Tag Archives: Palestinian people

Moriel Rothman: “10 Things I Really Like About Living in Israel”

Moriel Rothman, activist par excellence, poet, and blogger – whom I was glad to get to know during my last visit to Jerusalem – wrote a post much like one I’ve often considered writing:

10 Things I Really Like About Living in Israel (Note: This is Not a Sarcastic Title)

[…]

I do not have a positive vision as to what should be here, in terms of political “solutions,” arrangements, et cetera. I do, however, have a very strong sense of what should not be here (for a more detailed list, see: Rothman, Blog About Things That He Thinks Should Not Be, Everyday, All Pages, www.thelefternwall.com). Here’s a metaphor I made up for this friend: let’s say Israel is a garden. There are some people who will try and plant flowers of solutions, of development, of progress here in this garden, and I think that is a good thing and I support them. However, I see my role not as planting flowers, but rather as weeding, weeding out violence, weeding out racism, weeding out oppression, weeding out hatred, et cetera. The weeds here have grown quite powerful, and probably by the fault of no single gardener or even group of gardeners but rather by the breezes, rainfalls, insects and chemicals of history and political circumstance. Someone needs to take them out so that there will be room for others to plant the flowers. If you try to plant a flower of “solution” in a garden overrun with weeds of violence or racism, the flower won’t have much of a chance to grow.

[…]

I can only imagine good coming out of my articulating for readers what it is I love about living here, whether to complicate the picture for those who are overly-excited about Palestine/Palestinians (if you will notice, I don’t often write positive things about Palestine/Palestinians either, and I am not a Palestinian Nationalist, even as I support Palestinians’ right to live in freedom, like everyone else), or to clarify for readers who find my work too critical that I truly do what I do out of love and concern, and a desire to build and improve, even if I think that building needs to come from weeding dangerous phenomena (phenomena, and never people […])

[…]

I will indeed make a list of things I really like. Which is fun for me too.

1. The people. In general I really like Israeli people, even if I disagree with many of them re: politics/Palestine. I like their directness, I like their humor, I like their warmth, I like the diversity of history and of journey and of identity and of belief, I like the way we all share a sort of nutsness, especially Jerusalemites.

Read the rest over at Moriel’s blog, The Leftern Wall »

I love the garden metaphor, and I also love most of the things on Moriel’s list. Many of them really capture why I miss Israel and care so much about what goes on there. This post, like many on Moriel’s blog, is well worth reading.

 

Meta note: the lack of posts lately was mainly because of some drama I had, which I won’t get into here. The important thing is that everything’s fine now, even better than fine, and once I’ve finished catching up on some things, I expect to be posting again, for real.

Desmond Tutu calls for divestment; some thoughts

Deutsch: Desmond Tutu beim Evangelischen Kirch...

Desmond Tutu writes a passionate call for American divestment in Israel. He gives me some food for thought on BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), and on my role as an Israeli in the struggle for a just peace.

Justice requires action to stop subjugation of Palestinians

Desmond Tutu, TampaBay.com

A quarter-century ago I barnstormed around the United States encouraging Americans, particularly students, to press for divestment from South Africa. Today, regrettably, the time has come for similar action to force an end to Israel’s long-standing occupation of Palestinian territory and refusal to extend equal rights to Palestinian citizens who suffer from some 35 discriminatory laws.

I have reached this conclusion slowly and painfully. I am aware that many of our Jewish brothers and sisters who were so instrumental in the fight against South African apartheid are not yet ready to reckon with the apartheid nature of Israel and its current government. And I am enormously concerned that raising this issue will cause heartache to some in the Jewish community with whom I have worked closely and successfully for decades. But I cannot ignore the Palestinian suffering I have witnessed, nor the voices of those courageous Jews troubled by Israel’s discriminatory course.

 Continue reading on the Tampa Bay Times »

I’m not entirely sure what I think about the Palestinian BDS campaign.

Continue reading Desmond Tutu calls for divestment; some thoughts

A modest proposal: debate arguments, not motives

Accusing the other side in a debate of a hidden agenda never gets us anywhere.  So let’s just not.

