A Lost Soul in Israel

Cor Blimey my fellow Bathhousers,

You have been busy this last week. I’ve been based in Israel for a little while now and have been struggling for a way of bringing my experience to this website – it’s so damn complex out here. Other than the fact that the Palestinians are getting shat on, that is.

Anyhow, I think I have something for you. Let me contextualise: I work for a left-wing college that specialises in training citizens from developing countries in key management and structural areas (typically USAID and World Bank funded). It also runs a Summer Programme for western students who want a reflective look at the land of Israel and Palestine. The programme is not without its faults, but as Israelis and their dogma go, it’s at the top end of the intelligence and pro-humanity spectrum.

Marketing this course to UK university professors I received a response. The ensuing email exchange I think should be 0f interest. I have deleted names or replaced with generic functions in brackets where necessary to protect anonymity. The first email is the response to the marketing email from a university professor at an international development institute (I have italicized his words):

Dear …………………

 As I understand it from Ha’aretz newspaper and various colleagues the Government of Israel is currently engaged in efforts to prevent foreign NGO employees from working with the Palestinians and, in particular, for overseas academics from spending periods of time at Palestinian universities. This constitutes a direct affront to academic and professional freedom. In light of such actions I have decided not to accept invitations from Israeli academic institutions, even those opposed to the actions of their government. Furthermore, I shall be encouraging colleagues and students in the UK to do likewise. 

Yours

 ……………….

 Dear ………………,

 Thank you for your forthright response. You must do what you see fit to work towards ending a dire situation.

 (Israeli Educational Organisation) has a history of cooperation with Palestinians and this has been brought to a halt since the actions of the IDF in Gaza a year ago.

Due to the difficulties of maintaining official cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian institutions in the present climate, we currently keep in touch with our alumni individually through email.

 I am sorry for the polarisation of people in this region, and the growing polarisation of academia as a result of this conflict.

Best regards

 …………………

 Dear ………………..

 I appreciate your comments. I would only add that, having lived and worked in both Israel and the oPt over a period of more than forty years, I have come to see that this is not, as conventionally conveyed, ‘a conflict’. Rather it is a situation of ongoing colonisation and ethnic cleansing. However, few of my many ‘leftist’ Israeli friends seem to grasp this basic point and continue to talk about ‘conflict’ as if there were two more or less equal partners to a dispute. It truly baffles me that such a misleading term continues to be used in this way.

 yours

 ………………….

 …………….,

I want to respond to you but to do so on the email account of the organisation I work for would be unprofessional. I trust you will forgive my shift to my personal account.

 You’ll be pleased to know that you have made me think and that you have made me feel sad. I do not disagree with you one iota with regards to your view of what is happening here and your objection to the use of the word ‘conflict’.

 I do not pretend to have your experience of the region – though I have been here quite a bit and spent a brief period in West Bank. I am deeply curious at how said “Israeli friends” continue to view the situation in the light of a conflict as between two independent people. We’re talking one power structure here. But how does it function?

 I take you to David Campbell “Writing Security” and “National (de)construction” as one means of reading the use of the term ‘conflict’. Psychological mutual dependence? Maybe. But as a political economist, I believe it goes further. Unfortunately for the Palestinian people at large, since the erection of the wall, Israel has unshackled its economic dependence on its occupied population with the introduction of a far eastern labour pool – things look bleak from the perspective of the Palestinians.

From the perspective of Israel, I guess it is the bad luck of this state to be brought into existence at a time when human rights have become vogue – otherwise maybe they could have sold the native population some diseased blankets and created the necessary living space (dodgy term I know) in that manner! I mean this seriously – guilt for human rights abuses exists in almost modern nation building exercises.

 On the part of (Israeli Educational Organisation) – it’s a self reflective organisation and a good deal of time is given in its curriculum to bringing a voice to those other than Jews who live in this area. (Specific Left Wing Israeli Lecturer) gives a brilliant lecture, highlighting the alternative narratives that exist regarding the creation of Israel etc.

I guess I’m here because I have been involved on and off with the Free Palestine campaign feel that most of the people I have met fall into the same trap of homogenisation that the Israelis themselves are guitly of. I believe that there is a place for this form of campaigning. However, I believe that there exists a place for forging connections within Israeli society whereby a common platform of dialogue can be achieved with the international community. As we both agree, this is one power structure, and the Israelis hold the cards. Somehow we need to work with elements within Israel because out here there exists one big bad victim complex.

 Anyhow – I waffle.

