יום שבת, 22 בדצמבר 2012

Zionism 101 - A Story

I met Maryam of all places, at tailor's shop in Salah ad Din street in East Jerusalem. She, waiting for her own stuff, made few remarks on mending my jacket here and there. It was rather unexpected of a woman in East Jerusalem, to communicate in this manner with an unacquainted male. She was tall, well built and attractive. Although the dark complexion, dark brown hair and dark blue eyes made it clear that she is an Arab or Sephardi Jew, her body, the way she carried herself, and clear unashamed look toward the person she spoke with, were more Slavic like. She seemed to be in her early thirties.

We had coffee in the not to far away American Colony hotel, speaking  about life in Jerusalem, carefully avoiding political connotations, which make friendship impossible. She was a professor in Al-Quds University and did research on comparison between notable Arab families in Nablus and Hebron, Al-Halil, in Arabic, work that she started some time ago doing post-doc in Princeton Institute of Advanced studies. I told here about my work in bio-engineered vectors, weakened parts of AID viruses, in compound with antibodies to serve as anti-cancer precisely directed "missiles."

We continued to meet once a month or so, either in Jerusalem or in Tel Aviv; she had a "blue" Israeli identity card and was free to move inside Israel and abroad. We became friends without pushing into an affair, notwithstanding Freud's claim that all sympathy is at its  core sexual.

Then rather surprisingly one day Maryam said:
"After reading many papers, including essays of Ahad Ha'am and Ben Gurion diaries, I still don't grasp what Zionism really is."
 Except of well worn cliches I didn't have an answer. 
"Let me think about that. Tell me about the different views of life in Nablus and Hebron."

And we went on. After few weeks I asked her if she would like to have breakfast with me and my friend in Ashdod.

"A woman?" she asked.

"No, rather a gentleman of certain age."

We met next day in a restaurant called HOF, or coast, at quarter to nine next morning. Few minutes afterwards Ron joined us. I introduced him to Maryam, they shook hands smiled and exchanged greetings in Hebrew.
"An athlete with high brow, unusual combination. Not a single excess pound in his body. Ironic smile, more about himself than about the world. Was he sixty? Less? More? A mixture of modesty and confidence. Must have been an attraction to women when he was younger." 
Those were the initial impressions of Maryam.
"Maryam is in Al-Quds university. She asked me a question I was unable to answer." -- I said.
"What do you study, teach, research?" -- Ron asked.

"I am learning from all my teachers, and most of all from my students," -- she answered quoting Pirkey Avot, the well known Sayings of the Fathers chapter of Mishna, adding, "my current research is comparing between notable families in Nablus and Al-Halil."
"If I remember correctly, the historian Ytzhak Ben Zvi, later to become the second President of Israel, claimed that two thirds of people of Nablus were Samaritans converted by force to Islam by Ottomans." -- Ron commented.

"I'm not sure it was by force or not, but basically he was right and his paper is still quoted by many researchers." -- responded Maryam.
"Well, what was the smart question that my friend was unable to tackle?" -- asked Ron.
"It is far from smart. I don't have a clear idea, or perhaps a concrete feeling, about what Zionism is." -- Maryam.
"Nationalism is  a new idea, not adequately researched yet. Nation-state as we experience it now didn't exist even in the quite near past. What does it mean to be a Spaniard, or a Catalan, or a Scott, or an Israeli for the matter? Nationalism is still an unsolved puzzle, which, as everything where Jews are involved, gets even more complicated with Zionism. I can't make generalizations, but perhaps I can explain it a little personally." -- Ron.
"Please do." -- she said.
"For me WWII started in 1941 few days after Barbarossa began and Germans entered Vilno, now Vilnius. After short time, still several weeks before the ghetto was established, mass killing of Jews started  in Ponary forest near the city. My father was taken away and murdered. When Jews were ordered to ghetto, my mother, her brother and I moved on forged papers as Poles to a town 50 km east of Vilno. Most of the time I was hidden, because if I had been found circumcised, we would have been killed.

In 1945 short time after the war I was sent, this time in the heart of Poland, to a school as first grader. The first lesson was religion; the priest asked me to wait outside. I left home and refused to go back.

Next year I went to second grade in another city. I was a single Jew in a school of 1000 students. I was harassed twice a day and beaten at least twice a week. It was terrible. I dreamt of being among Jews in their own country.

In 1950 we came to Israel, until the first love this was the happiest event of my life. Ironically when I mentioned Zionism to my school friends in the Rehavya High School (Gymnasya), they laughed at me. For them Zionism was an old fashioned word of old people, used to spin and moralize, and insincerely so. Years later when I was again abroad and heard antisemitic remarks, I couldn't have cared less. My frame of reference was elsewhere." -- Ron.

