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Talk after the elections

(February 18, 2001)

The following is a full transcript, in translation from Hebrew, of a talk for NSWAS members organized by the Doumia~Sakina team following Israel's national elections.  

Present B (Jewish man), R (Jewish woman), D (Jewish woman), E (Jewish man),G (Jewish woman): N (Arab woman): K (Jewish woman):  H (Arab woman),  S (Arab man), A (woman) & H. Shippin (taking notes).

S (Arab man) (Introductory remarks)

The Doumia~Sakina team decided to arrange a talk after the elections to check if opinions had changed since.  Many Jewish friends tried to influence the Arabs in the village to vote for Barak.  In addition, the incidents that have occurred recently have had a large influence on the opinions of both sides.  Today, Palestinian officials say they don’t hear much difference between the voices of the Israeli right or the left.  Leftwing Israelis have begun to use the same concepts as the right.  For example, they say there is no partner for peace on the Palestinian side.  We Arabs who supported Barak in the previous elections today caste him outside the gates of the city.   Israeli Jews ask how it is that the Arabs suddenly have conditioned their support of Israeli politicians.

The results of the elections cause us to ask what is the difference between Sharon and Barak.  Who succeeded and who lost.  If we take the nominal results of the elections, only 24% of voters supported Barak.  Some 40% didn’t vote at all.  And if Barak was defeated, how is it that Sharon should offer him so much?

If we compare these figures to NSWAS, some 30% voted for Barak out of those who could vote.  We could ask if this means that our political awareness is behind that of other places or ahead of it?

E (Jewish man):  It was completely irrational for people to cling to hopes that Barak would succeed in the elections.

D (Jewish woman): Barak was willing to go even further in making concessions than Sarid (Meretz party).

E (Jewish man): Still I believe that this may be just another wave that must come before the peace -  part of the awakening that needs to take place before there can be a settlement.

K (Jewish woman): I like to be optimistic and think of this as being like the pains of childbirth; but I am not sure what kind of a birth it may be, and don’t know whether the baby or the mother will survive.  What is sure is that for now fear is the dominant emotion in the street.

E (Jewish man): We have been in this state before; the only difference now is the amount of weaponry on the Palestinian side.  But it doesn’t matter really how which weapons, or how many of them, are being used - the fact that they are being used is what counts.

N (Arab woman): The Arabs were right not to vote for Barak: he was responsible for terrible things.  Perhaps if matters had been different... now we have to look for a new left wing.  Not Yossi Sarid – we need people like Beilin and Bujanski now.  What we have now in Meretz is a party that is more right wing and there is no party that is both socially and politically on the left.

E (Jewish man): It isn’t so much the social dimensions but the political dimensions that matter now.

N (Arab woman):  Many saw socio-economic causes for what happened in October.  But this is completely untrue.

B (Jewish man): I think I was very surprised before the elections that so many people in Israel remained in favor of peace even when understanding that there would be a high price to pay.  But when they understood that, even despite such concessions, Palestinians were not ready to renounce violence, this is what defeated Barak.  I can understand that the Arabs too were mad at Barak, but it is sad that their ability to unite had to benefit a person like Sharon.

N (Arab woman):  I am surprised how people see things so blindly, in black and white terms.  Between Barak and Sharon there isn’t a big difference.  I don’t think what the Palestinians are doing now is more violent than the Occupation.  For instance, the lack of freedom of movement that Palestinians suffer is violence too.

B (Jewish man):  I agree that the Occupation is a form of violence - but the only chance to get out of it is to reach an agreement.

N (Arab woman):   I agree with you, but we have to open our eyes and see what is happening - people are being killed everyday.

D (Jewish woman): There is the logic of the political situation and then there is what happens in the field.   What happened in October wasn’t just the result of political logic but was mainly spontaneous.

G (Jewish woman):  Now I am sorry I tried to influence the Arabs to vote for Barak because their statement was very strong and I am glad about this show of strength.

N (Arab woman):   I didn’t try to influence any Jew not to vote for Barak.  I understood them, but I want them to listen to me too.

E (Jewish man):  The Arabs are playing the Jewish democratic game today.  I think the demonstrations should have continued.

R (Jewish woman): I think the Arabs are acting very logically in unifying. 

E (Jewish man):- So why don’t they go with one party?

R (Jewish woman):   Why should they – what is this request?

