The Elders’ visit to Bilin

September 12, 2009


Jody McIntyre writing from Bilin, occupied West Bank, Live from Palestine, 11 September 2009

A delegation of prominent former statespersons and business leaders known as the Elders meets with appointed Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad (third from right) in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, 26 April 2009. (Mustafa Abu Dayeh/POOL/MaanImages) Thursday, 27 August was a special day in Bilin. Dozens of blacked-out SUVs approached the village, disturbing the quiet of a usually peaceful morning. However, unlike the Israeli occupation forces who come at night to arrest boys from the village, this arrival was extremely welcome.The SUV passengers were a truly respected group of international diplomats, known as the Elders. Among the delegation were Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former US President Jimmy Carter, both outspoken critics of the form of apartheid being imposed upon the Palestinians in the occupied territories. Also present were former Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso, Indian “gentle revolutionary” Ela Bhatt, the first woman president of Ireland, Mary Robinson, and former Director-General of the World Health Organization, Gro Brundtland. They were joined by Jeff Skoll, founding president of eBay and Richard Branson, Virgin multi-millionaire and co-founder of the Elders.As part of their four-day trip to the Middle East, the Elders came to Bilin to see the daily impact of Israel’s occupation and its apartheid wall on the daily lives of Palestinians. They were also very interested to hear how residents are responding to the oppression they face through a campaign of nonviolent resistance. After stopping at the Village Council to pick up selected members of the Bilin Popular Committee, the Elders made their way toward the wall and the site of Bilin’s weekly nonviolent demonstrations. With Israeli soldiers looking on, they laid stones at the grave of Bassem Abu Rahme, the Palestinian man killed at one such demonstration in April of this year, when he was shot in the chest with a high-velocity tear gas projectile fired from close range.At the request of gathered reporters, Desmond Tutu made an impromptu statement: “Mahatma Gandhi, as a simple man, led his people to freedom through nonviolent methods. Rosa Parks followed in his footsteps, and now the people of Bilin will do the same!”Former US President Jimmy Carter added that “We are standing here on Palestinian land and on the other side of the wall is also Palestinian land! This occupation must end.”Next was the short drive back to the village council, where the Elders were to have a meeting with members of the local popular committee. Security was extremely tight, and only eight persons, selected in advance, were allowed to attend. But thanks to my wheelchair and some quick thinking, I managed to enter.In the meeting, Abdullah Abu Rahme, coordinator of the popular committee, introduced his fellow attendees and thanked the Elders for their visit, before handing the meeting over to village activist Mohammed Khatib.Khatib explained the origins of Bilin’s popular nonviolent struggle against the wall:
A few years ago, the Israeli army set up a checkpoint at the entrance of Bilin, which you had to pass through on foot. The soldiers had stretched a thin line of tape [over the entrance], one meter from the ground — anyone could cut it, of course, but because of the soldiers you didn’t dare. So, instead, we had to crawl under the tape as if we were praying. This was done deliberately to humiliate us.But there was one young man from the Abu Salim family, someone we knew, who refused to crawl under it. He cut the tape and they shot him in the leg. He sat there bleeding, in front of our eyes, for two hours, and no one was allowed to help or give him treatment. We called an ambulance but the soldiers stopped it. There is nothing more painful than being powerless in this kind of situation.The Israeli media reported that the soldier had shot the Palestinian in self-defense. That was a lie, of course, but it was published as factual.When the story about Abu Salim got out, the al-Aqsa [Martyrs’ Brigade] decided to carry out a response operation. We later heard seven soldiers at the checkpoint were killed.Our first reaction in Bilin was “good for al-Aqsa.” But later we realized that these were not the same soldiers who had killed our friend two weeks before. A new unit had taken over the checkpoint, so these soldiers had taken the punishment for what the old soldiers had done. It made us wonder — this cycle of death, of action and reaction, how can we break it?Next to speak was Rajaa Abu Rahme, a young student from the village. On 10 July, Rajaa’s father, Adeeb Abu Rahme, was arrested while participating in the weekly nonviolent demonstration against the wall. Adeeb was charged with “incitement to violence,” based on the supposed “confessions” of two 16-year-old boys the Israeli military had previously taken from the village, and sentenced to 101 days in prison, renewable for an indefinite period.”I am not talking to you as politicians,” Rajaa told the Elders, “I am talking to you as mothers and fathers.”As she told her story, I could see tears forming in Branson’s eyes.”My sister is getting married soon, I will be graduating,” Rajaa continued, “and our father will not be able to share our joy. I just want to see my father free.”Also present in the meeting was Shai Pollak, an Israeli activist and long-time supporter of the people of Bilin — “a member of the family” as Mohammed Khatib described him.”Twenty years ago, I did my military service,” Shai explained, “but if I knew then what I know now, I never would have served in the Israeli army.””Israeli society today is becoming increasingly closed off,” Shai continued, “making pressure from outside even more important. After the second intifada, I went and met with literally thousands of Palestinians. While my friends in Tel Aviv were telling me they would stab me with a knife, the opposite was true. Everyone I met welcomed me with open arms, because the Palestinian people want a peaceful solution.”The visit of these world leaders to Bilin was a clear message to the Israeli government, that they are opposed to the continuing oppression of the Palestinian people. Now, it is time for the leaders currently in power to follow suit.Jody McIntyre is a journalist from the United Kingdom, currently living in the occupied West Bank village of Bilin. Jody has cerebral palsy, and travels in a wheelchair. He writes a blog for Ctrl.Alt.Shift, entitled “Life on Wheels,” which can be found at He can be reached at jody.mcintyre AT gmail DOT com. A version
of this article originally appeared in The Huffington Post.


A palestinian Anne Frank?

September 3, 2009

Girl, 15, seeks justice for Gaza in world court

Girl, 15, seeks justice for Gaza in world court

(AFP) – 2 days ago


THE HAGUE — A 15-year-old Palestinian girl who says Israeli troops killed her father and two siblings in Gaza in January, sought justice from the International Criminal Court on Monday.

“I am here to lodge a complaint against the occupying army,” Amira Alqerem told journalists in The Hague, seven months after her family was killed in an early-morning assault in the Tal Al Hawa neighbourhood that also left her severely injured.

“I hope this complaint will succeed because it is the truth,” the soft-spoken teenager said, seated next to her lawyer on his way to the ICC to file the complaint with the office of the prosecutor.

In her court filing, Alqerem says her 67-year-old father Fathi, 16-year-old-sister Ismat, and 14-year-old brother Ala, were killed by Israeli army fire in the early hours of January 14.

The three children were awoken by an explosion to find their father’s body, covered in blood, next to a crater near their house, the document claims.

Ismat and Ala went off to seek help, but were killed in another explosion. Amira, who had stayed behind with her dead father, was hit in the right leg.

“This was a crime against humanity, that is why we brought it to the ICC,” said her lawyer Gilles Devers, who claims the attacks were aimed at civilians.

“Israeli politicians and military leaders must be held responsible.”

