Israeli Jews And Palestinian Arabs: Make Friends Not War
Grassroots organizations and many well-meaning individuals tell us that regular people, Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, have to dialogue with each other in order to break through the walls of hate and make bridges that can lead to peace. . . that we regular people can do what our own leaders and world leaders cannot do. Through friendship, we can bring peace to the Middle East or at least to our little corner of the Middle East.
There are some who say things like how we just have to spend time with Palestinian Arabs, for example, to have coffee with Arab shop keepers in the Old City of Jerusalem and elsewhere and listen to them and get to know them. Here is the latest public Facebook post of one well-known person who believes this (I quote and relate to the most relevant pieces of this post in the sections below the FB embed):
A brief comment on the final line in this FB embed. Most people who live in this country for more than a few hours to days to weeks know how to use some choice Arabic swear words. I do not think that merits great celebration of her burgeoning language skills — and nobody using those words would be assumed to have Arab friends. That comment seems more a gratuitous celebration of the writer’s penchant for vulgarity and inappropriateness than anything salutary.
The Basis of Misconception
Sarah glibly goes on to refer to some imaginary “occupation” as if it is was a fact that everyone of course agrees exists rather than it being the parroted propaganda ploy of the century. She wrote:
Because the truth is we may talk a great line about social justice . . . but when it comes to changing the status quo vis-a-vis the occupation and treating the others on this land with justice and dignity and respect, and GOD FORBID equality, we have a much harder time.
I wish she would study the history of the matter, and I am sure there is no lack of others who tell her the same. THEN, let her state whether or not she still believes it to be an occupation and why. But she may be the kind of person (a few of whom I have met in real life) who believes that giving weight to made-up narratives is more important than knowing history because, according to them, history is just a set of narratives in any case. Given the amount of fake academia that passes as scholarship today, it may not be far from the truth and it makes it more difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. However, given the gravity of the issue, those who express opinions do not have the luxury of avoiding that task.
When you have a starting point that says Israel is an occupying force, then you can more easily believe that we are not treating others with justice and dignity and respect and equality. But when you know that both sides signed the Oslo Accords as equals, the contract that created the facts on the ground as we see them now, then you know we went into the Oslo talks with hopes for mutual dignity and respect plus the hope that justice would be served to Jews and Arabs alike.
Nobody coerced Arafat into signing the Agreement. He signed as a responsible adult, as a leader representing his people, as an equal, even though the Arabs had lost the war (a situation which, in all other places in the world resulted in imposition of a solution and not a co-signed agreement). Even if there had been an occupation before that point, therefore, the signatures on the dotted lines did away with any justification for calling Israel an occupier. It is time for Sarah and all those like her to stop calling it an occupation. There are many other words in the dictionary, such as dispute, disagreement, war, etc, that would better serve the current situation.
All You Need Is Love!
Sarah claims that if Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs just make friends with each other, everything will be fine. I guess she has not been here long enough to know that many of us already have made friends with each other, have been friends for decades. She thinks she knows what is going on and what we need to do differently:
And why are we afraid? Because we don’t know each other. . . .
And the only way to stamp it out [incitement on both sides] is to face it. And how do we face it? We face it by literally meeting people face to face. By taking a deep breath and not being afraid and sitting across the table from someone who grew up in an entirely different world a few kilometers away.
But we aren’t doing that, and that sucks, and it especially sucks that in an amazing and bright an progressive city like TLV. . .that even those who say they’re “lefties” are still afraid of Arabs.
I never had to take a deep breath before sitting across the table with an Arab. Arabs have been my colleagues, my clients, my friends, ever since I moved to Israel in 1976. In fact, it was an Arab fellow student who taught me enough Hebrew so that I could try to help him understand the scientific articles he was assigned in class. He also taught me how to tone down my open Canadian behaviour when talking with Arab men who might have, back then, interpreted my eye contact as something I never meant it to mean.
I find Sarah’s attitude patronizing both to Jews and to Arabs. Perhaps something along the lines of: “Some of my best friends are Jews.” You know that one, right?
Sarah Is Not The Only One Saying Friendship Can Bring Peace
In looking for individual stories for this article, I came across this brief article promoting a film about Israeli-Palestinian Arab dialogue and a lasting friendship that emerged from it. The brief promo shows teenagers participating in a Building Bridges programme in the USA. In the screenshot below we see a Jewish participant who had just asked an Arab girl if she understood why the Jews need Israel after the Holocaust (everyone ignores the fact of all the killing and expulsion of Jews from Arab countries). She showed real pain in empathy for the Arab girl when the answer she got was:
I can’t understand to come from Europe and to kick people from their houses. I think there is a lot of empty places in the world you could live there.
Is this a basis for co-existence, for friendship, for mutual respect? When Jews are expected to bow our heads in shame and apologize for living in our ancestral homeland? A young Arab girl is going to send us to empty places in the world? After we have been kicked out of all the Arab countries in the world, she has the nerve to say that?
And what is worse is that nobody called her on it.
I also came across a blog post in National Geographic, written in 2013 by Aziz Abu Sarah, from a town near Jerusalem. The title is: How This Palestinian Made Friends With Israelis and the subtitle: “The author grew up throwing stones at Israelis. Then he took a class with them.” He begins his post thus:
The tragedy in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that the people in it live so physically close to one another, yet are so separated. Both sides believe the scary stereotypes and have little actual interaction. Walls are built of concrete to separate us, leading to even higher walls of fear and ignorance.
