A whiff of sanity

02 Jan

Since the sons of thunder, to co-opt a New Testament phrase, have so firmly set their marks on events in Palestine and Israel in recent decades, the fruit of which we now see, I thought I’d offer a find. I came upon this while Googling an old school mate, Clive Kessler, knowing that as a Jew and a leftish sociologist he would at some time have had something to say. Through that search I found The Palestine-Israel Journal .

The Palestine-Israel Journal is a non-profit organization, founded in 1994 by Ziad AbuZayyad and Victor Cygielman, two prominent Palestinian and Israeli journalists, and was established concurrently with the first phases of the Oslo peace process to encourage dialogue between civil societies on both sides and broaden the base of support for the peace process. It was obvious from the start that, alongside the institutional efforts of Palestinians and Israelis, channels of communication must be opened for academics and other intellectuals, opinion and policy makers, grassroots organizations and activists to voice their views and take part in the public debate for a democratic and just solution to the conflict.

As an independent publication, with an often critical voice, the Palestine-Israel Journal provides background material and in-depth analysis of various aspects of the conflict from the perspective of both sides, thus helping to shed light on the complex issues dividing Israelis and Palestinians and the relationship between the two peoples…

Despite the extensive media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, much of this comes in sound-bites, as immediate reaction to daily events on the ground, generally from the perspective of one of the sides only. There is therefore a need for means of communication that can increase each side’s exposure to and understanding of the other, and promote sober and meaningful exchanges between the two peoples around central issues.

The Palestine-Israel Journal is the only independent, joint publication to be produced locally, and in which the crucial issues at stake are presented from the perspective of both sides. As such, we are more convinced than ever that we have an important responsibility and role to play in maintaining open the channels for dialogue between the two peoples and providing a forum where the complex issues of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can continue to be examined seriously, freely and critically.

Now in its 13th year, the Palestine-Israel Journal testifies to the fact that it is possible to work together in a spirit of mutual respect, cooperation and recognition, even on the most conflicting and sensitive issues. While the present situation, is economically and politically challenging for the Journal, we successfully continue to publish as a joint venture in pursuit of these aims…

Clive had had something to say, in 1998: Israel and Palestine: Lessons and Prospects.

I am a child of World War II. I was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1942. My earliest childhood memories are of my mother’s parents, German Jews who had managed to escape from Europe before the war broke out. For my first three years of life, I lived in the midst of the dark cloud of hope, fear and doubt in which they were constantly enveloped: hoping that their many relatives still in Germany would somehow survive the war; fearing (as the war went on and news began to emerge of the dreadful happenings there) that they would not; and doubting whether other people could, in any way, imagine, or even cared about, their anguish.

By war’s end, it became clear that none of their large extended family in Europe had survived. As a child I grew up in the aura of their awful pain and I somehow absorbed into myself their terrible loss — a loss for which there were then no words and no name. Now it is called the Shoah, the holocaust.

But my grandparents had some relatives who, in the mid-1920s, for a mixture of religious and political reasons, had gone to live in Palestine. From time to time, amidst the wartime gloom and in the years immediately after 1945, we would receive letters — I still remember their fascinating postal stamps, picturing a domed building, and bearing Arabic as well as English and Hebrew characters — that also provoked mixed feelings in my grandparents: a mixture of relief and hope, of anxiety and fear, as well as some gratitude that others had somehow survived the slaughter in Europe. After 1945, the tempo of my life, following theirs, began to be set by the daily radio broadcasts detailing the collapse of the British Mandate in Palestine, the declaration of Israel’s statehood, and the subsequent 1948 war. In many ways, I was formed by those experiences…

Don’t try to deny the Holocaust in my hearing, I might add. Clive is far from the only person I have met who was touched by it. And he does say:

I had wept to read of the destruction of the many Jewish communities, large and small, of Central and Eastern Europe, and was entitled to do so. Now I wept, too, to read of the expulsion, in 1948, of the Palestinians from Lydda and from Ramleh. I was entitled and also obliged to do so. This is not to equate Lydda and Ramleh in 1948 with the Warsaw Ghetto of 1943 — all such events are unique and, in some sense, incomparable — but we can find, and must recognize in them (despite their differences of time and place and circumstance), some common human themes, moral lessons and imperatives.

As new maps were drawn to reflect these newly created “facts on the ground” in Israel/Palestine, legitimization was incrementally given to processes for which the world has since coined the ominous and chillingly appropriate term “ethnic cleansing.” This process — of possession, of new map-creation, and of the framing and legitimization of new triumphalist, national narratives on the basis of those newly drawn maps, with all their renamed towns and villages — happened, not once, but twice (the immediate historical events don’t matter here) in 1948 and again in 1967.

