Jewish-Arab Pro-Peace Activism in Public Spaces
Into what kind of environment has Stav Shaffir agreed to put herself when she addresses the April 18, 2016 J Street Gala event? As a Labour Party Member of Knesset, she represents the opposition in Israel’s 20th Knesset. I think it is important to examine the ‘nature of the beast’ to which she is attaching her name. Toward this end, I listened to the speeches at the opening plenum of the 2015 conference — all two and a-half hours of them. Most presenters spoke in broad terms, expressing hoping for a just solution to the conflict between the Jews and the (Arabs who have come to call themselves) Palestinians. The last speaker pair was Roni Keidar and Maha Mehanna. I want to focus on them in this article because they highlight a major issue we can find in today’s pro-peace activism and an event to which Shaffir affixes her name and voice.
Roni Keidar and Maha Mehanna Represent What is Wrong With Some Pro-Peace Activism
Keidar is an Israeli Jew, a member of One Voice and a resident of Netiv Ha’asara in the northwest Negev along the fence and wall separating Israel from Gaza. Mehanna is a Gazan. She is the Gaza Office Coordinator and senior Arabic/English translator for an IT firm. They are friends, having met during Arab-Jewish co-existence meetings and activities, a kind of activism I have grown to regard with suspicion.
I found it instructive to examine the speeches of these two women. I will describe them in order of presentation.
Keidar is one of the former residents of Gaza pulled out of their homes by the Israeli government and moved to the other side of the Green Line, something she called “the internationally recognized border of Israel” (when it is actually an armistice line from 1948 and not a border). Keidar calmly talked about rebuilding her home just outside of Gaza and how Arabs would easily cross the checkpoint to work in her village and other places in southern or central Israel.
This all ended when, along with Arabs whose only goal was to bring home the means to support their families, terrorists and trucks with explosives began entering Israel and carrying out murderous attacks in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other parts of the country. THIS is when a clear line in the sand was drawn and nobody was allowed in or out anymore. Keidar talks about how this left the Arabs in Gaza without employment and with nothing to do other than to nourish their hate. She does not talk about the funds donated to Gaza that could have been invested in infrastructure that would have provided jobs and the means for building the good life she later rightly states that they deserve, as do we all.
Reading from her notes and not looking up to meet her audience’s eyes, Keidar matter-of-factly describes the growing threat as rockets (well at least the rocket operators had a job, eh?) began flying from Gaza into the Jewish communities just over the fence and wall. Missile attacks sometimes went on on a daily basis, perhaps even several times a day. This was met eventually by retaliation, followed even later by large-scale military operations, Keidar recites.
She tells the audience about having 15 seconds to run for shelter upon hearing the siren and the moments of worried waiting until they could find out where the rockets landed and if any of them caused damage or casualties, as they sometimes did. Keidar mentions the destruction and distress caused to the Arabs in Gaza during the last military operation in 2014 – losing homes, living in unspeakable conditions.
Keidar opens a window into the shared experience of human compassion: one day she received a text message from Mehanna who had heard an explosion near Keidar’s home and hoped she was okay. Then Keidar heard the Israeli helicopters on their way to deliver a response on Mehanna’s side of the wall and she worried about her friend. Two women caring about each other and feeling impotent to do anything to help.
She concludes by talking about our two peoples with a shared history – regardless of “whether it is 500 years or 5000 years” – feeling equally connected to the land and how we must learn to share it. She finally called out to Netanyahu to be courageous in winning peace not war:
Lift the siege and end the occupation. Give people on both sides a life worth living. Give peace a chance.
I don’t understand how Keidar can make such a statement – she herself noted that the Arabs were free to come and go between Gaza and the Jewish communities even after we had pulled out of Gaza and left it Judenfrei. Until, that is, that Arabs began to kill us in our streets. Had she talked about the tons of food and medicines and other goods (and not only essentials) passing through the checkpoint from Israel to Gaza, she would have seen for herself that there is no siege. She asks to end an occupation that does not exist, and if she cared to study the legal opinions on this issue she would know that. To lengthy applause, she asks Bibi to give peace a chance. I wonder, will Mehanna make a similar plea to Hamas leaders in Gaza?
