Tag Archives: Rabbis for Human Rights

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In this blog written for British Friends of Rabbis for Human Rights, I explain how my research into Israeli-Palestinian Peace Activism feeds directly into my teaching at Leeds Trinity University in the UK. For my class on Religions, Justice and Peacebuilding I use Rabbis for Human Rights as a case study. RHR provides a great example of the concept in Peace Studies of “justpeace” in the ways it combines religious peacebuilding with non-violence, social justice advocacy and human rights activism.

Feeling demolition in your fingers

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Wadi Ejheish, June 25, 2016

It is one thing to look at pictures of demolished homes. It is another to feel the rubble with your fingers. It is one thing to see a photograph of the wreckage of a building left by a bulldozer and another to pull the twisted wreck apart with your hands. It is one thing to cast your eyes on documented destruction and another to put your back into repairing the damage. These are two things, two different types of experience. Perhaps neither is better than the other, but they feel quite different.

btselem.reportTwo buildings in the hamlet of Wadi Ejheish were demolished by the (un)Civil Administration, a branch of the Israeli military government ruling over Area C of the West Bank, of Palestinian Occupied Territories. The demolitions are part of an undeclared process of creeping annexation of Area C, part of a pattern of dispossession and displacement of Palestinians, especially Bedouin. As part of that pattern, the demolitions in Wadi Ejheish were routine, although in this case they broke understandings about refraining from executing demolition orders during Ramadan.

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Detail from B’tselem map

 

Visual and written documentation of the destruction is also routine, notably by B’tselem which shares the information in the hope that it will halt the expulsion that is designed to follow from repeated demolition. Other anti-occupation groups and organizations supporting Palestinian human rights, such as Rabbis for Human Rights, have worked actively for the preservation of communities in Area C, such as in the high-profile campaign to Stand with Susiya. Wadi Ejheish is known as “south Susiya,” somewhat separate from it. While the activists of Ta’ayush do also take part in the sharing of the documentation of destruction, they share experience with the inhabitants of Wadi Ejheish in more tactile, physical ways.

I accompanied the activists on their weekly work in the South Hebron Hills area on June 25th, during which we went to Wadi Ejheish not to look but to touch. The sight is certainly distressing, poignantly marked by the remains of clothing and toys caught in the rubble. Yet as we tried, along with the people who live there, to clear away the mess and salvage the building materials that could be reused, I was struck by the heavy materiality of the destruction. Heavy both literally – the concrete blocks that are thicker for external walls, thinner for internal ones, that had to be sorted separately – but also heavy mentally. No doubt it was easier for we Israelis to regard the work as a job to be done without having to overcome the despair of those whose homes had been destroyed. But still, we were working with the men whose buildings had been crushed days before.

The materiality of demolition is not only about what is found among the ruins – I chanced across the ID card of the wife of the Palestinian man working next to me – but the material of the ruins themselves. To disentangle the tangle of metal poles, rope, tarpaulin, concrete blocks, stones, plastic pipes, electricity cables, corrugated metal is to linger in the violence of demolition. This is a stage between witnessing destruction and the defiance of rebuilding, maybe something like a stage of mourning in which you begin to get through the devastation and, with the help of friends or relatives, start putting a life back together.

But it’s not quite so pat. There are different ways of working together. For some time we worked without much conversation, as men do, coordinating actions by observing what others are doing. After a while two Israeli women came back from accompanying a shepherd elsewhere, and there was more chatter and verbal coordination. It also became more necessary to coordinate as we worked further into the tangle of rubble and it was less easy to pull out individual poles, tarps or pieces of corrugated metal. In any case given that some of us can’t speak Arabic or Hebrew well, some of the cooperation had to rely on gestures. Nonetheless, it was working together, the partnership that Ta’ayush embodies.DSC00205

It’s an odd partnership, not one of equals, but one in which equality is valued rather than achieved. Urban, middle class, and often intellectual Israelis doing Hebrew-Arab labour as if redefining Zionist halutziut (pioneering) alongside poor Bedouin shepherds. For all our privilege, what we offer is what anybody could volunteer. In the shade of a broken down cart, a couple of mathematicians burble away to each other incomprehensibly  (to the rest of us) about zeros while I can’t converse with the guy next to me as he doesn’t speak Hebrew and I don’t speak Arabic. As his son works with a couple of us later, I can only gesture to where he should cut string binding metal grating to corrugated metal. And then a thought flashes into my mind about the common Jewish Israeli saying about Arabs sticking a knife in your back. This work in common, a boy eager to help adults, shows how silly such thoughts are. But I don’t know what he’s thinking. They, the Jews, come with guns and bulldozers to demolition his home, then some other Jews come almost empty handed to help clear the rubble. It’s hard to make sense of that.

