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