Inon Dan Kehati: Pursuing the Slogan and Missing the Peace
One of the main obstacles for the emergence of peace and prosperity, for both Palestinians and Jews, is the dogmatic perception that sanctifies the failed Two State Solution as if it were a religion, and prevents any new political ideas and approaches to emerge and clarify our future.
Two weeks ago, Dr. Gershon Baskin wrote an article in The Jerusalem Post criticizing a grassroots peace event at which he spoke. [Here is the invitation to the event, entitled “From Echo Chambers To Open Discussions – Not on the Same Page But Sharing the Same Stage” — translation into English below this article.]
On that evening, Jewish and Palestinian activists and public figures shared the same stage in a very inclusive, yet challenging, discussion. Although the event did not focus on any specific solution (in sharp contrast to the happenings last week in Washington), the main focus of this conversation, as well as all of the activities of The Home, simply highlighted the aspirations of the various people that live here in order to promote mutual understandings and possible new ways forward.
As an organization which is not aligned with the traditional Israeli peace movements, البيت הבית The Home does not receive funds from foreign interest holders, has no salaries, offices or a budget, and is based on local participation, mostly Palestinians and Jews from the areas of Bethlehem, Gush Etzion and Jerusalem, as well as Palestinians from the Gaza Strip.
While we do numerous coffee meetings and speaking events, The Home’s main activity is “Cleaning The Hate”, where during the last year, hundreds of Jews and Palestinians cleaned trash together giving respect back to our land, as a joint effort that is aimed in creating unity between people from very different identities and communities. It is probably one of the only peace activities where a Palestinian from Ayda refugee camp in Bethlehem and a Jew from Bat Ayin can meet and see each other as human beings, and hopefully, as allies in the future.
Based on Baskin’s critical column, it appears that he did not appreciate being invited to counter the arguments of people who don’t agree with him, but to his credit, he made the effort without asking for any payment. He accepted the challenge and participated in the panel, something that some of his colleagues refused to do. But more importantly, it seems he failed to understand the depth of change that is occurring on the grassroots level among Arabs and Jews that was expressed by other panelists on that evening, as well as at other Home events.
He cannot be blamed, it is never easy to fully grasp paradigm shifts.
It is sad, but many of the traditional Israeli peace organizations do not promote peace anymore. Movements that were supposed to support genuine striving for peace and unity have turned into sickbeds that nurture the victim mentality while retaining geopolitical conceptualizations that remain stuck somewhere in the 1990s. In fact, in the name of their outdated paradigm and various slogans promoting human rights, they fail to criticize human rights violations by the Palestinian Authority. Their obsessive pursual of validation and support from outside more than from inside Israel has resulted in the exclusion of very important parts of Israeli society from the peace process.
The very same event which Baskin was critical of, did exactly the opposite. It brought together to the same table the very people that have been absent from the peace process. The fact that the so called “extremist” Jews – whom Baskin derogatorily refers to as “settlers” – sat together with Palestinians in an open, friendly and respectful way, could mark the beginning of the end of many peace activists’ careers. If “settlers” and Palestinians can legitimize each other’s rights and find a way to live together in the heartland, long years of investment and the tireless efforts to delegitimize the rights of Jews in Judea and Samaria will go down the drain.
Here, we have to ask Baskin: If he himself is negotiating with the PA and with the other Palestinian dictatorship that rules over Gaza, why is it so painful for him to see other Jews speaking directly with the Palestinians themselves? From Baskin’s article it is clear that his predisposed mindset prevented him from truly hearing the new ideas that emerged that evening, none of which were reflected upon in his critique.
Many leaders in the Israeli peace movements think that the achievement of peace must be exclusively based on their own personal perception and political vision. When someone else with a different opinion fills their position, it creates an uncomfortable emotional reaction, known as cognitive dissonance. Eventually, peace is not about one person and their status, ego or pockets, it’s about something bigger than all of us combined – bigger than Israelis, Palestinians, right, left, and also bigger than Mr Baskin himself.
I don’t think that Baskin is a traitor or an enemy. While I do have criticism for his vision and path, I also recognize that Baskin deserves credit for various good deeds for people in our land. For the resilience and prosperity of our society, it’s important to respect other people’s right to have a different opinion. As a matter of fact, peace activists like Baskin may be very valuable since they have helped us clarify “what not to do”. It is important to understand what doesn’t work in order to try and find a way that will work.
Everyone is free to think and discuss various solutions to the conflict, but eventually, no solution will be valid without the approval of the majority of the people who live here. The Home makes tremendous efforts to include Palestinians and Jews in the public discussion, which unfortunately can take place at the moment only in areas under the State of Israel’s full jurisdiction. Here, we have freedom of speech – unlike the areas controlled by the PA, where one must ask for permission to speak from the Authority. While Baskin strangely supports that authority, I am not sure that he himself would connect with the idea of living under a regime that will not allow him to speak and criticize freely.
I personally find the people who participated in the panel, those whom Baskin criticized in his column, as more firmly embracing freedom and more open for challenging discussions than many leaders in the Israeli peace movements. Would a Jew from Hebron or Yitzhar be invited to an open discussion by the traditional peace organizations, to which Baskin is affiliated, under the same conditions that The Home created in Beit Uri Tzvi?
All that Baskin had to say about witnessing a Jew from Beit El and Palestinians interacting in a respectful and constructive manner was that it “is really amazing”. He had no deeper insights into this dramatic evolution of events? It had no further impact on his psyche? It did not cause him to question the path that he had been pursuing? Of course not. He only paid lip service because this development is actually a huge threat to his career.
The main slogan of the traditional Israeli peace movements has been peace between the two peoples. Aren’t the “settlers” an integral part of the Jewish people? Don’t they also need to be a part of the process? Unlike Baskin’s approach, The Home holds that peace and unity cannot flourish if we exclude and delegitimize important sectors of our societies. As the Arab residents of Hebron are part of the Palestinian side, the Jewish residents of Hebron are part of Am Yisrael. The Home’s doors will continue to be open to everyone, including those who hold Baskin’s views, and of course to Baskin himself.
While Baskin is entitled to continue to support the Two State Solution and resist the Jewish people’s rights in Judea, I hope that he would stand up to defend the freedom of speech for Palestinians, including those who meet with “settlers”.
The invitation: “From Echo Chambers To Open Discussions – Not on the Same Page But Sharing the Same Stage”, took place on 16 January 2020. Speakers on the panel included: Rudi Rochman, Activist for the rights of Jews and Israel / Ezri Tubi, Media personality and founder of Boomerang / Inon Dan Kehati, founder of The Home / Yoav Peck, Co-Director of Sulha Peace Project / Rabbi Yishai Fleischer, International Spokesman for the Jewish Community of Hebron / Kay Wilson, Tour Guide and terror attack survivor, author of the book, “The Rage Less Traveled” / Dr Gershon Baskin, Political, Social and Business Entrepreneur, Promotor of Israeli-Palestinian Cooperation and author of the book, “In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine” / Rabbi Yehuda Hakohen, Peace activist and educator. Moderator: Sara Beck, media personality.
Feature image is the profile photo from Inon’s Facebook page.