A Review: Professor James Gelvin – The Roots of the Israel – Palestine Dispute – by Hannes Stenström. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
On the evening of the 27th of September, the College of St. Scholastica was visited by award-winning lecturer of Middle Eastern history James Gelvin. Gelvin gave a lecture that in an hour briefly summarized the historical background to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and mainly focused on the events that took place from the early to late 20th century.
A man of impressive credentials, Gelvin graduated with an M.A from the School of International and Public Affairs of Columbia University in 1985 and received his Ph.D from Harvard University in 1992. He has published extensively on the topic of the Middle East, with a long list of articles and six books to his name. In 2015, he was awarded the Undergraduate Teaching Award from the Middle East Studies Association, citing his “outstanding commitment to the practice and substance of undergraduate teaching, through his classroom performance, his training of future generations of undergraduate teachers, and his well-received undergraduate textbooks” as motivation.
Addressing his audience in a tightly packed Mitchell Auditorium, Gelvin started his lecture by placing the Israel – Palestine conflict in a global perspective, highlighting the fact that Israel and Palestine together have a population of about 19 million, and that is when counting in the Palestinian diaspora population as well. Also, the territory that is Israel today is roughly the size of New Jersey. Furthermore, the Israeli – Palestine conflict has since Israel was proclaimed a sovereign state in 1948 claimed 150.000 lives in total. Even though this of course is a number that bears witness of the severity of the conflict, it pales in comparison to other Middle Eastern and global wars. For example, in the Iran-Iraq war that raged between 1980-1988, it is estimated that a million people lost their lives and the death toll of the Second Congo war is, although disputed, said to be between 2.6 – 5.4 million.
Taking us through the 20th century history of the Israel – Palestine conflict, Gelvin navigated the audience with steady hand through the British assumption of control over Palestine and the Balfour declaration in 1917, to the 1948 declaration of Israel as a sovereign state, via the six-days war in 1967 to the 1993 Oslo accord. Even though this conflict is regularly seen as an age-old clash between Islam and Judaism, Gelvin means that the roots of the conflict is instead to be found in a much more modern battle between Jewish nationalism, often referred to as Zionism, and Palestine nationalism. Both of these have sprung out of resistance towards a threat, Zionism against European anti-Semitism during the 19th and 20th century and Palestinian nationalism as a response to Zionism. According to Gelvin, the conflict is first and foremost to see as a struggle over the ownership of territory, with both sides claiming ancestral rights to settle in the region. Furthermore, Gelvin argues that the fact that there has been so much foreign interference in the conflict has contributed to the difficulty of finding a solution.
The lecture concluded with Gelvin discussing some of the reasons for why the peace process that was instigated with the Oslo accord has stalled. The main explanations to this are that Israel has in general become more right wing, and that domestic support for the Israeli settlements on the West Bank has increased. The settlements are illegal according to international law, and the removal of them is one of the key points stipulated in the Oslo accord. Israel’s willingness to implement the plan for peace has also diminished after the violent Intifadas that has only served to further disgruntle Israelis.
After the lecture, there was time for the audience to ask questions. A topic that came up was how the U.S Middle Eastern policies have affected the aforementioned conflict. Gelvin stated that the current U.S administration has effectively renounced its status as an honest broker, and is now to been seen as supporting the Israeli cause. A quote that I will remember is the “the U.S right now seems to have a reversed Midas touch in the Middle East, everything we touch turn into… well, it does not turn into gold”. I leave it to the reader to interpret whether this is to be seen as an endorsement of the recent U.S policy decisions or not.
Upon leaving the lecture hall, I felt as if I had received a more nuanced picture of this, during my lifetime, ever-present conflict. Gelvin managed to cram in a lot of facts during roughly an hour without the lecture getting stale, his narrative light and quickly moving forward without giving the impression that important details were omitted. I found the part of putting the conflict into perspective particularly interesting. This is not to say that I believe that to much attention is given to this dispute, but rather that there might be conflicts and catastrophes in the world that should receive a lot more focus than they do right now. Coming from Sweden, I was also interested in hearing Gelvin’s opinion on the rather recent Swedish recognition of Palestine as a state. I managed to get a hold the lecturer himself shortly after the audience had left Mitchell Auditorium, and this cause of action was apparently one that was supported by the scholar. Following up with the question if whether he would recommend the U.S to take the same action, the action was a resounding yes. Whether or not this opinion will have an effect on the U.S policy is something that time will tell, but one thing is clear: maintaining status quo in the Israel – Palestine conflict will serve nothing but prolonging the suffering of both peoples.
