Encounter 136, October 23, 2020

After some weeks when we held our Migdalor meetings only on Zoom, we got together again near the deserted sulfur plant. Shmulik and I picked up Hayuta, came to the site and found Rami there, who had already made himself comfortable on his chair, in the pleasant breeze.
Roni came, as well as Jaber, and Hana with his cap. The circle was completed by Malki, Bella and Uzi. 10 in all.
Everyone knows everyone else, but still we “go around the circle” with introductions… Each in their turn share their feelings these days.
The pandemic and the political chaos affect all of us, not necessarily in a bad way… Some see them as opportunities for a new reality, others find it difficult to adjust, and some simply go with the flow… Life leads and feelings are put aside.
We opened a broad discussion of Gaza, that began by Roni reporting on the state of our friends there. The discussion slipped into political-historical dimensions in the context of the Gazan space, trying to decipher the “true” intentions of the Israeli side. Everything in the context of humans and land, of course. Indeed, in our inner circle we try to focus on humans living in this space and less on political rulings and regime actions. Needless to say, these things are interconnected and one canot help but relate to the political system as affecting people and land, and still we navigate “Gaza awareness” in our meetings, especially with relations that come into being, “eye to eye and heart to heart”.
This time, without the direct contact, we slid into politics pure and simple… Naturally our discussion was justified, in light of our usual interest (at least I find it so), and lasted much longer than the official plan.
In our departure mingling, Hanan came up to me and said that relating to the opinions I aired, I actually spoke about “Zionism”. I was surprised, since I had not mentioned it at all. But on second thought, he was right… I realized that if we place “Zionism” on a spectrum of our being in this space, we would find various doses of it in every single one of us. Consciously or unconsciously. From its total negation to its undisputed justification. Even without using the actual term itself…
That’s it for todeay. I introduced the participants in the beginning.
Wrote: Oded

Encounter 134 – October 9, 2020

Along the 140-year timeline of “the Jews’ return to their land”, “national revival” and its connection with Eretz Yisrael (the appellation embraced by Zionism), there is the assumption (not entirely articulated) that there have been “junctions” wherein events took place, breaking the potential equality in Arab-Jewish relations.
The question I raised for the sake of this encounter was as follows:
“… What was the moment to which you would return on the timeline, when the balance of fairness and seeing the other changed, and from whence the polarized reality we see today developed in fact.
Or simply put: to which point in time would you return?”
This was the question discussed at today’s Zoom meeting we held, articulated by Rami.
First to relate to this was Tal, telling about her grandmother, born in Palestine in the turn of the 20th century to first Aliya (Jewish immigration wave) Zionist parents, who wrote as a young girl about her deep-seated fear and contempt of their Arab neighbors.
Mari said that in her opinion, the fact that the Faisal-Weitzman Agreement signed on January 3, 1919 was not materialized, brought about that “separateness” which Rami defined in his question as causing the present situation in our space. This agreement defined cooperation between the Arab space then named “Greater Syria” (more or less the area today shared by Syria, Jordan, Israel and Lebanon), headed by Faisal Ibn Hussein, and the idea of a Jewish “National Home” in the spirit of the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, an idea that Haim Weitzman represented in the agreement. Faisal signed upon the condition that the Arab State would receive its independence of Britain. However, the agreement was undermined by England and France and was attacked by its opponents of both parties. Mari claims that the fact that this agreement could not materialize was a critical point in the relations between Arabs and Jews in this area.
Nahshi began his words by agreeing with Tal who implied that animosity was inherent from the beginning of Jewish “national revival” and adds that on both sides, giving up claims is “translated” into weakness and resulting violence. From there he leaps to “stations” closer to our day, when attempts were made to give back “things we took by force”… The purpose of such attempts may have been only “a guise” as he put it, but even “a guise” is important. Nahshi says that at points such as the peace accord with Egypt, the Oslo Accords or the accord signed with Jordan held willingness and good will towards agreement, and this did not work. Clearly for him the solution must lie in the study and recognition of the different narratives of both sides.