By the time we stopped work I’d been close to calling it quits for myself, my strength drained by the hard physical work under the unrelenting sun. I was deeply fatigued, but not in terms of the compassion I could feel by looking at yet another photo or video of Israeli occupation forces demolishing Palestinian homes and work places. I was deeply fatigued by the sheer effort of undoing destruction, and I wish that the photos could convey just a fraction of that difficulty to the Jewish Israelis in whose name the demolitions are executed. For all the sensuous power of visual experience, perhaps you have to feel demolition in your fingers to experience how cruel occupation is.

The direct line between Susiya and Duma

Hundreds of Palestinian, Israeli and international activists march into the Palestinian village of Susya, demanding that Israel not demolish it, Suysa, South Hebron Hills, July 24, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Hundreds of Palestinian, Israeli and international activists march into the Palestinian village of Susya, demanding that Israel not demolish it, Suysa, South Hebron Hills, July 24, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The mobilization of international and Palestinian-Israel pressure to support Susiya and prevent the demolition of half of the village was remarkable. The US State Department and EU foreign ministers warned Israel against further destruction and expulsion, and the demonstration on July 24th in support of the village was the most significant Palestinian-Israeli rally for years. That so many eyes were on, and bodies in, Susiya is testament to the determination of the people of Susiya to remain steadfast on their land, and of the support they receive from the Palestinian Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, Rabbis for Human Rights, B’tselem, Breaking the Silence, Combatants for Peace, Ta’ayush, and others. News came that the “Civil Administration” of the military occupation decided to hold back on the demolition, and that the High Court hearing to appeal the demolition was being delayed while some other arrangement for the villagers to stay on their private land is considered. So for once there was some good news. Susiya remains to live another day, and the Occupation is held at bay.

But the news didn’t stay good for very long. It was a spark of hope in what remain dark times. The same week the Israeli security apparatus shot dead three unarmed Palestinians when soldiers went on arrest raids. Palestinian lives matter. The settlers did not let up on their efforts to grab the land of Susiya for their own use. In any case, Susiya has not yet been saved, merely given a reprieve.

A photograph of 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh who died in the attack. Irish Times

A photograph of 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh who died in the attack. Irish Times

Then the news became horrific, with the burning to death in an arson attack on his family’s home, apparently by militant settlers, of 18-month year old Palestinian Ali Dawabsheh. At the site of the attack in the village of Duma, graffiti was painted, including the word “revenge” under a Star of David. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ya’alon and President Rivlin were quick to condemn the attack, even to call it Jewish terrorism, and to promise that the criminals would be brought to justice. They were also quick to draw a clear distinction between such extremism and the regular practices of the security forces and state without which the settlements, which are illegal according to international law (and some by Israeli law) could not exist. Palestinian President Abbas however saw the connection between them. And so he should, although it would also be good to see the resources of the Palestinian Authority put to use in support of the harassed Palestinians living under full Israeli military and civil rule in Area C.

The village of Duma, near Nablus, has not been forced to relocate itself as Susiya did in 1986. Nor is it facing any immediate danger of dispossession and dispersal. But the military-bureaucratic post-Olso occupation regime, as reported here, has left the village of Duma isolated among settlements and army bases, restricted movement with roadblocks, limited access to most of its land that is located in Area C, ordered the demolition of homes built in the part of the village located in Area C without the required permits that are almost never given, confiscated land for roads that connect Israeli settlements, and failed to protect it from numerous settler attacks.