B (Jewish man):   In my opinion I am for equality because it is good for everyone - the process can be painful.  Whoever is in the weak position acts violently – it may be bad, but it is a fact…

 

N (Arab woman):  I think you are being very pretentious.  The Arabs in Israel are as if under a closure today.

E (Jew):   Most of the Arabs in Israel are so integrated in society that they can’t afford to do much.  I think if they would act in the same way as the Palestinians over the Green Line, this would be too painful - but it is the only thing that would advance their cause.

N (Arab woman):   the Arabs have amassed political capital now which will help them.  See how Sharon is acting.

 

S (Arab man):   Sharon isn’t looking at these elections but at the next ones, he is playing a game.

N (Arab woman):   I cannot easily attribute the failure to reach an agreement to the fact that the Palestinians used violence.

The conceptions that what I have taken possession of is mine, and that it is legitimate for Jews to remain in the territories, etc have now collapsed.  Most of the Jews who settle there are not even interested in getting along with the Arabs – they only want to make trouble and fight with them.  This is violence.  The future cannot be good without a commitment to cooperation.  The Palestinians made a historical agreement to the principle of two nations.

Israel does not have a democratic way of thinking or awareness.  There is a paternalistic view of the situation.  The Jews will decide who can settle in Israel.  And the Israelis are ready to let in many who are not even Jews.  At the same time my uncle, because he is Palestinian, cannot return.

H (Arab woman):   My grandfather has a lot of land in Damoun, a village near Tamra, that was vacated in ‘48.  We are forbidden to live there.  The Druze began to cultivate that land – but they were threatened by fines.  Then my grandfather placed a complaint that the land belonged to him.  The authorities said they were willing to make a deal and offer a small amount of land in return.  He didn’t agree, and there it stands.  Even if you know land is yours, and can prove it, this doesn’t mean you can get it back.

S (Arab man):   There is a reality that the Jews understand but my reality too has a place.

K (Jewish woman):   I remember what happened in a workshop of the School for Peace that I took part in a few years ago.  We had agreed on the principle of a Palestinian State – but couldn’t settle on the relations between  Jews and Arabs in Israel.

I think the major obstacle is the right of return – this is a very sensitive issue.  I feel a great threat when it comes to whether there will remain a Jewish majority here.

R (Jewish woman): it doesn’t matter to me.

K (Jewish woman):  I think we should think of creative ways to compensate those who have lost things. There has been a big revolution in Jewish society – we should understand this – and not expect people to move too quickly… 

R (Jewish woman):  For ten years you have been talking like this.  I have no patience to listen any longer!

K (Jewish woman):  You can go if you like.

R (Jewish woman):   I am going! [leaves the room].

K (Jewish woman):  Jewish society has made a radical change, and I am surprised that Palestinians can feel no empathy for this.

H (Arab woman):  You are asking that the victim should show empathy for oppressor.  Why should we?  

K (Jewish woman):  Jewish society is experiencing an earthquake, and it is not easy for them.  We are attempting to reach a permanent solution.  Both sides are in a very emotional state.

N (Arab woman):  So get to the point…

K (Jewish woman):  The process of recognition takes time for both sides.  On both sides we have to change our opinions.

N (Arab woman):  You can speak for yourself, but not for the Palestinians!

K (Jewish woman):  I want to connect this to NSWAS.  It isn’t only the blood that has been spilled on both sides.  I feel that things on the outside have implications for us here.  In NSWAS, we are trying to create an equal society.  Here I, as a Jew, am asking how we can create a sense of partnership here.  How can we establish a framework of trust between us?  When I came to NSWAS I asked how I could help build this.  But how can it happen when every time you see me, you think of me as a symbol of all that you despise? 

N (Arab woman): I have heard this from you for 12 years and I am still surprised by your attitude.  There is no longer anything personal about understanding these issues.  The personal side doesn’t come into it - personal is passé.  It isn’t just me.  The meaning of what you are saying is, “relate to me as a person, and I will continue to screw you on the political level.”  In NSWAS we cannot act as if we are somehow separate from the situation outside.  The situation is like that in which a person is raped, and the rapist is asking the victim for understanding.

I don’t see how people can any long make nationalistic excuses for the way they are treating other human beings.  It isn’t even clear how much longer nation – states will continue to exist in the old way – we can see what is happening in Europe.

E (Jewish man): I think I would be happy if we could have a nation with clear borders.

N (Arab woman): But what about the minority here?

