Tuesday, March 13, 2012

499 The General's Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine

The General's Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine

(1) The General's Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine
(2) The forgotten plight of the Bedouin in the Holy Land - neither
Israeli nor Palestinian
(3) Israeli bulldozer, soldiers destroy entire Bedouin community near
Anata in West Bank

(1) The General's Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine
    Kristoffer Larsson <krislarsson@comhem.se> 11 March 2012 22:45

Video interview with Miko Peled:


  Exclusive Excerpt: Miko Peled's 'The General's Son: Journey of an
Israeli in Palestine'

by Helena Cobban on March 9, 2012

Miko Peled is a Jewish Israeli, born in 1961 into the heart of the
Zionist establishment in Jerusalem... who has traveled a long, long way
since then. Three years ago, Miko started work on a memoir of the
transformative journey he has taken in the course of his life; and this
week, we received the first advance copies of his amazing, intimate, and
thought-provoking memoir The General's Son: Journey of an Israeli in
Palestine. My company, Just World Books, has been proud to work with
Miko to bring his important memoir-writing project to completion.
Miko Peled (Photo: Just World Books)

To me, Miko's book has many of the same qualities as My Traitor's
Heart-- the gripping memoir by Rian Malan of his journey from being a
boy who grew up in the bosom of the Afrikaner elite in South Africa to
being someone who took risks to work alongside "Black" South Africans in
their struggle for full equality in their country.

Miko's memoir has already garnered plaudits and recognition from several
significant sources. Alice Walker has contributed a lovely Foreword--
and a poem-- to The General's Son. In the Foreword, Ms. Walker wrote,
"There are few books on the Israel/Palestine issue that seem as hopeful
to me as this one." The renowned Palestinian scholar Walid Khalidi has
written of Miko's memoir that, "We are privileged to accompany the
author on his own fascinating internal odyssey—a journey of
self-education and cumulative critique of Zionist premises and Israeli
practices... " Israeli historian Ilan Pappé wrote: "Out of personal pain
and sober reflection on the past comes this powerful narrative of
transformation, empowerment and commitment."

Now, we are delighted that Mondoweiss is partnering with us to publish
two key portions of Miko's text: His Introduction, and the pivotal
Chapter 7 from the book, that describes the beginning of his courageous
journey into understanding-- and realizing in his own life and actions--
what it means to uphold the equality of all human persons, and to fight
for the equal rights of all.

You can read these excerpts below-- and you can even buy an advance copy
of the book via our global webstore, though the book's formal
publication date is not until June 15. (If you buy two copies at the
webstore, you'll get free shipping... and if you buy five, you'll get a
sixth one free.)

Of course, it is our hope that after reading the two excerpts below, you
will definitely want to read the whole of Miko's unbelievably
illuminating text. For his part, Miko is already launched on a series of
speaking engagements that, over the months ahead, will take him to
Canada, back home to Israel, to Switzerland, the U.K., and several
portions of the United States... If you want to catch up with his
itinerary, we'll be charting it on this book blog. Miko is also very
active on twitter (@mikopeled)-- and we'll be trying to keep up with him
on our corporate Twitter feed (@justworldbooks.)

The General's Son has the potential to touch a lot of hearts-- and, I
believe, to join with the whole present current of thought that's
transforming the dynamic of the encounter between Israelis and
Palestinians. I urge you to read it, engage with it, recommend it to
your friends, and do what what you can to support Miko and the very
important work that he's doing.

Here, then, are the excerpts:INTRODUCTION

On a quiet day in 1997, I sat watching the news from my home in southern
California when the broadcast turned live to Jerusalem: Palestinian
suicide bombers had struck the heart of the city once again. I caught a
glimpse of a young woman's body lying on a stretcher, but before I had
time to call my family in Jerusalem and make sure everyone was OK, my
phone rang. It was my mother, calling from Israel. "Miko," she said, her
voice tense, "there was a bombing on Ben Yehuda Street." Smadar, my
13-year-old niece, was missing.

Smadar's mother, my sister Nurit, is 12 years older than I am; my family
always joked that I was her Bat Mitzvah present. As a child, I thought
she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, with beautiful
chestnut hair, a habit of wearing large, shiny earrings, a perpetual
tan, and a smile that lit up a room. She is the mother of three boys and
a girl. She is honest, brave, forthright, and funny. The thought that
she might have lost her only daughter was far too much to process on a
peaceful day in southern California.

I had lived in Coronado with my wife and two children for nearly ten
years, (my daughter Tali was not yet born), but still considered
Jerusalem, where I was born and raised, home. The two cities could not
be more different. Coronado is a picturesque, California beach
community—spotless, manicured, and more than a little self-consciously
glamorous. It is a place full of optimism and possibilities, a
wonderful, safe place to raise children. My family and I lived a
peaceful life in our newly purchased condo, within walking distance to
beautiful beaches and just two miles from San Diego, across the gleaming
Coronado Bay Bridge. I had established a successful karate studio in
town, and the work kept me busy and happy in many respects.

But we were a long way from my home in one of the most ancient cities in
the world. Coming from Jerusalem—a melting pot of ethnic backgrounds and
religions, a city where every newsstand offers papers in five different
languages and people passionately discuss politics and daily
news—Coronado had always struck me as culturally and politically
isolated, and lacking in diversity.

I was born in Jerusalem's Rehavia neighborhood, but spent most of my
youth in Motza Ellit, where my parents built a house when I was four.
Motza is a quiet, unassuming community hidden in the Judean Hills on the
city's western edge. It is surrounded by nature, but not far from the
conflict and violence that have come to characterize the city. About
five miles away is the walled Old City, sacred to Jews, Christians, and
Muslims. It is a city fiercely loved and just as fiercely disputed—it's
been captured and destroyed, rebuilt, captured and destroyed again,
throughout history. I am a product of that troubled, painfully beautiful
place. Its history, both ancient and modern, and the culture of the
Jewish people are inseparable from my being.

