Wednesday, September 19th, 2007
Thursday, August 17th, 2006
In the midst of the war, the World Pride events were taking place in Jerusalem the last week. They had been postponed from the last year because of the disengagement. This year the March was cancelled because of the war. But all the other events were taking place. There was an overwhelming religious reaction to the march which was a product of Jewish-Muslim-Christian fundamentalist unity. Why don’t they find this unity for creating a process of justice, reconciliation and peace for all? Why do they unite in hating lesbians, gay, bisexuals and transgender? Of course, there are inter-religious meetings of different Muslim, Jewish and Christian groups in search of peace. But the power is not in the hands of people who would like real change in basic values and the end of every oppression and suffering.
In my worst dreams I did not imagine that the war will be so long and painful. Today they declared a cease fire. We, in the radical left were out on the streets from the first days confronting feelings of hate and racism. We are regarded traitors more than ever. The Zionist parts of the peace movement started to wake up last week. Our historic role is to be catalysts of the mainstream peace movement. But it is important to mention that from the beginning of the war also individual Zionist peace activists took part in our demonstrations.
In the first 2 weeks I went to the anti-war vigils in Jerusalem everyday. Jerusalem is not part of the current war zone which means that here it is possible to continue our regular lives. But the sorrow and pain because of the widespread suffering is tremendous. I hardly can concentrate on my work. I am taking part in the feminist organizing concerning the war. We who work with women from disenfranchised communities – who disagree with us politically – are looking for ways to discuss the issue of security and war from feminist perspectives based on their experiences. We also plan a gathering of activists for our own political discussion besides the constant demonstrations and activities that are taken place, though marginalized and hardly represented in the media.
Every Saturday, Jews and Palestinians in Israel march in Tel Aviv against the war. Among other slogans we also shout that we refuse to be enemies. Asking a Palestinian friend what sustains her in this horrible situation, she immediately said that the Jewish-Arab demonstrations in Tel Aviv. Although our voices are hardly heard in the public. We insist on marching together. We insist on being together and saying among other things that: We are against the war, We don’t want to kill and be killed in the service of the US, Both in Haifa and Beirut children want to live, We refuse to be enemies. I go out the street to express my views publicly. I go out to express my opposition to solving conflict with arms. I go out to express solidarity, I go out on the streets to be with my Palestinian friends.
So much pain and suffering on both sides. The suffering and destruction in Lebanon is greater and I feel horrible about it. It is done in my name. It is done in our name. But also here there is destruction on many levels of life. I mourn the suffering of the wounded, the dead and their families, the refugees in Lebanon, the ones whose houses were destroyed, women, men and children in the war zone who were thrown into destruction, anxieties and greater poverty. Two friends of mine have old parents in Haifa who are survivors of the Holocaust. They didn’t want to leave their homes and their children were really worried. Lately we started to hear about the experiences of old and sick people who cannot go to the shelters. The horrible situation in Gaza and the west bank is not at the centre of public attention. This is also done in our name.
Feminist organizations in Haifa, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other places organize around women’s needs like single mothers with children and poor women. Finally the media mentions also feminist critique of the war. Nevertheless our world view is still marginalized. The critique was there from the beginning, but the media did not respond to it till now. The stickers in the streets claiming Israel is going to win the war are around everywhere. What does it mean to win a war? The division between Jews and Arabs or Israelis and Palestinian is growing. We are creating more hate towards us. We are going to face even worse economic and social problems. Many are killed. Many are injured. More money will be given to the army and less and less for health, education and welfare. I think we still cannot imagine the inner social destruction that Israeli society is going to face. The chances of a real peace process between Israel and Palestine look less and less possible already for a few years. We lost hope to witness and take part in a process of justice, reconciliation and living in peace for Jewish and Palestinian people in the Middle East. No matter how important is the struggle against any kind of religious fundamentalism the core of the problem here is the national conflict.
As I already mentioned, we witness the racist attitudes, dehumanization and hate toward the enemy. One dimensional attitude towards a large community, this time here towards the Muslim Arabs. This is a widespread phenomenon everywhere. As feminists we should discuss this concept of the enemy in depth and oppose it. Only through the deep notion that all humans in the universe are connected can we really create change. It won’t be easy for us because Patriarchy, Militarism, Fundamentalism, Capitalism and every oppressive system is regarded by us as the enemy. We witness the ruins and destruction of those oppressive systems everywhere. We know that men in power or men in the arms industry are part of those systems and benefit from them. How do we relate as feminists to those enemies? Do we have a unique contribution to the concept of the enemy?
I hope that the cease fire will help me to get back also to my everyday work with women directors. Those are women who by being directors within the welfare office and of social change organizations will have to deal with the new social and economic challenges that people from disenfranchised communities will have to meet. This tremendous responsibility puts a special burden on them. In our project we also want to expose them to feminist critique of social rights and change.
Wednesday, August 16th, 2006
(Title: “War No!” in Russian and Arabic. Translated from Ha’aretz, 10 August 2006)
At the vanguard of the radical left protest against the war are two women – an Arab and an immigrant from the former Soviet Union – leading the demonstrations with “End the War” chants in Arabic and Russian.
The evening before we met, Khulood Badawi escaped the horrors of war to go to the al-Hakawati Theater in East Jerusalem. But even escapism is not what it used to be. She was watching the Lebanese movie “The Kite”, directed by a friend’s sister, in which a young Lebanese woman falls in love with a Druze soldier from Israel during the first Lebanon War. At the height of the story, her cell phones began to ring. The news that Katyusha rockets had fallen on Haifa quickly moved through the theater. Badawi, who had lived in Haifa for several years, fled the theater to watch the TV news, where she recognized the offices of al-Ittihad, the newspaper of Hadash, Badawi’s political party. Among the ruins she saw many offices she knew, and began calling her friends. [photo from Ha’aretz by Guy Ravitz]
At that same moment, Yana Knopova [photo, left], who immigrated to Israel from the Ukraine 11 years ago as a young Zionist activist, was fielding phone calls to and from friends and colleagues. The rockets had fallen not far from the Haifa apartment she shares with Abir Kopty, the spokeswoman for the Mossawa Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens of Israel, and in the heart of the neighborhood of many Arabs and Jews who share her uncommon political path.
