-side in the Old City. This I took, wrongly no doubt, as embodying a spirit of toleration, or at least modus vivendi, which, I imagined could be captured and developed to bring peace to the region.
However the naivety of this thought became clearer on my route home. I took a sharoot – a cheap minibus taxi – to the airport, and it wound its way around the suburbs picking up passengers. After a while we hit the desert, but then drove into some sort of Israeli settlement to pick up another passenger. I don’t know what the settlement was called, but it was secured at its one entrance point by armed guards. On being allowed through the gate, we entered what looked like a modern housing estate, although everyone living there, including the children, were dressed in ultra-orthodox clothing. It was a hot day, but still the little children were wearing heavy frock-coats and dresses to play on the swings, which they did with great gusto. What left the deepest impression on me, though, was the fact that in every car we passed the glass in their windscreens had been replaced with a strong wire mesh, presumably in the expectation that a stoning was in prospect on venturing beyond the security gate.
This brought home to me, with some force, that the people who had moved there, for this was obviously a recent settlement, had done so in the expectation that they would come under attack. It is not that they had formed an attachment to a particular place, and had decided that, in changing circumstances, to make the best of it. Rather they had made a deliberate choice to move, and bring their families, to a place where they would be physically attacked, rather than living in comparative safety elsewhere. Is this an act of defiance? Is it a way of testing their faith? Is it a way of declaring that life on earth is worth nothing compared to the glory to come? Could it be that some people seek conflict as part of their conception of the good life? Whatever it is, and I don’t think it is confined only to the Israelis, I can barely understand it, and hence do not feel qualified to pass further comment on what could bring lasting peace to the Middle East (or indeed anywhere).