Israel’s 22-day offensive on Islamist Hamas-controlled Gaza left more than 1,300 Palestinians dead before ceasefire took effect on January 18.

ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo announced in February he had begun a “preliminary analysis” of alleged crimes committed by Israel during the Gaza offensive.

He has to date received complaints and evidence from the Palestinian Justice Minister Ali Kashan, the Palestinian National Authority, and over 360 other individuals and non-governmental bodies, his office said on Monday.

Amira, meanwhile, is undergoing physical and psychological rehabilitation in France.

“I am doing this for all the children of Gaza,” she said through an interpreter.

“I want to do something to change the situation.”

Visit the site of the Elders for an incredible inspiring webcast of the Elders that are currently visiting the Middle East:

Who are the Elders?

The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela, who offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity.

Iqbal Tamimi – Abraham bought a cave, he did not buy Palestine | Palestine Think Tank

I have been reading an article by Robin-Yassin Kassab, entitled ‘A visit to Hebron’. Yassin Kassab is the author of ‘The Road from Damascus’. This time he was not writing about Damascus, he was writing about my home town Al-Khaleel, known to the Western world by the name of Hebron. In his article he describes his visit to Al-Khaleel accompanied by a number of wonderful writers and publishers, amongst them Michael Palin, Henning Mankel, Deborah Moggach, Claire Messud and MG Vassanji, and he describes the misery of the people in my hometown under the illegal Israeli occupation. Those writers have been able to witness the very painful reality when they travelled to Palestine to participate in the Palestine Festival of Literature.

As usual, the Zionists were ready with sharpened teeth to shred his efforts by their usual Hasbara methods of sending their false poisonous comments in an attempt to mask any efforts at explaining what is really going on in Palestine. One of the comments left by one of those Zionists on his blog complained that ‘Hebron Arabs today have access to 98% of the entire city. Jews have only access to 3% of Hebron’.

In the comment of this ‘anonymous’ reader, what seems to look like an innocent number of complaints, should the reader not know much about that part of the world he/she will fall a victim to the false impression that the presence of the Israeli Occupation in my hometown is justified and not an illegal occupation according to international law and even by Israeli standards. His comments sounded like as if they are coming from a victim who is supposed to have equal rights of access.

The 3% of the Jews in Hebron he was talking about are not supposed to be there, the occupying force according to international law is not supposed to allow or facilitate the transfer of its own citizens to the occupied areas.

He complained that the owners of the city – the Arab Palestinians – have access to 98% of their own city and the occupiers who are called for well-known media manipulation reasons ‘the settlers’ have access to 3%. ‘The expression settlers’ seems to be a very benign use of the language for a malignant reason. Of course the total according to his figures makes the population of Al-Khaleel more than 100%, this is a good example of what happens when Israeli authorities employ cyber amateurs to defend its crimes against the Palestinians, they work very fast so that they conjure numbers that do not make any sense. The Zionist state employs thousands every year to work on character assassination of the writers who bring to light any information about the absurdity of the Israeli occupation in Palestine, like Mr Kassab.

This shows how far they can go to fabricate false stories by throwing numbers without any verifications or referencing, and as usual, the Westerners swallow it all because the numbers and figures are connected in their experience with studies and statistics, and methods we all respect and do not doubt their credibility. I want to surprise ‘Mr anonymous’ and tell him that the people in Al-Khaleel are supposed to have 100% access to their own city because it is their home. It seems that the Zionists are full of themselves to a point they think that people can’t figure out that it is unacceptable for a total stranger to come from as far as Russia to occupy the living room of any Palestinian by hooliganism, and deny the owner access to his own kitchen or bathroom. Blocking the way of the locals is preaching their human rights and this is what the claimed 3% Jewish ‘settlers’ are doing in my hometown.

Those Jewish ‘settlers’ who have access to 3 % of my home have killed three students while walking on campus in 1986 for no reason whatsoever. Those 400 gun-wielding settlers are guarded and protected by 1,500 Israeli soldiers who witness their daily attacks on the unarmed local Palestinians and do nothing about it even though they are supposed to protect the locals according to International law. The Israeli authorities tend to demolish any home, should the owner build one brick without their permission, but at the same time claim that they could do nothing to handle the illegal presence of the Jewish settlers in the heart of Al-Khaleel, occupying the roof tops of the Palestinians homes and throwing their rubbish on them every day, and calling the Palestinian women whenever they open their doors ‘whores’.

I guess those ‘chosen by God’ people show the Almighty as an under-achiever, he could not even choose a respected lot who behave themselves when he went to choose his own loved lot. I would imagine no ordinary person would ever choose to be a friend with someone with a bad reputation and despicable manners like the Jewish settlers, let alone a wise compassionate God, but it seems that they know that the Western world is a hypocritical lot, they would support their claims even though they are a secular majority who deny even the presence of God, but when it comes to Israel suddenly they turn to be serious believers of every claim told by the Zionist lot, and the angel halo appears shining, bright and glowing above their heads, you can almost touch their holy wings. Even those who have just converted to Judaism only yesterday for visa reasons to work in Israel and care less about Moses, Jacob, Solomon, or any other prophet mentioned by any holy book, turn by a swift magic wand into very religious people even when they are posing naked in adult magazines to promote tourism in ‘the Holy Land’.

My brother-in-law is a doctor whose clinic is located in the heart of the city of Hebron, where the settlers are turning the people’s lives into living hell because they are God’s chosen brats.  His practice is located in an area where poor, sick, underprivileged people need medical attention. The soldiers who are supposed to be guarding the locals according to international law are not doing so, on the contrary, they are helping the settlers to occupy the rooftops of the neighbouring houses including his clinic, the soldiers themselves used to urinate in the water reservoir on the rooftop of his practice to drive him out, and to evacuate the area from the last few Palestinians who were persevering and trying to get on with their miserable lives against the odds. For years he used to go every single day to his practice and just set there, even though he knew perfectly well that he could not treat the ever-decreasing number of sick people who could reach his clinic, not because of the intimidation of the settlers and the hygiene problems only, but because they are hindered by tens of roadblocks and obstacles as well. But he never gave up on his mission, he continued to go to work every morning anyway – to send the Israeli occupying forces a clear message of ‘I am not leaving’. All his patients knew about his daily struggle and used to knock on his home door asking for help at odd hours, he could not turn them back, but one can imagine what kind of life this must have been for him and for his wife and children who hardly have any privacy at home, and who could not anticipate when the next banging on the door will start.

Many times he would go to his work and could not come back home that day because a new curfew had started while he was in his practice.

This is a reality every single Palestinian in my hometown has to deal with day in day out. I remember asking him once ‘what you were doing in the clinic then if you could not treat your patients’? He smiled and said I used to help my wife in her housework. I have been able to pick the leaves of almost 30 Kg of Oregano one summer to dry them for family use for the rest of the year’.

