Intimate enemies, future friends

 
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By Khaled Diab

As I cycle amid the growing cycle of violence, I believe peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians is plausible and possible. 

Friday 21 November 2014

I prefer to do the school run by bicycle. While this is unremarkable in any bike-friendly European city, here in Jerusalem it is a different matter, and not just because of the manic traffic and steep inclines.

As the situation in the Holy City speeds along the fast lane downhill, taking the slippery slope towards the abyss, when my son is with me, I too am slowly beginning to succumb to the mass fear gripping both Arabs and Jews. What will happen if Israeli extremists overhear us speaking Arabic to each other? What if Palestinian extremists mistake us, a darkish man with a blond son, for Jews?

This week’s deadly and reprehensible attack against defenceless worshippers at a Jerusalem synagogue, alongside the ongoing attacks against Palestinians by settlers and ultra-nationalists has further reduced the sense of safety and any residual mutual trust in this bitterly divided city. Incitements by extremist elements in the Israeli government and Hamas are stoking the fire further.

Since the summer of hate erupted, many Palestinian Jerusalemites I know no longer venture into West Jerusalem and some who worked for Israeli companies have quit their jobs or are considering it. Similarly, even many of the Israeli Jerusalemites who used to go to the Arab neighbouhoods of East Jerusalem have stopped doing so.

As the situation continues on its collision course, it is hard to imagine that people in this fractured city once lived differently – at a time when there were no walls and fewer psychological barriers.

But older people recall a time – before Oslo and the first intifada – when Jews and Arabs visited each other’s neighbourhoods unselfconsciously and even the West Bank and Gaza were open, with two-way traffic. Difficult as it is to conceive today, both Palestinians and Israelis used to head to Gaza to enjoy its cuisine, beaches and cheap shopping.

Go even further back, and the very oldest Jerusalemites recall a time when Arabs and Jews lived side by side, when the different religious communities shared in one another’s festivities, and all enjoyed the magic of the Egyptian silver screen during its reputed golden age at the local cinema, as my 92-year-old Palestinian neighbour is fond of reminiscing.

And that is not all. Despite their bitter political differences, Israelis and Palestinians are, I have found after living among them for some three years, more alike than they like to admit or are aware.

Two Jerusalemites embody this symmetry in a symbolic, even poetic fashion. The late Palestinian-American academic, musician and activist Edward Said and Israeli novelist and activist Amos Oz shared, unbeknownst to each other, the peculiar fantasy of metamorphosing into a book “whose fate I took to be happily free of unwelcome changes”, imagined Said, and who “would have a better chance of survival”, in Oz’s words.

But the similarities and parallels aren’t confined to the imaginary sphere, they also occupy the real world.

Palestinians and Israelis share a similar Mediterranean outlook, characterised, among other things, by the central importance of family, child-friendliness and the casual attitude to regulations, from smoking to driving. In culinary terms, this is reflected in the Israeli love of hummus and the Palestinian infatuation with schnitzels.

Intimate Enemies: Living with Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land.  Order here

Intimate Enemies: Living with Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land.
Order here 

Collectively, both societies are highly traumatised. Israelis live with the memory of the Holocaust and the almost wholesale disappearance of Jewish communities in much of Europe and the Middle East, while Palestinians live under the shadow of the Nakba, the loss of Palestine and the ongoing occupation.

Politically too, the two societies have seen an almost symmetrical swing from leftist, secular nationalism towards right-wing, religiously flavoured populism.

All these commonalities, and the fact that the differences within each society is greater than the divergence between them, is why I call Israelis and Palestinians “intimate enemies” in my new book of the same title.

The book digs beyond the politics to unearth the people, the human reality obscured by the fog of war. In it, I also explore creative ways out of the quagmire, namely a civil rights struggle, what I call the non-state solution and the launching of a people’s peace process.

Impossible as it seems today, peace and coexistence are possible but getting there requires a radical rethinking of each side’s priorities, aspirations and narratives.

 

This article first appeared in Italian in Corriere della Sera on 20 November 2014. 

____

Intimate Enemies: Living with Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land

By Khaled Diab

Published by Guardian Shorts, October 2014, http://guardianshorts.co.uk/intimate-enemies/

More info on Intimate Enemies: news, views and reviews

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Blood is thicker than war

 
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By Khaled Diab

The horrific murders of Israeli and Palestinian teens should drive home how violence is futile and burdens coming generations with future bloodshed.

Angry residents of Shuafat in East Jerusalem clash with Israeli police.  Photo: ©Ibrahin Husseini

Angry residents of Shuafat in East Jerusalem clash with Israeli police.
Photo: ©Ibrahin Husseini

Friday 4 July 2014

Death is in the air, hate is on the airwaves and there is an air of dread, with everyone expecting bad times ahead – the question being just how bad. And at the symbolic, emotive heart of the situation lie four teenagers, three Israelis and one Palestinian, though he is not the first die since this crisis erupted.

Ever since the abduction of three Israeli youth – Gilad Shaar (16), Naftali Fraenkel (16), and Eyal Yifrach (19) – underlying tensions have spilled over. But I will not go into them here. Suffice it to say that a volatile, unsustainable situation received a trigger which is tipping it over the precariously balanced status quo.

The genuine grief felt by Israelis for their compatriots and the solidarity they expressed for the boys’ families is understandable. The ripostes by many Palestinians that these were settlers on occupied territory, or, more crucially, that far more Palestinians suffer, including all those prisoners of conscience effectively kidnapped by the state, is missing the point.

Regardless of the right or wrong of the political situation they found themselves in, these were kids and, as a father, I can empathise with their families and sympathise with the grief their disappearance inflicted.

Moreover, it is generally accepted that just resistance does not target civilians – and these teens were clearly civilians. But targeting civilians, as well as collective punishment, is what Israel also does, in spades. In fact, the investigation into the kidnappings saw the mass arrest of Hamas members, not to mention some closures.

At a certain level, Israel’s collective grief and sense of joint anguish was admirable and even commendable, if there weren’t such an ugly underbelly: the mass hysteria and hatred this unleashed. While it is understandable that this kind of high-profile act should elicit fear, to listen to some Israelis speak, you might be excused for thinking that the kidnappings, tragic as they were, represented an existential threat to the entire nation.

Whereas the reality is that thousands upon thousands of Israelis live in close proximity to Palestinians and in safety. Take Sheikh Jarrah where I live. Even at the highest points of this crisis, I’ve seen the local hardcore settlers walking around the neighbourhood unprotected and unmolested.

Perhaps the most galling aspect of the whole tragic affair is the unseemly political opportunism of radicals on both sides. The Israeli government used the abductions to provide it with moral cover to crackdown on its arch-enemy Hamas, and even to sabotage the recently born Palestinian national unity government.

For its part, Hamas juggled with the elusive ingredients for having its cake and eating it. While denying any involvement in the kidnapping, it called the abductors “heroes” and criticised the PA for co-operating with Israel in the investigation. At the same time, embattled and broke, Hamas has been discreetly trying to lower tensions so as to avoid a confrontation with Israel, and has cracked down on radical militant groups to keep the peace. In fact, Israel and Hamas are enemies in words but quite often not in deeds.

After a hunt that lasted nearly three weeks, the bodies of the three Israeli teens were located. While the families dealt with their pain and grief, and many Israelis joined them in their mourning, a wave of hate has overtaken numerous segments of Israeli society.

Even otherwise sensible Israelis have succumbed to the atmosphere of rage. “Burning hate and no regard for lives can’t be countered with concerts,” one Israeli I know commented, as if Israel’s military had turned their guns into rock guitars. “It has to be countered with an iron fist and firm knowledge that murderous actions will have ramifications beyond their wild[est] imagination.”

Extremists angrily called for “revenge” and “death to Arabs” and numerous “price tag” hate crimes have been reported. That’s not to mention the deafening cries across the political spectrum, with the exception of Meretz, for military action against Hamas and the destruction of the movement.

I came face to face with this racist sentiment on West Jerusalem’s central Zion Square. A number of radical settler youth had set up a memorial for the dead teens but had fashioned the candles into the Hebrew for “Death to Arabs”, a bystander informed me. Being an Arab myself, but apparently not obviously one, it was rather surreal to be witnessing people demanding an end to my life simply because of an accident of birth.

It was also heartening to see bystanders not pass this kind of incitement by passively and a war of words broke out between opponents and supporters of, as the Cure would put it,  killing an Arab. One courageous middle-aged women who looked like an ageing hippy stepped into the fray and tried to re-arrange the offensive candle arrangement, only to be met with shouting and chants from the opposing side.

Around the corner from this hate fest was a rally, organised by Tag Meir (Light Tag), an organisation which combats price tagging, which paid tribute to the slain teens and to reject racism and hate crimes. I was pleased that so many from different backgrounds, though the crowd was largely young and middle-class, had come, but what were a few hundred doves to do against the deafening wails of the hawks. In addition, the opposition generally was to vigilantism, and was not targeted against violence perpetrated by the state, no matter how unlawful or counterproductive.

To date, these sentiments and efforts have done little to counteract “price tag” hate crimes, which the Israeli authorities have been reluctant or even unwilling to pursue, especially when targeted at Palestinians in the West Bank.

Hours after the bodies of Yifrach, Fraenkel and Shaar were found, another teen also vanished. But this time it was a Palestinian, 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir who was snatched on his way to dawn prayers from outside the family home, which is just 20 steps from the mosque.

When Abu Khdeir’s charred corpse was discovered in the Jerusalem Forest, Israelis who immediately leapt to blame Palestinians, and specifically Hamas, for the earlier abduction, suddenly changed their tone and started to caution against jumping to conclusions about the perpetrators, while Palestinians who had been taking a wait-and-see attitude pointed an immediate finger at the settlers.

