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By Robin Rothfield.
The Jewish Left has been strident in its appeal for an end to the occupation following the recent 50th anniversary of the Six Day War.
But there has been division among the Left over whether to connect the occupation with the Nakba, the term used for the exodus of Palestinians during Israel’s war of independence of 1948.
As previously quoted, Rebecca Vilkomerson of Jewish Voice for Peace (USA) has written: “Confronting the Nakba is not optional. Because working for a truly just peace without addressing it is impossible.” Rebecca Vilkomerson has further written: “The seeds of the occupation were laid in 1948, when 750,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes.”
Why mention the Nakba?
The proponents of the case for mentioning the Nakba argue that Israel was to blame for the exodus of Palestinians. Those I have spoken to also argue that the State of Israel should not have been created. They claim that other solutions should have been found to accommodate Jews who were forced to flee from their homeland.
Historian George Antonius in 1938 wrote: “….The treatment meted out to Jews in Germany and other European countries is a disgrace to its authors and to modern civilisation; but posterity will not exonerate any country that fails to bear its proper share of the sacrifices needed to alleviate Jewish suffering and distress. Help for the Jews must be sought elsewhere than in Palestine”
It is easy to say “help for the Jews must be sought elsewhere than in Palestine” but where, exactly where? The last place Jewish survivors of the holocaust wanted to be was in Europe. Where else could the Jewish survivors go? Two other places have been proposed, Uganda and the Kimberley region of Western Australia.
Re the Uganda proposal offered by Britain, in 1904 a three-man delegation from the World Zionist Congress was sent to inspect the plateau. Its high elevation gave it a temperate climate, making it suitable for European settlement. However, the observers found a dangerous land filled with lions and other creatures. Moreover, it was populated by a large number of Maasai who did not seem at all amenable to an influx of people coming from Europe.
After receiving this report, the Zionist Congress decided in 1905 to politely decline the British offer.
Re the Kimberly region proposal:
Steinberg was sent out from London to further investigate the scheme’s feasibility and to enlist governmental and communal endorsement. He arrived in Perth on 23 May 1939. Steinberg was a skilled emissary, and based his campaign on the officially declared need by Australia to populate northern Australia.
A 1944 opinion poll found that 47% of Australians opposed the scheme. Opposition was primarily based on concerns that the settlers would inevitably drift away from Kimberley and begin migrating to the cities in large numbers. On 15 July 1944 the scheme was vetoed by the Australian government and Labor Prime Minister John Curtin with bipartisan support informed Steinberg that the Australian government would not “depart from the long-established policy in regard to alien settlement in Australia.”
How realistic then is this claim that other solutions should have been found?
The support of the Jewish Left 1945 – 48 for a Jewish national home in Palestine
The Jewish Left received the news of the November 1947 decision of the United Nations General Assembly to partition Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state with rejoicing and enthusiasm.
As a member of the executive of the Jewish Council to combat fascism and anti-Semitism Evelyn Rothfield wrote two pamphlets in support of Israel’s statehood, Whither Palestine (1947) and Israel Reborn (1948).
Details of these publications are provided by Jewish historian Philip Mendes in an article in Labour History, November 2009, as follows:
“As early as 1945, the Council expressed its support for a Jewish national home in Palestine. A pamphlet by Evelyn Rothfield, the information officer of the Jewish Council, called for free Jewish immigration into Palestine, and the establishment of a Jewish Commonwealth [Evelyn Rothfield, The Jewish People, RAAF Educational Services, Melbourne, 1945, pp.44-47.]. A further pamphlet issued by the Council in March 1947 titled Whither Palestine was issued with a supportive foreword by the Victorian Attorney General William Slater. This pamphlet firmly attacked the British White Paper on immigration, defended the right of the large number of homeless and displaced Jews to enter Palestine, and attributed Arab-Jewish conflict to the malign influence of exploitative Arab landowners, and the extremist Mufti of Jerusalem who had collaborated with the Nazis. The pamphlet called for Arab-Jewish friendship and cooperation in an independent Palestine [Evelyn Rothfield, Whither Palestine, Dolphin, Melbourne, 1947. The Council strongly supported the creation of Israel in 1948, and played a key role in promoting public sympathy for the fledgling state. The Council established a joint committee with representatives from the politically diverse Zionist Federation of Australia, Kadimah Cultural Centre and the Jewish Progressive Centre to organize pro-Israel broadcasts, newspaper articles and other publications, and public addresses. Young people and churches were specifically targeted. For example, the Council organized a ‘mass rally for youth to support the Yishuv (Jewish community) in Israel in its struggle for freedom and independence’. This rally was addressed by Presbyterian Minister and peace activist Reverend Alfred Dickie and Council President Norman Rothfield. In addition, the Council organized a mass Jewish rally to demonstrate the Australian Jewish community’s solidarity with Israel [Australian Jewish News, 10 & 17 September 1948; Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Anti-Semitism, Annual Reports 1947-48, 1948-49; Norman Rothfield, Many Paths To Peace, Yarraford Publications, Melbourne, 1997, p.22.].
The Council also distributed 25,000 copies of a pro-Israel pamphlet, Israel Reborn. The pamphlet argued that the only Arabs who opposed partition were the feudal landlords and chieftains from surrounding countries who ‘fear the progress and enlightenment which the Jews have brought to the Middle East’. These war lords were allegedly not representative of the broader mass of Palestinian Arab peasants, workers and middle classes. According to the pamphlet, ‘Arabs in Palestine have displayed little enthusiasm for the war. Many of them, to escape fighting, have tried to leave the country…The fact is that the large mass of Arabs inside Palestine have little quarrel with their Jewish neighbours’ [Evelyn Rothfield, Israel Reborn, Dolphin Publications, Melbourne, 1948.].
The Council organized a petition in favour of immediate Australian recognition of Israel. The petition attacked the Arab invasion of Israel, stating that ‘those Arabs who have attacked the Jewish State are not Palestinians, but outsiders led by rulers from neighbouring countries. They have attempted to prevent the establishment, not only of the Jewish State, but of an independent Arab State in Palestine as well. They seek to divide the country of Palestine amongst themselves’ [Brian Fitzpatrick and 23 others, Australia and Israel, Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Anti-Semitism, Melbourne, July 1948.]. The Council distributed 55,000 copies of a brief pamphlet based on this petition.
The dispossession of Palestinians (the Nakba)
There are members of the Jewish Left who argue that the establishment of the State of Israel led to the dispossession of Palestinians. Historian Benny Morris is the accepted expert on this subject and in his book “The Origins of the Palestinian Refugee Problem he writes (chapter 3, first line:)
“The Palestinian refugee problem was born of war, not by design, Jewish or Arab.”
In other words had the Arab world, instead of going to war against the fledgling state, been prepared to live in peace with Israel then there would have been no Palestinian exodus.
Excerpts from this chapter by Benny Morris are attached. On the one hand there was a voluntary Palestinian exodus with the departure of many of the country’s upper and middle class families. On the other hand the “atrocity factor” played a major role in precipitating flight from certain areas of the country.
Whether the decision on partition taken overwhelmingly by the United Nations General Assembly in 1947 was a good or bad decision, it was the decision of the international community and should have been accepted by the Arab world.
Palestinians and Israeli Jews could have lived side by side in peace and harmony.
If one only accepts decisions with which one agrees then chaos is the end result.
Progressive Jews should continue to campaign for the end of the occupation while not forgetting that the 5 Arab states which went to war with Israel must bear the primary responsibility for the dispossession.
Members of the hard left are aware of the UN decision on partition and of the war waged by 5 Arab states but these facts appear not to have penetrated their sub-conscious.
The effect of Jewish immigration on the Arab population
Evelyn Rothfield in Israel Reborn argued that the only Arabs who opposed partition were the feudal landlords and chieftains from surrounding countries who ‘fear the progress and enlightenment which the Jews have brought to the Middle East.’
In searching for examples of how Jewish migration has benefited the Arab population I came across the following extract from the Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2003. The complete article is attached.
The Arab Palestinian populations within those sub-districts that eventually became Israel increased from 321,866 in 1922 to 463,288 in 1931 or by 141,422. Applying the 2.5 per annum natural rate of population growth to the 1922 Arab Palestinian population generates an expected population size for 1931 of 398,498 or 64,790 less than the actual population recorded in the British census. By imputation, this unaccounted population increase must have been either illegal immigration not accounted for in the British census and/or registered Arab Palestinians moving from outside the Jewish-identified sub-districts to those sub-districts so identified. This 1922-31 Arab migration into the Jewish sub-districts represented 11.8 percent of the total 1931 Arab population residing in those sub-districts and as much as 36.8 percent of its 1922-31 growth.
Atrocities committed during the 1948 war
My brother David has informed me of atrocities committed in the area of Kibbutz Barkai, the kibbutz where he settled after ‘making aliyah’ in 1965. He says that at some point after settling in, they were told that the land on which the kibbutz settled in 1949 belonged to an Arab village prior to the war.
Until recently, it never occurred to him to investigate this matter further. But then he came across the following passage at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wadi_Ara,_Haifa
During the 1948/1949 war the locals in the area experienced violence at the hands of Israeli forces. A member of the Kibbutz Be’eri, assigned to the Guard Milices testified in a study undertaken by Israeli historian Yitzhaki and Uri Millstein: “We were in Wadi ‘Ara. We raided a nearby Palestinian post and brought a prisoner for interrogation. A soldier beheaded him and scalped his head by knife. He raised the head on a pole to strike fear among Palestinians. Nobody stopped him.”
David adds, ‘It was this barbaric act that took place over the boundary of partition and within territory designated as the Palestinian state, together with reports of other atrocities elsewhere, that no doubt led to the flight of the villagers who were never permitted to return. Kibbutz Barkai was later established on this site, occupying the land of the villagers, who had been effectively evicted from their land and their homes.’
