The world finally is waking up to the realization of the pervasive scourge of racism and its negative impact on society. Asking the victim, rather than the perpetrator seems to have yielded more honest results. Finally, it appears that significant action to address the problem is beginning.
Unfortunately, after years of hatred there are elements of bigotry in the foul-tasting stew of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Will they also open their eyes wider and begin to see new possibilities for Peace? Only time will tell.
I was excited at the prospect of learning about people working on Peace between Israelis and Palestinians. This may be one organization’s proposal, but to know people were working so hard to find a solution was encouraging. As George Floyd’s brother, Filonis, recently said on 60 Minutes, “Everyone wants to live on this earth and have Peace.”
Humanity has been on my mind quite often lately as I see so many instances on the news of people acting inhumanely. In the United States, we are seeing collisions between Peaceful protestors of all colors and the police after the killing of George Floyd.
Sherrilyn Iffil, Lawyer and Defense Fund Director-Counsel for the NAACP said, “You know what happens when you don’t deal with things that you should have dealt with in the past? You keep reliving the past.” This quote especially caught my attention because it in part was also what Israel Piekarsh was saying at a recent lecture I attended.
Humans act and react as humans―no surprise there. There are lots of psychological reasons why we have certain beliefs and feelings that lay the foundation for our actions or inaction.
In a recent virtual presentation sponsored by my favorite apolitical Peace organization in Israel, Roots/Shorashim/Judur, Israel Piekarsh Founder and Director of the Anahnu Movement (The Together Movement) presented an analysis of historical cultural interactions in Israel and the organization’s hope for the future that they are working hard to build.
Anahnu strives for collaboration between disparate groups in Israeli and Palestinian society to work together toward a WIN-WIN solution. The breadth and depth of the problem they have chosen to tackle caused me to pause in admiration. Do they have the answer? I don’t know. But the fact of their intensely researched, heart-felt determination made me want to learn more.
They acknowledge the impact that beliefs have on our perceptions. That made sense to me. He spoke about how personal beliefs were negatively impacting the possibility of Peace between Israelis and Palestinians. There is no doubt in my mind that is true. Anahnu is seeking a positive solution for both sides.
I decided to write this in two parts because I did not want to leave out why Piekarsh believes we are still struggling to achieve Peace, from their ideas to work toward Peace in this tragic drama.
Piekarsh said the reason why none of the Peace attempts between the Israelis and Palestinians ever worked was that they did not address each sides’ core beliefs and assumptions about the other. Drawing borders on a map does not deal with the thoughts and feelings about these borders, thus the endless hamster wheel spinning with the same stalemate decade after decade.
Piekarsh’s personal story aroused my interest since he said it had made him begin thinking differently, which ultimately led him on a path to myriad new realizations. This struck home, having had my own awakening in Israel in 2014 which led me to write my book, “BLASTED from COMPLACENCY: A Journey from Terror to Transformation in Israel.”
Growing up he had received a strong right-wing education. But in 2005 he was an IDF soldier and his unit was assigned to the Gaza Strip a little more than a month before Israel disengaged.
He was in the military and he knew many settlers. He would look at the settlements and see that they were prospering economically. They had impressive agricultural technology and great communities. He would listen to them talk about their experiences and their anger toward the Palestinians because of terrorism. Yet, he began to realize when both the right and left wings of Israeli society described their views of the situation, they only told their side of the story based on their personal beliefs.
It struck me that this is human nature. Don’t we all build our own realities based on our perceptions and see the world through our own lenses? When we are challenged with differing beliefs, how often do we immediately discount them as being flawed? It takes effort to stop and really listen to what is being said and confront our own biases.
As part of their military activity, he also saw and listened to the Palestinians of Khan Younis. They were poor, suffering, and struggling to support their families. Yet, from a security point of view he could not ignore the fact that terrorist organizations and flags were everywhere.
The gap between the two societies was huge. As he was talking, I could see clearly how beyond jealousy, feelings of injustice could arise in the Palestinians. In my mind this could never justify the violence intentionally and proudly acted upon against Israel, but it helps with understanding why.
And the Israeli military was everywhere.
These experiences drove him to rethink how he felt about their society. He dove into research and studied Peace processes at the Hebrew University for seven years, and ultimately after a decade the Anahnu Movement was founded. He has worked with various organizations and people from many segments of society both Jewish and Arab, from academia, political parties, religious movements, government, the Knesset, and the Supreme Court.