The comforting embrace of conspiracy theories also took hold in numerous Israeli circles, as it had done beforehand with a significant number of Palestinians, with people desperately looking to blame everything, including making assumptions about the boy’s sexuality and how his family would react to it, but their own. Echoing earlier Israeli conspiracy theories regarding Muhammad al-Durrah, some Palestinians I have encountered are convinced that the death of the three Israeli teens was staged or was a black-flag op.

Anger at the murder, a recent chain of price tag attacks against Palestinians and the recent Israeli military crackdown, normally sleepy Shuafat erupted into a wave of rage unseen in the quiet suburb for many long years, with the whirring of helicopter blades, the echoing of sirens and the boom of police fire going on late into the night.

 

Photo: ©Khaled Diab

Photo: ©Khaled Diab

The morning after, I cycled down to the tranquil neighbourhood which we had called home for the better part of two years to the aftermath of rage. There was still a heavy police presence. They had cordoned off the main road and were only allowing locals in, but the police just let me slip by with baffled expressions directed to this figure on a bicycle with a child seat on the back.

The tram stop was destroyed, the glass shattered, the ticket machines burnt. Debris was strewn everywhere, most shops were shuttered, and a couple of buildings defiantly flew Palestinian flags which are banned in Jerusalem.

I dropped by to check on four-year-old’s spiritual “Tetah”, his surrogate grandmother in Jerusalem who was not only a neighbour but like family. The 92-year-old was very troubled by events and shaken. “I am afraid to open my door to strangers,” she told me. “We used to think that Shuafat was a shelter from all the troubles around us, but it seems nowhere is safe.”

She remenisced over better times: “We used to live next door to Jews in West Jerusalem. We used to socialise with each other, buy things from each other, visit each other’s homes. My father’s home was near the Jewish cemetry and I never once felt fear. But now I am frightened.”

It shocked me to discover that I know the father of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, but knew him as Abu al-Rae’d, the name of his oldest son. He is the electrical contractor who installed and maintains the electrical installations in our building. Mohammed, a quiet, reserved and hard-working boy has even been in our building and flat, helping his father and older brother out.

Photo: ©Khaled Diab

Photo: ©Khaled Diab

Abu al-Raed was standing in a startled daze outside his shop in Shuafat, amid the rubble of his grief and the wreckage of the previous night’s fury. The poor man didn’t have a moment’s rest the day before: hours of interrogation then a riot outside his front door till late into the night. After offering him my condolences, he told me in disbelief how Mohammed was abducted from outside the shop on his way to dawn prayers at the mosque, which is no more than 20 steps away.

I had so many questions I wanted to ask him, but decided to refrain out of respect for his grief and the immense pressure he has been under, including the constant buzzing of the media around him. After hearing what happened from a man in such clear anguish and pain, I find it hard to believe the alternative theories being circulated, though I hope the police will investigate this murder impartially, thoroughly and dedicate to it all the resources it merits so as to get to the truth.

The seating area for the funeral has already been set up and I was invited to join the mourners. Abu al-Rae’d told me that he hoped Mohammed’s body would be released today so that they can bury him. RIP Mohammed and may your family too find peace amid their grief.

The street in front of the Abu Khdeir’s building was seemingly the focal point of the clashes, with the greatest destruction around it: make-shift barricades, smoking rubbish skips, etc. I found this to be quite insensitive towards the grieving family who have enough on their plate, not to have to deal with violence on their doorstep.

Moreover, the rioting seems to go against the bereaved family’s wishes. Not just that, the father, Hussein Abu Khdeir, has called for calm and a stop to senseless violence. Having tasted the pain of such unnecessary loss of someone so young with his life ahead of him, Abu Khdeir does not wish such a fate even upon his people’s enemy.

“I am against kidnapping and killing. Whether Jew or Arab, who can accept the kidnapping and killing of his son or daughter?” he said. “I call on both sides to stop the bloodshed.”

Rachel Fraenkel, the mother of one of the murdered Israeli teens, shared Abu Khdeir’s parental sentiments. “If a young Arab really was murdered for nationalist reasons, this is a horrifying and shocking act,” she wrote immediately upon learning the news.

In a clear sign that she did not wish to see any self-appointed avengers take it as their mission to avenge her son’s death, she Fraenkel: “There is no difference between blood and blood. Murder is murder. There is no justification and no atonement for murder.”

The noble and human sentiments expressed by these sorrow-stricken parents points to a better path ahead: the full rejection of violence – whether carried out by the Israeli army, Palestinian militants, as well as Arab or Jewish terrorists – and its immediate and unconditional condemnation, especially when committed by one’s own side.

Objections will immediately be raised on both sides, especially among Israelis who seem to think that state violence is somehow more justified than its non-state counterpart, even though the damage military action inflicts is far greater and it hurts and kills more civilians. But as many Palestinians have (re)discovered, especially after the bloodiness of the Second Intifada, non-violence is far more effective – and subversive.

Nevertheless, the mentality persists on both sides, fuelled by each side’s particular history of trauma, weakness and oppression, that acting tough through armed struggle can somehow resolve this conflict. But the evidence is against them.

Although I am a pacifist, I am not naïve. I know there are times and places where violence is unavoidable. However, Israel-Palestine, today, is not one of these times or locations.

Over the past century, the two sides have thrown everything they have at each other, but neither has prevailed. Palestinians and Israelis, each in their own way, are formidable adversaries who will not be broken, and so violence is futile.

In short, force of arms cannot solve what is a political, social, class and religious conflict. The peaceful hand of unarmed resistance and arm-in-arm coexistence is the only way.

____

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

An updated version of this article appeared in The Huffington Post on 8 July 2014.

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Al-Aqsa/Temple Mount: Ground zero or common ground?

 
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By Khaled Diab

Jerusalem’s holiest site is again provoking tension and controversy. But could it also bridge the chasm between Israelis and Palestinians?

Worshippers during Ramadan congregate by the exquisite beauty of the golden Dome of the Rock. ©Khaled Diab

Worshippers during Ramadan congregate by the exquisite beauty of the golden Dome of the Rock. ©Khaled Diab

Wednesday 12 March 2014

The Dome of the Rock dominates the Jerusalem skyline with majestic splendour. To the untrained eye, this architectural gem, which floats resplendently above the old city’s cacophony, seems like a sanctuary of peace and tranquillity, a retreat for meditation and introspection.

But this Noble Sanctuary, as it is known to Muslims, or Temple Mount, as Jews refer to it, has been anything but peaceful and has been the symbolic heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict’s religious fault line for much of the past century.

Even today it remains a major flash point. In fact, the 21st century got off to an inauspicious and bloody start when a provocative visit by Ariel Sharon to the site caused simmering tensions to overflow into the costly second intifada.

And these tensions show no sign of abating. Last week, a group of Jewish extremists – led by the messianic rabbi, Yehuda Glick, who is part of the tiny fringe movement which fantasises about building the Third Templestormed the complex.

More troubling than the lunatic fringe is the Knesset debate on Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount, sponsored by the far-right parliamentarian Moshe Feiglin.

This has not only led to clashes in the Noble Sanctuary, but has also prompted the Jordanian parliament to vote to expel the Israeli ambassador and recall its own if the Knesset takes further action.

It could also jeopardise Israeli-Jordanian ties. “If Israel wants to violate the peace treaty in this issue, the entire treaty, its articles, details and wording will be put on the table,” Jordan’s Prime Minister Abdullah Nsur cautioned. For his part, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has rejected the notion of shared sovereignty as part of any eventual peace deal.

Nevertheless, it would do us well to recall that, for all Israel’s many failings, it is possibly, at least for now, the only conqueror of Jerusalem that has not converted the religious identity of the site, despite the best efforts of extremists.

Many in Israel, the Arab world and internationally fear the consequences of this “powder keg”. “Using religion as a pretext to impose sovereignty on historical places of worship threatens to plunge the entire region into great conflict and instability,” Hanan Ashrawi, the PLO’s spokeswoman, warned.

Given this widespread apprehension that this seismic shift in the Noble Sanctuary’s status could become the ground zero, or epicentre, of a region-wide conflict, many today will find it hard to conceive, or even believe, that there is historic evidence to suggest that Muslims and Jews once prayed together on the Temple Mount.

Following the surrender of Jerusalem to the Arab armies, Omar Ibn al-Khattab, Muhammad’s second successor, or caliph, allowed Jews, who had been expelled by the Byzantines, back into Jerusalem.

“There is strong evidence to suggest that the Jews were not only permitted to return to Jerusalem, but that the Muslims allowed them to worship at their side on the Temple Mount,” wrote Francis E Peters, a professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University.

Some other historians agree. “We know that Omar welcomed the Jews back in Jerusalem, that he and the early caliphs allowed Jewish worship on the Temple Mount and that the Jews did not leave again as long as Islam held sway,” Simon Sebag Montefiore wrote in his comprehensive biography of Jerusalem.

Omar ordered the cleaning of the Temple Mount, which had been used as a rubbish tip by the Byzantines, and permitted Jews to worship there. One convert, Rabbi Kaab al-Ahbar, even located the foundation stone for the Muslim conquerors.

It is even possible that the caliph allowed the Jews to construct a synagogue on the mount and appointed a Jew as the first governor of Jerusalem, according to the 7th century Armenian historian Sebeos.

This permissiveness and interfaith interaction was in keeping with Omar’s attitude – as well as Muhammad’s – towards religion for the People of the Book. This was illustrated by the story of his refusal to pray in the Holy Sepulchre so that future Muslims would not use it as an excuse to convert it into a mosque – which they did on the actual spot where he prayed nearby, and in numerous other instances over the centuries.

