January 4, 2014
Neutral – in whose favor?
A FORMER Israeli army Chief of Staff, a man of limited intelligence, was told that a certain individual was an atheist. “Yes,” he asked, “but a Jewish atheist or a Christian atheist?”
Lenin, in his Swiss exile, once inquired about the party affiliation of a newly elected member of the Duma. “Oh, he is just a fool!” his assistant asserted. Lenin answered impatiently: “A fool in favor of whom?”
I am tempted to pose a similar question about people touted to be neutral in our conflict: “Neutral in favor of whom?”
THE QUESTION came to my mind when I saw an Israeli documentary about the
For some reason, most of them were Jews.
I am sure that all of them were loyal American citizens, who would have been
sincerely offended by any suggestion that they served a foreign country, such as
Bur were they neutral? Are they? Can they be?
My answer is: No, they couldn’t.
Not because they were dishonest. Not because they consciously served one side. Certainly not. Perish the thought!
But for a much deeper reason. They were brought up on the narrative of one side. From childhood on, they have internalized the history and the terminology of one side (ours). They couldn’t even imagine that the other side has a different narrative, with a different terminology.
This does not prevent them from being neutral. Neutral for one side.
By the way, in this respect there is no great difference between American Jews and other Americans. They have generally been brought up on the same history and ideology, based on the Hebrew Bible.
LET US take the latest example. John Kerry is carrying with him a draft plan for the solution of the conflict.
It was prepared meticulously by a staff of experts. And what a staff! One hundred and sixty dedicated individuals!
I won’t ask how many of them are fellow Jews. The very question smacks of anti-Semitism. Jewish Americans are like any other Americans. Loyal to their country. Neutral in our conflict.
Neutral for whom?
Well, let’s look at the plan. Among many other provisions, it foresees the
stationing of Israeli troops in the Palestinian
For neutral Americans, this sounds quite reasonable. There will be a free and
sovereign Palestinian state. The
If the Palestinians achieve their long-longed-for independence, why should they
care about such a bagatelle? If they are not considering military action against
Logical if you are an Israeli. Or an American. Not if you are a Palestinian.
Because for a Palestinian, the
And, well, there is such a thing as national pride and sovereignty.
Imagine Mexican – or even Canadian - troops stationed on 20% of the territory of
Impossible, you say. So why do American experts take it for granted that Palestinians are different? That they wouldn’t mind?
Because they have a certain conception of Israelis and Palestinians.
THE SAME lack of understanding of the other side is, of course, prevalent in the relations between the two sides themselves.
On the last day of anno 2013,
Every time this happens, there is an outcry in
For Israelis, these prisoners are vile murderers, despicable terrorists with “blood on their hands”. For Palestinians, they are national heroes, soldiers of the sacred Palestinian cause, who have sacrificed more than 20 years of their young lives for the freedom of their people.
For days, all Israeli networks have reported several times a day on
demonstrations of bereaved Israeli mothers, clutching in their hands large
photos of their sons and daughters, crying out in anguish against the release of
their murderers. And immediately after, scenes in Ramallah and
Many Israelis were cringing at this sight. But the editors and anchormen would be astonished if they were told that they were inciting the people against the prisoner release, and – indirectly – against the peace negotiations. Why? How? Just honest reporting!
This revulsion at the other side’s rejoicing seems to be an ancient reaction. The Bible tells us that after King Saul was killed in the war against the Philistines, King David lamented: “Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon (both Philistine towns) ; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph.” (II Samuel. 1:20)
Binyamin Netanyahu went further. He made a speech denouncing the Palestinian leadership. How could they organize these demonstrations of joy? What does that say about the sincerity of Mahmoud Abbas? How could they rejoice at the sight of these abominable murderers, who had slaughtered innocent Jews? Doesn’t this prove that they are not serious about seeking peace, that they are all unreformed terrorists at heart, out for Jewish blood? So we cannot give up any security measures for a long, long time.
The prisoners themselves, when interviewed by Israeli TV immediately after their release, argued in excellent Hebrew (learned in prison) that the main thing was to achieve peace. When asked, one of them said: “Is there a single Israeli, from Netanyahu down, who hasn’t killed Arabs?”
THIS GAP of perceptions is, to my mind, the largest obstacle to peace.
This week Netanyahu gave us another beautiful example. He spoke about the
continued incitement against
How can there be peace, Netanyahu exclaimed, if Palestinian children learn in
their classes that
This is so impertinent, that one can only gasp. I don’t think that there exists
a single Hebrew schoolbook that does not mention the fact that
Haifa and Hebron, Jericho and Nazareth are all part of the same country, called
Netanyahu and his ilk cannot imagine this, and therefore they are unable to make peace. On the Palestinian side there are certainly many people who also find this impossible, or too painful.
I wonder if Irish schoolbooks have obliterated 400 years of English domination or abomination. I doubt it. I also wonder how English schoolbooks treat this chapter of their history.
In any case, if an independent (neutral?) commission of experts were to examine
all the schoolbooks in
TO BE more than a mere fragile armistice, peace needs reconciliation. See: Mandela.
Reconciliation is impossible if either side is totally oblivious to the narrative of the other, their history, beliefs, perceptions, myths.
John Kerry does not need 160 or 1600 experts, neutral or otherwise. He needs one good psychologist. Or maybe two.
One can easily understand the feelings of a mother whose son was killed by a Palestinian militant. If one tries, one can also understand the feelings of a mother whose son was ordered by his leaders to attack Israelis and who returns from prison after 30 years.
Only if the American intermediaries, neutral or otherwise, understand both can they contribute to furthering peace.