What is dialogue?
23.09.2006"The Palestinians are not our enemies, the occupation is.Israel is not in danger so much because of the primitive Kathyusha rockets of Hezbollah, but because of the occupation. Not the Palestinians, but the occupation killed my sister; occupation leads to resistance."
Thus spoke the Israeli representative of the Families Forum (formerly the Parents Circle), an organization of Israelis and Palestinians who have lost a dear one in the struggle between the two peoples, and who decided to strive for peace together instead of avenging their dead. The Palestinian representative agreed wholeheartedly: the occupation is the problem. Israel must end the occupation, and can do so without running a risk, as it has one of the most powerful armies in the world, he argued.
He called for peace, and denounced violence on both sides, but he also felt that it would be 'asking too much to accuse my own people as long as they have to live under the occupation', and that 'the Palestinians cannot be expected to empathize with Jewish suffering as long as their own suffering is not acknowledged'.
I had mixed feelings about this meeting. The Palestinian was brave and sincerely tried to reach out, although he could not really detach himself from his victim role.Moreover, he was never challenged to do so, as the Israeli representative volunteered to take all blame and put it at Israel's doorstep. "Because of our army, in which I served, his brother and so many other innocent Palestinians died", he humbly declared. In the same breath he stressed the necessity to get to know and understand the other side to achieve peace and reconciliation.Beautifully said, but what other side? He, for one, did not represent that other side to the Palestinian. There was no other side at this meeting.
With a group of about 15 Dutch youths, the majority of which Jewish, I was on a 'fact finding mission' in Israel to learn more about the conflict. It was organized by the Hashama department of the World Zionist Organization.
The Israeli side was well represented in many of the other meetings we had during our week's stay in Israel, and that may have been the reason that no one from our group felt compelled to argue with the Families Forum people, but I secretly wished for a confrontation between these two speakers and the many others, who had passionately defended Israel and who had been challenged only now and then by - among others - the only Arab participant in our group.
"You are not very objective!" she had told the settler woman in idyllic Eli, who vigorously defended the Jewish claim on Judea and Samaria, emphasized the settlers' longing for peace, and casually denied the existence of a Palestinian people or Palestinian identity.
"What is a Palestinian?", this woman who had emigrated from the Netherlands rhetorically asked, repeating Golda Meir's famous statement: "Who is a Palestinian? I am a Palestinian".
It was the start of a fierce debate, in which the settler woman argued that nothing happens unless God wants it to happen, and thought that Sharon had been laying in a coma for so long because the hereafter does not want to have him either. "This is our land. The Arabs are welcome to live here in their communities and are entitled to autonomy, and whoever is not satisfied with that can move to one of the 22 Arab states. I also moved here from the Netherlands because I wanted to live in the Jewish state".
Somewhat later in the bus, on our way to one of the outposts of Eli, one of our group called for less confrontation with our hosts, and to not try to convince others of our point of view, and most of the group agreed.
I had mixed feelings again. The remarks of the Arab participant, who also claimed that Israel can well do business with Hamas, as "they mean what they say" (something that brings me to a very different conclusion, considering for example their charter), had contributed to a lively discussion, and I don't see why settlers with their often outspoken views, should not be confronted with what these views evoke in other people, also in many Israelis. On the other hand, we were a guest in this woman's home, who knew some family members of our group (the Jewish community in the Netherlands is not that big), and was very hospitable.
Another woman from Eli told us that people from Peace Now had visited to take pictures of building activities in one of Eli's outposts (which she vehemently denied to be illegal although they took place after 2001 and although this outpost was on the list of illegal outposts of the Israeli government), and Peace Now had refused to speak with the inhabitants, who had kindly invited them for coffee. "They despise us, and treated us like vermin".
What is dialog? Dialog is somewhere in between adopting the other's narrative, and hard confrontation. It means a willingness to listen to the other and his/her story and experiences, without renouncing one's own views. Peace Now shut the door by refusing to talk to the settlers.
In the Families Forum there would be only real dialog if the Palestinian representative were confronted with another narrative, with Israelis who not only blame the occupation, and thus their own side, but for example also point to the way terrorism is often glorified as martyrdom in the Palestinian press, in mosques, and in schoolbooks (see PMW). He should have been confronted with the fact that the conflict did not start with the occupation, but on the contrary, the occupation was a result of a conflict that had lasted for about half a century by then, and was caused by the refusal of the Arab world to recognize any form of Jewish self-determination in the Middle East. He should have had to deal with the fact that anti-Semitism thrives in the Arab world, where Jews and Israel are made responsible for nearly all ills that befall the Arabs, and many lies and myths of the Nazis are revived.
Dialog is not eating cuscus and pita together and declaring that there should be peace, but getting to understand each others' point of view.Dialog means a conversation, and confrontation, between people with different points of view. There is no dialog when Nonie Darwish speaks with Zionists, and there is no dialog when Jews for Justice for Palestinians or Jewish Voice for Peace or Jeff Halper sit together with Palestinians.
Any sign of peace and reconciliation in the Middle East looks great and seems hopeful. However, without understanding of the view and the suffering of the other side, it will not contribute to real understanding between Israelis and Arabs, and will not bring about real peace and coexistence.Peace doesn't mean full justice for one side, as that inevitably comes at the expense of the rights of the other side; it means a painful compromise, in which both sides have to give up things that they perceive as their eternal and inalienable rights.
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