Near the Underlying Disagreement on Israeli Settlements


Tunku Varadarajan’s Weekend Interview with the India-born conductor of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Zubin Mehta, is worth a read for a variety of reasons, but chief among them is the subject’s unique perspective on the country in which he’s worked for decades:

Mr. Mehta is known in Israel for his vigorous opposition to the settlements. He describes to me a recent visit to the Palestinian city of Ramallah, where he is involved in teaching Western classical music to Arab children. “The houses there all have black cisterns for water,” he says. “Israel doesn’t supply them enough water, so they wait for the rainy season, which is brief. And across the hill there’s a settlement, and you see the flowers growing there in their gardens. It’s that close. So, I see the rage that goes on in the hearts of the Palestinian people, that ‘we have no water, and they’re planting flowers.’ ”

Now, let me be clear that I don’t know all of the particulars of Israel’s relationship with either Palestinian cities or Israeli settlements.  If Israel has some sort of agreement to supply water to the former, then it should do so; if that agreement is unreasonable, the country’s leaders should work to change it.

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Whatever the case, though, I do wonder how much the schism of opinion on this, as on much else, begins with a more fundamental difference of perspective.  In Mehta’s telling, the aggrieved Palestinians are angry that Israel gives water to its own settlements and not to the Palestinians.  Coming across the same observation, one might wonder, instead, why do the people on that hill have enough water and those in the city do not?

Perhaps the answer is that the Palestinians are rejecting Israel’s right to exist, which would make an objective third party a bit less sympathetic.  Or perhaps the answer is that Israel is using water as a point of leverage in broader negotiations, which would put its decisions in a darker light.

One suspects that the more common response among Palestinians and their Western sympathizers is to label the inadequate provision of water as an indication of a form of racism, removing all in-between questions about a nation’s responsibilities.