"Revenge" graffiti at Duma. Photo from Rabbis for Human Rights

“Revenge” graffiti at Duma. Photo from Rabbis for Human Rights

The revenge attack is made to seem exceptional, its violence impassioned, whereas the routine structural violence of occupation that Netanyahu and Ya’alon practice is made to seem proportionate and justified. Homes of the Dawabsheh family were slated for demolition by the occupation authorities in 2013. Ali Dawabsheh’s murder (and that of any other members of his family who may not survive their severe wounds) is indeed exceptional in its viciousness. But to treat it as a homicidal exception to the politicide of occupation is an alibi for the viciousness and extremism that is the daily practice of governing people without rights whose lives simply don’t matter to their rulers. Occupation is a revenge attack for no crime that was committed by the people of Susiya or of Duma. Occupation is a revenge attack that condemns both those who can find no salvation in vengeance and those who are the target of their misdirected fear and hatred.

Without Palestinian Susiya, what would be Peace?

I cannot imagine what any sort of peace in Israel-Palestine would look like if the planned demolition of the Palestinian village of Susiya by Israeli occupation forces and the displacement of its residents to outside of Area C of the West Bank goes ahead. The case of Susiya is by now well known and has been a focus of sustained legal and grass-roots campaigns by Rabbis for Human Rights and B’Tselem (click on the links for detailed information). But it is astounding that the village is now facing its third destruction and dispersal. It began with the establishment of the Israeli settlement of Susiya in 1983 on Palestinian land, followed in 1986 by the eviction of the villagers after their land was declared a Jewish archaeological site. That says a lot about how occupation works – the justification of Jewish presence of the land in the past comes at the cost of Palestinian presence on the land (documented since Ottoman times) in the present. The Israeli settlement project in the West Bank (and elsewhere) entails an exclusive Jewish right to settle on the land, and hence the dispossession of the Palestinians who are already settled.

Since 1986 the villagers have been trapped in a Kafkaesque Catch 22. They relocated to other agricultural land and built temporary structures in addition to using caves, but the occupation authorities never approved any plans for reconstructing the village, meaning all construction was technically illegal. In 2001 the occupation authorities demolished the village as revenge for the murder of an Israeli settler in Susiya, and since then there have been a series of demolition orders, petitions to the Israeli High Court by the villagers, and temporary stays of demolition. Since 2001 the villagers and their property have been attacked repeatedly by settlers who have also blocked access to their land, Despite numerous complaints filed with the Israeli authorities, there has been almost no redress. In 2013 the occupation authorities rejected a plan for the village, proposing instead to relocate the villagers into Area A, which the villagers have petitioned against. The Israeli High Court is due to consider the case again on August 3rd 2015, but on May 4th the court denied a request for an interim injunction against demolitions, and occupation authorities announced that the destruction would go ahead between July 20th and August 3rd.

susya mapI have posted previously about how the relocated village of Susiya is itself an archaeological site that tells the story of occupation. Now it has become the site of an intensive campaign to save Susiya. As usual, there is an online campaign: the hashtags #savesusiya and #standwithsusiya; the Facebook page Stand with Susiya; a Thunderclap petition; an email campaign by Jewish Voice for Peace to John Kerry; a letter campaign by the International Solidarity Movement to EU officials and Israeli embassies; and no doubt some more. The impending demolition has already attracted international attention. Spokesperson for the US State Department John Kirby said on July 16th that the demolition “would be harmful and provocative,” and Israeli Channel 2 TV news broadcast his statement. The Guardian newspaper was among the international press that had already covered the story in June.

Yet, what will matter more than all of this will be non-violent direct action on the ground. Rabbis for Human Rights are trying a last minute intercession through their lawyer, who referred to the planned eviction as transfer. At the same time, they and other groups, such as the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee have called for action in the village, including a demonstration on Friday 24th and a constant presence of Israeli and international supporters. Maybe all together, the campaign will halt the demolition until August 3rd, but even then there is no guarantee that the court will spare Susiya from destruction.

area cWhy does Susiya matter? What difference would it make if a couple of hundred Palestinians moved a few kilometers? The case of Susiya is clearly a part of a pattern in Area C of the West Bank, where Israel retains full civil and military control, and where the “Civil” Administration’s planning powers are used cynically to enforce the creeping annexation of the area. As Area C is 60% of the territory of the West Bank, that would leave very little space for Palestinians to live, work and build on. It is not only a question of leaving no place for a Palestinian state, should the “two state” solution ever come to fruition. Whether there be one state, two states, or seven, there can only be peace if there is room for everyone to live. If there is demolition, eviction, displacement, transfer, and even if then there is no more violence as there is nobody left to oppress, but “quiet instead, there will not be peace. What follows victory is not peace but the shadow of war. The peace that might come, however, will be prefigured by the activists resisting occupation together.

