Making both sides uncomfortable

Nation editor Roane Carey investigates some initiatives in the Middle East to breach the lack of effort by the political players:

The fact is that even aside from the occupation, Israel is already a binational state–increasingly, a multicultural state–albeit one that is dominated by one ethnic/religious group. What if, instead of talking past one another, Jews and Palestinians were to take a step toward admitting this reality by acknowledging the other’s historical narrative and trying to live together? It turns out that some are doing this, and in very interesting ways. I recently attended the sixth annual “Independence Day/Nakba Day” gathering near the northern city of Haifa, a two-day workshop organized by Arabs and Jews “designed to respect and commemorate the pain and loss on both sides.” Sponsored this year by Beyond Words, a nonprofit organization that empowers Arab and Jewish women to work for social change and peace, the event featured a history lecture, recollections of the 1948 expulsion from Ramle by a Palestinian who experienced it and of the Holocaust by a survivor, personal testimonies of loss in a common grieving ritual, and breakout workshops, as well as music, dance and prayer.

It may be hard for Americans to comprehend just how threatening such an event is perceived in Israel–by both Jews and Palestinians. Many of the former find it nearly treasonous that on two consecutive days considered nearly sacred–the Day of the Fallen and Independence Day, when throughout the country everything comes to a screeching halt for two minutes as sirens sound–fellow Jews would go out of their way to acknowledge those who consider the time of Jewish national liberation to be a catastrophe. And just as many Palestinians are no less irritated that their dispossessed brethren, who endure continuing discrimination as second-class citizens, would commune with a people who celebrate what is for Palestinians a time of defeat and expulsion. But that’s just the point: the participants don’t presume to furnish a “solution” to the conflict, nor do they expect to synthesize the two vastly different national experiences into a unified whole. The idea, rather, is that in a society where the two opposing narratives almost completely negate the legitimacy of the other, simply to come together, to listen to the other, to accept the other’s narrative as at least somewhat legitimate, is a crucial step in the healing process necessary to ending the conflict.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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