The fact that I was living in Coronado did not change all of that. I
spent hours on the phone with my family each week and stayed abreast of
political and cultural developments back home; I even had subscriptions
to Israeli newspapers. I faithfully searched TV channels for news about
my homeland. And I always made sure to read the latest Hebrew novels and
anything new that was published about the politics and history of the
region, going as far back as King Herod and Jesus of Nazareth.

Many hours after the phone call from my mother, when it was close to
midnight in Jerusalem, the police contacted Smadar's parents. It was as
if as if they wanted to allow Nurit and her husband Rami time to reach
the inevitable conclusion on their own before escorting them to the
morgue. When they returned from the morgue, my other sister, Ossi,
called me right away.

"Miko…." I didn't need to hear anything more. Her voice said it all. It
was time to fly home. And so it became clear to me that the young woman
I saw on the stretcher while watching the news was indeed my niece
Smadar. She was dead, killed while shopping for schoolbooks on the
streets of the city she called home.

This wrenching tragedy is the starting point of my personal journey, a
journey that transformed my heart and ushered me into a life of activism
and, some say, risk.


Dignitaries from Israel's entire political spectrum attended the funeral
of Matti Peled's granddaughter. Matti Peled, my father, had died two
years earlier. A man who had fought fiercely in Israel's War for
Independence, oversaw the capture of much of the land Israel now
occupied, and then came to question his role as an overlord of the
Palestinians, he was a general turned man of peace.

An urgent need to make sense of Smadar's death gripped me. In Israel,
war and the casualties of war were a part of life. As a child I had been
to countless funerals of young people who were killed in wars or
"military operations," and I knew of people who were maimed and crippled
as a result of terrorist attacks. But Smadar was my sister's child. For
years, I had been frustrated by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; I was
deeply troubled by the lack of progress toward a peaceful solution.
Still, the conflict had not become personal until my niece was murdered.
Suddenly I needed to understand what brought those two young
Palestinians to blow themselves up, taking her life just as it was
beginning to blossom. Her death pushed me into a bold examination of my
Zionist beliefs, my country's history, and the political situation that
fueled the suicide bombers who killed her.

I was born into a well-known Zionist family, which included my father,
cabinet secretaries, judges, and even a president of the state of
Israel. My maternal grandfather and namesake, Dr. Avraham Katznelson,
was a Zionist leader. He signed Israel's declaration of independence and
later served as Israel's first ambassador to Scandinavia. My father was
16 when he volunteered to serve in the Palmach, the strike force that
fought for Israel's independence. As a young officer, he commanded an
infantry company that fought in the 1948 War, and by 1967 he was a
general and a member of the Israeli army's top brass. He was later
elected to Israel's parliament, the Knesset.

When I was a boy, military legends and dignitaries of all political
persuasions passed through our home. But after Smadar's death, I wanted
to meet people on "the other side," people who were considered my enemies.

I searched for Jewish-Palestinian dialogue groups in California and made
plans to attend. My wife Gila, raised in an Israeli kibbutz, was
apprehensive; neither of us had ever been to the home of a Palestinian,
and Gila feared for my life. "What if they do something to you? What if
you don't return?" she asked me as I prepared to leave for my first
meeting with Palestinians. Although I was 39 and had grown up in the
united city of Jerusalem, I never had any Arab friends. Now I faced
Palestinians as equals for the first time in my life, and to my relief
and amazement I found common ground. As expatriates we shared both good
and bad memories of our homeland.

However, Palestinians told a far different version of our history than I
had been taught as a young boy in Jerusalem. The history I knew painted
Israel as a defenseless David fighting an Arab Goliath, a story that had
compelled me as a young patriot to volunteer for an elite commando unit
in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Sitting across from Palestinians in
California, I learned of mass expulsions, massacres, and grave
injustices. We proudly called the 1948 Arab-Israeli War the War of
Independence. Palestinians called it Nakba, the "Catastrophe". I found
that hard to accept.

When other Jews and Israelis stormed out of the dialogue meetings, I
chose to stay and listen, even though it pained me beyond words to
accept that I was not in possession of the full truth. Coming from a
family of political insiders, I thought I knew more than anyone.

I began traveling to the occupied Palestinian territories. Breaking the
acceptable rules of my society, I ventured alone to meet with
Palestinian peace activists in areas most Israelis consider dangerous.
My sister Ossi was beside herself: "You mustn't go," she said. "It is
dangerous and you are a father with responsibilities to your family and
your children." My mother, also sick with worry, said: "All it takes is
one lunatic."

During a trip to the West Bank, I confronted what emerged in my mind as
the greatest obstacle to peace: fear of the "other," a fear I had never
realized I possessed. It was December 2005 when I drove from Jerusalem
to the West Bank alone for the first time. I drove a rented car with
Israeli license plates. As I passed the last Israeli checkpoint, left
the wide, paved highway, I encountered the potholed streets and narrow
winding roads that characterize the occupied territories. I was now in
"enemy territory" and demons ran amok in my head. I imagined myself
surrounded by hostile Arabs, waiting in ambush to kill me. As a child, I
remembered, my father made sure we never traveled through the West Bank
without a gun in the car, his AK-47 Kalashnikov. Hadn't people warned me
not to do this exactly?

When I arrived, I was greeted by activists—freedom fighters who refused
to engage in violence and were intent on resolving the conflict
peacefully. I experienced no antagonism at all as I spent the entire day
there and then returned home to Jerusalem. I felt relieved, hopeful, and
discouraged all at the same time. I knew if ever there were to be peace,
the fear that ran inside me like a virus had to be conquered. Through
centuries of experience and conditioning, fear had become almost
inseparable from my culture. It had to be overcome and replaced by
trust. This was an enormous task.