In the Israel/Palestine debate, there’s a trap that both sides fall into, repeatedly – and I’m no exception – which makes it more of a mud-slinging event than a discussion.  In a nutshell, the trap is claiming the other side has a hidden agenda.

I propose we all try to avoid this trap, for everyone’s sake.  To make that possible, let’s take a quick look at what it is, and how to avoid it. Continue reading A modest proposal: debate arguments, not motives

Word Thieves

Three hundred translators watched transfixed as an assortment of colleagues, speaking from their isolated studies across the globe in their respective languages, faced the camera and opened a narrative vein: out poured their stories of how they got interested in the Hebrew language, the years they spent cultivating their peculiar passion, the emotional relationships they maintained with the dead and living authors with whom they spent their waking hours, the daily warfare they waged against the Hebrew language’s obstinate refusal to fit its rhythms and archeological layers to the structural and cultural molds of their far-flung nations.

The film was “Translating,” by the Israeli filmmaker Nurith Aviv, a series of in-depth monologues by translators from Hebrew into other languages, and the occasion the annual conference of the Israel Translators Association in Jerusalem. The audience, whose linguistic gaps were filled by Hebrew subtitles, could identify with the speakers’ singular strain of obsession, their solitude, and their implicit surprise at being for once in the spotlight instead of the shadows wherein they normally lurk. The symphony of the dozen or so languages in which these unsung laborers told their stories, all referring to the one language they shared and revered, was mesmerizing. Continue reading Word Thieves

Some more thoughts on exclusion, BDS and the housing protests

I got two comments on yesterday’s post via Twitter:

If @ & #j14 won't distinguish between Ariel & "Israel proper," why should anyone? Full #BDS now more than ever. http://t.co/e3Ft9IG
@MaxBlumenthal
Max Blumenthal
@ @ Let's get things straight in name of Social Justice: Settlers are criminals.

I have some more thoughts on this.

I

The strategy of exclusion, of which BDS is one example, is a tricky thing. It is effective when the excluder is (potentially) stronger than the excluded, on some dimension. International BDS is an effective strategy because it can actually hurt Israel: it can deprive Israel of services (such as a European-made tram system), entertainment, and a general feeling of legitimacy and business-as-usual. Boycotting products of the settlements within Israel is the same thing again on a smaller scale: if many in the Israeli market boycott settlement products, Israeli factories in the West Bank move back into Israel, and it’s no more business-as-usual. For a European boycott of the settlements to have an effect you would hardly need a couple percent of the European market to adhere to it. But would the EU care if the settlers decided to boycott all European products? Even if all 300-odd thousand of them strictly adhered to the boycott, it would hardly register, never mind causing some shift in EU policy.

II

Although the housing protests are the strongest thing we’ve ever seen in Israel, garnering more support than any political party could ever dream of, it would be foolish to assume that this strength is of the same kind as the EU or US’s economic and political power, which makes BDS effective. The housing protest is strong only because it has managed so far not to step on anyone’s toes too hard. In Israel, that is an astounding achievement. If a prominent part of the protest movement1 should pick a fight with the people of Ariel for the sake of total BDS, the movement’s strength may very well dwindle rapidly. The movement may even splinter. The movement boycotting Ariel would quickly become meaningless because not all tent cities would accept the boycott and it would suddenly just be a few isolated left-leaning groups going on about the settlements as usual.

III

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. BDS is an impressive and important tool, but it is not the only tool, certainly not the only tool available to Israelis who have the time and energy for political activity. The housing protests have to navigate the many illogical and contradictory conceptions prevailing in Israeli societies, and despite a majority opposing the settlements (in polls, at least), it is also a mainstream idea that Ariel is practically part of Israel and here to stay. (This stems from people not bothering to look at maps [PDF] or thinking these things through. Ariel has absolutely got to go in a two-state solution.)

Total inclusiveness, even of ideological settlers, drunks and lunatics, is probably the only way this movement can survive.2

IV

The fact that some so-called “leaders” of the movement fail to speak out against the occupation does not mean the movement ignores the issue or enables it. Actual discussions in the tent cities often turn to the occupation, and this movement has given the Israeli left more sympathy and more people willing to listen than anything else since at least the mid-nineties. But this too is different from one tent city to another, and it’s very hard to tell what the movement as a whole thinks. I doubt the movement as a whole agrees on anything except that the cost of living and the inequalities within Israeli society are unacceptable.

