Dr. David Tal will provide a historic perspective on the violence currently facing Israel when he presents an “Israel at 60” lecture series talk.
February 21, 2008
Israeli historian David Tal sees parallels between the current rain of rockets on Sderot and previous crises in Israeli history.
“Between 1948 and 1966, there were infiltrators everywhere, robbing and stealing,” he said. “After the 1967 war, there was constant bombing from Jordan and then from Lebanon.”
In the past, however, the government had more control over the flow of information, and the incidents of violence were seen as more remote.
“Now, everything is screened in prime time television,” Tal said, “and the government is under pressure to act” to stop the violence. At the same time, “there is also more solidarity between the center of the country and the territories.”
Drawing distinctions like these — and drawing out their implications — will be Tal’s goal when he presents “Israel under Missile Fire,” a talk scheduled for Thursday evening, Feb. 28, at the Wilf Jewish Community Campus in Scotch Plains.
It is the second in the “Israel at 60” lecture series hosted by the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey’s Jewish Community Relations Council.
“As an Israeli and a historian, it is easier perhaps for me to understand current events in the region than it is for people here, looking at them from this distance. My humble goal is to map what’s going on, to shed some light on events,” he said, speaking by phone from Syracuse University in New York, where he holds the Schusterman visiting professorship.
Looking back, Tal is very sure of his facts; looking forward, not so much.
“My predictions usually fail,” he asserted. Given how dark his expectations, he suggested that dubious track record actually might be cause for comfort.
“You know what they say,” he joked: “Sometimes the light you see at the end of a tunnel is a train coming.”
Despite his pessimism, his fascination with the subject cuts through what often seems so senseless. “It might look like chaos,” Tal said, “but it is comprehensible. It’s clear who the players are — who is fighting against whom. What is less clear is what they want and how they expect to achieve it.”
Hamas — which is Sunni Muslim, like most of the Palestinian population — has no religious affiliation with Shiite Iran, he said, but does have a strong political connection with it and the shared goal of “shaking” Israel. On the other hand, Hamas appears to have no special connection with Al Qaida and seems to be focused on its own nationalist goals in the region rather than the broader ambitions of radical Islam.
Tal did his undergraduate and graduate studies in history at Tel Aviv University and then taught history and security studies there. From 2000 to 2002, he was a research scholar with NATO. He came to the United States in 2005 to teach for two years at Emory University in Atlanta before taking up his present post at Syracuse University. He has written numerous articles and four books dealing with Israel’s wars, its strategic alliances, and its enemies. His forthcoming book is The U.S. Nuclear Disarmament Dilemma, 1945-1963.
For the Palestinians, the roots of the conflict are deep, he said, and complicated by the “peculiar nature of Palestinian history,” the competing factions, and also the involvement of Egypt and Iran.
Hatred of Israel provides a unifying factor, a raison d’etre for groups like Hamas and Fatah, but the divisions within Palestinian society are sometimes more evident than that hatred, and the attacks by powerful family groups on one another more atrocious than those made against Israelis. The Hamas leadership, like Yasser Arafat before them, has no ability or will to disarm or crush those groups.
The Palestinian people have been held back by those divisions, he said, and also by the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and, in the past, of Gaza. For them to establish a viable Palestinian state could take three or four decades.
“But there have been cases in other parts of the world where longtime enemies have become friends. Look at Europe. People who were bitter enemies are now best friends,” Tal said, but then added, “though it did take 400 years of war to get there.”
His talk, which will begin at 7 p.m. at the Wilf campus, is cosponsored by the JCRC; the Israel Support Committee of Congregation Beth Israel, Temple Emanu-El, and Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim; and by the Jewish Educational Center/Elmora Avenue and JEC/Adath Israel shuls. It starts at 7 p.m. The cost is $10, or $26 for this event plus the remaining two in the series. To register or for more information, visit the federation web site or call Felice Maranz at 908-889-5335, ext. 304.
What: Israel under Missile Fire
Who: Israeli historian Dr. David Tal
When: Thursday, Feb. 28, 7 p.m.
Where: Wilf Jewish Community Campus, Scotch Plains
Cost: $10, $26 for remaining “Israel at 60” series
Info: 908-889-5335, ext. 304, online
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