Netanyahu’s UN Fable [ssba]

Netanyahu’s UN Fable

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will speak at the UN tonight. As New York Time’s Jodi Rudoren predicts, “The prime minister will undoubtedly reiterate his readiness to restart peace talks with his Palestinian counterpart anywhere, anytime.” This will be Netanyahu’s attempt to portray himself to the world as a peace seeker, particularly in contrast to Abbas, who called to leave behind Oslo’s legacy of bilateral peacemaking. Of course, Netanyahu himself is only willing to negotiate under one condition — that President Mahmud Abbas will relinquish his pre-conditions for negotiation.

The problem is that while Netanyahu prepares for his UN speech and might even choose to mention the “two state solution,” his MKs are creating facts on the ground.

Deputy Knesset speaker Oren Hazan (Likud) spoke yesterday with Haaretz’s reporter Nir Gontarz: Read More »

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.

The Israeli Left Lives [ssba]

The next time you hear that the Israeli left, liberal Zionism, or the two state solution is dead, I challenge you to challenge that, stand up to the naysayers and take a stance for peace. For the Israeli left may be down, but they’re certainly not out. 

The talk of the town since the end of this summer’s Gaza War has been this vague notion that the Israeli left is dead, and there is no civil discourse left in Israeli society. Whether it came from Mairav Zonszein’s New York Times op-ed “How Israel Silences Dissent”, or a variety of articles written by international and Israeli left wing authors such as Haaretz’s own Gideon Levy. While watching from the sidelines of the university scene in the United States and watching the settlements dig deeper into the West Bank, crowds of Jews running through the streets of Jerusalem shouting “death to Arabs”, or the government’s general reaction to the riots breaking out within Israeli Arab towns and villages—one starts to wonder if the cynics are right. Thankfully, with the help of Partners for Progressive Israel, I am having an experience to learn otherwise.

At this year’s Israel Symposium we have already met with a variety of leaders of the Israeli peace camp — including Meretz leader Zehava Gal’on, MK Nitzan Horowitz, Haaretz’s chief editor Aluf Benn — and attended a panel on human rights in the Occupied Territories. With topics ranging from ending the occupation, to the formation of a center-left government after the next election, the atmosphere is rewarding for someone with a deep love for Israel, yet strong concern over its current policies. While some may doubt it, or try to undermine it, most left-wing Israelis work hard everyday to create a better future and preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Especially as a J Street U leader, I find the work on the ground being undertaken by B’tselem, Peace Now, and the Meretz party as encouraging, and a sign of a deeper connection between us and Israeli society — one more founded in reality and fact, than the fantasy Israel touted today by many in the United States. Whether portrayed as demon, or the messiah, both depictions are inaccurate and work to only worsen the situation for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Now how can the peace camp thrive? At a time where Bennett is soaring through the polls, and Labor’s Buji Herzog has been unable to pick up any traction, things may look bleak. But the truth is there is so much more to Israeli society then what first meets the eye. Already many discussions in our group have centered on the status of Israeli Arabs and working to create a more hospitable society for them. Since Sayed Kashua left Israel this past summer I have partially been ashamed that the state of the Jewish people, a people who have suffered at the hands of others for nearly two millennia, would treat the stranger within their midst with such disregard, neglect and bigotry. Israeli Arabs (or Palestinian Israelis, whichever you prefer) have been marginalized and discriminated against since the state’s beginning. When asked about the situation for Israeli Arabs yesterday, Meretz leader MK Zehava Gal’on said Meretz was actively working to fight for civil equality within Israel, including integrating more Israeli Arabs into the political system and fighting for their right to express themselves politically which has been under attack as in the case of MK Haneen Zoabi. Today we will meet with MK Ahmed Tibi (Ta’al) at the Knesset, and I am certain he will have much to say about this.

But aside from all the gloom and doom, yesh atid [there is a future]. Israelis and Palestinians cannot continue to live with the status quo—whether it’s the fear of terrorist attacks, the cost of living, or the brutality of occupation and land expropriation which is affecting their everyday lives. Israelis and Palestinians are neighbors, for better or worse, and can’t afford to continue the endless cycle of violence that has defined both peoples’ lives for generations. To give up or demonize the other is fruitless and unproductive. The only way forward is through a two-state solution which grants the right of self-determination to both peoples, and allows each population who are sick of each other, a chance to settle down. If you care about Israelis, Palestinians, justice, human rights, or all or any of the above, I strongly urge for you to coordinate with the Israelis and Palestinians on the ground working to create a better reality. So the next time you hear that the Israeli left, liberal Zionism, or the two-state solution is dead, I challenge you to challenge that, take a stance for peace in anyway you can. For the Israeli left is not dead, but it could certainly use our help.