This is horrendous but atrocities were committed on both sides.
One of the greatest massacres that the Arab forces perpetrated against Jews during Israel’s War of Independence was the massacre of a convoy of doctors and nurses at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem on April 13, 1948, when 79 innocent people, many who were working to save other lives, were slaughtered. Tamar Fuchs, who was 12 at the time, remembers the massacre vividly.
“At about 10 a.m. a neighbor burst in shouting, ‘They’re attacking the convoy to Mt. Scopus.’ From the roof, we saw black smoke and passing British cars which did not offer help,” Fuchs said, recalling “the sharp smells of burnt flesh drifted with the eastern winds in our direction. Until 2 p.m. we saw smoke and heard explosions. My friend’s sister, Nurse Ziva Barazani, was in the convoy. Her remains were not found.”
Another horrific event was the Gush Etzion massacre on May 13, 1948. All 133 inhabitants of Kibbutz Kfar Etzion were slaughtered, although after several days under siege they had emerged with white flags. This did not prevent the Arab forces from opening fire at the group and stabbing the ones who survived that attack with knives. Nor did they spare the women of the kibbutz. The kibbutz was then looted and burned.
While recognizing that atrocities were committed by both sides the fact must be accepted that it was the 5 Arab states of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, which declared war on the fledgling state of Israel.
I suspect that a key factor in the thought processes of young left Jews is a feeling that the Palestinians are the underdog in the Israel Palestine conflict. This may be the case today but it was not the case in 1948.
“After the Partition vote, some Arab leaders threatened the Jewish population of Palestine. For example, they spoke of “driving the Jews into the sea” or ridding Palestine “of the Zionist Plague”. (Benny Morris)
Just before the 6 day war President Nasser of Egypt declared a blockade against the Israeli port of Eilat and 9000 tanks were moved to the borders of Israel. On 27 May 1967 Nasser declared:
“Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight…The mining of Sharm el Sheikh is a confrontation with Israel. Adopting this measure obligates us to be ready to embark on a general war with Israel.”
Consider also this statement in 1967 by Ahmed Shukairy, Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization:
“We shall destroy Israel and its inhabitants and as for the survivors – if there are any – the boats are ready to deport them.” – Shukairy, June 1, 1967, speaking at a Friday sermon in Jerusalem.
In 2007 I was in Israel attending the wedding of my niece Ilana. During my stay I was invited to spend a day at Kibbutz Negba, a kibbutz belonging to the Left Hashomer Hatzair federation. My hosts made a point of explaining how in the 1948 War of Independence it was at Kibbutz Negba that the advance of the Egyptian army was halted. Using only small arms the fighters of the kibbutz overcame the Egyptian heavy armour. Kibbutz Negba has erected a monument to these fighters. This was a clear example of Jews fighting for their survival.
Must one mention the Nakba when referring to the Occupation?
Rebecca Vilkomerson of Jewish Voice for Peace (USA) has written: “Confronting the Nakba is not optional. Because working for a truly just peace without addressing it is impossible.”
But here are the names of 5 organisations which have which have issued statements against the occupation but without mentioning the Nakba.
T’ruah – Rabbis for human rights (USA)
New Israel Fund
All of the above organisations are committed to human rights.
Australian Jewish Democratic Society (AJDS)
The AJDS was formed in 1984. In 1989 the AJDS published a “Statement of Concern” in the Jewish News signed by over 550 Australian Jews. The statement included the following:
“The time has come to establish a peace of mutual recognition, based on territorial compromise and self-determination. Only such a peace will guarantee the security of Israel, the realization of Palestinian aspirations and regional stability.”
The words “mutual recognition” and “territorial compromise” clearly imply support for a two state solution. And a two state solution implies the valid existence of the state of Israel.
A compromise solution reached by the current AJDS executive
When debating whether or not to refer to the Nakba in the statement issued on the 50th anniversary of the Occupation, the compromise reached by the executive was to ascribe the term “Nakba” to the position held by the Palestinians i.e. the term was used but not as an expression of AJDS opinion but as an acknowledgement that this is the term favoured by the Palestinians. The statement is attached.
A section of the Jewish left (the hard left) claims that we cannot discuss the occupation without addressing the Nakba. However at least 5 human rights organisations, have done just that. Progressive Jews need to work for an end to the occupation without having to take a position on the validity of the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.
Reading the work of historian Benny Morris reveals that the dispossession of the Palestinians is not a straight forward issue. There is more than one explanation.
The hard left, while aware of the UN decision on partition and of the subsequent war waged by 5 Arab states against the state of Israel, appears not to have fully absorbed these events and their implications.
Claims that the international community should have found a solution to the problem of Jewish refugees other than Palestine ignores the fact that two attempts were tried i.e. Uganda and the Kimberley but that both failed.
Jewish immigration to Palestine in the period 1922 to 1932 resulted in an increase in the Arab population.
During the 1948 war of independence atrocities were committed on both sides but the most important point to note is that the war was waged by 5 Arab states against the fledgling state of Israel.
It is suggested that young members of the Jewish hard left feel a sense of solidarity with Palestinians whom they see as the underdog. However they need to appreciate that in 1948 Jews in Israel may also be viewed as the underdog.
The following extracts have been selected by Robin Rothfield:
The Smoking Gun: Arab Immigration into Palestine, 1922-1931
by Fred M. Gottheil
Middle East Quarterly
Winter 2003, pp. 53-64
The Arab Palestinian populations within those sub-districts that eventually became Israel increased from 321,866 in 1922 to 463,288 in 1931 or by 141,422. Applying the 2.5 per annum natural rate of population growth to the 1922 Arab Palestinian population generates an expected population size for 1931 of 398,498 or 64,790 less than the actual population recorded in the British census. By imputation, this unaccounted population increase must have been either illegal immigration not accounted for in the British census and/or registered Arab Palestinians moving from outside the Jewish-identified sub-districts to those sub-districts so identified. This 1922-31 Arab migration into the Jewish sub-districts represented 11.8 percent of the total 1931 Arab population residing in those sub-districts and as much as 36.8 percent of its 1922-31 growth.
That over 10 percent of the 1931 Arab Palestinian population in those sub-districts that eventually became Israel had immigrated to those sub-districts within the 1922-31 years is a datum of considerable significance. It is consistent with the fragmentary evidence of illegal migration to and within Palestine; it supports the idea of linkage between economic disparities and migratory impulses—a linkage universally accepted; it undercuts the thesis of “spatial stickiness” attributed by some scholars to the Arab Palestinian population of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; and it provides strong circumstantial evidence that the illegal Arab immigration into Palestine, like that within Palestine, was of consequence as well.
The following is an extract from Benny Morris’s The Origins of the Palestinian Refugee Problem (page numbers forthcoming):
Since 1948, two mutually exclusive, all-embracing explanations have dominated discussion of the Palestinian exodus. The traditional Arab explanation has been that the yishuv in 1948 carried out a pre-planned, systematic expulsion of the country’s Arab inhabitants. The official Jewish explanation, somewhat more complex, has been that the exodus occurred “voluntarily” – that is, not under Jewish compulsion – and on the orders or at the behest of Palestinian and external Arab leaders, in order to tarnish the emergent Israel’s image and to clear the way, as it were, for the invading Arab armies. However, the massive documentation now available in recently opened Israeli and British archives definitively demonstrates that both these single-cause explanations are fallacious or at least grossly insufficient and that the process by which some 700,000 Arabs departed Jewish/Israeli territory over 1947-49 was multi-staged, varied and complex.
The exodus occurred in four clearly identifiable stages, with an obvious chronology: December 1947-March 1948; April-June 1948; 9-18 July 1948; and October-November 1948. These stages were inextricably linked to the “stages” and development of the 1948 war. To them one may add the series of population transfers and expulsions that occurred along Israel’s borders during the immediate postwar period, November 1948-July 1949.
The Palestinian Arab exodus began in December 1947-March 1948 with the departure of many of the country’s upper- and middle-class families, especially from Haifa and Jaffa, towns destined to be in, or at least at the mercy of, the Jewish state-to-be and from Jewish-dominated districts of western Jerusalem. Flight proved infectious. Household followed household; neighbour followed neighbour; street, street; and neighbourhood, neighbourhood (as, later, village was to follow neighbouring village). The prosperous and educated feared death or injury in the ever-spreading hostilities, the anarchy that attended the gradual withdrawal of the British administration and security forces, the brigandage and intimidation of Arab militias and irregulars, and more vaguely but generally, the unknown, probably dark future that awaited them under Jewish or, indeed, Husayni rule (the Husayni family and its supporters), Some of these considerations, as well as a variety of direct and indirect military pressures, also during these months, caused the almost complete evacuation of the Arab rural communities of the coastal plain, which was predominantly Jewish and which was to be the core of the Jewish state.
Most of the upper- and middle-class families who moved from Jaffa, Haifa, Jerusalem, Ramale, Acre, and Tiberias to Nablus, Amman, Beirut, Gaza, and Cairo probably thought their exile would be temporary. These families had the financial wherewithal to tide them over; many had wealthy relatives and accommodations outside the country. The urban masses and the fellahin (peasants), however, had nowhere to go, certainly not in comfort. For them, flight meant instant destitution; it was not a course readily adopted. But the daily spectacle of abandonment by their “betters”, the middle and upper classes, with the concomitant progressive closure of businesses, schools, law offices, and medical clinics and the abandonment of civil service and municipal posts led to a steady attrition of morale and a cumulative sapping of faith and trust in the world around them: their leaders were going or had gone; the British were packing. They had been left “alone” to face the Zionist enemy. Palestinian urban society began to disintegrate.
