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Want to end the occupation? Start talking to settlers and Mizrahim

The very people the Left categorically rejects — Mizrahim and settlers — are exactly whom they need to make peace.

By Avi Dabush

Thousands of Israelis attend a left-wing rally calling for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, May 27, 2017. (Flash90)

Thousands of Israelis attend a left-wing rally calling for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, May 27, 2017. (Flash90)

Three weeks ago, I attended the Peace Now rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, standing among the “peace camp” and meeting many people whom I love and value. They are committed, devoted, and get out of the house to actually protest and work toward peace.

As I was listening to the speeches, I thought of a poem by Roy Hasan that ends in the line “They’ll never make peace, because if there’ll be peace, all the arsim[1] will come.” And I thought to myself that the reverse is also true — that all the arsim need to be here in order for there to be peace.

I don’t doubt that all those who filled Rabin Square that night want peace. But the rally, and all the other actions taken by the white-liberal camp, aren’t exactly bringing an end to the occupation and a solution to the conflict. They don’t amount to an effective political plan. It’s been 50 years, and they still haven’t generated enough political energy to significantly alter the status quo. On the contrary — among certain groups, the current discourse around peace simply reaffirms the longstanding hegemony and position of the elite. People talk about peace in order to feel superior, which is the exact opposite of effective political action.

Fixing this has to start with Mizrahim. It’s precisely the boogeymen of the Left who represent the sole chance for peace, and there will be no success without the full participation of the very people the Left categorically rejects. And that begins with Mizrahim and Arabs, without whom the Oslo process would not have taken place. Whenever I’m asked who has inspired my political outlook, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is one of the first people I mention. His ruling backing peace with Egypt, and nudging the ultra-Orthodox Shas party to allow the Oslo peace process to proceed, was critical to building a political alliance that could bring about change.

As for Arab citizens of Israel — talk to them, in depth, about the frustration of being caught between their national commitments as Palestinians and their Israeli civic commitments. They are neither an annex nor a bridge. They have their own voice, which is renewed with each generation. Ayman Odeh’s presence on the stage at the Rabin Square rally was the most meaningful aspect of the demonstration, along with the speech given by Eli Bitan, who was educated in Shas institutions.

Mizrahi activists protest outside Finance Minister Yair Lapid's house, north Tel Aviv. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Mizrahi activists protest outside Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s house, north Tel Aviv. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Then there are the settlers, the ultimate “other” of the Left, the vast majority of whom have nothing to do with them. Settlers live amongst Palestinians, to a much greater extent than we do — and yet somehow they’re the problem. They have to play a significant part in any solution.

It’s true that national-religious settlers (around a third of all settlers, the rest of whom are ultra-Orthodox and secular people) include a violent, dangerous, messianic right-wing element, which dreams of and strives for a land cleansed of Arabs. The messianic Right also resides within the Green Line, and we need to stand against them without compromise.

But alongside them are many settlers who have developed ties with their Palestinian neighbors, out of a belief in mutual prosperity and coexistence. Establishing cooperation, while acknowledging power relations, is a potential path to peace. And all of these people must be included in the leadership of the peace camp, and in political alliances.

And what about a peace plan? The liberal peace camp’s frustration has advanced the concept of separation. It often seems as if it’s all a matter of figures, and the fear over the number of Palestinians between the river and the sea dominates. Politicians like Yair Lapid use this fear, exclaiming that we’ll “divorce” from the Palestinians, that we’ll send them to hell, that we’ll build a high wall to keep them out. In this bourgeois Israeli fantasy, the Arabs will disappear. Just like the Mizrahim.

Thousands of Palestinian and Israeli women from ‘Women Wage Peace’ march near the West Bank city of Jericho, October 19, 2016. (Flash90)

Thousands of Palestinian and Israeli women from ‘Women Wage Peace’ march near the West Bank city of Jericho, October 19, 2016. (Flash90)

This fantasy is understandable, but unrealistic. It’s part of the “villa in the jungle” concept — the idea that we’re part of Europe, not the Middle East. A solution that involves total separation will never happen, and any proposal that creates besieged islands of Palestinian autonomy, like Gaza today, will end in failure. It will lead to the realization of the Right’s vision of “terrorist states.” Mizrahim understand this. So, to some extent, do the settlers.

The “two states, one homeland” proposal points in another direction — two independent nation-states, with semi-open borders, which will stand at the entrance to the Middle East and not just serve as a window to Europe. Unsurprisingly, spearheading this initiative are Palestinians from both sides of the Green Line, settlers, Mizrahim and ultra-Orthodox.

