Jerusalem Redux

OK, it’s 11pm again. Not sure how coherent I am in my sleep-deprived state. It was an intense day. We started very early with a tour of Jerusalem’s Old City. There was a Bar Mitzvah at the Wailing Wall, so men were praying and dancing on the men’s side, and women were praying on the women’s side, and standing on stools to look over the partition to the men and throw them candy. There were a lot of young women praying very intently. The wall is the emotional center of Judaism, and I was very moved by the experience of moving through the women and touching the wall.

Girl Praying Intently at Wailing Wall. Photo by Jenny White

Today we went to the university and heard a professor from Hebrew University speak about the Arab-Israeli conflict — what stuck in my mind was his insistence that the Arabs hate the Jews and don’t believe they have a religious right to be in Jerusalem – because Christianity superseded their right, and Islam came after that to claim the city as holy. His entire analysis seemed based on religious and moral discourse — who said what about whom — and resulted in a rather depressing assessment on his part that Israel is always alone, Muslims are enemies (even Turkey now), and basically that there is no solution. A two-state solution would mean “millions of enemies will be poured into the West Bank.” One of our group pointed out that many Palestinians would stay where they were, or there could be a financial settlement, but he was very gloomy. He saw the world as a continual threat.

Next was Ehud Yaari, journalist and TV commentator, who gave a different analysis, but no less depressing. “Palestinian society keeps collapsing into our unwilling arms.” He believes that Palestinian society in its present state can’t stand on its own (unable to be a credible state). The Palestinians have no economy, but a patronage system. Donor money goes right into the bureaucracy.

He also thinks that Palestinians are no longer fighting over land, but for “buckets of blood”. I believe he was quoting Hamas, but was also referring to Hezbollah. There was a tendency among the speakers to lump all Muslims together as potential or actual enemies, something that used to be common in Washington as well. His solution? Contain the threat through a massive first strike (using ground troops). Go for quick, tangible results, not a final status deal that would put all Israel’s eggs in one basket and just, in his estimation, lead to yet another bloody deadlock. Rather, he argued, you need to change the geopolitics of the conflict and get a momentum for change.

Have a Palestinian state established, declared and recognized before striking a peace deal. Evacuate Jews from the West Bank, dismantle 100,000 settlements, put up interim borders. Jerusalem would be divided  by ethnic neighborhoods, with each group retaining control of its holy sites. And offer Palestinian refugees settlement and/or compensation. Sounds good to me, but he thinks you need that massive strike to change things on the ground enough so this will be possible.

Next was Dr. Ahmet Tibi, Palestinian member of Knesset, whose talk was equally depressing, but from the Palestinian side. He complained that Arab citizens were called “enemies of the state” if they criticized the state (eg over its attack on the Mavi Marmara flotilla).

20% of Israel’s population is Palestinian, but only 6.3% is employed in the public sector, 1.3% Arabs in the Knesset, no Arabs in high decision making positions in ministries. He sees a tense atmosphere in the Knesset and the streets, and sees this government as extremist. Israel is defined as Jewish and democractic. Tibi: “Israel is democratic toward Jews and Jewish towards Arabs.”

Next Prof. Jack Habib, demographer (I won’t summarize here), and then the highlight of the day: together, Hana Swaid, Palestinian member of Knesset, and his friend Shalom Dichter, a Zionist who directs the Association for the Advancement of Civil Equality. They both had interesting, creative things to say, and their interaction was warm and respectful, which in itself gave us hope. Although I won’t go so far as to say we weren’t depressed anymore. Any way you slice the pie, it looks bad.

Swaid belongs to a party based on an Arab-Jewish partnership. 11 of 120 members of Knesset are Arab. All support a 2-state solution, he said. But it has a price tag: Israel must give up occupied territories and dismantle settlements. But the price tag for a 1-state solution might be steeper: given the higher Arab birthrate, after a while it won’t be a Jewish-majority state of Israel anymore.