…To what extent was the Arab exodus up to July a product of yishuv or Arab policy? The answer is as complex as was the situation on the ground. Up to the beginning of April 1948, there was no yishuv plan or policy to expel the Arab inhabitants of Palestine, either from the area destined for Jewish statehood or from those areas lying outside it. The Haganah adopted a forceful retaliatory strategy against suspected bases of Arab irregular bands which triggered a certain amount of flight. But it was not a strategy designed to precipitate civilian flight.
The prospect and need to prepare for the invasion gave birth to the Haganah’s Plan D, prepared in early March. It was not a grand plan of expulsion (as Arab propagandists, such as Whalid Khalidi, have depicted it). However, it gave the Haganah brigade and battalion-level commanders carte blanche to completely clear vital areas; it allowed the expulsion of hostile or potentially hostile Arab villages (and “potentially hostile” was, indeed, open to a very liberal interpretation). Many villages were bases for bands of irregulars; most villages had armed militias and could serve as bases for hostile bands.
During April-May, the local Haganah commanders, sometimes with specific instruction from the Haganah General Staff, carried out elements of Plan D, each interpreting and implementing the plan in his area as he saw fit and in relation to the prevailing local circumstances. In general, the commanders saw fit to completely clear the vital roads and border areas of Arab communities – Allon in eastern Galilee, Carmel around Haifa and western Galilee, Avidan in the south. Most of the villagers fled before or during the fighting. Those who initially stayed put were almost invariably expelled.
There was never, during April-June, any national-political or General Staff decision to expel “the Arabs” from the Jewish state’s areas. There was no “plan” or policy decision. The matter was never discussed in the supreme, political decision-making bodies; but it was understood by all concerned that, militarily, in the struggle to survive, the fewer Arabs remaining behind and along the front lines, the better and, politically, the fewer Arabs remaining in the Jewish state, the better.
As to April and the start of the main stage of the exodus, I have found no evidence to show that the AHC issued blanket instructions, by radio or otherwise, to Palestine’s Arabs to flee. However, AHC and Husayni supporters in certain areas may have ordered or encouraged flight for various reasons and may have done so, on occasion, in the belief that they were doing what the AHC wanted or would have wanted them to do. Haifa affords an illustration of this.
While it is unlikely that Husayni or the AHC from outside Palestine on April 22 instructed the Haifa Arab leadership to opt for evacuation rather than surrender, Husayni’s local supporters, led by Sheikh Murad, did so. The lack of AHC and Husayni orders, appeals, or broadcasts against the departure during the following week-long Haifa exodus indicates that Husayni and the AHC did not dissent from their supporters’ decision. Silence was consent. The absence of clear, public instructions and broadcasts for or against the Haifa exodus over 23-30 April is extremely instructive concerning the ambivalence of Husayni and the AHC at this stage towards the exodus.
Haaretz 4 June 2017.
“We went in search of asses and found a kingdom,” [Samuel 9:1-10] declared Levi Eshkol, Israel’s Prime Minister, on his opening address to the government’s meeting, on 11 June 1967. Eshkol continued: “There was once talk, as though after the War of Independence some things were left in a way that is a shame for generations to come. Since then, generations have not yet come and gone… and that has all been repaired. All the flaws have been repaired.” In saying this, Eshkol was referring to criticism from both Left and Right towards Mapai [forerunner of today’s Labour Party] over David Ben-Gurion’s decision to avoid occupying the West Bank during the War of Independence. Eshkol tried to prove, so it seems, that he had realised what others had only hoped for. After he spoke, Eshkol gave way to the Chief of Staff, Yitzhak Rabin, to go over the war’s manoeuvres, but a moment before he managed to do so, National Religious Party Minister Zerach Warhaftig called out: “…who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion” [shehecheyanu…].
That war’s victory and its numerous conquests led to a wave of excitement in Israel etched in the collective memory as “euphoria”. Though these many territorial gains were possibly destined to create a deep political chasm in Israel between Left and Right, they received broad positive public consensus in the period immediately after the war. A June 1967 survey of Jewish public attitude to maintaining control of the territories indicated that 95 per cent felt that Israel should hold onto the [Jerusalem] Old City, 86 per cent felt the same about the West Bank and 77 per cent felt the same about the Gaza Strip. Another poll examining Israeli willingness to physically turn up to the Territories found that 95 per cent wished to visit the Old City, 88 per cent wanted to visit Bethlehem, 62 per cent wanted to visit Jenin and 49 per cent wanted to visit Gaza. Indeed, one of earliest post-war phenomena was thousands of Israeli tourists arriving at the Territories. Yedioth Ahronoth’s Dvora Zamir explained three months after the war what was so attractive to these travellers: “Everyone wants to see and know the Liberated Territories. Everyone wants to see how our neighbours are doing. Everyone’s travelling to grab a bargain and savour the flavours of the East.” In other words, this initial wave of visitors was not yet seeking new land to settle as ancestral land, but rather it was drawn by the sights, tastes and smells of the Oriental land. Many wanted to touch Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites with their own hands.
The encounter between the Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Arabs almost instantly transpired as a mercantile relationship between buyer and seller. The image of the Arab peddler became widespread in newspapers of the period as a sly but not particularly dangerous type. A cartoon in Davar from early October 1967 shows Arab peddlers selling utterly unnecessary items to Jews, including gold watches, brass dishes and IDF commemorative albums. “Has Gaza’s business ever been more prosperous than it has been lately?” asked Uri Porat on 28 July, adding that “The people that dwell in Zion” had been “suffocated like a prisoner in solitary confinement” and has now been given the chance to break free. Both Jews and Arabs benefitted from this reunion, according to Porat and many of his peers. Ironically, these moments were sometimes seen as the beginnings of peace. The Israeli idea that proper economic relations indicated imminent peace relied on remaining ignorant of the separate national aspirations of Israeli Arabs; this was not the first or last time this would happen.
But even then, the meeting was not entirely harmonious, even before residents of the territories organised a broad protest and a violent resistance. Interestingly it was Israeli women’s clothing that was the first subject Israeli media dealt with intensively as an instance of friction between Jews and Arabs. Images of young women in short skirts working their way in between groups of Arab men in the markets of Jerusalem, Nablus and Gaza, became more prevalent after the war. This trend concerned the military leadership (being entirely male), who perceived female attire as a threat to public safety. In July, the press reported fistfights in a Gazan market between Jewish and Arab men, after the former claimed that the latter had been pinching Jewish women’s bottoms. Arab eye-witnesses said the altercation began when a Jewish customer ran away a store without paying. The state’s leaders concluded that women’s clothing starts riots, and as one of them explained in an interview on 4 August, “If the daughters of Israel, without too much thought, display themselves in the Liberated Territories wearing such revealing mini-skirts, why shouldn’t they be pinched?” It is possible that in addition to their concern for public safety, the leadership’s men perceived their own masculine roles as protectors of Jewish women from Arab desire for their bodies. Either way, the military leadership announced it is considering “criminalising or otherwise preventing excessively revealing attire to be worn by Israeli women and girls in the West Bank.”
If mini-skirts were the cause for the initial friction between Jews and Arabs, then the second prize goes to the dirty shoes, lit cigarettes and camera flashes of Israeli tourists in such places as the Al-Aksa Mosque, the Cave of the Patriarchs and the Church of the Nativity. The safety of the holy sites was on the government’s daily agenda as part of its willingness to guarantee the legitimacy of the new Israeli rule in the territories. Knesset members feared that international Christian and Muslim pressure would coerce Israel into retreating from the Territories, if it seemed holy sites were being desecrated. This fear became real panic when the reports began appearing. A document from the Foreign Ministry now in the state archives, describes an irate Armenian priest in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem telling the Ministry’s rep that Israelis walk on the church’s carpets with dirty shoes, and that couples walk around arm in arm taking photos by the altar. “Is that how they behave in the synagogue as well?” he asked. Other reports landed on the government’s desk describing soldiers entering churches with helmets and wearing shoes in mosques. Moshe Dayan, who asserted to the newspapers after occupying the West Bank that “We haven’t come to Jerusalem to occupy others’ holy sites or to inconvenience people of other faiths,” announced to the government that Israeli travellers’ “barbarity must be stopped”. The attitude to Jewish holy sites wasn’t any better. Minister Menachem Begin complained in a government meeting that he saw Jews smoking cigarettes and taking photos by the Western Wall. As a counter measure, Uzi Narkiss, GOC Central Command, issued a military decree that anyone who defiles a holy site would face seven years in prison.
Right of Return
While most Israelis saw travelling to the territories as an exotic trip, there were also those for whom this was a return to a lost home. In July 1967, Menashe Meni, born into a family that had immigrated from Iraq to Hebron in the 19th century, had travelled to his city of birth, Hebron. In that visit, he looked for the house in which he’d grown up and from which his family was forced to relocate after the 1929 Arab riots. A picture in Yedioth Ahronoth captured him standing in his old house together with the Palestinian family living there. Initially the family refused to let him in, but after a short explanation and a promise that he would not take their home, they allowed him in. From there he kept on going into town, to his grandparents’ graves. Eventually he located a descendant of the family that saved his own family during the massacres. Menashe Meni was not alone; other Jews who’d lived across the Green Line before 1948, in the Old City and in Gush Etzion, hurried back to visit those places once more.
