Noam Shuster-Ellaisi is Challenging Traditional Peace Camp Assumptions and Methods [ssba]

Noam Shuster-Ellaisi is Challenging Traditional Peace Camp Assumptions and Methods

During the summer 2014 Gaza war, Noam Shuster-Ellaisi went to a peace rally in Tel Aviv. “Maybe I looked too Mizrahi, maybe I looked like an outsider. I don’t know. But I was forbidden from joining the demonstration.” Across the street, Noam’s family member, the fascist rapper known as the Shadow, held a counter rally for his supporters. They held “disgusting signs,” she said, and sought to beat up leftists and Arabs. Noam, who was raised in Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam (Oasis of Peace), the only community in Israel where Jews and Palestinians choose to live together, wanted to be with people who shared her desire “to end the madness of that summer.” But the self-appointed guardians of the antiwar rally did not recognize her as one of them. This story in a nutshell, she says, demonstrates the problem of the Israeli peace camp. “Who is allowed in this camp that talks about peace? Who is allowed to hold the word “peace” and say what it means? We have to do serious soul searching and ask how exclusive our camp has been.”

Speaking with Partners for Progressive Israel, Noam argued that pro-peace activists in Israel and the US have been so focused on solutions that they’ve left the Israeli public behind. They’ve been blind to the fact they were mostly engaging Ashkenazi-secular-liberals living in the privileged center. They haven’t reached beyond those lines. As a result, the peace camp became an cliquish club of the educated Ashkenazi middle class. So exclusionary that its self-appointed guardians instinctively identify a young brown woman as the “other” and assume she came to cause trouble.

The failure to engage diverse communities has undermined the peace process and brought its demise. For example, Noam says, the peace camp failed to engage religious leaders even though, “a political process in Israel cannot be successful without serious spiritual backing. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, in 1979, when he was Israel’s chief Rabbi, gave a religious ruling saying that the value of life is higher than the value of land. This gave a spiritual backing to the peace agreement with Egypt. It allowed settlers to evacuate the Sinai.” “Who are the spiritual leaders who could potentially support a future peaceful solution?”

Noam is the program coordinator of Interpeace Israel. It’s her job to work with strategic populations in the Israeli society who were previously excluded from the peace process. She engages former soviet Jews, Palestinians, ultra-orthodox women and Likud center officials among others. “It’s very difficult. It takes time and a lot of compromise,” she said. But “how do we know that there aren’t people out there who are our partners? Have we tried? Did anyone ensure that the resources given to the peace camp would be allocated to target diverse populations?”

Noam argues that in our obsession with the solution, we’ve failed to see that the battle lines have shifted dramatically since the 1990s. Israel is experiencing a collapse of the Left/Right paradigm. “Ironically,” she told us, “a funny thing happens” when Israelis watch a debate on television about a resolution to the conflict. On the one hand, there would be “a very traditional centrist-left, maybe a Labor [Party member], Tel Aviv, secular politician, who talks about the importance of separating from the Palestinians to maintain the Jewish and democratic character of Israel. And next to him, there is a member of the current coalition, a rightwing religious Zionist MK, Yehuda Glick, saying, ‘but we want equality. We can continue having a Jewish-democratic and give the Palestinian equality.” Noam says that the camp that perceives itself as the left-center secular Zionist is proposing a resolution that “might be more militaristic, more militant, or at least look like a more rightwing agenda than what the right wing is proposing.”

“Who are we kidding?” she asked. “How can we make twenty-two percent of Israeli citizens divorce their cousins behind the wall?” On the other hand, she says, she cannot empower “an ultra-national-religious activist who aspires to a state of Jewish superiority.” “Where am I between these two failing agendas? There is a dangerous vacuum in the middle.”

Noam is not arguing that the two-state solution is dead. Rather, she challenges traditional peace camp preconceived assumptions of who are “the good guys” and who are “the bad guys.” She demands that they stop seeing every settler, every religious person, and every Russian immigrant as the enemy. She asks that peace activists engage others in their community, judge less, and ask more questions. And she asks that we do the same in our Jewish communities.

