Glimpse of possibility for peace in Israel/Palestine
“Around 2001, I was invited by the Israeli College of National Security, where military officers are groomed to become generals, to give a lecture at Haifa University. Haifa University regularly hosts events of the college. The audience was made up of students in the special program, but also senior members of the SHABAK—Israel’s FBI—military intelligence, the Israeli police force, and other senior officials in the national security apparatus. There were about 40 people in all sitting around a large conference table.This was around the time of the social unrest following the collapse of the Argentinian economy. They wanted to know if similar unrest was possible in Israel because of socioeconomic gaps, and how these gaps could be minimized. I offered my analysis. We have problems with security and with borders. These transcend socio-economic protests. It would take a miracle for any social protest to succeed. If social unrest appeared in the news, I would not be surprised to hear about Hezbollah Katyusha rockets falling on Kiryat Shmona the next day. This would immediately shift public discourse back to security. I could not rule out that the Katyushas on Kiryat Shmona were a response to the IDF Air Force provocation of their fighter jets crossing the border deep into Lebanon. I told them that I didn’t have the knowledge, but my intuition as an analyst told me that. Everyone was quiet. Everyone was quiet. No one said a thing. And then we broke for a buffet lunch. At the buffet, a corpulent man approached me. He said, ‘‘Shalom, my name is XY. I was a media adviser for the minister of defense. This is exactly what we did.’’
On October 9, 2010, I called Dr. Efroni from Minneapolis to verify the quote. She said:
“Yes, this is exactly what I said. And this is what he said. He didn’t say that it was off the record…… The man was very stressed. He sweated a lot. Very stressed. In hindsight, even in the Finance Ministry, they didn’t believe it was going to be so easy. Hok HaHesderim nullifies the legislature. Israel is not a democracy. In the 2003 amendment, they saved 5 billion NIS. They transferred the money to the upper echelons in the form of a tax refund. They could have done other things with this money. They were so surprised at how easy the transfer was. I think it is not impossible that they let the suicide bomber slip through.”
This is a quote from Anthropologist Smadar Lavie’s ‘The Knafo Chronicles: Marching on Jerusalem With Israel’s Silent Majority’ (Journal of Women and Social Work 27(3) 300-315. 2012 SAGE Publications). I have cherry picked to grab your attention to this brilliant article which can be found here, and the implications I see in it for peace in Israel and Palestine.
Watching all the back and forth in the press about Israel and Palestine over the years and the present escalation, I have stopped engaging in most related arguments as they tend to seem pointless. I am also particularly sensitive to making judgements about a situation in which I am not physically present. However having spent around a year in Israel as a child, and being Jewish, it is also not an escapable or alienable reality.Spending a considerable amount of time over the years trying to get a fuller picture of both the history, the current events, and paying attention to how people involved both in Israel and abroad react (I have many anecdotes on this if you want to share). I have tried to be informed in my thoughts and actions.
I grew up learning that Israel was a secular State, a Zionist State, and much of the discourse seemed to roll that way until the religious right became an explicit part of the dominating political establishment. Previously it had seemed quite forward thinking that being Jewish did not mean having to be inexorably linked to a national land. I always reinforced to those I met that being ‘Jewish’ and ‘Israeli’ were two different things.
Unfortunately as the years have rolled on I find the majority of my Jewish acquaintances unable to separate their Jewishness from the current State of Israel, and consequently being able to be critical of it. Related to this is some sort of bond that has been created between criticising the State of Israel and its leaders, and antisemiticism. I take antisemiticism very seriously, however to stifle political criticism about someone who is Jewish -not because they are Jewish- is not in any way beneficial to freeing the world of antisemiticism. This is particularly important if they hold power in representing some part of the Jewish community, otherwise how can they be held properly to account by who they represent, who they affect, and their fellow allies?
Comparatively it is quite repugnant how often I hear and see someone being unilaterally supported and unquestioned in their criticism of someone Muslim, with blatant implications and statements that ‘it is because they are Muslim and represent Muslims’, rather than the person under question simply being an arsehole. Not to go off on a tangent, but I do not see criticism of a religion or identity as a problem, they all have their flaws that aught to be addressed through being constructively made aware of them. It is when someone is banally criticising someone else because they have a certain religion that we start to enter antisemitic or anti-semitic type ground. It is also the responsibility of someone who holds a religion or identity to uphold and work for its betterment, otherwise it can become quite hard and hypocritical when they try to justify themselves. The Satmar Jewish community are a great example of a community who hold their ideals tight against powerful authority and opinion, and although a significant constituent of the Western Jewish community, they are almost always sidelined in the media.
Finally let us remember Jews are in many cases no longer a regional minority group, and thus cannot claim extra sensitivity on that basis. Nonetheless on an historical basis we must be vigilant against antisemiticism, in light of the Shoah, just as we should in terms of fellow Romany’s, who were also persecuted in WW2, and are still a minority group and still suffer. But I diverge…
When I caught news of the protests in Israel in summer 2011, I felt that this was something different, something that held up a light in the midst of the Israel/Palestine discussion. A discussion that is usually like the event horizon of a black-hole. It seemed suggestive of a possibility of not ending up repetitively banging ones head against a polarising wall. Then it disappeared from view, at least for those outside Israel. And I wondered where it had gone.
Next door and more globally, public unrest had also been visible. Some resulting in the eviction of awful leaders, or some finding themselves up against assisted regimes and aggravated conflicts. In the European and American protest movement -in many cases- people have gone onto to pursue what they learnt in more local contexts, with changes in the discourse cropping up. Or in cases like Greece there is social meltdown.
