Food for Thought: Five Ways to Think About (and Teach) the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict
Steven A. Glazer is professor of History at Graceland University, in Lamoni, Iowa. The author would like to thank the reviewers and editors of THE MIDDLE GROUND for their helpful suggestions to improve an earlier draft. Portions of this first paper were originally presented at the Midwest World History Association conference at Wabash College, Crawfordsville, Indiana, in September 2015.
Since 2008, I have offered an upper-division course at Graceland University entitled, “History of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict.” Graceland University is a small, liberal-arts institution, enrolling some 1000 students on the main campus in Lamoni, Iowa. The students who enroll are a mix of History majors and others curious to learn more about a topic they have heard about. A significant number of students are members of the church that sponsors Graceland University, the Community of Christ, and some of these students may bring certain religious presuppositions with them.
I describe the course in the syllabus as addressing “the relatively short, but nonetheless tragic and complex history of one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.” In doing so, I try to knock down, as quickly as possible, stereotypes and myths of an “ancient conflict,” “Biblical conflict” or the idea that “they have been fighting there for hundreds/thousands of years.” I am also trying to create an atmosphere in the class that will be respectful of all points of view, and recognize that no one side has a monopoly on truth or justice. The main text for the course, Charles D. Smith’s Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History with Documents also reinforces these important assumptions.
As a way of making sense of a conflict that began when Zionist Jews began arriving in Ottoman-controlled Palestine in the late 19th century, five different models can be usefully applied as a way of understanding the events of the last approximately 135 years. These approaches are one, a model that sees the conflict as unique, two, a religious conflict model, three, a conflict between sovereign states, four, an ethnic or national conflict, and five, a settler-colonial conflict. Each of these models has some degree of usefulness, although, I would argue, some are more useful than others.
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