I said that we must remember that one half of these 140 years were lived here under either the Turkish Ottoman or the British rule. I believe that no colonialist regime during that period had taken land in order to give it back… Therefore, both Arabs and Jews had to plan their lives as subjects, not as sovereign citizens. The Jews, who throughout their history had adopted a narrative of persecution, developed a strong tribal cohesiveness and had a difficult time assimilating in this space other than as a separate ethnic group. If this protected them in the course of history (even at times when it was forced upon them, and paradoxically preserved their strong ethnic cohesiveness), why wouldn’t it protect them now in this new space they came to inhabit? This separateness led to mutual animosity that has lasted to the present day.
Roni received from friends a video that shows how ever since Bible days and throughout history, this space has always been the bone of contention over land. In other words, “that which has been will continue to be”. Her reaction was that this does not have to continue. She realized the ties of a community or a people to this place while she was on a farming mission in Egypt. There she realized that another narrative exists, different from the one she had absorbed here, and that each side is absolutely right from its own perspective. In the high school she worked at in Egypt, during her mission, a student – son of an Emirates ambassador – asked her whether she agrees with what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians. She answered that she did not agree, and that she is anxious about what this makes of us as human beings. When her daughter asked her before this Zoom encounter which point in time she would choose as generating animosity, Roni said that her choice perhaps would be the 1967 War. Her daughter indicated that right after this war relations were excellent, and Roni claimed that perhaps on the surface this was right, but the “subterranean currents” already gave off the feeling that something bad was going on here. From the book written by journalist Ohad Hamo, “The Surface”, she quotes a conversation Hamo had with a senior Hamas official who told him they would not give in, but also said that he understands the Israelis who are so convinced that they’re right. Hamo thinks that this is a positive point from which one could advance.
Malki refers to Wikipedia: under the heading “Jewish-Palestinian conflict” it says that the conflict began in 1860, when the Jewish neighborhood of Mishkenot Sha’ananim was built outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, an act that symbolized action and a declaration of presence on the part of Jews in this space. But for Malki personally, the 1967 occupation marks the breaking point. She does not underestimate 1948 or other points raised in the discussion, but for her that is where the line was drawn. Indeed, there were several chances after that, but as soon as we did not take the right measures immediately following the 1967 War, things just moved downhill. Ever since, she has been trying to acquaint herself as much as possible with the Palestinian side, and mentions the blessed work that the Zochrot organization has been doing (Zochrot is an organization devoted to familiarizing the Israeli public – in Hebrew – with the Nakba, the Palestinian disaster of 1948).
Shmulik says that indeed tension has been in existence ever since the beginning of “practical Zionism”. Even Rabin admitted in one of his speeches that we did not come to an empty land. But, says Shmulik, many points along the way escalated animosity between the two communities. During the first and second waves of Jewish immigration, the Arabs lost many work places because of the principle of “Hebrew (Jewish) labor”, and many parts of the land were purchased by Jews from some Arab landowners and the Palestinian farmers were chased away. The “riots” and wars that took place during the 20th century served to “fuel” the conflict. Things keep going on and now, for example, we mark 20 years since the events of October 2000. But, says Shmulik, the history of our world has seen harsh conflicts being solved, and ours will be too. Shmulik thinks the only possible solution is a single shared political entity between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
Hagit names 1923, when her grandfather immigrated to the country, as the meaningful year. Especially representative of the kind of Jewish immigration that was more ideological and less survivalist. Hagit’s grandfather joined the Brit Shalom movement that believed in co-existence with the Palestinian Arabs. Hagit asks what it means to come to an inhabited country, ignore its inhabitants, adopt the idea that it is all “ours” and get busy with erasing “their” history. Perhaps the narrative does play a certain role, but the realization lies on a ground of great injustice.
