by John Stiller
“Many talk about a solution to Ulster’s political problem but few are prepared to say what the problem is. The reason is simple. The problem is there is no solution.”
–British political scientist, Richard Rose, concerning the Troubles in Northern Ireland
And yet, Mr. Rose was wrong to a certain extent. There was a solution to Ulster’s/Northern Ireland’s problem. Despite the whole sordid history of England’s involvement in Ireland, the violence did stop. Sort of.
Northern Ireland has partially addressed the problems that led to the Troubles, which in a limited sense started in 1969 and stopped (again, sort of) in 2005, when the IRA finally decommissioned their vast weapons cache.
Yes, there is still ongoing sporadic violence in Northern Ireland, and the respect/trust factor between Protestants and Catholics is still mired in intense bitterness. But the solution to the Troubles came in the form of an exhaustion of violence. The militant fanatics that kept the conflict alive (the main players being here the IRA, the UDA, and yes, the British Army) would probably still be bombing pubs, kidnapping anyone who disagreed with them before cutting their throat, or randomly shooting protesters, if not that the average citizen in Northern Ireland, regardless of political affiliation or loyalty could not take it anymore. They were just sick of it.
So it would seem that, eventually, a conflict, no matter how contentious, would drag on so long and become so absurd that both sides would find a way to stop it, because it simply has to. I’m inclined to believe this.
Except for the conflict that began in the Middle East in 1948. This one will never be resolved. And we’re probably all going to die because of it. These are the thoughts that pollute my thinking after viewing the 2009 film, Ajami, an Israeli Arab/Jewish co-production.
The film masterfully weaves together multiple story lines in a poor neighborhood in Jaffa, Israel, made up of predominantly Israeli Arabs. The intertwined narrative threads reflect the complexity and inevitable tragedy of attempting to survive in an area that is so full of contention and contradiction. However, I’m not going to get into the plot, because the best way to see the film is to know as little as possible about what happens. I saw it in NYC when it came out, mainly because it had been nominated for Best Foreign Language film (it didn’t win.) I didn’t know what was going to happen, and it made the narrative that much stronger.
Trust me when I say you should see this film and revel and ultimately become horrified as each one the pieces of the puzzle fit together. Some things happen twice, only told from differing points of view, bringing what we previously thought happened into greater detail, making everything all the more tragic.
The film does not deal directly with the main issues of contention in the conflict. It only tries to show the actions of a few average people trying to live normal lives but having to constantly compromise and make bad decisions just in order to survive. In the end, there are no heroes, no villains. Just your everyday citizen baffled by how things have gotten this bad.
For the purposes of this review, I’m not going to address the rightness of either side in the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. There is so much disinformation and media slant regarding anything that comes out of that area, it is impossible to debate anyone in a rational manner that might actually achieve change.
I know this from experience. When I attended grad school in New York, I witnessed several “debates” between supporters of both sides. Both would start out with mutual respect, and what they claimed was a commitment to communicating with the other side. The velocity with which these debates turned into near-shouting-flame-wars was staggering, but I began to expect it as I witnessed it happen again and again. Nothing was accomplished by these debates, except both sides walked away from the conversation more convinced that they were right, and to other side was catastrophically wrong. There was one thing that both people felt: despair.
This is why I’m not going to address roots of the conflict, actual incidents, statistics, etc. I’m merely going to propose a hypothetical to consider.
I will briefly state why both sides will never compromise with each other:
After World War II, European Jews and Jews around the world (the few that did escape Hitler’s gas chambers and firing squads.) were faced with a very stark but clear reality: if we don’t do something drastic now, the next time a war comes around the other side will probably achieve their goal: to eliminate the entire Jewish race from the face of the Earth. This knowledge underlies all Israeli foreign policy. Any debate about their future rests upon the underlying assumption that they are fighting for the bare minimum state of survival. This is why for them they will go to any length to protect Israel and its identity as a Jewish state. This isn’t merely a matter of nationalism to Israelis. It is a day to day struggle to make sure they are not completely destroyed, because Hitler almost pulled it off.