What this young person can surely not remember is the time before the walls. There was a time during which Jews freely visited Arab villages in Judea & Samaria and Arabs freely plied their own roads and ours. That trend may, in fact, have persisted far longer had we not all started down the yellow brick road leading to the Oslo Accords. Friendships between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs were developing in a most natural fashion. Oslo destroyed that. So Aziz Abu Sarah grew up behind a wall.
With every conversation and with every interaction, my hatred faded further. It wasn’t the deep conversations, but the small ones that took place while practicing Hebrew that revealed the humanity in me and my Jewish classmates and conquered the divisions between us.
That is definitely a valuable outcome. Abu Sarah tells us how he went on to work for an organization fighting the hatred. While the goal is fantastic, there is a problem here: the organization he joined was The Parents Circle. I have written about one of their projects, Two Sides, and I showed that one must accept the Nakba-and-occupation narrative in order to be accepted as a member of the club. The project Abu Sarah took part in was the Forgiveness Project. On their page, we see a bereaved Israeli father blaming Israel for his daughter’s death by terrorist, on the one hand:
It was clear to my wife and I that the blame rests with the occupation. The suicide bomber was a victim just like my daughter, grown crazy out of anger and shame.
I don’t forgive and I don’t forget, but when this happened to my daughter I had to ask myself whether I’d contributed in any way. The answer was that I had – my people had, for ruling, dominating and oppressing three-and-a-half million Palestinians for 35 years. It is a sin and you pay for sins.
and, on the other hand, an Arab feeling sorry for the soldier who killed his brother who, he claimed, was also a victim of the occupation:
There should be no forgiveness for the killers of innocents, and yet even then I saw the soldier as a victim of the occupation just as my brother was, just as I am still. . . .
The Palestinians have nothing left to lose, so the Israelis must realise that they are destroying their own nation by causing so much suffering. You don’t need to love each other to build a bridge between the two nations: you need respect. If I can stand with my Jewish brother Rami, respecting him as he respects me, then there is hope.
This seems so balanced. No need for Arab and Jew to hate each other — just to hate the so-called occupation. We can forgive the Arab terrorists with suicide bombs and stones and we can forgive the Israeli soldiers with their rifles when we both can have a common enemy — the occupation.
But what about the fact that the occupation is regarded by the Arabs as including “from the river to the sea?” What about the fact that the occupation includes opposition to Jews living in Haifa and Nahariya?
What If Sarah Challenged Her Arab Friends Rather Than Acquiesced To Them?
How would it go for her if Sarah told her friends that she values their friendship and is questioning whether or not there really is an occupation? Would they still rejoice in her friendship? Would their friendship be able to sustain a deep examination of assumptions? Oh, how I hope it would.
What if she asked them to ensure for her the right to safely enter their villages in the Palestinian Authority (PA), to give the IDF good reason to take down those huge red warning signs that tell Israelis that it is illegal to enter those towns because their safety cannot be ensured? What if she told her friends that for every kilometer that they walk freely along the sidewalks of Israeli towns, she wants them to make sure she can walk freely in their towns in the PA?
I have a friend from the PA and I would love to sit with him over a cup of coffee in a coffee shop in his town just like he sits comfortably with me in Haifa and Jerusalem. He cannot even acknowledge our friendship openly for fear of reprisals from his own security services. So who is occupying whom?
Friendship Is No Insurance Against Hate
Friendship is great. But familiarity and apparent trust do not always work out well. In 1929, Jews in Hebron found that out when so very few of their neighbours protected them against so many others of their neighbours who set out to kill them because of a rumour that Jews sought to take over the Temple Mount. Oh! What a great excuse for killing that one is! But that particular excuse is not required to inspire a pogrom. Jewish neighbours and friends have been willingly sacrificed for any number of excuses in York, Odessa, Arab countries, and more. Sitting together over coffee does not protect one from antisemitism.
I found that out personally when a fellow university student, with whom I had studied and gone to wild parties for many months, turned to me at dinner in the cafeteria near the end of the academic year and told me I am the cause of all the world’s problems. When I asked him what I had had time to do in my short 18 years of life, he said that I am a Jew and Jews are the cause of all the world’s problems.
I had had no hint during our friendship that he held any malice toward Jews. And I had no hint over the year that any of our other friends with whom we had dinner that evening held any malice toward Jews. But all of them found their soup much more important than defending me against antisemitism. That year I had been target and witness to many instances of antisemitism but to experience it on the part of friends was the one that shocked me. In a Facebook discussion on this topic, I saw that I am not alone in this.
So, do I believe that friendship is a bulwark against hatred? Nope. Is that a reason for Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs to avoid befriending each other? Nope.
* * * * *
Under the wedding canopy, a man and woman promise to love and to cherish each other till death do they part. It is not expected that one will turn on the other with murder in his or her eyes and hatred in his or her hands. But it happens. Offering someone a job is not expected to be a death sentence. But it can be. I remember the first instance in which a Jewish farmer was killed in his greenhouse by an Arab employee before Israel withdrew from Gaza. And more recent examples have been reported in the news:
Troubling trend: terrorist had work permit, making him latest in a very long string of Arab terrorists employed by Jews – until they attack.
So tell me again, Sarah, how will friendship bring peace?