A New Middle East?

Posted on Thu, May 24, 2007 @ 03:49 PM
Conflict and chaos amid economic hope and prosperity

Burj Dubai-Tallest tower in the world

Dubai's new Burj tower symbolizes the potential for economic development in the Middle East. (Image courtesy Burj Dubai Skyscraper official website).

In the few days since I last blogged, conflict in the Middle East has ratcheted up with a consequent loss of life.

The Lebanese army, determined to remove a suspected al-Qaeda cell from its refuge in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, north of Tripoli, has sparked a major confrontation.  

The situation between Israel and Hamas inside and outside of Gaza has seriously escalated.  

It’s no wonder then that editor of The Times, reminded us this week, “The words ‘Middle East’ connote conflict and chaos.”  

Announcing his newspaper’s launch of a Middle East edition, he was making the point that social and economic development in the whole region suffers from the perception of generalized instability caused by the few. When he cited the energy coming from Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, he brought to mind four points made by Shimon Peres more than a decade ago in his book, The New Middle East, proposing an MEEC—a Middle East Economic Community. 

In the euphoria that followed the Oslo Agreement, Peres cited four “economic-political belts” wrapping the region. Each has to be overcome to release the region’s economic potential and raise standards of living, obviating the attraction of fundamentalism.


1. The problem of armaments: Disarmament at a 50% rate would free billions for economic development without compromising security.

2. The challenge of water resources, biotechnology and the desert environment: Joint projects lead to friendship and understanding.

3. The need for transportation and communications infrastructure: Economic progress is pure theory without these essentials.

4. The possibilities of much increased tourism across the region: Tourism brings a rapid return on investment, encourages peace and flourishes amid security. 

Several years later, as Speaker of the Knesset, Peres held out the same kind of hope for his own immediate surroundings. In Jerusalem, he told me, “for the sake of Israel being democratic and Jewish, we need a Palestinian state. Not just a Palestinian state, but a democratic Palestinian state. Not just a democratic Palestinian state, but an affluent Palestinian state. . . . From our point of view, the better the Palestinians shall have it, the better a neighbor we shall have.”

David Hulme

Tags: middle east, Shimon Peres, Hamas, Lebanon, israel, Palestine, Nahr al-Bared, Tripoli

Latent Forces of Identity and Ideology Released by 1967 June War

Posted on Wed, May 09, 2007 @ 03:51 PM
A new watershed in the Middle East conflict came with the capture of East Jerusalem.

Shlomo Goren blows the shofar on the  Temple MountGeneral Shlomo Goren, military chaplain, was one of the first Israelis to reach the Temple Mount in 1967. Two years later, he became Israel’s chief rabbi (1969–79). On June 7th he blew the shofar and prayed intensely. He also suggested to Major General Uzi Narkiss that the latter could go down in history by taking a hundred kilos of explosive and destroying the Muslim shrine, the Dome of the Rock.

This was revealed thirty years later when Narkiss was dying and told a newspaper reporter the story. The power of identity and the power of the historic moment possessed Goren. He said to Narkiss: “You don’t grasp the immense meaning of this. This is an opportunity that can be exploited now, this minute. Tomorrow it will be impossible.”

 It was Goren’s conviction that the Jewish temple should be rebuilt. In this he was supported by the minister of religious affairs, Zerach Warhaftig, who held that the Jews own the Temple Mount as a result of the Israelite King David’s purchase from Araunah the Jebusite.

The capture of the Old City set in motion many radical changes to meet the Israelis’ newly released latent identification with their holy places. Using the language of latency and identification, Israeli author A.B. Yehoshua wrote, “The Six Day War was labelled ‘the Jewish War,’ and with good reason, for the old Jewish spirit within us was roused like a ghost.”

On June 19, Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban addressed the U.N. General Assembly. He spoke in detail about the origins of the war and its outcome. With respect to Jerusalem he said:

"In our nation’s long history there have been few hours more intensely moving than the hour of our reunion with the Western Wall. A people had come back to the cradle of its birth. It has renewed its link with the mystery of its origin and continuity. How long and deep are the memories which that reunion evokes."