Josh Freedman is a graduating third year student at The Ohio State University, studying World Politics with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies. He is an Israel Symposium scholarship recipient,  excited to extend his knowledge and leadership skills on this trip and to bring them back to school where he heads the J Street U chapter. Josh tweets at @jfreedman2009. 

Participant Reviews 2013 Israel Symposium, Part 3 [ssba]

The following is the final installment of Merle Wolofsky’s report (click here for Part 2on her experience as a participant in PPI’s recent Israel Symposium:

Meeting in Rawabi with Bashar Masri, the development’s managing director.

Rawabi is a city being built outside of Ramallah that will eventually house 40,000 people. We were very impressed with the young woman who guided us (an engineer) and the beauty and scope of the endeavor. Rawabi’s developers sought advice from the world-famous Israeli architect, Moshe Safdie, whose influence is evident. The plans include a mosque, a church, a shopping mall, schools, theatre, sports coliseum and a collaborative industrial park for Israelis and Palestinians. It was clear that there are highly educated and skilled people living in the West Bank, including engineers, investors, architects, city planners, and craftsmen. One-third of the thousands employed in this project are women.

The caveat that I had mentioned refers to what we heard from Amira Hass, a Jewish-Israeli journalist based in Ramallah who dismissed the Palestinians we heard from as untrustworthy and part of the corrupt, inept leadership. However she was even more vituperative in her judgment of Israel’s leadership and actions.

The Israeli-Arab Director of the Naqab Office of Adalah–The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Dr. Thabet Abu Rass,  explained that the Negev comprises 60% of the land of Israel and contains 8% of its population. Ninety-five percent of the Negev is state land and five percent is disputed, in which the Bedouin have “usage.” The pending Prawer-Begin Bill will reduce this amount to less than 1% of the Negev, and could result in forcibly moving up to 40,000 people.  The given reasoning for this is to develop the Negev.

Viewing unrecognized Bedouin villages

He then took us to two unrecognized villages and one recently recognized by the State, and what we saw was most disturbing. If a village is not recognized, it cannot be hooked up to the electrical grid whose high tension wires are strung above it. It cannot get water lines from the pipes that are at its edges. It will not have a medical clinic and the roads are so bad that it would be impossible to bring ambulances in case of emergency.

The High Court of Israel ruled that the government had to build a school, which they did, but that too was not connected to water or electricity. And a final insult was that government plans to include a toxic waste plant in that area. The man who spoke to us begged us to be their voice to stop the demolitions and transfers and bring them the services they need.

This morning left me in despair that conditions like these people face are in Israel.  Our guide then explained that there is often conflict between tribal and state law with understanding of who ‘owns’ what land and the people will not cross tribal law. He felt that the authorities must meet with the tribal elders to try to find compromises.  He finished by describing an experience he had witnessing human trafficking at the border.  When I got back I looked online and learned that Truah: the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association have all voiced their concern to the Knesset.

It was encouraging to meet with Khadra El Saneh, Director of Sidreh, a non-profit organization that empowers, represents and improves the socio-economic conditions of Bedouin Women in Israel’s Negev Desert.

Another community of Israeli Arabs we meet were in the Galilee.
We had lunch with Riad Kaba, the Director of the Jewish-Arab Center for Peace, in an Israeli-Arab town [Kafr Qara] where education for both men and women is the norm. He clearly said that his community has become Israeli in culture and that this country was the home they wanted for themselves. The owner of the restaurant was a woman, the mother of two university students, who had built a successful enterprise.

We toured Barta’a and East Barta’a. This is actually one town cut in half by the Green Line border back in 1948-’49. Now it has been totally included on the Israeli side of the separation wall, even though legally part of the village is Israeli and part is in the West Bank.

One of the interesting things we learned was that when the ceasefire was achieved in 1949, Israel was cut in two by a series of Arab villages in the area. Golda Meir’s visit to the King of Jordan resulted in a land swap giving Israel continuous land in the Galilee for Jordan to get access to the Dead Sea.

My conclusion: The situation of the Bedouin is totally untenable and it is not overstating it to say that Israel policy in the region is immoral. It would not surprise me at all if this community turned to desperate measures to get basic justice.  The rest of the Palestinian and Israeli Arabs we met were not belligerent or aggressive. They seem to recognize the positive aspects of Israeli culture and seek to emulate the productivity and creativity that surrounds them, and realize that violence is counterproductive 

I will reverse the two last speakers so as to leave you on a hopeful note. Colette Avital said that many Israelis live in a bubble at home and in the surrounding area. She worries that we may turn from our traditional Western orientation towards the far east where business supersedes human rights concerns and that our government’s tenacity to our demands vis-a-vis the Palestinians will doom the talks. 