"So is Zionism just a response to antisemitism and harassment?" -- asked Maryam.
"No, it is much more than that. When you are a single Jew in a school of 1000, it is not only harassment. The school is your main term of reference. When it is taken away, you are reduced to non entity and must find something else.

The young teenagers and youth of Second and Third Aliyah didn't just come to Ottoman Palestine. They, similarly to Jewish revolutionaries elsewhere, wished to create not only a new Jew, but a new human being." -- Ron

"And the people living in Palestine, the Arabs, were they  absolutely ignored?" -- asked Maryam.
"When I came to Israel I was 12 years old, quite unaware of the intricacies of relations between Jews and Arabs, but in my simplistic logic, the land was divided, and thus a reasonable solution possible." -- Ron

"And the refugees?" -- Maryam
"Look, in 41 we left Vilno to Oshmyana, in 45 from Oshmyana to Lodz, in 46 to Walbrzych, in 50 to immigrants camp in Lod, then in 51 to caravan near Rishon. Being a refugee was never pleasant but it was a part of existence, not of victim-hood. Being a refugee, as all survivors of the Holocaust were, was not considered a disaster." -- Ron

"Do you think Arabs are antisemites?" -- Maryam
"Meeting Arabs face to face, I never experienced antisemitism. Talking about antisemitism among Arabs, I always recall what the Jewish Bulgarian Nobel winner Elias Canetti wrote in his "Psychology of Crowds," in a manner that would be politically incorrect today, that every man is just that, a man, but a crowd of men behaves like a single hysterical woman." -- Ron

"Do you think peace is possible?" -- Maryam
"First of all Palestinian Arabs have to decide what do they want, and who politically speaking they are." -- Ron

"Isn't this a polite statement that Israel has no partner?" -- Maryam

"You don't make peace with partners, only with rivals and enemies, but I mean something else. Jews had thousands of years in which outside world forced upon them the need to create an identity. In the last 200 years they were trained into entry into the modern world. Palestinian Arabs didn't have this "luxury." To put it in another way, rephrasing Sari Nusseibeh the President of your university, they have to analyze honestly in their own mind, why did they fail so far in their struggle against the Jews."

Changing the subject she said: "Tell me about ski surfing?"

"Do you want to try it?"

"I don't have proper cloths."

"We can take care of that, to view a beautiful woman in the marina of Ashdod."

She laughed. "Next time."

יום שבת, 8 בדצמבר 2012

Strictly Jewish Peace Debate Club

The debate about 2-states, 1-states or 10-states for solving the conflict between Jews and Arabs is for all practical terms, useless and the best term for it is كلام فادي kalam fadi. It takes place in a rhetoric debate club, the only participants of which are Jews. Because it is a pinnacle of apartheid Arabs are not allowed, or unwilling to enter it. As in most of such clubs innovation is not permitted. The participants are allowed only to yell, or rather bark, as if they were Pavlov dogs, the well worn cliches. 

UN 181, which called to divide the British Mandate reduced territory into two states, a Jewish state and an Arab state. The territory was reduced because 70 or so percent of it was granted as a consolation prize to the Hashemite family for being driven out of Saudi Arabia. This region torn from the original Eretz Israel, or Palestine was called initially Transjordan, an emirate, later to become kingdom, Jordan. 

The tiny area which UN 181 dealt with had both Jews and Arabs living together in many parts of the land. It was impossible to draw a border for ethnically pure Jewish and Arab states. The solution was that the Jewish state will have a minority of Arabs, and the Arab state a minority of Jews.

Such solution is still useful today, again not because of principles, but because of practical reasons. 

Politically, it would be impossible for any government in Israel, whether "right," or "left." In fact, for a "left" government the obstacles would be much greater, to move the settlers back into pre-67 borders, by sheer force.

If the principle that Jews can stay wherever they reside as citizens of new Arab state is agreed upon the state of affairs will become much simpler. 

Most of the settlers would choose relocation to Israel. Some will not. Judaism, contrary to Islam, is not a political religion. You can be an observant Jew, even a righteous,  a Tsadik in Alaska or Kamchatka too. Jews are indeed required to live, if possible, in the Land of Israel, but a Jewish secular state has no religious preference in comparison to any other state. Before the WWII the most ardent objection to Zionism among Jews came from the orthodox. Even today one can be an Israel hater like the Satmar followers, and still perfectly respected religious Jews. 

Still, the fact that settlers will have the choice of staying or moving will make the relocation much easier. 

The Arab state, if it doesn't want to have many Jews as citizens would support exchange of territory so that the main settlements will become a part of Israel. Even some of Arab towns which are now a part of Israel, and its residents become the most zealous Zionist, reciting day and night Hatikva in Hebrew, Arabic and Russian, whenever exchange of territory is mentioned,   might change their mind. If Jews are willing to live there, it can't be that bad. 