Evidence of the power of identity and ideological elements when they reemerge after long periods is found in the reactions of many Israelis who visited the Wall soon after its capture. Israeli scholar, Arthur Hertzberg wrote:

"Within hours of the conquest of the Old City, generals who had seldom, if ever, been to synagogue were disregarding snipers’ bullets and walking toward the Western Wall. They were not embarrassed to follow the time-honored custom of writing prayers on chits of paper and pushing them into the crevices of the Western Wall or of kissing its stones."

Since 1967 the Wall has become a national icon for most Israelis, the location of civil and national ceremonies, concerts, and the swearing in of elite army units. Revering the Wall, the Temple Mount and historic Jerusalem is, for most, not a matter of practicing the Jewish religion but rather an essential aspect of national identity rooted in the history and religious tradition of the Jewish people.

David Hulme


Tags: jerusalem, middle east, Dome of the Rock, identity, Old City, conflict, 1967 June War, Israeli, Palestinian, Shlomo Goren

Jerusalem at the Heart of the Middle East Conflict

Posted on Mon, May 07, 2007 @ 03:53 PM
The upcoming anniversary of the 1967 June War, or the Six Day War, is an opportunity to reflect on the power of identity and ideology.
IDF Soldiers at the Western Wall, June 7, 1967

Israeli paratroopers (Zion Karasenti, Yitzak Yifat and Haim Oshri) at the Western Wall on June 10, 1967. Photograph by David Rubinger. Licensed for Vision.org by Getty Images Editorial.

A significant reminder of the ongoing Middle East conflict comes with the 40th anniversary of the day the Old City of Jerusalem fell into the hands of the Israel Defense Forces on June 7, 1967. Israelis will commemorate Jerusalem Day on May 15-16, the equivalent date on the Hebrew calendar this year. From the perspective of Jerusalem, nothing was more significant in the war than the Israeli capture of its eastern half, including the Temple Mount. 

According to Ha'aretz journalist and novelist Amos Elon, the Western or Wailing Wall suddenly became “a monument in the domain of memory and of faith” for the Israeli people. Within Israel, the capture of the Temple Mount catalyzed the desire to make something profoundly religious out of the otherwise political. Even the nonreligious became religious that day.  

On June 7, three Israeli military leaders strode through the Lion’s Gate and made their way to the Western or Wailing Wall—Uzi Narkiss, Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin. Dayan was defense minister and an avowed secularist. But he was soon announcing, “We have returned to all that is holy in our land. We have returned never to be parted from it again.”  

The power of historical identity motivated many Israelis at the time. In the words of Jerusalem’s former deputy mayor Meron Benvenisti, “[We felt] that we were joining hands with our ancestors.”  

Colonel Mordechai “Motta” Gur had been born in the Old City and led the paratroopers who were the first soldiers to arrive at the Temple Mount. He told the soldiers who had gathered at the Wall, “It is impossible to express what we feel in words. We have been waiting for this moment for so many years.” When he paid his own visit to the Western Wall, he connected with his past. He wrote: "Despite the great congregation, I had to undergo my own private experience. I did not listen to the prayers, but raised my eyes to the stones. . . .

"I remembered our family visits at the wall. Twenty-five years ago, as a child, I had walked through the narrow alleys and markets. The impression made on me by the praying at the wall never left me. My memories blended in with the pictures that I had seen at a later age of Jews, with long white beards, wearing frock coats and black hats. They and the wall were one."

On June 12, he assembled with his paratroopers on the Temple Mount and spoke to them even more pointedly in the language of identity: "You restored the Mount to the bosom of the nation. The Western Wall—the heartbeat of every Jew, the place to which every Jewish heart yearns—is once more in our hands." 

Gur continued, "During the War of Liberation, mighty efforts were made to recover for the nation its heart—the Old City, the Western Wall. These efforts failed. 

"The great privilege of finishing the circle at long last, of giving back to the nation its capital, its center of sanctity, has been given to you."

Much of this material, its sources and much more is covered in Identity, Ideology and the Future of Jerusalem.

Next time, Uzi Narkiss rejects a suggestion from a religious leader to destroy the Muslim shrine, The Dome of the Rock.

Tags: identity, conflict, israel, Palestine, Temple Mount, Amos Elon, ideology, Jerusalem Day, Moshe Dayan, Wailing Wall