Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A 3-Part Post

Part 1: Responses to previous comments

@ba3kawy: you are right. I take my words back. It just shows how difficult it is to communicate when we don't share the same beliefs. I promise to try harder!

@EngineeringChange: you said "I.B--What do you mean your perception has changed?". I'll try to explain this in Part 2 of this post.

@Mon 0eil: your comment will not be understood correctly by Arabs. Please see Part 2 - I hope I can explain what I've realized.

@Blue: I don't think anymore that the Arab media is biased against Israel. I thought so up until a few days ago, but no longer. I now think it truthfully depicts events IN THE WAY THE ARAB WORLD UNDERSTANDS THEM. Israelis understand this as bias.

@Mohammed, @Egyptian-in-USA: I will try to answer you in Part 3 - but *please* read Part 2 first.

Part 2: Explaining what I have realized

This is really difficult to explain, so please let me know if I didn't do a good job, and I'll try again.

My realization has to do with a concept called Mental Models:
A mental model is an explanation in someone's thought process for how something works in the real world.
(source: Wikipedia)

People are not aware of their own mental models. We accept them as absolute truths without even thinking about them.

For example, if I see a glass cup fall from high above onto a hard surface, and the glass does not break, I will look for some way to explain this using the concepts of my mental model - my understanding of events around me. If I lived in the dark ages - I most likely would have thought the cup has been taken by a demon. Nowadays, I will probably check if the cup was in fact made of plastic and not glass.

People are extremely resistant to changing their mental models. For ages, people explained the rising and setting of the sun as gods moving in the sky. Imagine going back in time, and telling an ancient greek that the earth orbits the sun: if you're lucky, that greek will only think you're crazy. Your explanation will not match his mental model - his understanding of how the universe works. You might try to reason with him, and tell him that your model explains many things, like solar eclipses, or the seasons. But his response to you will be: "nonsense - eclipses are the will of Helios, and seasons are the will of Zeus!".

In LOTR, think of Gollum/Smeagol. Gollum and Smeagol have different mental models - different explanations of reality. They see the same things, yet explain them in a totally different way:
Gollum: Master tricked us
Smeagol: No, Master is kind to us
In this example, Gollum and Smeagol use their mental models in order to guess Frodo's intentions. This is a crucial point. Frodo wants to save Smeagol from the archers, so he betrays Gollum to Faramir. Gollum is certain that Frodo is evil, and this mental model is strengthened by this action. Smeagol's mental model cannot cope with this action - because he doesn't have all the information.

My realization is that Arabs and Israelis have completely different mental models for describing the conflict! We both see a single action taken by the other side, but, like Gollum/Smeagol, when we guess the other side's intentions, we reach different conclusions. This is why you do not believe the Hizballa is firing rockets from civilian villages and I do. Before realizing this, I kept thinking: "hey, these Arabs are crazy. There's no point talking to them. How can they not see the Hizballa terrorists are firing from within villages?". Now I think: "ok, these Arabs are not crazy. If someone told me Luke Skywalker was using evil tactics in his fight against the Evil Empire, of course I wouldn't believe that".

Part 3: How Israelis think

First of all: there are at least 3 different Israeli mental models of the conflict (probably more).

To many in the Religious Jewish Right Wing: Israel belongs to the Jews. This Holy land was given to the Jews by God. It is God's will that we live here, and it is God's will that we defend our land. This is the absolute truth.

To many in the Right Wing (orthodox or not): We are normal people, but Arabs want to kill us. Arabs are liers and are bloodthirsty. We can't trust them. We do not share the same values. They are not ashamed of lying about us in the newspapers and inciting violence. No matter what we do: they will try to kill us. They will keep trying to kill us even if we gave up Tel Aviv. We have to defend ourselves. Giving up land is a mistake, because Arabs will interpret this as a sign of weakness, and this will encourage them to keep trying to kill us. Israeli aggression may not solve the conflict, but at least it will buy us some quiet for a time. Our aggression is justified, because it is in self defence. This is the absolute truth.

To many in the Left Wing ("peace camp"): Indeed, there were Arab villages in Israel before we came back here, but there were also Jews who lived here. Israel has done many things to oppress Palestinians. The occupation is wrong. Settlements are a mistake. The Palestinian resistence is in many ways (but not all) Isreal's fault. Suicide bombers are the result of extreme poverty. But at least some Arabs are reasonable people, and if we show them we mean peace (for example, by withdrawing from Gaza) - they will stop the violence, and we can work together towards a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

We Israelis, who have these different explanations for reality, are in a constant argument with each other.

Most importantly: like Gollum/Smeagol - our interpretation of Arab actions - and our guesses of Arab intentions - depend on our mental models.

