Monday, September 24, 2018

Dinosaurs and Israel/Palestine

Have you ever met a five-year old who knows everything about one very specific thing?

Dinosaurs is a common candidate, but it also might be trains, or cars, or baseball. But we'll go with dinosaurs for our example.

You can talk to this kid, and he doesn't know the alphabet, or his address, or how to spell his name. But get him on dinosaurs, and suddenly he's using words like "pachycephalosaurus" and can tell you the dietary habits of every creature that lived in the Triassic period. Something about dinosaurs just causes him to collect knowledge like a packrat -- even though, underneath it all, he's still a five-year old with a five-year old's tiny five-year old brain. It's less knowledge than it is an obsession. And so, as fun as it is sometimes to listen to them talk breathlessly about the preferred habitat of the stegosaurus, it isn't really reflective of anything.

Very often, Israel/Palestine is "dinosaurs" for adults.

Obviously, there are plenty of people who do (really) know a lot about the issue, who have thought hard about Israel/Palestine affairs and given it the care and attention it deserves.

But for some reason, it is also true that there are seemingly infinite people who can't tell you their state's capital yet who know (or think they know) everything about it. They may not be able to tell you where the United Nations is located, but they can give you a six hour sermon about the 1922 partition plan or the relevance of the drafting history of U.N. Resolution 242 as it pertains to the final status of the West Bank. They haven't ever heard of John Locke, but they have intimate familiarity with Haj Amin Al-Husseini's public speeches or Ze'ev Jabotinsky's personal correspondence, and boy howdy do those letters tell you everything you need to know about Zionism or anti-Zionism in 2018.

It's a marvel to watch, in its way. And it exists on both sides, which means that internet spectators can, whenever the mood strikes, watch two figures with a combined nine emojis in their Twitter profiles go to war over whether Gaza is "occupied" under the legal framework set out by the Hague conventions.

But, underneath all that "knowledge", they still don't really know anything. It's an obsession, not knowledge. I've never once seen the sort of breathless recitation associated with this type result in a productive conversation. Not once. It's adults playing with their dinosaur dolls.

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