Mine is the tale of an Israeli boy, a Zionist, who realized that his
side of the story was not the only side and chose to cultivate hope in a
situation most call impossible. I feel that my travels and the political
insights I gained at my father's side may offer a model for
reconciliation not only in the Middle East, but anywhere people look at
the "other" and experience fear rather than our common humanity.

----Chapter 7: A Journey Begins

My journey into Palestine began in San Diego in 2000. I was 39 years old.

I used to think of Jerusalem as a "mixed" city because both Israelis and
Palestinians live there. The sad reality is that Israeli and Palestinian
communities in Jerusalem are completely segregated. As I look back on my
childhood in Jerusalem, I realize that I never had an Arab friend, or
even a close acquaintance. There was "us" and there was "the Arabs," and
we might as well have been living on different planets.

I assumed that we lived separate lives because we were so different:
Arabs spoke a different language, they went to different schools, and it
seemed to me that they even wore different clothes; their schools
usually required uniforms and they generally dressed in a more formal
and conservative manner than we did. Their food was different, and
whereas the society I knew was very relaxed about mixing men and women,
in Arab circles that was not common. All of this I somehow knew without
ever meeting or speaking to Arabs. When, on a trip somewhere with family
or friends, we would stop at an Arab town, it seemed dusty and backward,
which reinforced my preconceived notion that Arabs were poor and less
developed than us.

I was 10 or 11 when I began asking questions. I remember once during a
trip we visited a very poor village somewhere in the Negev. The children
did not look like us, and I asked my father why they were so dirty. He
did not reply. I remember asking him once why it was that Arab men beat
their wives, as though this was a fact that everyone knew. It was
another stereotype I had picked up somewhere. He became very angry and
once again he did not respond, which of course I did not understand. My
mother tried to get him to engage and talk to me about this, but he was
not willing to even acknowledge such questions. By then he was teaching
Arabic literature, and I think he was angered by these
characterizations, and by the fact that his own son was bringing them
home. Not knowing how to deal with this other than through anger, he
chose to say nothing.

As an adult, my more liberal views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
set me apart from other Israeli and Jewish friends, and I constantly
felt conflicted and unsettled. Whenever I returned to Israel I found
that my old friends, some of whom used to share my views, had moved
toward the consensus, which in Israel was becoming more chauvinistic and
constantly shifting to the right. When my best friend's son was about to
be drafted, I asked the boy where he was going to serve and he told me
he wanted to join the Special Forces.

I looked at my friend in surprise.

"You know that what they do is wrong—didn't you tell him?" I asked my
friend later.

"You don't understand," my friend said. "You don't care about my son,
all you care about are your Palestinian friends."

"Yes, I care about my Palestinian friends and what the Special Forces do
to them, but this will backfire, and this will hurt your son, too. How
could you not tell him?" That was the last time we spoke.

When I met Jewish Americans, my position on the Arab-Israeli conflict
made them uncomfortable. American Jews for the most part wanted to
believe that Israel was good and that Arabs were bad. I remember
visiting a foot doctor who was Jewish. Once he realized I was Jewish and
from Israel he allowed himself to unleash a few venomous anti-Arab
remarks, thinking I must feel the same way about "these fucking Arabs."
At first I was so shocked I was speechless. Then I dropped off a
brochure published by the Bereaved Families Forum, to give him some food
for thought. I never went to see him after that.

He was not the only one to do that around me. More and more I could
sense an anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment taking over what I had
always thought was "moderate" America. If I had any regular contact with
local Jewish people I could not talk about politics in the Middle East
because it would get in the way of our friendship. Needless to say few
of these friendships lasted very long. I remember thinking once that if
I were to set the issue aside, stop talking and thinking about it, and
move on with my life, then maybe I would just "get over it."

But after Smadar died, I cared so much that it hurt and I realized that
getting over it was not an option. The political reality in my homeland
would continue to follow me, not to say haunt me, for as long as I
lived, regardless of where I chose to make my home. I searched and
searched for an outlet, for something I could do in southern California,
and the final push to make me become more active came almost three years
after Smadar was killed.


As always, the process was tied to internal Israeli politics. In 1999,
Israel had elected Ehud Barak, who promised he would negotiate with the
Palestinians and end the conflict once and for all. My mother was
visiting us in Coronado right after the elections and we had dinner with
Marshall Saunders, a good friend and mentor of mine. He asked my mother,
"So Zika, what do you make of Mr. Barak, your new prime minister?"

"He is just another general like the rest of them," my mother said. "I
have no reason to believe that things will be any different." I, on the
other hand, was full of optimism, and I had no idea she felt that way.

In the summer of 2000, Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat met at
Camp David in Maryland at the invitation of President Bill Clinton to
finalize and seal a peace agreement. Arafat insisted it was premature to
hold a summit, but his opinion was ignored and the summit was convened
on July 11. It gave rise to great expectations around the world. I, too,
was buoyed: I really expected the leaders would finalize the process and
it would result in peace; I chose to believe that Barak would pick up
where Rabin left off before he was murdered and that he was serious
about peace and compromise; and I chose to believe a peaceful resolution
in the shape of a two-state solution was inevitable.

As the days went by, word was that all the parties had left to do was to
sign on the dotted line. But the talks went on and on, with no sign of
an agreement. I spoke to Rami constantly because he knew people that
were on the Israeli delegation. "All that is left is to dot the i's and
cross the t's, the deal is done," he kept saying. "I have it from people
who are as close to the top as you can get."

