A Broken Language, a Crippled
Debate, and the Gift of Art

An Invitation to a New Democratic Discussion

In Europe, citizens engage in an open, freewheeling debate over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Citizens in Arab countries do, too. Israeli citizens participate in passionate public discussion about their country’s policies and founding ideologies. Yet open, routine, unselfconscious debate about this issue rarely occurs in the United States.

Most Americans remain silent on the topic of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Only a small, albeit growing, minority talk about it with their neighbors, raise the issue with their elected leaders, and take a stand on the issues. It is not routinely discussed in schools. For most Americans, the topic is taboo.

This exhibit attempts to open a new democratic discussion in America on the role of the U.S. in the Middle East. It is a visual history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, one that invites all to participate by looking, comparing and contrasting, questioning, disputing, and sharing ideas. No credentials are required. Unlike most forums that exist for discussion of the Middle East, this one is not an intelligence test. Rather, this is a learning environment. The artists who designed and published the posters in this exhibit have been exploring the critical territories of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for more than fifty years. Many of them are excellent teachers.

  images coming soon

You may never have granted yourself permission to enter the public conversation about Palestine and Israel, perhaps believing that a knowledge of Arabic or Hebrew or U.S. diplomatic history was a prerequisite. You may have thought that living in the region, having a degree in Middle East studies, working for the State Department, or serving as a newspaper reporter on a foreign desk was necessary before you could develop and share your opinions.

You can set aside those concerns here. There is no entry requirement other than an interest in the contemporary Middle East and the role of the United States in that region.

Does it really matter to you, whether or not you join the public discussion about a critical issue of the day such as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? The late Christopher Lasch, author and social critic, thought it did. He said this about the importance of speaking out publicly:

What democracy requires is public debate, not information.… until we have to defend our opinions in public [italics added], they remain half-formed convictions based on random impressions and unexamined assumptions. It is the act of articulating and defending our views that lifts them out of the category of “opinions” and gives them shape and definition and makes it possible for others to recognize them as a description of their own experiences as well. In short, we come to know our own minds only by explaining ourselves to others.

Source: “The Lost Art of Political Debate” (Gannett Center Journal, 1990)

Lasch argues that the process of public debate makes real democracy possible. He argues that the give-and-take between people with different or even diametric positions is a good, natural, and vital thing. By “articulating and defending” their views in this public conversation, citizens grow: their perspectives evolve and their individual positions become clearer.


Next Section: Permission to Speak

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