This is a fascinating conversation and one you will not regret listening to. If you find it interesting, consider joining our Israel-Study tour in January which will focus on the cultural, economic and social forces promoting and hindering a peaceful resolution to the conflict. You’ll have a chance to meet Noam and others who fight for peace often against conventional wisdon The trip’s goal is to enhance participants’ advocacy tools and discuss how we, Americans, can help steer Israelis and Palestinians toward peace. Underlying the tour is the question why Israelis and Palestinians don’t choose peace and what forces on the ground that can help change this.

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Conversation with Israel and Palestine: Naomi Chazan on the future of the two-state solution [ssba]

Conversation with Israel and Palestine: Naomi Chazan on the future of the two-state solution

Today was our first of a three part series on the future of the state of Israel and the two-state solution.

Listen to our conversation with Prof. Chazan.

Naomi Chazan kicked off the conversation speaking frankly about the untenable and immoral nature of the occupation, and how it severely harms both Palestinians and the Israeli state.

Chazan argued that two peoples occupy the land in parity. The number of Palestinian nearly equals the number of Israeli Jews between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean sea. Chazan asserted that the best bet for co-existance would also support the national aspirations of both peoples – a two-state solution.

This problem isn’t a new one. It has existed since before the creation of the state in 1948. However, after 1967 it took on much greater urgency. Now that the Occupation nearing its 50 year mark, the current generation of Palestinians – the third generation to live under the Occupation – has no recollection of what it was like to live free of it – the urgency is that much greater.

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Israel Study Tour Registration [ssba]

Please fill out to register for Partners for Progressive Israel's Study Tour January 10-17, 2017.

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The deadline for the deposit of $500 payable to Partners for Progressive Israel is November 15, 2016. Reserving a reservation before October 1 will entitle you to a $100 discount of the total payment.

All participants will be responsible for making their own travel arrangements to and from Israel.

Prices for Israel Study Tour 2016:

  • To stay in your own hotel – $2,100
  • To stay in a room at our hotel with another participant - $2,900
  • To stay in a single room at our hotel – $3,400

The full payment will be due on December 16, 2016

Cancellation Policy

Before October 15, 2016 – a full refund of your deposit

Between October 16 2016 to January 1, 2017 – a penalty of 50% of your deposit

After January 1, 2017 – No refund for the deposit

Cancellations: All cancellation notices must be received in writing. Cancellations for medical or family emergencies will be entitled to a full refund.

Please contact Maya Haber at maya@progressiveisrael.org with any questions or concerns.

Israel Study Tour [ssba]

Israel Study Tour
If you want to influence Israel, you should first understand it.
This was a fabulous trip. The depth and range of the presentations left us so much better informed than almost any non-Israeli not totally immersed in Israeli politics and society. I am really grateful. — David Rush

 

In the absence of a diplomatic horizon, Partners for Progressive Israel redesigned its annual Israel-study-trip to enhance participants’ advocacy tools and focus on how we, Americans, can help steer Israelis and Palestinians toward peace.

Join us to experience the politics of everyday life! Enjoy the access that only the hospitality of the World Union of Meretz can offer!

Get to know Israeli society: discuss with experts how Netanyahu’s economic reforms incentivize Israelis to immigrate to West Bank settlements. Visit communities living along the Gaza border and learn about the social and security impacts of the conflict on their lives. Walk through Arab Israeli cities and learn about the obstacles to social and economic integration into Israeli society. Speak with activists about the environmental impact of the conflict. But most importantly, learn about the movements working to turn the tide and how you and your community can help them.

Get to know Palestinian society: Meet Palestinian leaders and activists and learn the effect of the lack of a diplomatic horizon on their society. Walk through communities suffering from house demolition. Enter military courts and meet the parents of Palestinian kids arrested for stone throwing. Explore with Palestinian activists the critical issue of “normalization.” And most importantly, learn about the factors fostering hope for a just peace and those leading to despair. Ask Palestinian activists how you can help.