This tradition of tolerance was continued by the Umayyads, who, despite having introduced the concept of royalty into hitherto egalitarian Islam, were arguably among the most pluralistic Muslim dynasties wherever they set up shop, including in Andalusia.

Muawiya ibn Abi Sufyan, the founder of the dynasty and a born mover and shaker, was revered by local Jews. Despite his relentless expansionism, Muawiya was also famed for his belief in dialogue and compromise. “Even if but one hair is binding me to my fellow man, I don’t let it break,” he asserted.

When the Umayyad Caliph Abdel-Malik ibn Marwan built the Dome of the Rock, Jews were filled with elation. Some even believed that this Islamic shrine was the third temple. For a century, Jews had full access to this holiest of sites, until the reign of another Umar, the dogmatic Umar Ibn Abdel-Aziz.

Is it possible today, in the supposedly more enlightened 21st century, for the Noble Sanctuary/Temple Mount to become a common ground, rather than a battleground, for Muslims and Jews?

Some religious Jews think so. “Religion is like nuclear energy: you can use it to destroy or to kill. You can also use it for peaceful purposes,” the late Rabbi Froman  told me. “The Dome of the Rock or the Temple Mount can be a reason to quarrel or a reason to make peace.”

Personally, I am sceptical that this religious edifice can work in isolation as a bridge to peace. This feeds into the illusion, or misconception, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a religious one. While religious extremists do often exercise what I call the “God veto”, for both sides, excluding the fanatical fringes, the conflict is about worldly affairs.

It is in this frame that we must view the Noble Sanctuary/Temple Mount. It is the entire conflict writ spiritual. This prime piece of sacred real estate contains many of the elements bedevilling the entire quest for a peaceful resolution: control of and sovereignty over the land, national identity, the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians, not to mention the status of Jerusalem.

Until these issues are resolved, it is highly unlikely that Muslims and Jews will find the necessary will to compromise to hammer out a formula for sharing this holiest of locations. Furthermore, it would be a grave, reckless and dangerous error for Israel to think it can unilaterally take action.

But what history can teach us, and what is often overlooked in the heat of conflict, is that Jews and Muslims were, for  many centuries, friends and allies and that they once stood side by side as brothers in faith on Jerusalem’s most hallowed ground.

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared in Haaretz on 10 March 2014.

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Occupational hazards in the West Bank

 
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By Khaled Diab

While the world’s attention was turned to Gaza, stealthier military manoeuvres in the West Bank were pushing more Palestinians off their land.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Bedouin children in the northern West Bank face a precarious future. Photo: ©Khaled Diab

As we turned off the road, there opened up before us a vista of the most exquisite and rugged splendour. Hugged on both sides by majestic mountains, the valley we drove through stretched as far as the eye could see with barely a manmade structure to distort the view, unlike in much of the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories.

A few kilometres in, we finally arrived at our destination, which was about as remote as you could possibly get in the densely populated West Bank: a tiny Bedouin community in Wadi al-Maleh in the northern Jordan Valley. As we pulled up, we were first greeted by dozens of goats, followed by the children, then the adults, mostly women, because the men were out at a funeral.

Behind the idyllic beauty of the scene, there lurked an ugly reality. First, there was the community’s obvious poverty: living in makeshift tents, with no electricity and with water at a premium because it has to be trucked in, not to mention the children who have to walk about 10km each way to the nearest road so that they can go to school, which eats at least a couple of additional hours out of their day, and means they set out at sunrise and often return just before sunset.

But all this pales into insignificance when compared with the imminent threat facing the community – mostly made up of a clan called Turcoman – of being pushed off the land they have lived on and worked since they were displaced during the 1948 war from the coastal areas of what is today northern Israel. Wadi al-Maleh is home to several such threatened communities, some Bedouin and others sedentary farmers, each numbering around 50-100 people.

The Bedouins I met there – whom I had come to train in ways of better communicating their plight – told me that they had received demolition and eviction orders from Israel’s Civil Administration and that a number of tents had been torn down by the army to show that it meant business. One said that they had even been threatened with the confiscation of their economic mainstay, goats, if they did not up sticks. “Where are we going to go and how are we going to survive without our goats?” the community’s matron figure asked in distress.

The ostensible reason for this community’s planned displacement is because the Bedouins live in whatIsrael has declared to be a closed military zone, a designation which applies to about a fifth of the total surface area of the West Bank, affecting some 5,000 residents. The locals reported that the Israeli and American militaries had recently taken part in joint manoeuvres on the other side of a nearby mountain.

Across the Jordan Valley, numerous communities received eviction orders just ahead of the joint exercises. Although the orders do not specify the nature of the training exercises, activists are convinced that the manoeuvres in question are the joint US-Israeli ones. If this is the case, this would make the United States complicit inIsrael’s illegal use of occupied land.

Under international law, Israel has no right to designate any part of the West Bank as a military zone because this, like settlement building, is not permitted on occupied land, despite the inventive efforts of government-appointed Israeli legal experts to argue away the existence of the occupation and frame it as little more than a Palestinian preoccupation.

Wadi al-Maleh may be a remote community, but its situation is far from isolated. All over Area C of the West Bank – which, according to the Oslo accords, is under full Israeli military and civil control – and in East Jerusalem, homes are being demolished, people are being evicted and communities are slowly disappearing, and at an increasing rate.

So far in 2012, over 550 Palestinian-owned homes and other structures were demolished in these areas, displacing more than a thousand people, the UN reports. Similarly, last year, Israel demolished 622 structures, more than 40% than the year before, displacing almost 1,100 people, more than half of whom were children.

Since I moved to Jeusalem last year, I have visited numerous threatened communities, and I always depart with a sense of bewilderment at how people can survive in such circumstances. Many are engaged in years-long legal battles to be allowed to stay where they are, or are haunted by the spectre of losing their homes.

They live with the uncertainty that their children may well not have a school to attend later in the term, while they are often unable to work because of movement restrictions or because they cannot reach their land. Others are largely cut off from the rest of society by the wall, while many face regular harassment from settlers.

While lack of mobility is tough for anyone, it takes a particularly bad toll on the Bedouins, who feel it is their heritage, even their birth right, to roam free, and I have heard numerous complaints from them about how caged in and trapped they feel. On a more practical level, this also affects their livelihood, as they have little land left on which to graze their livestock.

The sense of powerlessness this creates can leave enormous emotional scars. “We feel constant guilt towards our children, and wonder if they ask themselves, ‘Why did you bring us into this world?’” admitted one father in Izbat al-Tabib, a village near Qalqilya, which suffers from most of the problems I outlined above. “We feel powerless to improve the situation of our children or even to protect them. Can you imagine how difficult that is for a father to bear?”

These words shook me hard. Yes, I could imagine how devastating it would feel to raise our three-year-old in such unenviable conditions, but I thanked my lucky stars that all I was being asked to do was to imagine, and not actually to experience, the soul-destroying reality of witnessing my son being denied his childhood.

Youth is also no barrel of laughs, when you have no prospects, no job, nowhere to go, and perhaps even no one your age to hang out with. “At night, I ask myself, ‘What have I done today?” I realise nothing,” confesses Salama, a young Bedouin who lives on the outskirts ofJerusalem. “Sometimes, I just want to do something, so I knock something down and rebuild it.”

On a more political level, Area C is the only contiguous territory in theWest Bank, which is not only home to the majority of Palestinian agricultural land but would also provide the bulk of the space upon which a future Palestinian state would be built.

By building in Area C and in East Jerusalem, Israelis driving the final nail in the coffin of the two-state solution, and with the United Statesnot only providing $3 billion in free military hardware to Israelbut also apparently co-training in the occupied West Bank, Washingtonis supplying the hammer. This is not just a tragedy for Palestinians but problematic for Israelis, as Israel’s own statistics now show that Jews have become a minority between the Mediterranean and the Jordan.

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared in Haaretz on 3 December 2012.

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Settlers for Palestine

 
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By Khaled Diab

Israeli settlements are one of the greatest obstacles to peace, but could settlers also help build a Palestinian state?

Tuesday 16 October 2012

In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warned that Israel’s ongoing settlement construction in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank revealed that the “Israeli government rejects the two-state solution” and that if no action was taken urgently, the creation of a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel would become “extremely difficult if not impossible”.

It is not only Palestinians who see Israeli settlements as one of the main obstacles to peace – the international community does too, as do many Israeli peace activists. Personally, I have been convinced for many years now that the race against space to implement the two-state solution has been lost.

Today, more than half a million Israeli settlers live in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. In what the Oslo Accords calls Area C – which makes up 60% of the West Bank and would provide the bulk of the land upon which the Palestinian state would be built – there are currently twice as many settlers as Palestinians (300,000 v 150,000), and Israel controls 70% of this territory.

Despite these facts on the ground, there is a small but growing group of religious settlers who believes not only that they are not an impediment to peace, but that they can help build it. This movement is led by the charismatic and influential Rabbi Menachem Froman.

Rabbi Froman cuts an unlikely figure as a peace activist. He is an ideological settler, yet believes in the two-state solution along the pre-1967 Green Line. He is one of the founders of the messianic, religious settler movement, Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful), and supports continued Jewish settlement in the West Bank, yet believes in and promotes coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs.

Adding to his maverick credentials, Froman was friends with the late Yasser Arafat and met regularly with Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas. He is also close to Abbas, meets regularly with Binyamin Netanyahu, and negotiated, along with Palestinian journalist Khalid Amayreh, a ceasefire agreement with Hamas, which would have ended the blockade on Gaza, to which the Islamist group agreed but Israel simply ignored.