Swaid supported what Tibi said about Israeli discrimination and negligence toward its Arab population, and it’s emphasis of Jewish over democratic. “We say it’s a mega-Jewish and nano-democratic state.” 50% of Arabs live under the poverty line. Both he and Tibi said there were many bills recently introduced in Knesset that would limit the civil rights of Arab citizens. He also objected to a potential plan by Israel to swap Israeli Arab land for illegal Jewish settlements in any deal. He said that would be treating its Arab citizens like slaves who could be sold with the land.

Swaid:  Jerusalem should not be divided; it should remain one city, either capital of both states or of neither. He prefers a 2-state solution, but as the present situation goes on this becomes less and less viable. Some Israelis don’t want a 2-state solution, so they support the illegal settlements, thereby making a solution impossible. (Conflict and opposition between Jews of different types and political positions was also a theme.)

Shalom Dichter pointed out that in any dismantling of the settlements, those settlers will be coming back and will demand a price. This will include the Judaization of the Israeli public sphere and will include systematic discrimination against Israeli Palestinians, perhaps dual citizenship. The only way to preclude this, he suggested, was to build an inclusive form of citizenship beforehand, so it’s not damaged by the effects of a two-state solution.

OK, that’s it for today. Obviously these talks were all quite long and followed by probing and intense discussion with the group, but it’s impossible for me to reconstruct all of that here. I learned an awful lot. And regrettably I became and remain quite pessimistic.

One other theme of interest is that almost every speaker that mentioned Turkey — a good friend to Israel for decades — did so by putting it in the category of ‘Islam as enemy’ along with Hamas, Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah… There was no sense that anyone understood (or was particularly interested in) the internal intricacies of Islam and politics in Turkey (e.g. see my previous posts on the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident). Israelis seem to categorize people, countries, and groups by whether or not they are friends or enemies. You are one or the other. If you criticize the Israeli state, you can flip from one status to the other in an eye-blink.

My take on what I heard was that this tendency to generalize and evaluate worthiness on moral/religious/racial lines tends to blind Israelis to the nuances that, say, could see a friendship through rocky waters or create an ally or neutralize a former enemy. Instead it results in eternal confrontation.

Goodnight!

17 Responses to “Jerusalem Redux”

  1. First, about the ‘Wailing Wall’.
     
    Not many people know about this historical trivia, but the ‘Wailing Wall’ was unearthed by the Turks (namely, Selim I, or ‘Yavuz Sultan Selim’ of the Ottoman Empire) for the Jews.
     
    While the Wikipedia entry [here] on this is basically OK as far as the narrative goes, but it mixes up the names of the sultans. ‘Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent’ was, of course, there at the time; but he was neither a sultan nor that magnificent –he was just a 23 year old Sehzade (Crown Prince) under his dads wings.
     
    Another trivia which has always puzzled me is the fact that Turks seem to have rescued the Jews much more so than Muslims. Case in point is their action WRT Muslim and Jewish expulsion of Spain in 1492. The Ottomans did send ships to rescue people, but they did so for Jews and not the Muslims. I’ve heard various theories on the subject (that they also rescued some Muslims), but none that explains it to my satisfaction –if the Ottomans were all that devaout Muslims, why would they NOT save all the Muslims first (which they didn’t) and use any spare capacity for non-Muslims (which there wasn’t any)? The only conclusion I can draw is that the Ottomans were no where near as Islamic as we think they were.
     
    Anyway; so much for trivia.
     
    I am enjoying these ‘reports’ immensely and I sincerely hope you will write up a more comprehensive one once the exhaustion clears –I hope it does.
     
    So far, what I have read is all but distressing.
     

    His entire analysis seemed based on religious and moral discourse — who said what about whom — and resulted in a rather depressing assessment on his part that Israel is always alone, Muslims are enemies (even Turkey now), and basically that there is no solution.

     
    This is bad –and, gets much worse as it is also sahred by the other side, the Palestinians.

    His solution? Contain the threat through a massive first strike (using ground troops). Go for quick, tangible results, not a final status deal that would put all Israel’s eggs in one basket and just, in his estimation, lead to yet another bloody deadlock. Rather, he argued, you need to change the geopolitics of the conflict and get a momentum for change.

