“It’s complicated”

By EA Ann, Southern West Bank.

Many conversations with Israelis end with “it’s complicated”.   Close on thirty broadly sympathetic ‘left-wing’ Israelis squeezed into the living room of Zeevik and Tova in the Galilee on Saturday morning, having driven from all over Israel.

Many of this audience support businesses in nearby Israeli-Palestinian towns (20% of the Israeli population that is Palestinian live in the Galilee; in separate towns to the Jewish population, in overcrowded conditions as little land is allocated for their use, and with poor infrastructure.)   Many of them were politically active, but only a small minority had ever visited the West Bank.

?

Speaking to Israelis in Zeevik and Tova’s living room [Photo: EAPPI/T.Reshef]

I brought with me UN maps – which were eye openers to many – showing the separation barrier not following the pre-1967 border. I related personal stories of Palestinian land and villages trapped on the “wrong” side of the Israeli separation barrier in the “seam zone” (the area caught between the internationally agreed pre-1967 border and the Israeli separation barrier which illegally cuts into Palestinian land).

A map of Area C (the 62% of the West Bank under total Israeli military control) showed Palestinian towns and villages cut off from each other, with no access to running water or to mains electricity, no surfaced roads, and subject to regular demolitions – all this was news to most of the audience. As with British audiences, I was asked: “but WHY aren’t they allowed to repair the road?”, “but WHY did they block road access to the village?”, “but WHY does he need a new permit every three months, just to get to the closest shop?” I purposely spoke about the everyday consequences of military occupation rather than about settlers: about the dangers posed by bored soldiers; about the mantra of Breaking the Silence that it is impossible to serve as a soldier in the West Bank and leave with clean hands.  But always remembering that many of the audience had been in that army, and that most of their children have too.

soldiers put a stop to road repairs

Soldiers put a stop to road repairs [Photo: EAPPI/A.Davison]

road blocked by army

The road having been blocked by Israeli army [Photo: EAPPI/A.Davison]

So my message was complicated (and yet simple): my criticisms are of government policies – not of its citizens, of the army’s mission – not of the young people drafted into it at an impressionable age. The response was warm. Although shocked, they said it was “hard to listen to” but “you have opened our eyes”.

I also heard that Ashkenazi Israelis (of European origin) who first dreamed of Zionism and built the country, no longer feel at home there. Political allegiance is closely linked to ethnic identity within Israeli society. Ashkenazis are no longer the most numerous group, and this minority status is played out in reduced subsidies to ‘elite’ classical music, as much as in right-wing foreign policy.   Those speaking out for peace risk being called traitors in such a stratified society.  Someone whose parents came to Israel from Poland in the early days, full of idealistic zeal, said: “I am glad my parents are not alive to see what this country has become.”

It is complicated. But there is also a simple kernel to peace making. Before my talk my hosts read several poems, including the one reproduced below – which resonated with my second slide: “Enemies are people whose story you haven’t heard, or whose face you haven’t seen.” [A google search gives this variously as either an old Jewish saying, or an old Quaker saying …]

Ofra reading a poem before the EAPPI talk

Ofra reading a poem before the EAPPI talk [Photo: EAPPI/T.Reshef]

An EAPPI talk normally concludes with a “What next” slide, and suggestions of what the audience can do. I told my Israeli audience that it was their task to supply suggestions. They rose to the occasion with gusto. A ‘secular rabbi’, Dubi Avigur, pointed out that it just happened to be the day of Tikkun: of mending the world. Aliza Erez told of the Israeli peace organisation she belongs to, Women Wage Peace. Avishai told of his weekly attendance at the demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem, and of how he had for six years transported sick Palestinians from the Gaza or West Bank border to Israeli hospitals, and back – often becoming very close to people.

Avishai and his wife at the weekly Sheikh Jarrah demonstration

Avishai and his wife at the Sheikh Jarrah demonstration. The signs say: “End the occupation” and “Sheikh Jarrah is Palestine” [Photo: EAPPI]

Assisting in the olive harvest in the West Bank was proposed as an act of solidarity, and an opportunity to get to know Palestinians – “nice and not so nice”. Avishai said: “you don’t see life in the same way” after participating, and experiencing the story of ‘the Other’.

Find out more:

Visit the websites of Women Wage Peace and Breaking the Silence to find out about these two Israeli peace organisations.

Also interesting to read is “Yom Kippur and our responsibility to turn the other into friend, by Rabbi Dubi Haiyun of Rabbis for Human Rights.

The following poem (and several others) were read out before my talk. The original was in Arabic, written by Taha Muhammad Ali. In 1948, Taha fled from Galilee to Lebanon with his family when their village came under heavy bombardment during the Arab-Israeli war. A year later, still a teenager, he slipped back across the border and settled in Nazareth where he lived until his death three years ago.

Revenge

by Taha Muhammad Ali, translated by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi and Gabriel Levin 21 December 2006

At times … I wish
I could meet in a duel
the man who killed my father
and razed our home,
expelling me
into
a narrow country.
And if he killed me,
I’d rest at last,
and if I were ready—
I would take my revenge!

*

But if it came to light,
when my rival appeared,
that he had a mother
waiting for him,
or a father who’d put
his right hand over
the heart’s place in his chest
whenever his son was late
even by just a quarter-hour
for a meeting they’d set—
then I would not kill him,
even if I could.

*

Likewise … I
would not murder him
if it were soon made clear
that he had a brother or sisters
who loved him and constantly longed to see him.
Or if he had a wife to greet him
and children who
couldn’t bear his absence
and whom his gifts would thrill.
Or if he had
friends or companions,
neighbours he knew
or allies from prison
or a hospital room,
or classmates from his school …
asking about him
and sending him regards.

*

But if he turned
out to be on his own—
cut off like a branch from a tree—
without a mother or father,
with neither a brother nor sister,
wifeless, without a child,
and without kin or neighbours or friends,
colleagues or companions,
then I’d add not a thing to his pain
within that aloneness—
not the torment of death,
and not the sorrow of passing away.
Instead I’d be content
to ignore him when I passed him by
on the street—as I
convinced myself
that paying him no attention
in itself was a kind of revenge.

Nazareth
April 15, 2006