He decried that there was a zero-sum game presented in each negotiation―if the Israelis win then of necessity the Palestinians lose and vice versa. He was searching to find a unifying story to bring together all members of society in a new form.
Of course, you cannot look at each side as if there is only one pervasive political belief. This tiny country has so many factions.
On the Jewish side in Israel there are many tribes―left and right-wing activists, Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, and religious believers of various sects that influence their politics including the Ultra-orthodox, the Hassidim, Haredi, Kabbalists, Orthodox, Conservatives and Reform Jews as well as non-religious Jews (secular) who are more culturally Jewish. Zionists overlay these divisions and are people who believe in the reestablishment of a Jewish nation in Israel.
Dare I mention that amongst each group there are many opinions. In our own families we often disagree. There is the old joke, Two Jews, three opinions. Even Abraham debated God in the Bible. It is how we humans think and thankfully we live in countries (the U.S. and Israel) where debate is allowed.
Add to this the political parties and government and the choices multiply. Unlike in the U.S. where we have very few political parties, there are plenty of options in Israel. In their election in March 2020, although there are five main parties,1 there were twelve parties represented in the Knesset (their Parliament), and many more that were not, but exist in Israeli politics.2
Israel is a democracy and you may be surprised to find out that Arabs in Israel have their own parties and vote in Israeli elections. Called the Joint List, it is comprised of four smaller Arab-Israeli parties.3
Approximately 21% of Israel’s population in 2019 was Arab.4 There are Arab Israelis and Arab Palestinians (they decide personally what they want to be called) and religiously there are Arab Muslims (Sunni, Ahmadiyyas, Shia, Alawite, Bedouin, Kurdish, Romani and Turkish), Arab Christians, Druze and Circassians (some are Muslim and some are not).5
There are also Armenians and non-Arab Christians living in Israel. And small groups of other religions including Samaritans, Hindus, Baha’i’s, Buddhists, Neopagans, and African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem.6
The Palestinian Authority governs the West Bank and the president is a member of Fatah. Hamas rules the Gaza Strip and many nations including the United States have identified them as a terrorist organization. Dangerously, there are also Arab terrorist groups such as the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Palestine Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC) and Harakat al-Sabireen.7 Unfortunately, they express their opinions with deadly force.
Piekarsh recapped the historical sides of both the Israelis and Palestinians. It brought to my mind what seems to be in the U.S. news daily―the blame and victim game. What would happen if as a starting point instead, these two peoples took responsibility for their own actions and chose to collaborate?
The Jewish/Zionist Narrative
During the late 1940’s Jews were under “anti-Semitic siege throughout the world” and were seeking to come back to their homeland. Zionists started purchasing land legally and Peacefully. At that time, they wanted to build two states with equal rights for both Israelis and the Arabs. But in 1948 the Arabs refused, started a war, and attacked the Jewish towns and villages. The Zionists blamed the Arabs for starting the war and the fact that 700,000 of their people ran away was on their shoulders as far as the Zionists were concerned.
In 1967, Arabs tried to blockade Israel and the Israelis thought the surrounding Arab states might invade. The Israelis believed that they had to defend themselves.
Israel was successful during the war and ended up occupying significant territories that were historic lands of Israel. The Israelis felt they needed to keep the lands as a buffer to future Arab attacks. The Israelis believe that to maintain Peace they must defend themselves.
Some Israelis believe they should give back some of the land to have Peace. Yet it seems that the entire Israeli nation believes that they had to occupy these lands to defend themselves. The Israelis believe that the Arabs must understand that they are responsible for the outcome that occurred.
Two main complaints of Israelis towards Palestinians are that they do not believe that the Jews have any right to the land as a homeland and that terrorism is used targeting innocent civilians to achieve their goals. Therefore, Palestinians are considered their enemy.
The Arab/Palestinian Narrative
The Palestinian narratives of the same events are vastly different. The Arabs believed that the colonial British Empire wanted oil. The British took the previously Peaceful Jewish people who had coexisted with the Arabs throughout the Middle East and shifted their mindset with the Balfour Declaration to be part of the British colonialism creating a fake Zionist nation. The British Empire gave the Jews money to purchase land and changed the politics on the ground, the economy, religion, and law. The Jews got more land and the British sought more control over the Palestinians.