Rami says that thinking about the issue makes him even more optimistic. He believes this is a “conflict between neighbors”. It does not begin at a certain point in history but rather in our basic thinking that “we are better than others” so I am within my rights to move over the Amalekite or the Adomite or the Yevusite… I am better…! It’s in our DNA since much earlier than the great Jewish culture was created of which we are so proud. Rami often quotes Professor Leibowitz who, in one of his speeches, said that we have stopped renewing anything. We take short cults, from the Bible to 1948 (mihatanach lapalmach…). “New” Hebrew used Biblical terms (settlement, redemption of the land, conquering labor). Thanks to our European origins, understanding European languages, proximity to power (the British), taking advantage of a window of opportunity, and lots of “stops” on the way, we created the present situation. If the question is which point along the way we get back to?… Rami says he’d go back to a place where he is no different than anyone else. A conflict between neighbors is soluble if… if we give up our self-glorification.
Tal suggests that Jewish Israelis begin to learn Arabic en-masse and stop using such expressions as “we, they” etc… She calls this the “Zionist splits”: “We are the best in the world” and at the same time, “finally we are like everyone else”…
Julia says that this discussion is “fiction”. There is no such thing as going back and imagine what I would do differently. She explains this with an episode of the series “The Twilight Zone” she saw in her youth. A 60-year old millionaire thinks that if he were 20-years old again today, he could be even richer… And in the series he does get back to the age of 20. But times are different and people are different and everyone thinks he has gone nuts, and when he gets back to being 60, he is actually homeless… Julia thinks that the “exercise” we are trying to do of going back in time is absolute fiction. She does connect with the idea that we should act from here on, without disregarding history… This place does not belong to anyone, and still is everyone’s. As a psychologist she recognizes the value of “definitions”, and whoever uses them should take responsibility for them.
Rami answers Julia, that navigation in the desert taught him that if he loses his way, he should try to return to where he was earlier and knew where he was, and from there he can plan his way anew.
Mir said that unfortunately not many Israelis know how the Arabs are in Israel and this awareness should be raised.
Jaber emphasizes his familiarity with the two cultures. As a child at home he absorbed Bedouin culture, and was also a frequent visitor at the homes of the Jewish neighboring village. Jaber says that yes, there were influential points prior to the founding of the State that caused tension and animosity, and since then he wishes to count 4 main ones: He thinks the first was the 1948 War in which the Palestinians were exiled and became refugees. The second was the 1967 War during which Israel came to those refugees who were exiled in 1948 and continued to persecute them. The third was the 1973 War during which the Israeli ego underwent a crisis after the relief of 1948 and the euphoria of 1967. The result of this crisis of the Jewish-Israeli ego in 1973 was the peace accords with Egypt and hope for the Palestinians that their issue too would be solved. The fourth was in 2000, when Arik Sharon went to the Al Aqsa Mosque. Jaber also mentions the accord with Jordan but does not count it as one of the main points. Sharon’s visit to Al Aqsa caused riots and many dead, including 13 Arab citizens of Israel, as well as many wounded. These events shook any kind of hope that was still around. Jewish-Israeli society moved over to the right side of the political spectrum, Gaza was closed (under siege) and the Separation Barrier was erected in the West Bank. Jaber, who as a child felt at home in the neighboring Jewish village, says that now he cannot get in even with a thousand permits…
Ravit is an art therapist and now joins us from Washington, where she lives with her family. She wishes to relate to the matter from a therapeutic aspect: hatred, she thinks, is the hard place now, which demands care. The more contacts with “the other side” in which she includes not only Arabs and Palestinians but also Haredis (ultra-orthodox Jews) and right-wingers and others. This will lower tensions. If communication begins from the bottom up, it will trickle into the leadership. She was very impressed with the way profound hatred was treated in South Africa, for example, by the perpetrators asking the forgiveness of their victims and receiving it.
Before we finished, Roni informed us of the state of our friends in Gaza, and Rami reminds us that we are here to remember Gaza, and during the Sukkot holiday – Sukkah, arbor, is a temporary structure – it is important to remember the temporariness of the Gazans’ lives.