As the threat to Susiya grows, so does the need for action.

This is an emergency! Stand with Susiya.

The Leftern Wall

[Graphic put together by Rabbis for Human Rights]

Between July 20th, the end of Ramadan, and August 3rd, the date on which the Israeli Supreme Court will hear Susiya’s case against demolition, there are expected to be a number of demolitions in the village of Susiya.

This is hideous news.

We cannot allow ourselves to be made drowsy or apathetic. Yes, Susiya has been under threat of demolition since 2012. Yes, there have been times when the call to action has been framed as urgent, and in the end, nothing happened (thank God and citizen-activists). Yes, the issue of Susiya, for those who follow this blog or the work of many other human rights NGOs and activists, is not a new one.

And yet: The essence of the story is that residents of a village are threatened with the their homes and medical clinics and playgrounds being demolished simply because…

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When Peace Is Not Enough: Review of a Book by Atalia Omer

Atalia Omer, When Peace Is Not Enough: How the Israeli Peace Camp Thinks about Religion, Nationalism, and Justice

(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013).

During the first intifada, for most of which I was a graduate student at the Hebrew University, I went on many demonstrations at which I chanted what then seemed to be the radical slogan “Israel and Palestine; two states for two nations.” Since the 1993 Oslo accords the principle of “two states” has been the official position of Israeli governments, and the cornerstone of both international peace diplomacy and the “mainstream” Israeli peace movement, much of which (including Peace Now) is now connected under the umbrella of the Peace NGO Forum. Yet, since 1993, and especially since the collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in 2000, Israel’s more radical peace, anti-Occupation and human rights activists have not only come to understand that the Oslo process entails the perpetuation of the Occupation in the post-1967 territories and the infinite deferment of Palestinian self-determination, but also that the “two state solution” would not be a solution at all, not for the Palestinian refugees seeking to return, not for Palestinian citizens of Israel seeking equality, not for the internal ethnic and religious conflicts within Israeli society. For them, the “peace” of Oslo is not enough.

When Peace Is Not Enough is a thoughtful, deeply felt and well-researched book that, while critical mostly of the mainstream or liberal Zionist peace camp, also challenges some of the perceptions and actions of the radical peace camp. It does so not by formulating another solution, such as some version of a one state, binational state, or federal state, but by interrogating the question of “who we are,” the underlying logic of the conflict in terms of Zionist, Jewish Israeli identity, which Atalia Omer argues is particularist, Orientalist and ethnocentric (though she doesn’t go as far as to call it racist). “Euro-Zionism is the “root cause of the conflict” (p. 275) and the source of multiple injustices.

Omer musters an impressive range of disciplinary and theoretical approaches. From peace studies, she adopts the principle of “positive peace” according to which the transformative practice of peacebuilding leads to “justpeace.” From cultural theory she expands the analysis of power relations and structures that perpetuate injustices to include symbolic violence. From political theory she considers critically liberal models of multiculturalism and theories of socioeconomic redistributive justice that take cultural recognition into account in order to avoid the “misframing” of justice for Palestinian Israelis as a question of minority rights. From postcolonial theory she borrows the notion of hybrid identities, in this case those of Arab (Mizrahi) Jews and Palestinian Israelis, whose subaltern voices, she argues, must be integrated into an inter-Jewish and inter-Israeli reformulation of national, religious and ethnic identity that attends to the differences between each of those terms. From poststructuralist theory she attends to the defamiliarization of stable identities so that the colonial subjugation that is “forgotten” in Israeli ethnorepublicanism and the illiberalism of its liberal version of nationalism can be acknowledged. At the same time, and not entirely consistently, Omer insists that deconstruction of Jewish and Israeli identity be matched with reconstruction: “reimagining belonging, without dismissing and decontextualizing collective passions of identity” (p. 225) as in the formulation “a state of all citizens.” The ethical insights of Western, Ashkenazi Diasporic Jewish thought, its embrace of alterity and self-estrangement, need to be reconfigured along with Mizrahi experience of belonging in the Middle East. That is an impressive array of perspectives, and it comes at the cost of some “theoretical belaboring” (p. 113) and repetition but, as I will suggest below, it may not be comprehensive enough.

