Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
In the wake of the horrific attack this past Friday night in which three innocent Jews were stabbed to death in the settlement of Halamish while celebrating the circumcision of a newborn son, a young mother in one of the Gush Etzion settlements posted this just yesterday:
Did you see this morning the demonstrations of support for us that our neighbors participated in all along the road to Jerusalem? Did you see the Arabs of Husan, Wadi Nis, Nachlin, Tzurif, and Bethlehem gathered at all the major junctions holding giant signs saying “Thou shalt not murder” and “Arabs and Jews refuse to be enemies,” and “We are all Halamish?” Ah, you did not see? Remember that the next time that they tell us about coexistence among us between Jews and Arabs and that the majority of Arabs want peace.
The same day, after a week of Muslim demonstrations against Israel’s positioning of metal detectors at the entrance to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the heart of Jerusalem in reaction to the use of the compound for a shooting attack that left two Israeli policemen dead, an angry Palestinian activist posted the following on Facebook:
The Israeli Zionist left was faking being in favor of the Palestinian non-violent resistance and being against the occupation all of these years…
The Zionist left kept saying that the reason why Israel is not listening is that Palestinians are using violence in their protests and keep throwing stones.
For more than a week now Palestinians gathered in Jerusalem in order to protest the installment of the metal detectors at Al-Aqsa mosque, an act intended to imposed full Israeli sovereignty on Al-Aqsa mosque in violation of the agreements with the Jordanian Waqf… and the Zionist left never showed up!
This means that there is no left in Israel.
If you are not joining people who use non-violent resistance against your fascist government’s acts and expect us to respect you for this double standard and hypocrisy – then no.
Your place is not in a protest in Tel Aviv or at the prime minister’s house in Jerusalem! Your place is among the Palestinian non-violent protesters.
The Zionist left has failed in the test again.”
The first post comes from a staunchly conservative Israeli Zionist patriot and the second comes from the opposite end of the spectrum, from a fiery anti-Zionist Palestinian activist, but they are united on two points: One, their disappointment and cynicism vis-à-vis the other side’s behavior, and two, their preaching to the other side concerning how they should react to their own countrymen’s behavior. Both believe that one side must mold itself according to the other side’s standards. Until you adopt my narrative, support me in the fashion that I wish to be supported and come out against your own people, we will get nowhere in this conflict, they are saying.
These two posts are not atypical. Many of us, even so-called peace activists, are just as blind and caught up in our own perspectives. We want the other side to think like us and be like us. We have expectations of the other that within their own cultural milieu are impossible. We want to transform the other when in truth it is ourselves that we must first transform.
Let’s look at the first post: I personally have heard from tens of ‘our neighbors’ who are sickened by the shooting of the two policemen and the stabbing of the family members in Halamish. They are totally against violence. But the post is ludicrous. Ninety-eight percent of our neighbors are Muslim; the Koran does not say “Thou shall not murder.” Oh yes, it contains powerful exhortations against the taking of human life, but the writer is only thinking of imposing her own texts on the other.
She wants them to stand at junctions holding signs, just like protesters do in Israel and other Western countries. Again, imposing our ways on others.
She calls them ‘our neighbors’ and ‘Arabs.’ The usage of such language is to completely deny their identity and to make oneself oblivious to what is going on. They are Palestinians. That is who they understand themselves to be. They are not indistinguishable from their fellow Arabs in Egypt or Morocco. They have their own unique local story and sense of being. And it is precisely because the writer wants to erase their identity that they will never act as she wants them to.
She has no idea that they live under the oppression of military occupation. The term ‘neighbors’ makes everything sound so benign, so normal. But no, they live without the most basic of human rights. Why would they stand and hold signs that say ‘We refuse to be enemies’ when every day they are treated by our authorities like less-than-human enemies? If Palestinians are going to engage in non-violent demonstrations, it is clearly going to be non-violent resistant against what we do to them and not protest against what their own desperate extremists do to us.
It is not that the writer wants the Palestinian to behave like good little children and to meekly accept their suffering under occupation. It is worse than that. Her head is so buried in the sand that she cannot even see that there is an occupation.
But the Palestinian writer does no better. He knows for certain that the intention of the Israeli government was to ‘impose full Israeli sovereignty on Al-Aqsa mosque’ and that it was ‘in violation of the agreements with the Jordanian Waqf.’ He may be right. I don’t know. That is indeed the way that many Palestinians and Muslims interpret reality. But cocky simplistic certainty in which we know what they are thinking and planning is ludicrous. It is another example of projecting our thoughts onto the other side, inside of listening.
The writer tells Israelis how to protest against their own government. He tells them which side of the picket line they belong on. In doing so he forgets the fact that they are Israelis and not Palestinians. He wants them to completely identity with him. He wants them to act in a fashion that for many of them would constitute surrender of their own identity as Israelis. He basically says – if you do not become me, you are against me.
In both posts we see classic victim mentality that refuses to see complexity and to take responsibility. Both sides feel let down and betrayed not only by the other side’s leaders and violent elements, but by the entirety of the other side – even by those who might actually be partners.
This is not the way. Before we make demands of others, we must first make demands of ourselves. Before we speak and even before we think, we must listen. After we begin to heal ourselves and to change our behaviors, the other side may be more able to begin to heal itself. Then we may be able to set out on the journey of healing each other, together.