Conflict & Hope: Day 4, Speaker 3

After a lot of sightseeing we headed back to the Judean Youth Hostel where we sat still and listened to our final speaker for the day. He is a Christian, Israeli-Palestinian citizen born in Lod, Israel. He is very involved in the reconciliation and bridging between Israelies and Palestinians. He does not fall on a line in the spectrum between pro-Israel and pro-Palestine. He falls on the dot that under reads, “Pro-Palestine.”

He started off by saying how to understand the Middle East requires an in-depth study of the complexity of the situation. “Fox news doesn’t do an adequate coverage.” I couldn’t agree more. Though this was probably one of the few things I agreed with him on.

The topic we touched upon was the relationship between Palestinians-Israelis and Israeli-Jews. Of course influenced with several factors and, that both perceive this land as their own land. “The historical narrative is really affecting both communities so much.”

In 1948 the two movements began fighting. It started out with Palestinian Arabs vs. Jews and led into surrounding Arab countries vs. Jews. The result was 750 million Palestinians becoming refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, and within Israel. This posed a challenge for David Ben-Gurion, the Prime Minister of Israel at the time. What was he to do with the remaining Palestinians? They were looked at as a security threat, and their land (which was privately owned) was confiscated in order to make room for the waves of Aliyah coming into Israel. This land was then sold to the Jewish Agency who now owns it. To reiterate, this land is not owned by the State of Israel, it is owned by the Jewish people. Thus, Palestinians could/can not acquire it.

“The seventh day of the sixth day war is not finished, what do you do with the people in the Palestinian territories?” From the Palestinian side he has been advocating Arab nationalism. The whole ideology of that has been facing major challenges since 1964 and has not really progressed at all (though by now it’s well on its way).

Currently in Israel 22% of the population are non-Jews. Arabs here are having more and more children, 80% of that population are under the age of 30, and 65% are under the age of 21. If you assume 90% will marry and have children then this poses a serious problem. “How can you keep yourself as a Jewish state when there are currently 5.5 million non-Jews and much more in the near future?”

He then spoke of his life in Israel and he feels there needs to be a separation of Church and State. He wants to drive on the Sabbath, eat non-Kosher food, etc. and he just doesn’t think it’s fair as a non-Jew that he has to live this way. I want to add in though that there are plenty of non-Kosher restaurants in Israel, you can drive on the Sabbath if you choose to, and you can live in an area that isn’t entirely shut down on Shabbat.

People say to him how he isn’t thankful to live in Israel. At least here he gets medical care, and a lot more care in general than he would in surrounding Arab countries. He didn’t agree with this statement, but I still do. Especially after the riots we’ve been seeing recently.

He identifies in being a Palestinian with a Hebrew influence. The language, the food, the clothes vs. for example, an Arab Egyptian. The uniqueness, the culture of the land, that has shaped the identity of these people. It is interesting to note here how he spoke of identity and did seem proud of it. And just earlier that day I was struggling so much as I was looking around at the Palestinian settlement in the West Bank and listening to the man speaking to us who seemed to struggle with the fact that no one really cares about him and therefore he feels disconnected from everything, and doesn’t know what, or who, to identify with.

He kept speaking and told us where he thinks this whole situation is going. He feels the two groups will never understand each other, they are just so different, culturally, aspirationally, etc. The military and security establishment compared to Bosnia, Sri Lanka, etc. they have a good relationship. The state has a way/means of controlling the population. He is pushing for a one-state solution, he feels that within forty years we’ll see an integration of Arabs into Israeli society.

Midway through the speech he stopped to talk to his wife. We took this time to make some coffee. One of the OTZMA girls offered to make him a cup, which he said yes to. After receiving it he accidentally hit the coffee and it spilled onto the table and all over the floor. He had yet to even take a sip. Everyone in the room went “oooh!” and a few of us worked to clean it up. He seemed upset it fell, but he made a comment that I’ll never forget, “Oh well it’s not like it was Arab coffee.” This pissed me off for two reasons. One, Arab coffee sucks. I couldn’t even finish a cup when I had it. Two, here we were, a room full of American Jews, trying to see and understand the problem from his perspective. And he has to make jokes against Israeli coffee. Throughout the speech he was slightly rude and very defensive with us, immediately stereotyping how we thought. At the end he even finished by saying, “Thank you for being polite.” Now, what did I just say earlier about stereotyping?

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