Monday, June 30, 2008

Success and Narrative Arcs

The issue of Israel returning terrorists to their homes distresses me. How is it that the remains of Israeli soldiers warrant the release of a living prisoner guilty of a particularly horrific crime? How is it that the life of on living Israeli soldier is worth that of possibly 1,000 incarcerated prisoners, many of whom have 'blood on their hands?'

One problem is that victory is gauged narratively by ultimate result. If one is free for one's whole life but dies in jail it is considered a defeat, but an 11th hour liberation is construed as triumph. This has nothing to do with Israeli, Palestinian, Lebanese or Korean, it is how stories are told, we build to a climax and interpret the narrative arc by examining the trajectory from beginning to end. To counter this sort of political interpretation would it be possible to release prisoners from jail for a decade, maybe two, conditional their return to serve out the remaining sentence? The families would be reunited with their loved ones, and they would have an opportunity to put their life in order, but would live every day contemplating their cold solitary end. To liberate prisoners such as Samir Kuntar can only bolster a narrative in which resistance is victorious, bolstered by a triumphant narrative arc. (So what if the agreement is not enforceable in a meaningful way, non-compliance would provide leverage for future negotiations.)

One theory (which I am not going to track down at the moment) is that Israel is getting all its ducks in a row before it bombs Iran and arrests any possibility of negotiations with its neighbors. It doesn't alter the problem of narratives, but it would lessen my frustration with Israel's hasty gov't.

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