V

This movement is surprisingly open to criticism. Simply finding excuses to write it off and attack all those who support it will not get your issue addressed. If you think the movement should take a stand regarding the settlements, you have to either go to its assemblies or at least write something that actually tries to convince them. As Max probably knows, it takes a lot of explaining to get typical Israelis to even begin to understand BDS. Don’t take it for granted and just attack this whole decentralized thing for not following the methods you support. Engage the people involved in action and decision-making. You might even convince j14.org.il to list settlements separately from Israel proper if you actually try.

VI

I should note that despite my disagreement with Max, I’m sick of exclusion being the only kosher leftist tactic, and will continue to consider him an all-round good guy (as I consider other opponents of the West Bank apartheid). I will also continue to follow his blog and Twitter feed and list him on this site’s list of links. (I’m doing this as a favor to myself; I know nobody really cares who I like, follow or link to.)

Footnotes

  1. j14.org.il is just a part of the movement – it is a decentralized uprising with no real center, leadership, or hierarchy, despite what the press may say []
  2. As far as I know, the only thing excluded is exclusionary messages: when extreme racist settlers showed up on Rothschild, they were eventually kicked out for having shirts reading “Tel-Aviv for Jews [only]” and other exclusionary slogans. The only thing that’s not tolerated is open intolerance. []

A response to Max Blumenthal: Social justice for all, even settlers, is a good start

A neighbourhood in Ariel.
As much as settlements may remind of us of evil death robots, they are nonetheless home to human beings, many of whom are victims as well as criminals. (Image via Wikipedia)

Max Blumenthal has been raging against the official inclusion of the massive, strategically placed settlement of Ariel in the #J14 housing protest movement. (See Max’s Sunday post and Twitter stream.) I have to strongly disagree with his position, and I would argue that social justice for all, even the settlers, is a good goal and a good start.

I should preface this by saying that I’ve been following Max’s blog for months and this is the first time I ever strongly disagree with him; I think Max is an excellent journalist and activist and I believe we share many core values. I also agree with his assessment that the settlements, Ariel in particular, are unacceptable on multiple levels: they are built on stolen land, make people’s lives miserable (to put it mildly), and have done much to intensify and prolong the conflict.

However, the fact that the residents of Ariel are part of a horrendous crime does not mean they are not the victims of the Israeli socio-economic and political system along with the rest of us. No doubt, any person who knowingly makes the choice to move there is making themselves part of the occupation. But the fact that the settlements have grown so slowly despite massive government support, and the fact that only about a third of the West Bank settlers are ideological, tells me that the West Bank is hardly anyone’s first choice for location. Since stolen land tends to be the cheapest kind, especially when it’s also subsidized, there has always been a strong economic incentive to move to the settlements. The people who end up making that choice are people who, like the rest of us, were not able to achieve the standard of living they aspired towards, but made a dubious choice (one supported by many vocal members of society and government.)

Let me be clear: nothing can justify the choice to be part of the colossal crime of the settlements. But making that wrong choice does not make a person or their family less of a victim.1

But making this about the wrongs perpetrated or perpetuated by different parts of Israeli society is the wrong way to go. I’d say it plays right into Netanyahu’s hands, and goes along perfectly with the economic and social system of Israel, pitting sectors of the populations against one another. If Netanyahu had his way, J14 would exclude the settlers (alienating big parts of the right), it would exclude non-Jews (alienating big parts of the left) and it would be almost entirely a movement of spoiled young Ashkenazis whose parents and grandparents were part of the old elite (alienating almost everyone else). With that kind of movement, Netanyahu could just sit tight and wait for it to blow over.

But since the movement is radically inclusive – going both against mainstream prejudice (e.g. that the Arabs are not part of this society) and the prejudice of many activists (e.g. that all settlers are the enemy) – it is able to actually achieve something, and so far has not made an enemy of any major sector of society. Only the government and some far-right nationalists seem strongly against the whole thing. And this openness is undermining vital underpinnings of the occupation – whether J14 acknowledges the connection or not.

