my short talk yesterday
I was planning to post my notes for the Jewish Socialist After Gaza event beforehand. Of course, I was still writing them at 7pm. So here they are:
The title of this evening is “After the war on Gaza: What next for the Palestinians? And how can Jews here and in Israel help bring about a just peace?” I would like to start by disqualifying my self from answering both questions. First of all, I don’t think I have a right to tell anyone – Palestinian, British, Israeli, Muslim, Christian, Jewish or other – what they should do. Even if I did, my belief is that the less you tell people what to do, the better a job they do at figuring it out. Second, and perhaps more critical, I have a serious difficulty with the juxtaposition of Palestinians and Jews implied by the title. I see that distinction as the root cause of the current tragic situation, and any statement that emphasises it is dangerous. I will get back to that in a moment.
So what can I offer you tonight? Only this: my fears and hopes for the land I love, and my thoughts about what I should do. If you can help me by commenting on these, I am grateful. If you will find some of the questions I ask myself resonating with your own, then perhaps your time has not been wasted. If not, my apologies. I’ll try to keep it short.
Sitting here, looking there, I feel sad, confused and disempowered. I watch with horror as governments who claim to represent me and defend my loved ones launch attacks on Lebanon and Gaza, killing thousands of civilians. I hear, unbelieving, how my friends and family justify these attacks as inevitable acts of self-defence. I see, and cannot explain, the rise of Lieberman and resurrection of Netanyahu. I know what I would be doing if I was there – but I’m not. The events seem to be rushing at me at torrential pace, I feel the urgent need to respond, react, do something – but just can’t see a path ahead, my instinct is to “just do anything, anything but silence”. In fact, as paradoxical as it may seem, this is probably the right time to stand still for a moment and reflect. Standing still is better than rushing headlong over a cliff.
We hear a lot about the two peoples, the two narratives. In fact, we have many peoples and many narratives: there are Druze, Muslims, Christians, Samaritans, Bedouin, 1st, 3rd, 10th generation Israeli Jews, Israeli Palestinians, Jews of Arab heritage, and so on. Yet we all have one land, one history, and if any – one future. Denying these facts is what I see as the first source of our predicament. The second, related issue is that this one land speaks two languages. No, not Hebrew and Arabic. I’m talking of the language of life and the language of death, the language of hope, and the language of despair.
For me, as I learned from my friend Mohammad Darawshe, despair is not an option. So what can I do? What I have been doing – only more. Side myself with those who deny the boundaries between people, who seek the common humanity in all, who continue to build our common future.
A small example: earlier this week, Yuli Tamir, the Israeli minister of education, adopted the revolutionary recommendations of the committee for “education for shared life”. This committee, chaired by Professor Gavriel Solomon and Dr. Mohamad Isaweer, and initiated by the Abraham Fund argued that Jewish and Palestinian children of Israel should all learn and appreciate the culture, history and aspirations of each other, and should acknowledge common values of democracy, respect for minorities and civic and social justice.
You may ask: what has this to do with Gaza? And I say: everything. If such a programme would have been in place 20 years ago, we wouldn’t have been looking back at Gaza.
Unfortunately, Karma Nablusi had to cancel on the last moment. The convoy she had planned to join, going into Gaza, had been rescheduled a day earlier.
David Rosenberg opened the evening with a review of the growing dissent among UK Jews towards the actions of the Israeli government. He then moved on to criticise the established mainstream (and arguably self-appointed) leadership for silencing any discording voices. A theme that was picked up by many of the commentators later on.
Gerald Kaufman MP made several references to his YouTubed speech at the commons, and in fact echoed several of the themes in that speech. Without question an eloquent and well-rehersed speaker, he portrayed the position of the disallosioned British zionist. A picture somewhat wasted on the audience in the room, who had no part of Zionism to start with.
Then the floodgates where opened. In true Jewish socialist tradition, everyone was entitiled to an equal voice, and indeed several people in the audience pulled note sheets from their pockets and read speeches longer than mine. Most of them seemed to focus on the marginilisation of Jewish radicals. I found that confusing, first as Leila told me later, I thought we were here to talk about Gaza. Second, in my dictionary radical means way-off-centre. If you don’t want to be in the margins, why define yourself as radical?
Anyway, on and on it went. I felt that most of the comments where essentially historical reviews and ethical manifestos, but the chair, Julia Bard, thought there were many fresh ideas for action. Maybe. Sometimes sitting on the stage focuses your hearing on certain things. On the other hand, I might have a different idea on what constitutes action, a more Newtonian view.
I did mention the UK Friends of the Abraham Fund, and some people asked me for details. Here’s the website:
Which is really a couple of pages with basic details, as part of the general Abraham Fund site. Probably the best way to keep up with our activities it to join the mailing list. email email@example.com or, for general enquiries, call firstname.lastname@example.org
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