Then the most recent events in Israel and Gaza kicked off and it seems like another ‘killing-high’ is being gone through in what seems like an ever oscillating wave of degrees of destruction. Though this time it has its own unique regional dimensions with the change of leadership in Eqypt, the Syrian unrest, and the slowly mounting pressure on Iran. Talking of Iran, the Israel<3Iran project has also started to seem like a breath of fresh air in the stunted dialogue around the subject. Even though one might mount a invalid criticism of it appearing a little shallow, it is therefore even more telling that such a simple project can be one of the few inspiring projects out there.
Then I read the Knafo Chronicles.
I could go on to say how ‘anthropologically’ awesome I find them, in their style, approach, meaning, transcendence of the applied/academic dualism etc… but that would be silly at this juncture.
What coagulated for me in this Chronicle is the beginnings of seeing some of what has been spilling over in Israeli society over the past decade, leading to the 2011 protests, also something reflected in other similar stories such as the Shoah survivors in Israel living below the poverty line, and the violence against African migrants.
Something that particularly inspired me was the sudden opening of how peace might come to this region. One that doesn’t have to involve what seemed like an inevitable mega-war in the region. This nihilistic later vision seems to have slowly taken foot in my mind and I think in many others, although it is pushed away. A vision where such a taunt situation with many ‘eyes-for eyes‘ and ‘tooth-for-tooth’ situations exist, that it seems only the starkness of a post-apocalyptic landscape would have cleared them away. The logic of this vision cropping up in an inverted form in ‘Bibbi’s Bomb‘ cartoon at the UN, where I felt more like Netanyahu was suggesting that the red line was not so much to do with Iran, but when he felt like exploding a bomb in Iran, or one of the couple hundred nuclear warheads at his disposal.
The Knafo Chronicles, shook me from such a logic! I took this message from them. The State of Israel and its electorate must start solving their own inability to look after their citizens, not from suicide bombers and rockets, but socio-economic woes. Only when these are starting to be addressed can the Israel/Palestine conflict start to be constructively worked on. Although the two issues were visibly maintained as separate in the protests in summer 2011, the stark fact that one crumbled when the other reared its head, highlights how sensitively they are linked. As anthropology shows us, the social, political, economic, religious etc… are not within such nice linguistic categories but inextricably woven together.
That is why the Knafo Chronicles can be so inspiring, because they show that the chutzpah of Israeli women can begin to rattle the testosterone propelled efforts of a male dominated Knesset, and the festering social issues it is bringing to Israeli quality of life, and Palestinian quality and quantity of life. If Palestinians within Palestinian territories are going through encystation, and Palestinians within Israeli are being structurally isolated, Israelis’ cannot somehow separate themselves from this, no matter how high a wall is built. If the Israeli economic budget is continually ramped up to bolster its already massive military capacity, when will it stop cutting social programmes in the face of of the ‘terrifying’ capacity of Hamas rockets.
In light of this, the Gazan Youth manifesto is a brave, visceral, and clear expression of unadulterated distress, that highlights the rejection of both Palestinian and Israeli power-interests, with both having a responsibility in maintaining violence at the expense of everyone else. Though it must be mentioned that with the State of Israel’s economic and military infrastructure, and democratic claims, it is designated as wielding far more power and therefore far more responsibility (especially according to this character, you may laugh but these words have reached a lot of people). As this responsibility has been publicly flouted without much regard for allies’ opinion, so multiple segments of Israeli society are losing out in their relationships to the international community, and such actions are becoming more effective and more understandably common.
If the majority of the Israeli public want better socio-economic circumstances, then they will have to work hard to get them. Not from their neighbours, but from their political establishment and economic elite. But these are interlinked with all Israel’s neighbours, most specifically the Palestinians. They will inadvertently have to work toward a constructive dialogue on their neighbours’ achieving them also.
The Knafo Chronicles and the associated protests show us a glimpse of how the dominant discourse of survival through every increasing glocal segregation, needs to be recognised for it’s festering and horrid outcomes. I am not suggesting necessarily a synchretic or otherwise solution, or any solution. I am saying that when forced by circumstances to work for one’s own health and one’s community’s health, one will inevitably have to consider all in the local community.
This is the inspiring glimpse at a possibility of peace that came together after reading anthropologist Smadar Lavie’s quoted work.
I was going to leave it there, however I wished to add a last comment to suggest some perspective on this. There is no direct comparison in terms of contingencies and contexts, but for those who are residents in the U.K., the U.S.A, amongst others, we must also continue our struggle to bring health to our communities and neighbours. In terms of foreign policy, governments were also elected here that started ongoing wars, proxy wars, civil wars etc… in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan etc… Just because they are not on our doorstep and we participate at such an alienated level, does not mean we are not -on an electoral level at least- in part responsible for the cycle of ‘killing-highs’ happening in those locations. We must also be honest. We also elected a government in the UK that is decreasing the health of its average inhabitant. What does this all say? Here are a few points that sublimate out of the above and I intend to follow-up later in more detail:
a) Democracy as is, is not democracy as we imagine it, but a socially polarising system among other things.
b) The recent structural invention of the National State seems to cause more conflict than cohesion.
c) We believe we are forward thinking, enlightened societies. On this basis we should be coming together in social movements and allowing ourselves to imagine and work on improving the quality of our lives and our communities, because our and our neighbours systemic health is ALWAYS more important than the quantitative health of abstract systems that were meant to serve it in the first place.
Here are some recommended practical reading:
This piece is dedicated to all the people undergoing incessant bombing