Zoom participants were: Tal, Mari, Malki, Oded, Shmulik, Jaber, Rami, Roni, Ravit, Nahshi, Mir, Hagit and for short moments, Bella showed up…
Wrote: Oded

Encounter 133 – 2.10.2020

These Covid-19 lockdown times have made us turn to Zoom rather than meeting live. We meant mostly to see and hear one another and get slightly updated about each other and the state of our Gazan neighbors. After about 15 minutes of waiting for joiners, we began talking.
Roni is connected best with the goings on in Gaza. In the civilian sense of course… She updated us on the situation there in general, and about our friends in particular. Not much news. The subject has been brought to the attention of international bodies, and even comes up once and again in international media. There is some kind of hope here, but it has not yet had its effect on the ground. Corona virus stats: according to the information Roni has, the pandemic has not struck there as mightily as it has in our parts, but it’s hard to assess is extent. Judging by aid requests she gets from Gaza, people have a hard time affording even the minimal basics. Roni is hesitant about our ability to help with donations. Not “if to do so” but “how to…” How to make sure the money gets to those who really need it. She turns to us for ideas. As for her personal situation, she says that in her community there are many people ill and isolated, and it’s rather depressing. But Roni – as Roni – immediately connects this state of affairs to her Gaza consciousness and speaks about the decline in the willingness of Israeli hospitals to take in Gazan patients because of Corona suspicions. According to her, “there are good people who help” and small successes are noted…
I spoke after Roni, saying that the Israeli public’s awakening against our evil regime is definitely impressive, but after the demonstration dust settles, energy sufficient to create a new reality vis a vis the Palestinians will not be harnessed – on the contrary: the Jewish public will pull in the ranks, ignoring its situation at best, and greedy for Palestinian real estate in the worst case.
Tal adds to what Roni recounted, saying that a propos harassing human beings, Hamas has had great teachers in Israel’s methods, especially towards non-Jews… She talks about her experiences in Tel Aviv’s large protests in summer 2011, when she sat with some Arabs, and a delegation of Jewish Israelis asked them to leave because speaking about the sources of Arab citizens’ situation in the Jewish state is a political matter, and only talking about “social justice” is important and “unites the people” (and that’s not “political”… ?) That case helped her understand that hatred/fear of Arabs is right there under the skin of Jewish Israelis across the political map, and even a common “enemy” (such as our present government and the person heading it) would not uproot it. Talking with her mates in Machsomwatch (women monitoring Israeli military occupation in the Territories), they mentioned that Israelis are now learning “new” terms such as “closure”, “fragmentation”, “breathing closure”, “curfew” that until now were reserved for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Now we are getting to know these ideas, but hey – how did this come about!…
Ghadir is very worried about decisions that the Israeli government has taken in the past 2 days. She spends her protest time more in the economic-social-health areas, in an attempt to provide all citizens with more reasonable living conditions. Ghadir is also very worried about the pandemic spreading in Gaza. As for the donations, she suggests getting help from organizations that are allowed contacts with Gaza (Physicians for Human Rights, for example…) She misses our encounters and tries not to lose hope…
Personally, Malki too feels well and works from home, but – she says – the physical and political pandemic pollutes all air around us at the moment and does not leave air room for other matters, like the suffering of Gaza for example… But this will not disappear, it will float anew. She thinks it’s better to get organized together for aid, not each on their own.
Mari is in on the emergency teams of her community and of the regional council. She has access to widespread health information, including the graph of the pandemic spread in the Gaza Strip. Surprisingly, the graph (of September 29) shows a decline in the spread in Gaza… This began several days earlier, and Roni assumes that it is a result of strict lockdown (literal curfew begins at 7 p.m.!), wearing face masks in public spaces, and severe personal discipline! Mari summarizes, saying that she is busy with this right now, in general, and follows up the goings on in Gaza as well.