During those weeks, it was not only Israelis that crossed the lines, heading towards the Territories. Palestinians also crossed the other way, into Israel. Many looked for homes and lands from which they’d been uprooted in 1948, and even reunited with family members they had not seen for 19 years, having hitherto been separated by the border. Early in September, concerned residents in Ashkelon, Yavneh and Beerseeba, complained of the increasing presence of Gazans in their cities, “illegaly”. Yedioth Aharonot reported: “Many refugees from the Gaza Strip have been seen lately walking around the towns in the south. According to them, they are looking for their homes and property, abandoned as they fled in 1948.” One Haaretz reporter said he’d seen the members of a Palestinian family standing in a street in the Old City in Beer-Sheba, staring at their former home. Out of the house came a woman, “who had immigrated with her family from Romania,” and offered them to come inside. The male head of the family replied that he preferred not to. A reporter for Yedioth Ahronoth had a “chance” encounter with several Palestinians who had come back to see their city, Jaffa. He said these Arabs know the alleyways “like their own backyard” and added, “From time to time they slow their pace and the leader points and says: here was Ahmed’s fabric shop, and this is Ibrahim’s furniture shop,” while another told his son, “Here, Muhammad, was the bathhouse, and here’s our mosque, still standing, thanks be to the prophet. But our house is no longer, it’s gone.” Many of these visitors were captured by police and sent back, since the government forbade their entry into Israel without a permit.
Since the War of Independence, Palestinian refugee camps have been a central issue in the Jewish Arab conflict, since on one hand Israel claimed that the Arab countries should absorb the refugees into their countries, while the Arab states demanded Israel take back the refugees. In 1967, many camps were occupied by Israel, and so the refugee question became one of the main subjects on the government agenda. Ministers were nearly unanimous that this was a historically unique opportunity to resolve “the refugee problem” once and for all. They believed that Israel should dismantle the refugee camps and “resettle” the refugees elsewhere. “As they did with the transit camps [ma’abarot],” explained a team of experts with a plan prepared accordingly. It appears that there were as many propositions put forward to the governments as there were refugees: Levi Eshkol believed that Gaza’s refugees could be resettled in the West Bank, Ra’anan Weitz from the Jewish Agency proposed El Arish in the Sinai, some ministers naively thought refugees could be transferred to Arab states in exchange for a peace agreement, and the Foreign Ministry began examining the possibility of finding a new home for the refugees in Brazil and Canada. Over time, Israeli politicians discovered other countries were reluctant to absorb hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, just as much as the refugees themselves were disinclined to forego their demand to return to their original homes and lands.
While government ministers debated the issue of the 1948 refugees, the 1967 refugee problem began emerging. Official reports from the time estimate around 200,000 people were uprooted from the West Bank during the war and in subsequent months. The reasons for this mass exodus were numerous. Among those that left were people who’d worked for the Jordanian government and feared for their wellbeing and livelihood under Israeli rule; some had family in the East Bank or in another Arab country and did not want contact severed; others had bank accounts in Amman and were now left without cash. Israel meanwhile did everything it could to assist those that wished to leave, whether by paying for a one-way bus ticket, or by offering departure cash per head. State and military documents use the neutral term, “emigration encouragement”. Some of those that had left the West Bank during or immediately after the war later tried to return, but to no avail. Israel prohibited the vast majority from returning. Out of about 200,000 new refugees, return permits were given to a token 20,000 or so, and that was due to international pressure. And so, some Palestinians that sought to return to the West Bank attempted crossing the Jordan River without Israeli permission. Many of those attempts failed. On 6 August 6, 1967, Dayan reported at a government meeting that in order to prevent to return of refugees to the West Bank the military shoot “over the heads” of people during the day, and that at night “they face open fire as well”. An internal report found in the IDF archives reveals that in the first three months after the war, 146 people were killed in such gunfire, most of them “refugees attempting to return”. The fate of those that successfully crossed back was not particularly bright either. They were usually captured and returned to Jordan. “This is a shocking thing”, Dayan determined at that meeting, as though the direct responsibility for this did not fall squarely on him.
The rebellion and its suppression
Not all those headed west across the Jordan River were 1967 refugees seeking to return. There were also 1948 refugees that arrived with the aim of starting an armed struggle against Israel. These were members of the Fatah movement and their leader, Yasser Arafat, who’d entered the West Bank on August 1967. Guerrilla fighters in Vietnam, Algeria and Cuba were their role models, while Mao Zedong’s writings were used as a guideline. In the subsequent months, they placed bombs around Israel, starting with Hotel Fast and the Zion Cinema in Jerusalem, all the way to small moshavim (townships) such as Ometz, Gil’am and Ma’oz Chaim. “What we’ve feared has happened,” wrote Major General Uzi Narkiss in his weekly “Commander’s Log”. But the military successfully and rapidly thwarted the attempt to start a guerrilla war, which soon enough turned out to be fairly amateur. People in the West Bank were not quick to collaborate with Fatah activists, whom they barely knew, while the latter failed the first test of any underground movement, that of unity among members. When the first Fatah members were caught by the General Security Services, they turned everyone else in. Members of the organisation that weren’t caught or killed, including Arafat, left the West Bank for Jordan where they continued paramilitary activity against Israel.
In contrast to the attempted armed rebellion led by Palestinians from the outside, the resistance of Palestinians living in Palestine against Israeli rule manifested in mainly non-violent ways, such as strikes and leafleting. The annexation of East Jerusalem, along with Israeli intervention in educational and religious content, were the first catalysts for a wave of Palestinian strikes and protests. One leaflet distributed around East Jerusalem and currently in the IDF archive reads: “You are called upon to prove to these invaders that you are a free people and not an obedient herd of slaves, we are inviting you on a general and all-inclusive strike.” Almost all the leaflets focused on human rights and international law as the basis for resisting the Israeli occupation. Over the subsequent months, people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip managed to organise far-reaching business strikes and strikes across the educational system. Although these were quashed by Israeli authorities, just like the violent rebellion had been.
Dayan believed in a policy that was lenient on most of the population living under Israeli occupation. The Israeli authorities were especially proud of the work of appointed agricultural experts, who travelled to villages in the West Bank to assist Arab farmers increase output. In contrast, dissidents suffered heavy penalties, including home demolitions, mass imprisonment, confiscation of property, loss of permits and the exile of group leaders. One of those exiled was Sheikh ‘Abd al Hamid al-Sa’ih, president of the Muslim Religious Court of Appeals in Jerusalem and a high ranking religious figure in the West Bank. On 30 July, al-Sa’ih sent the first petition of West Bank residents against the annexation of East Jerusalem and the Israeli Occupation to the Defence Minister, along with 19 other religious figures and political activists. The petition also declared the establishment of “a Committee of National Redirection,” and the appointment of al-Sa’ih as its chairman. On 23 September, Israeli police officers knocked on al-Sa’ih’s door in East Jerusalem and demanded he accompany them to the police station, where they presented him with a deportation order. Superintendent N. Bashami spoke with al-Sa’ih moments before his deportation, a conversation he later wrote his recollection of it, found in the IDF archive. According to his notes, al-Sa’ih said that the annexation of East Jerusalem was strongly objected to by West Bank Arabs, adding, “For hundreds of years the mosque has been in Jerusalem, and has been holy to 400 million Muslims and under their exclusive control – how can Rabbi Goren suddenly come here and declare that a synagogue shall be erected in the mosque’s courtyard, pushing Muslims aside, without their objection?” Al-Sa’ih was referring to the arrival of Rabbi Goren at the Al-Aksa Mosque’s courtyard along with a number of other officers from the military rabbinate in full military garb on the night of 10 August 10. As was later reported by the Defence Minister, the Rabbi walked around the courtyard with a tape measure to find the exact location of the Holy Temple. Dayan and Rabin responded with severity, since these actions were seen to undermine the government and the international legitimacy of the occupation. The Rabbi was consequently forbidden from going up to Temple Mount, by military order. Rabbi Goren in turn wrote to some Knesset members complaining that his feelings had been hurt and his religious rights violated.
Another deportee was public figure and communist activist Ibrahim Bakr. Military forces arrived to arrest him at 1am in his home in Ramallah. According to the military report composed after the action, Bakr protested to the soldiers, “Why are you waking me in the middle of the night, you could have deported me in the morning,” while Ibrahim’s wife protested, “When will we finally be rid of you?” The soldiers forced Bakr into their vehicle and drove him to the Governor’s House in Jericho, where he was “treated to coffee and biscuits”. He was later taken to the Allenby Bridge. A moment before he was transferred East, Bakr turned to the soldiers and told them in English, “I’m leaving my country by force and against my will. I would resist if I had the means. Tell your authorities, although I know they’ll ignore it, that if you continue this policy, you will never gain peace, you will fight a fourth war, and a fifth and sixth, and you’ll never obtain peace, I’m leaving against my will and I will return because I cannot leave my country.” While Ibrahim Bakr protested deportation from his land, Israeli public figures objected to any possibility of retreat from “our land”. Peace, they believed, could be achieved without retreat.
On 19 June, a government discussion took place regarding the political future of the West Bank. The arguments voiced at this meeting might sound familiar to a contemporary Israeli reader. On one hand, annexation of the West Bank was perceived as a demographic threat to the Jewish majority in Israel, while on the other, a retreat from the West Bank was untenable to most government members. The debate was undecided, and the government decided “not to decide.” In Contrast to the profound argument over the West Bank, broad consensus was held regarding the political fate of the Gaza Strip. At the same meeting, the government determined that the Gaza Strip shall be annexed after the dismantlement of its refugee camps is completed, and their inhabitants transferred elsewhere. Prime Minister Eshkol stated that “Gaza belongs to Israel since the days of Samson, not since 1919.” For the Socialist Labour Zionist Eshkol, legitimacy for the Gaza Strip’s annexation was drawn from before the Six Day War, the War of Independence and even the British occupation during WWI. The real title deed was to be found in the Book of Judges.