 

The tour introduces participants to such issues as:

  • The economies of Israel and Palestine as they affect resolution of the conflict
  • The nature of ideological infrastructures that drive Israeli and Palestinian societies
  • Ethnic and religious divisions
  • The place of immigrants and refugees in Israel
  • The challenges facing those on the Gaza border
  • Environmental challenges

In our last trip in January 2017, we met 10 Knesset members and traveled from the Beer Sheva in the south to the Sea of Galillee in the north. We visited Palestinian towns and Jewish settlements, an unrecognized Bedouin village, the Knesset, kibbutzim on the Gaza border, the Ofer military court and so much more.

Please browse our past tour programs to better understand our unique approach:

2017 Israel Study Tour

2014 Israel Symposium

2013 Israel Symposium

2012 Israel Symposium

Prices for Israel Study Tour 2017:

  • To stay in your own hotel – $2,100
  • To stay in a double room at our hotel with another participant – $2,900
  • To stay in a single room at our hotel – $3,400

The price includes meals, transportation and hotel. Participants are responsible for airfare.

Conflicting Property Rights in Hebron & Jerusalem [ssba]

Conflicting Property Rights in Hebron & Jerusalem

During our visit in Hebron we encountered a fascinating sign. On one of the walls of the Avraham Avinu neighborhood in the midst of Palestinian Hebron, under a mighty light, we read:

These buildings were constructed on land purchased by the Hebron Jewish community in 1807. This land was stolen by Arabs following the murder of 67 Hebron Jews in 1929. We demand justice, return our property to us!

Our guide, Avner Gvaryahu of Breaking the Silence (Shovrim Shtika), explained that the land had indeed been purchased by the Jewish community in 1807 and abandoned after the Hebron massacre of 1929. However, when we speak of land ownership, we tend to refer to individual and not ethnic ownership. Had I, for example, made a claim to the land of my late neighbor simply because he had been Jewish, my claim would most likely be rejected. My neighbor’s land belongs to his descendants, not to the Jewish collective.

But the land bordering the Avraham Avinu neighborhood has a peculiar status. It is legally owned by Haim Hanegbi, one of the founders of Matzpen, a revolutionary socialist and anti-Zionist organization. Hanegbi inherited the land from his grandfather, Rabbi Haim Bajayo, the Sephardi rabbi of the Jewish community in Hebron. Hanegbi, needless to say, opposes the Jewish settlement in Hebron. He does not want his grandfather’s land back and most certainly does not want to give it to Hebron’s settlers.

In fact, Hanegbi even wrote a letter to the Israeli authorities arguing that he has the legal right to decide the future of his grandfather’s property.  But his position meant little to the authorities. Thus, the legal claim of the Jewish community in Hebron is of a particular type. It follows an ethno-religious rationality, which might emotionally appeal to some, but lacks legal ground. When they write “return our property to us!” the Jews of Hebron speak in the name of a Jewish collective which includes Hanegbi, despite Hanegbi’s best judgement.

There is a handful of examples like the property of the Jewish community in Hebron. We had the occasion to visit two others: Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem and Gush Etzion. Both Jewish communities prospered until 1948, and were either attacked by Palestinian fighters or the Jordanian Legion, or fled during the war. In both a group of settlers claimed collective Jewish ownership over the land and forcefully settled on it. But while the struggle over Gush Etzion ended with a settler victory years ago, the fight over Sheikh Jarrah is ongoing.

These particular battles shed fascinating light on a peculiar ideological phenomenon. The settlers who argue for their ethnic right to return to Jewish property pre-1948 suffer from a logical failure, for if we allow the return to Gush Etzion, Sheikh Jarrah and Hebron, wouldn’t it be only equally just to give the same right to Palestinians who fled from the upscale neighborhood of Talbiya in Central Jerusalem, which currently houses the Israeli president? They too owned land before 1948.

