Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A Sweet Potato and a Yam Walk into a Bar

Even more than I love conflict, I love conflict resolution.

Over on slate.com, Jeffrey Goldberg and Shmuel Rosner discuss Goldberg’s recent book, Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide, framed as a series of letters. (Although slightly contrived, I find that Slate’s format of “entries” allows each party to fully express his or her view and the other party to respond in detail to each nuance of the argument, raising the level of dialogue and increasing the chances of an actual, thought-provoking discussion, instead of the devolution into rhetoric and ad hominem attacks that these exchanges often engender.) The question at the heart of this discussion is the most basic question of reconciliation: is it possible? Goldberg extrapolates from his relationship with Rafiq, a Palestinian who was once a prisoner under Goldberg’s guard, that reconciliation is possible. Rosner is (respectfully) less optimistic about its potential in the present (although he reserves judgment on its future). Rosner raises two basic problems with Goldberg’s optimism:

First, the conflict is not personal, it is national, and we need to make sure there's enough support for the details of a possible peace agreement, rather than the general idea of peace, before it can really materialize. That's one thing you know in theory but sometimes forget as you sit and talk to Rafiq.

Second, I do sort of connect to your being "the naive American," as you put it. It's important to recognize that not every problem has a solution; that not every solution is available at the time of our choosing; and that some things can't be solved, not even by well-trained American lawyers and diplomats ready to make a deal. I think this is something that is very hard for hopelessly optimistic Americans to accept, because it contradicts one of the more entrenched strengths of your society.

So is an imperfect solution feasible? Let’s look into academia (you knew I was going to go there) for a possible solution. Natasha Gill, a professor at the New School University, teaches a class on conflict mediation in the Israel/Palestine conflict. (Ever notice that the word “conflict” is the only noun, verb, or adjective used when discussing the situation in Israel?) Adopting elements of the Reacting to the Past pedagogy (started at Barnard College), she’s “Developing alternative pedagogical models for conflict mediation… includ[ing] semester long simulation exercises, and courses which integrate scholarly literature and practice-based projects.” Basically, her graduate students are assigned historically based roles, with concomitant victory objectives and character constraints, and asked to enter into a dialogue about a possible resolution in the Israel/Palestine conflict. Funded by the Ford Foundation Difficult Dialogues Program, she’s also director of the Reacting Initiative, “working with Israeli and Palestinian scholars to develop simulation-based course on the period leading up to 1948 and the creation of the State of Israel.” Having sat in on her course last semester, I can honestly say that she’s doing pioneering work in the field of conflict mediation and that her graduate students will be well-equipped (or better equipped than many) to deal with the difficulties of international conflict mediation. Also, she rocks.

On a lighter note, several weeks ago, I had the pleasure of seeing Sarah Silverman perform at the Comedy Cellar, who noted that the difference between Israelis and Palestinians was like the difference between yams and sweet potatoes. Rolling Stone recorded her comment for posterity:

"I love how Palestinians and Jews hate each other… It's so cute. Honestly, what's the difference? They're brown. They have an odor. It's like sweet potatoes hating yams. It's like how coyotes eat dogs -- they are dogs! And they eat them. There's no joke there, but it's a good point. It's like how birds eat eggs. You can't blame them, because eggs are awesome, but they're all -- " she pantomimes eating an egg -- "'Yum, mmm, this came out of my pussy.'"

I laughed so hard that I almost cracked a rib. And I was the only one laughing. Was I the only one to get the joke or is the subject so painful that not even Sarah Silverman can make it funny?

1 comment:

Thomas Chase, An American Revolutionary Soldier said...

I like making fun of everyone. And I can stand to be made fun of. I am full of piss and vinegar. Can you imagine a world where everyone had a sense of humor? I would like to . Ahhhhhhh.