This renegade rabbi so intrigued me that I visited him, along with an American-Israeli filmmaker making a documentary about this enigmatic figure, in his modest home in Tekoa, an Israeli settlement near Bethlehem.

So, how does Rabbi Froman propose to square the circle between his support for Jewish settlements and Palestinian statehood? Religious Muslims and Jews believe, he says, “that this land is holy… that this land belongs to God. This can be a very strong basis for peace”.

In his view, since it is the land itself that is holy and not the political structure governing it, settlers should be given the choice to become part of a Palestinian state or move to Israel. Froman also believes that the presence of an Arab minority in Israel and a Jewish minority in Palestine would have the additional benefit of promoting tolerance and understanding between the two neighbouring countries.

The Palestinian Authority has, on a number of occasions, floated the possibility that Israeli settlers can be given the option to live under Palestinian sovereignty. However, this option elicits fears. Palestinians worry that the settlers would remain Israeli citizens and hold on to their privileged status, as well as possibly provide Israel with an excuse to carry out military incursions, even invasions, at will on the pretext of looking after the interests of the Jews there.

I asked Rabbi Froman whether, in his vision, the settlers would become Palestinian citizens and live according to Palestinian law, and whether the settlements would become mixed neighbourhoods for all. “Yes, yes, yes,” he responded emphatically. “The keyword here is to be open, to be free.”

Froman’s vision chimes with that of some pro-Palestinian Israeli leftists. However, even many of Rabbi Froman’s neighbours – such as the American settler who expressed his disapproval of the Rabbi’s politics to us when we asked him for directions – do not agree with him. Economic settlers are unlikely to want to become Palestinian citizens, though they could more easily be persuaded to move under the right conditions.

Ideological settlers, who generally see the land and Israel’s control over it as vital, do not share Froman’s vision. “I reject the two-state solution,” David Wilder, the spokesperson for the radical settlers in Hebron, told me some months ago. “I want to live in Israel. I came to live in Israel, under Jewish leadership. I didn’t come to live under the rule of anybody else, certainly not an Arab.”

“The question is not the Palestinian attitude,” Rabbi Froman freely acknowledges. “The question is the Israelis: if Israel and Israeli settlers are ready to be part of the Palestinian state.”

But he believes that, once they overcome their fear and distrust, people can be persuaded. “It’s all a matter of confidence,” the rabbi insists, his bright blue eyes glimmering energetically in his ailing frame, as his body gradually succumbs to cancer. And it is building this foundation of trust that the rabbi is dedicating his remaining time to. “I have not got long now,” he reflects sadly.

Rabbi Froman is also a strong believer in the power of religion to help resolve the conflict and build bridges between Israelis and Palestinians. This, you could say, was something of a revelation to me, as I have long viewed religion, though it is often only used as a pretext by fundamentalists, as a major stumbling block on the path to peace – it is what I call the “God veto”.

In fact, Froman believes that one major factor behind the failure of the peace process is that it ignored or did not pay enough attention to the religious dimension. “[Sheikh] Ahmed Yassin used to say to me: ‘I and you, Hakham [Rabbi] Froman, can make peace in five minutes, because both of us are religious.’”

The very idea that an Orthodox rabbi and an Islamist sheikh would engage in dialogue, let alone believe that they can resolve a conflict that has defied everyone else for decades, is likely to confound both Palestinians and Israelis alike.

“Religion is like nuclear energy: you can use it to destroy or to kill. You can also use it for peaceful purposes,” the renegade rabbi observes. “The Dome of the Rock or the Temple Mount can be a reason to quarrel or a reason to make peace.”

Despite his fine words, I left the meeting sceptical that Froman’s vision would, especially in the current climate, attract many takers. However, our encounter did drive home some important lessons: the situation is never black and white, peacemakers can be found in the most unlikely places, and that we must understand the obstacles to peace if we ever hope to remove them.

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This is the extended version of an article which first appeared in The Guardian’s Comment is Free on 12 October 2012.

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School resumes with tough lessons for Bedouin kids

 
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By Khaled Diab

With their school slated for demolition, the children of Khan al-Ahmar wonder whether Israel believes that Bedouins do not deserve an education.

Friday 7 September 2012

Children line up for morning assembly at the threatened Khan al-Ahmar school. Photo: ©Khaled Diab

In the twilight of the early morning, as the rising sun turns a nearby mountain a striking pinkish-red, Nujood emerges from the family shack ready for her first day back at school after the long summer holiday. The teenager is a member of the Jahalin Bedouin tribe which has lived in the West Bank since they were forcibly evicted from the Negev by Israel shortly after its creation in 1948.

Nujood greets us shyly as we sit with her father, Moussa, sipping sweet Bedouin tea in the family’s simple “garden”, the best the arid circumstances will allow. Despite the early hour, the 14-year-old, who is starting seventh grade, is excited about the prospect of resuming her education.

“I enjoyed the summer holiday but I prefer going to school to being on holiday because we study there and learn new things,” Nujood says in a barely audible whisper, betraying an attitude quite at odds with the mixed emotions with which I recall we greeted the new school year when I was a teenager.

We walk the short distance – past a herd of drowsy camels who follow us with bleary-eyed interest and a couple of donkeys apparently enjoying the splendour of the early morning light – to her modest school. Nujood, who is neatly turned out in a lime green striped uniform and white headscarf, tells me about her aspirations.

Shy Nujood overcomes her reserve to salute the flag. Photo: ©Khaled Diab

“I want to become a teacher,” she says simply. Her reason? “I want to teach other [Bedouin] children because not everything is available here for them to learn,” she elaborates. Perhaps that explains why, despite her self-conscious bashfulness, she led the saluting of the flag during the morning assembly.

Her excitement at a new term notwithstanding, Nujood is apprehensive and worried, because her school – which she shares with around 100 other children, mostly of primary school age, from Khan al-Ahmar and other nearby Bedouin communities – may not stay open for much longer. In fact, shortly before the term began a nearby Israeli settlement unsuccessfully, for now, petitioned the Supreme Court not to allow the school to reopen, and it is only a matter of time before the Civil Administration – the IDF arm which governs the West Bank – will have to carry out the order to demolish the school.

The school, like 17 others in Area C of the West Bank, has had an Israeli demolition order against it since it was built, out of old tyres mixed with mud, with international assistance and local volunteer work, in 2009.

“When I hear they plan to demolish our school, I feel that they want to humiliate us and don’t want us to learn,” Nujood reflects sadly. “But we won’t let that happen,” she adds, though what more this embattled community can do to save this school is unclear, since the lawyer representing their case in the Israeli courts has reportedly exhausted all avenues and it is only international pressure and advocacy that seems to behind the ongoing stay of execution.

In addition, Khan al-Ahmar in its entirety and other Bedouin communities in the area are slated for demolition, and their 2,300 residents live under the constant threat of eviction.

Sandwiched between Kfar Adumim (population: 2,500) and Ma’ale Adumim (population: 39,000), the freedom of movement of Khan al-Ahmar’s residents has been severely curtailed. This is not only a harsh slap down for people who have for countless generations enjoyed the freedom to roam, but it also threatens the community’s traditional livelihood, which is based on herding. Moreover, the Bedouin complain that they can no longer reach Jerusalem, where they used to sell their livestock, nor are they allowed to work on settlements anymore.

The ostensible justification for these demolition and eviction orders is that the ramshackle collection of huts and tents that make up Khan al-Ahmar, like is the case with other Bedouin and Palestinian farming communities in Area C of the West Bank, was built “without a permit”. But acquiring such permission – according to the UN and international organisations, not to mention Israeli human rights groups – is nearly impossible.

For its part, the Israeli Civil Administration insists that it provides the Bedouin with alternative locations in which to settle, but the Bedouin say that these alternatives – such as the plan to move the 2,300 Bedouin of the Jerusalem periphery to a location near the stinking al-Abdali tip where the rubbish from the city is dumped – are not suitable and that they prefer to stay put because they do not wish to become “refugees all over again”, as numerous Bedouins in the area have told me.

The same applies for education, with the Israeli authorities insisting that alternatives to the Khan al-Ahmar and the 17 other schools exist or will be found. But locals are not convinced, saying that the closure of the school will force them to send their children to Jericho, as they used to before their modest and convenient local school was built.

Nujood remembers those days well. “My old school was hard to reach. I used to leave at dawn and come back at around 5pm,” she recounts. This left her with little time or energy to study and do homework, especially since electricity is a precious and rare commodity in Khan al-Ahmar, in contrast with the brightly lit settlements nearby. The journey was also a perilous one, with some children involved in road traffic accidents, including a number of fatalities.

The school, which is built of a mix of old tyres and mud, gives local girls a stab at an education.Photo: ©Khaled Diab

In this deeply conservative and traditional Bedouin society, the greater distance and risk would lead many parents to keep their daughters at home. In fact, though the school was ill-equipped for it, the secondary school class –constructed with flimsy chipboard and wrought iron sheets – was introduced at Khan al-Ahmar expressly to enable girls to continue their education.

But, unusually, as far as Nujood’s father is concerned, his daughter has a right to a full education, no matter the distance or cost. “Even if they demolish the school, we will carry on with Nujood’s schooling,” Moussa tells me. “I’d like Nujood to go as far in the education system as she wants.” He delivers a heart-felt plea to the Civil Administration and the Israeli public to think about how they would feel if the same were done to their children, before carrying out the death sentence on this school, which he helped build with his own hands.