S (Arab man):  When I came to NSWAS, it wasn’t in order to have good personal relations with Jews – I could have done that anywhere.  I wasn’t looking for the “all of us together” kind of thing.  In coming here, I wanted to find an alternative way of relating to the conflict.

K (Jewish woman):  Do you see NSWAS as a model for a solution?

S (Arab man):  No.  And in our relations, I suggest that we should forget the level of who deserves understanding, and who is more the victim.  I won’t agree to idea that we should understand you.  I won’t participate in justifying the oppressor. 

A (woman):   We have chosen to live together, and we have to learn to understand each other.  In the situation today, where the Palestinians are suffering so much, it is hard to ask them to show understanding for the Jews, but eventually this is what must happen.  That is the challenge ahead of us.

N (Arab woman):   I don’t think I made myself understood.  It is certain that in the end this must happen.  That is the ideal.  But today, it is impossible.

I have known Jews from age 0; knowing them has shaped my understanding of my identity, so that today I understand myself only in relation to them.  But what we heard very clearly in October is that, “For you there is no democracy.  If you demonstrate, we will kill you.”

D (Jewish woman): I think it is a mistake for us to look for justice   I don’t think there will ever be.  We should do the best we can in the circumstances.  I don’t think the Palestinians should understand me.  I am surprised how much they do.  If the situation were reversed, the resistance would be much stronger.  I think I have passed the stage of wanting to be understood.  I am looking for ways to ease the conflict to the degree that we can, because I don’t think we can solve it.

To do some kind of positive work we must try to get into the other’s shoes.  I think the Palestinians have done this for a long time.

H (Arab woman):   Khalil Gibran says “justice melts like ice.”  I didn’t vote because I felt this is the business of the Jews and I shouldn’t have a part in this.  I was very glad to see the reaction in Nazareth and the pride people took in it, the sense of ridicule in the atmosphere.  I don’t see why I should excuse the Jews.  Why should I be a victim?  If I understand it, why should I forgive it?  They talk about “a historical return,” to this land, but this is the law of the jungle.  It doesn’t matter how cultivated people are.  With all the history from ‘48 till now, they say, “Sorry, you have been kicked out, and we want to remain the majority; it isn’t possible to return those who have been kicked out.”

E (Jewish man):  So how do you see your place in NSWAS today?

H (Arab woman):  I feel I can live wherever I want, and it is comfortable for me here.

B (Jewish man):   I haven’t heard people explain why they are here much in our discussions.  I have a few reasons that I can think of.  I am asking myself why I am concerned.  If the purpose is partnership we don’t have a legitimate discussion between us.  I think I am immediately identified with one side.  There is no attitude like one could imagine of scientists trying to discover the truth.  We still haven’t found a way to discuss things that can help us to solve the problems.  And it doesn’t seem to be belief that holds us here.

I have heard that there can’t be partnership since that depends on both sides understanding each other.  Someone who feels raped isn’t open to listening to the other side.  I see things differently but feel that I have no legitimacy to speak.  If partnership is impossible, what are we doing here?

Somebody who lives in a society has to see individuals.  Everyone is an individual but at the same time a member of a people.  I am worried, and I think I am right in worrying.

E (Jewish man):  If you take two good people, they can work together and advance things.  I think this is true in NSWAS, and that this can be a model for the country.  By saying you are comfortable here  [to H]  you fell into my trap.  If you feel happy here, and you feel good about your children going to school here, that is great.  You can call this bourgeois, but i think it has some value.  

B (Jewish man): For what?  So that people can sit here and attack each other?

E (Jewish man):  I  want to communicate something of what I feel too.  I am against the Palestinians having a right of return.  I wouldn’t be worried if a million more Russians came here.

N (Arab woman):  And Ethiopians?

 E (Jewish man):   Less so than if it was Arabs.  I am worried that eventually there would be no democracy here, just as in the Arab countries.

N (Arab woman): So you are aware of being a racist?

K (Jewish woman):   N’s image of rape is what I feel here too.

B (Jewish man):   I think that much of what the Arabs say is the result of their wanting to be identified with the elite in Arab society, just as the Jews want to see themselves as being among the elite of Jewish left.

S (Arab man)  (concluding remarks:)

We came here and chose for ourselves an impossible situation.  We have to hear these things because the situation is so hard.  I am very happy that we were able to have this talk despite all the difficulty we all felt.

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