The two-colored hat

The events of today reminded me of a folk tale which I will now hamfistedly paraphrase:

Two neighbors lived across the road from each other. One day, a man wearing a very tacky hat colored red on his right side and blue on his left side walked right in the middle of the two. Both saw him as he passed.

“My that hat was tacky” said the neighbor on the right side, “and what a garish shade of red”

“I agree it was tacky neighbor” said the neighbor on the left side, “but the hat was blue”

The color of the hat soon became a bit of a sticking point. Their discussion about it turned to an argument, the argument turned to a tussle, the tussle turned to a fight.

I’m currently learning about the Israel-Palestine conflict. It’s a rough one, terrorism, mass killing, apartheid, occupation, all over the span of a century and with no end in site. The animosity has been going so hot for so long it’s impossible not to get sucked up in it when you study the conflict. I mean look what the Israelis had done! They’d torn up a land where Jews had already lived peacefully with the Arabs for centuries. They’d kicked out the locals, massacred those who wouldn’t leave, dug in with their European style army and took territory after territory from their tactically inferior neighbors. And for what? Land promised to them in a 2000 year old book? Protection they already had in the region when it was Arab controlled? And that hat? Tacky as a plaid leisure suit at a funeral. And by god it was red!

This course was taught in Jordan by a long time Jordanian diplomat. He is an experienced man, teaching a field he knows well, but ultimately he has the perspective from which he will inexorably color the source material. Israel was never made to be the enemy or ‘evil’ but in the mind of an idealistic student they certainly seem unreasonable. Spending all their time and resources fighting conflicts and creating a historical narrative that would not need to be there if they hadn’t committed some very unsavory acts in the past. By the end of the first series of lectures we all had questions for Israel. Why did they behave in their militaristic, obstinate manner? Why were they so unwilling to make peace with the Palestinians and the other nations they’d spited? And, most importantly, how could a way out of this constant cycle of war and terrorism be seen? Luckily, we got to ask these questions directly.

Jordan and Israel are on very good terms, especially compared to other countries in the region. Their border, Israel’s largest with another country, is relatively quiet. Many Jordanians would concede, if asked, that Israel has a right to exist (along the borders of a treaty it has since violated). And, of course, Israel has a embassy in Jordan’s capital, only a ten minute drive from where we had classes.

Halfway through the class, we attended a sit down with the Israeli ambassador to Jordan. He was a portly gentleman who spoke with tact, charisma, and an aide writing down everything he said. He recapped the history of the conflict as it happened from their point of view. Turns out there is some common ground: the hat is tacky.

Israel regrets the violence that has happened in the middle east. They would like to bring things to a reconcilable end as much as anyone. To that end they’d be willing to talk to some of their most violent and virulent opponents, if only those opponents would accept a few UN rulings made a quarter century ago. But alas, the hat was blue. The ambassador talked about how Iran was the true agitator of the region, and how Israel had jumped into that fight on the side of their main rival, Saudi Arabia. Hamas and Hezbollah were mere appendages of that central conflict. Furthermore, he had a very eloquent way from framing Israeli violence: they’ve shown more restraint than Americans have in similar situations. Which is a fair criticism to lobby at an American.

The color of the hat will not be reconciled for some years. Perhaps decades. In all likelihood there may be no formal treaty or agreement to cement it’s color, just a slow public reconciliation that it was tacky, and that the argument over it’s color was pointless and ugly.

We left the embassy with a good solid realignment of perspective. Not so much a sense of “both sides were in the wrong,” but a sense that even if one side or the other could be cast fully in the blame for the travesties of the Israeli-Palestine conflict, both sides were made of humans, and were worthy of basic respect.

This whole trip I’ve been taking steps outside of myself and have been able to see the same things I’ve seen before but in whole new ways. The embassy sit down was a microcosm of that. If you have the same perspective your whole life it’s easy to get bogged down in one side, running over the same facts and viewpoints again and again until you end up radicalizing yourself. The ability to see another perspective lets you transcend that, in a manner which I am unquantifiably grate to be taking part in.

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