Davidi Perl, the head of the Gush Etzion settlement, argued that this logic does not apply. They started the war, he told us, and by starting the war they relinquish their rights to it. We (the Jewish community of Mandatory Palestine) were willing to accept the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine in 1947. Therefore, since the refugee problem is “their fault,” all the gains from the war of independence are ours.

Perl’s line of argument reminded me of my four-year-old daughter and her friends. If one kid was willing to share a toy and the other wanted it all to himself, the toy, according to this logic, belongs for all eternity to the “nice kid,” the one who was willing to share. The Jews of Palestine are that “nice kid,” they were willing to share. As the responsible adult in the room, I had a strong urge to show Pearl the failures of his reasoning and force him to “play nicely” with his neighbor.

The Israeli-Palestinian War of Numbers [ssba]

Israel and the Palestinians are waging a demographic war. We know that. Every discussion of a two-state versus a one-state solution includes a demographic component. This framing always reminds me of high school math problems: “There are X number of Palestinians and Y number of Jew here-or-there; the Palestinians reproduce at a rate of fill-in-the-gap and and the Jews in some-other-rate (usually significantly smaller). In how many years will there be the same number of Jews and Palestinians on this land?”

But before the Symposium I knew only of one continuous battle in this war, the fight over reproduction. I had heard the Bedouins were using polygamy to increase their reproductive rates. Recently Yair Shamir, the minister of agriculture, began publicly discussing policies aimed at reducing Bedouin birthrates. Haaretz journalist B. Michael has called it genocide. MK Merav Michaeli of the Labor party created havoc when she argued that by not subsidizing contraception, but generously subsidizing fertility treatments, including the right to freeze eggs and use them until the age of 54, Israel is giving women a clear message: “The state of Israel will spend a lot of money so you will be a mother, at any age and any price. You will pay for preventing pregnancies on your own. Therefore, women do not truly control their own reproduction.”

But I never realized this was only one aspect of the demographic war. On the second day of the Symposium I had a glimpse of the other battle in the war of demographics. Aluf Benn, the editor in chief of Haaretz, mentioned a Rosh Hashana article Haaretz had published about the most popular newborn names in Israel in the previous year. Ilan Lior, Haaretz journalist, noticed that there were no Arabic names on the list. He inquired and discovered that indeed the most popular name for a baby boy in Israel was Muhamad, but the registrar thought this inappropriate and censored it. Why stick with the facts when they are inconvenient?

Later that morning, Sarit Michaeli of the Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem, mentioned that there are approximately 200,000-300,000 Palestinians in Area C of the West Bank. “Why do you say, ‘approximately’?” I asked her; “isn’t Israel a modern state that counts its population?” Well, she said, “not really.”

Apparently several organizations collect data on the Palestinian population of the West Bank, and each comes up with a different number. “It’s about how they count,” she explained. “But isn’t Israel counting? The security forces have detailed information on each individual, they must be counting,” I insisted. “We do not have access to this data,” she responded. I was astonished.

As a historian of the Soviet Union who had written on Soviet statistics, I know how science operated in a state that refused to face its own social reality. People tend to assume that Soviet statisticians held two sets of books, my academic work suggested that they did not. They were just prohibited from counting certain things that could potentially make the regime uncomfortable. If they did not want to know how little collective farms were paying their workers, they simply did not calculate those numbers.

If we do not engage reality, measure and describe it, it does not exist. When we arrived in the settlement of Gush Etzion and spoke with Davidi Perl, the chairman of the regional [settlements] council, I thought I knew it all. After Perl explained the need to annex all the West Bank (or Yehuda v’Shomron in his terminology), one of our Symposium participants asked the demographic question. The variable equation: there are currently 5.9 million Jews and 5.9 million Palestinians between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean; what will happen to the Jewish state when it loses its Jewish majority?

