by Eldad Brin -
On the one hand, alleged religious, social, economic and indeed, mental gaps between Israel and its neighbors make it very difficult for both sides to reconcile and move towards mutual recognition, stability and normalization. In recent decades the general discourse regarding the Arabs/Muslims and their clash with Western values has been used more and more to explain why reconciliation is impossible and why rapprochement is nothing but a naïve liberal concept.
On the other hand, many Israelis, and their supporters and allies in the West, make use of the so-called "primitive" and "medieval" values of our Arab and Muslim neighbors as scapegoat, a means by which to justify Israel's reluctance to make any concessions to the Palestinians languishing under its occupation.
I was born in Jerusalem – the heart and soul of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, which lies at the heart of the wider, protracted Israeli-Arab Conflict – and have lived in it all my life. I spend much time in the Palestinian districts as part of my work as tour guide in the city, and have been involved in efforts to introduce everyday Israelis and non-Israelis to the harsh and unjust conditions which most Palestinians in the city have been experiencing since 1967.
My life in Jerusalem, my work which revolves around its intricate, neo-colonial geopolitics, as well as my common sense, all allows me the benefit of steering clear of what I perceive as conservative and narrow-minded clichés regarding the Israeli-Arab abyss.
I seriously tend to believe that the average, run-of-the-mill Palestinian in East Jerusalem, Jenin and even Gaza doesn't have Huntington's "Clash of Civilisations" on his mind when he professes his hatred of Israel. I think what he does have in mind is the memory of the mass uprooting and expulsion of his people back in 1948, and again in 1967. I think he's probably more worried about the land Israel took from him to expand an illegal settlement. I would guess he's more troubled by the curfews, the closures, the bombings, the raids, the humiliating home-searches and the blatant discrimination in social and physical infrastructures. It's the lack of any dignified future, the fact that all he could hope for is more of the same, the fact that with every passing day the chances for real Palestinian self-determination diminish further. I would believe he's more annoyed - to put it mildly - by worsening settler violence, backed up by army indifference and state forgiveness.
To paraphrase on what presidential candidate Clinton once said: It's the humiliation, stupid. It's the poverty, the lack of hope, in one word - the very living under a seemingly-endless occupation, exacerbated by religious and nationalistic motivations.
The Palestinian Authority is no democracy, that's true. But while the Palestinians are making enormous strides forward, Israel - never much the democracy it was pretentious enough to claim it was - is becoming less and less democratic, and more and more like South Africa during its worst times. Given the horrendous latest legislation wave in our so-called "Jewish Democracy" - an oxymoron if there ever was one - what right do we have of blaming anyone with lack of democracy?
Israel is much, much worse that an "imperfectly realized" democracy, which is how many of us would want to believe. Its relatively tender age and the rough neighborhood its in can only justify so much. With all its amazing achievements in so many fields, the question whether Israel is a real democracy remains open to debate. Sure, our neighboring countries, monarchies and republics alike, are usually worse. That shouldn't be our excuse. Assessing the strength of our democracy only in comparison to certain countries around us is making life too easy on ourselves. A real democracy is an absolute, not relative, notion.
Israel, since 1967, is going through a slow and painful process of suicide. Plain and simple. Sadly, unlike an individual who kills himself in the privacy of their own quarters, this national self-infliction is accompanied by an ongoing, painful and harmful occupation of over four million Palestinians. Fair enough: Arab resent towards the Zionist enterprise galvanized before Israel was born as a sovereign nation, but we can only go so far in placing Palestinian hatred towards under the too-wide umbrella of the Arab world's historical attitude towards Israel. A single settlement in the West Bank has much more effect on the Palestinians and their outlook on Israelis and Jews than any decisions taken in Khartoum 45 years ago (to say nothing of a multitude of other aspects of the ongoing occupation).
The Hamas aside, Israel, with its very own chauvinistic, often racist hands has earned the Palestinian's hatred and mistrust, fair and square. And that goes also for the hatred of other Arab and Muslim people with whom we don't share a border. Why can so many of us, here in Israel, be angry at Chinese violations of human rights – and we're not even Tibetan - but find it so incredulous that an Iranian should have empathy towards the Palestinian's plight?
Many claim that the Palestinians under Israeli control also earned our aversion and mistrust in years of murderous violence against peaceful civilians (and especially the bleeding years of the second intifadah, 2000-2003). According to this view, the Separation Barrier, the military incursions of the West Bank and the bombing of Gaza were all necessary evils by which we try and protect our children against bloodthirsty animals. Still, claiming this is missing the greater picture. Why do we fail, time and again, in realizing that Palestinian parents want the very same for their kids, only their chances of actually realizing that are so much slimmer than ours. Obviously, Jews never blew themselves up on Palestinian buses, but isn't state terror just as bad? Especially when it's been dragging on for four and a half decades, with no end in sight, and is often upheld by the Israeli Supreme Court?
When it's all said and done, and despite so many dead and maimed Israelis, we long ago ceased to be the victim in this mad equation. We're the Goliath, not the David. Sure, there's anti-Semitism and there's the Hamas and Ahmadinejad and in the Gaza Strip murdering your own daughter goes unpunished and a wealth of other excuses, but these are all but welcome diversions to people who won't face up to what lies at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Sure, Abu Mazen is not the prince on the white horse Israel has been waiting for, but neither were Sadat and Hussein - both ruthless dictators in their own right - but that didn't stop Israel from making peace with them.
Waiting for the Arab and Muslim world to become a Scandinavia-on-a-lower-latitude is waiting for Hell to freeze over. Using that as an excuse to grab land, deny basic rights and keep placing a huge civilian population under our thumb is much worse than cynical; it's downright disastrous. I, for one, was brought up to see what I am doing wrong before blaming others for my situation. What applies to me as an individual should apply to my country as well.
Sadly, we're not anywhere near that.
Eldad Brin is a tour guide for Green Olive Tours. Contact the office if you would like him to lead your tour of Jerusalem or any part of Israel.
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