He goes on to review the situation and its background up to 1998, concluding:

If Israel is to make peace in this fashion with the Palestinians, with their active cooperation and wholehearted consent, it can only be made under conditions which embody the recognition that — whatever the other disparities between an established nation-sate and an emergent, still stateless nation — each party is an equal part of the process of fashioning the conditions of mutual acceptance. The only basis for successful negotiations is the premise of equality. Each side must accept the other’s full entitlement to statehood…

Each side needs the other’s recognition of the historically grounded legitimacy of its national identity and rights. So long as acceptance of this fact is not the basis from which both sides conduct serious, substantive negotiations, there is no prospect of enduring reconciliation between them. And it is Binyamin Netanyahu who now refuses this basis of negotiation, this essential foundation of reconciliation and peace.

Those who desire the end, must accept the means. If Netanyahu and his followers truly want peace, they must accept that the precondition for negotiating and creating peace is nothing other than complete and symmetrical mutual recognition between the Israeli and Palestinian sides, between the Israeli and Palestinian nations. There can be no basis for negotiation that does not recognize and make possible the creation of a Palestinian state alongside, and on equal terms with, Israel.

Unfortunately the hard men on both sides have prevailed thus far, with tragic consequences.

But while I have long disagreed with the road of extremism on both sides – and it is the people who suffer most through over-enthusiasm for being “right” on both sides – I also despair at the hysterical antisemitism I have seen in a number of places lately. Objection to the policies and actions of the government of Israel must never morph into Jewish conspiracy theory, never. There are even people willing to quote the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and crazy conspiracy theories alleging all sorts of amazing things about the Talmud.  These still play well in some parts of the world I know, despite it long being established that the “Protocols” are a forgery emanating from the Tsarist Secret Police in the 19th century. It is distressing to see folk even in places like the USA quoting such vicious garbage though, even if it has always been a staple of the Ku Klux Klan, among others. That this should be taken seriously for even five seconds in the 21st century by anyone is utterly depressing.

But then so is the situation in Gaza. There are analyses around, some even from the far left, which do manage to avoid being tainted with hysteria along the lines I have rejected above. See for example Walter Leon on Renegade Eye: Stop Israel’s Massacre in Gaza!  That is not to say I support the line it takes entirely, but at least there is no stench of antisemitism (or anti-arabism either) about it.

I refer you too to a 2005 post here: Deadly Identities – Amin Maalouf. We need Maalouf’s wisdom more than ever today.


I support any movement that brings Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, and Palestinians together, because that, I naively still suppose, is the only position offering real hope. Hence, though not eligible, I heartily commend this:


Since the time of the first Likud victory in the 1970s, too many extremists and ex-terrorists – Begin being a prime example – have influenced Israeli policy. David Ben-Gurion must be spinning in his grave. I was deeply saddened by the assassination of  Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish extremist in 1995, as were many of the Jewish people I have known. That the worst of Israeli politics has had considerable purchase in Washington in recent times has not helped.

But you can check the history for yourselves. Not a bad starting point is Lawrence Potter, “This Book May Help You Understand the World” (2008).**

Update: Sunday 4 January

** You may note I witnessed the demo today: Just a quiet Sunday afternoon in Surry Hills… 1 and Just a quiet Sunday afternoon in Surry Hills… 2. Tonight I have been following links from the Palestine-Israel Journal cited above. I have found a much more substantial starting point than Potter, though what he says is very sensible, but it is sketchy. I refer to Middle East Web, a huge site but not hard to navigate. It is international and crosses ethnic and religious boundaries. It is aimed at all sides.

There is a page there on dialogue, which I am afraid they spell “dialog” – but I will forgive that…


Dialog Versus Debate

Dialog is not the same as debate, though debate may stimulate dialog. If you come to dialog with the goal of debating, both you and your dialog partners may be very frustrated. There are many lists showing the difference between dialog and debate. This is ours. Can you think of other differences?

Dialog Debate
Partners Opponents
Understanding Convincing
Harmony Victory
Common ground Battle ground
Meeting points Talking points
Listening and explaining Telling and defending


What is NOT dialog?

Politically motivated propaganda that demonizes the other side, attempts to subvert dialog for other purposes, boycott campaigns and the like are not dialog, they are the opposite of dialogue. Learn to recognize them and avoid them. See A program for wrecking Israeli-Palestinian Dialog

What is NOT dialog?

Politically motivated propaganda that demonizes the other side, attempts to subvert dialog for other purposes, boycott campaigns and the like are not dialog, they are the opposite of dialogue. Learn to recognize them and avoid them.

There is a statement there about Gaza, dated 28 December 2008: Gaza tragedy unfolding.

The “about us” section includes a very long list of the site’s founders and supporters. Clearly I can’t unreservedly recommend a site I haven’t properly explored, but what I have seen encourages me to consider it personally a good resource. I do commend you look at it.

After some of the dreadful things I have read from several directions, it is good to have something that at least tries to make honest sense. I trust the site owners will forgive my stealing the table above.

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Posted by on January 2, 2009 in Israel, memory, Middle East


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