Central to Omer’s multiperspectival approach is her inclusion of religious peace studies, through which (in Chapter 1) she argues that the secular, liberal Zionist peace camp is fundamentally flawed by conceptual blindness: its unacknowledged reliance on a political theology, its incorporation of Jewish religious symbolism at the same time as it attempts to secularize Biblical mythology. Consequently, liberal Zionism is immersed in a messianic historical narrative even as it excoriates the militant illiberalism of religious settler Zionism and marginalizes the non-secular voices of Mizrahim. Redemption of exile by means of return to the land, according to this eschatology, and the subsuming of Judaism by the secular religion of Zionism, blinds the Zionist peace camp to the injustices (colonialism and conquest) entailed by establishing and sustaining an ethnodemocratic Jewish state. Hence, the Zionist peace camp, as exemplified by Peace Now, focuses on ending the Occupation of 1967 in order to ensure a majoritarian Jewish state, while overlooking the Nakba of 1948. In contrast to such militant secularism, Omer calls for a post-secular secularism through which Jewish religious tradition can be reinterpreted and pluralized, such that its role in Israeli nationhood can be directed away from a messianic teleology and reimagined as “distinctly Middle Eastern” (p. 265). Similarly, in overcoming the Orientalist ethnorepublicanism of Euro-Zionism, especially through the polycentric multiculturalism of the new Mizrahi discourse, Omer calls to reimagine “Israeli identity as Levantine” (p. 240).

Omer understands that a de-Zionized Israel would need more than a “thin” civic identity if it is “to be invested with a substantive meaning that will generate commitment for its continuous cultivation” (p. 83). Middle Eastern identity could surely be part of the “reimagining of collective passions” (p. 273). Perhaps some of that imagining could also be a remembering of shared lives in Palestine.[1] Perhaps some of that imagining could be the revival of the music of the piyutim, Jewish liturgical music and lyrics that embrace Diasporic culture, both Middle Eastern and European, and which appeals to secular as well as religious Israelis (and Diaspora Jews). Perhaps some of that imagining could be the work of Zochrot which not only advocates redress of the colonial injustice of the Nakba but also engages in projects that plan an Israel in which the refugees will have returned.

Taken together, Omer’s multiple perspectives provide with an analytical-normative “metric by which [she] … evaluate[s] peace agenda” (p. 156). Omer judges Israeli peace activists and subaltern social discourses according to a set of “criteria … for thinking about peace and justice in zones of ethnoreligious national conflicts” (p. 252). She does so on the understanding that the Israeli Zionist peace camp’s efforts at peacebuilding have been hindered primarily by conceptual blinders which could be removed by incorporating the subaltern voices of the victims of Euro-Zionism, Palestinian Israelis and Arab Jews, into an intra-Jewish and intra-Israeli conversation, which she calls a “hermeneutics of citizenship” (elaborated in Chapter 3).

The liberal Zionist peace camp is found wanting on all levels, although it would have been helpful if the book had considered a group that has more current standing than Peace Now, which is a shadow for its former self. Would an analysis of Combatants for Peace, which is an Israeli-Palestinian group advocating a two-state solution, have the same flaws as Peace Now, or does its bi-national composition modify its apparent adherence to Jewish majoritarianism in Israel? The religious Zionist peaceniks, exemplified by Rabbis for Human Rights, are credited with challenging ethnocentrism through an ethos of recognition of the non-Jewish Other (the “stranger in our midst”) and distinguishing the Judaic tradition from Zionism. But they fail the test because they accept the political theology of Zionism and Jewish majoritarianism, while mistaking the ethnoreligious Israeli context for one in which Western, liberal religious Zionism could thrive.

