Friday, August 30, 2002

Now is not the time for dialogue
Now is the time for fighting and winning.

But the time for dialogue will come, hopefully. Fred Lapides sent me this, which started made me thinking about the effectiveness of dialogue projects.

I used to think projects like this one could be effective in creating understanding between Palestinians and Israelis. The rationale is right. Just get both sides to meet, talk and listen, getting to know each other and things will look different. But what are they really worth?

I worry that, since the war started, my daughters don’t have the opportunity to meet Arabs. This and the fear of terrorist attacks, open the way for stereotyping and generalizing. Before the war, I could always remind them of M’hammad or Isma’il or someone else, whom we had met on our last trip to Sinai and who had carried them round on their back, helped them climb on to the camel or just laughed with them. Now the memory of these friends grows dim.

Nearly two years ago, my eldest daughter should have participated in a project of meeting school children from Arab Yaffo, first in our school and then in theirs. But the meetings were to take place just a few months after the Arabs of Israel had initiated violent protest demonstrations and during which thirteen were killed. The meetings were cancelled, and the children missed a rare opportunity to meet and get to know each other.

I grew up in Haifa, a mixed city. I had two Arab boys in my class at school. One was my friend. We sat together for two years. I helped him with his English and he helped me with my Arabic. He used to joke that my Arabic writing looked like a six-year-old wrote it. The Arabs from the nearby village waited with me at the same bus stop. At night the two buses going to the village and to my neighborhood were unified and I got to ride through the village on the way home. We often visited Arab villages on scouts trips and school trips, in Israel proper and in the territories, regardless (I wasn’t even aware of the difference, in those days). There was no danger. I remember one trip in the mountains of Judea, walking in the Wadi, and looking up to see tens of school children, in an Arab village schoolyard, looking down at us, waving and smiling. It’s hard to believe it ever happened. We used to hike freely in Judea and Samaria. I well remember trips to Herodion and the Haritun cave, where two Jewish schoolboys, Koby Mandell and Yossi Ishran, who lived in a nearby settlement, were slaughtered, in May 2001. A school trip to these places has been unthinkable for years.

In those days, before the first Intifada, Arabs from the territories worked freely in Israeli cities. When I first moved to Tel Aviv, in my twenties, I got to know quite a lot of them. Bish had worked his way through university as a waiter and knew Arabs from the territories who had worked with him in the restaurant. Arabs from the territories renovated the building we were living in, taught me how to make them the Turkish coffee they liked and had free use of our bathroom. We gave them a kitten when our cat had a litter. Arabs from the territories were very much part of every day life in the city.

The forced separation between Palestinians from the territories and Jews has nothing to do with any racist sentiments or apartheid, which is what they’re trying to pin on us. It’s a direct result of the Palestinians’ violence and nothing else. The principle being that if we can’t trust them not to stab us (that’s how it was during the first Intifada -stabbings in the street) or shoot us or blow us up, then they can’t be in our streets. At first, the younger, single men were prevented from coming, but then older men with families started doing pigu’im (terrorist attacks) and the profile system proved useless.

On one of his trips to Sinai, Bish made friends with the cook at the camp place he was staying at. He was a young student of Islam from near Isma’iliya in Egypt, and the work in Sinai was a summer job. Being the cook, and purposefully sticking to the kitchen, he never actually got to meet any of the many Israelis he fed. This was his choice. But Bish was there on his own and sat with the workers and talked to them for hours. Bish found common grounds especially with the intelligent young cook, the student from Isma’iliya, who had only ever been fed with stereotypes about Jews and Israelis and was amazed by this Israeli who was the complete opposite of everything he had expected an Israeli and a Jew to be, and to top it all, impressively knowledgeable about Arab and Egyptian politics. A few weeks later, Bish returned there with the girls and me, and I was able to witness the relationship that had developed between them. It was obvious to me that the young man felt a deep bond with Bish, and he promised to take his revelations about Jews and Israelis back with him to his university. I often wonder how today’s situation has affected him.

Dialogue projects, such as are suggested in this article have been quite commonplace in Israel for years. Their main disadvantage, the thing that makes them completely ineffective, to my mind, is the fact that they usually bring together people who already believe in compromise, in dialogue, in peace. In short, these projects go to great lengths and spend a lot of money, trying to persuade the already persuaded, to convince the convinced. They don’t seem to reach the people who really need them. The people filled with hate, the people set on killing and destroying.

I don’t know how we can go about educating for dialogue. It’s obvious that the PA has been going to great lengths to educate for hate. The generation that worked in Israel, and knew Israelis, is growing old. The younger generation is made up of people many of whom have never met Israelis besides soldiers in full combat gear, pointing guns at them, and settlers, some of whom are full of hate themselves, and just as incapable of dialogue.

But talking about dialogue,
Fred also pointed out this article by David Newman, chairman of the department of politics and government at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in today’s NYTimes. Some people are completely deaf to what’s being shouted loud and clear. This person completely misses the point in his blindness and futile and ridiculous attempt at fair-handedness. In trying to explain why most of Israel’s left moved to the center and to the right he says, “When Bill Clinton, Ehud Barak and Yasir Arafat failed to reach an agreement at Camp David in 2000, any remaining trust between the two sides fell away, terrorism returned to the streets of Israel and outright war to the alleyways and refugee camps of the West Bank.” Bill Clinton, Ehud Barak and Yasir Arafat FAILED TO REACH AN AGREEMENT??? How about “Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak offered Yassir Arafat the best offer he’ll ever get if he lives to be a thousand, and he turned it down”?

“…terrorism returned to the streets of Israel and outright war to the alleyways and refugee camps of the West Bank”???? How about “Arafat and the PA declared war on Israel and proceeded with the wholesale slaughter of hundreds of innocent citizens, until Israel was left no choice but to reoccupy most of the areas of Palestinian self-rule”?

From his office in Ben Gurion University he knows for sure that, “Most Israelis were skeptical of the (Oslo) process and needed to be convinced that it was possible to reach an agreement with the people who, until yesterday, hated them and refused even to recognize their existential legitimacy”. Is that so? Well how do you explain, Mr. Bigshot-Article-in-the-New-York-Times, how come many extremely right wing friends of mine where convinced to vote for Ehud Barak in 1999, following Netanyahu’s unsuccessful premiership and were very hopeful about peace? Was I dreaming? Did it never happen? Were only intelligent, educated, university professors swept up in the optimism? Were intelligent, educated, university professors magically turned into a majority in Israeli society so as to elect Barak into office?

He goes on to blabber that “Few resources were invested in peace education or the creation of a language of peace that would have been meaningful to large sectors of both populations”. Both populations??? How dare he say such a thing? That the Israeli Media spoke of nothing else but the merits of Oslo, completely ignoring the problems - not a mention; that children in Israeli schools sang songs of peace and drew doves and olive branches and pictures of Arabs and Jews holding hands (and still do) – obviously irrelevant; that half the country broke down and cried openly when Yitzhak Rabin was murdered by an opposer of peace and that every year no expense was saved to commemorate his way – what’s that got to do with peace education? Oh, yes, it’s definitely both sides that were lax with regard to peace education.

So now we have the real reason for the mass flight from the leftist peace organizations. They, like Arafat, have become irrelevant. They’ve lost their grasp on reality. If they ever had it in the first place.