Hannes Stenström serves as an assistant editor for The North Star Reports
The James Gelvin talk on The Roots of the Israeli-Palestinian
Dispute is available for viewing on line: video archive page: http://www.css.edu/about/peace-and-justice-lectures-archives.html
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31 responses to “A Review: Professor James Gelvin – The Roots of the Israel – Palestine Dispute – by Hannes Stenström. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports”
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Thank you for your analysis, Hannes. I also attended this lecture and found it equally as succinct and am quite impressed by how well Gelvin was able to summarize such a complex conflict under in such a brief period.The “reverse midas touch” Gelvin referred to was especially interesting to me, and very relevant to the question of U.S. involvement in foreign affairs. For example President Trump’s recent endorsement of the zionist cause was, in my opinion, unnecessary and counterproductive. Being that majority of U.S. citizens are ignorant about this issue it would be very wise of us to not interject and cause more harm than good if we are not willing to be properly educated on all the details.
I appreciate your comments on Dr. Gelvin’s lecture. I, too, was in the audience and I appreciated the opportunity to learn so much in 53 minutes (I timed him, because he said he was going to go over all the important stuff in less than an hour). The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is something I have heard so much, but so little about – I have heard it mentioned numerous times, but I have never had such a clear picture as I did after the lecture. I was pleased to hear him talk about his perspective on US relations in the conflict, because I would argue it is indeed criminal that the US funnels 3.8 billion dollars into the Israeli military every year, even while their government is making bounds to the extreme right. Just Tuesday night, I heard Dr. Phylis Bennis’ perspective on the conflict, and she, too, boiled the issue down to land, but talked at length about the problematic implications of US involvement in the conflict. What do you think it would look like if the U.S. withdrew support from Israel? While I feel there would be a lot of pushback and potential threat to doing so, it is arguably the right thing to do – what do you think?
Thank you for your comment and your question is definitely one that is interesting to ponder. While I am in no way an expert on this topic, I still feel that there like you said could be possibly dangerous consequences of an immediate U.S withdrawal of all support to Israel. Iran is notoriously hostile towards Israel, and if the regime in Teheran feels that the U.S is rolling back on support for Netanyahu perhaps it would be emboldened to take an even more aggressive stance against Israel. At the same time, leaving Israel more exposed could possibly serve as leverage to force a change in the Israeli settlement that is illegal according to international law. There’s no doubt though that the power relations in the region would change drastically.
Excellent job Hannes for this in depth review of the lecture given by Professor Gelvin and him response to the roots of the Israel-Palestine dispute. It is a very interesting point that though at the heart of the debacle both Israels and Palestinians are arguing that each claim ancestral homeland, it is clear that both people are being mobilized by nationalism. This in fact furthers the importance and significance of the cultural bloodstream of both people that differs greatly, creating hundreds of thousands of deaths. I’m no expert when it comes to the trends of causation for which wars/violence are created, but if I had to guess, nationalism seems to be a key component. To mobilize an entire nation to dehumanize and in fact use violence against others must be created and supported by a mechanism that drives alongside national unity. America has justified many wars through this technique of nationalism and in turn have sacrificed a number of deaths. It is very important to acknowledge these U.S. related events prior to consider our opinion of foreign nationalistic wars. If nationalism / extreme unity is a major cause towards war, would it be safe to say that world peace is found through the importance and beauty of diversifying opinions?
Thank you for your kind words! The answer to finding world peace seems to have eluded humanity for quite some time, so I assume that there is no one simple solution. However, I’m certain that your point, the importance of tolerance and acceptance towards others whom we might not agree with, is an absolutely essential component!
