When two parties are having at each other, strictly speaking somebody has to have delivered the first blow. But how far back are we to reconstruct? Or, what amounts to the same thing, what’s the statute of limitations on retaliation? The answer, I suppose, is both context-dependent and, what amounts to the same thing, in the eyes of the beholder. Vis a vis 9/11, Americans claim “We wuzn’t doin’ nothin’!” But the man who attacked Salman Rushdie the other day was acting on a fatwah issued in 1989.
We’re tempted to say “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.” Or until the treaty is signed, implying that it is over when the fat lady sings, or the treaty is signed. But such solutions invariably just push the question back to Who’s entitled to sign on my behalf? You say that Jack’s living among us signals his explicit consent to be governed by our laws. But when it comes to this – though of course not that – Jack begs to differ. So nothing is ever conclusively settled, so long as Jack is alive to contest it.
In short, then, the Who-Started-It question is one I think we’d do well to retire from our moral and political discourse. What should be the issue is what always is the issue. What distribution of the cooperative dividend is and remains to our mutual advantage? The current balance of power is always and only that: the current balance thereof. Tomorrow may be a very different day.
This many years after ’48 and then ’67, are the Palestinian people content with their lot? Most are not. After this many years after the signing of Treaty Seven, are the Blackfoot content with theirs? Some are and some are not. The latter because they imagine a time when they were not second-class citizens. The former because they’ve been so assimilated that they’ve lost track of whether they’re among the settlers or the settled.
Jews and Arabs both claim to be indigenous to Palestine, as if indigeneity is some kind of moral trump card. It never has been, is not now, and never will be, neither in Palestine, nor in southern Alberta, nor in Devon or Cornwall. It’s a trump card if and only if both parties recognise it as such. And recognise who holds that card. This consensus is almost never the case. It’s almost always either the Doctrine of Discovery, or Manifest Destiny, or that after Calvary Jesus went on to the New World, or …
When the kids are fighting in the back seat, Dad wants to know who started it, whereas Mom suggests they all play a different game. “I spy with my little eye …” Some conflicts cannot be resolved. But standing on history is one way to ensure it’s not.