what is history…

I have written about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the taint of politics and judgement. Anybody who really thinks about this conflict does so with emotional subjectivity. 

Here is what I mean:

Israel bombs Gaza. This sentence, this ‘fact’ means almost nothing without knowing the history and the context of this action. Depending on your point of view this is either a justified action, or a crime against the people of Gaza. A journalist can report that the death toll in Gaza from just this campaign is 680.  But what will history say of these deaths. Merely reporting that they occurred has no inherrant meaning, besides the fact that they are dead. History and perspective give these deaths meaning. When we learn that the Holocaust in Europe killed 6 million Jews, we do so because these deaths MUST teach us something. How could this happen? How can an ethnic genocide happen in such an enlightened world? And who learns about the Holocaust without forming some sort of judgement about it. In hindsight we know that slavery was wrong, that Nazi’s were bigots, and women and men should both be allowed to vote. 

Some would say that when we teach the past we should do so with as much neutrality as humanly possible (which isn’t very neutral I would argue) But I think the purpose of history is to question what happened, and take the information and let it add to your breadth of knowledge and thus your world view.

There are many ways of intepreting the war in Gaza right now. For some, there is ‘no choice.’ For others it is part of a continued policy of ethnic cleansing. And there all also all the perspectives in between. All of these perspectives are valid. 

So what is happening is in the eye of the beholder? The person who perceives history as factoids and dates might not really ‘judge’ of ‘analyze’ the events in the Middle East. But I suspect that most people (or anybody reading this) try to understand the events. It is easy to say that what is happening is ‘terrible’ and it is…but is it wrong or right? Can we put our values and beliefs in the narration of what has happened and what is happening? Do we need to wait for time to pass in order for this be considered ‘history?’

But obviously you can not look at the conflict that is playing out right now without knowledge of the history. But both sides (and are there more than 2?) have their own version, both versions valid to those who would believe in them. One man’s War of Independance is another man’s al Nabka (Catastrophe). Both of these wars happened, and they both refer to the same series of events. So which is to be believed? Here, history is inherently political. How do you refer to this war? Even the name you choose suggests your bias.

What is the difference between truth and facts? Eye of the beholder I guess. But I think that we study history in order to give our lives meaning. Or at least that is why I study it. We are not goldfish. We have a notion of time and we remember things. When you go into the voting booth you are accessing your sense of history by selecting one person (or stance) over another. This is why history is the key to the future. This is why we must inquire the past. We must question the actions of those who have gone before us. We all know the quote those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. I don’t know about this because I think even when we do know the past we repeat it, just look at the credit crisis.

And for that matter, the crisis in Israel and Palestine. Over and over again violence perpetuates more violence.

I offer no answers to the many questions I pose, but I think the mere fact that I ask questions and that you ask questions give us hope. 

If history is as Herodotus says, a series of inquiries, then that is what we must do. Dig deeper than you would normally. Go one step further in seeking to understand what is going on in our world.

I am going to try and see the history of Israel from a different perspective, because I think that it will give me a more comprehensive understanding of what is happening, and why people continue to die. 

This is what I think needs to happen for the peoples involved. If history gives us a light on human behavior and helps us understand each other, maybe what we need to do is learn more about our so-called enemies. 

What gives me hope about Barack Obama’s presidency is that he has such a great sense of history, and he wants to open dialogue and bring people together. I think it is history that can bring us together. I often get swept into polarizing beliefs. I judge events and people of the past. Re reading my blog entries I see how emotional my reasoning is, which is fine, but maybe not that helpful.

My final question is this: do we study history in order to pass judgement? or do we study history for understanding?

And just for fun a political cartoon about the duplicity of history


is one version more valid than the other?

is one version more valid than the other?


2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Lynn said,

    YES! Great questions and questioning, Becky. great entry. LV

  2. 2

    Lynn said,

    But the violence must stop. It is because of the history of Palestine, Israel and Gaza that we know that vilecontinued war is not the answer. The answer must be through negotiation, dialogue. It has to be political, not with more rockets.

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