”It’s so easy to rearrange memory. Our brains do it all the time.”

I distinctly remember when JFK was killed. I remember seeing it on TV and magazine-covers and the grown-ups talking and that everybody was very upset and sad. Except it’s a false memory. I was only two at the time and we did not own a TV until years later. Those memories must have been formed much later, compiled from bits and pieces from other places and times. I also remember getting our first TV and not so long after, watching the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon, but that is actually possible, since I was six or seven at the time.

On Wednesday, November 20, the day an agreement was expected to be reached between Iran and the International community as to the continued development of the Iranian nuclear program, Ayatolla Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, delivered a speech. While the Basij elite revolutionary guard chanted “death to America” the Ayatolla insulted France and then said that Israelis are dogs and not human beings, and that Israel will come to an end. He did not say that he will put an end to Israel. So? So, nothing. Nobody reacted. No condemnations, no outrage. No end to the negotiations, which were concluded the following Saturday night, lifting some of the economic sanctions and allowing Iran to keep their nuclear program, at a reduced level. Eventually a hard-pressed State Department spokesman made some embarassingly half-assed denouncing comment. But what do I care, I’m not even human. Woff.

In the past few months I’ve heard a couple of interesting lectures, which, together with noticing how my memory plays tricks on me, is putting a damper on my usually optimistic world-view.

Prof. Raymond Cohen, who is an expert on conflict resolution, gave a lecture at the Swedish Theological Institute in Jerusalem on the topic “Can Jews and Arabs Forgive and Forget?” In an extremely small nutshell, what he says is yes, the parties in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict can get over their past, depending on which vision for the future they choose to adopt. The negotiating partners each have to define how they wish to see their own future and how they intend to go about achieving that. The only way to reach any kind of progress is by moving forward. Makes sense. Even a dog can understand that one cannot change the past. So, if we want real, fruit-ful, negotiations, each side needs to decide for themselves (that means not for the counter-part) what they want and how they want to get there. That is the essence of negotiations. Menawhile, in the current negotiations, we are discussing versions of the past and telling each other what they should be doing. That is not going to work. It seems to me that Peace in the Middle East often means “I want the world to see what an asshole the enemy is”. Or fridge-magnet style, we’ve been through so much together, and most of it is your fault. Funny, but not productive.

And then there was another lecture by Efraim Halevy, former long-time director of the Mossad, who spoke at the Yitzchak Rabin Memorial at our synagogue about “Games of super-powers, states and non-state players in the Middle East: the rules and a few case studies”. Speaking from an insider’s perspective, he spoke a bit about his friend Yitzchak Rabin but mostly about how things really are in the world of international relations. It was mind-blowing to hear him speak of past and present encounters with leaders of the free and the not-so-free world. Mr. Halevy’s well cemneted thesis is that powers, and expecially super-powers, make decisions based on what they perceive as their interests. As an exmple, Mr. Halevy spoke of the 1971massacre of 2-3,000,000 civilians in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) by Pakistani soldiers and the systematic rape of hudreds of thousands East Pakistani women. Aware of the atrocities, then US Consul in Dacca Archer Blood sent the following telegram known as the Blood telegram, to the State Department in Washington:

Our government has failed to denounce the suppression of democracy. Our government has failed to denounce atrocities. Our government has failed to take forceful measures to protect its citizens while at the same time bending over backwards to placate the West Pak

[istan] dominated government and to lessen any deservedly negative international public relations impact against them. Our government has evidenced what many will consider moral bankruptcy,(…) But we have chosen not to intervene, even morally, on the grounds that the Awami conflict, in which unfortunately the overworked term genocide is applicable, is purely an internal matter of a sovereign state. Private Americans have expressed disgust. We, as professional civil servants, express our dissent with current policy and fervently hope that our true and lasting interests here can be defined and our policies redirected.

In response, Archer Blood was fired from his position. Although the Americans were in a position to stop the Pakistani attack on civilians, they elected not to do so, because they wanted the help of the Pakistanis in their budding negotiations with China who was showing signs of opening up to the West.Eventually this conflict was resolved and Bangladesh was created.

That, according to Efraim Hakevy, is the nature of the beast. So if the European Union now celebrates the conclusion of nuclear negotiations with Iran, somebody, somewhere, has an interest in lifting the sanctions against Iran. The Efraim Halevys’ of this world probably know the true reason for accomodating the Ayatolla’s. I sure don’t.

It’s so easy to rearrange memory. Our brains do it all the time. Therefore, one would hope that everybody is very careful, even when it comes to their own minds. We need to take a really good look at what is going on in our own heads, and not get fact and fantasy mixed up.

Maybe the leaders who are rearranging history are not cynical. Maybe they think this is right, or logical. Maybe they don’t hear what I hear when a dictator calls Jews dogs and not-humans. Maybe Iran wants the nukes for peaceful purposes. But I don’t think so. I think the new Perisan Empire has found itself a vision for the future, and they are going for it. I think the West has quite a lot to gain from that, and they are willing to take the risks involved. Or rather, to let us take the risks involved. We’re looking at a brilliant future. I hope not too litterally brilliant, for Israel. Går vi en strålande framtid till mötes?


Noomi Stahl