Monday, 30 April 2007
I have decided to take a break from writing today to recharge my batteries a little. But still to come:
* Conversation with Uri Avnery, Israel's leading peacemonger
* Tea at the Resistance Cafe in Hebron (featuring hardcore settlers)
* Verbal pub brawls and raising the bar by propping it up
* Is a two-state solution still feasible?
* Al Haq and human rights in the Palestinian territories
* Reflections on Israeli society
* Lessons learnt from the 'Without a road map' tour
I'd like to thank everyone who has been following my daily encounters and musings. It really helped spur me on. Wish me luck on the way out. Apparently, I can look forward to questioning at the airport.
Sunday, 29 April 2007
©Khaled Diab. Text and photos
East Jerusalem’s Ambassador Hotel is a favourite gathering point for civil society and that is where I was due to meet with representatives of the fledgling umbrella alliance of Palestinian and Israeli peace NGOs.
The Palestinian-Israeli Peace NGO Forum does what the label says: it brings together over 100 Israeli and Palestinian civil society organisations striving, either directly or indirectly, for peace. Its name might be a bit of a mouth full and may need to be reinforced with a media-genic and shorter alternative, but its mission is an important one.
Nancy Sadiq of the Palestinian Centre for the Dissemination of Democracy (Panorama) and Yael Patir of the Peres Centre for Peace are in charge of the day-to-day coordination of the initiative. Traffic is a problem in some megalopolises but this part of the world has its own unique mobility problems.
Nancy and her colleague, who work and live in Ramallah, were delayed for around an hour longer than expected at a checkpoint for reasons unbeknown to them. Nancy has a special longer-term pass that allows her to make the 15-km journey to Ramallah. Her colleague is not so fortunate and was only issued a two-day pass.
While we were waiting, Yael filled me in on the purpose and activities of the forum which was officially established in January 2006 after a long process of negotiations between its various member institutes.
“The idea of the forum is to bring together civil society from both sides to build understanding,” she explained to me. “We also want to join our voices together to make sure we’re heard.”
The forum pursues a bottom-up approach to peace-building and focuses more on the socio-economic aspects than. "We are a coalition that is targeted more at the grassroots. We try to minimise political activism."
©Khaled Diab. Text and photos.
Friday, 27 April 2007
Thursday, 26 April 2007
Wednesday, 25 April 2007
Well, I think I have been able to locate that elusive creature – but he is not in the best of shape. At this very moment, Shalom/Salaam is stuck at the border, insisting that he is not carrying a bomb.
“Are you carrying a weapon?” a string of Israeli officers ask him.
“Bro, I come in peace,” replies Peace, with his long, centre-parted hippy hair and Jesus creepers.
“But can you guarantee that you will stay in peace?”
“Just sign a peace deal and you will see the difference.”
“But can you guarantee that the Qassam rockets will stop? If we pull out of the West Bank, might the Palestinians not want more and use violence to try to get it. Israel is such a small country – at some points it is less than 10km wide. It is vulnerable to these rocket attacks.”
“Of course, Israel has the right to live in peace,” Shalom/Salaam maintains. “But even Hamas, because its charter does not recognise Israel’s right to exist, has indicated that it would accept a Palestinian state on the pre-1967 border. Besides, the Arabs have offered you a comprehensive peace deal and Syria wants to negotiate. What are you waiting for?”
“But it is impossible for us to evacuate the 400,000 people living in the biggest West Bank settlements. The political price inside Israel would be too high.”
“Why didn’t you think of that before you built them on occupied land.”
“At first, we wanted to use them as bargaining chips in negotiations with the Arabs. But, in Khartoum, in 1967, the Arabs issued their famous three ‘No’s. After that, the extremists hijacked the settlement process and built thousands of homes on the seized land.”
“But Peace comes at a price, you know,” Salaam/Shalom says, hiding, behind a melancholic smile, his feeling of being undervalued and unappreciated all these years he’s been living in exile, out in the cold. “I’m not cheap you know.”
“We can give them an equivalent amount of land in the Negev or southern Israel.”
“So, you want to give them desert in return for fertile land?”