This sounds like quite an interesting lecture, I think that when the Israel was recognized as a country in 1948, that some type of conflict was inevitable. Moving in are people who have suffered an unimaginable tragedy moved into another nation and expected to completely mingle with the current population. I think that the creation of the Israeli state should have been more gradual with more discussions and a cap on yearly immigration. The sudden influx of people struggling to gain a foothold in another country was bound to lead to conflict. I wonder if Gelvin has any theories or ideas on how this situation could have been implemented better and what effects he believes that the sudden influx of Jewish people had on the region. You touched on the scale of the conflict with around 150,000 perishing in the fighting and how it pales in comparison to other conflicts at the time. I think that this is due to the US support of Israel and the constant coverage of the events compared to other conflicts at the time. I think that this speaks to how we view the loss of human life in other countries and which countries “matter” more when it comes to death and war.
Thank you for your analysis on Gelvin’s lecture, I am sure it was information filled and extremely interesting. I have heard about the Israel – Palestine conflict for years but I am ashamed to admit that I do not know as much about it as I should. I know that it is extremely complicated and there is fault to be had on both sides. It is obviously very important to understand large global issues and it is a great idea to enlist the help of an award winning researcher.
I was at the lecture given by Gelvin and took away from it many of the same thoughts that you did. I enjoyed his quick report on the history of the Israel- Palestine conflict and how we got to the point where we are at today. It was fascinating to me all of the peace talks and the failures that have come from many attempts to negotiate territory. The sense I got from his talk is that the Israeli side is being a bit unfair and not negotiating like it wants to get anything meaningful done and this could come from the fact that they seem to be in a position of power. Also, I only knew about the conflict a little bit before the lecture and knew about the Embassy building moving to Jerusalem under Trump. I remember seeing news reports of the Trump administration smiling and opening the building while protestors on the Palestinian side were being shot at and some killed by soldiers on the Israeli side. It seems to me like a very big humanitarian crises that the United States doesn’t want to solve and clearly has given support to one side who also doesn’t seem to have an issue with the poor conditions of the Palestinians.
Regrettably, I was not able to attend this lecture. Thank you for summarizing it in this article. From what I know about this conflict, I think it goes deeper than land. I think there are great religious and historical ties on both sides that make the Israeli- Palestine conflict more complicated and intense than a conflict over land. I would like to know that history in relation to the land’s significance to the topic, and how if one changes focus would the reasons, and perhaps the solutions, for the conflict change. Further, what are some ways to alleviate the suffering of both peoples?
Wow, this article was amazing to read and it really grabbed my attention of the on-going conflict between Israel and the Palestine’s. I did not realize that Zionism is a form of Jewish nationalism and Palestine nationalism arose to combat Zionism. Throughout the article it is very clear that the Palestine’s and the Israelis are fighting over land in which both sides claim ancestral rights to. These views makes it very hard to find a solution where opposing religions clash with each other. Another important aspect of the article is the U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East where they serve as a broker and support more of the Israel cause. All these reasons and factors play a huge part in the Israel and Palestine conflict which allows the conflict to continue longer.
I am sad that i could not make the talk, but happy that it was so worth it. It is so interesting the relationship between Israeli and Palestine, but also the whole region. The relationships between the countries i feel like is very unique. Because they compete in the same markets, but they also have faced their religion problems differently. I feel like this is an example of how the US went in and tried to fix something but ended up making the region worse off. While it was the UN that made the move to see Israeli its own country, America did help, and then we just kind of let them be.
This issue has always intrigued, but also confused me. Whenever I hear someone criticizing either group of people I wonder what could be done in order to make this region more stable. I think what makes it so hard is because of what happened to the Jewish people during the Holocaust. One cannot help but have empathy for them, while at the same time, the creation of an Israeli state in a place that already has a different group of people living there. It creates an immense number of displaced people which is not fair to them either. That’s why I think this topic is so tricky because you feel for both groups of people in the region. On the one hand I feel as though there should definitely be an Israeli state after the Holocaust, but then the consequences displace people that have lived there for centuries. It’s also interesting to see how certain political agendas treat this issue. It’s an overall tragic situation that I think needs to be dealt with in a more humane fashion. You did a great job of breaking the lecture down and analyzing it. Thanks for the article!