The Bedouins of Khan al-Ahmar not only feel under attack by the Israeli occupation, but also have a sense that they have been abandoned to their fate by the Palestinian Authority, according to Eid Sweillam, also known as Abu Khamis, spokesman for Khan al-Ahmar.

“The occupation authorities do all they can to prevent the PA from performing its roles and responsibilities in Area C, and to restrict our ability to develop [it],” admitted Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad when I put the Bedouins’ concerns to him during a press conference he held at the school that same morning. “This does not mean that the PA has stood before the Israeli occupation with its hands tied. It has implemented hundreds of projects in what is called Area C.”

Boys page through their new school books in a makeshift classroom.Photo: ©Khaled Diab

Area C, which falls under full Israeli control, represents 60% of the surface area of the West Bank. It is currently populated by 150,000 Palestinians, mostly Bedouins and poor farmers, and more than 300,000 Israeli settlers (from around 110,000 in 1993 and only just over 1,000 in 1972).

Despite the restrictions imposed by the occupation, the Bedouin insist that the PA can do more. “The most important thing that the PA can do in Area C… is to help us find alternative livelihoods and provide us with legal support,” suggests Abu Khamis.

Failing to act will not only hurt the Bedouins of Area C, but also the Palestinian national project, insists Abu Khamis. “We are the final stone keeping a contiguous Palestinian state together,” he says. “If these Bedouin communities are uprooted… This will split the north of Palestine from the south.” It would also cut East Jerusalem off completely from its West Bank hinterland.

This Israeli-controlled sector possesses the majority of Palestinian agricultural and grazing land and is the only contiguous territory in the West Bank, which was supposed to provide, under the ‘land for peace’ formula, the bulk of the space upon which the future Palestinian state would be established. But as more and more space is swallowed up by settlements and pressure grows from settler groups for Israel to annex much of Area C, this prospect is looking increasingly dim.

To deal with this challenge, Palestinians need to borrow from Israel’s handbook of creating faits accomplis, Fayyad stressed. “We are fully intent on building facts on the ground that are consistent with the inevitability of the emergence of the fully independent sovereign state of Palestine on the territories occupied in 1967,” the Palestinian prime minister said.

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared in Haaretz on 6 September 2012.

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Ill-gotten pains

 
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By Khaled Diab

Children are the innocent victims and future perpetrators of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For their sake, a political solution must be found.

Thursday 6 September 2012

Two attacks in August have shocked Palestinians and Israelis alike. First, there was the firebombing of a taxi in the West Bank, believed to have been carried out by settlers, which injured six members of a Palestinian family, including two critically.

The second attack, widely described as a lynching, occurred just hours later in downtown West Jerusalem, where a mob set on a small group of young Palestinians, beating Jamal Julani to within an inch of his life. Some reports even suggest that Julani would have died had it not been for the intervention of an Israeli medical student, who resuscitated him.

Despite recriminations, these two tragedies have resulted in a rare moment of agreement between Palestinians and Israelis, the vast majority of whom are disgusted by the attacks, with even senior figures in the normally anti-Palestinian Likud strongly condemning the actions.

Much of the public debate has focused on whether these attacks were surprising and if they constituted “terrorism”, but one interesting aspect which has largely eluded discussion is the alleged perpetrators’ ages. In both incidents, the suspects who have been arrested so far are minors.

Although this may shock many, it is not really that surprising when one scratches a little beneath the surface. Adolescence is a tough phase to live through in the best circumstances. It is a period when the uncertainties of physical metamorphosis and its accompanying identity crises lead some to take shelter in the certainties of black-and-white beliefs, and it is also when hormonal upheavals can surge up into eruptions of aggression and recklessness.

Add to this a few measures of old-fashioned tribalism, stoked by deep-seated racism – as reflected by one suspect in the “lynching” claiming that Julani “could die for all I care – he’s an Arab” – and dehumanisation that decades of conflict create, and you have a highly combustible and volatile brew.

Moreover, the toxic political environment, in which young people seem to be guaranteed cradle-to-grave conflict, plays a significant role in poisoning young minds. Not only does this toxicity drive youngsters towards lashing out at the “enemy”, it might also be pushing them towards generally more aggressive and violent behaviour.

According to a new study – which was conducted by a team of American, Israeli and Palestinian researchers – there is a correlation between violent behaviour in Palestinian and Israeli children and their exposure to political violence, especially for those who witness it from a very young age. This phenomenon is “more severe” than a contagious disease, one of the American academics behind the study claimed.

“It is well known that there are victims in every war, but mostly we think of direct victims,” said Simcha Landau, one of the Israeli scientists involved. “But we found that children who are exposed to violence are indirect victims, and that exposure to violence has results on the ground.”

Other studies have revealed that, while the conflict affects Palestinian children disproportionately, neither side is immune to its psychological trauma. In fact, post-traumatic stress disorder is, sadly, far too common among children on both sides of the Green Line. PTSD is particularly bad during periods of increased violence or in hotspots like Gaza, where the highest incidence is reported, and its Israeli neighbour Sderot.

As someone who grew up in peaceful societies, I can hardly fathom what childhood must be like for a Gazan child who has had to live through the incomprehensible devastation and terror of invasions and incursions, blockade and bombardment, demolitions and destitution. Likewise, I can only begin to comprehend the terrifying fear and confusion a child in Sderot – where the economic destitution suffered there is not a million miles away from that in Gaza – must experience when confronted with the regular whistling of air raid sirens, the long hours spent in bomb shelters and the barrages of inaccurate Kassam rockets – which, though puny when compared to Israel’s formidable arsenal, are nonetheless traumatic.

Although I have little sympathy for their elders, life for the offspring of radical settlers must, on so many levels, be horrendous. Not only have they, like children in general, no say in where they are born and little chance to move away even if they want to, they find themselves, inexplicably to their young minds, living in heavily guarded fortresses as unwelcome invaders and indoctrinated to hate their neighbours.

Despite the detrimental effects of political violence on children and its highly dubious efficacy in resolving this longstanding dispute, it remains alluring to influential groups on both sides. Why is this?

Part of the reason is the simple cyclical nature of violence – with one act begetting another, with every attack a “response” to an earlier atrocity or outrage – especially in such an apparently intractable context, where squaring the circle of conflicting Israeli and Palestinian demands has eluded all.

But beyond that there is an ideological and psychological underbelly. Although violence has been generally low intensity – the total death toll over the past century is less than a bad week in the trenches of World War I – it has been a terribly entrenched facet of the conflict, guaranteed to flare up into major confrontations at regular intervals.

This is partly because modern Jewish and Arab nationalism were born at a time when violence and militarism were glorified and fetishised, and they haven’t been able to move beyond this significantly. Even though non-violence has made significant headway, it has not yet laid down deep roots, with Israeli pacifists making exceptions for futile acts of destructive violence that they regard as legitimate, such as the 2006 invasion of Lebanon, and Palestinian advocates of non-violence stressing to their critics that armed resistance targeted at non-civilians, though legitimate, has become ineffective.

Perhaps paradoxically, the fixation on violence is borne out of a sense of weakness and vulnerability on both sides. Though Israel enjoys unchallenged military superiority, the historic weight of enduring regular oppression, pogroms and the Holocaust, not to mention (diminishing) regional rejection, casts a long shadow over the Israeli psyche. Ideologically, this sense of insecurity has translated into Zionism’s determination to create the muscular, tough Jew and the conviction among many Israelis that overwhelming force is the answer to everything, and those who question the wisdom of this are dismissed by hawks as weak ditherers and self-haters. In violence, there is redemption for past weakness and prevention of future catastrophe.

In a similar vein, Palestinians for centuries have lived like strangers on their own land, ruled from distant imperial capitals and controlled by oft-cruel governors who cared little for their well-being and treated them like chattel to be profited from, especially during the brutal death throes of the once tolerant Ottoman Empire. When the British took over Palestine, instead of granting it independence, and promised it too, at least in part, to the Zionists, this led to the conviction among Palestinian radicals that “what was taken by force can only be regained by force”, and the humiliating string of defeats has made the redemptive power of force all the more alluring in the minds of extremists, especially since moderates have so far failed to deliver any significant successes.

 However, these beliefs and attitudes are highly destructive because in a political conflict of this nature only enlightened political solutions can work, while violence only begets more violence as it draws new generations into its unforgiving vortex. For the sake of the children and future generations, Israelis and Palestinians must unequivocally reject violence, not because they are cowards, but because they are brave. It takes true courage to lay down your arms and open your arms to embrace your long-time enemy in peace.

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared in Haaretz on 4 September 2012.

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Peace in New Canaan

 
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By Khaled Diab

As Israeli-Palestinian peace talks fail again, it is time to build a New Canaan of diversity, tolerance and peace based on reimagined identities.

Monday 30 January 2012

The resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Jordan this month has resulted in deadlock and mutual recriminations over the issues of borders and security. Meanwhile, Palestinian youth activists have held numerous small demonstrations to protest against the talks in the absence of a settlement freeze and a clear vision of the future borders of an independent Palestinian state.

In a way, there is really little left to negotiate over. This was depressingly highlighted in the latest Peace Now report which said that the unprecedented rate of settlement construction threatened to torpedo the two-state solution. Personally, I think Israel blew that option out of the water some years ago.

Simply put, the scraps of land left over in the West Bank cannot be meaningfully weaved together to form the fabric of a feasible Palestinian state, while Gaza floats like a lone and isolated meteoroid in the Israeli cosmos.

Moreover, for Israel, evacuating the half million settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to make way for a viable Palestine not only runs the risk of precipitating severe internal divisions and even conflict, it would also carry a substantial economic price tag.