What and how Gazans themselves thought about all this, or the hundreds of thousands of refugees forced to call Gaza home since 1948, never came up. Of all people, it was Dayan who explained in one of the government’s subsequent meetings that the attitude of the Gaza Strip’s Arab population to the Israeli occupation “is hostile and wild,” even more so than that in the West Bank. Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip encountered violent opposition from the outset. A Foreign Ministry report in the state archives documents the first incident in which force was used against IDF soldiers in the Gaza Strip after the war’s conclusion. On 12 June, a landmine exploded near Israeli forces. The tracks led to several houses in one of the refugee camps in the Gaza Strip (the camp was unnamed). The soldiers asked locals to point them to those responsible for placing the mine. A short while later, 110 men appeared before them, declaring they were all responsible. The soldiers, unable to arrest all of them, gave them three hours to return with the specific men that carried out the operation. Three hours later, all 110 men reappeared. The soldiers had reached the end of their tether, and they decided to banish the entire group to the Sinai, where “they were left for dead”. The report does not mention whether the men later returned to the Gaza Strip or died of thirst in the desert. Either way, the IDF also blew up eight houses in the area to which the tracks led.
The government was entirely serious in thinking it could deal with Palestinian hostility in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip using a system of Hasbara, headed by minister and former Haganah Chief of Staff, Yisrael Galili. The idea was to use Hasbara to present Palestinians with the benefits of being under Israeli rule. And so it was, that while the leader of one militia tried to recruit the Palestinian population to the rebellion against Israeli occupation, another retired militia leader tried to convince the same population of the Occupation’s benefits. They both operated in fairly improvised ways. Among the ideas presented by Galili to the government were broadcasting on the Voice of Israel in Arabic for people in the Territories, issuing a government newspaper in Arabic and Arabic television broadcasts. Israeli television, emerging before the war, suddenly took on a new role: broadcasting pro-Israeli propaganda to the Palestinian population. Since television sets were not common among Palestinians at the time, as was the case among their Israeli counterparts, Galili’s program included installing televisions in Arab cafes and schools in order to increase its exposure. In this way, Galili believed, Palestinian public opinion could be influenced to favour Israeli interests. In a meeting Galili held with military personnel and media experts in the matter, Shlomo Gazit, coordinator of activities in the territories, claimed that it would have been good if it was just a Hasbara policy, but since the population’s hostility was so severe one should be call it “psychological warfare.” One of the tactics the military attempted was broadcasting recordings from the interrogation of Fatah members to weaken their support. It seems there were Palestinians who saw right through this tactic, as a leaflet disseminated in East Jerusalem and now found in the IDF archives reads: “The enemy is conducting… a propaganda campaign that distorts the truth and aims to sow embarrassment, confusion and suspicion among Palestinians… If we don’t resist we will be surrounded by Jews… And the Arab will become a servant in the enemy’s café.”
These events and stories are only a small part of all that took place in the first months of the Occupation. Looking back, after fifty years of Occupation and mutual violence, it is possible to identify the seeds of future developments: Jewish shoppers meeting Arab sellers, Jewish men worrying about Jewish women meeting Arab men, Jews and Arabs yearning for the other side of the Green Line, violent and non-violent resistance to the occupation and one religious figure banished from Palestine as another is banished from Temple Mount. Even if many of the actions of that time led to dead ends, fading in history’s wake – such as Israeli government interest in annexing the Gaza Strip and plans for dismantling refugee camps, and a minister whose role it is to explain the occupiers’ position to those they’ve occupied – it still seems that pivotal motives in the way Israel coped with the issue of the territories had already appeared in the first weeks and months after the Six Day War: the absence of an agreed upon vision for the political future of the West Bank, a yearning for annexing land without its Palestinian population, an aggressive policy towards any attempt at rebellion, and an infinite preoccupation with managing the Territories.
The author is a doctoral student at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Hebrew Original: http://www.haaretz.co.il/blogs/sadna/1.4141390. Translated by Keren Rubinstein for the Middle East News Service edited by Sol Salbe, Melbourne Australia.
Sylvie Leber is an artist, an activist with Jews for Refugees, the Council of Single Mothers and Their Children, a single mother herself, and a long time social activist on countless other fronts. She became an activist when she was 15, attending her first protest in 1965 against Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Last year Sylvie was published on Right Now, an independent not-for-profit media organisation focused on human rights issues in Australia.
Read Sylvie’s speech from the Anti-Netanyahu Rally in Melbourne, February 2017.
In April 2017, Sylvie visited Palestine as part of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network’s organised tour of the West Bank and Jerusalem. Photos were uploaded straight to social media during her visit, capturing the place as only a first-time visitor with a keen eye could. With thanks to Sylvie, we share with you some of those photos:
The following is a heavily redacted version of a lecture delivered by Dr. Micaela Sahhar at Monash University in April 2017 as a guest lecturer in a course titled ‘the Arab-Israeli Conflict’ coordinated by the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation. The lecture delved into key issues in our understanding of Israel/Palestine, the so-called conflict and the significance of historical narration and (mis)representation. The lecture was accompanied by a powerpoint presentation of which we bring you a few slides. With the author’s permission, below are sections from the lecture that focused on the occupation of 1967, and critical issues in the discussion of two states:
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“…An idea prevalent in Israeli national narrative is that there is a significant and ultimately devastating shift between the creation of the State in 1948 and the Six Day War in 1967. In many conventional narratives, 1967 is the date to which Occupation is attributed, and serves as the axiomatic moment in which it is said that Israel ‘lost its way’.
… I will talk about 1967, but with my qualifications in mind, I will in particular demonstrate why, although I am beginning with 1967, the extent to which it is arbitrary, both as a date for Occupation and as a date which marks fundamental shifts in the ideologies which have produced the seemingly intractable scenario of the Israel-Palestinian conflict today. I would say that for Palestinians, while there are material changes created by the Six Day War, and while it is the date at which an idea of Occupation commences, in fact this is a date that forms part of a continuum of processes that crystalise in the creation of the Israeli State in 1948. Subsequently, the borders (unstable and undeclared as they are) acquired in 1967 have been cited by a succession of Israeli statesmen as central to an idea of Israel’s secureability and defensibility. Israel’s New Historian Ilan Pappe notes that there is an irony to this rhetoric, as the apparent securability of the post-67 borders is based on a boundary with the Jordan River. Yet, as Pappé point out, even a frail old man could leap over the Jordan River in places. More critically even than this however, is I think the mythology around which 1967 stands in Israeli society as the moment at which Israel starts to lose its moral authority in terms of relations with the Palestinian population. That in 1967 Occupation commences and that this slowly undermines the character of relations between Israelis and Palestinians in the new dynamic that it creates of Occupier and Occupied. To the contrary, and again this is an argument that has been made by Ilan Pappe, it is of great significance to note that in 1963, four years before the actual Occupation, the Israeli military was ready with a judicial and administrative structure for ruling the lives of one million Palestinians. This is highly significant in so far as it indicates that the relations of Occupation created in 1967 were not only anticipated but that they were planned for. Moreover, that the Occupation that commences in 1967 was seen as a companion strategy to ensure certain needs of the Israeli State as envisaged in the Zionist plan enacted in 1948. In this regard, Pappe views 1948 as an incomplete project, which is more or less completed, albeit in a different form, in 1967. Pappe has argued for this reason as I do now that 1967 is hardly a central date but that the so called completion of the State project in respect to the Palestinian population might have been executed at an earlier time and particularly in the four years in which an infrastructure for Occupation had been established between 1963 and 1967. But of course, the plan does not take the same form as the earlier ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Palestine or even quite the same form in terms of land expropriation and dispossession that occurs at this earlier date either. Pappe explains why this is the case…”
“…So from a Palestinian view, and perhaps what I would describe in Pappe as the post-Zionist view of 1967, this date is just one part of the Zionist colonisation project, crystalised in a material sense in 1948 but for which the foundations are laid much earlier. They are certainly laid, although perhaps they seem unlikely at the time, long before the rise of Adolph Hitler between the World Wars, or his genocidal attempt to enact the ‘Final Solution’ by way of the Holocaust, which undoubtedly affected an enormous number of Jewish people. But in this account, what the Holocaust explains in terms of the contemporary Israel-Palestinian conflict is hardly why the creation of Israel was necessary or inevitable; rather it explains why the Western conscious found the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, their expropriation and dispossession from their home land, to be an acceptable exchange for Eurocentric guilt around the horrors of the Holocaust.”
“…1967 remains a date of considerable psychological significance to Israel. Indeed the Six Day War is considered to be a great military success for Israel; yet as a result of this, it seems it has created a particularly problematic and psychologically deforming legacy for subsequent generations of Jewish-Israelis. As Ghassan Hage has argued, Israel’s success in 1967 tragically heralded the birth of the kind of hyper-militarism on display in Operation Cast Lead (which I will come to later in this lecture), since Israelis started to believe ‘that omnipotence was not just a fantasy but an actual possibility’. He continues that the promise of omnipotence has since become ‘the standard that various Israeli governments use to legitimise themselves to their population’, which has led many Israelis to believe ‘that this is the very function of Israel’, and produced ‘an inability to live with another that constitutes even a minimum danger to me’.”
“…A particularly iconic image of what Israel has described as the liberation, recapturing or reunification of Jerusalem, portrays three paratroopers at the Western Wall. The photograph is considered a ‘defining image of the conflict’ and one of the ‘best known photographs in Israel’s history’, while the photographer, David Rubinger, was later anointed by former Israeli President Shimon Peres, ‘the photographer of the nation in the making’. The central figure in the image has removed his helmet, revealing his blond hair (truly a model Sabra!) and looks upwards in a pose reminiscent of religious artworks of the last millennia – a visual embodiment of what Hage describes as Israeli’s moment of omnipotence realised in the Six Day War. As in the photography of Capa, there is no trace of the enemy; rather, they must be inferred in the representation of IDF success. This photographic representation of 1967 is echoed in international headlines of the event. The New York Times, for example, ran a story entitled ‘Israel Rules Out Return to Frontiers’, in which Israel’s Minister for Information, Yisrael Gailille [sic] states that ‘Israel could not live with arrangements that were supposed to have served as a preliminary to peace, but that have been stretched out for two decades’.
