Sunday, September 12, 2010

Difficult discussion

My community progressive group is having a long dialogue on Israeli-Palestinian relations. Tensions are high. I stayed out of the debate until tonight when I sent an email to the group expressing both my reflections and frustrations. After rereading my post, I feel I may have come off as an apologist for Israel. This was not my intent. Rather, my fundamental point is that the narrative has to change. The old narrative is not working. I do believe there are "victims" on both sides. While I acknowledge that the current Israelis administration is a monster, I also am tired of the simplistic narrative that paints Palestinians as just victims. Both sides have wasted historical moments that could have brought peace, and Palestinians have been ill-served by those that have spoken on their behalf, particularly the Arab world that in their own countries treat Palestinians as slave labor and have used their cause to mask their own treatment of their own people.
Also, one member of our group stated that being a progressive means being anti-Israel, where Israel is with equated with Zionism.
Anyway, here is my post for discussion.
I am entering this dialogue rather late, but I do have some impressions -- several of which may be uncomfortable or controversial. Let me start by saying that I have worked in the Middle East. Last year my work was in Beirut. Also, let me say upfront that I am Jewish and my husband is a Bosnian Muslim. He also has worked in Palestine, so my thoughts and impressions are the result of my work, discussions within our family, and dialogue among friends and colleagues. I am a progressive, and I feel strongly that my views are progressive -- as I understand the political position and my own thoughts and political beliefs.
First, I do take exception to calling Israel a "Zionist State." Israel is far too complex to label it with a right wing banner. There are Israelis that want peace and accommodation with Palestinians, as well as crazy far right religious Jews that share more with fundamentalists of all religions than many thoughtful Israelis.
Second, not all Israelis are evil, as not all Palestinians are saints. Both sides through the years have wasted opportunities to bring peace and reconciliation to the troubled area. Billions of dollars have been used and abused on both sides. Continuing the conflict on both sides has become an excuse and a rationale for geopolitics.
Third, the far right in Israel has received much to much support from the far right in the US, while Palestinians have been used by the Arab world as an excuse to hide their own treatment of their own people.
Fourth, rehasing the history of Israel to me serves no purpose. Both sides, and all sides, can and to interpret history and create narratives that support their own "victimization." We see this now in the US, with white Christians playing the victim card as one more attempt to retake the White House, impose a Christian culture on the US, and try and establish a state-sponsored religion that somehow skirts the Constitution.
Fifth, I confess to being tired of the old narratives -- Israel vs Palestine -- as a way forward. We will never have a way forward until the right in Israel stops professing ignorance of their atrocities, and Palestinians stop denying that they, too, have a hand in their own oppression. It is time to create new narratives that acknowledge that Jews in Israel aren't going away, and that Palestinians are ill-served by those supposedly leading them. I was shocked while in Beirut at how both Muslims and Christians are tired of having their country used and controlled by outside influences. The old narratives haven't workd, and the world is getting tired of supporting hatred on both sides.
Six, I am not denying that the current Israeli government is a monster. However, again this doesn't reflect the views of many Israelis, many American Jews, as well as past Israeli governments that have been more than willing to reach some accommodation. Corruption exists on all sides, and to me, the first step to real reconciliation is to recognize this salient point.
Progressive Jews and Palestinians are the way forward -- with both sides acknowledging that they do not represent genocidal impulses and truly want to work together to resolve this continuing tragedy.
Anyway, I am awaiting the responses of my group. I am not sure the responses will be supportive of my call for new narratives!