In addition to the discourses of peace organizations Omer turns to those of the subaltern social groups whose voices are vital to the conceptualization of justpeace. Israeli Palestinian parties and coalitions certainly challenge Zionist ethnocentrism and articulate socioeconomic and civic equality with peace, critiquing the colonial character of Zionism and foregrounding the Nakba in their narrative. But, she says, they misframe their status in term of minority rights, separately from the injustice suffered by other Palestinians, while assuming that the framework of Israeli democracy is liberal enough to accommodate their demands. They also treat religious affiliation as an individual right, in secularist terms. Omer finds more promise in the coalitions and discourse of “New Mizrahi” intellectuals, who deploy postcolonial and multicultural perspectives as a challenge to Ashkenazi Eurocentrism. They articulate socioeconomic injustice with Euro-Zionist orientalist antagonism to Arabs and the denigration of Middle Eastern Jewish religion, ethnicity and culture (which Mizrahi immigrants were compelled to abandon in favor of hegemonic Israeli nationalism, culture and religious orthodoxy). Mizrahi reattachment to Diasporic life offers Israeli Jews a sense of belonging in the Arab-Muslim world, and an Arab-Jewish hybrid identity. The New Mizrahim, however, have not yet elaborated a post-secularist conception of the relationship between national identity and religion.[2]

There are some aspects of these subaltern voices that might deserve more attention for Omer’s holistic approach to peacebuilding than she gives them. She points out, correctly, that the Zionist “left” is not left because it offers no alternative to neoliberalism which is incompatible with the social justice aspect of justpeace (pp. 54-55). Omer does note that a core voice of new Mizrahi discourse, the Black Panthers, was informed by the radical left anti-Zionism of Matzpen, and she does include the Israeli Communist Party among the voices of Palestinian Israelis. Yet she does not develop a perspective that would, as do these marginalized voices, offer a systematic critique of neoliberalism and capitalism. There might be two reasons for this. First, the holistic approach to peacebuilding on which she draws, which entails “concern with systematic injustices” (p. 67), is ill-equipped to analyze such injustices without some recourse to theories (such Marxism and neo-Marxism) that identify the root causes of social injustice and social conflict in systematic exploitation. Secondly, Omer wants to both uphold “the principles and values undergirding liberal democracies” and critique “the systems of domination that rearticulate and limit their implementation” (p. 220). But what if (as Marxists and some poststructuralists claim) liberal democracy necessarily entails domination?

Even without incorporating more radical perspectives, Omer would clearly be too radical for some. Her approach to justpeace entails recognition of Zionist colonialism, the injustice of the Nakba, and Ashkenazi ethnic supremacy. Omer speaks from the perspective of the radical Israeli (more appropriately, now Palestinian-Israeli) “peace” activists, some of whom regard themselves as post-, non-, or anti-Zionists, and who often refer to themselves as anti-occupation or human rights (rather than peace) activists. Similarly to Palestinian-Israeli discourse, which as Omer notes is unpalatable to liberal as well as mainstream Zionists, such activism is rejected by most of the Jewish Israeli public as delegitimization of the Jewish character of the Israeli state, if not as treason. Moreover, the book will not be persuasive to Zionist Israelis (and Diaspora Jews), as well as many others inside and outside academia, who regard Arab (and Muslim) hostility to the Jewish state and intransigence as the obstacle to peace, a point Omer notes on p. 23. From their perspective also, the peace movement is blind – in this case to a harsh reality.

Omer also acknowledges that Jewish (even if mostly Azhkenazi) Diasporic history of persecution and in particular the Holocaust frame the way in which Jews experience the conflict as victims, and she conceives a holistic approach to conflict transformation to entail “a form of cultural therapy” and “trauma healing” (p. 67). Yet, social psychology is not among the many perspectives and disciplines she includes in her approach to peacebuilding,[3] nor does she refer to the extensive literature on and examples of dialogue in this and other conflicts.[4] It is hard to see Omer’s approach as the starting point for the intra-Israeli debate which she advocates about the character of Jewish and Israeli ethnic, religious, and national identity, rather than as a desirable point along that journey. At the same time, Omer gives the radical activists much to think about with regards to the role of religion in the conflict and in peacebuilding, even if she offers little by way of analysis and reconceptualization other than the notion of post-secular secularism. Would de-Zionized Israeli Judaism look like Jewish liberation theology?