So this is the beginning of Occupation, although as I am suggesting to you, a continuation of the effects of 1948 and the geopolitical machinations that make this possible, of which you are no doubt aware, notwithstanding that I may have narrated such events with a different inflection; but it also sets up a series of narratives for Israelis about Israel, and entrenches the Western amnesia or disinterest in the condition of Palestinians from the time of the Nakba.”
“…Since Oslo, there has been a vacuum of any decolonization agenda. Rather, the project of an ‘economy for peace’ has been paramount, in which Palestinians ‘still reside under the Israeli colonial project, yet at the same time are meant to feel liberated under the reign of the postcolonial Palestinian Authority (PA) “state” project’ (Toukan 2014, 225). Yet for all of this, it seems important to recognise that an ‘economy for peace’ and the limited social imaginary it has defined, occurs under the conditions of 227 separated cantons which comprise the West Bank Areas A and B as determined by Oslo. While these two Areas were designated as a kind of Archipelago of the PA, Israelis continue to control borders, economy and natural resources in both these Areas (in addition to their control of the West Bank Area C) which, as the sheer number of sections so defined suggests, create often insurmountable disruption to Palestinians, not only through discontiguity but the way in which Occupation itself prevents Palestinians from using or connecting space (Toukan 2014, 215-216, Handel 2009, “What, 181). This creates what Handel describes as a decreasing affinity by Palestinians to ‘“distant” areas’, notwithstanding that these may not be more than a few kilometres away (Handel 2009, 184). Thus at a purely practical level, as long as any section of Palestinian territory is not only permeable but controlled as it currently is by Israel, ‘Israel should still be considered sovereign in Palestinian territories, if only because it is Israel itself that can declare the exception that would allow it to annul the legal status of this ‘border’’ (Weizman 2007, 218).
Ariel Handel contends that in fact Israeli Occupation has been ‘refined to the point of maintaining [a] situation of continuous disaster’ (Handel 2009, 194). This generation of uncertainty, which creates a particular affinity with one’s own city and decreasing affinity with places nearby, shrinks the traversable horizon of a Palestinian in the West Bank, such that the restriction of a West Bank identity card does not secure face value access to the West Bank as a whole, but rather has a highly restricted ‘use value’. Taking use value into account, one may find it impossible to move from different sections designated as Area A, due to the role of Occupation in obstructing passage: the distance of a journey itself might become infinite when obstruction renders it impossible (Handel 2009, 188). It is clear that spatial control as it pertains to Palestinian movement, (an inadvertent but highly effective byproduct of the infrastructure of settlements) (Handel 2009, 209) entrenches both geographical and psychological dissonances.”
“…I should also draw attention here to my use of terminology as ‘the 48 territories’. This is what Palestinians often refer to Israel as. Whatever problem you may have with that language, what it does draw attention to, I think, is in the first place Palestinian connection to the entirety of the geography of historic Palestine, but secondly, it underlines the fact that when we are talking about the Israel-Palestinian conflict we are not simply talking about Palestinians in the West Bank and Jewish-Israelis in Israel. To the contrary, Palestinians who remain in 48, a group which Israel often refer to as the Arab-Israelis, now constitute around 20% of the population of Israel proper. I am not addressing you today about possible solutions for the conflict, although in many ways my research is very interested in how narratives are told and how we could tell them better in order to acknowledge the position of every stake holder in the conflict. But even so, I hope in problematizing the narratives attached to so called key historic events, that you can also see that, for example, a solution based on the West Bank and Gaza Strip would exclude not only the 48-ers but also the diaspora, such as myself. For anyone who is Jewish in the audience but does not hold an Israeli passport, you might like to consider that it is simpler for you to take up residence in Jerusalem, the city my grandparents and father are from, than it is for me. That might seem ok to you too – privilege is a wonderful thing for those who have it and privilege is hard to recognise, much less give up. But if nothing else, what I am trying to underline here is that we all do ourselves a disservice when we imagine the conflict can be compartmentalized. Compartmentalised for example by removing West Bank settlements or saying to Palestinians here, in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip you can establish your homeland, or in separating Palestinian issues between the West Bank or Gaza from the issues faced by Palestinians in the 48 territories or in refugee camps in Lebanon or in middle-class suburbs of Michigan.”
“…In November 2012, the United Nations General Assembly put a bid for recognition of Palestinian statehood to the vote. The only material right which attached to that recognition as far as I can see, was that it would entitle the Palestinians to membership of the International Criminal Court (ICC). This would afford them legal recourse against Israel in future military operations such as Operation Cast Lead or Operation Pillar of Cloud, an operation that had been concluded in Gaza not eight days earlier. At the time, and even though the US and Israel were not going to support that bid, both states nevertheless tried to insist that the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, agree to waive the right to become a signatory to the ICC. At the very least, this says a great deal about how current Palestinian leadership is an entity easily intimidated. At the very least it speaks to the great disparity in negotiating parties, which is increasingly acknowledged, although in practical terms a fact difficult to adequately redress.
Similarly, after Protective Edge, first Sweden and then the British Parliament indicated that they were prepared to throw their weight behind the principle of recognizing a Palestinian state – moves that were received as something momentous. But once we consider what recognition of a Palestinian state signifies symbolically, that is, a magnification of Palestinian struggle in the international imaginary, we should be careful to consider substantively and not just symbolically, what such recognition actually means. Beyond the victory of awareness, recognition of a Palestinian state seems to me an unfortunate continuation of the dead-end thinking that poses the inevitability of a two state solution. It is a recognition that acts as a white wash, circumventing the fundamental issues of Palestinian rights and grievances, which can never be accommodated within this framework of two states. To bring into focus the reasons why I think we should be wary of state recognition let me pose some additional questions. What difference does this recognition make? What does recognition of a Palestinian state actually avail the Palestinians of? And why now?
Discussing this with Palestinian friends in 2014 I was somewhat astonished to find that they were more buoyant about the news than I. Explaining why he welcomed the move, one friend suggested that in the case of Britain (a non-binding motion), it drew attention to Israeli racism, and could act as an important conceptual signal in isolating that. He also felt that in the case of Sweden, we would increasingly see an effect in how states relate to Israel’s clear breaches of international law within the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Palestinians know, if nothing else, that ours is a long road to justice, and so perhaps these are shifts in which we should take heart.
But it was the comments of an Israeli friend who declared ‘it feels like a lot of rhetoric’, that I found I could relate to most. Over the last few years commentators and negotiators have increasingly declared that a two-state solution is dead. So in this respect, it seems like a peculiar moment to try and revive that model through recognition of Palestinian statehood. She expressed concern about the lack of cohesion to a Palestinian state – a Palestine without access to water resources; carved up by Israel’s separation wall – which recognition such as this simply can’t address. She also noted that recognition could have the effect of absolving Israel of its responsibility to the non-Jewish citizens of Israel (predominately Palestinians) whose citizenship is widely documented to be of a second-class kind. But most of all, she felt that recognition was complicit in a politics of deflection, one that replaces substantive issues with trivialities, the proverbial band aid to remedy a shark bite. Is this the best you can do? She asked. She argued this initiative seemed to be a disengagement from the Boycott Divestment and Sanction movement which has applied real pressure on Israel to date in a way that state recognition cannot. Finally, she made the connection, which is one I think we should all be making, between Operation Protective Edge and this initiative – as if recognition was a rhetorical reward to Palestinians still reeling in the aftermath of such horror – deeming it a truly inadequate response.”
“…While these all these developments have positively influenced conceptualisation of the conflict, they engage in kinds of thinking that have an intermediate value only. This is in part due to their function as strategies, rather than ends in themselves, but additionally because, if viewed as ends, they will circumscribe the kinds of change which are both necessary and possible, for example, by de-politicising Palestinian claims in the case of legal approaches, which reduces the Palestinian issue to a humanitarian problem. Without insistence on progress beyond these strategies, they will become complicit in perpetuating a technique of conservative governance by which the ongoing dynamic of the conflict is treated as ‘a state of permanent crisis’ and utilised to ensure that the stasis of the situation is perpetually reproduced (Hage 2015, 34-6).
But ultimately I think we need to ask what could we replace a system of repression – concrete and psychological, legal and narrative – with, to enable us to think about productive future relations between Israelis and Palestinians, less invested in denial and more invested in a whole network of acknowledgements. Change will be inevitably slow because it requires the conversation to be entirely re-routed. To strip back assumptions and make space for listening to perspectives that have not been visible and more than that have been actively undermined, discredited and ignored. [Rashid] Khalidi, in thinking about the pathway to change says: ‘it took generations to establish the myths Israel was built on, and it will take years to deconstruct them, as well as for the generations who believe in them to lose their influence’. To conclude I want to mention the work of Israeli political scientist Marcelo Svirsky who argues that ‘Israel’s nationalist and militarist projects should not be taken at face value but as productions concomitant with the evolution of specific Israeli subjectivities and modes of being’. Much as Edward Said urged us to peel back the facts of colonialism to imagine new futures, Svirsky argues that nothing short of cultural transformation is required. I think in conclusion this is the point worth asserting. That nothing less than the struggle to transform our subjectivities, both as an internal struggle and an ‘external struggle to defy social institutions’, will do.”
Hage, G., & Gaita, R. (2010). “On Narcissistic Victimhood” in Gaza: Morality Law and Politics, Perth: UWA,101.
Hage, Ghassan (2015) Alter-Politics: Critical Anthropology and the Radical Imagination, Melbourne: MUP.
Handel, Ariel (2009) “Where, Where to and Where in the Occupied Territories: An Introduction to Geography of Disaster” in A. Ophir, M. Givoni and S. Hanafi (eds) The Power of Inclusive Exclusion, Anatomy of Israeli Rule in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, New York: Zone Books, 179-222.
