Tag Archives: combatants for peace

Only the Arabs can save us now

The results of the Israeli election on November 1st are no less shocking even though they are not surprising. A tipping point was reached and the veneer which sustained an image of Israel as leaning to the right but within the bounds of decency crumbled. In all likelihood, Netanyahu will become the Prime Minister of a government dominated by the far right, his main coalition partner being the Religious Zionists, including a Jewish Power faction led by a disciple of the overtly racist politician Meir Kahane. In its better days the Israeli Knesset literally turned its back on him when he was elected in 1984, then passed a law so he could be banned as a racist. Now his successor Ben Gvir can expect a significant cabinet position, even if he does not get the Ministry for Internal Security which he wants. The ramifications for Palestinian citizens of Israel are alarming, with threats of returning the notorious Border Police to mixed Jewish-Palestinian cities, reviving the military rule under which Palestinian citizens of Israel lived until 1966. The other enemy of the Israeli right, the ‘smolanim’, the Lefties, can also expect much harsher treatment, as will international anti-Occupation activists. LGBTQ+ communities, and more.

But Jewish Power and its Jewish supremacist ideology is not an aberration in Zionist and Israeli politics. I do not mean this in the facile, simplistic sense that ‘Zionism is racism’, but that the undercurrent of racism within Zionism has now become overt and mainstream, winning the support of some 15% of the Israeli population and being embraced, even nurtured, by the Likud. I share the view of other commentators that the only way in which Zionist respectability could be preserved would have been to embrace and nurture those who have most to fear from Jewish supremacism, Israel’s Palestinian citizens. Yes, one of the parties representing them, Ra’am, an Islamist party, did join the so-called ‘government of change’ along with the liberal Zionist Meretz which looks like it has failed to be elected this time, in the unrealized hope of winning material social and economic improvements in the daily lives of its constituency. Its leader Mansour Abbas knew he could not even dream of demanding the political changes advocate by other parties that are voted for mostly by Palestinian citizens. Those changes include: the abolition of the infamous Jewish nation-state law passed in 2018; turning Israel into a state for all its citizens, not only Jews; reining in the military-settler violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories; and negotiating peace with the Palestinian Authority. The most that Yair Lapid, leader of centrist Yesh Atid party could manage during the election campaign was to pay some lip service to the two-state solution.

Only the Arabs can save us now. By ‘Arabs’, the common Israeli way of referring to its Palestinian citizens and their compatriots in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, I mean the Palestinians, the nation with whom we share the territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. By ‘us’ I mean Jews in Israel and in the Diaspora for whom Jewish supremacism is abhorrent. By ‘now’ I mean both this moment but also since the historical point, more than century ago, at which the movement to build a Jewish homeland and refuge for persecuted Jews in the ancestral Land of Israel began. There was always only one option, to share the land with the Palestinian people who lived there, or to live by the sword permanently, insecure, and hated for the injustice perpetrated in order to create a majority Jewish state in the Nakba of 1948, by the military rule until 1966 over the Palestinians allowed to remain in the new state, and by the Occupation since 1967. The only option was in the minor voices of the pre-state Zionist movement, Achad Ha’am, Yehuda Magnes, Martin Buber, who did not equate Zionism with a Jewish nation state. The only option was, and still is, in the Lives in Common of Jews and Palestinians in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Hebron from the nineteenth century onwards, retold by Menahem Klein. The only option was the multitude of civil alliances between Jews and Palestinians signed in 1947-48, uncovered by Ariella Azoulay, as the route to a potential history in which the violent ethnic cleansing from 1947 into the 1950s would not have taken place.

The alliance of anti-racist Jews in Israel and the Diaspora with Palestinians is an alliance with no alternative if the current of Jewish supremacism is to be averted. It is a strategic necessity, the realist option. We do not have to be ‘Arab lovers’ to choose it, but in my experience it is not hard to love Palestinians who are open to sharing the space between the river and the sea. I think back fondly to the many, mostly happy and friendly hours I spent with Mazen, Ghassan, George, Jalal and others in the Rapprochement dialogue group between Beit Sahour and West Jerusalem during the first intifada. I cherish the connection I made with Mohammed, a student from Gaza who had suffered so much at the hands of the Occupation (and the Palestinian Authority) but welcomed the support he found from Jews when he came to study at the University of Nottingham in the UK. I am deeply touched by the words of Souli Khatib, a former Palestinian prisoner of the Israeli Occupation who became a key activist of Combatants for Peace and who has a vision of Palestinian freedom and Jewish belonging to the same land flourishing, as his book title says, In this place together. Because that is where we must be, in this place together with Palestinians, if the victory of Jewish supremacism in these elections is not to become permanent. And when I say, ‘only the Arabs can save us now’, I mean not that they are responsible for our salvation, but that we can only save ourselves in alliance with them.