“Water is not an issue. We can supply them with water to meet all their needs.”
Many Israelis, even my open-minded hosts, seem to be under the conviction, to varying degrees, that there is no clear end in sight, that whatever Israel does will not be enough, that as soon as Israel pulls out of the West Bank, rockets will rain down on its head every day.
Tuesday, 24 April 2007
They had a long series of questions about politics and society in
This reminded me of how, in an earlier conversation, Zipora had told me that her family had lived here for seven generations, and she remembered with nostalgia the time when Jews and Arabs lived together peacefully. And her parents and grandparents, were constantly going to
Zipora's radical Kibbutz friend - who was not the type to mince her words and was so avant garde that the cavalry could not see her for the dust - seemed a little sad and disappointed by this dashed hope. She recalled fondly President Anwar Sadat's spectacular visit to Jerusalem and she had thought that, after the peace deal, she would get to meet thousands of Egyptians.
I had to spend some time deconstructing Sadat to temper their enthusiasm for the man, for, although he delivered peace, he became something of a despot at home and Egypt was at its corruptest during his watch.
I can sympathise with how lonely it must be for progressive and liberal Israelis who want better ties with their neighbours but find that their neighbours seem only to want a cold peace. I tried to explain that, for many Egyptians, it's nothing personal and a lot of Egyptians profess to wanting better ties with our 'cousins'. However, many ordinary Egyptians feel that schmoozing with Israelis would be a betrayal of the Palestinian cause and say that they refuse to normalise relations on all levels - economic, political and even personal - until a fair peace deal is reached and the Palestinians gain their rights.
I had used an analogy with Amos earlier which I reapplied here. In the morning, he had explained to me that Israel so its function as a safe haven for all Jews to protect them from persecution wherever it may occur in the world, and he gave me some examples of how seriously the government took this pledge. I pointed out to him, that many Arabs share the same sense of solidarity with their 'Arab' brethren in other countries. "If a country were mistreating or persecuting Jews, would you want Israel to continue to have normal relations with that country?" I asked Amos earlier and our friend now.
She nodded earnestly in understanding. "Then, Egyptians won't be coming for a long time," she said, a little sadly. "Perhaps we won't be around long enough to see that day."
Personally, I believe that Egyptians, diaspora Palestinians and other Arabs need to 'normalise' cultural relations with Israelis, reach out the hand of compassion and begin a heartfelt dialogue. We can hold off from economic and political normalisation until there is peace, but each one of us is responsible for giving that process a friendly shove through communication.
In a Red Hot Chili Peppers’ song, Anthony Kiedis sings about how he likes pleasure spiked with pain. That crossed my mind as an apt description of this time of year in
On Monday morning, Amos and I set off to the
To get there, we took the train to Tel Aviv. The carriage was packed full of young male and female soldiers, many casually donning their scary-looking M16s. It is a constant source of surprise to me just how militarised this society is. At times, it seems like there are more people in uniform or carrying a gun that the opposite. A sign of this is how routine and unremarkable the question everyone is asked at the security check outside every station, many supermarkets and public area: “Are you carrying a weapon?”
On the train, we talked about this suffering. With Anat, Tzachi and other Israelis and Jews, I have discussed the question of Jewish persecution and suffering. While I am painfully aware of the extent to which Jews have episodically been oppressed and persecuted, with the Holocaust the crowning achievement of anti-Semitism, I feel it is important for some Jews to take a more balanced view of their history. It has not all been ugly – the Jews have had periods of great integration and prosperity since ancient times.
In addition, other migrating peoples, such as the Roma, have also faced persecution. In fact, you don’t have to leave the supposed comfort of your own home to be oppressed, put down and persecuted. I gave the example of
The diaspora is a subject which has interested me for some time, so I didn’t learn anything revalationary, except perhaps for the fact that, according to one display, Egypt had 1 million Jews out of a population of 8 million in the first century. It was perhaps befitting that while we were on the final leg of our tour around the museum, the sirens marking the end of Memorial Day sounded.
Amos had wanted to take me to see one of the largest settlements built in the
One people's poison is another's meat
In the afternoon, I caught up on some much-delayed writing, while Tzachi hosted his young boys’ school friends in what turned out to be an exhausting – for parent and offspring alike – inflatable pool party.