    I am not going to say I don’t believe I am hearing these –unfortunately, we’ve all heard those.
     
    Yet, every time I hear these, I get increasingly more surprised to see how short it all falls of a historical perspective.
     
    Don’t the Jews know that such massive use of force and bloodshed is NEVER forgotten about?
     
    Did they ever forget about what the Romans or the Nazis did to them?

  2. Again interesting summary, thanks jenny. Keep a couple of things in mind. Israel is at war with many in the Arab and Muslim world, and Arab israelis openly support Israel’s enemies, who in many cases are the relatives of Arab Israelis.

    Just imagine if after 9/11 African Americans wholesale supported Al Qaida and very loudly voiced their support for them. This is the state of affairs with Arab Israelis. There is no lack of discrimination against African americans as it is, just imagine if they vocally supported Al Qaida.

    Susequently, unfortunate as it is, Arab Israelis, like all minorities in any country, particularly at war, will continue to experience discrimination. it doesn’t mean Israel is not a democratic country, just like Blacks in the UN experiencing discrimination doesn’t make America undemocratic.

    Facts are facts and war is war. The situation is indeed depressing, and the reason why Israelis tend to lump muslims together is because the vocal and empowered majority in the world doesn’t want to recognize Israel and will work in whatever means they can to undermine Israel and harm Israeli civillians.

    And when a segement of the Israeli population support these efforts, support international efforts to deligitimize Israel and its right to self defense, the discrimination against this population (Israeli Arabs) comes as no real suprise.

    The rejection of israel is the source of all conflict, and until Arab and muslim states accept Israel, as a Jewish state, this conflict will not come to an end. Just remember 56 nations in the world identify themselves as muslim, many others christian, there’s no reason there can’t be 1 jewish state.

  3. And another note, the simple fact that Mr. Tibi and others can call the nation they live in a nation of Nazis from the platform in the parliment itself (and they do this, on a pretty regular basis) goes to show what kind of democratic rights Israel affords its citizens.

  4. Pessimistic opinions of the speakers. I’m curious if the prophecy of Ezekiel 38 / 39, War of Gog and Magog, plays a role in this.
    http://contenderministries.org/prophecy/gogmagog.php

  5. I am following your reports with great interest. I am awaiting the next installment.

  6. Hi CA,
    Who are “they”? Is it all the Jews? All the Israelis?
    Jenny was telling about the opinions of very specific Israelis in politics, academia and media, and while they might be representatives of Israeli mainstream, there are other voices as well.

  7. Hi Dan,

    Who are “they”? Is it all the Jews? All the Israelis?

    By ‘they’ I meant ‘the Jews’ in general.

    [snip] while they might be representatives of Israeli mainstream, there are other voices as well.

    You’re right. Sorry. I shouldn’t have been unfair to those. But, those other voices you mention are faint and getting fainter. That’s the most depressing aspect of it all. [And, I hate having to call it depressing because it has a habit of feeding on itself.]

  8. Richard,

    Just remember 56 nations in the world identify themselves as muslim, many others christian, there’s no reason there can’t be 1 jewish state.

     
    Of course, there’s no reason there can’t be at least one Jewish state in the same sense that 56 states of the world identify themselves as muslim, many others christian.
     
    But, is it ‘in the same sense’?
     
    Being Muslim/Christian/Buddhist etc. does not denote a race; yet, I am told, the same does not apply to being a Jew.
     
    Please correct me if I am wrong, but one has to be of a certain lineage in order to be accepted as Jew(ish).
     
    And, if this is correct, a Jewish state is –by definition– a racist one.
     
    And, racism –when applied by a state– is called ‘apartheid’.
     
    I’d have absolute no qualms with whether/what you believe in, or whose DNA chain subscribe to, as long as it remained in personal (or even small congregation) level; but, the moment it exceeds that level, you lose me.
     