 

When an Arab man and a Jewish man kissed (almost).

It has been a difficult week in which to remain optimistic about the prospects of Israeli-Palestinian peace. Whether or not one is committed to a two-state solution, the dispossession and displacement of Palestinians – daily acts of the ongoing Naqba – push the chances of a just peace further over the horizon. Measures taken by different branches of the Israeli state upped the pace of creeping annexation of Area C of the West Bank. The military served notices – if being pinned to an iron post counts as serving notices – to some 300 Palestinian families from Ein Al-Hilweh and Umm Jamal in the north Jordan Valley that they must evacuate their homes and take all their possessions with them within a week. Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit ruled that it is legal to confiscate private Palestinian land to build roads to thirteen illegal outposts. That legalization of dispossession would reduce yet again the land in Palestinian hands and increase the fragmentation of Palestinian presence in Area C while solidifying the process of exclusive Jewish settlement.

Perhaps what got to me most this week wasn’t even that bad news. The steady flow of information I have about the harassment of Palestinian farmers in the north Jordan Valley by settlers and soldiers comes mostly from Guy Hircefelds’s Facebook page. Guy records what the grassroots activists of Ta’ayush  and other groups encounter when they go to work in partnership with the Palestinians there. There are some good days when his photos are of pastoral scenes of shepherding. There are much worse days when buildings have been destroyed, when the army block access to land, when a settler breaks an activist’s arm.

Guy leaves his page open for comments and by now he is well known to right-wing advocates of exclusive Jewish settlement. There have been some extended exchanges, mostly full of mutual insults and accusations, but the occasional hint of openness. Guy invites adversaries who claim there is no violence against Palestinians to come and see for themselves, and some settlers invite him to come and see how they live. Well, invitations of sorts.

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Solidarity visit to the Jordan Valley, 18.11.17. Photo Guy Hircefeld

But the comment on his page that made me most glum came in response to his report of a relatively large solidarity action – the visit of a group of Israelis, including Combatants for Peace,  members of the Israeli Parliament, and Palestinian leaders. On Facebook Lital Miller mocked the activists as miserable, self-hating traitors, adding that their action would make no difference. And I thought she’s probably right about the last point. There will probably be a concerted legal campaign that will delay the expulsions, maybe similar to the one that has so far prevented the removal of Palestinian Sussiya. Perhaps some European consular staff will come to visit and their Foreign Ministers will send a rebuke to the Israeli government. But sooner or later, the creeping annexation will creep further, Area C will be emptied of Palestinians and so why (according to the Israeli consensus) shouldn’t it become part of the State of Israel? She could be proved right.

I couldn’t even comfort myself with the thought that Palestinian allies in the Arab world will muster to block this coming dispossession. It looks as if Prime Minister Netanyahu has succeeded in his goal of turning Saudi Arabia – and other Sunni Arab states – into a regional ally. So what if this relationship of common enmity to Iran might drag Israel into an unnecessary war with Hezbollah and maybe Syria, so long as it means the autocratic monarchs will let Israel do what it wants in the West Bank? Just as 40 years ago in 1977 when the Likud-led Israeli government opened itself up to a peace accord with Egypt, another Likud-led government seems to be doing better at making friends in the Arab world than the Israeli ‘left’. In other words, the Israeli government is going to get away with its intensification of the settlement project and its gradual Naqba.

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PRESIDENT SADAT AND PRIME MINISTER MENACHEM BEGIN IN SERIOUS TALK AT THE KING DAVID HOTEL DINER IN JERUSALEM.

So is there any hope, even dark hope, as Ta’ayush  activist David Shulman calls it. Yes, precisely in the determination and commitment of activists such as Guy there is hope not only for the future, but more significantly hope in the present. Hope because I can see in his photos what peace looks like – the partnership of Israelis and Palestinians on the ground. Not all of them, of course, but enough righteous people for it to be worthwhile not to give up. Hope too in the memory of 40 years ago, when Israeli jubilation about Egyptian President Sadat’s visit showed what lies in Israeli hearts – to be accepted, to be understood, and maybe – as the wonderfully angled shot of Begin and Sadat apparently about to kiss suggests – to be loved in the Middle East. But goodness, most Israeli Jews, including those making nasty comments on Guy’s Facebook page, have a very odd way of showing that they just want to be loved by their neighbours.