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Posted August 3, 2010 | comments Leave a comment

Speaker: Israel, Palestine pawns in deadly game

Fresh off master's studies, local rabbi's son describes complexities of Middle East

By J.R. Williams - jrwilliams@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- After nearly four years in Tel Aviv, Israel, studying Middle East relations, Eli Sperling has much to say.

Sperling, 26, son of Beth El Congregation Rabbi Scott Sperling, has been back in the United States for less than a week after earning a master's degree in contemporary Middle Eastern history at Tel Aviv University.

Judging by a forum he led Monday night at the Fairmont Avenue synagogue, he's bursting from the experience.

Sperling spoke extensively on Israel-Palestinian relations and regional forces shaping the Middle East conflict, and fielded questions from about two dozen people in attendance.

While abroad, Sperling studied the effects of tourism and economic shifts on a small, but growing, Bedouin village. He served as a tour guide for the U.S. military and others in Tel Aviv and performed research for a lecturer at the university.

Sperling described the complexities of conflict in the Middle East by providing a historical context, and tried to correct what he called a misconception of Israel and Palestinian relations specifically.

"The conflict between Israel and Palestine is no longer just between Israel and Palestine," he said. "It's really become a chess board for the greater Middle East where superpowers within the world make moves against each other through Israel and through Palestine."

A productive dialogue between the embattled nations isn't possible until political and economic interests are withdrawn, he said, giving the example of Iran furnishing weapons to Hamas, which controls Gaza.

Sperling said Israel was "preparing for war."

"Up until a week ago when I left Israel, I was getting a phone message on my cell phone every three days to go to the post office to pick up my gas masks," Sperling said.

While working on his thesis at his desk, sirens at 2:30 p.m. would signal bomb drills. People on the street would go about their business in those moments, he said, but there was a sense of urgency.

"Even just the sense on the street, walking around the outdoor markets to buy our groceries, you hear old women talk about, 'This is what it feels like to get ready for war.'

"I think there is a sense among Israelis that something will happen in the near future. ... If it does, I think people are both mentally and strategically prepared."

Sperling called his return to the United States "startling," saying he was adjusting to hearing English everywhere and catching up with a nation that four years ago was not in an economic recession.

"It's been so fascinating understanding everything through the lens of being in Israel," he said.

Sperling described Israelis' attitudes on American politics -- and President Obama -- as negative.

"People are really not liking the American administration in Israel right now," he said. "Pretty much everything I hear from the Israeli side is, 'The Americans are foresaking us, they're burning bridges between us. We don't like Obama, we find him condescending toward our administration and what we're doing right now.'"

Sperling says he has accepted a position with a small music agency in Portland, Ore., with the goal of eventually earning a doctoral degree and becoming a teacher.

For more information on Sperling, visit www.elisperling.com.

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