(The author traveled in Israel this spring on a tour for student journalists, sponsored by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism. She also lived in Israeli for six months in 1968. This is Part 1 of a two-part feature.)
FEW PEOPLE remain dispassionate in dealing with the Middle East.
For the Israelis-who see themselves as fighting for their lives-neutrality, and sometimes objectivity, are impossible. For the Palestinians-who see themselves as fighting for their homeland-neutrality and objectivity are similarly rare.
For the Arabs as a whole-who see themselves as fighting to exterminate a mortal enemy, to uphold an Arab nationalist ideal, and to rid their area of "Zionist imperialism" (and its American counterpart)-neutrality, and often objectivity, are despised.
For world Jewry the issue is a bit more complicated. To generalize a great deal, their passion is directed toward either the preservation or the destruction or the modification of a Jewish State, depending on the state of their Judaism and their politics. From any of these points of view, neutrality, and sometimes objectivity, are impossible.
But it is not only these groups who are partisan. For everyone who reads a newspaper, neutrality and objectivity are difficult.
Newspapers by their very nature deal with the most immediate news, which, in the Middle East, consists of the political and military aspects of the conflict between the Arabs and the Israelis. But for most of us, no terms used to describe anything even vaguely Political and military can be objective.
We read of Israel's attacks on Egyptian territory (and especially about Israel's mistaken attacks), and the Israelis become "hawks." Analogies spring effortlessly to mind, analogies to situations in which few can remain dispassionate. We read that the Palestinians describe their battle as a "war of national liberation" against an "imperialist" power backed by the U. S. The obvious analogy cannot be avoided, and neutrality is impossible.
But headline stories (as we all learned during the strike last spring) are inadequate. They tell of things without conveying the sense of things. They describe actions without explaining motivations and ideologies. They portray events without describing the attitudes and ways of life that created and were molded by the events.
Israel's war is far more than attacks, mistaken attacks, and governmental threats and declarations. This must also be true of the Arabs' war. "You have to feel both sides before you realize how impossible the situations is," said a Harvard grad student who visited Israel after living for years in an Arab country. Certainly an understanding of Arab life and of the Palestinian cause would make their war seem justifiable. Similarly, once one senses Israel's way of existence, one cannot help but understand her war more sympathetically.