On Monday evening, the dark clouds of mourning over
But the dichotomy between the two days is not the only contrast. It is nearly 60 years since the 1948 war and 40 years next month since the West Bank and Gaza were occupied. In Yesh Gvul, a group of Israeli refuseniks, were holding their tenth Alternative Beacon Lighting ceremony in Jerusalem that evening.
Yesh Gvul, a group of Israeli refuseniks, were holding their tenth Alternative Beacon Lighting ceremony in Jerusalem that evening.
In the evening, we went to a local Independence Day celebration. The fair, with its charcoaled meats, hustle and bustle, and children carrying flashing toys, reminded me of muwlids in
Back home, they put the children to bed and Tzachi informed me that he would be playing his favourite computer game, World of Warcraft. Tzachi, who had been calling all my ideas for peace ‘great but Utopic’, shared his own zany, leftfield peace vision with me, a sort of ‘make virtual war, not war’ idea. “Everyone in the
©Khaled Diab. Text and images
Monday, 23 April 2007
The school is still a young one, with only 200 kindergarten and primary school pupils, half of whom are Jewish and the other half Arab. Each bilingual class has two teachers, one Jew and one Arab, and the lessons are conducted in both Arabic and Hebrew. It being Memorial Day, the children were encouraged to work on activities and project in which they learnt about each side's pain and suffering, particularly with Independence Day around the corner for Israel, which is regarded as the nakba (Catastrophe) by Palestinians.
"We handle this sensitive subject by accepting the idea that there are two narratives, both of which are valid to their people. And we encourage both sides to be aware of the other's pain," Noha explained. "We want to encourage these children to set off together into the future," Yochanan continued.
But with only a handful of cash-strapped schools like this across the country, the difficulty of attracting Jewish children (who have so many options and whose parents fear Palestinian-Israelis) to study with Arabs, enlightened education like this will have little impact, despite its potential. "It's a drop in the ocean," Amos kept repeating sadly.
In the evening, Amos and Tzachi decided to launch an oil-fuelled kite which took off and travelled for kilometres, with father and son chasing after it like maniacs afraid it would land somewhere and start a fire. Luckily, it touched down somewhere safely.
During dinner, the air-raid siren which goes off to inform Israelis that Memorial Day has begun went off and everyone stood up to stand silently for two minutes in private contemplation. I used the moments to reflect on my unusual day and the fact that I was here in Israel during its most intensely emotional time.
Before, during and after dinner a diwan-style or round table debate started up between me and several generations of Israelis – my hosts, Anat's father, a recent arrival from America, an immigrant from Colombia and a young Israeli couple at university. It was incredibly constructive, informative and entertaining for all involved and we all came away with the impression that if only the rest of the world could communicate like this.
©Khaled Diab. Text and images.
And pain, grief and loss were all around and almost tangible on my second day. In the morning, Amos and I went off to a nearby Arab village, Meyser. There, we met with the town's unofficial council of elders, the local senior citizens' club, some of whom were friends with Amos.
We started by chatting about their activities and the importance of sport at their age. They told me how things were gradually getting better over the years for the Palestinian citizens of Israel. But they also complained about how difficult it was for their community to send their children to university because of the cost and some bureaucratic obstructionism. "Many of our children go to Jordan or Europe to study because it is easier," one of them told me.
On the way, Amos had told me about all the left-wing Kibbutzim in the area and how good their ties were with the local Arab population. The subject with the elders soon switched to the sense of grief they still feel at the loss of their land, being as they were from the 1948 generation.
"We miss our confiscated land," one of them asserted. "The memory of our loss is alive in our children," rejoined another.
"My father's land is 250m down the road from here. They told me that you're father isn't here and so it is not yours."
The others went on to list the various legal tricks that they claimed were used to dispossess them of their land.
"Our youngsters need houses but they cannot get permission to build in the village," the oldest of the elders, who had been nodding off in a corner under the apparent weight of his kifeya, suddenly piped in.