Although the settlements are largely built on seized land, Israel has nevertheless invested, according to a comprehensive 2010 study, an estimated $17 billion in building homes and infrastructure in the West Bank, while the market value of these properties is probably several factors higher. That’s not to mention the enormous material and human cost of the 1967 war and the subsequent occupation.

The Palestinians, who have seen much of their homeland vanish to make way for Israel, feel that they have compromised enough by accepting a state on a fifth of historic Palestine and are in no mood to settle for less, even if Israel petrifies their dreams in concrete. In a last desperate bid to arrest this state of decline, the Palestinians have gone to the UN to seek symbolic statehood first.

But concrete walls and paper states are not the answer and will not resolve this longstanding conflict. A far better solution would be for Israelis and Palestinians to accept that they are stuck together on this increasingly indivisible land and to find creative ways to coexist peacefully and justly.

Instead of this generations-old and outdated nationalist fixation on ethnicity and the romanticisation land, it is time for both sides to shift their attention away from the soil and towards the people living on it, to create a society of equal citizens, regardless of whether they identify themselves as Israeli or Palestinian, or as Jew, Muslim, Christian or atheist.

For this to work requires the creative re-imagining of the current ethnocentric nationalism, and to remould it along egalitarian civic lines. An important psychological hurdle would be to end the negationist tendency on both sides, which only serves, whether wittingly or unwittingly, to delegitimise the claim of one side or the other to live on this land and, hence, breeds immense distrust.

Israelis, especially the right wing, need to accept that a Palestinian people exist and stop dismissing them as Arab newcomers, invaders and usurpers. In my view, describing the Arabic-speaking population as Palestinian is more accurate than saying they are Arab. The only true Arabs are the inhabitants of Arabia, while the rest of what we refer to today as Arabs are a diverse spectrum of Arabised peoples whose only universal denominator is that they speak Arabic, although most share numerous common cultural and religious features.

In fact, the idea of a unified “Arab people” as imagined by pan-Arab nationalism is every bit as invented and constructed as the idea of a “Jewish people”, as if sharing a common language, in the former, and a common religion, in the latter, somehow automatically instils its members with a unique essence.

Similarly, Palestinians, particularly the Islamists, need to accept that an Israeli people exist and that they are not merely European colonists. Even though Zionism was born in Europe as an ideology, today’s Israeli Jewish population is a diverse mix of Jews from Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia – and this melting pot forged a distinctive Israeli identity which is neither here nor there.

Moreover, even though a lot of Israel’s behaviour is colonial in nature and the Zionist project involved the dispossession of an enormous number of people, Zionism was also a liberation movement for the Jews, who have suffered, despite a number of “golden ages”, marginalisation, discrimination and periodic persecution for centuries, with the worst example being the Holocaust.

Once the two sides have accepted each other, the next step is to create a hybrid cultural and national identity that is more inclusive of the other. This does not mean that Israelis and Palestinians need to abandon their respective identities. Instead, they should create a new, unifying meta-identity.

In this, both Israelis and Palestinians can build on their cultural tradition of diversity to expand their respective identities to encompass the other side.  In addition to a core that has remained on this land since the times of ancient Canaan, the modern Palestinian population is a melting pot of peoples from across the Middle East, Europe and even sub-Saharan Africa, as reflected in many place names, such as the Armenian quarter, and family names, such as al-Masry (the Egyptian). This malleable identity once also included the Jews of Palestine.

Likewise, the modern Israeli identity not only managed to assimilate diverse Jewish populations from around the world, it has also, albeit uncomfortably, managed to integrate the Palestinian population that remained within Israel after 1948. These Palestinian-Israelis offer a possible, yet incomplete, blueprint for deeper future symbiosis, as does the complex identity of Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews, who, though their heritage is both Jewish and Arab, have thus far not managed to bridge the contemporary chasm separating the two.

Politically, this supra-identity can be expressed in the creation of an umbrella state which I propose to call New Canaan, since Canaan is the original name of this land, and the identity of the original Canaanites is shrouded in mystery. I add the prefix “New” both because this union will be future-looking and because it will work to overcome the petty tribal and religious divisions, rivalries and conflicts that have marked this land since antiquity.

Within this federated state, where freedom of movement and equality will be guaranteed for all, cultural and social issues can be the preserve of Israeli and Palestinian community governments, while common issues relating to the economy, defence, foreign policy and the protection of fundamental rights can be handled by a joint bi-national parliament.

And to reach this secular “promised land” requires peace-seekers on both sides to embark on an exodus away from the captivity of their past towards the freedom of the future. It’s high time for Israeli and Palestinian doves of a feather to flock together against the hawks.

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Hebron settlers: Palestinian people do not exist, are “PR bluff”

 
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By Khaled Diab

Hebron settlers criticise Arabs who deny Israeli identity, yet reject the existence of a Palestinian people and say historic Palestine was mostly empty.

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Khaled Diab: I notice you have a map of Palestine behind you. I wondered, is that an ironic gesture? Because I haven’t heard you mention Palestinians once. You only refer to “Arabs”.

David Wilder: You’re very perceptive. You’re very, very up on it. That’s very good, because I always tell people. I always know the people, you know the journalists who come in, when they’re awake, when they look at my wall and see that and they ask me that question. And you’ve added to the question because you’ve said I don’t mention Palestinians, because most people don’t even see it. So, you’re alert. That’s very good.

You know who printed it? Who printed the map?

Well, Israelis don’t usually put that sign on maps. It was printed in Bethlehem by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, Palestinian Authority. What’s it a map of? It’s a map of the state of Israel. But it’s Palestine. Tel Aviv is Tal al-Arabi, and Ramla is al-Ramla, and Lod is al-Ludd. In other words, this is Palestine according to the Palestinian Authority. But it just happens to be a map of the state of Israel. That’s why I have it there.

Well, how about we look at it from the reverse, Israeli maps of Israel also deny the existence of any Palestinian entity.

Well, first of all, I think that the official line is that what they… Look there are different official lines, ok. But the one that’s used for world consumption is Palestine is Judea and Samaria, Gaza, right? It’s not Tal el-Arabi.

So, first of all, the official line is supposed to be that Palestine is Judea and Samaria. This is something else. I mean this is what they say to other people, ok, but it’s usually not publicised as such. Number two, I think that there are probably a lot of Israeli maps today, not the ones that I would print, but… that show Judea and Samaria as a very separate entity.

In terms of Palestinian entities as such, so far there isn’t a state of Palestine.

Yes, but do you think there’s a Palestinian people.

That’s a whole other issue. I have no problems talking to you about that too.

So you want to talk about the Palestinian people.

Yes, especially since you have another poster behind you which says, “Don’t the Arab states have enough land of their own?”

You probably saw what Newt Gingrich said the other day.

Yes, I did.

It probably didn’t go over really, really well, but he could’ve been quoting me. I mean, look…

Because for me, as an Arab, I see a distinct Palestinian identity, culture, history, and so on. So, I want to see how you view it.

I’ll put it very simply. When was the last time there was a king of Palestine or a Palestinian parliament or a Palestinian who won the Nobel prize or a Palestinian anything? Look, historically, just historically, ok… I can’t say forget the politics because it’s all politics.

But if we just take historical facts, ok. You may have even studied more history. I used to study history, but you may know more history than me. But where does the word “Palestine” come from?

Well, it comes from the Romans and the Philistines.

So, like I said, you’re up on your history. Ok, because most of the people when I ask them that question, they don’t know anything about the Romans. But the word “[Syria]Palestina” of course came from the Romans 2,000 years ago. It was a 2,000-year-old term that was used when they threw the Jews out, after the destruction of the Second Temple.

But they didn’t throw all the Jews out. A lot of the Palestinians around now were probably Jews once.

Hang on a second. Hang on a second. So let me evolve what I’m trying to say. Again, I don’t expect you to agree with me. I’ll explain to you where I’m coming from. Palestine came from [Syria]Palestina [see history of the term “Palestine”]. The Romans destroyed the Second Temple, and they wanted to create an entity which didn’t have any Jewish identity to it. They took Jerusalem and they changed the name of Yerushalayim to Aelia Capitolina. They threw the Jews out of Jerusalem, all of them out of Yerushalayim, and they changed the name to Aelia Capitolina.

Why did they do that? It’s very simple. I mean, simplistically, you want to create a new identity, you change the name. I mean, it doesn’t have the same association any more. It has a different association to it. Rather than have Israel, Yisrael, which has a Jewish identity to it, they changed the name to Palestina. They took the Palestina from the Philistines who died out a thousand years before.

Or they were integrated into the other peoples of the region.

Whatever, but there were no Philistines anymore. The Philistines died out during the days of King David. You didn’t have them during the days of the Roman conquest. So, all of a sudden, you have Palestina, the same way you, Aelia Capitalina. And it stayed. Over the next 2,000 years, I don’t even remember, but I can pull it out for you… there were about 14 or 16 different peoples that ruled in this little piece of land, which you can call Palestina or Palestine or Israel or whatever you want.

But ruled as part of an empire.

But there was never a… during that period…

But the local people largely stayed the same, more or less. There was some immigration, obviously…

You had different local peoples, depending on who was here at any given time. In the time of the Greeks, it was Greek. In the time of the Romans, you had Romans. You had local people but you didn’t have a whole lot of them. We’re talking about 2,000 years ago. We’re talking about 1,500 years ago. The populations around here were much smaller and very different.

The last empire to rule here was the Ottoman Empire.

Well, there were the British, don’t forget them.

That’s post… I’m talking about before them. Before then, you had the Ottoman Empire that ruled here.

In terms of different kinds of populations, you know what, I’ve seen different historical documents that say different things. One of the best, one of the more popular items, is, which I’m sure you’re probably familiar with, was… which I have actually here on the iPad, which I pulled off… is Mark Twain’s book. You know Mark Twain.