Perl was not moved. First, he said, we don’t count Gaza, “that ship has sailed.” Though the settler community vehemently opposed the disengagement from Gaza, it gave them a small victory in the demographic battle and they happily use it. Second, our (i.e. Jewish) birthrate is on the rise; we now have families with five children in Gush Etzion, while the Arab birthrate is on the decline. Perl argued that we cannot use the current birthrate as indicative of future trends. In a manner that in my academic work I called, “Socialist Realist” scientific practice, Perl was playing a pretend game of numbers. He mentioned Jewish immigration to Israel, and brought our attention to Arabs who leave the country. He, of course, forgot to count Jews who choose to live elsewhere, and according to the official figures of the State of Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, in the last decade Israel is suffering from a negative immigration balance, more people are leaving the country than immigrating to it every year.

Perl’s neglect of the facts was particularly striking because he failed to count his own audience. Several of us are Israeli, some born in Israel, some migrated to Israel, and we have all ultimately made our home in the United States. For Perl that mattered little; we Jews are all necessary toy soldiers in the demographic war of numbers.

Jerusalem: United in name only [ssba]

Maya Haber (in Israel with PPI)

Reality and language are engaged in a ruthless battle in Israel. Political discourse attempts to drown reality in an Aladdin pool of fantasy. Recently reality has been popping up its head and declaring that it has not surrendered, not yet. We have heard many remarkable example during the last few days. The battle seems to encompass a diverse variety of political issues from the economy to gender equality, from ethnic relations to property rights and many others. most significantly the conflict with the Palestinians is a discursive battlefield in which language (both Hebrew and English) simply does not correspond with people’s lived experience. This blog post is the first in a series in which I will try to explore particular manifestations of this separation of language from reality.

The first and most obvious example is the status of Jerusalem. Since 1967 Israelis like me have been hearing and expressing our devotion for Jerusalem. I remember commemorating Jerusalem day at school every year, singing “Jerusalem of Gold” and listening to Moshe Dayan’s famous speech that started with the words: “This morning, the Israel Defense Forces liberated Jerusalem.” Yet 47 years after that unforgettable speech the reality of everyday life in Jerusalem questions the assertion that Jerusalem is the uncontested, undivided eternal capital of Israel.

Jerusalem is perhaps the only capital of a sovereign state that does not inhabit a single foreign embassy. Thus its status as the uncontested Israeli capital may indeed be questionable. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court is currently hearing arguments in the case of Menachem Zivotofsky, a 12 year-old US citizen who demands to record his birthplace in his passport as “Jerusalem, Israel.” Though Congress passed a law in 2002 requiring the State Department to treat Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in American passports, Republican and Democrat secretary of states through the years have been refusing ever since. The U.S. does not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

More importantly, people’s lived experience in Jerusalem challenges the assertion that the city has been united. Danny Seidemann, the Jerusalem expert who led our tour in the city, suggested that if we put GPS devices on every Jew in Jerusalem and then follow their movements on a map, we will clearly see the invisible border separating the east from the west. Jerusalemites don’t need a physical wall; the Jews do not wander around East Jerusalem and the Palestinians are afraid to go west. For security reasons, we could not enter most Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem. These days, parts of the eternal capital of the Jewish state are too dangerous for Jews to walk in.

Daniel Seidemann

There are many causes for the last four months of clashes, but underneath it all is the simple fact that Palestinian inhabitants of East Jerusalem are not Israeli citizens. Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, but not its inhabitants. The Israeli state applied Israeli law, jurisdiction and administration to East Jerusalem, granting it “full citizenship” status. It even guaranteed its jurisdiction over East Jerusalem by passing the ‘Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel’, making it extremely difficult for any future government to forgo territory in East Jerusalem. And yet, Israel did not grant citizenship rights to East Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents. Today, one third of Jerusalem’s residents live without citizenship, they live under a political structure that claims their land but does not accept them along with it. So Jerusalem is a united city divided by the legal status of its population.

Since reality refuses to conform to the language of unity, the Israeli right deploys heavier linguistic weapons. In the last few years there is a battle over the name of the city itself. While in English we call it Jerusalem, in Hebrew it is pronounced ״Yerushalayim״ and in Arabic “al-Quds.” But different names could imply a divided city and thus threaten the city’s sacred unity. Thus, a few years ago a ministerial committee debated a proposal to have all signs display just the transliterations of Hebrew names. In this highly Orwellian move, Israeli officials are trying to impose unity on a deeply divided city.