They also complained about how they are neither her nor there. "Here we have Israeli identity cards but are not considered full citizens. In the Arab world, we're seen as Israelis. Neither side accepts us," one described.
But the conversation ended on a note of hope.
"The Jews around here are from Argentina and South America and so they have an 'eastern' outlook and it makes it easier for us to live together."
They discussed an experimental council of eight Jews and eight Arabs which went some way towards building bridges between the two communities.
"There are joint Arab-Jewish schools in some villages which is promising for the future generation," one of the old men observed.
©Khaled Diab. Text and images.
But that slight sense of oddness was as nothing compared with the total freakishness and quirkiness of going to the Palmach House which charts the course of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war from the perspective of that Jewish militia. My hosts had decided that it was a good idea to get an idea of the official patriotic Israeli narrative of that war which led to Israel's independence.
When we walked in and I saw an entire platoon of famously trendy IDF soldiers (Anat tells me they were young recruits in the tank corps), I began to have my doubts. They were here to learn why they had joined the army, but why was I? Well, to learn more about how the other side thinks. The young guide, who sounded incredibly proud of her role and deferred greatly to Amos, the veteran, found my presence rather novel, and it also stumped her. "You're from Egypt?" she exclaimed. "We've never had anyone from there before... Where should I start, then?"
Neither novelty nor weirdness begins to describe the sensation I felt as we stood around – 20 or so young male and female soldiers, my hosts, and myself, the lone Arab infiltrator into the 'enemy camp' – waiting for the tour to begin. I don't think any of the soldiers realised quite who I was, although some did cast a couple of curious glances my way, since I was the only non-Hebrew speaker there. Now I've seen the IDF at play, it will be interesting to see them at work when I go to Ramallah in a few days.
For those who are not aware, the Palmach was one of the precursors of the IDF. Short for Plugot Mahatz (Strike Companies), it was the regular fighting force of the Hagannah, which was originally set up by the British to fight Rommel but went underground when the British tried to disband it.
A balanced piece of history, the museum was not. An emotive and tear-jerking narrative with a plot and high-tech wizardry, it certainly was. Amos was the first to get emotional, having been a Palmach veteran of the war himself – and one soldier even milked him, I assume, for stories. As we progressed through the museum, Anat and Tzachi began to hug each other, as did several of the soldiers.
As for me, there were a couple of moments which struck a minor chord - that emotive was the display. But being an Arab and a person who is averse to nationalist narratives composed as a symphony for the heartstrings. To me, the gaps in the story were as telling as what it mentioned, such as when one of the commanders was asked "What should we do with the Palestinian refugees?" To which he gave the cryptic answer, "I'll leave to each of your better judgements."
Of course, patriotic military museums rarely give balanced narratives, and this one was no exception. However, it was interesting for me to see just how convinced Israelis are that they are the plucky, underdog David pitted against the Arab Goliath.
Of course, in the early days of the conflict, it was a simpler age, and Zionists were invariably portrayed as comic book villains – and how many of those have time to fit in a family, do the cooking, shopping and cleaning, in between all that villainy and political manoeuvring? Today, many more species of Zionists have been discovered by Arab political zoologists, but they are still, in the Arab psyche, essentially a dangerous and possibly deadly political animal which roams the Palestinian territories and occasionally neighbouring countries.
Given this backdrop, you can imagine how bizarre and surreal it felt to find myself coming down to breakfast in an authentic Israeli Zionist household! This weirdness was accentuated by the fact that it wasn’t so weird – that once you move beyond the conflict, you notice how they are just folk like us, as the Americans would say.
In Israel, they like to say that whenever you bring two Jews together, they will have three opinions. Well, after some empirical observation, I have come to the conclusion that if you throw an Arab or two into this mix, you're guaranteed hours of political debate for the whole family.
Jam and Jerusalem is what women’s church groups are all about, jam and politics was what breakfast turned out to be. In fact, within less than 10 minutes we were deep into political debate. As if subconsciously starting at the beginning, we talked, at first, about the early settlers in British mandate Palestine and the war of 1948. Amos recalled how good relations were between many of the early settlers and the local Palestinian population.
