Dysfunctional neighborhood

As I wrote in my immediately previous post, as Israel and Hezbollah fling missiles at each other and as the civilian casualty count inevitably mounts in the conflict, we’re all searching for understanding. I recognize that “comparisons are odious” (attributed to Cervantes but, somehow, I think there may be a Latin original) or, perhaps more to the point as Dogberry put it, “Comparisons are odorous”. However, an analogy has been rattling around in my skull for several days now.

Consider the situation of Israel. They’ve moved into a neighborhood with the assistance of a wealthy backer despite restrictive covenants. Before they moved in everyone in the neighborhood were cousins and their neighbors hate them. The local community association is now the “Association for Everybody But Them”.

Their next door neighbor’s kid has fired a shotgun through their front window, stolen and tortured their cat, and now he’s kidnapped their own twelve year old. What do they do?

They’ve tried appealing to their neighbors. For years. To no avail. They’ve called the police. A squad car was dispatched but the officers have done little more than park in front of their house, drink coffee, and eat donuts. The most they’ve gotten from the authorities is that they’ve been issued several tickets for disturbing the peace and for filing false police reports (regardless of the truth of the reports).

What do they do? The situation is serious: they’ve decided to take matters into their own hands.

Consider the situation of Lebanon. Neighbors have moved in next door. They’re strangers and have moved into a neighborhood which was, basically, a large extended family. They don’t belong to the local church, their ways are different, and they talk funny.

Their kid has fired a shotgun through the neighbor’s front window, stolen and tortured the neighbor’s cat, and is now holding the neighbor’s twelve year old in the basement. What do they do?

They know their kid’s a psychotic—he’s still their kid. Mom will divorce dad if he takes as firm a hand as is needed. They don’t want to call the police—except to complain about the neighbor. They won’t make any points with the rest of the neighbors by siding with the newcomer against their own kid.

What’s worse, the drug dealer across town has started giving the kid arms and encouragement in his thuggery.

Torn between the alternatives of tearing their family apart (not to mention the neighborhood), they elect to do nothing and hope it will all blow away.

I’m not trying to trivialize the situation. Real people are really losing their lives, this present outbreak of hostilities will have consequences that will reverberate for generations, and I wonder if anyone will really have won when the dust has settled.

I guess my point is that the situation is tragic but very understandable, even prosaic.

4 comments… add one
  • Hi dave,
    Pretty good analogy!

    I would take issue with only one thing…the idea that Israel `moved into the neighborhood.’

    The Jews ALWAYS lived in Israel…when Mark Twain visited the Holy Land in the 1870’s it was a depopulated Ottoman backwater except for two cities -Safed and Jerusalem – with a majority population of Jews, based on the Ottoman’s own census figures. As Palestine became a popular destination for Jews fleeing stuff like the Chelmnitsky pogroms in Europe and beganbulding farms and businesses, Arabs moved there from Egypt, the Hejaz. Lebanon and Syria because there was actually employment for them there. I have a friend in Israel who can trace her residence there back to the 16th Century..and she’s by no means unique.

    To change your analogy just a bit: some long time residents in a destitute slum neighborhood finally were able to bring relatives into the area and turned it into a high class, posh garden..at which point they attracted the envy and hatred of neighbors in the surrounding slum properties who were angry at them for showing them up and being successful at improving their property whike the rest of the area was still slums.

    Some of the neighbors moved into the improved garden because there was work and relative properity and chose to stay and enjoy it. Others left, expecting their scuzzy gangbanger pals to destroy the place and kill off the residents so that they could steal what the residents had created…except it didn’t work out that way, and they have hated the inhabitants of the garden ever since.

    You might like Joan Peter’s book `From Time Immemorial’ .

    Great piece, sorry if I seem to be nitpicking.

  • Not at all. Thanks.  As I noted at the very outset, I recognized that the analogy was imperfect.

    The point I was trying to make is the complete comprehensibility of reactions on all sides. I’d thought of revising my original image by saying that the neighbor’s grandfather had originally homesteaded the area but I felt it was unnecessary to the basic point, which was how human the motivations were.

    As to “always living there”, Herodotus (the earliest non-Biblical account of the area) mentions that there were some Bedouins there, too, as does practically every subsequent account. So in some sense the Arabs have “always been there”, too. It wasn’t relevant to my point.

  • Re Arabs moved there from Egypt, the Hejaz. Lebanon and Syria because there was actually employment for them there.


    Some of the population that is presently Arabic speaking came ‘from elsewhere’ (of course true of any population, anywhere), but as Dave notes, there were Arabic speakers there since Antiquity.

    However, more to the point, most of the present Arabic speaking population, Xian or Muslim, clearly descends from in situ converts – as is the case of Egypt, and Syria, etc. etc. – not “Arab” in the genetic sense of descending from bedouine immigrants. Xian and Muslim Arabs in Palestine (and again, neighbours) clearly descend more from peoples who were not originally Arab, but over the millenia, acculturated. Previously said peoples were likely Canaanites, Greeks, Hittites, Hebrews (yes, indeed, conversions are well documented), etc. etc.

    The pernicious use on both sides of completely mythological and fabulated history of “always” being there.

    Repeated such myths as if they were true merely shows ignorance and gullibility.

  • Yes, Lounbury, that’s precisely my position. I really wish people were taking a day-forward view of the whole mess.

    The best archaeological and paleontological evidence at hand suggests that the ancient Palestine and, indeed, the entire Mediterranean area was much as Israel, the Palestinian territories, and Lebanon are now: a hodge-podge of Arabs, Indo-Europeans, “Syrians” (probably just anybody who spoke Aramaic), Egyptians, and others e.g. Elamites. The problem with the “always there” myth is that everybody was always there. How is one claim better than another?

    Until you start going into various people’s holy books which are, of course, without bias and of perfect historicity.

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