The Left Wing's interpretation has been significantly weakened by the events of the past few months. Many of us thought that by withdrawing from Gaza, we are sending a signal of peace. We definitly didn't expect more Qassam missiles, kidnapping of soldiers or Katyusha rockets on Haifa. Our mental model was not supported by reality, and many are now looking for an alternative model - accepting the Right Wing model as the truth.

What I realized through our discussion, is that neither model can explain Arab intentions and actions. I now have my own, different, mental model of the conflict.


Egyptian-in-USA said...

This was informative.

I would like to comment on:

"Israeli aggression may not solve the conflict, but at least it will buy us some quiet for a time"

1- It is NEW to my ears to hear those words "Israeli aggression" from an Israeli.

2- This a big mistake in your strategy: "Israeli aggression" does not buy you time, instead it basically set the right environment for radicalizing our young people. This is a big mistake that you are doing and both you and us will pay for it later in terms of more innocent children getting killed.

3- Finally, you and us have to "pull the carpet" from underneath the extremists on both sides .... Give us our land back, allow the refugees to return and we will defend you from any danger.

We did this in the past and we will do it in the future if we have real peace.

Israeli Blogger said...

@Egyptian-in-USA: you said "This a big mistake in your strategy".

This is not my strategy.

This the view taken by the Israeli Right Wing. I used to subscribe to the view of the Left Wing (and still subscribe to major parts of it).

A significant part of the Israeli population does not subscribe to this view. Or at least - did not subscribe to this view until the Hizballa kidnapped our soldiers and fired rockets at our civilians without any justification THAT WAS APPARENT TO US.

To 99% of the Jewish Israelis: the acts of Hizballa prove the Right Wing view (at least with regard to Hizballa). The Left Wing model could not explain this action. The Right Wing view can. As a result, most Israelis see our attack on Lebanon is justified.

As for returning land: as long as the Right Wing view is accepted by a majority of Jews - land will not be returned (because, according to that view, returning land will only cause more violence).

For more land to be returned, the Right Wing view needs to be PROVEN to be false. However, since the Left Wing view cannot explain Arab actions (while the Right Wing view can), this is not happenning.

Egyptian-in-USA said...

I did not mean you by saying "you"; I meant the Israeli's strategy. Sorry for the confusion.

I think the left-wing model can explain Hozballah action since:

1- Israel have many lebanese prisoners that Hazballah would like to free them ... so by releasing those lebanese prisonrs from your prions, you can prevent the kidnapping of future soldiers.

2- Hizballah think that Shaba is a lebanese occupied land and not a syrian occupied land ... so the left-wing model could say that by returning this "lebanese" occupied land back to lebanon we can prevent more rocket attacks on our north cities.

3- Moreover, the Hezballah people can easily identify themselves as part of a large muslim nation and if any muslim is hurt any where in the world they should and would help defending these muslims (the palestanians in this case) ... so again the left-wing model could explain the situation by saying that as long as occupy any arabic land, other arabs (muslims) will come to aid those palestanians and will attack us in the process.

So ... again return the land, win the peace and save our children and yours and let us give them a better tomorrow.

Israeli Blogger said...

There's something I forgot to explain about the Left Wing view.

Let me stress again: I used to subscribe to this view, but I now understand it's flaw.

According the Left Wing view, there are two groups in the Arab population: regular civilians (who are the reasonable people), and terrorists - who are religious fanatics who will always attack Israel, will lie without shame, and will resort to barbaric tactics.

According to this view, the Lebanese prisoners in Israel are terrorists. And Hizballa are terrorists. Therefore, the whole Sheba Farms argument is just an excuse to keep attacking Israel (since "Sheba Farms are Syrian land and not Lebanese land").

According to the Left Wing view - the reasonable Arab civilians cannot possibly believe the lies of the terrorists.

The Left Wing's view predicted that, after we exit Lebanon and Gaza, the reasonable Arabs, would either fight the terrorist's violence, or at least understand Israel's aggression towards the terrorists. That did not happen - so many people who subscribed to this view stopped believing there are reasonable Arabs.

I now understand that the model failed, not because arabs are not reasonable, but because Arabs and Israelis simply interpret reality in totally different ways. We think you will interpret our actions one way, but you interpret them in a totally different way!

Lasto-adri *Blue* said...

Well I.B., this post is quite objective and impressive.. you bet for that..
Egyptian in usa already tackled some in his comments..
However, still more I got to add.. You said “Let me stress again: I used to subscribe to this view, but I now understand it's flaw.”.. so you are subscribing to the “Jewish Right Wing” or what exactly… just curious to know..

one thing keeps irritating me whenever I read “HizbALLAH” are terrorists!! Are they really are?!
Since when resistance means terrorism?!
Tell me something I.B., if Hizb ALLAh wasn’t there, and just after the Syrian army left Lebanon .. only one year away.. won’t your country seek to take Lebanon as well to finalize the Israeli - Jewish dream of having the great Israel?