Then, on July 25, I felt the floor drop out from under me. It was
announced that the delegates were leaving with no agreement. I was
devastated, as were millions of other Israelis and Palestinians who were
hoping for an end to the conflict. President Clinton emerged from the
summit and said, "The prime minister moved forward more from his initial
position than Chairman Arafat." This was a serious accusation coming
from the guy who was supposed to be the "honest broker." He was blaming
Yasser Arafat for not being flexible enough. Barak said, "We tore the
mask off of Arafat's face," and now we know that Arafat did not want
peace after all.

I felt that things did not add up. I had followed the process closely,
and I knew that Yasser Arafat had been consistent for years. For the
sake of peace he was willing to give up the dream of all Palestinians to
return to their homes and their land in Palestine. He was willing to
recognize Israel, the state that destroyed Palestine, took his people's
land, and turned them into a nation of refugees. He was ready to
establish an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and
Gaza—which make up only 22 percent of the Palestinian homeland—with Arab
East Jerusalem as its capital.

He was ready to do all this, but he was not going to settle for anything
less. He had always been clear about what he saw as the terms for peace.

In the end, it turned out that my gut feeling was right. As accounts of
the negotiations began to surface—through articles, first hand accounts,
and books like Harakiri: Ehud Barak: The Failure by journalist Raviv
Druker {Drucker} —it was clear that what the Israelis had demanded at
Camp David was tantamount to total Palestinian surrender. It also became
clear that Ehud Barack himself was despised by his own aides and that
none of his political allies remained with him due to trust issues.
Barak demanded that Arafat sign an agreement to end the conflict forever
and in return, he would be permitted to establish a Palestinian state on
an area of land that could not be defined clearly because it was broken
into pockets with no geographic continuity. Instead of Arab East
Jerusalem, he would receive a small suburb of East Jerusalem as his
capital. To that Yasser Arafat refused to agree.

In September 2000, frustration and disappointment ran high and the
atmosphere was charged when Ariel Sharon who was opposed to the peace
process from the beginning decided to march to the Temple Mount in
Jerusalem. He did it surrounded by hundreds of fully armed police in
riot gear. The Temple Mount, orHaram al Sharif as it's known to the
Muslim world, is a 35-acre plaza that takes up one-sixth of the Old City
of Jerusalem. It is home to the Dome of the Rock, the most iconic
structure in Jerusalem, and the Al Aqsa Mosque. This mosque is believed
to sit on the spot where patriarch Abraham was going to sacrifice his
son. It is believed to be the site of the First and Second Jewish
Temples, and it is the place from which the prophet Mohammed made his
night journey into the heavens. It is so holy for Jews that observant
Jews refrain from entering it for fear of defiling the Holy of Holies.
For Muslims around the world, only Mecca and Medina are holier than

Sharon claimed he was merely exercising his right to visit the place. It
was more like an invasion than a visit. The response was immediate and
entirely predictable. Palestinians from all walks of life saw this as
desecration of holy ground, and massive protests began. Israel reacted
with violent force. The unrest spiraled into ever-harsher Israeli
repression and massive Israeli military incursions into the West Bank
and Gaza. Palestinian-Israelis in northern Israel also protested and
they too were met with violent response from the police, who shot and
killed 13 civilians. Sharon lit the fuse over this barrel of explosives,
and thus the second Intifada or Uprising was born.

Then the entire peace process came crashing down, as well as Barak's
government. He had serious internal political problems, and he had hoped
that sealing a peace deal would save him politically, but in the end he
was forced to call early elections. These were held in February 2001,
and Barak suffered a humiliating defeat, making his period in office the
shortest of any Israeli prime minister. Ariel Sharon, who ran against
Barak, won in a landslide. All of Sharon's shortcomings and past
offenses were forgotten, and he was now at the helm in the prime
minister's seat.

To understand why Sharon was elected, we have to understand how Israel
views its generals—and this general in particular. Ariel Sharon, or Arik
as he is known in Israel, was larger than life. He was a war hero. He
fought in 1948, he headed Commando Unit 101, he fought in 1956 in the
Sinai Campaign, and he proved to be a brilliant commander in the 1967
War. He seemed destined to be the IDF chief of staff, but in early 1973
it became clear that he would not get the job, and he was forced to
resign. IDF chief of staff is as much a political appointment as it is a
military post. The public and the army would never accept another chief
of staff as long as he was in uniform, so Arik was forced to end his
military career and resign. Following his resignation, my father wrote
an article lamenting the fact that the IDF lost "a military genius." He
said Arik Sharon would have been a brilliant chief of staff, that he
"combined the unique quality of being a brilliant military man, an
admired leader and he knew how to organize his command so as to achieve
the best possible results on the battlefield."

When the 1973 Mideast war broke out, the only war that was not initiated
by Israel and where Israel was caught completely off guard, Sharon was
immediately called back to the army. He commanded a reservist armored
division and he saved the IDF from a humiliating defeat. He was
fearless, and he represented the Israel in which Israelis wanted to
live: strong, fearless, no-nonsense. He was the average man's general,
who grew up and lived on a farm—not one of those sophisticated generals
who hobnobbed with the rich and powerful. The battles he commanded are
taught at military colleges around the world, and many of Israel's top
commanders served under him as junior officers. Not unlike George
Patton, the legendary World War II hero he was often compared to, Arik
Sharon was both brilliant and dangerous. In Israel, the feeling was that
no one else could bring the security people wanted, and certainly nobody
could punish the Arabs as he could—on that he had a solid record.

I sensed disaster approaching and could no longer sit still. Compounded
with Smadar's death, these political developments were all too much for
me. I had to do something.