Perhaps we should reinterpret flying rocks and burning cars in Jerusalem as the active resistance of reality against its discursive oppression. This would explain why the Palestinians are directing their wrath at the light rail. Yudith Oppenheimer, executive director of Ir Amim recently told the Jewish Daily Forward that though the train has eased the access to the city center for residents of poorer neighborhoods like Shuafat, they consider it a threat for it will make the city harder to split under a future Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty. “It creates an illusion of a united city.”

This blogger, Maya Haber, is a recipient of the Israel Symposium 2014 Scholarship. She was born and raised in Israel. She graduated from Tel Aviv University with a B.A. in history and philosophy and earned a Ph.D. at the University of California at Los Angeles. She has written and published on healthcare and social sciences in the post-World War II Soviet Union.

Visiting Unrecognized Bedouin Villages & Gaza Border [ssba]

A brief bio of this blogger, Brooke Feldman, is at the bottom of this post.

During the Israel Symposium, we have learned about deep-rooted problems in Israeli society and in the Palestinian Territories, but today we learned about a problem that could be easily solved: unrecognized Bedouin villages. We spent the morning with Chaya Noch, head of the Negev Coexistence Forum (NCF), and Atia Atameen, our Bedouin host in Hasham Zana. This is an unrecognized Bedouin village with over 2,000 residents in the Negev. Israel has attempted to remove Bedouins from their homes and concentrate them into seven townships. The government essentially wants to control more of the Negev and unsuccessfully encourages Jews to move there, through cheap land distribution.
Bedouins have lived in the Negev for over 500 years. They are citizens of Israel, but much of their land ownership is not recognized. Bedouins refuse to move, and Israel continues to destroy their impoverished villages. Without recognition, the Bedouin villages receive no resources or services from the Israeli government. There is no water or electricity source from the state, no schools, and no paved roads. An official road is planned in Hasham Zana, but it will cut the village in half and destroy 400 homes to create a path to a new army base.
Atameen shared personal stories about the many repercussions of not being recognized. Young children walk for one and a half hours to their school several kilometers away.  In addition to education, health is also affected. The lack of roads means no street addresses. Without an address, women who live in the middle of the village away from the highway are unable to call for an ambulance when in labor. The Israeli government, according to Atameen, believes that if they provide citizens with basic services like a school, it recognizes Bedouin ownership and residency on the land.