When Peace is not Enough stands out from other studies of the Israeli peace camp by not approaching it as a social movement, but instead by focusing on the concepts and texts of the groups and social sectors, for which the book pays a price. Tamar Hermann’s analysis of the shortcomings of the Israeli peace movement[5] recognizes its failure to attract Palestinian Israelis and Mizrahim. Omer notes that “broad and effective coalitions” that articulate ‘“domestic” struggles of the Mizrahim and Palestinian Israelis for justice and the “external” struggle of the Palestinians for national self-determination” (p. 258) have not materialized. But does her framework help us understand why such coalitions have not formed or grown? Why, for example, has the Arab-Jewish group Tarabut which directly addresses “the division in Israeli oppositional politics between struggles against the occupation and struggles against inequality and for social justice within Israel itself,” not had more traction than it has?  Is it because it has a secularist conception of religion, or because of its organizational structure, or something else? Hermann analyzes the waxing and waning success of the peace movement, and its public appeal, primarily in terms of the changing political circumstances of the time.[6] In other words, there are material circumstances, not only conceptual blinders, which explain why peace activism has not been enough.

In her focus on conceptual blinders rather than material practices, Omer also assumes that the former are the key hindrance for the latter, but is that the case? For example, Omer argues that Rabbis for Human Rights differentiates normatively between the rights of Israeli Palestinians (among a Jewish majority) and Palestinians in the occupied territories (p. 158). During the week in which I read this book, in June 2015, Rabbis for Human Rights was engaged in its usual work, combining solidarity activity on the ground with legal activism to prevent the destruction of a Palestinian village within the Green Line (Umm al-Hiran) and one beyond it (Susiya). In practice, whether or not its members define themselves as Zionists committed to a two-state solution, its activities blur the normative boundary. Omer devotes only half a sentence to the concrete activities of Rabbis for Human Rights that address “house demolitions, poverty, foreign labor rights, and uprooted olive groves” (p. 160). She may well be right that in doing so, the group deals only with “practical subsystemic problems” rather than systemic ones. That is the sort of question that a social movement study of the group might pose.

Maia Carter Hallward’s study of several Israeli and Palestinian peace activist groups, including Rabbis for Human Rights, looks for answers to such questions by focusing on “actions and deeds” rather than “beliefs and visions.” The subtitle of Omer’s book is “How the Israeli Peace Camp Thinks about Religion, Nationalism, and Justice.” But perhaps the question should be how do peace groups perform and practice peace in what they do, in how they relate to each other, their opponents, and their publics? Even if Hallward’s conclusion is that the activists lack “an overall strategy for undermining the regime’s ‘pillars of support’,” they also engage in significant acts of peacebuilding in that they “used rhetorical, positional, and relational forms of power in an effort to combat structural violence and exclusivist categories of identification.”[7] If Hallward also concludes that the peace activists have not been able to do enough to bring just peace, she suggests that they need to change their strategies, not their concepts.

Omer might consider that many of the multiple, generally small groups and organizations active for peace, human rights and resisting occupation are engaged in different fragments of a “hermeneutics of citizenship.” Yet, that is an odd phrase for the radical practice of peacebuilding she envisages. Repeatedly, she turns to the terms “imagination” and “reimagination” to characterize the work that has to be done on the way to “justpeace.” Omer is leading us towards an inspiring vision of Israel-Palestine, one which is at home in the Middle East and enables all its inhabitants to feel at home. To achieve that vision what is required are not only multiple perspectives but also multiple material acts, affects, bodies. Perhaps the vision is utopian, but as co-founder of Zochrot Normah Musih puts it: “Utopia is a form of concretization that requires detailed planning.”[8] As I see it, it’s enough that the peace activists who still engage in Palestinian-Israeli peacebuilding, in spite of the difficult circumstances under which they work, imagine peace concretely.

[1] See for example Menahem Klein, Lives in Common : Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Hebron (London : Hurst & Company, 2014).

[2] An interesting development in that direction is the Tikkun movement in Israel.

[3] See, for example, Daniel Bar-Tal, “Psychological obstacles to peace-making in the Middle East and proposals to overcome them,” Conflict and Communication Online 4/1 (2005): 1-15.

[4] An interesting example of intra-Jewish dialogue that engages deeply with Judaic conceptions of peace and challenges Western ones is the Talking Peace project.