Jewish minority in an Arab state will transform it into democracy; Arabs will demand the same rights Jews have. Freedom of speech and human rights will become the law of land. In addition, apart of peace, Jews will most probably bring new economic success. 

The objective of most supporters of 1-state is destruction of the Jewish state, but even so, it would be hard to claim logically that 1-state is preferable to two, each with minority of the other. Arabs will be never able to create their national and cultural home together with Jews. 

Two states, each with a minority of the other, as any other scheme will not solve the conflict, but such idea may have some value for the Jewish debate club. 

יום שישי, 7 בדצמבר 2012

No Yiddish Wisdom for Hudna

The wishes and strategies of Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs are similar. Each party would like the other to disappear from the map. Each is willing to consider for a while peace, or interim arrangement or hudna, only because its final wish cannot be achieved due to practical consideration and constraints. 

At each point of time, each of parties weighs and speculates on what is "better," temporary hudna or refusing it, according to perception of the state of affairs at a given moment. Any kind of agreement is workable only if both parties consider it beneficial at the same time. Such occasions are quite rare.

The tactics of the parties differ, according to their culture, relative and absolute power, mentality and relations with other players.

Palestinian Arabs consider, at least in principle, "terror" as beneficial means for achieving their objective. In their mind, "terror" is legitimate  because of overwhelming superiority of Israel's military power. For many of them killing Jewish children is a justified act with the additional benefit of infuriating Jews. The "peace" as they see it, is a means of destroying Israel, for instance by flooding her with Palestinian real or imagined refugees, by never agreeing to end the conflict and so forth. 

Jews act differently. Their logic in building their homeland has been proceeding acre by acre, as pragmatically as possible, while waiting for more opportunities for future expansion. Jews didn't expel the Arabs in 1948, but they were not particularly sorry, when Arabs fled. In 1967 General Ytzhak Rabin, later to become a peace icon, sent buses to Arab towns, hoping that Arabs will flee again. This time the didn't. 

Each party reacts to actions and lack of them by its rival. "Concession," sometimes brings about counter concession and sometimes, perceived as weakness, it brings militant response. Israel withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza were immediately responded by missile fire and terror. Similarly, non violence by Palestinian Arabs may bring about Israeli nonchalant increase in settlements. In any event moves and counter moves of the parties are not easily predicted. 

Palestinian Arabs are attuned to Israeli public opinion and they are trying to manipulate it by creating impression that they are indeed "partners," or, alternatively, by creating fear of "demography," one state and new intifada. Jews, on the other hand know little and care even less about  Arab Palestinian opinion. An average Israeli knows much more about Brussels or Budapest than about Ramallah.

The parties observe carefully the reaction of "world community," namely the US and Europe. Generally, when this community slams one party, the other is encouraged to more militant steps. "Peace" is certainly not the only objective of Europe and the US. They have political and electoral concerns as well. The rise of antisemitism, or the Left variant of it called Israel hate,  in Europe, and growth of Muslim communities there do not make Israel the darling of the continent. The responses to actions of Jews and Arabs are less than sophisticated and usually they disturb the hudna rather than encouraging it.

"Arab world," is another factor which is important. Palestinian Arabs  are usually suspicious about their support there. Palestinian Arab diaspora is in most Arab countries kept apart and discriminated. Arab wars against Israel in 47, 67 and 73 had no Arab Palestinian interests in mind, and similarly the peace agreements with Egypt, Jordan and the not achieved one with Syria didn't care about Palestinian Arabs.  It seems to me, that antisemitism is more prevalent In Arab countries than among Palestinian Arabs. The "father" of Palestinian national movement was indeed a collaborator of Nazis and Hitler in Berlin, but his antisemitism was  probably more the result of being Muslim Brother leader that an Arab Palestinian.

Jews look with great concern at what is happening in the Arab "spring." Its chaos convinces most of them that the only way to maintain the "villa in the jungle" flourishing is by forgetting about "peace," and making fortress Israel stronger. 

Each party has strong, mostly negative opinions of its rival, which it proves by true or invented facts and cites as support God and lesser dignitaries. Some or all of those opinions, even if correct bring not much news and even less benefit. To exist in peace or war with your opponent, or even to wipe him out, it is much more important to know how he perceives himself and you than to voice your own opinion, which you of course know without much effort.

Peace seems impossible, but pragmatic arrangements and measures are achievable and could keep the conflict within acceptable parameters. BHO 2.0 apparently understands now that "peace" between Jews and Arabs is a complex issue and better to keep away from offering comprehensive solutions. Let the parties solve it or kill themselves. Yiddish, so it seems, has no words of wisdom for hudna.