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Finish the story
Who is writing the Israeli-Palestinian story? Why can't the author finish it?

By Kamran Talatoff
August 13, 2002
The Iranian

When I was growing up in Iran in the late 1960s and 1970s, I used to awake to the Shah- controlled radio news about Israeli victories over the Arabs and Palestinians. In the heat of Shah's modernization efforts, a monarchist vice principal in my elementary school once directed a skit, in which a large student played the role of an Israeli airplane who attacked Arab airplanes played by the smaller kids. The Arab planes fell like flies sprayed with pesticide. Then, in the 1980s, I awoke to Islamic Republic news condemning Israeli aggression, referring to the country only as the "Zionist Regime".

Here in the United States, my new home, I waken to news that is no doubt, more detailed, more comprehensive, and somewhat fairer. However, I somehow feel that the news whether broadcasted by the Shah's regime, the Islamic Republic, or the US about the Arab-Israeli conflict challenges my understanding and, indeed, destabilizes my perception.

The news, perpetually, provokes countless questions in my mind. Why is it taking so long for this conflict to be resolved? Why are the Palestinians absent in these reports? I hear about Israel, about Arabs, about Arafat, but not about the Palestinian people themselves. Are the Palestinian people real? Why does the news lack a full presentation of the innocent Israeli girls who lose their lives in suicide attacks? Are there any people besides the militant leaders of these two very similar peoples?

Reading this news is an experience similar to reading Henry James' The Turn of the Screw. As I finish each chapter of this book, I am left with similar questions about what is or is not real -- the existence of ghosts, credibility of the governess, and the subject of children's innocence. James' intention seems to be exactly that, to leave the audience pondering the instability of human perception.

But who is writing the Israeli-Palestinian story? Why can't the author finish it? Is the Palestinian woman a ghost whose image as well as existence will always prove illusory or at best elusive to the reader?

Then, I realize that the innocent Israeli civilians and the deprived Palestinian population are not the only victims. From a distance, I have been a victim of this unsolved narrative, as well. Iran under the Shah was on the path of rapid modernization, but his support of Israel fueled the political instability that brought upon us the fundamentalism of the Islamic Republic regime.

The Islamic Republic embarked upon a massive radical rhetoric against Israel, which led to powerful lobbying against Iran in the United States. That resulted in economic sanctions and, more recently, a ban on granting visas to Iranian students, one of the few populations in the Middle East who oppose the anti-Israeli propaganda of their country's leaders and who relish Western ideas.

As an American, too, I continue to suffer from this Middle Eastern ghost story. Like others, I was devastated after the terrorist attacks of September 11, which no matter how optimistic we think, had something to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict. I have since had to invest time, energy, resources, and emotion to cope with the tragedy and help others to do the same. Before that, I used to be an inclusive Iranian-American; now I am forced to be an Iranian and an American.

As an Iranian, I remember my suffering at the hands of two members of the so called "axis of evil" (remember 23 years of fundamentalist suppression and eight years of Saddam's attacks on Iranian and Kurdish civilians during the Iran-Iraq war) and I am forced to justify and explain to myself the necessity of current racial profiling.

Ironic! And as American, I cannot comprehend the "axis of evil" concept. I need to know if it can substitute for productive foreign policy. It is too gothic; it even lacks James's relativism. Because of this division, I feel I am haunted by my fragmented thoughts no matter what my citizenship papers say.

I now have more questions. Am I the only person with an unstable perception? Is it not mentally possible to comprehend the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? If it is, why don't all parties involved say yes to one of the many peace plans offered by the members of the international community who seem to have figured out what is just for both sides? Has not such a long narrative proved to be in need of outside interpretation, intervention?

Why is there another turn of the screw every day in Israeli-Palestinian narrative? Perhaps this narrative continues to write itself and it requires the reader to put a conclusion to it. If so, we all have to promote the peace process and nothing else.


Kamran Talattof is an associate professor in Near Eastern Studies at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

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