Khalidi, R. (2011) Palestinian Dispossession and the US Public Sphere. The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict, London: Nation Books, 376.
Pappe, I. (2013). “Revisiting 1967: the false paradigm of peace, partition and parity”, Settler Colonial Studies, 3(3-4), 341-351.
Svirsky, M. (2014). After Israel: Towards Cultural Transformation. London: Zed Books Ltd..
Toukan, Hanan. (2014) “On Delusion, Art, and Urban Desires in Palestine Today: An Interview with Yazid Anani.” Arab Studies Journal 22(1) (2014): 208-229.
Weizman, Eyal (2007) Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation, New York: Verso.
As we reach the 50 year milestone of Occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, the AJDS is devastated by the realities of the ongoing military occupation of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. It is both painful and tragic because we believe it can end. In presenting the historical background and detailing the ongoing devastation we acknowledge the Palestinian dispossession and hope to shift the narrative, one that has not shifted enough in 50 years. In the context of our own history it is incumbent on us to shout ENOUGH. We refuse to stay silent or participate , not in our name, we are witnesses who choose not to be bystanders.
Whilst the dispossession of Palestinians from their lands did not begin with the results of the 6 Day War – which is called the Naksa in Arabic, the Setback – the war played a significant role in emboldening messianic expansionist elements in Israeli society and amongst Zionists throughout the world, which has strongly impacted settlement expansion throughout the occupied territories, and ensured that years of “negotiations” have resulted in neither justice nor peace for Palestinians, or Israelis. While what is commonly termed ‘the Occupation’ began fifty years ago, we recognise that the history of violence against Palestinians in Israel and Palestine has its roots long before 1967. What is known in a Zionist narrative as the War of Independence of the State of Israel, is known to Palestinians and others as the Nakba, or Catastrophe in Arabic. It saw the mass dislocation of Palestinians from their land, with up to 800,000 Palestinians being forced to flee their homes and land and refused the right to return.
As a result of the occupation, every aspect of Palestinian life is controlled by Israeli administration: through checkpoints, refusal to grant development permits, home demolitions, arbitrary military arrests, curfews, collective punishment, tightened control of economic and development opportunities, and innumerable other practices. In Gaza, which has been described as an open air prison, Israel controls the entry and exit of all goods. A 2015 UN Conference on Trade and Development reported that at current trends Gaza may become unlivable by 2020. In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, life is controlled at a minute level, and everyday extreme violence is enacted in order to remove Palestinians from their land. The Occupation, and those who enforce it, is incredibly creative and resilient, always able to find and invent new ways to hinder Palestinian life and work against Palestinian resistance (even as that resistance resolutely continues). The Israeli military industry and its global arms sales, relies on the Occupation. The Israeli economy is completely bound up in the Occupation.
Sadly, Israel’s policies have made it a pariah state in world opinion, with increasing international pressure to pursue action to end the occupation, including from a growing number of Jews and Jewish organisations outside Israel, who can no longer align their identities with a state for the Jewish people which repeatedly and systematically acts against their ethics and values.
The occupation which has occurred since 1967 is a continuation of a systemic dislocation of one people for the sake of another. It is an occupation which has always been, and continues to be, carried out by all levels of Israeli society. It is an occupation which has been widely condemned by the international community. It is an occupation involving the construction of Jewish Israeli settlements which are deemed illegal according to International law and have created a clear obstacle to peace and justice. It is an occupation which relies on a conscription army and a national population who refuse to see, or interact with, Palestinians as fellow humans.
As hopelessness intensifies in the face of what seems like an intractable situation, and as the international community repeatedly fails to bring about a just resolution, we encourage people to take action in their communities and within global movements, in coalition with, and led by Palestinians, to understand, educate and oppose the actions of the occupation and the broader dispossession of Palestinian people. As a Jewish organisation we stand resolutely against the policies of occupation, dispossession and oppression. Instead we highlight the Jewish and universal values which call us to stand against such injustice, and foster Jewish identities that contribute to a world in which such violence ceases to exist. We call on the Israeli government, and Israeli society, to show that there is a partner for peace who can meet with Palestinians in order to bring about a just peace in the region. We call on our Australian Jewish communities to join us in refusing to support the ongoing occupation, in order to be part of a global movement which will ensure that there is not another 50 years of such violence.
On October 5th 2016 13 pro-Palestine activists on board the ship Zaytouna-Oliva of the Women’s Boat to Gaza were stopped by the Israeli army in international waters and then detained and deported. We send our support and solidarity to the women who sailed on the ship for their courage and commitment to bring attention to the dire situation in Gaza, which has been under an Israeli led blockade since 2007.
While the women on board the ship have now been released, the blockade of Gaza remains, leaving 1.9 million Palestinians effectively imprisoned. Due to Israeli military measures, about one-third of Gaza’s arable land and 85 percent of its fishing waters are totally or partially inaccessible (Olivier De Schutter, UN special rapporteur). Last year, a United Nations report predicted that Gaza could become uninhabitable by 2020. More than 70% of the population relies on humanitarian aid, 47% of the population suffer from food insecurity, and 95% of the tap water is unsafe for drinking. The legality of the blockade has been disputed, with independent UN panels asserting it to be unlawful under international law as it constitutes collective punishment.
The captain of the Women’s Boat to Gaza was a woman from Hobart, Madeleine Habib. Speaking on her involvement in the ship to Gaza, Ms Habib said: “Once you’ve been there and you understand the suffering and humiliation and the slow wasting away of a culture and of the people, it’s only then that you realise it’s something we need to stand together to stop.”
We call on Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to condemn Israel’s policies of occupation and to support steps to lifting the blockade on Gaza in recognising the principles of Palestinian self-determination. We also call for measures to be taken to ensure that all parties adhere to ceasefire conditions and that the easing of the blockade on Gaza is met with the cessation of rockets fired into Israel. There can be no peaceful solution while Israel and Egypt maintain their blockades leading to the siege of Gaza which is producing unlivable conditions for Palestinians in Gaza.
This statement was issued by the AJDS Executive Committee October 17, 2016
‘Illegal Israeli Settlements are obstacles to peace and the Two-State Solution’, heard members of the UN Security Council. In a powerful condemnation of Israel’s Settlement expansion policy, Lara Friedman of Peace Now (US), and B’tselem‘s executive director, Hagai El-Ad, addressed the UN last week in a session organized by The Permanent Missions of Malaysia, Egypt, Senegal, Angola, and Venezuela.
The session was filmed and transcribed. Friedman starts her talk at about 7 minutes in, and El-Ad follows:
Lara Friedman stated:
We have all also heard Israeli government spokespeople claim that Israel is not establishing new settlements or expanding settlements beyond their current areas. But hidden behind that claim is the fact that just between 2009 and 2015, under Netanyahu, the government of Israel authorized or worked to give legal authorization to at least 26[xi] [xii] settlement sites established by settlers in contravention of Israeli law – often referred to as illegal outposts. These sites are thus being transformed into new official settlements, or into new and often remote “neighborhoods” of existing settlements, dramatically expanding the footprint of those settlements.
Read the full transcript of Lara Friedman’s speech: http://peacenow.org/entry.php?id=20994#.WAMEkXry2T_
Hagai El-Ad’s speech was equally important:
What does it mean, in practical terms, to spend 49 years, a lifetime, under military rule? When violence breaks out, or when particular incidents attract global attention, you get a glimpse into certain aspects of life under occupation. But what about the rest of the time? What about the many “ordinary” days of a 17,898-day-long occupation, which is still going strong? Living under military rule mostly means invisible, bureaucratic, daily, violence. It means living under an endless permit regime, which controls Palestinian life from cradle to grave: Israel controls the population registry; Israel controls work permits; Israel controls who can travel abroad – and who cannot; Israel controls who can visit from abroad – and who cannot; in some villages, Israel maintains lists of who can visit the village, or who is allowed to farm which fields. Permits can sometimes be denied; permits must always be renewed. Thus with every breath they take, Palestinians breathe in occupation. Make a wrong move, and you can lose your freedom of movement, your livelihood, or even the opportunity to marry and build a family with your beloved.
Read Hagai El-Ad’s full speech: http://www.btselem.org/se…/20161014_security_council_address.
The following is taken from the campaign page of the Centre for Jewish Nonviolence:
This summer, Jews from around the world are working with Palestinian and Israeli nonviolent activists to end the occupation and build a just future for all.
We’re invited to stand in solidarity with Palestinians living under daily threat of displacement.
Help us stand up to injustice with courage, so that we can plant hope for a future grounded in dignity and justice.
We need your support to:
We’re thrilled to announce that we have a matching grant of $1,000! During the first week of this fundraising campaign every dollar raised up to $1,000 will be matched by our Israeli partners in All That’s Left.
“The situation in Susiya is only one of many such situations in Area C of the West Bank. Several villages near ours have pending demolition orders as well. If Susiya is destroyed and its residents expelled, it will serve as a precedent for further demolitions and expulsions through the South Hebron Hills and Area C of the West Bank. This must not be allowed to happen.”
For years, Jews around the world have commemorated significant life events such as bar and bat mitzvahs or weddings by giving money to plant trees in Israel. The planting of a tree symbolizes life, growth, hope and steadfastness. This summer, the Center for Jewish Nonviolence is carrying these values into the fight against the injustices of Israeli occupation. Alongside our Palestinian partners we will be planting Za’atar herbs and helping to build infrastructure for future agricultural projects in communities that are struggling under Israel’s military occupation.
Agriculture is the economic life-blood of these communities, but Israeli policy and settler violence and intimidation prevent and suppress efforts made by community members to plant and harvest their fields.