Storing food to manage during the curfews is another problem. The Israeli authorities used to cut the electricity of the city on purpose until all the stored food kept in homes’ freezers rotted and was no longer edible, besides subjecting the lives of sick people in the operation theatres at the hospital to great danger. My late husband told me about a number of surgical operations he had to perform at Princess Alia Hospital which turned to be a challenge when the electricity was cut off, besides the fact that most drugs including anaesthetics were banned, many patients were stitched without any sedation. Those are only a few kinds of inflicted pains the people had to deal with.

Year after year of hardships taught the Palestinians to find their own solutions, the people knew that the curfews can be imposed at any time, and for no reason whatsoever, no one is allowed to look through a window or walk outside the door during such enforced siege, no shops will be opened, no cars are permitted to take a dying person to hospital. The people of Al-Khaleel had to find solutions to this hard reality. They were forced to become self-sufficient and learn how to survive, no more they rely on freezing their food, they started drying, pickling, salting, and bottling the very little they managed to cultivate in their home gardens.

The same paid Zionist to attack the article and assassinate its writer’s character says ‘Close to 100 Jews have been killed in the Hebron region by Arab terrorists, in cold blood over the years and this number does not include 67 Jews murdered in Hebron 80 years ago, during the 1929 riots and massacre’.

I dare this person who threw at us the first rounded figure using his ‘close to’ expression to come with any evidence of his claim, but still I would like to tell him that according to official statistics by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics the number of reported innocent civilians killed in Hebron by Israeli soldiers in only 8 years not 61 years, between 29 September 2000 – 31 December 2008 is 265 people, those were all innocent civilians.

This same person evidently employed by the Foreign Ministry of Israel to bleach its burned image is complaining about what he described as ‘noise’ in my occupied home town, he claims ‘the Muslim call-to-prayer begins at about 4:00 AM and is repeated five times daily, with other public interludes, until after 11:00 PM, waking up sleeping people and preventing them from sleeping, with this noise being broadcast from numerous points in the city’.

For goodness sake, if you do not like living there just go back where you came from, you are living in our home, you have no right to tell us how to behave or complain about our worshiping rituals, at least the not chosen people who still worship God unlike his own chosen people who smeared his name. So…this chosen by God man considers calling for prayers a ‘noise’, while shelling, bombing, and demolitions of homes, snipers’ bullets whizzing all the time, and hovering military aircrafts since 1967 are not? How about sleeping somewhere else where you will have the right to sleep without being disturbed by the ‘non chosen people by God’.

The same chatterbox complains as well about the Ibrahimi Mosque which no more is treated with the dignity and respect it deserves, he says ‘the largest hall, the Isaac Chamber, is off-limits to Jews so that Moslems may hold their prayers there’. I guess he forgotten to mention that the Israelis occupy more than half the Mosque and as such Muslims have no access to their own place of worship, and the 3 main entrances are fitted with metallic security doors and Muslims have access through one entrance only where they are searched and humiliated, men and women, before every prayer by God’s chosen people. But most of all he forgot willingly to mention that a fundamentalist racist Jew shot down 29 Muslims while kneeling in prayer in that same mosque and was considered a hero by the Jewish Zionist society.

Not only that, he lies through his teeth, he claims that ‘Most of those 400 settlers are children, and they aren’t gun-wielding’. Oh really, that is fascinating information, so…the fourth strongest army in the world could not handle less than 400, people the majority of which are children? I would indicate such a story-teller to the Israeli Foreign office should he want to knit a lie, to do some research… and make a lie-proof story because there are people who read and there are those who do their own research. And by the way, when 4000 years ago, the prophet Abraham came to my city as an Iraqi immigrant, he bought the cave which became later the burial place for his wife from us, we the Palestinians, the people of Al-Khaleel…surely you are not serious to believe that whoever buys a cave owns the whole country, and pass it as an inheritance to his believers wherever they are!!!

Visit Palestinian Mothers to see some films of the scenes this article talks about.

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ps: I was intrigued by the idea that Hebron, a biblical place that drives the settlers crazy, was inhabitated before the israelites conquered the place.  Excavations and Egyption historical records do indeed show a lot of discrepancies with biblical claims. The book of Joshua has the Israelites living in Hebron in the late Bronze age. However, archeology shows that there was no habituation by Israelites in Hebron in the late Bronze Age. But there were people living there in the middle bronze age:

“In contrast, excavations at Tell Rumeideh [note: Hebron] have revealed no evidence of Late Bronze Age occupation, and there seems to have been a gap between the Middle Bronze Age town and the Iron Age I settlement.” (p.283 of  
The Archeology of Ancient Israel, Amnon ben-Tor (ed.), Yale:1992). This suggests that Iqbal Tamini has it right. Somebody was living there first, and it wasn’t abraham. I found this on which isn’t exactly an arab-friendly site. Incidentally I also found the following quote from Ghandi there, I throw it in for curiosity’s sake: “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs… Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home.” (from ‘The Jews in Palestine 1938’). I guess Ghandi was an anti-Semite. Who would have thought?

(the Owl)

I am sure there are more than three attitudes towards this conflict. Not because this conflict is so complex (in fact the conflict is astonishing simple and so are its possible solutions), but rather because there are so many people with opinions about it. These opinions overlap, presuppose and contradict each other. I only want to examine three types of attitudes into which most opinions can be categorized and the consequences of these attitudes for a possible solution.


The first attitude is completely focused upon Jewish identity to such a degree that the existence, identity and/ or history of the Palestinians are being denied. It is usually the first attitude anybody that takes an interest in this conflict is confronted with. It takes on many shapes, often sneaks up on you when the least expected, is the hardest to combat and gives one the experience of operating in the twilight zone where nothing makes sense anymore, where truth becomes lie and vice versa. When it comes to the Israel-Palestine conflict, a lot of things can be denied. A classic denial and one of the most infuriating ones is the denial of the fact that there are Palestinians ( “There is no such thing as a Palestinian people… It is not as if we came and threw them out and took their country. They didn’t exist.”– Golda Meir, statement to The Sunday Times, 15 June, 1969.). If there are no Palestinians then of course there is no problem, because there is nobody to talk to and there is nobody to negotiate with. The consequences of this absurd denial in terms of possible solutions are simple: no solutions whatsoever. The Palestinians that don’t exist will continue to live like animals in their refugee camps, or as secondary class citizens in neighboring countries and Israel itself.

Another famous denial is the denial of the rights of Palestinians as a people. This denial will focus around the idea that the Palestinians don’t really have an identity of their own and therefore shouldn’t have a land of their own. They exist only to bother the Israelis, to take their land and to drive them into the sea. The irony of this argument is that one has to acknowledge their existence to deny their identity. The consequence however is the same, since the identity of Palestinians as a people are not to be taken serious, then again there is no problem and no solution. Again the Palestinians continue to live like animals in their refugee camps, or as secondary class citizens in neighboring countries and Israel itself.

A third variation is that Palestinians do indeed exist and have some sort of identity but already have a country, namely Jordan. In this case the denial is the denial of a difference between Jordanians and Palestinians. So those unlucky people that were living on the spots the Jewish people had decided to settle on, have nothing to complain about, since they can always move to Jordan which is the real Palestine. The consequence of this particular variant is that there are a lot of proponents of the notion that all Palestinians should move to Jordan and Israel might be so generous in that case to give up West Bank to Jordan. They consider this a solution to the problem. Since the Palestinians are obviously not Jordans the consequence of this denial and solution is that the Palestinians will continue to live like animals in their refugee camps, or as secondary class citizens in neighboring countries (including Jordan) and Israel itself.