The first step, I thought, was finding people with whom I could talk,
but how? I placed a few ads in the San Diego Reader classified section
asking about dialogue groups but got no reply. I searched the Internet,
and finally I came across the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination
Committee (ADC), and they referred me to George Majeed Khoury, a
Palestinian from Jerusalem who lived in San Diego. He and I communicated
by e-mail and phone for several weeks, unable to get together because of
our busy schedules, until finally we met at his office.

I will never forget his warm greeting: "At last we meet!" I'd been
apprehensive to meet him, but his warmth put me at ease right away. We
sat in the reception area at his office, and he told me about the San
Diego Jewish-Palestinian Dialogue Group: "We meet once a month, and we
are a young and very active and vigorous group of people. I will have to
ask the members if you can join us, but I will recommend that they do."

A few weeks went by, and I heard nothing. I sent Majeed another e-mail,
and he invited me to a gathering in his home. When the day of my first
meeting arrived, Gila worried that something bad would happen to me:
"You don't know these people. What if this is a trap? Be sure to call me
and come home as soon as you can." I promised that I would.

At that point, I had not acknowledged having such fears myself, and if I
did they were overshadowed by anticipation and the sense that I was
about to embark on something new and important. I was so excited driving
there that I took a wrong turn, and the half-hour drive ended up taking
over an hour.

When I finally reached their house, I saw a sign above the door that
read: "Majeed and Haifa Khoury." I stood for a while, looking at the
name "Haifa." It was the first time it ever occurred to me that "Haifa"
was an Arabic name, and that perhaps the city of Haifa was an Arab city
before it was Israeli.

I walked in hesitantly. About a dozen people were there, and I guessed
that some were American Jews and others were Palestinian, but at first I
couldn't tell for sure who was who. They sat in the living room around a
table with the usual Middle Eastern spread—hummus, falafel,
tabouli—common to both Israelis and Palestinians. I heard a woman refer
to one of the salads, made of diced cucumbers and tomatoes with olive
oil and lemon juice, as an "Israeli salad."

Another woman's eyebrows shot up. "Israeli salad? What's that supposed
to mean?" she asked sharply. "Are you telling me that we have been
eating an Israeli salad all these years?" I felt a bit uneasy by the
exchange, but everyone else laughed. It was, in a way, a harbinger of
things to come.

Another Jewish woman mentioned that she would soon be going home to
visit. "Home? What country are you calling home? Let's be clear about
one thing, that country is my home." This, too, did not cause any anger
or antagonism, but laughter.

Soon we sat around a dining room table and began introducing ourselves.
I was the only Israeli—I was almost always the only Israeli. I was quite

When it was my turn to introduce myself, I looked down and quickly told
them who I was and what my views were. I told them about my family and
my father, and about Smadar. "I am Zionist, and I believe in the Jewish
state. I believe firmly that a Palestinian state should be established
in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital."

"Wait a minute." Doris Bittar, one of the group facilitators, pulled out
a copy of Al Jadid, an English-language magazine covering Arab-American
culture. "Are you Nurit's brother?"

It so happened that about a month earlier, Al Jadid had published a
story about a movie called The Bombing. The movie, by the French
producer Simone Bitton, described the suicide attack in which Smadar was
killed. Doris knew of Nurit because she had just read the story in Al Jadid.

I had no idea our story had been written about, but everyone in the room
seemed to know about it. People were stunned when I said that I was the
uncle of the little girl in the film. The fact that I just happened to
be there at the meeting that day felt like serendipity.

This is the first time I am in a place where Jews and Palestinians exist
as equals, I thought. There are no occupiers and occupied, we are all
citizens with equal rights and protections under the law. The fact that
we were able to talk and to look each other in the eye made a huge
difference; in fact, it may be what made this possible. Had we been
living back home, we would never have met like this.

It was also the first time I sat in a room with Palestinians of all ages
and backgrounds to talk about our shared homeland. In many ways, I had
more in common with the Palestinians than with many of the
Jewish-Americans in the group. The things that characterize American
Jewish culture—New York Jewish humor, Jewish delicatessen food—were
completely alien to me. On the other hand, traditional Palestinian
warmth and hospitality, Arabic food, and photos of our shared homeland
put me completely at ease. I didn't even mind seeing the map of Israel
with Palestine written all over it, something I thought would trouble me
since my people had fought so hard to win it back. Perhaps the fact that
we—the Palestinians and the lone Israeli—had actually lived in the
Middle East and had memories from the same land created an almost
instant bond. I loved every minute of that evening. Nurit later said
that meeting Palestinians gave me a taste of home. She was right. I
finally found a piece of home in America.

The meeting had started at seven, and I expected it would last an hour
or two at most. When I had not returned by ten, Gila became worried.
Neither of us had been to the home of a Palestinian before, and we knew
none of the people involved in the group. She was seriously afraid for
my life, and she called my cell phone to make sure I was okay. I told
her everything was fine.

The meetings of the San Diego Jewish-Palestinian Dialogue Group were
held once a month, and everyone was polite and respectful as they told
their stories. From the Palestinians, I heard stories of displacement
and ruthlessness I had never imagined possible. However, we were not
there to argue, we were there to listen and to share our experiences. As
we became more comfortable with one another, we began approaching more
dangerous ground and topics that went beyond the realm of "safe" dialogue.

Majeed referred to his life experience by saying, "I was ethnically
cleansed twice!" First, when he was a child. "Because of the constant
bombing of our neighborhood, we were forced to leave our home in West
Jerusalem." Then, while he was attending the American University in
Beirut in 1967, the Six-Day War broke out and he was not permitted to
return to his family, who now lived in East Jerusalem. His criticism of
the top echelon of the PLO, many of whom he knew personally, was
scathing. His "R"s rolled with rage: "They are corrupt crooks and

One day, after attending meetings for several months, I got word that
Manal Sawirjo, one of the women in the dialogue group, was going to
speak at a local synagogue on Sunday morning. Rabbi Moshe Levin of
Congregation Beth El, also a member of our group, had invited her to
speak. It was a risky move by the rabbi. He headed one of San Diego's
most prominent synagogues, and to invite a Palestinian to speak while
Sunday school was in session and so many people were present was no
small matter. I later heard that he took some serious criticism for
doing that.