[5] Tamar Hermann, The Israeli Peace Movement: A Shattered Dream (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

[6] See also Lev Grinberg, Politics and Violence in Israel/Palestine: Democracy versus Military Rule (London: Routledge, 2009), who analyzes the failure of the Oslo process (rather than the peace movement) in terms of changing political circumstances, the fluctuating openness of the political system, and the actions of and power balance between political elites.

[7] Maia Carter Hallward, Struggling for a Just Peace: Israeli and Palestinian Activism in the Second Intifada (University of Florida Press, 2011), p. 49, p. 104, p. 232.

[8] Norma Musih, “Hannah Farah – Kufr Bir’im”, in Solution 196-213: United States of Palestine-Israel, ed. Joshua Simon (Berlin, Sternberg Press, 2011), 72.

Susiya is here

"Yesha is here" sticker

“Yesha is here” sticker

In the days when Gaza was treated by Israeli settlers as  “liberated” territory along with Judea and Samaria, under the acronym “Yesha,” the settler movement used the slogan “Yesha is here” to win support among the Jewish Israeli public. The logic behind the slogan was clear: there’s no difference between Jewish settlement within the Green Line and beyond it as the right to the Land of Israel applies on both sides. But the slogan also contained a warning: if you “give up” the West Bank and Gaza, the Arabs will come after Tel Aviv too. The slogan was accompanied by claims that the post-67 settlers are not doing anything different to the pre-67 settlers, that the Zionist movement has always done what’s needed to establish and maintain “the Jewish homeland in the Land of Israel.” “What’s needed” has included military force, expulsion and dispossession of Palestinians, and certainly that was the case before 1967.

The slogan’s currency has not waned since Gaza was cut off from the West Bank (and the rest of the world). The already relocated Palestinian village of Susiya in the South Hebron Hills, in Area C of the West Bank, is facing immanent demolition following a ruling on May 5, 2015, by Israel’s High Court of Justice. The case of Susiya is well documented and has been a focus of sustained campaigns by Rabbis for Human Rights and B’Tselem (click on the links for detailed information) and it has also attracted a good deal of international attention, with EU and UN representatives visiting the site. The villagers were evicted 30 years ago not in the heat of battle, but to make way for an archaeological site that became a settlement, and now they face further expulsion from the private land they moved on to, to give the settlement more space. The case of Susiya is clearly a part of a pattern in Area C, where Israel retains full civil and military control, and where the Civil Administration’s planning powers are used cynically to enforce the creeping annexation of the area. The Israeli settlement project in the West Bank entails an exclusive Jewish right to settle on the land, and hence the removal and dispossession of the Palestinians who are already settled.

Demonstrators protesting against the planned evacuation of Bedouin villages in the Negev, June 11, 2015. Photo by Ilan Assayag

Demonstrators protesting against the planned evacuation of Bedouin villages in the Negev, June 11, 2015. Photo by Ilan Assayag

This is not, however, only the story of Israeli settlement in the West Bank, because “Yesha” is here in pre-1967 Israel too. Dedicated to human rights in Israel as well as the occupied territories, Rabbis for Human Rights also campaigns against expulsions and displacements of Arabs within Israel, notably the Bedouin of the Negev and most recently the village of Umm al-Hiran, which is also slated to make way for a new town for Jews. Neither on this nor that side of the Green Line is it mostly a question of extremist, fundamentalist settlers taking the law into their own hands and forcing Palestinians from their land. In each case, it is Israel’s High Court that has judged that the inhabitants of the land have no right to it, or to build on it, but the State does. “Yesha,” the State-backed project of exclusive Jewish settlement, for which the law is as much a force as its military, is indeed here.

It is perhaps no coincidence that the connection between dispossession there and dispossession here, on either side of the Green Line, is inherent to the activity of Rabbis for Human Rights, and that it is practiced under the heading of “rights” not “peace.” If “peace” signifies two states, one Palestinian and one Israeli, and the assumption that drawing a line between them is enough for there to be peace, then what would that peace be? The Palestinian State, one hopes, would allow the villagers of Susiya to return to their land, but what would peace be for the people of Umm al-Hiran? Peace can’t only be there but not here. And that is why the practice of Rabbis for Human Rights is not only about rights but also about peace, because there is no peace without justice and no justice without peace.