A fourth type of denial is the denial of Nabka. Nabka is the historical event in which a few hundred thousand Palestinians fled their homes when confronted with Israeli violence. Nabka denial itself takes on a few shapes. Some deny that such mass exodus ever took place; others admit that a mass exodus took place but was caused by Arab leaders urging the Palestinians to flee for the upcoming Arab-Israel war. Others admit that terror tactics were being used that led the Palestinians to flee but still deny responsibility for what is up to this very day an enormous refugee problem. The latter base themselves upon the notion that there is a lot of evil everywhere else in the world as well, that in war everything is justified. In other words, they believe in true Darwinian fashion that the founding of Israel justified terrorizing people out of their home. It is the same logic that is being used to this day in Israel’s expansion politics that demolishes Palestinian houses or simply evict Palestinians out of their houses to make room for Jewish boarders. To the extent that Nabka is denied, Palestinians continue to live like animals in their refugee camps, or as secondary class citizens in neighboring countries and Israel itself.

Finally, the most common type of denial, directly related to the denial of Nabka in all its variations, is the denial of the right to one’s own property and land. Even the most peace-loving activists, who acknowledge the horrors committed by the Irgun, they have no trouble denying Palestinians this basic human right. Whether the Palestinians fled the region on their own free will or out of terror, very few are capable to acknowledge the basic truth that one’s home and land remains one’s home and land, whether one temporarily leaves it or not. It is a fact that forms the basis of our economic system, without which a global market system would collapse, yet this basic right has been denied for 60 years now to the Palestinians. Palestinians that left their home before the 1948 Arab-Israeli war have according to these deniers no right to their old home and land. The consequence of this denial is the fact that no peace agreement can ever be complete as long as this denial is part of it. There cannot be a just peace as long as basic human rights are being violated. It is that simple.


A second attitude towards the Israel-Palestine conflict is what can be called the politics of identity. This attitude acknowledges the identity of two separate people and their right to self determination. Most of the peace activists that work to see this conflict solved operate within this framework. They look at the conflict from a particular identity while at the same acknowledging the identity of the opposing group. From a Jewish point of view, the identity that has to be preserved is one that has been under threat for a few thousands of years culminating in a Holocaust only 60 years ago. This fear of annihilation and the resolve to not let it happen again is not an accidental aspect of the Jewish identity but is central to it. Furthermore the thought took root that the only way for Jews to survive and preserve their identity was through establishing their own nation. The land of Israel thus became essential to the survival of the Jews. Zionism is the expression of this emphasis on identity and survival. To be a good Jew is to be a dedicated Zionist. To be a Zionist is to care for the land of Israel.

Solipsism and dualism both have Zionism in common. Both believe that Jewish identity cannot be preserved without the Jewish land; Jewish land in the sense that it has a majority of Jewish people living on it. What distinguishes the attitude of denial from the politics of identity however is that the latter also acknowledges the identity and rights of the other. While the deniers have no other and therefore don’t have to deal with the rights of the other, the identity politician struggles with the question of how both people can be treated fairly.
From a Palestinian point of view, their identity is equally linked with their struggle for survival. In their opposition to what was happening to them the Palestinians were forced to define and redefine what used to be a dormant identity for centuries. As a consequence of losing their lands and houses they were forced to develop an identity and symbolism of resistance.

Identity thinkers struggle with zero sum thinking. An acre of land can only belong to one people. The more the Israeli have the less the Palestinians have and vice versa. ‘Separate but equal’ is the paradigm. Identity thinking however is inherently false. As identity fundamentally is formed by the exclusion of the other, the other can never be fully incorporated in one’s own thinking. Denial unavoidably sneaks in. The more denial of the Palestinian as other occurs, the more rights of the other are being sacrificed on the altar of Jewish identity. The universe is forever divided between self and other, Jew and Arab, Jew and non-Jew. The identity of the other is being acknowledged, but the question remains to what extent the survival of the Jewish people warrants overriding the rights of the other. This question manifests itself in the proposals that identity thinkers form as a solution to the I-P conflict. Two state solutions are expressions of identity politics. However, as the other (the Palestinian) forever remains juxtaposed to the self (the Jew), the debate of how much the other should, could and will get is endless. The more one side wins the more the other side looses. The more land, water, resources etc the Palestinians get the less land the Jewish people will get. This rephrasing of the same thought is important, as it is at the heart of identity politics and the type of solution that follows out of it. The solution that follows from the identity attitude is always a bargain, the result of a negotiation process in which the strongest side will get the most. Within the context of the I-P conflict, it is obvious that the odds are heavily tilted towards the Israeli. They already carved a state for themselves, they have the support of the most powerful military in the world and have themselves developed the fourth strongest army in the world. It is hard to see how a two state solution could ever deliver a fair deal to the Palestinians.

Solipsism and dualism have defined the terms of the conflict since its beginning a century ago. The results are that the Palestinians to this day are living without a state and in effect under an Israeli occupation. In the most favorable proposals (the camp David proposal is to this day viewed as the most generous proposal the Palestinians ever received), tentative solutions carve up the land heavily in favor of the Israelis, leaving the Palestinians with patches of land that could never function as a sovereign nation. Furthermore, Israel, an economic and military powerhouse demands total military debilitation from the Palestinians as part of the bargain. The rights of the Palestinians to their old homes and land are usually not even part of the discussion as if it is normal to expect from the Palestinians to surrender their basic human rights. It is clear that neither solipsism nor dualism has lead to anything remotely fair for the Palestinians.


The third attitude I would like to discuss is the attitude that transcends both solipsism and the politics of identity. It is an attitude that sees beyond dividing the world into mine and yours; that in fact recognizes the dangers of doing so. This attitude speaks a different language. It has no need to rigidly defend itself because it is at ease in the world and its place in it. It realizes that identity is not dependent upon acres of land but upon the connection with the other. It realizes that there cannot be a self without the other. That both presuppose each other and that an error is being made when one assumes that one can exist without the other. It does not see the world in terms of Jews and Palestinians, or Jews and non-Jews, or Arabs and non-Arabs, but in terms of people that all belong to the same family. It doesn’t deny that there are differences between people, but understands that there is a deeper truth that underlies those differences. This attitude understands that one part of the family cannot take precedent over another part; that in fact the whole suffers when one part suffers. This attitude understands that our inter-connectedness ultimately does not allow for usurping the rights of others in order to preserve our own. By attempting to destroy the other we destroy ourselves as well. This is what Bishop Tutu means when he says that separate can never be equal. Ask anybody that lived under the Jim Crow laws or South African apartheid. Separate always means that some are better than others. Equality is based upon our connection to each other. It is based upon the fundamental truth that we have more in common with each other than we differ from each other. This communality invalidates any attempt to see some people as superior to other people, or to prioritize the rights of some over the rights of others. Communality invalidates the politics of identity. The latter can never lead to an authentic existence as long as it does not understand that what we share is more important than what separates us. If this language sounds rosy and soft it is only because one does not fully understand what this means. There is nothing easy about coming to realize how dependent we are upon each other. It is a lot easier to think of ourselves as autonomous and superior. Dualism is always easier for the mind to grasp than the underlying connection between self and other. Even more importantly, there is nothing easy about making this reality concrete. As anybody that was involved in the American civil rights struggle and had to battle the identity politics of white Americans, or ask those that were confronted with the fears of integration of South Africans if there is anything rosy about the battle for equal treatment. If it seems utopian it is only because it is so hard to achieve and we are so attached to the idea of ourselves as separated from the other. But when this illusion is broken, and we manage to create a society that has a place for everybody, we feel that we come closer to approaching true humanity.

