Is there any hope?

Human conflicts have been going on since the beginning of time, and now they have reached new heights (see news article copied below).

The Middle East conflict at 35,000 feet

By Paul Moss BBC News

It is not just the election results that show that Israelis have different views about who should be running the country: a flight to Tel Aviv can provide a glimpse into some of the simmering tensions in the Middle East.

The conflict was awfully familiar.

The Israelis were arguing with the non-Israelis, and indeed with each other – over who was entitled to what territory.

Some were polite, but others more hostile. It was an ugly scene. At one point, I thought people might well come to blows.

And still they could not sort it out. Who was supposed to be in what seat? The plane had not even taken off yet, but already Flight 2085, from Luton to Tel Aviv, had become a microcosm of the Middle East.

Some argued from a point of legal entitlement. They held up their boarding passes, the seat number clearly visible.

“I have a right to be here,” they protested. But others simply pointed out that they had got there first. I felt I had heard this before somewhere.

Meanwhile, bolder passengers were simply shoving their luggage – and themselves – into the places they wanted. You might call it “establishing facts on the ground”.

They ignored the would-be occupants towering above them, now waving boarding cards in their faces, like title-deeds to a house.

“Sit down,” yelled the exasperated air [flight attendant], sounding like a teacher dealing with unruly children on a school bus trip. But no-one was listening to teacher that day.

Eventually, the captain’s voice came over the intercom, more imploring than commanding.

“If you do not take your seats soon, we will miss our slot, and take-off could be delayed by a very long time.” In other words, if the fighting continued, everyone would lose.

That kind of reasoning has never seemed to work too well in the Middle East, and it certainly did not make an impression on Flight 2085. The stand-off continued.

Tensions rose and so did voices in English, in Hebrew and in Russian. I only speak one of those languages but I am quite sure I was being treated to a crash course in their finest insults and for the first time I found myself awfully glad that metal implements are no longer permitted in carry-on luggage.

And then she appeared. The heroine of the day. I do not know her name, I guess I never will, but she seemed like Florence Nightingale and Mother Teresa all rolled in to one.

A clever, sensitive [flight attendant] came up with a compromise. “Sit down where you are for now,” she said, “and we can sort out who goes where, once we are up in the air.”

Brilliant. The passengers looked at her, they looked at each other, and they meekly obeyed. Those wanting a window seat accepted an aisle; couples hoping to travel together agreed to be rent asunder.

It reminded me of the Oslo Agreement, back in the day when that seemed like a solution to the Middle East problem. Let us all calm down for a bit, live in our respective places for now, and sort out the final agreement later on in the day.

The [flight attendant] had brought unexpected calm to a conflict-ridden flight.

I thought of telling the [flight attendant] she had missed her métier, that instead of serving gin and tonics to rude passengers, she should be working for the United Nations – she certainly could not have made a worse job than others who have tried.

I drifted off into a reverie, imagining this diplomatic wonder-woman circling the globe, perhaps still wearing her Easyjet uniform – she would shuttle between North and South Korea, between the US and Iran – everywhere bringing her home-spun approach to international crises.

But I soon snapped out of my fantasy, because a while after take-off, a new problem arose.

A group of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews had been given space at the back of the plane to hold a prayer meeting. They bowed, and recited, but in the process they attracted more worshippers and, who knows, perhaps new worshippers converted to the faith by this stirring display of mid-air religiosity.

Eventually there were so many offering their thanks to God that they were blocking the aisle, and the non-observant passengers found they could not reach the toilet.

One unfortunate lady found herself stuck inside the lavatory, pushing on the door but meeting resistance from the mini-congregation now gathered outside.

Soon the secular bladders were causing real problems to their owners, who began to complain that the religious people were getting things all their own way.

Now that is a complaint you will hear in Israel itself where there have been furious quarrels between zealous followers of God and those of a more skeptical inclination.

But here we were nearly a thousand miles from the Holy Land and quite a few thousand feet up in the sky.

I searched in vain for Easyjet’s unappreciated ambassador-of-peace – the [flight attendant] who had brought unexpected calm to a conflict-ridden flight.

But she had gone back to serving gin and tonics – and it looked like this time, she just did not want to get involved.


While reading that story, and for quite a while afterwards, I had so many thoughts whirling through my mind; there have been some airlines which have recently abandoned seat assignments to allow “Open Boarding” to avoid such conflicts. This flies in the face of the original reason for seat assignments, which was from the pre-DNA days and the need to have a way to identify bodies in the event of a fatal crash. However such attempts are nothing new, and have been attempted in other aspects of life, as in land ownership. Results have varied.  The Middle East is dotted with examples of people vying for establishing settlements for a stake in territory claimed by others. Our own American history has some significant examples, such as the “Boomers” and, later, the “Sooners” in the opening of the Oklahoma Territory. Could “open borders” ever really work?

Reflecting back on the story, it represents my experience every time I take an inter-city bus here in Macedonia. Each ticket has a seat assignment number, but the fun begins even before boarding the bus, when everyone pushes and shoves everyone else to try to get on before others without regard to social status, gender or age. In fact, babas (grandmothers) are among the most aggressive. This seems to be consistent behavior at ATMs, cashiers, ticket windows and other similar situations. Then, after boarding the bus, everyone takes whatever seat they please and they put things (coats, packages, etc) on seats beside them to prevent anyone from using that seat. If anyone displays a ticket with a seat number corresponding to the occupied seats, the most common response is a shrug of the shoulders and one of several verbal statements to the effect of, “sit anywhere else.” I find this extremely odd because in most person-to-person interactions anywhere in this country, people are extremely pleasant, warm and hospitable. But, suggest that people Queue up and you will either be ignored, or given ridiculing remarks and scornful glances.

What might happen if every country would accept that people will have conflicts regardless of any international diplomatic strategies, or military posturing? What if they would redirect the money they budget for weapons and apply it to greater efforts for cross cultural understanding and acceptance, such as we do with our relatively small Peace Corps budget?  What if more funding were to be directed internally toward their own human service issues? Will international conflicts always involve the possible escalation to all out warfare? Really, is there any hope?


About Lew in Macedonia

Recently retired, but wanting to extend my career and continue being useful. I have decided to act upon a plan I had while in college, but never was able to actively pursue. I have applied to and been invited to serve in the Peace Corps. I will be serving in Macedonia September 11, 2011 until November 23, 2013. If interested in my Peace Corps application process, which began on 4/27/2010 and took until 9/9/2011 when I arrived at Staging, read my previous blog. My TIME LINE can be found there among my August 2010 blogs at: My Peace Core experiences from application through 27 months of service in Macedonia can be found at:
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