Very fascinating account of the talk. I will have to see if I can find a recording in the near future. Over the years, I’ve gained the feeling that it’s very difficult to follow the Israel – Palestine conflict, simply because the political atmosphere, and its surrounding propaganda, has become quite messy. One point that stuck out quite a lot for me was that the interference from the global community has been the biggest hindrance in coming up with a solution. It highlights the importance of good mediation skills in foreign policy. This could never be the case, though, given the United States’ well known preference of Israel over Palestine.
I unfortunately could not make the lecture, so I am glad you wrote this report! It is quite interesting what grabs headlines and when, especially when considering the totality of what goes on in the world. It sounds like Gelvin was on the Palestinian “side,” if you will. Did he give reasoning for that in his lecture? Did he seem to have any idea of a solution to the conflict?
As we mentioned in class today, if people continued to fight over their ancestral homelands, the wars would never end due to the nature of human migration. When do we draw that line?
Thank you for your comment and your questions. I might not have stressed that point enough, but I think Gelvin did a good job of keeping the description of the conflict objective. He stated the reasons for why the Israeli state came into place and how it was a reaction to the long-running anti-semitism in Europe, and I did not get the impression that he was against the Israel state per se. However, I felt that he recognized the illegality of the current Israeli settlement policies, and that Israel as it stands now is the more powerful entity if one compares Israel and Palestine. Since he was for recognizing Palestine as a state, I also got the impression that he saw the current status of Palestine as a partially annexed territory and not a sovereign state as not being a just state of affairs. That being said, he still highlighted some of the methods used by the PLO to keep focus on the Palestinian question as not being particularly moral.
He got the question of how to solve the conflict, and his answer was that what the U.S can do is to rethink its alliances in the region. He stated that U.S policy in Israel since the Cold War has bee locked into thinking that it has to work via its allies, for example Saudi Arabia, and that it could perhaps be a fruitful strategy to act more independently of those allies as they tend to have their own agendas and local geopolitical goals in sight.
Galvin mentioned that it is important to see this conflict as not one about claims to ancestral land that are legitimized by religion, but as claims to land legitimized (or driven by) modern nationalism. I guess as we discussed in class and just as you say that it is important to see that history is not a very good tool to decide who has right to territory and who doesn’t, as that would keep us fighting for a million years. To make someone that fueled by the notion of ancestral right and willing to die for it to change their mind is the tricky question.
I appreciate you taking to time to share the experience that you had at this lecture. I was unable to attend and was glad for the opportunity to hear about it. While the speaker put the loss of life in this conflict in perspective, I wonder what consideration if any should be made for other wars in the region that have been sparked by or spurred on by the Israeli – Palestinian conflict and the foreign interference that Gelvin referred to? I agree with the idea that Gelvin presented regarding the root of the conflict being about who has the right to a specific piece of land. One can see how this would make a resolution difficult to achieve as both sides firmly believe that the land was given to them by God. Unfortunately, this conflict is not helped by the constant barrage of propaganda utilized by multiple parties to garner and maintain support for their side. One only hopes that as time moves forward, a peaceful and equitable resolution may someday be reached.
Hello Hannes, thank you for providing such a detailed analysis of Professor Gelvin’s lecture. I had the chance to attend the lecture myself, and I would agree with you that Professor Gelvin did give an in depth overview of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a very swift fashion. I particularly liked Professor Gelvin’s quote that you used in your article from the lecture when he stated: “The U.S right now seems to have a reversed Midas touch in the Middle East, everything we touch turns into… well, it does not turn into gold” (James Gelvin). This line received a muffled laugh from the audience, and unfortunately I would find it is an accurate description of U.S. Middle Eastern policy from at least the gulf war onwards and perhaps even before the gulf war. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is certainly a historical conflict and it has been interesting to watch new developments play out just in the past half a year in terms of the direction the conflict is headed.