It is obvious what such an attitude means for the Israel-Palestine conflict. True humanism is not satisfied with a bargaining process that emphasizes identity over communality, especially one that is so heavily slanted towards one side. It cannot find peace in the thought that some are worse off than others. It is not happy with zero sum thinking and doesn’t believe in dividing humanity into people we care for and people we don’t care for. While dualism believes that separation is necessary to preserve our identity and therefore our humanity, humanism believes that overcoming this separateness is what ultimately preserves our humanity. Identity is not lost in this process but transformed in such a manner that it includes our connection with each other. Dualism leads to two state solutions, humanism leads to one state solution. The same way that humanism incorporates the merits of dualism (the acknowledgement of otherness) and yet goes beyond it (in that it acknowledges the connection between self and other), so do one state solutions incorporate and transcend the merits of two state solutions. Jewish and Palestinian identities won’t be lost but enriched in such a reconfiguration. The paradox of identity is that it grows and expands when it is let go of. Holding on to old identities makes them bleed with hatred for otherness. Letting them intertwine with that otherness does not annihilate those identities but instead makes them more ‘true’. Jewish and Palestinian identity might blossom when they won’t have to worry about themselves so much. The sadness about battling identity politics is that ultimately it is not even in the benefit for identities to be kept separated from other identities. It is in the nature of identity to be intimately linked with others. Peace activists that are working towards a one state solution are often confronted with the accusation of anti-Semitism. It is the false assumption that identity requires separateness that leads to accusations of anti-Semitism. Once one understands how self and other are related to each other, the accusation of anti-Semitism becomes nonsensical. Instead one understands that the opposite is true, that the Jewish identity only has a future when it understands how it is intertwined with the rest of humanity. The one state solution, as the symbol of this inter-connectedness, does not lead to the demise of the Jewish people but their salvation.

None of this is foreign language to anybody living in a modern day multi-ethnic nation. It may sound high minded, but it is part of daily life for us that live in societies that attempt to be tolerant. We might not walk around formulating high minded thoughts on how connected we all are, but we all live in these connections and we become outraged when we see manifestations of racism and supremacy. The hope is that ultimately, Jews and Palestinians learn to care for each other in such a way that one hurts when the other one is hurting. That people living as animals without water and electricity or as secondary citizens cause as much uproar in Israel/Palestine as they do here in the US. For all the talk about the biblical origins of both Jews and Palestinians, a one state solution might be the only way to make this land truly biblical.

mother of the world

May 24, 2009

If I was the mother of the world, and countries were my children, Israel would be my problem child. The child that was born out of pain and persecution, its birth itself an act of sin as it had to kill in order to make room for its place in the world. The child that had lost its faith in people before it had a chance to grow up.  Being the mother, I wouldn’t know how to protect my child from itself. I see it kicking and screaming and bullying the others and I instinctively know it is hurting and afraid. And I am hurting for it. I see old anger and new anger mixed with fears in my child and I am afraid for its future. I see my child using its talents and brilliance against itself building walls of security, dividing and exploiting and reigning over its victims. I have seen the body of my child grow more powerful as its soul is contracting. How can I stretch the mind of my child so that it can understand that happiness cannot unfold in a vacuum?  How can I teach my child it is human and that being human means being strong and being weak at the same time? How can I teach my child it doesn’t have to negate the others in order to be? That it doesn’t have to continue to destroy in order to continue to be? That in fact it can only grow into adulthood  as it learns to share the land and the waters and the skies and as it learns that there are no real others, that in our humanity we are essentially the same?  How can I teach my child that it has to let go, that it can inhabit the space between the sea and the Jordan but not own it in any true sense of the word? That ultimately it will also have to let go of all its anger and all its past pains and see in the other his mirror imagine.  That in the end, the answers do not lie in possessions, identity and self-defense, but in community, exchange and vulnerability, and that otherness insofar it is not illusionary is not a thief but a brother.  How can I teach my child that only the future can bring redemption for the past? How can I teach my child that it is not possible for him to fight, undo, or even completely understand the past?  That all one can do with the past is accepting it?

How can I teach my child all these things when my child is raging in anger and won’t listen?  How can I teach my child before it is too late, and my child has destroyed himself in its attempts to destroy the other?

A Little Red Light

April 21, 2009

To me Uri Avnery is Israel’s conscience. Voices like his are very rare. 

Uri Avnery’s Column:


A Little Red Light    18/04/09

PERHAPS Avigdor Lieberman is only a passing episode in the annals of the State of Israel. Perhaps the fire he is trying to ignite will flicker briefly and go out by itself. Or perhaps the police investigations into the grave corruption affair of which he is suspected will lead to his removal from the public sphere. But the opposite is also possible. Last week he promised his acolytes that the next elections would bring him to power. Perhaps Lieberman will prove to be an “Israbluff”’ (a term he himself likes to use), and be revealed, behind the frightful façade, as nothing more than a run of the mill impostor. Perhaps this Lieberman will indeed disappear, to be replaced by another, even worse Lieberman. Either way, we should candidly confront the phenomenon he represents. If one believes that his utterances sound fascist, one has to ask oneself: is there a possibility that a fascist regime might come to power in Israel? THE INITITIAL gut-feeling is a resounding NO. In Israel? In the Jewish State? After the Holocaust which Nazi fascism brought upon us? Can one even imagine that Israelis would become something like the Nazis? When Yeshayahu Leibowitz coined, many years ago, the term “Judeo-Nazis”, the entire country blew up. Even many of his admirers thought that this time the turbulent professor had gone too far. But Lieberman’s slogans do justify him in retrospect. Some would dismiss Lieberman’s achievement in the recent elections. After all, his “Israel is Our Home” party is not the first one to appear from nowhere and win an impressive 15 seats. Exactly the same number that was won by the Dash party of General Yigael Yadin in 1977 and the Shinui party of Tommy Lapid in 2003 – and both disappeared soon after without leaving a trace. But Lieberman’s voters are not like those of Yadin and Lapid, who were ordinary citizens fed up with some particular aspects of Israeli life. Many of his voters are immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who look upon their “Ivett”, an immigrant from the ex-Soviet land of Moldova, as a representative of their “sector”. Although many of them brought with them from their former homeland a right-wing, anti-democratic and even racist world view, they do not pose by themselves a danger to Israeli democracy. But the additional power that turned Lieberman’s party into the third-largest faction in the new Knesset came from another sort of voter: Israeli-born youngsters, many of whom had recently taken part in the Gaza War. They voted for him because they believed that he would kick the Arab citizens out of Israel, and the Palestinians out of the entire historical country. These are not marginal people, fanatical or underprivileged, but normal youngsters who finished high-school and served in the army, who dance in the discotheques and intend to found families. If such people are voting en masse for a declared racist with a pungent fascist odor, the phenomenon cannot be ignored. FIFTY YEARS ago I wrote a book called ”The Swastika”, in which I described how the Nazis took over Germany. I was helped by my childhood memories. I was 9 years old when the Nazis came to power. I witnessed the agonies of German democracy and the first steps of the new regime before my parents, in their infinite wisdom, decided to escape and settle in Palestine. I wrote the book on the eve of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, after realizing that the young generation in Israel knew a lot about the Holocaust but next to nothing about the people who brought it about. What occupied me more than anything else was the question: how could such a monstrous party succeed in coming to power democratically in one of the most civilized countries in the world? The last chapter of my book was called “It Can Happen Here”. That was a paraphrase of the title of a book by the American writer Sinclair Lewis, “It Can’t Happen Here”, in which he described precisely how it could happen in the United States. I argued in the book that Nazism was not a specifically German disease, that in certain circumstances any country in the world could be infected by this virus – including our own state. In order to avoid this danger, one had to understand the underlying causes for the development of the disease. To the assertion that I am “obsessed” by this matter, that I see this danger lurking in every corner, I answer: not true. For years I have avoided dealing with this subject. But it is true that I carry in my head a little red light that comes on when I sense the danger. This light is now blinking. WHAT CAUSED the Nazi disease to break out in the past? Why did it break out at a certain time and not at another? Why in Germany and not in another country suffering from similar problems? The answer is that fascism is a special phenomenon, unlike any other. It is not an “extreme Right”, an extension of “nationalist” or “conservative” attitudes. Fascism is the opposite of conservatism in many ways, even though it may appear in a conservative disguise. Also, it is not a radicalization of ordinary, normal nationalism, which exists in every nation. Fascism is a unique phenomenon and has unique traits: the notion of being a “superior nation”, the denial of the humanity of other nations and national minorities, a cult of the leader, a cult of violence, disdain for democracy, an adoration of war, contempt for accepted morality. All these attributes together create the phenomenon, which has no agreed scientific definition. How did this happen? Hundreds of books have been written about it, dozens of theories have been put forward, and none of them is satisfying. In all humility I propose a theory of my own, without claiming more validity than any of the others. According to my perception, a fascist revolution breaks out when a very special personality meets with a very special national situation. ON THE personality of Adolf Hitler, too, innumerable books have been written. Every phase in his life has been examined under the microscope, each of his actions has been debated relentlessly. There are no secrets about Hitler, yet Hitler has remained an enigma. One of his most obvious traits was his pathological anti-Semitism, which went far beyond any logic. It remained with him to the very last hour of his life, when he dictated his testament and committed suicide. At the most desperate moments of his war, when his soldiers at the front were crying out for reinforcements and supplies, precious trains were diverted to transport Jews to the death camps. When the Wehrmacht was suffering from a grievous lack of practically everything, Jewish workers were taken from essential factories to be sent to their death. Many explanations for this pathological anti-Semitism have been suggested, and all of them have been debunked. Did Hitler want to take revenge on a Jew who was suspected of being his real grandfather? Did he hate the Jewish doctor who treated his beloved mother before she died? Was it a punishment for the Jewish director of the Art school who failed to recognize his genius? Did he hate the poor Jews he came across when he was homeless in Vienna? All of this has been examined and found lacking. The enigma remains. The same is true for his other personal views and attributes. How did he attain the power to hypnotize the masses? What did he have that made so many people, from all walks of life, identify with him? Whence sprang his unbridled lust for power? We don’t know. There is no full and satisfying explanation. We only know that from among the millions of Germans and Austrians who were living at that time, and the thousands who grew up in similar circumstances, there was (as far as we know) only one Hitler, a unique person. To borrow a term from biology: he was a one-time mutation. But the unique Hitler would not have become a historic personality if he had not met with Germany in unique circumstances. GERMANY AT the end of the Weimar republic has also been the subject of many books. What made the German people adopt Nazism? Historical causes, rooted in the terrible catastrophe of the Thirty-year War or even earlier events? The sense of humiliation after the defeat in World War I? The anger at the victors, who ground Germany into the dust and imposed huge indemnities? The terrible inflation of 1923, which wiped out the savings of entire classes? The Great Depression of 1929, which threw millions of decent and diligent Germans into the street? This question, too, has found no satisfying answer. Other people have also been humiliated. Other people have lost wars. The Great Depression hit dozens of countries. In the US and the UK, too, millions were laid off. Why did fascism not seize power in those countries (except in Italy, of course)? In my opinion, the fatal spark was ignited at a fateful moment when a people ready for fascism met the man with the attributes of a fascist leader. What would have happened if Adolf Hitler had been killed in a road accident in the autumn of 1932? Perhaps another Nazi leader would have come to power – but the Holocaust would not have happened, and neither, probably, World War II. His likely replacements – Gregor Strasser, who was No. 2, or Hermann Goering, the flying ace with a morphine addiction – were indeed Nazis, but neither of them was a second Hitler. They lacked his demonic personality. And what would have happened if Germany had not fallen into the depth of despair? The Western powers could have sensed the danger in time and helped in the reconstruction of the German economy and the reduction of unemployment. They could have abrogated the infamous Versailles Treaty, imposed by the victors after World War I, and allowed Germans to regain their self-respect. The German republic could have been saved, the moral leaders, of which Germany had aplenty, could have regained their leadership role. What would have happened then? Adolf Hitler, whom the widely adored President of the Reich, a Field Marshall, had contemptuously called “the Bohemian lance-corporal”, would have remained a little demagogue on the lunatic fringe. The 20th century would have looked quite different. Tens of millions of casualties of war and six million Jews would have remained alive, without ever knowing what could have happened. But Hitler did not die early and the German people were not saved from their fate. At the crucial moment they met, and a spark was struck, lighting the fuse that led to the historic explosion. SUCH A fateful meeting is not, of course, limited to fascism. It has occurred in history in other circumstances and to other persons. Winston Churchill, for example. His statues dot the British landscape, and he is considered one of the greatest British leaders of all times. Yet until the late 1930s, Churchill was a political failure. Few admired him, and even fewer liked him. Many of his colleagues detested him with all their hearts. He was considered an egomaniac, an arrogant demagogue, an erratic drunk. But in a moment of existential danger, Britons found in him their mouthpiece and the leader who took their destiny in his hands. It seemed as if during all the first 65 years of his life, Churchill had been preparing for this one moment, and as if Britain had been waiting for precisely this one man. Would history have looked different if Churchill had died the previous year of coronary thrombosis, lung cancer or cirrhosis of the liver, and Neville Chamberlain had remained in power? We now know that he and his colleagues, including the influential foreign minister, Lord Halifax, seriously considered accepting Hitler’s 1940 peace offer, based on the partition of the world between the German and the British empires. Or Lenin. If the imperial German general staff had not provided the famous sealed train to take him from Zurich to Sweden, from where he proceeded St. Petersburg, would the Bolshevik revolution, which changed the face of the 20th century, have taken place at all? True, Trotsky was in town before him, and so was Stalin. But neither of the two was a Lenin, and without Lenin it would quite possibly not have happened, and certainly not the way it did. Perhaps one could add to this list Barack Obama. A very special person, of unique origin and character, who had a fateful meeting with the American people at an important moment of their destiny, when they were suffering from two crises at once – the economic and the political one – which cast their shadow on the entire world. BACK TO US. Is the State of Israel approaching an existential crisis – moral, political, economic – that could leave it an endangered nation? Can Lieberman, or someone who could take his place, turn out to be a demonic personality like Hitler, or at least Mussolini? In our present situation there are some dangerous indications. The last war showed a further decline in our moral standards. The hatred towards Israel’s Arab minority is on the rise, and so is the hatred towards the occupied Palestinian people who are suffering a slow strangulation. In some circles, the cult of brute force is gaining strength. The democratic regime is in a never-ending crisis. The economic situation may descend into chaos, so that the masses will long for a “strongman”. And the belief that we are a “chosen people” is already deeply rooted. These indications may not necessarily lead to disaster. Absolutely not. History is full of nations in crisis that recovered and returned to normalcy. Besides the real Hitler, who rose to historic heights, there were probably hundreds of other Hitlers, no less crazy and no less talented, who ended their life as bank tellers or frustrated writers, because they did not meet a historic opportunity. I have a strong faith in the resilience of Israeli society and Israeli democracy. I believe that we have hidden strengths that will come to the fore in an hour of need. Nothing “must” happen. But anything “can” happen. And the little red light won’t stop blinking.