How? First and foremost, it has ended the prevailing apathy in much of society and made it possible to discuss almost anything. People are very publicly talking about racism, the division of resources, even the use of “security” to silence social movements, and many people are actually listening. This won’t end the occupation tomorrow or in a month, but then nothing else could, either. In the longer run, it sets the stage for major changes to happen, and we may find many more people willing to listen than we did before. The movement  seems to be redefining “left” and “right” so that for many people, being a “leftie” isn’t the absolute worst possible thing ever anymore.

Moreover, the movement’s focus on the division of resources will make it very difficult for future governments to act as if the settlements are the only part of the country worth their attention (as this government sometimes has). The movement may well work against the interests of the settlement movement while at the same time working in the interests of individual settlers. These interests are not identical.

Finally, with general welfare now at the center of the public agenda, and general disillusionment about the government’s narrative, many people will be reminded of how peace is in their own interest and refuse to buy excuses for maintaining the current line of policy.

I think it is unrealistic to expect immediate solutions from J14 – whether for social issues or political ones. There’s a lot of work ahead and absolutely nobody can predict how things will go. But looking for excuses to distance oneself from J14 plays only into the hands of the status quo.2

Footnotes

  1. In the same way, the generation that started this country was both victim and perpetrator, and the two do not cancel each other out — the victimhood does not cancel out the atrocities as the right would have it, and the atrocities do not cancel out the victimhood as some in the far left would have it. []
  2. And anyone who doesn’t see their position or background represented in the movement should stop whining, go out and make their voice heard. The only thing stopping you is you! []

From the Iron Wall to the Wall of Fear (by Shalom Boguslavsky)

I had the pleasure of translating an important post (Hebrew) by the always-excellent Shalom Boguslavsky. Here it is in English:

Should you strengthen the van, you will weaken the rear.
Should you strengthen your right, you will weaken your left.
If you send reinforcements everywhere, you will be weak everywhere.

Sun Tzu,
“The Art of War”, ca. 500 BC

Fifteen years ago I didn’t know what “Nakba” means. I was probably more politically involved than today, I had already entered into dialog with Palestinians, I was familiar with the Palestinian National Covenant and all that stuff. I wasn’t exactly an ignoramus in these things, but I didn’t know the term “Nakba”, for the simple reason that nobody around me was using it.

Now it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t know the term. It’s in every mouth and in the headlines of every paper. Netanyahu gives a special speech in its honor, “Im Tirtzu” distribute a brochure full of bullshit about it, and the very best publicists write articles about it. It doesn’t matter that most Israelis’ response varies between curling up in a whimpering ball in the corner and vehement denial. The central thing is that the issue is on the table. Because political success is measured in what’s being talked about even more than in what’s being said. Almost nobody in the Jewish political system wants to talk about the Nakba. They would not have brought it up on their own initiative, and nonetheless they have been forced to deal with it.

The credit for this success belongs mainly to Palestinian citizens of Israel. The Oslo two-nation-states doctrine left them as dead weight, and so, unrepresented by the government of the Jewish state and neglected by their Palestinian brethren, they started moving to turn the Arabs of 1948 into a political group demanding recognition as such, from the Palestinians, from Israel and from the international community.

Here there is an interesting parallelism between them and the settlers. The settlers, too, have been required to pay the price for a solution that does not address their needs. The settlers, too, have been pushed to reorganize and make themselves present in the public discourse, and they too have used 1984 to do this, and for a similar reason: floating the issue of ’48, reminding everyone that the heart of the conflict lies there, is the best way to float the limitations of a solution based on the 1967 lines. So the settlers, like the leaders of the Arabs of ’48, make sure again and again to remind us that Sheikh Munis is conquered land, and that a solution will not come without seriously addressing this fact. In this respect, the the most radical thing in today’s politics would be if the settlers and the Arabs of ’48 started to talk. Unlikely? Maybe, but stranger things have happened and I wouldn’t be surprised if this happened too.

