I’m serving as an outside reader for a master’s thesis at a university on the east coast of the United States, and I read it through on the flight to Israel the other day. It outlines different scenarios for the future of the Middle East, based, to a considerable degree, on the likelihood of greater or lesser Sunni/Shi‘ite cooperation over the next couple of decades. The most probable scenario, according to the author of the thesis, isn’t a particularly attractive one. (Which means it’s a mess.) He’s probably right.
What an interesting part of the world this is!
Of course, that interesting reminds me of the supposed traditional Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times!”
But the place is, indeed, absolutely interesting. We walked, as is our wont when we’re here, from our hotel down the beach — from Tel Aviv (founded in AD 1909, slightly more than a century ago) to Yafo (aka Joppa or Jaffa, which was almost certainly settled by 1900 BC and regarding which we have some wonderful stories, in the Harris Papyrus, from the days of Pharoah Thutmose III). Peter had his vision of the clean and unclean beasts here, which authorized him to take the Gospel to the Gentiles — thus making it possible for Christianity to become a world religion rather than merely a sect of Judaism. It’s an appropriate setting, because the story of Jonah has that prophet take ship for Tarshish from Joppa — and one of the messages of that tale is, surely, that of God’s universal rule and universal concern: You can’t escape Yahweh simply by exiting Israel’s territorial waters, and, in fact, he cares about the residents of Nineveh just as much as he cares about the Jews.
Such universal aspirations continually clash, though, with the particularism, the local loyalty and often bigotry, that is all too human, and this place will illustrate the conflict as well as any. In the troubles leading up to the establishment of Israel, Jewish forces expelled most of the Arabs from Jaffa and seized the orange groves that provided much of the local income. (I saw an old advertising poster today, probably from the 1920s, showing a boy wearing Arab headdress and offering Jaffa oranges to the viewer. It was on sale as a quaint antique in an Israeli shop.) The loss of those groves is a continuing symbol of the injustice that Arabs see in Israel’s founding. And not just Arabs: Without looking for it, I’ve run across laments for the oranges of Jaffa not only in Palestinian but in Turkish and Urdu poetry as well. In the meantime, though, Jaffa oranges are a Israeli major export to Europe. I ate them, quite happily, during my mission in Switzerland.
Posted from Tel Aviv, Israel.