Keidar Set the Stage for Mehanna to Spout Lies
Mehanna begins by regurgitating tired old lies: she says that Gaza, with its 1.8 million people on 360 square kilometers, is “the most densely populated place on Earth”. A simple Google search would have shown how untrue that is. Dense it may be, but it is 5th densest and not the most dense. As world statistics show, some of the densest countries in the world are also among the most prosperous: Hong Kong, Singapore and Monaco. Gaza should only hope to be as dense as any of these three places!
These are not only denser than Gaza, they are also much much smaller. So there is no excuse for Gazans wallowing in their misery other than the possibility that it serves their interest to do so, apparently more than it would have served their interest to make the Strip the Middle East Riviera (similar to how Lebanon used to be the Switzerland of the Middle East).
Gaza is referred to as “the world’s largest open-air prison”, Mehanna says, and “with good reason”. She refrains from going into details because she claims her audience already knows this is true. Too bad, because if she had gone into details, some of these details may have included the palaces built by Hamas leaders, the luxurious 5-star hotels with pools and an ocean view, and well equipped universities, at least 5 of them, with a reported 600 millionaires and billionaires living in Gaza. I wonder if anything remotely like this can be claimed for the Warsaw Ghetto with which Gaza is often equated.
Mehanna humbly states that she does not know what a just solution would look like but that justice “begins with courageous acknowledgement of what took place (loud applause here), reparations and return of the refugees (such as herself?) when possible. That is funny, because I also say that justice begins with acknowledgement of what took place, but I want acknowledgement of what REALLY took place and not the fantasy history that is being rewritten by those who demonize Israel. And when I write that a solution will be built upon acknowledgement of the true history of events, my leftist Jewish friends tell me they are not interested in history, but only in today and tomorrow. However, since they are members of the J Street Facebook page, I assume they are just fine with history when it is told with the particular twists and spices some Arabs add to the soup of lies.
Mehanna goes on:
We cannot build a future on more lies. . . cannot share a future on more denial. Nothing of value can ever be built on more denial and lies.
I could not agree with her more. But who is telling the lies?
Mehanna says that in the last war (2014), Israel bombed Gaza indiscriminately – that has been contested by military experts in other countries. She says there are no warning sirens and no bomb shelters in Gaza. Perhaps Hamas could have let their citizens ride out the storm in the tunnels built with cement that was supposed to build a city — if they were truly interested in protecting their citizens, that is. She described the terror of the bombardments that her family experienced, and with this I sympathize, but she called it a crime against humanity with Israel as the criminal.
And nobody in the audience protested. Nobody walked out. And Roni stood beside her on stage, her presence signifying that she agrees with this tripe. Here we find echoes of some of our most vociferous critics from within, such as Zeev Sternhell and Gideon Levy.
And not once did Mehanna call on her leaders, Hamas or Fatach, to make peace and not war. In fact, she set them aside as irrelevant and claimed that the road to peace will be made by dialogue among our peoples. Yeh! Right!
Mehanna looked around at her audience, only periodically checking her notes to stay on track. I am sure she made eye contact with many of them. She smiled and spoke well. Her English was likely honed when she studied for a degree at the University of Calgary. She is a perfect talking head for the Arab cause and Roni her unwitting straight person. I do not doubt the warmth and affection these women have for each other, but I do believe it is facilitated by Roni’s capitulation and appeasement. She is a useful court Jew.
And that brings us back to Stav Shaffir . . . Is she also a useful court Jew?
I have watched Shaffir in action in the Finance Committee and she is impressive. I have a great deal of respect for her. She is bright, dedicated, loves truth and honesty and is willing to fight for it. I foresee a wonderful career for her and Israel is much enriched by her energy and her clear headedness.
Now I ask of Shaffir: please expand the bounds of your reading and delve into the studies and analyses that challenge your current views (as I do). Even if you remain undeterred from your present course regarding our conflict with the Arabs who now call themselves Palestinians, you will have been afforded a much deeper and more accurate understanding of the issues. And it will show in your speech and arguments.
I am sorry you agreed once more to speak at this so-called pro-Israel pro-peace event because your very presence is an endorsement of their one-sided approach to resolving the conflict: by means of Jewish appeasement. From all that I have seen until now, supposed co-existence pro-peace activism starts with a Jewish mea culpa. We Jews are so good at that.
I will be watching for the video of your talk two days from now. I hope you will not make me cringe too much. But maybe you’ll surprise me . . . maybe you will say something unexpected and new.