Wow thank you for the article, as someone who didn’t attend the event I am glad to at least have this summary to look at. Relations breaking down due to violence does not surprise me, but I am glad to see that at least there is deliberation. I should probably care more about this topic and I feel like the fact that there is debate here in the US is also a good sign. We have to be careful not to bully the belligerents into a compromise that only benefits us and not the people in the original conflict.Once again thank you for your post this was most helpful.
Hannes, thank you for this article; it is a really good follow up from the Gelvin lecture and a useful reminder after the Bennis lecture this last Tuesday. I think Gelvin’s approach to the subject was clever. Because he went over it as a land dispute and not a religious or racial problem, I think it was easier for people to see the roots of the conflict. However, Gelvin’s lecture entirely skipped over the human rights of the two groups of people (luckily Phyllis Bennis did a fantastic job elaborating on that in her lecture). Gelvin also minimized the significance of the 150,000 dead in this conflict. While I understand the argument that the other conflicts in the middle east are horrifically larger, it should still be concerning that in this recent history, this many people are dying over land in Israel and countless other regions. I think the lecture itself was pretty even-handed, so I appreciate your insights about his opinion regarding the US recognizing Israel versus Sweden recognizing Palestine. I can’t say that I’m surprised that the more socialized part of the world is seemingly more concerned with the people than the potential for proxy wars. How did Sweden come to this decision? It will be interesting to see the continuing developments in this conflict as we hopefully move forward into a generation that puts human rights as a priority.
Thank you for your comment and your question!
The Swedish Government issued an official statement on the day of the recognition of Palestine, stating that the purpose was to make the relations between Sweden and Israel and Sweden and Palestine equal, as they are both part of the two-state solution that most people see as the best alternative for creating sustainable peace in the region. The hope was also that a recognition would strengthen the moderate powers in Palestine that hopefully are the ones that will manage the fledgling state during the negotiations with Israel. Another belief was that this could hopefully give some hope for the future for young Israelis and Palestinians that there is an alternative to the current status quo of violence and fear.
I agree with you that the development if the conflict will be interesting to follow, and hopefully the deadlock will be broken in the foreseeable future.
Thank you for this article!
This presentation sounds like it was worthwhile to attend. I wanted to go to this talk but I had a conflict so I am grateful for this recap. I believe this talk was really important because not many people take the time to educate themselves on such topics. I think it is really interesting to think about the population being that large all in the size of New Jersey. It would make a lot of sense why there was so much conflict. I think the quote about the reversed Midas touch was really interesting. I think many people in the United States believe we achieve well in all we do but it is important to be critical and really understand the consequences of our actions and what we support.
Thank you so much for the detailed article, I also wasn’t able to attend so this was definitely helpful. There are so many on-going conflicts in the world today but the length of the the Israeli-Palestinian conflict makes it very worrying and of course devastating. I think one of the important points that you brought up was the outsiders implications in the conflict and how it became more difficult for them to find solutions. I think this is an important point to recognize because power and authority sometimes have a problem in drawing a line when it comes to control. There are many examples in which dominant power has resulted in worsening conditions because of a lack of sufficient understand of the local area. I do hope that the conditions get better soon.
It is so wonderful that the college hosts so many wonderful speakers for us to attend a increase our global understanding. Although I couldn’t attend, this one in particular seemed especially important since we hear so much about it yet we may not fully understand. I really enjoyed the descriptive and illustrative way you described the speaker. When someone is passionate about their subject it really shows in their speech. One point I found interesting was that the trouble was often prolonged despite foreign assistance to foster a resolution, yet he thought that U.S. action in taking a side should take place. I would be interested to hear more about why he supports the Palestinian side. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for an excellent review of a lecture I desperately wish I could have attended. I have always found the Israel-Palestine conflict interesting and devastating. It has always seemed to me that there was simply not enough Earth in the Middle East to satisfy the needs of everyone living there. I found the quote you provided from the speaker, “the U.S right now seems to have a reversed Midas touch in the Middle East, everything we touch turn into… well, it does not turn into gold” to be really intriguing and definitely is something I agree with. Although we must not be complicit in this conflict, I really wonder if the US is on the wrong side of history in supporting Israel so fully as we seem to have been doing recently. I think to essentially discount a group of people like the Palestinians is wrong and there must be some way to achieve peace without continuing on in this war between Israel and Palestine. Thank you for an excellent review of what sounds like an incredible lecture.