Uri Avnery

Website of Gush Shalom :

Link to Avnery’s column:

Uri Avnery Demonstrating at a-Ram checkpoint, 2002




Uri Avnery Demonstrating at a-Ram checkpoint, 2002

palestineimagesThe story of the Palestinian children’s orchestra (Strings for Peace, see previous blog entry) has kept me occupied. My mind keeps returning to the fact that the Palestinian children had never heard of the Holocaust. We know that Palestinians prefer not to talk about the Holocaust, because they fear that the Holocaust will be used to legitimize their own dispossession. We also know that seeing the other as the victim of something so horrendous would imply seeing the other as human, which people who are at war with each other avoid at all cost. And finally we know that some of the most hateful extremists deny the Holocaust out of pure spite against Israel and the West. However, whole generations growing up alongside Israel’s borders without even the most basic knowledge of this ultimate evil is very scary. The names of the death camps (Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec and Chelmno), should be engraved in the memory of all of us as places where people were send for the sole purpose of being slaughtered by the millions in an industrialized fashion. They have to be engraved in our memories because part of being human is to be aware of the evil we are capable of, and there is no bigger evil than the evil that was committed in these camps. It is the responsibility of all of us to remember and be aware. Not knowing is inexcusable and unacceptable. Palestinians should know first of all because they are human. However, they should also know because they are involved in struggle with the people that were the victim of this. How can one make peace with an enemy one does not understand?

Vice versa, it has also become more clear to me that Israelis don’t understand Palestinians much better. It seems to me that Israelis have settled upon their own version and interpretation of their history in the Arab world and base their policies upon this interpretation. This interpretation often involves the denial of the unique identity of the Palestinians as Palestinians, the denial of the right of the Palestinians to a piece of land that can be the foundation of a sustainable state, and all sorts of opinions on the responsibilities of surrounding Arab nations. There is very little compassion for the circumstances the Palestinians in the occupied territories. On the contrary, these circumstances are often being denied, even the occupation itself is often being denied.

It is hard to understand how Israel and Palestine will be able to make peace with each other without recognizing either the history or the identity of the other. What seems to be desperately lacking in years and years of ‘peace processing’ is some form of openness to the story of the other and the willingness to see each the other as human. Not much dialogue is needed to understand another human being. All that is needed to have empathy is openness, a little imagination, and the capacity to see the other as a human being with the same desires and fears as ourselves. Without compassion for the other, there can be no wisdom, and without wisdom, conflict can never progress into a lasting peace.

In conjunction with all of the above, I have thought about my own problems debating this issue with people that hold different positions from myself. I am wondering whether or not the same problems people face debating this issue on a micro level aren’t exactly the same problems, maybe to different degrees, that occur on a macro level between Israel and Palestine.

A couple of the things I have learned:

1) Anybody entering this conflict narrative should be aware of the fact that this debate is very old and positions have hardened. This does not mean however that emotions have cooled down. On the contrary. When it comes to this conflict, the most reasonable people are capable of the most unreasonable reactions. The fierceness of the debate, combined with the fact that the arguments pro and against are so old, makes it very hard for a ‘novice’ to enter it. There are standard responses for standard criticisms and standard attacks for the same criticisms. More often than not an attack constitutes the response.

2) Trust is very hard to build. One has to remember at all times that one is debating a people that has faced the worst. A people cannot face the worst and comes out of it unscathed. The fear of anti-Semitism is real and justified. So it is important to exercise restraint. This is one of the responses I received by somebody who believes I do not exercise enough restrain in debating Israel:

“Feelings about the Holocaust is something that runs extremely deep in many of us. In me, it’s a gnawing pain. My mother very nearly lost her life and her father did. When you love somebody who experienced such rabid racism first-hand – you kind of get upset when your friends can’t see how hurt you are. Maybe we are too sensitive to criticisms of Israel, but you should try to be a little more sensitive to your friends. You know, bite your tongue from time to time. Realize that however incensed you are by the treatment of the Palestinians, that your friends may get really truly hurt by your opinions.” (Kate)

I am no diplomat. And I have a lot more to learn. My perspectives need to widen. Wisdom doesn’t only come from compassion, but from perspective as well. I hope to be as open as possible to anything that can help me understand something.


After one has taken into account a very long history of anti-Semitism culminating in a Holocaust and all the fear and pain associated with this history.

After one has taken into account the long history of the Jewish people in the lands that are being disputed.