Fifty years on from 1967, we have to ask ourselves: do we want to talk about peace, to hope and pray for it, or do we want to make it happen? Do we want to wait for someone to create peace for us, or do it for ourselves? If we are serious about it, and want to take responsibility, then both the leadership and the plan for peace need a profound adjustment.

[1] ars (plural: arsim): Israeli Hebrew slang derived from Arabic. It is a derogatory and racist term almost exclusively directed at Mizrahi Jews and typically used to insinuate low-class taste in music, clothes, jewelry and so on. The term has recently been reclaimed by some young Mizrahi activists and poets.

Avi Dabush is one of the leaders in the Periphery Movement, and of the March for Equality in Education and Welfare. This post was originally published in Hebrew on Local Call. 

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    COMMENTS

    1. Mo ElKhateeb

      I would take this article with a grain of salt, however, I totally agree with the author in the need to connect with mizrahim and all other non-white / liberal groups, plus the Arabs of Israel.

      I feel, in fact, that the peace process can only happen on village to village level.

      I mean with that, that each West Bank village and nearby settlement have a mediated peace process based on elements of non-violent conflict resolution and transitional justice, then these villages can decide (separate from the state or municipal level), whether the settlement wants to integrate fully into it’s Palestinian context, taking up Palestinian Nationality (with the option of keeping their Israeli one) and to integrate with the nearby village, perhaps even letting some of the families that lost land in the process to receive compensation in the form of property within the settlement.

      Other options can be to move the settlement back to the Greenline in case they still want to live under Israeli jurisdiction, or maybe the locals can come up with other genius home grown solutions (including the 2 states one home land solution, with free flowing open borders as such).

      Reply to Comment
    2. Firentis

      Hahahaha. The article starts with nonsense, continues with nonsense and ends with nonsense.

      Why don’t the Mizrahim come? Because these protests are based on European-style idealism that pretends that peace is just a matter of signing a piece of paper after which a new spirit of friendship and love would overtake all and overcome all outstanding issues. It is not, and it will not. Peace is an agreement between two societies to agree on a framework for future cooperation. In Europe that has recently consisted of an agreement on borders between two cohesive nation-states. In this conflict the Palestinian side insists that the Jewish side is illegitimate and continues to insist that it will retain that view after an agreement is signed and a Palestinian state is created. As long as that is the case there is no possible framework for future cooperation and so any agreement signed would just be a ceasefire. Jews that came here from Arab countries fully understand that no piece of paper is worth anything because in this region only fundamental agreements on principles between societies can prevent continued conflict. The surrounding countries are barely literate, religious, driven by suspicion, conformist and structurally fragile. The only way such societies are turned towards peace is by giving them a different driving narrative from the one that caused support for conflict in the first place. As long as the Palestinians hold on to a narrative that insists that Jews have no right to self-determination and all the land should be under Arab control there is no chance that any peace can hold.

      Why don’t the settlers come? Seriously? Because for the most part they are fully aware that the “peace camp” will throw them to the wolves. The easier that it seems to evacuate settlers and settlements the more likely it is that more of that will be done as part of an agreement. By showing up they would basically be undermining their own position and the continued existence of their own houses and their own communities.

      And then the article moves from talking about how the two state solution is unrealistic but that the author’s preferred utopia of “two states, one homeland” is somehow more practical and pragmatic. Because it is common sense that an incoherent solution that has never been tried anywhere in the world will work in creating peace between two peoples that can’t agree on a common vision of the future. Pardon the sarcasm. This particular proposed solution is such complete hogwash that it boggles the mind that anyone with two brain cells can take it seriously. This is one of those proposed solutions that starts with: ‘what if everyone..’ and never quite gets around to explaining why everyone would or how such a solution would deal with internal spoilers, internal instability and external interference. It is a house of cards built on a melting block of ice in a tropical hurricane.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Ramatganski

      If these ideas worth anything, it would be very easy to show it. Here’s a challenge: produce a video in which you examplify how you’re trying to convince Mizrakhim to join your political way, as opposed to the faulty way the ‘white-liberal camp’ is doing it. The unmistakable better results would bring many within the  Israeli Left to reconsider their misconceptions and adopt your suggestions. I’m sure such direct evidence will be more effective than raising vague accusations on an international internet plattform.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Ramatganski

      If these ideas worth anything, it would be very easy to show it. Here’s a challenge: produce a video in which you examplify how you’re trying to convince Mizrakhim to join your political way, as opposed to the faulty way the ‘white-liberal camp’ is doing it. Your better results would bring many within the Israeli Left to reconsider their misconceptions and adopt your suggestions. I’m sure such direct evidence will be more effective than raising vague accusations on an international internet plattform.

      Reply to Comment