After hearing Mari, we turned to Rosie who has been living in Sweden in recent years. Anyone who reads the paper (Haaretz – the rest are tabloids…) or is otherwise connected to the media, knows that Sweden is a model for dealing with the pandemic. Rosie says this without any hesitation. She follows up on the goings on in Israel. She wishes to know whether the protest demonstrations are because of Bibi, or the economic situation, whether people are really out for solutions…
Tal answers her that compared with summer 2011, then as now the demonstrations cross lines of background, cultural differences, socio-economic status etc, but at the end of the day the protest belongs to Jews only. Emphasizing the segregationist policy vis a vis the Palestinians she tells us about a facility that was being constructed at the entrance to Hebron, financed by private Palestinians and international bodies, to medically isolate Palestinian workers returning to Hebron and the area from work in Israel. The Israeli authorities watched this project being built, let it be completed, and 2 days before it was first operated, the army came and totally destroyed it.
Ghadir remembers this and wonders about the rationale in such demolition. Tal says that irrationality has become the modus operandi of the Israeli army regarding Palestinians (this is not new) and mentions other examples.
Rami began this Migdalor talk by coming to the site itself, but was not connected an we could not hear him. When he returned home so he could be heard, he told us (against the background of an aerial photo of the geographical space taken 85 years ago…) that he sat there physically, listening to that space, feeling its breezes and smelling its scents as he drank his coffee. He experienced all of this in a conscious sharing with us and our friends who live in this shared space. He then talked with us about his idea, which came to him bringing the voices and scents of Gaza into the space, spiced by the hum of drones and the sound of explosions. The idea is to create “crowd funding” for Gaza consciousness! Instead of raising funds in return for “the writer’s personal autograph” he offers an “in kind” that we could offer anyone who is willing to join us and “donate” their consciousness. This “in kind” could be for example a tour of the area, a historical review plus coffee and pastry, or a visit to sties etc… Rami says of himself that he feels fine and looks forward to board the train at Rashidiya train station near Gaza City, a station appearing in the aerial photo behind him, from there to the whole world.
Before our Zoom session, Jaber sent me a message that he is coming to meet us at the Migdalor site. I answered that we’re in isolation and will not be three. He, already on his way, turned back and went home. Last week he wrote us a Whatsapp message saying we’re “eating our own brew”, adding in brackets that the brew was meant for Gaza alone… Now he explains that we are experiencing a tiny example of what they have been going through over there. What is a two week lockdown versus a 14-years long closure? We miss friends we haven’t seen for two weeks, but in Gaza there are ill people who have not received treatment for months and years… He does not want to sound desperate, but he is a little… He gains strength from us, his friends, and prefers a physical encounter (with the required distancing…) rather than a virtual one.
From here on, for another 25 minutes, the conversation is held around Rami’s idea of “crowd funding” of Gaza consciousness. Some of us wondered about the ways nad means. Tal said that this is in fact the idea behind all the organizations she knows, and they all crash against the concrete wall of the “Zionist ethos”.
Rami answers, saying that – on the contrary – he, who has taken part in so many demonstrations, has become more and more optimistic the harder things became. He thinks one should constantly be looking for new ideas how to generate change.
Malki thinks for herself and with us all whether we have any room these days to discuss this complex idea.
Roni says we mustn’t let go of Gaza consciousness as a place that needs attention even in days when our attention is directed mostly to things that are practically “existential”.
Rami explains that Migdalor – a lighthouse – as a structure has no consciousness. It is there to be present in the consciousness of anyone who needs it right now, or will need it sometime. It exists in the consciousness of its operator as well. Jaber speaks again and confirms to himself and to us the power of a common consciousness (today I have broken a record in the number of times using this word…) around the same idea.
So that’s it – each of us at home, but in a circle: Jaber, Rami, Mari, Roni, Ghadir, Nahschi, Moshe, Tal, Rosie, Malki, Oded

I discovered these lines in a Leonard Cohen song called “Anthem”. I’m not an expert on English, but it seemed appropriate:

ring the bells that still can ring
forget your perfect offering
there is a crack in everything
that’s how the light gets in

Wrote: Oded