One more thing to ask about, you said “We think you will interpret our actions one way, but you interpret them in a totally different way!”
I do not seem to get it .. sorry..
Which “we” you mean??! “we” as in the Israeli nation, or the Israeli gov. ? because if it’s the Israeli gov. –forgive me- it’s a disaster!!

You know what I got from the whole talk.. is that “the action” and “the reaction” are a bit lost in the words.
Arabs try to prove that all their current situation and resistance is simply a “reaction” to the aggression of an invader..
While the Israelis try to erase part of time to prove they have the “reaction” as well..

Save the death covering the area.. save the fear and terror.. save the blood shed every where.. save the tears of mothers.. save the cries out of injustice..
Just give the rights back.. Acknowledge Palestine.. set Arab prisoners free.. let the refugees return back home having their rights.. accept Palestinians as equal citizens, stop the catastrophic hatred and discriminations.. then as Egyptian in usa said : “we will defend JEWS from any danger” just like how it was around 50 years ago

Israeli Blogger said...

@Blue: thanks for the compliment. Just to make sure your compliment isn't premature - I just made a small modification to my previous note to you in the post.

I previously wrote:

"I don't think anymore that the Arab media is biased against Israel. "

I now added:

"I now think it truthfully depicts events IN THE WAY THE ARAB WORLD UNDERSTANDS THEM. Israelis understand this as bias."

I hope that doesn't make you think the post is no longer objective. Please let me know.

You asked if I now subscribe to the right wing view: the answer is no. I do not subscribe to that view (nor to the religious view). I have my own view now, which is different from that of most other Israelis, and is much closer to the Left Wing view than it is to the Right Wing view.

As for referring to Hizballa as terrorists: what I'm trying to explain to you is that this is how almost ALL Isrealis see Hizballa. This is our mental model of them. Just as you see Israel as the Evil Empire: we see Hizballa as terrorists. We try to guess their intentions based on our perception of them as such.

For Israelis to stop seeing Hizballa as terrorists, Hizballa must act in a way that stops reinforcing this Israeli perception. Hizballa's latest actions did just the opposite: they REINFORCED our perception of them as terrorists (just as Israel's actions in Lebanon REINFORCED the Arab perception of Israel as the Evil Empire).

Blue, I admire your promise to defend Jews - understanding now how you see us. But this is something that cannot be. I will explain in an upcoming post.


EngineeringChange said...

Great and informative post I.B and nice discussion so far. I would like to add:

1. The Gaza pullout failed because this whole thing was seen as nothing more than a big ploy to gain more lands in the west bank--it was NOT interpreted as a signal of peace by ANYONE. It is crucial that you and the peace camp understand that. No Arab would trust something that is the brainchild of Sharon, a criminal and wily settlement supporter in his time.

2. Its all about 'critical mass.' (in a nuclear reaction, a 'critical mass' is what allows the reaction to proceed self-sustaining) You can't just pull out of Gaza because that won't pull together a 'critical mass' of Palestinians committed to peace. The only way to achieve a 'critical mass' is to tackle all the issues--a contiguous Palestine in the West Bank with NO settlements, some solution for the Palestinian refugees, Jeruselem. If these issues are solved, only then will a critical mass rise up and oppose the arab extremists. Only then will I rise up and say no more attacks on Israel. We would risk our livlihoods in that case because nobody of the critical mass would want to back to war.

Until then, any attack on Israel's army is fair game to me and any other moderate arab. I don't care if you pulled out of Gaza or Lebanon. No way you can pull out of Gaza and simultaneously expand West Bank settlements and honestly expect no rockets will be fired at you and no kidnappings will take place. I think the Israeli peace camp needs to eliminate the thinking that these are all seperate issues--because it is all tied together.

That is why I was so angry with Israel's reaction to the kidnapping of Gilad in Gaza. Hamas put together a strike against the Israeli military--rather than a suicide bombing or attack on civilians. This is how it should be in my mind. And how does Israel respond? Destroying Gaza--now Hamas must be thinking, well lets go back to targeting civilians.

You 'terrorists' and our 'resistance' subscribe to the theory that Israel will only respond to pressure. This makes sense thoughout history. For example--the Golan is absolutely quiet--so Israel annexs it and many Israelis have no intention of ever returning it--why should they? No pressure.
Then you go to Gaza--pressure, so Israel leaves. Lebanon, so Israel leaves. West Bank, pressure....???? we will see.

That is one of the main reasons why these people fight and apply pressure--otherwise Israel would never change a thing.

There are of course extremists who believe all of Palestine is Muslim and will fight forever. But it is key to just make these people the minority, and Israel's policy of agression does exactly the opposite.