In 1923, Ze’ev Jabotinsky wrote his exemplary essay “The Iron Wall”. Besides being a master’s class in political writing, the article was quite on target for its time, and to a significant degree for ours as well. Jabotinsky presents the Zionist movement as a colonial project no different from the familiar European colonialism (today some would call him “traitor” and “anti-Zionist” and demand to check his funding over this). He argues that the attempts at dialog with the Arabs are fantasy, as no nation – and he recognizes them as such – would agree to a foreign entity being established on its lands, and his conclusion, which he called an “iron wall”, is that the Jews must become such a force as to make it impossible to move them elsewhere or hinder them from realizing their aspirations. But the “iron wall” has an expiration date: when they realize the Zionist project is a fait accompli, Jabotinsky wrote, the moderates will come to us with offers of mutual concessions, and then the conflict can be solved in dialog.

In 1923, all of this was science fiction. But as befits a text that reflects sober recognition of reality more than some political ideal or another, we got to see it come true. The “iron wall” was put up, the Arabs failed in their attempt to hinder the Zionist project, suffering catastrophe in the process, and since the 1970s the moderates have been coming to us with offers of mutual concessions. They don’t do it out of recognition of the rightness of the ways of Zionism – this they will never do – but because it is clear to them that the presence here of Jews as a national group is a fait accompli. They regret it, but will clench their teeth and find ways to co-exist. Just as Jabotinsky knew they would.

But his self-proclaimed heirs on the Israeli right have substituted the practical “iron wall” of force with an ideological “iron wall” made of fear.

My right to exist here comes from the fact of my existence here, as ending it would be an unjustifiable wrong. The right of the group to which I belong to define itself in terms of nationality comes from the right to self-definition and not from anything else. Where is such a thing to be heard, that such basic rights depend on some belief in the “righteousness of the way”? Who would ever think, for example, to make the right of the United States to exist dependent on the belief that the catastrophe imposed on Native Americans was justified? What’s this bullshit?

The international community recognizes the rights of Jews in the Land of Israel due to the fact of their presence in it. Even the Arabs, for the most part, are willing to recognize them on this basis, and of all people the Jewish politicians, wannabe patriots that they are, are shouting from every hilltop and under every tree that if it were only proven that our history does not excel in justice and morality or that our narrative is not absolute truth, we would have to pack the suitcase and swim back to the Ukraine. And you know what? Our history is no less ugly than others, and full of glorious atrocities. Those who believe recognizing that cancels their right to exist here are welcome swim to the Ukraine themselves. I am not here because of blind faith in some lie, and I intend to stay here even if it were proven that the fathers of Zionism were vampires from another planet that came here to conduct medical experiments on the local villagers.

So this is my “iron wall”: the rights of human beings do not depend on the purity of the historical circumstances that brought them where they are. This is a position we can defend. If we need to defend every misdeed of Zionism if not all Jews everywhere – as the Right wants us to – we will fail. And that is exactly what is happening now.

I am actually rather conservative as regards the Palestinian catastrophe. I do not accept, for instance, the claim that the status of refugee can be inherited. If it were so, all residents of planet Earth would have to receive such status. I also think it’s important to remind everyone that the ethnic cleansing of 1948 was bi-directional: the Jews were expelled from areas seized by the Arabs. I think the ethnic cleansing we committed was more a matter of circumstances than a dark conspiracy, and I certainly don’t beat myself up over the crimes of Zionism.

But I certainly admit and acknowledge them, do not presume to justify them all and certainly think we should take responsibility for them and resolve the matter in conjunction with the Palestinians. Not because there’s a matter of absolute justice here but because this is unfinished business between us, and we will have to resolve it. And yes, this will have a price that I don’t necessarily like. That’s how it is.

But for us to deal with it, we need our politicians to cease their endless paranoid prattle. It may help their career to tie our very right to exist here with their personal ideology, but it does not serve any Israeli interest. Just the opposite. Their constant din is what’s eroding the justification of our existence and what gives tailwind to the delegitimization of Israel. Of course it also serves their career pretty well. Dealing with the Nakba does not scare me at all; our politicians’ stupidity does. They are the only existential threat around.