Planting is not just about securing economic livelihood, it is also an important form of resistance to the Occupation. Our partners in the South Hebron Hills endure unending threats ofdisplacement as a direct result of Israeli governmental policy which has often resulted in home demolitions (for more information see Ma’an, Haaretz or +972mag). Planting trees and working the land demonstrate rootedness (Sumud) and a firm stand against the occupation, solidifying these communities’ ongoing presence on their lands.
* Donations to the Center for Jewish Nonviolence are tax-deductible under US law.
The Center for Jewish Nonviolence is a fiscally sponsored project of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call For Human Rights.
*All handicrafts the CJNV offers at various Donation Levels come from socially-conscious Palestinian artisans and crafts-makers, such as the Women in Hebron embroidery cooperative.
Who are we?
The Center for Jewish Nonviolence organizes international Jewish support for Palestinian & Israeli nonviolent resistance activists working to end the unjust occupation of the Palestinian Territories. Our campaign this summer, Occupation Is Not Our Judaism, will bring Jews from around the world to engage in direct action and nonviolent opposition to the occupation. We will spend 10 days with our partners in Hebron and the South Hebron Hills engaging in solidarity activism, standing with Palestinians being evicted from their homes and pushed off their land. As Jews from across the anti-occupation spectrum, we say to our own communities, to the Israeli government, and to the world that the occupation must not continue.
Will you help us stand in solidarity with the people of Hebron & the South Hebron Hills?
Answer the call and support this growing movement by contributing to our campaign.
Help us build a more just future for Palestinians, and for all the people who live between the River and the Sea.
Please give generously and Share this campaign with your networks!
Get to know the Center for Jewish Nonviolence’s Leadership team here
By Peter Beinart. Published in Haaretz 19/7/16.
Jawad Abu Aisha owns a cluttered yard in H2, the sector of Hebron that falls under direct Israeli control. He’d like to turn it into a cinema. Many local Palestinians — lacking recreational opportunities — would like to help him. But Abu Aisha says that Jewish settlers, and the Israeli military, prevent him from developing the space. In a democracy, if your neighbors impede construction on your property, you can appeal to local authorities. But for Palestinians in Hebron, Israel is not a democracy. They can’t vote for its government. They live under military law. So when settlers disrupt Palestinian construction on privately owned Palestinian land — as part of their effort to make Palestinian life in H2 so unbearable that Palestinians leave — the army and police do their bidding. The army and police, after all, are accountable to Israeli citizens. And in Hebron, as throughout the West Bank, Jewish settlers are citizens. Palestinians are subjects.
I saw this firsthand last Friday when I left a family vacation in Israel to join 52 Jewish activists, mostly from the Diaspora, on a trip to Hebron organized by the Center for Jewish Nonviolence and the anti-occupation collective, All That’s Left. We came at the request of a group called Youth Against Settlements. It’s burly, charismatic leader, a student of Gandhi and Martin Luther King named Issa Amro, asked Diaspora Jews to come and help clear Abu Aisha’s yard. He didn’t need American Jewish muscle. He needed American Jewish privilege, the privilege that gives American Jews protection from the Israeli state. Issa hoped that privilege would buy his group a few hours of uninterrupted yard work. He also hoped it would bring them publicity.
Think of Issa as a Palestinian Robert Moses. By 1964, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee had been working for years to register African Americans in Mississippi to vote. But local whites brutalized them, often aided by the police. So Moses recruited northern white kids to come south for “Freedom Summer.” He hoped the media would follow, and that once white Americans saw segregation’s true face, they’d push their politicians to support civil rights. Among the more than 1,000 activists who heeded Moses’ call were Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, college students from New York whose murder, alongside African American James Chaney, has become American Jewish legend.
I’ll never know what it felt like to be in Mississippi in 1964. But last Friday, watching dozens of twenty-something American Jewish kids (and a few older activists) haul junk in Abu Aisha’s yard in Hebron, I felt an unusual sensation: hope.
I felt hope because American Jewish Millennials are different. My generation, which came of age in the 1990s, didn’t build a single organization that challenged the American Jewish establishment on Israel. That’s partly because, during the Oslo era, we thought American, Israeli and Palestinian leaders would create a two-state solution on their own. But it’s also because the 1990s were a lost decade for the American activist left, an “ice age,” in Cornel West’s words.
That ice age is now clearly over. From Occupy to Black Lives Matter to the immigrant “dreamers” whose protests forced U.S. President Barack Obama to change his policies on deportation, Millennials have brought street activism back to life. What happened last Friday in Hebron is part of that. Over the last few years, young American Jews have created three new organizations: Open Hillel, which challenges Hillel’s limitations on who can speak about Israel in Jewish spaces on campus, If Not Now, which protests American Jewish complicity with the occupation, and the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, which organizes peaceful resistance to it. Many of the young activists I met in Hebron were products of these groups and talking to them, I realized how formidable a challenge they’re likely to pose to the American Jewish establishment in the years to come.
They’re formidable because these kids don’t come from the margins of the American Jewish community. They come from its bosom. In Hebron, I met the son of a cantor, an alumna of the Orthodox youth movement Bnei Akiva, an Orthodox young woman who studied in a yeshiva not far where we were protesting, a Jewish day school graduate whose mother was connected to the yeshiva with Baruch Goldstein, a former activist in the century-old Zionist youth group Young Judaea, several former members of the socialist Zionist youth group Hashomer Hatzair, a young woman who grew up in Chabad, a young woman who taught Hebrew school at Chabad, a young woman whose right-wing Moroccan-Israeli parents immigrated to California, and a young man who until a few months ago worked at a prominent establishment American Jewish organization, until he couldn’t live with himself anymore.
The young people I met are also formidable because they’re learning things that American Jewish leaders don’t know. The dirty little secret of the American Jewish establishment is that its officials know little about Palestinian life under Israeli control. That’s by design. Mainstream American Jewish officials talk incessantly about Palestinians, but they rarely talk to them, in large measure because Hillel-style guidelines inhibit their interaction with people who cross their ideological red lines. Most American Jewish leaders have never met nonviolent Palestinian activists like Issa Amro. Nor have they personally experienced life under Israeli military law. The Jewish kids in Hebron have. On Friday, they got a tiny taste when the Israeli army declared Abu Aisha’s backyard a closed military zone, and then, after some activists retreated to Amro’s house, the army declared that a closed military zone too.
Finally, the young activists I met are formidable because they’re brave. Several said they hadn’t told their parents what they were doing because they’d be disowned. The officials who populate establishment American Jewish organizations are, in large measure, careerists. I’ve lost count of the number of staffers at mainstream Jewish groups who have told me they privately disagree with their organization’s stance on Israel. There are true believers on the American Jewish right, especially from the Orthodox world. But, today, the American Jewish establishment is composed of many people who know in their gut that they’re defending the indefensible. In a confrontation between them and the young activists I met on Friday, I’d bet on the latter.
To be clear, I don’t think protests like last Friday’s will have a direct impact on Israelis. The protests are too American. It’s hard to imagine Israelis interspersing religious songs like “Kol ha’olam kulo, gesher tzar me’od” (“All the world is a very narrow bridge,” from Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav) with civil rights anthems like “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.” But the protests aren’t meant to change Israeli opinion. They’re meant to change American Jewish opinion, which could in turn change American government policy. And curiously, it was the very Americanism of the protest that made it so Jewish.
Standing in Abu Aisha’s yard, the American-Israeli activist Moriel Rothman-Zecher explained it this way. The Israeli left, he argued, contains many people alienated by Judaism. They’re alienated because they identify Judaism with Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, which controls subjects like marriage, burial and divorce, and with right-wing hyper-nationalists like Naftali Bennett. By contrast, American Jews, who live in a country where Judaism is not intertwined with the state, lack that hostility. As a result, they are more likely to see their activism as an outgrowth of their Jewish identity rather than as an attempt to overcome it.
That was certainly the case last Friday. The activists I met weren’t speaking, and singing, about Judaism because they thought it was savvy public relations. They were doing so because Judaism is the language of their lives. At one point during the day, I heard several heatedly discussing whether the Talmud has anything meaningful to say about how to administer a Jewish state. At another, an activist told me about his experience studying Chayei Sarah, the Torah portion that describes Abraham’s burial of Sarah in Hebron.
Over the course of my life, I can remember several moments when contemporary events made me experience Jewish texts or tunes in a new way. I’ll never forget sitting in shul on the Shabbat after 9/11 and hearing the shaliach tzibbur sing Adon Olam to the tune of America the Beautiful. After last year’s terrorist attacks in Paris, I heard it sung to the tune of La Marseillaise. And I’ll never forget last Friday afternoon, when we stood outside the settlement that housed the prison where Rothman-Zecher and five other activists had been detained, and welcomed Shabbat by singing Shalom Aleichem and Lecha Dodi. The soldiers and settlers standing in front of us looked at us like we were mad. The Palestinians standing behind us looked confused too, but a Palestinian boy, smiling broadly, nonetheless ran over to us with cups of water.
Why were we performing Kabbalat Shabbat? I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, it was partly to remind myself of who I am. I had spent the day working alongside Palestinians and being protected by them. I had spent the day fearing Jewish soldiers and police. It was a jarring experience. The normal order of things, as I had learned them since childhood, had been turned upside down. Welcoming Shabbat was a way of centering myself. It was a reminder that no matter how many people tell me I hate Judaism, the Jewish people and the Jewish state — no matter how many people tell me I hate myself — I know who I am. I know when I’m living in truth. And nothing feels more Jewish than that.
I’m not an activist by nature. I couldn’t organize a protest to save my life. But leaving Hebron last Friday, I vowed to come back next year, for the fiftieth anniversary of Israel’s takeover of the West Bank. Instead of 50 Jews, I hope we bring 500. I hope you’re one of them.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel famously said that when he marched for civil rights in Selma, Alabama, he was “praying with his feet.” I now know what he meant. And I know that, to be the Jew I want to be, I must pray that way again.
Originally published in Haaretz.