But already points of long and debate were emerging out of the woodwork to surround us: how militant or peaceful were the earlier settlers; who was David and Goliath in the first Arab-Israeli conflict?
Amos, a one-time kibbutz member and veteran of the 1948 war was passionate about the subject – and, although I was dubious about quite a few of his assertions, I found the new perspective it offered me enlightening. He so warmed to his subject that he drove us to a local Kibbutz so that I could see its history and values for myself.
Amos and Zipora told me about their early life, their schoolwork, their reclaiming of desert land, their move to Argentina to teach there for a while, their artwork, and more.
Over the years, I have heard a lot about kibbutzim, mainly from friends who had been on holiday in Israel and worked and lived on a kibbutz and from some of my readings. But this was the first time I had seen an actual one. The film about the kibbutz’s history was created in the form of a silent film with a semi-humorous narrative. Amos showed us around the grounds and told us about the harshness, discipline and hard work of the early kibbutzim communities. He also reminisced about the communal ideals of the early kibbutzim which have been lost as the different camps privatise.
From a different age
Anat’s grandfather in Netanya is a Tunisian Jew and he took the opportunity of my presence to speak some Arabic and reminisce about life in Tunisia when he was younger, when Arab and Jew lived in peacefully alongside one another and intermingled. But he spent more time wanting to learn about Egypt and in particular the Egyptian dialect.
Dinner was at a friendly Palestinian-run restaurant where they did not expect an Egyptian to be coming for dinner and I had a chat with the owner. During our walk along the beachfront, on the way to and from the restaurant, and over dinner, the spicy issue of debate was the one-state solution which was greeted by scepticism by both Anat and Tzachi. He thought that it sounded nice as a vision and it could be one of several options but it was the least likely. Anat began to warm to it when I explained that there was no reason for a bi-national state to lose its Jewish identity; this would just be enlarged to encompass the Palestinian one, particularly if this is done within a looser federal system.
Meet the family
Saturday, 21 April 2007
She should meet Katleen, I thought to myself, who has spent a few very long and tiring weeks collating cluster munitions casualties from around the world, and is now on her way to Geneva to navigate the political minefield of landmines. Katleen, that delicate, gentle, sensitive soul, having to tally up the dead and maimed.
For my in-flight reading pleasure, I decided to steer away from one of my favourite pet subjects, since I would soon be getting an intense dose of it. Instead, I started reading Will Self’s Book of Dave. This bizarre novel is about how a book written by a London cabbie which spawns a new and rather brutal religion when it is discovered a few hundred years later in a semi submerged England, called the Ing Archipelago. But considering where I was heading, I suppose this made oddly appropriate reading.
The airport of Dave
Flying over Tel Aviv, one could see how wealthy the city looked – at least from the sky – with its glitzy beach front and twinkling high-rises. So, here I finally was, an Egyptian in the Land of Milk and Honey; the Holy Land… also the land of intractable conflict, shattered hopes, dreams and nightmares, and broken promises.
As we neared David Ben-Gurion (a man who symbolises radically different things depending on where you’re from) airport, I braced myself for the inevitable, given Israel’s famously edgy and nervous security services.
My arrival in Zion was to be treated as if I were Pharaoh’s envoy (by the way, I think my ancestors get too bad a wrap in the Biblical version of the world – but that’s for another time). No sooner had I stepped off the plane than a young woman intercepted me to ask me the purpose of my stay, whether I knew anyone in Israel and who I would be staying with. When she said: “Have a nice stay!”, I was pleasantly surprised and skipped off (figuratively) to passport control.
But it just seemed that my official welcoming party was running a little behind schedule. As the man behind the desk repeated the chorus of questions, two men – one slim, the other burly – interrupted the fairly friendly passport control officer in mid-sentence to launch into their own tough heavy-metal rendition of the same chorus of questions. Improvising with their own duet, they requested my boarding stub – which I couldn’t find – and asked where I’d been sitting on the plane.