Yeah, of course, I know Mark Twain.

So, he wrote about his visit to the Holy Land [Innocents AbroadZionist perspective, Palestinian perspective]. There was nothing here, it was desolate. There were people. There were Bedouin. There were people here and there.

But there were plenty of urban populations too.

But he writes about it being desolate. You’re talking about the late 1800s. And he says… he came here expecting one thing.

But then the early Zionists came here and said, “The bride is beautiful but she is married to another man”.

Hear me out. Hear me out. First of all, when the early Zionists came here, there was nothing here either [See “A land without a people for a people without a land“].

But they said, the bride is beautiful but she’s already married.

Look, I don’t see too much of it today but… I saw commercials, things they used to put on television, in Gaza, about what the Jews had done. They showed pictures up north of beautiful houses, lawns, and everything, and then the Jews came, and then it’s all black, the screen is black and everything is destroyed.

Up north, for example, if we’re going to take the area of the Galilee. When Jews started to come over in the late 1800s, early 1900s, it was all swamps. There was nothing there. People died in droves trying to dry out the swamps. There was nothing there. It wasn’t green and beautiful and lush. There was nothing, literally, nothing. There was no industry, there was no fruit, there were no vegetables, the land didn’t grow anything, the trees didn’t grown anything. It was very, very sparse.

But going back to the Palestinian people. There were people here. There was no, never any such Palestinian entity whatsoever. When the British received the mandate from the League of Nations after World War I, that mandate called for them to develop a national home for the Jewish people, which included southern Lebanon, parts of Syria, all of what’s today called Jordan, of course, Judea and Samaria, coming all the way down. Of course, they changed their minds and they went in a different direction. But that’s what the original mandate called for.

The Palestinian people, as such, never existed. It’s probably the biggest, most successful PR bluff that the world has ever swallowed. What is today called the West Bank. What is the West Bank? The West Bank is the western side of the Jordan River. The Jordanian people never existed. There was never a Jordan. It was a creation of the British. The British created it. Ok, they had to have a place for a king, and they didn’t have any place to put him, so they created a monarchy, they called it Jordan and they put him there, so that he’d be happy and he’d have something that he could do with himself, until they killed him, until he died.

But there was never a state of Jordan. The people that lived on the eastern side of the Jordan River and the people that lived on the western side of the Jordan River were identical. They were the same thing. They were Arabs.

On the eastern side, there were mostly Bedouins. On the western side, they were mostly urban populations. They were very different.

No, they were not. Today, not things that I’ve written, things that have been written by many other people. 75%, and again, the numbers aren’t necessarily from today. The numbers that I remember, in any case, that 75% of the population of what’s today called the Kingdom of Jordan is identical to the Arab population we have today in Judea and Samaria.

The fact that Arafat was able to create a… I mean, let’s put it this way, ok. If there really is this thing called Palestine, and there really is this Palestinian people, then where was the demand for it, let’s just say from 1948 to 1967, when Israel wasn’t here. Israel wasn’t in Hebron, Israel wasn’t in Bethlehem, we weren’t anywhere in Judea and Samaria. We weren’t in Gaza. So where was the demand then, by the same people, for Palestine.

There was a demand but it was put down by the king of Jordan.

No, there never was a demand because it didn’t exist.

Ok, let’s take a different tack. Ok, now, you clearly don’t believe that a Palestinian people exists.

As such, yes.

So, what you’re saying is, you’re denying… you’re in denial of their identity. And yet you’re also irked by the fact that there are certain Palestinians who deny an Israeli… that there is an Israeli identity. Should it surprise you that if you deny them their identity… Should you expect them to accept your identity?

Look, there are very different goals. We have very different goals. My goal is to live. And I don’t have any problems with other people. Ok, you can be my next-door neighbour. I don’t care, as long as you don’t try to kill me. It doesn’t make any difference whether it’s you or Muhammad or Ahmed or Youssef or Dawoud or whoever. I don’t care, ok. But there has to be an acceptance of some kind of legitimacy. And that doesn’t exist amongst the other side. They refuse to accept the fact that I have a legitimate right to be here whatsoever.

Whether or not they accept… I mean, look, again, we can talk on two different planes. We can talk on the theoretical/ideological plane. We can talk on an actual plane, ok. The fact is the Jews and Arabs lived in Hebron for hundreds of years together. The relationships weren’t always great, and the people that ruled, there was no IDF and there was no state, ok. And the relationships weren’t always great. And there were Jews who were killed and they were heavily taxed. And they were treated as dhimmis.

When the relationship started to improve in the early 1900s, in Hebron, that improvement led to…

Look, today, look, I’ll give you a few examples. When I lived in Kiryat Arba, there were Arab workers. They used to, in the afternoon, lie down on the grass in different parks and go to sleep. And lo and behold, if they went to sleep, they would wake up. If I did that somewhere else, I don’t know if I would wake up. I might wake up without my head. Today, in Hebron, you have a situation, and I’ll show you in a little while, the city is divided. They can come over here. They do go through a security check, to make sure they’re not bringing over a gun or a knife to try to kill me. But they can come on this side. I can’t go on that side. It’s true I can’t go on that side because, number one, Israeli law outlaws it. But if I did go over there, they’d kill me.

You believe that?

Oh, yeah, no doubt about it. It depends who caught me, who got to me first. There are those that wouldn’t. It doesn’t happen frequently, but there have been kids who have wandered over, one way or another, and somebody found them and brought them back.

Arabs are not inherently evil because they are Arabs. But today there is a political conflict going on and, if they wrong person finds you, then they chop off your head. That’s number two.

Today, in Israel, you have Arabs in the Knesset. You have people like Ahmad Tibi, who is not a real strong supporter of Israel. But he sits in the Israeli parliamentary body. He’s a legislator. He can try to put laws through. He has legislative immunity, parliamentary immunity, which I don’t. But he works with the PA and he works with people that are against the existence of the state of Israel. But he sits in the Israeli Knesset.

Abu Mazen has said more than once that, in the state of Palestine, there won’t be any Jews. Because there are some people that say, just like there are Arabs that live in Israel, there are people who have citizenship, they have good jobs, they have Israeli ID cards, and they can vote in Israeli elections, they can go to school, they get the same healthcare as everybody else gets…

But Arafat accepted that Jews in the West Bank could choose to stay or leave.

I don’t know what Arafat said. Arafat is dead. Unless, you know, they want to bring him back. Abu Mazen has said that… well, you know people say it, people here in Hebron say, well, I’ll just stay here under it.

And he says time and time again, the Palestinian state will be Judenfrei. There will be no Jews here. Jews cannot live in Palestine. We have to establish our identity. A Jew in an Arab state is a dhimmi, and they treat him that way.

Arab states have secularised.

Well, it’s going back the other way. And an Arab in a Jewish state today has a lot of rights that, first of all, he doesn’t have in any Arab state, ok. Arab women are allowed to drive in Israel. They don’t get lashed.

If you have Arabs sitting on the Knesset. Look, you even had a guy who had to flee Israel because they were about to arrest him for treason, but they kept paying his pension, ok. It’s absurd that my taxes that I pay, part of my taxes go to pay people that are enemies of the state of Israel, ok.

I’m sure you remember Faisal al-Husseini.

Of course, yes.

He was considered by the world as the Palestinian statesman. He was a spokesman and he was a statesman and he was a diplomat and he was very highly respected, right. That’s what I recall, before the peace process got into full swing.

He died post-Oslo. The last interview that he gave before he died. I think he gave the interview in Egypt, then he went to Kuwait and he died there. If I recall correctly, he had a heart attack. The last interview that he gave, he said that Oslo was a Trojan horse designed for us to get our foot in the door. And he said clearly in that interview, and I have copies of it, he said, of course all of Palestine belongs to us. Palestine? Israel belongs to us. Of course, it’s all ours. But this is our way in.

Ok, this was the statesman, this was Arafat’s righthand man. He was, you know, one of the people that Oslo was based on. You know, peace. But it’s a Trojan horse. So, when I try today to look, and you say… Well, if I deny their existence, why shouldn’t I expect them to deny my existence? It doesn’t begin. It doesn’t begin because it’s not just only a Palestinian identity, it’s a whole ideology.

Part I: The art of peace

Part II – From secular America to religious Hebron

Part III – “We are not extremists”

Part IV – “I don’t like Tel Aviv, does that mean we should tear Tel Aviv down”

Part VI – Living with Palestinian “dhimmis”

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Hebron settlers: “We are not extremists”

 
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By Khaled Diab

The Hebron settlers feel demonised by the mainstream media, and say reports of settler violence are exaggerated and some are even “black flag” ops.

Tuesday 4 January 2012

Khaled Diab: You just mentioned the media. How do you regard the mainstream Israeli view, especially the liberal view, of your community?

David Wilder: How do I view their view of me? You need a double mirror for that. Look, the media is very left wing, as a rule. There are always exceptions to the rule. You have journalists, you know, and politicians who take a different path. But as a rule the media is extremely leftwing. And, as such, they look at us as rightwing extremists who are, you know, a bone in the throat of peace. To put it very generally.

And they express that. You know, we work with them. We work with the media and try to influence however we can. Sometimes successfully, sometimes less successfully. But it’s very obvious that the media is generally, not just here, but the world media also is. In the United States, the big media, whether it be the New York Times or the Washington Post or CNN. Perhaps one of the exceptions is Fox, which is a little bit more moderate. But they’re usually, generally, very liberal, very leftwing.

So would you say you get a more sympathetic hearing within Israel or in the United States?