I greatly appreciated your review and ideas behind this lecture. Although I was not able to attend this one, I did happen to make it to a similar one that was speaking on the same topic. The speaker that I listened to had similar views of the situation. America used their power to support the Jewish community in this part of the world. She even spoke of how awful it is to live in that area as of now as a Palestinian. She spoke of all of the human rights violations that are occurring against the Palestine population and how the United States has a hand in all of what is happening. I think sometimes the United States just needs to keep to themselves. We think we are changing the area for the better but often times we are leaving it much worse then when we arrived. Thanks for the review!
Thanks for the review on this lecture! I, unfortunately, did not get to attend the lecture. However, everyone I talked to really enjoyed the lecture, and they all seemed to take a lot away from it. I think this was a very good topic to discuss. I feel many people don’t really understand a lot of the componants, so having this lecture was a good educational experience.
It was insightful reading your article especially in regards that I did not get the chance to attend this particular lecture. From your article it seems like Gelving did a good not being biased on either side which can be a difficult thing. I have to admit the conflict is a tough issue, however it is something that needs to be acknowleged and analyzed. I have little knowledge on the conflict but I was able to attend the second lecture by Phyllis Bennis on the same series. One thing that she introduced is the idea that the conflict can be treated as a neo-colonial ideal. It is an issue of gaining control and keeping control on the region. This idea compeletly disregards the rights of the people on the region no matter their position. One of the main idea that we are exploring in my human rights class is how do we attain peace in a plausiable way without going to war or sacrificing human lives. I believe this ideal can be corporated into the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Although, I beleive that this an ideal that needs be observed and will will continue to be observed for quite sometime. I am speticale that the answer would be found on our lifetime. Thank you for sharing, this article has left me with ideas that I will continue to look into.
Having the author give an unbiased article is great because it could reach out to a more diverse set of readers. He had a very interesting approach to the article giving us as the readers more to think about. Palestine is a very hostile place and the article did an excellent job of telling us about it. The historical significance of this event also gives the article more purpose and was very intriguing to read. Overall I think that it was a very well written article
I was interested in reading more on your article because I am currently in world history and saw the focus was on a dispute in Israel. I do not have the strongest understanding on this culture so I felt the article would be informational and insightful as it comes from your experience listening to an Expert on Middle Eastern history. I feel learning and knowing about both past and current issues and information is important.
It was interesting to read how many people, 19 million to be exact, were packed into an area the size of New Jersey. I automatically feel this area will have stressful lives with such a dense population. I would understand that with this many people in such a small area people’s differences, such as belief systems, may seem more dividing and agitating. However, it is still tragic how many lives have been lost due to divided beliefs and war.
I am currently reading “Worlds Together, Worlds Apart” by Tignor et al. and recently we have read and discussed how cultures developed into “The World” during the 1000-1300 CE era and events in Afro-Eurasia during the 1300-1500 CE era. It is interesting to compare these more recent events that were filled with conflicts between different nationalisms and beliefs to how once differences in things such as religion coexisted peacefully. Looking at India specifically in 1000-1300 CE as Tignor et al. stated, migration and trade introduced more cultures and religions. However, this cross-cultural integration preserved diversity and promoted unity (p.365, 2018). Comparing how differences brought a form of unity to diverse populations verses the conflicts recently between different nationalisms and disputes over territory is intriguing. Further that other foreign interference, such as the United States, has only created more difficulty to finding a solution. I enjoyed reading your article and I felt it was very informational and thought provoking to recent and current events we have in the world today.
Thank you for your summary and review of Gelvin’s lecture on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I have heard a lot about this conflict, but never really knew the overall details, so I appreciate your great summary of the events. I think it is interesting that there are so many conflicts that have been blown up because of globalization. Because of our current technology, it is possible to know what is going on in every part of the world. This is also partly because we have a global market and we are becoming more connected with one another. The Israel – Palestine conflict is a complex topic and it is great that we have the opportunity to learn more about it from well-informed lecturers like Gelvin.