In what approximated VIP treatment (or would that be Very Dangerous Person), they relieved me of my shoulder bag, laptop and camera and asked me to follow them. Over the next two hours, I was promoted through the ranks as one confounded officer handed me to the next, each of whom would ask me the same basic chorus of questions before breaking into their own solo to ask me such things as whether I had family in Israel or the Palestinian territories and which other countries in the Middle East I had visited. The last one actually smiled a few times and seemed suitably impressed by my long list of media contacts and the fact that I had once worked for Reuters!
Exhausted, bored and a little annoyed that I was the only passenger left, I wondered how they could possibly perceive me to be such a threat that they needed to question me so many times. I could understand the frustration at the recurring-dream nature of the questioning that prompted Souad Amiry, Palestinian architect and writer, once to insist that she had been dancing when asked why she had visited the UK – which do not go down at all well with her inquisitor. “I have always had the impression that the occupation has caused both the Israelis and Palestinians to lose their sense of humour,” she wrote in her book Sharon and my mother-in-law. By the way, I will be meeting her later in my trip.
I sat patiently biding my time until they assigned an escort to help me find my abandoned rucksack, which first had to be X-rayed before I was set free. Outside, I was made to feel more at home. My taxi driver, a good-humoured Sephardic Jew originally from Morocco, spoke good, if highly accented Arabic, and his every other word was a heart-warming cuss. En route, he scanned through the channels to find Arabic radio stations playing all the mouldy Arabic oldies like Umm Kalthoum - he even, in his gritty, tuneless voice, attempted to sing along for my entertainment. I arrived at Pardes Hana and Anat, my host, was still up awaiting my arrival.
Tomorrow read all about life in an authentic, real McCohen Jewish household.
Friday, 20 April 2007
Sitting amongst quiet and sleepy commuters on the train this morning, I was struck by the idea that Belgium and Israel-Palestine have quite a lot in common and that the Israelis and Palestinians could learn a lot from my adopted home, namely the Belgian sense of pragmatic compromise.
Both Belgium and Israel-Palestine are about the same size geographically, have a similar population density, and are made up of two main communities. While there is no raging conflict between Belgium’s two language groups, there are major tensions. However, there is such a commitment to consensus politics that the term ‘Belgian compromise’ has become a term recognised internationally.
Despite its lack of a strong national identity and the gradual rise of the far right, Belgium has held together remarkably well – and this has mainly been a result of the country’s pragmatism. This has led to some pretty convoluted arrangements, and making a cup of coffee in the corridors of power requires long-winded political horse trading – but rather that than violent conflict.
Interestingly, while Jerusalem currently divides Israelis and Palestinians, Brussels cements the Belgians together. Perhaps declaring the Holy City the capital of the two peoples would have a similar bonding effect for them.
The Palestinians and Israelis on their own internal turf have shown that pragmatic ability to compromise, as their coalition governments show. And Israel’s settlement building activity reveals a talent for creating complex realities. However, it is an absence of pragmatism that hobbles the conflict, as reflected in Israel’s dependence on its military might, its insistence on unilateral solutions (even during the Oslo years) and its ‘take first, give later’ approach. Then, there’s Hamas’s insistence on not recognising Israel formally, even though it recognises it in all but name – and, earlier, all the years wasted by the PLO in refusing to face a similar reality.
Of course, in Belgium, there is not the massive imbalance in power and no long-standing history of violence between Flemings and Walloons. But Israelis and Palestinians could do well to inject a dose of Belgian pragmatism into their relationship.
Thursday, 19 April 2007
Tuesday, 17 April 2007
|From Without a roa...|
But this latest shooting spree reminded me that there is one conflict zone that is far more dangerous than many of the world’s most troubled hotspots – the American urban jungle. And the randomness of the wacko with an automatic weapon or the stray bullet in a ‘drive-by’ is, in many ways, just as terrifying as any terror attack.
In fact, during a visit to Washington, DC, I realised that this one-time ‘murder capital’ of the world was once the most dangerous city in the world, until George W Bush invaded Iraq and passed on the crown to Baghdad! Perhaps rather than invading other countries with a reckless gung-ho attitude, he could’ve cleaned up the mess just a few short blocks from the White House by addressing the lax gun laws, socio-economic equalities and cultural attitudes that fuel violent crime in the USA. No matter what the gun lobby says, firearms do kill people.