Not all is desperate though. Alongside organizations like the NCF, unrecognized Bedouin villages have formed a council to promote and defend their rights, which provide legal support against police brutality and for court cases.
We left Hasham Zana for Sapir College, where we met with Dr. Ya’ala Ranan. She is a professor of gender and minorities in the Middle East. Ranan spoke with us about how the societal structure of Bedouin society interacts with the townships where the Israeli government has relocated many Bedouins. It would be logical that Bedouins living in the town with infrastructure have better health metrics than Bedouins in the village; however, research showed they are the same. Ranan believes this is due to the great misery felt by Bedouins, mostly women, in the towns. She specifically accounts this to the restriction of movement and control inside the town.
In the Bedouin tradition, strangers are not allowed to lay eyes upon women. Women roam freely in villages, because they can see someone from afar enter the village and quickly avoid contact. In the towns, cars zoom in and out, which restricts women to the confines of their homes. Since they rarely leave home, it disrupts their traditional social structure. Parents lose their ability to protect their children from external exposures like crime. The limited space in towns leaves many Bedouins unemployed, because they have no land to continue their historic tradition of farming and raising animals. These all have third party repercussions. Bedouin girls are turning to more Islamic values, which are more liberal than Bedouin, so they will have more freedom than their mothers. Racism among Black minority communities is greater in Bedouin townships than in other towns, because of the struggle for resources. Perhaps if the cities were better built to meet the cultural needs of the Bedouins these problems wouldn’t occur.
The policy towards Bedouins in the Negev is another manifestation of Israel’s maltreatment of Arabs under its control. Land in Israel is considered sacred to Jews, who have not had a country of their own for nearly 2000 years, but Bedouins only live on 3.5% of the Negev. The government must understand that the Bedouins, who historically have populated the Negev, are not a threat to the existence of Israel. They are peaceful, many volunteer for the army and help farm the harsh lands of the desert. Moreover, Bedouins are Israeli citizens and deserve the same civil rights and benefits of any other person living inside the nation’s borders. Ranan believes that if the government recognizes Bedouin villages, difficulties explained by Atameen could be resolved within six months. As supporters of Israel, we must press the Israeli government to recognize their villages and deliver proper resources to Bedouins.
At the Gaza Border
After meeting with Ranan, we met Micha Ben Hillel with the Other Voice at his kibbutz, Niram, on the Gaza border. It was scary seeing how close people live to the border and yet how far the tunnels spanned from Gaza into Israel. Ben Hillel gave us hope by sharing the new sentiment among people of the South. There is a new understanding after this summer’s Gaza war that intensifying violence does not translate into more security. Support for a more humane approach to peace is rising.
Ben Hillel shared with us efforts people in the south and the Other Voice are undertaking to form a more interconnected region. There are multicultural trips with Israeli Jews, American Jews, and Bedouins to form relationships between cultures. They hosted the Gaza-Sderot Seminar, an academic event attended by Israelis and Palestinians. There are also agricultural trade efforts between farmers in Gaza and Sderot. To further advance this peace work, Ben Hillel and the Other Voice are building a network of all NGOs in Israel with the common goal of peace.
Our day concluded with the annual Israel Symposium gala in Jaffa. It was a lovely evening shared by Symposium participants and members of Meretz. We discussed what we have learned so far this week and efforts to combat the injustices we’ve witnessed. It was also an opportunity to meet the people behind the politicians. I personally have great hope in the activists and leadership of Meretz. They are bright, passionate, and will fight tirelessly for a humane society and peace, inside and outside of Israel.The writer, Brooke Feldman, is a recipient of the Israel Symposium 2014 scholarship. She is a graduate student at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, where she studies Forced Migration and Humanitarian Assistance and possesses a background in biological anthropology.

Her particular love for Israel developed early on, but was more formally shaped after a semester abroad at Alexander Muss High School in Hod Hasharon and serving as Emory Students for Israel president.  She hopes to combine her interest in global health with her commitment to human rights and a secure, flourishing Jewish state by eliminating economic, social, and health inequities for refugees, immigrants, and minorities in Israel and Palestine caused by cultural barriers, conflict, and policies to ensure equal access to health and overall well-being.

Finding Hope From Despair [ssba]

When I woke up Tuesday morning, I was filled with a certain amount of dread; this was, after all, the day that we would be finally visiting Hebron. Without resorting to hyperbole, Hebron has always struck me as the true epicenter of the Israeli occupation, a place where every terrible inclination of corrupting power would be on display. While I had heard various stories and seen pictures, I was always granted a degree of detachment from the reality of the ground.  And yet despite the unpleasantness in anticipating our visit, a  number of events throughout the day would help restore my faith in PPI’s advocacy.

Ajrami speaking, with Amichai at his side

The group began the day at the Ambassador Hotel, meeting with Ashraf al-Ajrami of the Geneva Initiative, and Lior Amichai of Peace Now. Both men were not shy in admitting that the situation in Israel — politically, diplomatically — was in dire shape, and that recent violence could escalate. Nonetheless, their predictions for the future were if not overly optimistic, then at the very least, pragmatic. The death of the two state solution, a popular prediction as of late, seemed overblown to them. Despite the recent bouts of violence, the rising tide of intolerance in Israeli society, a final status agreement was still a possibility. One couldn’t help but note the irony. As a number of our participants expressed despair at what they felt was a hopeless situation, here were two individuals, who remained undeterred, despite their daily exposure to the conflict.