The difference between the United States and Israel in terms of media is that in the United States you have much larger media. First of all, in Israel, if you look at television, you’re talking about government-licensed media. There’s very little private media, and the private media that was on our side, you know, shut down. Ariel Sharon shut it down.

In the United States, you have much larger, much freer media. Anybody who is able to – I don’t know what the criteria are – can get a licence. Anyone who has the money can open a radio station, or a newspaper, or a television station, or go on cable, or whatever. And so, in terms of sympathy, as such, among the more rightwing media in the United States there’s much more sympathy. If you go down to the Bible Belt and here some of the talk shows, they’re very conservative.

Do you feel things have shifted in the past few years, with, like, Netanyahu and his government? Do you feel they’ve become more sympathetic in the media to you?

No, the media hasn’t become more sympathetic to us. There are people every once in a while who, you know, stop and do a little bit of introspection; they sort of look and try to examine where they are and where they are coming from. And every once in a while you can get somebody in the media or even a politician.

The head of the Labour party today, Shelly Yachimovich, who used to be on the radio. She wasn’t a very good friend of ours when she was on the radio. Today, she states that she opposes… she disagrees with our ideology, but she also comes out and says that people that are settlers are good Israelis just like everyone else. She doesn’t try to demonise us just because we live here. She can say I disagree with them; I want to throw them out, but they’re not bad people.

But have things change in the media as a result of Netanyahu’s government?

No, because he’s also considered to be rightwing, despite the fact that he also has Barak in his government. He’s considered to have a rightwing coalition, so the media, they don’t like him anymore than they like us. He’s not going to be a cause of them moving in our direction – to the contrary.

Newspapers like Ma’ariv and so on, you don’t find they’re sympathetic?

No.

Ok, you say that the Israeli media often labels you as “extremists”, what do you think of that label?

It’s not just the Israeli media. Years ago, I don’t know if you remember, there was a… When I started working here, almost 18 years ago, the New York Times correspondent, the head of the New York Times, he was a guy called Serge Schmemann. I don’t know where he is today; I see his name every once in a while, but he’s not here, thank God. But he didn’t like us. He was very leftwing and he was very anti people like me in Hebron. And when he used to write in the Times about Hebron, he always prefaced the word Hebron with extremists. It was almost like one word.

He was here once with one of his editors and I asked him, in front of his editor, why he always wrote that. He didn’t like that. He said, well, you’re zealots and you’re doing this and that. I said but you never write that. You always write we’re extremists. He said, yeah, well, everybody knows what I mean.

I mean, you know, we don’t think about it. You know different words have different connotations. And in the media, when you say something enough… When you write something enough times, then people start to believe it. Because, you know, he writes it again and again and again, so it must be true.

When I think about extremism, I think about the Red Brigade, you know, Hizbullah, organisations that go out and kill people. You know extremism, that’s how I read extremism.

So how would you describe your community? What words would you use?

I think… What I’ve used in the past is to say that we are ideological, that is, we live an ideal, ok? You can agree with my ideal or you can disagree with my ideal. That’s legitimate. I don’t have any problems with that. People can think different things, and whatever.

It’s also like when the Israeli media talks about religion, religious people, so you have… they can talk about Orthodox religious, then they talk about Ultra-Orthodox. So what’s an Ultra-Orthodox? What makes somebody more Orthodox than somebody else? We all do the same thing: we keep kosher; we keep the Sabbath; we do this and we don’t do that. So why is that Ultra and this not? Usually, it’s the way people dress. If he’s got a hat and a long black coat, then he’s Ultra. If he just has a knitted kippa like mine, then… But there’s no real difference between them.

The same thing is true with extremism. The fact that I believe that people should live in Hebron. We have over half a million people that visit here every year, so they’re all extremists. The people that come to visit Hebron from the United States, whether they be Jewish or Christian, or whoever they are, Israelis or whatever they are, are they extremists because they come to visit or because they support us, ok, give us money? So what makes me extreme? Because I live a particular ideal that somebody else disagrees with?

How about if your ideal, the majority of people disagree with it, would that make you extreme or not, do you think?

No, why, I mean the ideal of democracy is that you can have a majority and a minority. The fact that you’re… Take the… I mean, I don’t know how it works in England, but take the American Supreme Court, and its nine justices. You have a case which is decided eight-to-one, is the justice whose one vote is against that of the majority extremist because he disagrees with them, even though there are eight against one? No.

Look, it’s semantics which is used as a tool to create an impression on others. That’s what media does.

All right, you mentioned, connecting violence to extremism. That’s, in your mind, the defining factor. How about the violence that’s perpetrated by settlers, like, the “price tag” campaign, and so on. Do you think of that as extremism?

Errr, yes. Yes, it certainly is. I think that extremism can be also measured… if you have a norm, what that norm, not just ideologically, but also… and you can have ideological extremism also. But I think that that is considered by your normative Israeli, on whatever side of the fence he is, as very extremist.

And do you think that it’s a manageable, containable problem, or do you think it’s spinning out of control?

I think the “spinning out of control” is a media spin. I think, again, what we’re seeing today is use of what a few people are doing as a tool to try to blow it up. In Israel, as in most other places, I suppose, but I see it here, you have all sorts of different types of violence. There’s leftwing anarchist violence, which has been going on for a few years, down, every Friday, in Bilin. You have all sorts of different places where you have violence against Israeli soldiers which is perpetrated by Israelis and foreigners and all sorts of people, and every once in a while it makes the news when somebody gets hit by a rock. But, as a rule, they ignore it because it’s leftwing violence against Israel.

What’s the difference between leftwing violence against Israeli soldiers and rightwing violence against Israeli soldiers? They’re both violent; they’re both against the same body. This one is taken and turned into major headlines for a few days and the other one is ignored. You know, they’re both wrong, ok. But one is used for the purpose of delegitimising us and the other one is ignored because part of the media agree with what they’re doing, so, you know, let’s just leave it alone.

You don’t regard what happens in Bilin as non-violent protest?

It is violent. What I’m saying is that the same kind of violence. You can have two different groups that are perpetrating the same kind of violence, and one of them is turned into a major media event, and the other one is ignored.

You have a small group of people today, which is very frustrated.

Are they young or old?

They’re young. People, once they get to my age, they don’t have the energy to suffer like that anymore.

And what frustrates them, would you say?

Policies which they believe, not only are they wrong but destructive, and they see people being thrown out of their homes. They saw what happened in Gush Katif. They see the results of what happened since then. They see it happening again, starting on a small scale and moving up, possibly, to a very large scale. And they see all the warnings that are used to try to prevent that from happening, I don’t know if it’s falling on deaf ears or just not being listened to. They don’t know how better to express themselves to try to get something done.

It doesn’t necessarily justify the violence, but I don’t think… I think what we’re seeing today is still… Let’s put it this way, you don’t need a large group of people… you don’t need a whole lot of people to break into a mosque and write something on the wall. You need one or two people. And there are people who are doing it. Eventually, they’ll stop. I don’t know how or when.

It’s reaching a stage, though, where it’s turning off a lot of people that might sympathise with their belief and the ideal, or the opinion behind it, but once you start to express it, as what happened yesterday in the Israeli army base, people start to say, you’re starting to cross red lines. But, again, I don’t think it’s the… you’re not reaching a stage today where it is out of hand.

Israel’s security forces, whether they be police or army or intelligence, is very large, it wouldn’t surprise me, for example, I don’t know that it is, I don’t have any factual evidence on our table here, but we have seen in the past, provocations, when Israeli intelligence has used people as provocateurs to do things like that, in order to be able to reach a particular goal.

So you think some of this violence is self-inflicted by the…

I think. I don’t know that it is, but it could be. We’ve seen it before.

How about the contrary allegations, that the security forces have been increasingly infiltrated by religious elements and they’ve risen up the ranks, and so on?

I sort of don’t really agree with the word of “infiltration”. You understand the intrinsic contradiction in that, you know, not yourself, coming from where you’re coming from, but you hear this obviously on Israeli radio from Israelis. So I understand where you’re getting it from. But the built-in contradiction is that when religious Israelis didn’t go to the army, they were put down as not caring about the state of Israel and not willing to defend the state of Israel and they’re not willing to put their lives on the line just like everybody else.

So when religious Israelis do go into the army and they are willing to work very hard, and they’re willing to go to officer school, and they are willing to do what everybody else does, it’s said that they’re infiltrating the army and rising in the ranks. If you go into the army, if you send intelligent people into the army, and they’re motivated, then, you know, they can rise in the ranks just like everybody else.

So, on the one hand, they’re saying that the religious people are taking over the army. On the other hand, if we don’t go into the army, they say, ahh, they’re not going into the army, they’re not really part of the state of Israel.

I think that people who receive proper education and they understand, ideologically, the importance of the state of Israel, and they also understand the issues that we have to deal with today, you know, the security issues that we have to deal with, I understand that we need an army and people should understand that, if there’s equal service, or something equivalent to equal service, then you go to the army. Everybody does it – you go in for a year and a half, three years, you can go for five years. And it’s very widely accepted and it’s done.

So, you know, when religious people don’t do it, they’re accused of not caring and not taking on community service the way they should, and when they do go into the army, they say, ooh, they’re infiltrating.

So you feel that your community is damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t?

Well, we’re not talking about Hebron specifically, but on that particularly issue, yeah, that’s an apt description.

Part I – The art of peace

Part II –  From secular America to religious Hebron

Part IV – “I don’t like Tel Aviv, does that mean we should tear Tel Aviv down”

Part V – Palestinian people do not exist, are “PR bluff”

Part VI – Living with Palestinian “dhimmis”

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