In 1998, Washington, DC, reached the staggering height of 69.3 murders per 100,000 residents, according to an international survey by the UK Home Office. In that same survey, I was glad to learn that Brussels (where I work) came bottom, with only 0.4 murders per 100,000 inhabitants!
This time the perpetrator was a South Korean but all the sad examples that have come to pass in America in the last few years alone – Columbine, the Washington Sniper, etc. – reveal that a depressing pattern. It is the place – and the easy access it affords to those of an unstable disposition – rather than ethnicity that counts here.
To compare the US situation with Israel and Palestine, I got out my calculator, looked up some stats and did the maths. I found that it is statistically more likely for the average person to get killed in an American city than in an Intifada-related incident. In the USA, according to the American Bureau of Justice, cities with a population of over 1 million had a murder rate of 13.2 per 100,000 per year.
Based on a rough estimate of about 4,000 dead Palestinians and 1,000 dead Israelis during the Intifada between 2000 and 2006, and a total Israeli/Palestinian population of nearly 10 million, that would work out at a political murder rate of 8.4 per 100,000 per year on average.
This is not meant to belittle the suffering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict inflicts. But violence-wise, it is fairly low-intensity, compared with many other troubled areas of the world. The trouble with Israel and Palestine is finding a way to divide up the land equitably between a people who have trouble getting over the loss of what had, since time immemorial, been theirs and another who have trouble giving up enough of what had, for centuries, been their unattainable dream.
©Khaled Diab for text and Katleen Maes for image.
Monday, 16 April 2007
Road to Jerusalem
My trip will take me to Tel Aviv and Jaffa, Pardes Hana, Galilee and the Golan, Jerusalem, Ramallah and el-Khalil/Hebron.
The real McCohen!
Penetrating deep into ‘hostile’ territory, your intrepid journalist will stay for some days with several generations of a ‘real’ Israeli family in a small town not far from Tel Aviv. And they have stated it as their express mission to show me the human and peaceful face of Zionism. They also want to see Israel through me eyes.
Meeting the peacemongers
I will meet a number of prominent Israeli and Palestinian peace activists, including that ‘godfather of shalom’, the veteran activist and writer Uri Avnery. I will also meet representatives of Gush Shalom, the Panorma Centre, the Peres Peace Centre, an Palestinian-Israeli Peace NGOs Forum, a group of refusniks called Yesh Gvul, and much more.
Visions of the future
Too much of the conflict is about letting the past paralyse the present. I will ask ordinary Israelis and Palestinians about their personal visions for a peaceful future.
Life under occupation
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. I will visit Ramallah and el-Khalil (Hebron) to see how ordinary people lead their lives.
Oasis of peace in the valley of conflict
Neve Shalom/Wahet el-Salam (Peace Oasis) is an experimental community where Palestinians and Israelis live side-by-side in the same community, are educated together and work together. It provides an alternative vision of what Israel-Palestine may one day be like. I am currently arranging a visit.
Journos and Jerusalem
No busman’s holiday would be complete without meeting up with fellow hacks from various wire services and newspapers. They will include Guardian columnist Seth Freedman and Alex Stein, the founder of False Dichotomies.
Almost four hundred years before the creation of Israel, Cyprus was on the cards as a Jewish colony and safe haven for Europe's persecuted Jewish minority.
I found this little nugget while brushing up on my history in preparation for my trip to Israel and Palestine.
The idea was the brainchild of the colourful Jewish financier and statesman Joseph Nasi (1524-1579), one of the 16th century's top movers and shakers. Born as a 'New Christian' or Conversos in Portugal half a century after the start of the Inquisition in neighbouring Spain, he was a 'secret Jew' or Marrano. As the Portuguese Inquisition kicked off in earnest around 1536, he fled that and moved north to the Habsburg Netherlands and settled in Antwerp, where he was very successful and much respected, until the Spanish Inquisition caught up with him there, whereupon he moved to France and Venice.
But, like many Jews of the time, he settled in the far more tolerant Ottoman Empire and became one of the Sultan's most influential advisers. He also openly professed his faith for the first time in his life. What I find interesting about his life story is how different Jewish attitudes to Arabs and Muslims were back then – and vice versa.