On a much more optimistic note, we met with Ilan Baruch, a former ambassador to Namibia and South Africa, who is now the foreign affairs adviser for the head of Meretz, Zehava Galon.  He pointed out that former enemies now get along. He finds hope and inspiration from the example of post-WW 2 Europe, functioning in peace with Israel looking to Germany as an ally, and that South Africa has managed to find reconciliation. He also sees great leadership capabilities in Zehava Galon, if she could somehow take over from Bibi.

Participant Reviews 2013 Israel Symposium, Part 2 [ssba]

The following continues Merle Wolofsky’s report on her experience as a participant in PPI’s recent Israel Symposium:
Our day on the West Bank was the most exciting and hope-inspiring of the trip. The Palestinians we met expressed aspirations, attitudes and respect that made us feel that they could be our cousins. After I tell you what transpired I will end this section with a caveat. 

Sulaiman Khatib

Sulaiman Khatib served 10 years of a 15 year sentence for lightly injuring an Israeli soldier with stone throwing when he was 14 years old.  Jail served as a university for him where he learned about non-violent resistance as an effective weapon in the fight for independence. Along with Israeli army veterans in Combatants for Peace, he is seeking non-violent strategies to bring about a two-state solution. 

Faisal Awartani

Faisal Awartani, CEO and founder of Alpha International for Research Polling and Informatics, provided lots of statistics to show the negative effects that occupation imposes on goods and movement.  The Second  Intifada resulted in a sharp decrease in the employment of Palestinians in Israel from 180,000 to 40,000.  The US is subsidizing the Palestinian Authority rather than working to reduce economic restrictions. Palestinian support for a two-state solution, including land swaps, is dropping from 70% to 60%. Thirty percent want one state. If there were two states, Gaza would support Fatah over Hamas. Women now occupy 15% of high positions. Currently 95% of children get at least an elementary education. The West Bank is 97% Muslim and 3% Christian. 

Mohammad Shtayyeh

Mohammad Shtayyeh is [was] one of the Palestinian peace negotiators. He has been involved in talks of one kind or another since 1991, including Madrid and Geneva.  He is the Palestinian Authority’s minister in charge of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction (PECDAR).  I am reporting what he said in what I hope is an objective nonjudgmental manner, so you can gain some understanding of where he is coming from. This does not mean that I endorse the whole of it.  Although we were told several times that nobody would talk about what was said at the negotiations, this man did.   He was calm, charming and very sincere, especially when he talked about the normal life he would like for his people. 

He was just about the only one who felt the process had a chance to succeed, because: 

  1. both parties have the political will to be at the table
  2. there are agreed terms of reference 
  3. an agreed limited time frame
  4. confidence building measures
  5. an honest broker is present.

He thinks Palestinians will benefit most from peace but is worried they are reaching a serious crisis. From his reading, 72% of Palestinians want a two-state solution but 92% do not believe that the process will achieve this goal. 

He said that the Arabs have made many compromises, agreeing to just 22% of the land they called Palestine, a demilitarized state fully cooperating with Israel and if necessary a third party to oversee security. But they will not agree to Israel’s demands for a presence in the Jordan Valley, a right of hot pursuit against attackers, an emergency deployment or for Israel to control the sky. He argued that the US can patrol via overhead satellites. He expressed awareness that events in surrounding counties were a source of concern for Israel. 

He was resistant to the demand for Palestine to recognize Israel as a Jewish state for reasons of the past, the present and the future.  Although recognizing that Jews have a past here, as do the Muslims and Christians, he’s afraid that these other narratives would be denied. Would it lead to ethnic cleaning of the 1.6 million Arabs living in Israel presently and would it prohibit any resettlement of refugees in the future?  He saw that with the creation of a Palestinian state, his people could choose to stay in other Arab lands where they have settled, come to Palestine, go to another non-Arab country, or some could go to Israel.  

Negotiators need to empower each other.  His people are talented and deserve happiness.  They need to feel “normal.” In response to a question, he stated that if he had total control of the outcome he would establish the borders at the ’67 lines with minor adjustments.  Jerusalem would be an open city to all. The refugees would be accommodated and the Arabs would have no limits on their dignity, sovereignty or independence. Then they could have joint economic development with Israel. 

When asked why there is no movement in the Arab community compared to Peace Now, he told us the 2000 American Palestinians would be coming to Ramallah shortly and he would bring this idea to them and that he would welcome speakers from Israel to address them.  He finished by saying that Oslo’s phasing in was a mistake.  Instead we should go with a comprehensive plan with phased implementation. 

Ms. Wolofsky’s observations conclude with Part 3.