Note: One point of agreement between Palestinians and Israelis is that they both believed the British were against them.
The Palestinians believe that ever since 1917 the story has been the same. The book is filled with more and more chapters of the same event―Palestinian land is taken away and given to Israel. The terms are unequal and unfair, and Israel reaps the rewards. They believe that the western world stands behind Israel.
Once again with the Trump “Deal of the Century,” the Big Superpower and the Zionist movement is trying to take more land and changing the terms against them.
There are three main complaints of the Palestinians toward the Israelis. Palestinians say that Israelis keep taking Palestinian land. Palestinians blame the Israelis because of the Nakba (the Catastrophe), when in 1948, thousands of Arabs were expelled when Israel declared their Independence. Today the Palestinians insist on the Right of Return for themselves and their descendants forevermore. They believe no one has the right to forbid them from coming back including Israel or their own leaders. Lastly, Israel must withdraw from the West Bank.
One unfortunate issue is that both sides claim the reasons that they are taking various detrimental actions toward the other is because of what the other side is doing. It seems we should have better reasons for actions than blaming the other given the grave consequences. Each must learn to accept responsibility for their decisions.
Piekarsh gave these examples:
If you ask Palestinians why do you let terrorists hurt innocent people?
They say, what do you want us to do? We must do this. We had the Nakba and we are under occupation. This is our response―you must understand.
If you ask Israelis…
Do you think the occupation is right? That Israel repeatedly took their land?
No, it is wrong, but we must defend ourselves from Palestinian terrorism. They refuse to accept our national rights. This is all we can do.
Responsibility for each groups’ actions seems to evade each side. Piekarsh said, “They don’t claim that their actions are reasonable, moral, or strategically the best idea, but they say it’s the only thing they can do because of the other side’s actions.” They seem to believe two wrongs make them right. This would be ludicrous if the repercussions weren’t so serious.
Adding to the sad state of affairs are other unhelpful claims.
Both sides accuse the other of being fake. The Palestinians say that Israelis are a fake Zionist nation made up by the superpowers. The Israelis say that the Palestinians as a people were made up. In 1948, these Arabs were groups of families and did not think of themselves as a nation. They were from Syria and Egypt. Palestinians did not exist until Israel was born and they rejected the establishment of the Jewish nation. Then the struggle against Zionism began.
Both sides believe they are victims of the others’ actions. That the other side is stronger and if they do not stand up against the enemy―they lose.
Both sides have opposing views of the opportunity for choice for the Palestinians. The Palestinians believe their land was taken from them and that they had no choice but to fight to get it back no matter if it means by fighting wars and with terrorism.
The Israelis believe the Palestinians had many choices and they continuously refused the Zionist offers time after time. They were offered the two-state solution and with equal rights. The Israelis do not believe that the Palestinians did not have a choice other than war and terrorism. They chose to bemoan their history and bring it into the current situation. The Israelis believe the blame should be placed on the Palestinians and they should take responsibility for refusing any proposals.
So, we have both sides believing that they are victims and if anything happens positive for their enemy, they lose. What can be done? Soon we’ll see what Anahnu proposes in Part II. What are their ideas to help move Peace forward?
May You Live in Peace, שלום, سلام,
As always, I invite you to Join Me on My Journey…
1 by Venus D., “ What are the Main Political Parties in Israel?” May 6, 2020, https://www.wisegeek.com/what-are-the-main-political-parties-in-israel.htm
2 “List of political parties in Israel,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_political_parties_in_Israel
3 “The Joint List,” Israel Policy Forum, https://israelpolicyforum.org/joint-list/
4 by Mitchell Bard, “The Status of Arabs in Israel,” The Jewish Virtual Library, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-status-of-arabs-in-israel
5 by Joyce Chepkemoi, “The Major Religions in Israel,” World Atlas, June 14, 2018, https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-major-religions-in-israel.html
6 by Joyce Chepkemoi, “The Major Religions in Israel,” World Atlas, June 14, 2018, https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-major-religions-in-israel.html
7 “Major Palestinian Terror Organizations,” Jewish Virtual Library, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/major-palestinian-terror-organizations
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