In Other Words

Tribes of Israel

Limes: Rivista Italiana di Geopolitica (Limes: Italian Magazine of Geopolitics), No. 1, 2001, Rome "Who is David, who is Goliath?" asks Italy’s foreign-affairs quarterly Limes in a recent issue analyzing the balance of power in the latest Middle East crisis. The journal’s penchant for against-the-grain positions — such as remaining skeptical of European integration in ...

Limes: Rivista Italiana di Geopolitica (Limes: Italian Magazine of Geopolitics), No. 1, 2001, Rome

"Who is David, who is Goliath?" asks Italy’s foreign-affairs quarterly Limes in a recent issue analyzing the balance of power in the latest Middle East crisis. The journal’s penchant for against-the-grain positions — such as remaining skeptical of European integration in a country where almost nobody shares that view — has earned the 8-year-old publication a reputation as a key forum for debates on Italian foreign policy. Lucio Caracciolo, the journal’s dynamic founder and editor, often manages to focus its leading themes with a timeliness unusual in quarterlies. The record-selling spring 1999 special issue of Limes on the Kosovo war was a case in point. Now, in this comprehensive, topical look at the Middle East, authors speculate that a fresh sense of insecurity among the Israelis is all that holds together an increasingly diverse community.

In the opening article, Polish-Italian journalist Wlodek Goldkorn introduces the eclectic cast of characters in contemporary Israel, identifying them as "four different countries in one, or five separate tribes": the secular cities of the Mediterranean shoreline; the very orthodox Jewish section of Jerusalem and scattered boroughs elsewhere; the militant but not very religious settlers of the border areas; and the Arab minority (88 percent Muslim, 12 percent Christian). Russian immigrants still attached to their original language and traditions make up the fifth group, which accounts for 15 percent of Israeli citizens. However, this group cannot be separated geographically, so Goldkorn’s second count adds up to five tribes.

Other essays examine immigrants and the Arab minority in more detail, exploring the motivations of different groups. Historian Adriano Roccucci ponders how much Moscow, banking on the Russian-speaking population, can expand its role in the Middle East. Roccucci forecasts that in future peace negotiations, Russian President Vladimir Putin will more easily exploit his country’s good relations with some Arab countries. Meanwhile, an anonymous writer under the pen name Nabil Shafiq recounts the conflicting emotions of Israeli Arabs, an "enemy within" of growing influence. Wary of the corrupt and inefficient Palestinian Authority and largely loyal to the Israeli democracy until the late 1990s, Israeli Arabs find it impossible to integrate into Israeli society and are therefore taking part in the second intifada. Israeli governments, Shafiq affirms, made a crucial mistake by helping to shift the Arabs’ allegiance from secular left-wing leaders to Islamic groups funded by moderate Arab states.

As usual, Limes provides a wealth of useful, in-depth information, ranging from details of the conflicting plans for Jerusalem’s partition to the legal framework of the Palestinian Authority. More than 30 maps (graphics for which Limes has a knack) help readers visualize the Oslo negotiations, the Wye River agreements, and the Taba talks. Finally, an "anthology of hate" collects the most venomous insults that the two sides have recently hurled at each other: Palestinian intellectuals ask to reintroduce the term "Zionist enemy" into schoolbooks, with a thorough "cleansing" of teaching programs; Iranian mullahs preach the "annihilation" of Israel; some radical Israeli settlers plead for complete "expulsion" of Israel’s Arab minority. Such vitriol reflects a resurgence of the dehumanizing rhetoric that the Middle East has not seen since before the Oslo accords.

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