Nasi is best remembered for starting the first resettlement programme of European Jews to Palestine, when the Ottoman sultan appointed him Lord of Tiberias (in Galilee) and allowed him to set up a small colony there of a few hundred Jewish families.
But Tiberias was actually a consolation prize offered by Sultan Selim II, who was not too keen on Nasi's Cypriot designs. At the time, the majority of Jews saw Palestine as a pilgrimage destination, at the very most, and believed they would only 'return' there with the coming of the Messiah. For uninformed Christians and Muslims, Jews do not believe the 'anointed one' has arrived yet.
But what if the Sultan had reacted favourably to Nasi's plan. How different would subsequent history have been and how different would today's geo-political landscape be? How long would the colony have lasted? How would the native population have reacted? Would there have been a local 'intifada' against the colonists? Well, as it so happens, when his negotiations with the local Jewish community were uncovered, the non-native Jewish population of Famagusta was expelled in 1569 - native Jews were allowed to remain.
Would Cyprus have attracted Jewish immigration? I suppose 'Next year in Nicosia' would not have quite the same ring to it in Jewish ears as 'Next year in Jerusalem'. But there had been a large Jewish community there since Greek times and Jews were facing persecution in many parts of Europe, so these may have been major selling points for the colony. Would there have been a long and bitter conflict, like the one currently plaguing Israel-Palestine and, if so, how would it have been resolved? Would Cyprus have joined the EU as an island divided along a different Green Line? Would the subsequent colonisation of Palestine have taken place?
The original Zionist?
Binyamin Ze'ev – better known as 'Theodor' – Herzl is widely regarded as the father of Zionism. But given his various attempts at establishing Jewish colonies, does Nasi deserve the title of the first 'Zionist'? Both men were motivated by the persecution of their people: the Inquisition for Nasi and the pogroms in eastern Europe for Herzl, as well as the infamous Dreyfus Affair in France.
"We Jews are even now constantly shifting from place to place, a strong current actually carrying us westward over the sea to the United States, where our presence is also not desired. And where will our presence be desired, so long as we are a homeless nation?" he wrote in Der Judenstaat, the first book on Zionism.
However, Nasi had just about managed to keep one step ahead of being personally persecuted himself and seemed to be driven mostly by the pragmatic need to protect his people and give them somewhere where they could practice their faith in peace. He also set about avenging his near persecution and that of his people by stirring up trouble against the intolerant Spanish, such as encouraging he Calvinists in the Netherlands to revolt against Spain and promising the Ottoman support, as well as
On the other hand, Herzl was a comfortable member of the European intelligentsia – German-speaking Jews of his time were well integrated and more often than not part of the affluent middle and upper classes. Of course, he revealed a certain amount of pragmatism in that he was ready to form his Jewish state away from Palestine: the Jewish State is conceived as a peculiarly modern structure on unspecified territory," he wrote in Der Judenstaat.
But it was Palestine which he yearned for, in a secular manifestation of the Promised Land: "Palestine is our ever-memorable historic home. The very name of Palestine would attract our people with a force of marvelous potency," he extolled. In addition, his ideas were effused with the 19th century brand of cultural chauvinism, racism, imperialism and disregard for the will of the local population. "We should there [in Palestine] form a portion of a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilisation as opposed to barbarism," he said in the same book.
Although the only Arab character in a novel he wrote was grateful for the then fictional Jewish colonisation of Palestine, Herzl's memoirs reveal a darker intention for the local population of whatever piece of land would become the Jewish state: "Spirit the penniless population across the frontier by denying it employment… Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly," he wrote in his diary in 1895. Of course, this kind of cavalier attitude towards the will of the native population was fairly common in pre-20th century colonialism (including the Arab and Muslim variety). But it find its most perfect implementation in the near wholesale erasure of the native population of many parts of the Americas.
We are living with the consequences of Herzl's unrestrained drive to build a Jewish nation at any cost and the tragic near-extermination of European Jewry in the first half of the 20th century.
Written on 12 April 2007