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Where there is no vision, the people perish

by Calvin Goldscheider

American Diplomacy holds no “official” position on the Arab-Israeli conflict even though the editor, publisher, and staffers have personal views in that regard, more or less strongly held. In the interest of balance, we publish noninflamatory interpretations on both sides if the question. On occasion we are able to present to the reader a more or less evenhanded commentary, as in this instance.—Ed.

The children of Abraham have shed too much blood. Neither has had a vision of the future which makes room for the other. It is time for Israelis and Palestinians alike to develop a new vision of the future – and it must be a moral vision, since the politicians have shown themselves to be disreputable and untrustworthy.

A cycle of violence has emerged from the Palestinian suicide bomb attacks in Israel and Israel’s destruction of the infrastructure in Palestinian areas. Each side blames the other, sounding like fighting children who whine (or worse) that the other started it. Surely the destruction in human lives has been horrendous. The toll of suffering is incalculable. But the cost of the violence is much deeper and more profound. Roads, stores, housing, economies and even governments can be repaired. Lives cannot. Relationships cannot. The most devastating impact of the daily violence by Israel and the Palestinians is on the future. Each has already destroyed the immediate future of the other.

The Palestinians and whatever is left of their leadership never articulated a vision of their future relationship with the state of Israel and its people. We have not heard much ever about its goals for its economy, values and culture. What kind of society do Palestinians hope to develop? What is their vision of their relationship to their neighbors, including the state of Israel and its Jewish population? Not much is taught in Palestinian schools to foster a vision of such values or of their future community. Martyrs die for a cause that has a future, a dream. Where is the state of Israel in the Palestinian dream?

The vision Israel had of its goals has also not kept pace with the radical changes that Israel has experienced. Much of the vision of the kibbutz, of an egalitarian society, of justice and fairness, that guided the state at its inception and through its early years has been lost in the last 35 years of nation building. It is difficult in these times to think of the goal of Israel as a “light unto the nations.” The tough challenge that Israel’s first President Chaim Weizmann embraced, that the quality of the new state should be measured by how it treats its minorities, is embarrassing.

Dealing with the Palestinians in “greater Israel” has destroyed Israel’s conception of itself. The dust following tanks and bulldozers and the hatred in the wake of occupation are part of a nightmare, not dreams of a future. Violence has destroyed whatever there was in terms of the relationships between political entities and between people. Israel has had no vision of a Palestinian future.

If history is any guide, Israel and the Palestinians will survive the current crisis. And the destruction will have to be re-built with different conceptions of futures. The next generation is probably lost as builders of positive relationships. Throwing stones, self-destruction and watching your home, families and friends humiliated cannot be the basis of a dream. Fear and hatred are not the basis of new relationships. Israelis have become destroyers as well and are unlikely to re-engage with Palestinians as they had in the past. Becoming destroyers is as devastating as being destroyed.

The children of Abraham have shed too much blood. While the survivors of the Holocaust may commemorate the “righteous gentiles” who helped them, too few are “righteous Jews” who understand that “Judea and Samaria” is a land of Arab villages and Arab lives, with its own history of persecution, and of hopes for a future as a Palestinian nation. It is time for Israelis and Palestinians alike to develop a new vision of the future – and it must be a moral vision, since the politicians have shown themselves to be disreputable and untrustworthy.

New religious leadership must emerge to denounce the killing and destruction, to disavow the instinct toward revenge and to generate constructive moral views of the future. The religious leadership on all sides and around the world has been silent again. What kind of society should the Palestinians and the Israelis have to make peace worthwhile? Where are the prophets of our generation who will provide the guidelines for constructing the future of the next generation? It is never too early and we must hope not too late to work toward that goal.End.

Republished by permission of the Brown University News Service. Originally distributed electronically May 2, 2002. Contact: Mark Nickel (
Copyright ©2002 by Calvin Goldscheider.

Calvin Goldscheider is Professor of Sociology and Ungerleider Professor of Judaic Studies at Brown University. He is the author of the recently published Cultures in Conflict – The Israeli-Arab Conflict, Greenwood Press.


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