    What I find truely surprising is that you don’t seem to see it, despite the fact that [yes, I have read a few entries in your blog] you consider yourself a non-right wing –or, not an extremist at that.
     
    Actually, having read your blog I am even less hopeful: If the atmosphere in Israel turns a person like yourself (who thinks he is on the left) into someone a few steps short of a right wing extemist, who does one reason with?

  9. That massive first strike idea is something, isn’t it? Seems like Iran may have that in mind too.
    .
    I kind of think CA’s idea of Turkey helping Israel’s normalization in its neighborhood has some merit. Just that it’s a bit naive perhaps.

  10. I find Jenny’s analysis really bewildering. How on earth would you see “nuances” if you are immersed in an existential battle for your survival? I mean physical survival! And you are surrounded by people who hate you, who wish your never came back from Auschwitz. I find it deeply insulting and patronising that some Westerners, from the comfort of their homes, pretend to teach Israelis. And Israelis do very well by ignoring these “well-wishers”.

    Why don’t you, Jenny, go to a Turkish university or write a column in a Turkish newspaper denouncing growing anti-Semitic hysteria in Turkey? That would make much more sense that your hypocritical criticisms of Israelis.

  11. Besides the diversity of speakers, what about the Muslem Zionist, the Secr. General of the Italian Muslem Assembly, Sheikh Prof. Abdul Hadi Palazzi.
    Here one of his interviews and here their web site with more interviews, videos etc.
    http://www.amislam.com/jpost.htm
    http://www.amislam.com/

  12. Hans,

    Besides the diversity of speakers, what about the Muslem Zionist, the Secr. General of the Italian Muslem Assembly, Sheikh Prof. Abdul Hadi Palazzi.

    Thank you for the link. It was interesting to see/read that article in JPost.
     
    I am not going to comment on those –ATM, it would be pointless; as he does not have a meaningful political clout on the Islamic circles.
     
    He sounds like some Jewish extremists who call for demolition of Israel.
     
    Anyway, here is a passage from that text:

    While Palazzi’s views are not what one generally hears, his scholarly credentials are impressive. He has a doctorate in Islamic sciences from the Institute for Islamic Studies and Research in Naples (by authorization of the former grand mufti of Saudi Arabia) and authorization to teach (ijazzah) both Koranic exegesis and Islamic law from the University of al-Azhar as-Sharif in Cairo.
     
    Palazzi sees the main problem facing the Islamic world, and also the West, as the dominance of Saudi Arabia and its Wahhabi heresy.

    Having read the last sentence above:
     
    Wow.. I couldn’t help but wonder what ‘the former grand mufti of Saudi Arabia’ is thinking now about giving permission and ‘authorization to teach (ijazzah)’ to Palazzi?
     
    :)

  13. Why don’t you, Jenny, go to a Turkish university or write a column in a Turkish newspaper denouncing growing anti-Semitic hysteria in Turkey? That would make much more sense that your hypocritical criticisms of Israelis.

    Hmmm..
     
    I must admit, I too was kind of surprised when Jenny said she’d be going to Israel –after all it seemed her expertise and interests were on TR.
     
    Then, my powers of reading and comprehension came to rescue me out of this dilemma:
     
    In the entry named ‘Slouching Toward Tel Aviv’ [here], lo and behold, she explains it quite clearly:

    I’m going to Israel today. No, not on a flotilla. I was invited at the last minute on a week’s study tour of Israel for political scientists and international relations faculty in the Boston area who have never been to Israel. I’m the only anthropologist and the only person who works on Turkey. That should be interesting, given the timing. (For those who say I shouldn’t go, I remind you that if you close your eyes, you learn nothing.)

    From this paragraph, I inferred a few things:
     
    1) She didn’t wake up one morning and said “hey, it is time I poked my nose into Israeli affairs”.. On the contrary, some Israelis did actually invite her. Perhaps they wanted to hear her in order to find ways to make up with the Turkish public which Israel has practically lost in the wake of recent events. Or, perhaps, they wanted to learn about how TR manages (as best as it can) to deal with various forms extremisms.
     
