A common complaint about Americans, both domestically and abroad, is that we don’t pay much attention to foreign cultures and international events in which our government doesn’t have a direct stake. For example, in 2002, National Geographic conducted a survey which revealed that “roughly 85 percent of young Americans [from ages 18-24] could not find Afghanistan, Iraq, or Israel on a map.” Given this information, The Big Green set out to investigate whether this allegation is a myth, or if we actually are clueless.
The conflict in Israel is continuously in the news, and has been ever since the state’s creation. The United States has been a steady presence in the country, especially during the Clinton administration, leading the issue to a permanent place in The New York Times’ international section, where it likely will get even more space in the wake of the American election. On November 11, the day after the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s leader Yassir Arafat’s death, we asked local students what they knew about the Arab-Israeli conflict. Their answers were then combined into a history of the struggle, as told by university students half a globe’s distance away from it. The final product follows below, the world according to MSU:
Control of the land on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean has been contested and fought over for thousands of years. The current conflict dates back to biblical times, when the Egyptian tyrant Pontus Pilate exiled the Jewish people from their land, initiating an Arab migration into Jerusalem and its surrounding areas. The area and its population balanced on the brink of disaster for two millennia, but actual fighting did not break until the 1990s. Or was it the 1970s?
”They’ve been fighting for a while,” journalism junior Georgia Bistolaridis said.
The reasons behind the conflict are uncertain, but they’re believed to be rooted in differing perceptions of which deity to obey and which book of supernatural rules to follow.
[world] ”It’s about land, religion, and beliefs,” psychology sophomore Rachel Loskill said.
In an effort to reach peace, the Arab forces, led by the PLO started a war against the new Jewish state.
”They’re fighting for peace, something to do with freedom and peace,” general business administration junior Sheetal Prevadi said.
After the initial battles, which ended with Israel taking over all Palestinian territories, nothing happened for years and years, as if the whole region had disappeared.
“…,” everybody said.
There were no United Nations General Assembly resolutions on the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, no 1967 six day war, no 1982 invasion of Lebanon, no 1987 Palestinian uprising, no 1993 Oslo Accords. Israel and Palestine entered a black hole, only emerging when Arafat (“He’s the president of Palestine, right?”) died last Thursday. His death signaled a change in Palestinian leadership, a change the international community hopes will induce a more peaceful discourse between the two conflicting parties, bringing an end to the current intifadah. And what is that, now again?
”The Intifadah?” said civil engineering junior Eric Humesky. “The Wu-Tang Clan mentions them a lot. They’re Arabs.”
The United States, looking for more allies in their struggle against something, got involved sometime during the shrouded period. The country still plays a huge part in maintaining a dialogue between the Israelis and the PLO, now led by Palestinian Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, but neither George W. Bush’s administration or previous ones have sided with any one party.
”The U.S. is more of a mutual mediator,” Haskill said.
This story is based on comments from Haskill and 19 other random MSU students, whose most common answers were “I don’t know” and “Uhhhmm.” Pretentious elitists are compelled to mock such ignorance, but it’s important for condescending news consumers to remember that most (including myself) know just as little about what actually goes on in the world. While it’s easy to point our fingers and laugh derisively, we should examine our own habits as well as make fun of theirs. Only then will the question whether the region’s militant Palestinian group is called Hamas or Humus finally be resolved.
The UN has dedicated a site to Palestine at http://www.un.org/Depts/dpa/qpal/. Check it out for an alternative account of these events, but don’t expect historical accuracy. We all know what really happened, don’t we?

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