The dreaded latter part of the day was not nearly as uplifting. The ugly realities of the occupation were on full display in Hebron; onerous restrictions on the movement of Palestinians, settler violence, and the wholesale destruction of people’s livelihood. The Israeli government had transformed a once thriving center of Palestinian life into a literal ghost town. Yet witnessing this horrible landscape did not send me into bouts of despair. I did not leave the West Bank with my faith in Zionism completely obliterated. Quite the opposite: I came to understand that disengaging from Israel would simply lead to the Hebroniznation of the entire West Bank that much sooner. If in fact the current state of Hebron was the dream of the Israeli far right, it would be grossly irresponsible to surrender the political future to the Bennetts and Liebermans of the world.

Most inspiring was the final event of the night, a lecture by Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy, but perhaps for reasons one wouldn’t except. Levy has become something of a notorious figure in Israel over the last few years, a role which he seems to relish. He was convinced (and tried quite hard to convince his audience) that the two state solution was dead, and that a one-state, South Africa-style model is inevitable. But like others who have promoted this idea he offered a utopian vision without bothering to give the details about how such a state would come into fruition. Nor was he particularly interested in acknowledging the very real, non-theoretical existence of two incompatible national movements at each others’ throats. Levy’s dream would not give birth to an ideal society but to a bloody civil war. The only real option that remains, despite one’s cynicism would be the one in which both parties saw their national aspirations realized.

These three elements — the fear of renewed violence, shock at the injustice of the occupation, and what I believe to be the promotion of unworkable and unrealistic solutions — should have left me more hopeless at the end of the day. On the contrary; I now feel more energized and more thoroughly convinced that despite its elusiveness, the two state solution is the only way forward at this moment in time — desperation be damned.

Meeting with the President [ssba]

Yesterday our group met with President Reuben Rivlin at his residence in Jerusalem. A life-long voice of the right, promoting a single, Jewish state between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea, Rivlin has agitated the members of his former Likud party by reaching out to Israel’s Palestinian citizens and condemning the “sick” racism very obviously present in Israeli society. (For a terrific analysis of Rivlin and the context he is acting in, read David Remnick’s essay in the November 17 issue of the New Yorker.)

Pres. Rivlin (rt.), meeting with Harold Shapiro (left) & PPI Symposium
Rivlin knew who we were–that we support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict–and immediately began with his disagreement with that vision. He started by targeting our liberal hearts: “The two-state solution is a racist solution,” he said. Because we want to separate Jews from most Arabs (in two states), he contends that we are promoting a solution that is destined to inflame ethno-religious violence.

I’ve heard this argument before from supporters of a one-state solution, but usually this is meant to deflect from the proponent’s own hatred of Arabs. This is not the case with Rivlin; he staunchly supports complete civil rights and equality for Israel’s Palestinian citizens, including those Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. He forces us to confront a common component of the two- states-for-two-peoples position, which bases Israel’s Jewish character upon a majority Jewish population. He claims we seek a democracy for Jews, not a Jewish and democratic state.

The problem with Rivlin’s vision is, despite his very real support for civil rights, that he eschews an important human right: the right of every nation to self-determination. The Palestinians have the right to a state that celebrates its language, culture and history, all of which are different from that of (most) Israelis. Israelis too are entitled to that right. And Hebrew language, culture and history define its Jewish character far more than a majority Jewish population. Having ethnic majorities in each state may be a natural result of the two-state solution (and perhaps evidence of its success). But ethnic majorities as a prerequisite of statehood is racist, and Rivlin is wrong to assume that we believe that.
For all our political disagreements, President Rivlin has so far in his short tenure made himself a hero of the state. His position as the symbolic leader of Israel makes his statements about racism here a dire indictment of Israel’s direction. He is no longer a politician promoting policies to create a single Jewish state, thereby killing the two-state solution. His is a position that can only affect Israeli society. So far, at this tumultuous time, his use of the presidency has been the greatest expression of liberalism in Israel in a a long time.