    2) She was open to learning things not immediately in her own field of expertise and offer help where she can.
     
    Having listed these, I can see how you’re lost: Reading comprehension.

  14. I kind of think CA’s idea of Turkey helping Israel’s normalization in its neighborhood has some merit. Just that it’s a bit naive perhaps.

    Naive?
     
    Yes. At least, as the first reaction.
     
    But, let’s make a list of countries that could be candidates:
     
    1) USA. Nope. In the eyes of the Arab streets, the USA has long been identified with IL. Plus, if USA appeared to be turning against the IL public, it would feel like the end of the world for IL public –total mayhem would follow.
     
    2) Britain. While an important player in other world affairs, it does not have the kind of popularity it needs to pull this sort of thing.
     
    2) Russia. While once something of a darling of (some of) the Arab streets, it wasn’t enough even then. Nowadays, RU is all but an impartial bystander WRT ME affairs.
     
    3) Egypt. Nope. It cannot even sell it to its own public. Let alone be taken seriously by the IL public.
     
    4) Rest of Europe. Nope. Not only have they lost any real interest in the ME affairs, they also have no popularity in the streets –and, are unlikely to conjure up any any time soon.
     
    5) Rest of the Arab world. No chance. Palestinians distrust them less than Israelis do.
     
    Who do you have left?
     
    [BTW, I think I’ll remove that entry. I don’t want to harm the possibility (albeit small) of it happening.]

  15. Hans,
    .
    Let me clarify a little what I mean by saying “He sounds like some Jewish extremists who call for demolition of Israel.”
    .
    He may or may not have substance in his arguments –just like some Hasidics opposing the existence of modern Israel on religious grounds–, but he isn’t likely to convince anyone.

  16. @CA:
    You don’t have to read the article in the JP, but you can read interviews in many other languages, only Turkish is missing for obvious reasons..) They rather parade with Swastika’s these days in Istanbul..((
    But you can also start reading M. Zuhdi Jasser, M.D of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy http://www.aifdemocracy.org/
    Wise guy.
    And about your comment about Saudie Arabia, they gave permisssion to Israel to use their airspace, from the Times Online…just find it.)!

  17. Hans,
    .
    The name ‘svastika’ is being thrown about a lot lately –latest one came from Fidel Castro [read here].
    .
    So, I’d rather not talk about symbols but the reality we have at hand.
    .
    Frankly, Israel wasn’t in my radar until a couple of years ago, but the more I read about it (material from within by Jews) the more disappointed I get.
    .
    I simply cannot believe how intense racism (skin racism mixed with religious racism) there is –kept quite skillfully from gazing eyes of foreigners for so long all with “we’re under threat from all directions, so please excuse our minor irregularities” rhetoric.
    .
    Yet, as despicable as it was, I used to think it was mostly directed towards Arabs and non-Jews (goyim); but, apparently that’s not the case: The place reeks of racism even against/towards their own –see the latest ‘Haredi revolt’ and the arguments behind it all.
    .
    On top of this intense racism, there’s one other thing that adds insult to injury (in my eyes, at least) is that while claiming all the time that it is a ‘democracy’ in there, ‘religious nutism’ has all but replaced secularism in Israel.
    .
    The closer I look, the less I see any sign of ‘separation of church and state’ –the Knesset is dominated by this or the other rabbi, and so is the cabinet.
    .
    Is this the “beacon of democracy” we have been hailing for the past sixty years?
    .
    Is this the kind of democracy the West (USA and EU) fosters?
    .
    Are we doing Israel justice by turning a blind eye to all this while they sink back to 13th century or before?
    .
    Frankly, the way it’s going, I doubt if Israel –the state– can last for more than 5 to 10 years before it crumbles away due to its internal conflicts unless they can come up with some drastic measures.
    .
    And, if they cannot –$DEITY save us all–, the proverbial excrement will hit the fan. And, that definitely won’t be any good for any of us.
    .
    IMO, Israel is too important to not talk about its ‘internal affairs’.

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