Manal is a remarkably accomplished woman, a PhD, a world-renowned
scientist, and a captivating speaker. She has a tremendous smile and
beautiful brown eyes. "I was born and raised in Kuwait where my late
father, a refugee from Majdal (now the Israeli city of Ashkelon), was a
teacher," she told those gathered. "My father was a young boy when the
town was taken by Israel, and his family was forced to move to a refugee
camp in the Gaza Strip." I had not known this and, I am sure, neither
did the predominantly Jewish audience.

In an answer to a question she said, "In Kuwait, we were taught Hebrew,
and we were told that we had to learn it because Hebrew was the language
of the enemy." Hearing that sent chills down my spine. "We even learned
to say it in Hebrew: Ivrit hee sfat ha'oyev." When she repeated those
words in Hebrew, spoken with an Arabic accent, I did not know what to do
with myself. I was flooded with thoughts and emotions, a combination of
pain and surprise. Frankly, I was deeply insulted. She was drawing a
connection between my language, this language that like a thread links
me to the Hebrew culture, the language of the great Hebrew writers, both
ancient and modern, and her fate as a Palestinian. Immediately, I
thought of the poets Bialik and Lea Goldberg, the prophets of the Old
Testament, and the immortal author of the Song of Songs. How could my
language be associated with any enemy? Soldiers and Jewish settlers in
the West Bank I can see as enemies of the Palestinians, along with a few
Israeli politicians. The Hebrew language was the very heart and soul of
Hebrew culture. Did that mean that I, too, was the enemy? I felt that I
was suddenly associated with things I thought I was detached from. This
was not the last time someone said something that shook me to my core,
but it was the first real kick in the gut.

I wrote to Manal immediately, not to argue so much but to express the
strength of the thoughts and emotions I experienced when I heard those
words. She said she had no idea her words would have such an effect.

Years later, after Manal's daughter was born, her father came to San
Diego to visit. Gila and I went to see her, and when Gila met Manal's
father it was an emotionally charged moment. They both realized they
came from the same place; Majdal, now the city of Ashkelon, just a few
kilometers north of Kibbutz Zikim, where Gila was born and raised. They
had grown up seeing and loving the same landscape, and it affected them
both deeply. Manal's father kept saying through his tears that we "were
good people" and that he felt no resentment toward us. "This was not
your fault."

Some time later Manal and I talked about it. "This was the first time I
ever saw my father cry for Palestine," she said.


My journey and my transformation were becoming more intense. Soon I had
to face my moment of truth—although it turned out to be the first of
many such moments, moments without which dialogue is just plain talk.

We were at a dialogue meeting at Majeed's house. Majeed was explaining a
point when he said, "The Palestinians had barely ten thousand fighters,
but the Haganah and the other Jewish militias combined were triple that
number if not more. So when the Jews attacked, the Palestinians never
had a chance." That was the most outrageous version of history I had
ever heard: that the fighting forces of the Jewish militias in 1948 were
superior to the Arabs' and that the Jews attacked.

My father and all of his friends had fought in that war. I'd heard
first-hand stories about the sieges, the fierce attacks, and the
touch-and-go battles where our forces were outnumbered and won only
because they had the wits and the moral high ground. My mother had told
me that during the siege of Jerusalem, they'd had to share half a tomato
for meals and dash to the wells to get water while bombs fell and
snipers shot at them. In the Negev where my father fought, it was the
few Israelis fighting the huge Egyptian army.

I was fully convinced that with my background I knew more than anyone
else about this aspect of the conflict and that what Majeed was saying
made no sense. In a way it even dishonored the story of the creation of
the Jewish state, a story in which the few defeating the many is a
crucial element. If what he said was true, then it de-glorified much of
the story.

That could easily have been my breaking point. I could not explain why
Majeed would be perpetuating this insane notion that Israel was not a
"David" defending itself against the Arab "Goliath," but I wasn't ready
to dismiss him as a liar.

I could not dismiss him because by now trust had been built between us.
This trust allowed me to let go of the safe comfort of "knowing" so that
I could explore the unknown territory of the "other." This was very
difficult, but I felt that even if what he said was not the truth that I
knew, I would have to explore it.

I didn't say anything right away because I didn't want to start arguing.
Instead, when I got home that night I called my brother Yoav, who taught
political science at Tel Aviv University.

"Yes, what your friend said has merit. If you want to know more, read a
few books by Benny Morris, Ilan Pappé, and Avi Shlaim." These three "New
Israeli Historians" had all recently rewritten the history of the
establishment of Israel. I did exactly as Yoav advised. Over the
following weeks and months I read all the books by these authors. And
the more I read, the more I wanted to know. They had corroborated what
Palestinians had been saying for decades. In fact, they corroborated
what most of the world had known for years: that Israel was created
after Jewish militias destroyed Palestine and forcibly exiled its
people. This was a rude awakening for me. I recalled watching the
Israeli TV series Tkuma, or Rebirth, that came out in 1998 to
commemorate Israel's 50th independence day. In one chapter dealing with
Israel's War of Independence, a veteran commander of 1948 was asked if
it was true that the Haganah forces burned down Arab villages. He slowly
looked up at the camera, waited a while, and then said, "Like bonfires."
This meant a whole new paradigm through which to view the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The purpose of dialogue is to eliminate the barriers between two sides
through listening and empathy—which, I've learned, is easier said than
done. The willingness to accept another's truth is a huge step to take.
It is such a powerful gesture, in fact, that contemplating it can make
you want to throw up.