 All the Best

 ………………..

 ……………

I appreciate you taking the time to respond.

I am a more than a little tired with the Israeli left-wing obsession with ‘voice’, ‘alternative narratives’ and ‘dialogue’: been there, done that. It seems to serve no greater purpose than to sop the consciences of a few well-meaning lefties. It certainly doesn’t impress the vast majority of my Palestinian friends who have long since given up on this schtick.

There is downright evil being perpetrated in the name of world Jewry (of which I am a member by the way), and all the intellectualizing and hand-wringing is not going to stop it. Serious political and economic pressure of the sort not yet even remotely implemented just might. It helped in South Africa where ‘voice’, ‘alternative narratives’ and ‘dialogue’ counted for little or nothing.

 cheers

………………

I took myself to be dismissed at this final comment. Those who know me may laugh at the thought of me as a “hand-wringing leftie” – Oh Thatcher, where are you my queen???!!! hahaha (sorry mum).

Jokes aside: I wonder if this correspondence stirs anything in you lot.

Peace and Love

Failure to Fathom

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3 thoughts on “A Lost Soul in Israel

  1. Dear Claire,

    Thank you for your reponse – you made some good points. I have been wondering how to respond.

    Firstly, regarding the College I work for: it does not support any of the policies that you list. It wishes for a peaceful resolution to the conflict, for the settlers to vacate the OPTs and for a return to the borders of the Green Line.

    That said – I cannot account for everyone who works at the College. Like all institutions in Democracies everywhere, it is illegal to hire and fire onthe basis of political affiliation. However, people feel comfortable (or not) with those they work with and therefore I believe the vast majority of employees here fall into a similar line of thinking.

    In fact, the College is highly international, with French, Dutch, Brazilian, German, Cambodian, Japanese, Lithuanian, Roumanian, English and Israeli employees. It does most of it work with developing and transitional countries, providing capacity building and management training courses.

    I guess the dialogue between me and the professor touched a nerve for me. I, like he undoubtedly does, call into question the very legitimacy of the Israeli state. Israelis by definition do not do this (except some crazy religious dudes who wanna wait for the Messiah to create the state for them… when he finally rocks up) and this is what I mean by “as Israelis and the dogma go” – though an Israeli friend of mine found this statement patronizing and I accept that I owe any Israelis reading this an apology for it.

    I am fascinated by the Israeli narrative. I feel that my interlocutor’s evident anger is a credit to his humanity and it led me to question my own role being in this country. He compares Israel to South Africa – as well he may. I wonder what processes underly a situation in which similar policies to a vilified Apartheid state can be persecuted by Israel with it continuing to enjoy popular and political international support .

    Why is it that I am able to come here, when I would not have countenanced doing the same in the South Africa of the 80s?

    Is culutralism the new racism? It is far more legitimate than racism and increasingly, foreign policy is being based on its teaching.

    How do Israelis themselves resolve the contradictions inherent to a Jewish Democratic State?

    How is it possible many of those I talk to to tell me straight faced, that the world misunderstands them and that they wished they could udnerstand the truth; the Israeli truth?

    Somwhere in all this lies the political mechanics and the discourse of National Security. When this ultimate goal for policy designers is married to the definition of a state being Jewish and Democratic, I think we have a highly unusual situation that ligitimate some pretty exceptional behaviours.

    I am sorry Claire, for the jumble of thoughts and the questions rather than answers. However, I feel that academia does little to answer these questions and that seeking to understand these processes would be a productive route toward generating new policy initiatives. Dunno really.

  2. Hello,

    I just thought I’d let everyone know that some sort of Syrian censoring system is onto us, and Claire can’t open this post anymore. So she hasn’t been able to read your comments Will – I’ll pass them onto her, it’s an interesting debate.

    Now, economics, where was I…

  3. Hi Claire,

    Great to hear from you. I absolutely was not offended so please don’t worry.

    So you are in the West Bank. It’s tough. The key moment of revelation for me is when you emerge onto the Israeli side of the wall and you notice the beautiful, well watered, flowers lining the verges of roads and motorways. In West Bank, the water is precious to human life. In Israel it is used for beautification. This to me demonstrates the either/or nature of Israeli/Palestinian politics that is so effectively masked by understanding the situation as a conflict between two states.

    I kind of thought I’d better post a new piece coz my thoughts started rambling on but I think it may answer some of your questions. It’s called “Israel, the Holocaust, National Identity”. Hope you like it.

    Best wishes

    Wll

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