Tom Segev Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Israeli National Identity: Conversation with Tom Segev, Columnist, Haaretz, April 8, 2004 by Harry Kreisler

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What is the answer with regard to the Arab world and the Palestinians? We are in a box now, where the tendencies within Israel, because of the nonresponsiveness up until this point on the other side with regard to making peace with Israel -- recognizing the right of Israel to exist -- seems not to happen. And, therefore, Israel is placed in an environment in which all these ambivalences, all of these fears, the fears that you talked about at the beginning of the interview, come into play and seem to have a reality to them.

And they become even more of a reality as a result of terrorism, because terrorism really harms people's ability and willingness to think rationally. It happens not only to rightist people, it happens to leftist people like myself. I sit with equally liberal people in a café and we talk peace, we talk human rights, we talk dismantlement of the settlements, and withdrawal from territories, and a Palestinian state, and all these beautiful things; and if you are lucky, the café doesn't blow up while you are there, but only after you leave. So you feel stupid. It happened to me. And so you feel stupid. Whom am I talking to?

I think that the conflict with the Palestinians doesn't have a solution at this time. It's not something we can solve, and I think we should not talk about solving it. It's all about management. The big argument is how do you manage the conflict? We do not have a solution to the refugee problem at this time. We do not have an acceptable solution to the problem of the settlements. We do not have an acceptable solution to the problem of Jerusalem. But we can manage the conflict in a much, much more rational way, in a much, much better way. I think we should do that even while terrorism is going on, because we should not let every sixteen-year-old suicide kid dictate the whole Middle East agenda to us.

It's very difficult to do, but Haaretz is one of the voices that advocates rationalism.

One final question. How would you advise students who want to understand Israel's situation in the world?

Read the best Israeli newspaper, which is The New York Times, and read the second best Israeli newspaper, which is Haaretz.

As a historian, do you have any advice for them, other than to read your books?

Read many books. There are lots of books out on Israel. It is very easy to get informed about Israel. The more you know, the more rational you are bound to think. That's why it's very important to know a lot. It's not really about opinionated books, or opinionated statements, it's really about the information.

On that note, Mr. Segev, I want to thank you very much for joining us today.

Thank you.

And thank you very much for joining us for this Conversation with History.

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