For the Palestinians, they are fighting to return to the place they had once lived for hundreds and hundreds of years. Regardless of the question of who the holy land was promised to, or also to the fact that the Jews were the original inhabitants of this land, the fact remains that nearly 750,000 people who had been living there for hundreds of years, on land that they considered their home, were violently forced out. (I know there is some debate about “why” and “how” they were forced out, but that is beyond the scope of this article. This is one of those red flag areas, where both sides have entirely different views on this subject.).
The inhabitants of Israel/Palestine who were displaced by the war of 1948 live in varying conditions in the Middle East, and most of them suck. The few who were able to stay in Israel find themselves in a conflicted situation because Israel wants to be known as an exclusively Jewish nation. Millions still cling to the West Bank and Gaza, where life is “unpredictable.” And still more are just refugees, stuck in other countries with nowhere to go. This situation reminds me of the end of Schindler’s List, when Ben Kingsley asks, “Where can we go?” In this context, BK is addressing the situation Jews found themselves in after WWII, which is why they fought so hard to establish Israel (including waging a terrorist campaign on the British to force them out of the Middle East (Look up the terms “Irgun” and “Lehi” to read more.) This is the situation the Palestinians find themselves today: “Where can we go?”
With these facts, we can see why both sides are inclined to do anything to achieve their goals and not compromise.
So here’s a scenario as to how the world could end because the Middle East situation cannot be fixed, no matter what.
There’s still continual debate about whether or not Iran will obtain nuclear weapons. Israel has made clear it will stop them no matter what, going so far as to bomb Iranian nuclear sites (Israel already did this in 1981, except it was against Iraq when they begin developing nuclear power)
I just want to point out that whether or not Iran acquires nuclear weapons is moot, because eventually, someone who doesn’t like Israel will get one. I don’t know how. It just seems likely with the development of technology, atomic/nuclear weapons will eventually become small and practical enough that a random party of extremists will get one.
When this happens, they will use it to attack Israel. I don’t know how. But they will. And Israel is so small, it will be devastating.
Think about the psychology of the Israelis after this. For them, this is the end game. They must then do everything and anything they can to protect themselves. This will mean most likely firing off every nuclear weapon they have at anyone they consider to be an enemy. Who does Israel consider an enemy? Every one of their neighbors, even the Arab countries they have treaties with.
Besides the insane human tragedy this would be, the consequences for someone using this type of weapon anywhere in the world will be astronomical. Every country that has atomic/nuclear weapons might consider using one, just to prove that they’re not afraid to do so (a pre-emptive solution). Countries that don’t have weapons like this (WMDs) will scramble to try to develop them, since this is the only solution to really intimidate your enemies.
The end game will be between the old foes of the Cold War, the former USSR and the USA. The US has always supported Israel no matter what. The Russians have almost always supported the Palestinians/Arabs. These loyalties are still very much alive (see Syria Civil War), so if atomic/nuclear bombs begin to destroy the Middle East, Russia and the United States will get involved. I’m not sure how, but both countries might start shooting off atomic/nuclear weapons to try to scare everyone, saying, basically, “You think we won’t go there? We will, and we will continue to do that.”
At this point, with mushroom clouds billowing up everywhere, and the death toll reaching the millions, Russia and the US will become more and more paranoid and freaked-out, and with the drop of a hat they will unleash everything they have against each other.
There is no recovery from this. The world ends at this point.
Does this scenario sound far-fetched? I don’t know. You should be aware of this:
Do I know anything about political diplomacy?
Do I know the real doctrine behind MAD, aka Mutually Assured Destruction?
I’ve seen the Matthew Broderick thriller War Games.
Do I know anything about real political processes and how other countries act when threatened?
So what do I know? Pretty much nothing.
I just basically want people to look at the facts of the situation and understand how easily this could turn into a nuclear apocalypse.
What can we do to stop it? Pretty much nothing.
So should you see Ajami? Of course. It’s amazing, it’s intense, and disturbing. But if the world is going to end, I wouldn’t see it. I’d want to be cheered up. I’d go watch something really funny like The Naked Gun or A Fish Called Wanda. Because when the bombs drop, I want my head to be roaring back with laughter.