What role for settlers in conflict resolution?

- by Green Olive staff - 

An academic from Ariel University recently sat on a panel at a conference in Tel Aviv, to the surprise of many participants.

The Innovations in Conflict Resolution and Mediation conference at Tel Aviv University was the first of its kind and an invitation was extended to Ariel University, built in one of Israel’s largest settlements on land occupied since 1967. At the time, the occupation was unanimously declared illegal by the United Nations Security Council in Resolution 242 and many more resolutions have followed since. Despite condemnation from the Council of Presidents of Israeli Universities, Ariel University was granted full university status in 2012.

One of the panels the Green Olive Collective attended is particularly relevant to our tour guides and discussed the important role of narratives in conflicts and their resolution. Among the panellists was Ariel's Idit Miller, who presented research that was academically flimsy and ideologically very dangerous. You can read an abstract of her work here and see an interview with her here. She interviewed Palestinian and Jewish-Israeli factory workers in the Barkan Industrial Park - itself built on illegally occupied land, near Ariel.

The facility employs several hundred Palestinians and her research saw her conduct anonymous interviews with 25 of them and a similar number of Jewish staff members. She proudly described how Palestinian staff have the same salaries and all the same workers’ rights as their Jewish Israeli counterparts. She said some were managers and overwhelmingly they reported a great sense of pride due to the economic benefits these jobs brought them. Furthermore, she said that there was a happy, politics-free coexistence at the factory that benefited Jews and Arabs alike.

While we haven’t conducted our own research in the communities, and admit that it would usually be dangerous to discount rigorous academic work out of hand merely because it didn’t align with our personal ideology, this is not the case here. Firstly, the intrinsic institutional and political bias of somewhere like Ariel University conducting this research should make the public very cautious. Second, there is much plainly contradictory evidence which Miller ignores. Palestinians employed in Israeli businesses in the Occupied Territories have only benefited from Israeli labour laws since 2007 after a long legal battle. Kav LaOved, the Israeli workers’ rights organisation, claim that especially in smaller factories Palestinian rights remain frequently abused. You can read an (admittedly slightly outdated) report on the generally tough conditions faced by Palestinians employed in settlements here.

Even if we accept that the specific factory used in the research is a shining example, the general effect of the settlements on the Palestinian economic and way of life cannot be forgotten. Neither can the fact that the land the factory was built on was never paid for but won in military action! Human Rights Watch claim that Israeli businesses operating in Area C (land occupied since 1967 and since 1995 formally under Israeli civil and military control) costs the Palestinian economy $3.4 billion a year.

Meanwhile just over a month ago a Palestinian employee at the facility smuggled in an automatic weapon and shot three of his co-workers, killing two. While this is undoubtedly an awful act of terror, the incident was brushed off by Ms. Miller as insignificant when building an overall picture of coexistence.

The terrorist who attacked the Barkan industrial park is still at large.
The IDF destroyed his family home on November 6.

The theoretical framework for her research came from Allport’s 1968 contact theory. In a nutshell, it claims that under the right conditions contact between two groups can reduce tensions and increase cooperation. One of the explicit conditions is equality. This was addressed in a cursory manner by Miller and she used other research which had found limited success under less than ideal conditions to upend this pillar of the theory. The inequality in the park makes the research ludicrous. Palestinians may have the same minimum wage as their Israeli colleagues, but they live under military rule where they can be arbitrarily detained and tried in a military court. Palestinians may have the same holiday leave as their colleagues, but while an Israeli can take their vacations on the beach of Tel Aviv or in the jungle of Thailand, most of the Palestinian workers do not have access to a coastline or an airport.

The irony of the situation was not lost on the other panel members, the moderator nor the audience. Everyone listened respectfully, but when question time came around both Miller and the Tel Aviv University administration were peppered with tough questions which they barely managed to answer. TAU and the moderator Dr. Steven Klein came in for criticism for their normalisation of the occupation by even allowing Ariel to participate. Klein admitted many academics, including himself, opposed Ariel being represented, but said as an officially recognised university there was nothing TAU nor he could do.

Other audience members and panel members, notably Jeremie Bracka of Monash University, said that her research presentation was unacceptable. It should also be noted that other panel members proposed many interesting concepts that do recognise Palestinian narratives. It was Bracka who movingly suggested that until Israel recognises the trauma of the nakba peaceful coexistence is impossible.

What do you think about mainstream Israel’s treatment of institutions in the settlements? Many would argue that the international community and the UN are very clear on this matter and we should follow their lead. Others claim that international law is irrelevant because the land of Israel was gifted to the Jewish people by God in the Bible and is governed by higher laws. Others still may point out that although Ariel University is on territory claimed in battle in 1967, Tel Aviv University itself sits on the remains of the Arab village Sheik Munis, destroyed in 1948. Ultimately, what’s the big difference? Let us know what you think below, on our Twitter page or in our Facebook comment section.


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