After one has taken into account the many contributions of the Jews to our own history and current material prosperity, richness of ideas etc,

After one has reassured as much as one can that the existence of Israel is not at stake, that it should not be at stake, and if it is at stake then the whole world should come to its defense,

And finally, after one has made sure that anti-Semitism is not an option,

One should be able to express that what is happening in the occupied territories is wrong. That a country should not have ‘occupied territories’ to begin with. One can and should argue that all of the above factors make Israel’s predicament understandable. It places it within a context. However, it doesn’t justify anything or even makes it tolerable. Understanding the behavior of a country or being sympathetic to this country does not mean we should tolerate the behavior. In other words, while the past, the present and fears about the future might make the irresponsible behavior of a country comprehensible, it doesn’t make it defensible. The actions of Israel in West bank, Gaza and East-Jerusalem are deeply wrong, to say the least. Israel is to a large extend responsible for the fact that a few million Palestinians are either living as second class citizens within Israel (threatened at the very moment by a foreign minister that wants to expel them) or without any nationality and rights in either refugee camps in other Arab countries or in West bank and Gaza. If Israel itself cannot fix this situation, that it is the responsibility of the rest of the world to intervene. One has to be able to say this much. Silence cannot have the last word, as silence creates complicity.

I keep thinking about the concept of a no-mans-land. There should be a zone where people can exchange stories, thoughts, sentiments and even opinions without being ‘blasted’ viciously by the other. In a land that is claimed by two people, maybe a zone that doesn’t belong to any of them is necessary to make such a dialogue possible.

To end this essay on a happier note. Thinking about the terrible fact that there is so much Holocaust taboo and straight out anti-Semitism in the Arab world, I was browsing the web and found this project: Project Aladin. It is a multilingual website (in Arabic, Persian, French, English, and soon in Turkish) supported by over a 100 muslim intellectuals and a lot of western politicians and thinkers (among them Chirac, Simone Weil, etc) which provides information in a simple fashion on the Holocaust, on the Jews and on the relationship between Jews and Muslims throughout history. Accompanying the website is an online library where members are able to download freely reference books on the Holocaust translated into Arabic and Persian. They include such classics as Anne Frank’s “Diary”, “If This Is a Man” by Primo Levi, “Hitler and the Jews “by the Swiss historian Philippe Burrin, and” Sonderkommando “by Shlomo Venezia. Please check it out. Such initiatives deserve a little attention in a world that seems hell bend on more conflict and more war.

 a corny optical illusion (do you see it?) (a corny optical illusion, do you see it?)

The fiasco of the 2001 UN racism conference, and the fiasco in the making that is the follow up racism conference (starting in Geneva on April 20 next week) points to a fundamental difference in perspective between east and west that makes consensus on a draft, meant to provide a framework to governments and NGO’s on how to deal with racism, xenophobia, etc, nearly impossible. There are two main issues that have led countries like the US, Canada, Australia and Israel to abandon the current conference in its preparatory stage. One of them is the attempt of the Islamic world to outlaw defamation of religion, which is being interpreted by the west as an attempt to curb free speech. The second problem is a focus of the Islamic countries on Israel’s policies in its occupied territories which comes across to non-Islamic countries as an anti-Semitic singling out of Israel, which of course undermines the purpose of the conference to begin with. Both issues have led to self-righteous outrage on all sides, but especially on the side of western counties, which either withdrew from the conference or threatened to withdraw, thereby ironically reinforcing the need for such a conference. Though self-righteous anger and uttering accusations back and forth is a lot of fun, one has to look beyond them if one believes intolerance is on the rise and a global conference could help. And I happen to belief that now more than ever there is a need for such a conference. From the treatment of illegal immigrants as criminals here in the US, the problems with gay marriage, gripes in Europe towards Muslims, and anti-Semitic and anti-Christian attitudes in the Arab world, it seems that the whole world could use an extra dosage of tolerance.

 So what is the underlying problem?

 It seems to me but I could be wrong, that east-west tensions are rooted in an inability to grasp each other’s fundamentally different perspective. Not being aware of how different our outlooks on life are, we assume the other thinks likes us and therefore behaves and more importantly misbehaves like us. And we judge the other the way we judge ourselves. However, east and west do no think the same. There is a radical difference. East and west have very different opinions as to what constitutes the center of our world. For the east that center is God, for the west it is the individual. God used to be our center too, but somewhere in history’s dark recesses we lost this insight and replaced it with a completely new emphasis on the individual. Hence the rise of democracy, human rights, tattoos and rock and roll. Once the perspective shifts, it is no longer possible to go back and remember what we once knew. It is like one of thoface-black-and-white-optical-illusion1se optical illusions in which it is not possible to go back. God has not completely disappeared in the west, but the structure in which God (or the idea of God) and the individual (or the idea of the individual) coexists has changed fundamentally. Such a Copernican shift in consciousness did not occur in the Arab world. God still inhabits his old place in the center of the universe. For the Muslim God is his meaning that permeates his daily life. I do not know which perspective is better. I prefer mine. But I am sure the Muslims will say the same. However, it think it is important to keep in mind what fuels a lot of disagreements. While we want to protect the individual from being persecuted for speaking his mind, an eastern mind wants to protect God from the blasphemies of the individual. While we want to make women equal to men and outlaw headscarves because they are symbol of submission, the Muslim women might want to dedicate her scarf to God. The capitals of Europe are the battlefields on which the perspective wars are taking place. Probably the most important battlefield at the moment however is Israel, where east has been meeting west for decades now in a confrontation of titanic proportions. I believe that this might be the main reason for the ‘singling out’ of Israel by the Arab world. It is the only battlefield in which the east can make itself heard, especially on an occasion such as the racism conference, where all our best values are being discussed. While we may not be able to see the world from the perspective of the other at this moment in history, we can keep in mind that these differences exist. And that the other values his perspective the same way we value ours. This does not solve anything practically. I do not know whether girls should be allowed to wear headscarves in public schools or whether religion should be constitutionally protected. However, keeping these different perspectives in mind may prevent us from accusing each other of ill will, racism, anti-Semitism etc for nothing. Especially on a conference that is meant to out root such evils. From where I stand, and believing that individuals shouldn’t suffer racism etc, having such conferences is always better than not having them. There are too many places in the world where certain people are not tolerated. The more countries that participate in this conference the better. Especially if those countries have a bad track record themselves.

 In other words, to talk is always better than not to talk. In fact we can’t afford not to talk. A conference offers such an opportunity for dialogue. After all, these are not peace negotiations in which swaps of land are at stake. We have nothing to loose except our pride. Walking away from it is to acknowledge the defeat of all that is decent in us. It is the victory of our worst instincts over our capacity for wisdom and patience. It is allowing our ego and our pride to feel insulted, ignored and hurt at the expense of all those who really suffer because of racism, xenophobia, homophobia etc. We have to remember that besides the Individual and besides God, there is the Other for whom we created this conference. And we have to remember that the only alternative to dialogue to solve our differences is violence. And except for those few that thrive on conflict and war, nobody wants to send their sons to war.

 Ending on a good note. After the US made its decision to withdraw from the conference, the preparatory committee took out all references to the defamation of religion and Israel out of the draft paper. Susan Rice, ambassador to the UN is pushing for the US to participate. I am thinking, isn’t this exactly why we voted Obama into office? So what is he waiting for?


Link to the UN Dunbar Review Conference:

 Link to info about Navanethem Pillay, South African president of the conference: 

  Link to optical illusions website (just for fun):