At first I felt like a baby learning to walk, realizing little by little
that it was OK to let go of the comfort of holding onto what I "knew" to
be true. It opened the door to a discussion most Israelis are fiercely
protective about—which is, what did the Zionist forces really do in
1948? Once I had taken a few steps into that unknown, I found
confidence, and to my surprise I found that there was something even
more secure to rely on than the myths of heroism and redemption I'd
heard during my childhood. Many if not all of these myths were created
and perpetuated by the new Jewish state, which wanted to substantiate
the David vs. Goliath image and painted my people as heroes who rose
from the ashes to reclaim their historic homeland. For me, the only
thing stronger than that myth was trust—the trust that was already in
place between members of the dialogue group. Without that there could
have been no progress. The group was not about accusing but listening
and telling personal stories, and that was what allowed me, for the
first time in my life, to learn that the Palestinians had a narrative of
their own and that it was different from the narrative I had been
taught. In fact it was 180 degrees different.

This was an excruciatingly painful thing to learn, and it was possible
only because Doris and her husband Jim Rauch were brilliant
facilitators. Doris is an Arab-American artist of Palestinian and
Lebanese descent. Born in Baghdad, she grew up in New York and picked up
quite a bit of the Jewish-infused culture of that city. She has dark
hair and warm dark eyes. There is a constant expression of motherly
concern on her face, and when she laughs or smiles she lights up the room.

Jim is Jewish-American, and an accomplished economics professor at the
University of California, San Diego (UCSD). He is quiet and methodical
and sharp as a razor. Everyone felt comfortable with Doris and Jim
because they clearly respected both cultures and possessed a unique
ability to bring people together. They were excellent facilitators who
didn't interject their own issues. Many of the meetings took place at
their beautiful home in San Diego, and it was mainly their dedication
that allowed the group to thrive as, month after month, they put their
heart into the difficult task of making the dialogue work. From my
perspective, it was a tremendous success.

Over time, the dialogue phenomenon grew and San Diego had three or four
active groups that emerged out of our group, including one that I
initiated. I received addresses and names of people who might be
interested from Doris, and I called them to see if they were serious
about participating in a dialogue group. It turned out to be another
dedicated group. Before long, however, I realized that I made a better
participant than facilitator: I wanted to be an active contributor to
the conversations and to express myself fully—not to be unbiased and
somewhat colorless, which was what a good moderator needed to be. So I
relied on others in the group to facilitate the meeting.

Pretty soon word got out that there were Jewish-Palestinian dialogue
groups that were active in and around San Diego and that they had
something positive to say. This excited some people and alienated
others. The local papers and TV stations took an interest in us, and The
Christian Science Monitor did a major story about us.

But crossing the line to understand the "other" point of view was not
seen as a positive step by everyone. Jewish and Palestinian members
talked with great pain about people in their respective communities,
sometimes even close friends, who had shunned them because they were
meeting with "the other side."

"They told us we are not welcome anymore, because we meet with
terrorists," said one elderly Jewish lady.

"We were told we should be ashamed of ourselves," said one Palestinian.

I was asked to participate in panel discussions with other members of
the group. We were invited to speak at synagogues, mosques, and
churches. Civic organizations and service clubs asked us to speak. We
would sit together on the stage and take turns telling our stories. That
was when I realized I had to learn to hold back my tears when talking
about Smadar. Then we would take questions from the audience. From time
to time, two of us would be invited to speak, and so I had opportunities
to share a podium with Majeed, Doris, and Manal. I noticed that we
gradually moved from representing opposing points of view to presenting
a shared vision.

In 2002, Israeli television's Channel 10 decided to produce a
documentary on Israelis living abroad. Yehuda Litani, a friend of Nurit
and Rami, came to San Diego to interview a Palestinian doctor who lived
there. When Nurit heard that Yehuda was coming to San Diego she told him
that I lived there too, and he decided to do a chapter about me as well.

Gila was pregnant with Tali when he came, and we all became very good
friends. He and his cameraman followed me around for about a week,
shooting scenes of me teaching classes at the dojo and on the beach in
Coronado. He came to a meeting of the dialogue group and he conducted
extensive interviews with Nurit and my mother. The result was a
40-minute documentary about me that touched on my family, my father, and
Smadar, plus my work with Jewish-Palestinian dialogue groups and my
karate training. At the end of the documentary, Litani commented that I
made an effective goodwill ambassador for Israel, and he lamented the
fact that I no longer lived in Israel.

Indeed I felt I was finally doing something—but it was just the beginning.

(2) The forgotten plight of the Bedouin in the Holy Land - neither
Israeli nor Palestinian

Kristoffer Larsson <krislarsson@comhem.se> 2 March 2012 08:08


By Emanuel Stoakes

Thursday, 1 March 2012 at 12:00 am

The Bedouin of Israel and the occupied territories are easy to pick on.
Self-identifying as neither Israeli nor Palestinian, not often
considered as such by either community in return, their plight is less
attention-grabbing, less politically-infused than that of other
communities in the Holy Land. Accordingly, when their rights are
apparently under assault, their suffering can easily disappear under the

Never fully comfortable guests in either national camp, it is the
actions of Israel that ostensibly have been the most cruel to the
Bedouin. In July 2010, Israeli forces swept into the village of
Al-Araqib in Israel’s southern Negev (Arabic: Naqab) desert, destroying
houses, olive trees, animal shelters to clear the “unrecognised” land of
its allegedly illegal occupants. Half of those displaced were children.

