Joshua Hillis


A third year at Christ Church, Oxford reading history who has previously lived and worked in Egypt. I have been researching the causes, events and consequences of the First Intifada that began in 1987, looking at how the interaction between the political structures after 1973, both in Israel, the PLO and in the Arab countries, and the social and economic changes of the late 1970s and 1980s can be read in different ways by different groups as they try to understand why the First Intifada began in 1987 and took the form it did. My research has focused on how the different ways of reading this interaction lead to divergent interpretations of the events of the First Intifada and their effects and to the various ways of analysing the Madrid Peace Conference, as the principal consequence of the First Intifada.

I chose to be involved in the project because, in my visits to Israel and the West Bank, one of the things that most struck me was the seemingly irreconcilable plurality of voices that are trying to conceptualise the conflict. This dichotomy is not just restricted to an Israeli- Palestinian axis but is manifested along many other lines: Labor-Likud, Secular-Religious Zionism, Muslim-Christian Palestinians and so on. These voices seem to not necessarily wilfully ignore other interpretations but to be genuinely ignorant, because of a lack of interaction, of these other voices. Within this plurality history, from my experience, is a fundamental means of justification and thus provides a brilliant opportunity for understanding others’ viewpoints. By comprehending how others validate their arguments, hopefully a way of working actually towards peace can begin. Furthermore I have found, in my time at university, people often feel afraid of talking about the conflict because they fear their ignorance will be exposed to attack from either side. A project tackling ignorance is always essential in any discourse.

One of the key things that I have learnt from my research is both the difficulties and rewards that come from trying to understand and put into words others’ perspectives. In my studies, the focus is on creating my own personal interpretation of historical events. Understanding other interpretations and being critically sympathetic to the attempts of others to analyse history is obviously essential to my studies but creating a narrative that others can genuinely affirm has been a very interesting and rewarding aspect of this project. There is a certain responsibility that comes from being faithful to the views of others that I have found very stimulating in how I think about history and in broadening my sceptical sympathy with others.