By Stanley Walinets
December 30, 2011
I was criticised for my previous posting - it was suggested that since it consisted of a statement by a Palestinian, it was suspect - indeed, that I'd 'concocted' it myself. So here's a similar experience we should make ourselves aware of, but this one comes from a young Israeli Jew. Please read on, with an open mind:
My name is Tom Pessah. I'm an Israeli sociology student. I study in the U.S., but right now I’m back home in Israel for my research.
I’m also an activist, which is how I came to know and love Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).
Here’s the truth. It’s hard for me, and for so many of my Israeli and Palestinian friends and allies, to stay hopeful. The obstacles to peace in our homeland seem huge. But I’ll tell you where we get our inspiration when we really need it: Jewish Voice for Peace.
You see, like many, I’ve come to believe the only way we can ever end all of this suffering is through a massive, united, Arab-Jewish movement for a just peace. The alternative is to let the pro-occupation, pro-war forces divide us.
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Some of the reasons that I support JVP:
They powerfully stood (and continue to stand) against the persecution of Muslim UC Irvine students who protested against the Israeli ambassador for being complicit in the attack on Gaza.
They were able to provide massive support for the Palestinian-led effort to desegregate buses in the West Bank. I know how important this campaign has been to my Palestinian friends.
And they gave immense backing to the beautiful multi-ethnic coalition that formed in my school, UC Berkeley, to demand divestment from American arms manufacturers accused of war crimes in Palestine.
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And if what I’ve said so far hasn’t moved you .... .... I hope the excerpt below will. It’s from a letter I just sent to a Jewish-American academic, about an aspect of life in Israel not even many Israeli Jews know about. And it illustrates exactly why the JVP way of joining together with Palestinian and Arab allies is the only way.
I'm Jewish and I didn't grow up with Palestinian Arabs, even though they are 20% of the population here, because the country is so highly segregated. In Tel Aviv, I lived for twenty years without even knowing one person who had Arab friends—not schoolmates, not romantic partners, not comrades in youth movements.
Apart from the servers in cheap cafes, or strangers in Jaffa, most of the Arabs I saw were on TV. I only made some good Arab friends when I was in university, when we are finally 'allowed' to mix. I want to share what they told me about what the Jewish state is like for them. The names are fictitious, but the people are real.
I went to visit my friend Maha in Haifa a few weeks ago. We were driving and she opened the window to ask another driver some directions, in Arabic. I asked how she knew he was a Palestinian citizen of Israel, because despite growing up in Israel I can't physically distinguish most Arabs from Mizrachim (Jews of Middle Eastern descent), unless they are wearing some distinctive clothing.
She said it isn't in the physical features but in the body language: Palestinian citizens of Israel can often recognize each other through their behavior, which essentially boils down to fearfulness and discomfort.
She can see it in the face of a driver in a car on the other side of the road. Fear of politicians that constantly threaten to transfer them out of their homes, just like the government is currently displacing thousands of Bedouins in the Negev.
Or fear of protesting, or saying too much on the phone and being invited to a "friendly conversation", because the Shabak (security service) may be listening.
Maha tried to find an apartment in Tel Aviv for several months, sleeping on friends' couches. It took many weeks until they found a landlord willing to rent to an Arab—then she was fired from her job as a waitress because she talked in Arabic to the cook in the kitchen.
A couple of weeks later I visited another friend, Amal, who lives in Nazareth. She took me past the local courthouse, which for her is the place from which sharpshooters aimed at unarmed Arab protesters in 2000, when the state killed 13 of its own citizens.
She refers to Nazareth as "the ghetto", where Arabs are forced to buy flats at prohibitive prices because so much of the land around the city has been expropriated to create neighborhoods primarily meant for Jews.
Though there are open letters circulating against renting apartments to Arabs, she managed to find a house in one of those neighborhoods, with only one other Arab family in the area. Her husband is worried that they won't be able to pay the mortgage if someone burns down their house.
Professor, I'm Jewish, and I don't want to live in a state where so many people are fearful and discriminated against. I don’t want to live in a state that oppresses its Palestinian citizens in exactly the ways we were oppressed in other countries.
I don't want them to feel out of place in their own country. We Jews have legitimate concerns, Israel should stay as a haven for Jews who are persecuted, but keeping it as a Jewish state in the form it is now is just incredibly cruel.
If you don't speak up loudly and clearly and consistently about this oppression, and if you don't say a word about the refugees, who are the relatives of Maha, and Amal and would like to be able to live close to them—just as my British relatives could come to Tel Aviv and live with me—you don't enable a joint Jewish-Arab movement to develop. You don’t ally yourself with kind, generous and conscientious people like them, the best friends and fellow citizens anyone could wish for.
End of Tom Pessah's message. Comment, anyone?