The villagers have since defiantly rebuilt their settlement, claiming
ownership of their land dating back to the early twentieth century
before Israel came into being in its current form. Gravestones in the
village appear to indicate that this may be so. Having reconstructed,
their village was destroyed again. The cycle has continued to the
present day, with Al-Araqib having been reportedly deconstructed and
rebuilt over thirty times to date.

The high number of demolitions led the Israeli Land Authority to
initiate proceedings last year against 34 villagers from Al Araqib,
seeking 1.8 million shekels in compensation for the costs of repeatedly
destroying their homes.

Israeli authorities maintain that the residents have not provided
adequate proof of their ownership of the land, and justify their
destruction of Al Araqib and other Negev villages on that basis. They
have, in recent years, resorted to means declared illegal by The High
Court of Justice in order to try to move the “squatting” villagers on,
including aerially spraying the land of Bedouin farmers with chemicals,
risking the health of adults, children and livestock.

Serial critics of Israel gesture toward the Bedouin’s lack of Jewishness
as the source of their apparent persecution, suggesting that the Knesset
policy of replacement of Bedouin villages with “recreational land” and
nature parks in the area is an excuse to enact a long-standing,
untrumpeted policy: to shift the local demographics in an attempt to
‘judaise” the desert. This may sound extreme, but the notion is in my
view, not baseless.

The Prawer Plan, an Israeli government  strategy may yet uproot tens of
thousands of Bedouin from villages in the Negev in order to deal with
what Shimon Peres referred to in conversation with US diplomats as “a
demographic threat” to the Jewish majority in Israel. Netanyahu has made
the same point more publicly.

Bedouins in the West Bank face similar prospects. The Jahalin Bedouin
living in the village of Khan al-Ahmar, not far from the Israeli
settlement of Ma’ale Adumim have just about avoided immediate eviction
and the forced transference to a site next to a municipal rubbish dump.
The forced evacuation of villagers from the land to reportedly make way
for the planned “natural growth” of Ma’ale Adumim would have swallowed
up a primary school and in total twenty Jahalin communities (including
Khan al Ahmar).

Israel has now withdrawn its plans to move the group to the land beside
the dump, and after some pressure from the UN and EU, have promised to
ensure that schools in the area – at least one built out of mud and
tyres, indicative of the poverty of the community- remain until the
Jahalin are relocated elsewhere.

Regardless of this reprieve, it is hard to accept talk of Bedouin
villages as criminal from authorities within a state that has sponsored
illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank for decades. Defence
Minister Moshe Dayan admitted in an internal government memo in 1967
(discussed here, page 173) that: “Settling Israelis in occupied
territory contravenes, as is known, international conventions. But there
is nothing essentially new in that.”

This was a view stated clearly enough to government officials advised by
Israel’s most respected legal authority, jurist Theodor Meron, who was
sure it violated the Fourth Geneva Convention. Not that his advice
changed policy.

According to Israeli journalist, Mya Guarnieri, restrictions on liberty,
freedom of movement and the ability to earn a livelihood remain endemic
to the lived experience of Bedouin and other minorities. “When I went to
Khan Al Ahmar,” she told me “I was just shocked by the conditions. The
people there survive on agriculture, from herding, but their freedom of
movement is very limited.” She added: “They can’t herd as they did in
the past because Israel has expropriated the surrounding areas for
settlement growth and a road. Israel doesn’t allow them to go to
Jerusalem, to go their primary market to sell their goods.”

“Sadly their experience under occupation is not unique,” she reflected
to me. “Israel hems in Palestinian and Bedouin communities with building
and land use restrictions on both sides of the Green Line. In the
occupied territories, freedom of movement is limited for non-Jews in

The occupation of the Palestinian territories, accurately described by
David Remnick as “illegal, inhumane, and inconsistent with Jewish values
”continues with its attendant, unresolved human rights issues. As
inter-community tensions rise again over last Friday’s incidents at
Al-Aqsa, it looks likely that the Bedouin are likely to be obliterated
from the news, having had some meagre coverage of their struggle this month.

Meanwhile, the communities of Al-Araqib, Khader Al-Ahram and many others
must carry on with life as best they can in the face of great uncertainty.

(3) Israeli bulldozer, soldiers destroy entire Bedouin community near
Anata in West Bank

    Kristoffer Larsson <krislarsson@comhem.se> 25 January 2012 21:21


  Breaking: Israeli bulldozer, soldiers destroy entire Bedouin community
near Anata in West Bank

by Philip Weiss on January 23, 2012 15

{photo} A family of 7 lived in this house near Anata, which was
destroyed by Israelis tonight. photo by Keren Manor of Active Stills.org

A tragic night in the West Bank. Israeli soldiers accompanied a
bullodozer as it destroyed all the buildings in a Bedouin community near
Anata, northeast of Jerusalem in the West Bank.

"People are somber, traumatized, and griefstricken," says Itay Epshtain
of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. (ICAHD) who operate
a center on the site called Beit Arabiya, which was also destroyed.
"Nearly 100 people are out in the elements now on a cold night.
Children, babies, mothers, fathers. Some of us from ICAHD did try to
block the bulldozer, but we were beaten back by soldiers."

The community was first hit with a demolition order in 1994, but it has
been regularly targeted by the occupation forces in recent years since
ICAHD set up a facility there in an effort to protect the people.

The Bedouin community is in Area C, which comprises 60 percent of the
West Bank.

Epshtain says the demolition was launched at 11:30 p.m. tonight and is
part of a government policy of ethnic expulsion in Area C, aimed at
forcing Bedouins into the largely-urban areas of Area A, where they will
be under Palestinian Authority control.

We will keep you posted on the fate of the people of Beit Arabiya, who
are in our thoughts and prayers tonight.

No comments:

Post a Comment