The two met the next day in what they call “the Tel Aviv bubble”, where they have been orchestrating the key protests against the war on behalf of the Coalition of Women for Peace and Ta’ayush. An Arab and a Russian. Another of the strange phenomena to emerge from this war.
The 30-year-old Badawi has a long history of political activism: The former militant chair of the Association of Arab University Students in Israel, Badawi is today a field worker for the Association of Civil Rights in Israel. The 25-year-old Knopova, a student of psychology at Haifa University [and coordinator of the Coalition of Women for Peace], strayed far from the Zionist dream though she had worked five years for the Jewish Agency,
In those years, she believed that “the left was only the Meretz Party”, as she put it, and then she discovered what she calls the lies and arrogance on which Israel is based, which not only create primitive men in Israel, but undermine the judgment of the entire country. Thus she found her way to a political and social home in the radical left.
The Bomb and the Hope
Clearly the sense of marginalization in Israeli society – which views Arabs as the enemy and ignores immigrants – strengthened the solidarity between them. “The police see Khulood as a natural enemy,” says Knopova with a bitter smile; “while in the exact same situation, the police refuse to see me as an enemy. They also live with the stereotype that there are no Russians in the left. Khulood is always dangerous, I am never dangerous; Khulood is a demographic time-bomb, I am a demographic hope. This is an approach that regards the wombs of us both as in the service of the state, and we will not give them this pleasure.” [photo left of Knopova by Yair Gil]
Over the past month, they have orchestrated all the demonstrations of the left, and held them in three languages – Hebrew, Arabic and Russian. Based on the number of calls coming in to Badawi’s three cell phones, one would think that opposition to the war is the new consensus; based on the calls to Knopova in Russian throughout our conversation, one would think that a million Russian speakers in Israel changed their political views.
This is not true, of course, but there is no doubt that something different and new is happening. Much has already been said about the uniqueness of this war; the fact that at the vanguard of protest are two women – an Arab and an immigrant from the former Soviet Union – is without a doubt another unique element. Everything is new about this: Most of the protest in Israel, including that of the more left-wing activists, used to spring from the pool of Ashkenazi Jewish men. Not anymore. Today the protest of this war is being led to a large extent by women.
And that is not the only difference. In the past, Arab citizens of Israel refrained from going to demonstrations in Tel Aviv during a war. At most, they would make do with token representation in the later stages of protest. They would also generally hold their demonstrations in Arab towns. Not any more. From the very first week, the Arabs became equal partners to the demonstrations in Tel Aviv. Thousands of Katyusha rockets falling on them erased the reluctance of the past. In their eyes, this is no longer a Jewish war, but a civilian war in which they have an equal right to make themselves heard. Badawi says that they deliberately bring their voices to Tel Aviv, which is seen as the capital of Israel. [photo left of Badawi by GS]
Another kind of change is transpiring among Russian speakers, considered the hard core of the Israeli right. Once, bringing a few Russian speakers to demonstrations of the Zionist left was considered a big achievement. Today there is a small, but visible and consistent participation of Russian speakers in the protest movement of the radical left. Thus, the Arabs are learning to chant “Vynya Nyet!” (no war), while Russian and Hebrew speakers are chanting “Salaam Na’am, Harb La” (peace yes, war no). It looks like this connection will last long after the voices of war subside.
The Old Left Failed
To Badawi and Knopova, all this seems quite natural. Above all, they feel that the role of women in this protest is obvious. “All the elements of this war bring the issues together – feminism, social justice, class distinctions, environment, and the occupation,” they say; “Women make this connection in a natural way. The Old Left, even Gush Shalom, has not managed to connect these struggles. We do. Even the social justice and political networks of women are stronger. This war is taking place on our social turf, in our homes. As women and citizens, we create an alternative voice of women facing the militant voice of men.”
“This is a male war about honor, both that of the Israel Defense Forces and the Hizbullah,” says Knopova. “Women are less into matters of honor. Russian women instinctively understand that this war is a man’s game. We grew up in that kind of society, and it’s obvious to us.” Perhaps this is why the group of Russian-speaking women in the radical left in Israel grew over a short period from 3 to 200 activists who are now involved in protest.
Knopova explains that even her father now visiting in Israel, a profoundly non-political person, “understood the lie” from watching the Israeli TV channel in Russian. Even he, reports Knopova, noted in amazement that one Israeli soldier seems to be worth the lives of ten Israeli civilians and a hundred Lebanese. “He feels instinctively that something is wrong,” she says, “but the Russians in Israel get brainwashed.”
“Human life is valued in Israel only when it is in uniform,” contends Badawi. “From our perspective, the struggle now is for the dignity of everyone in Israel. Every human being. Arab women have a common socio-economic interest with Russian and Mizrahi women. Our parents will have nothing left to eat after the war. When we speak from the stage – Yana in Russian, I in Arabic – that in itself is a political message. It also conveys to the Arab world that the claims by Israel and the U.S. that Jews and Arabs cannot live together is a false message.”
It is easy to elicit endless criticism from them about Israel, but harder to pry from them statements against the Hizbullah. “Clearly we as feminists cannot support a fundamentalist religious organization,” they agree, “but we do not want our statements to be used manipulatively against our views. Israel gave the Hizbullah reasons to attack, but our struggle is waged on behalf of our own society, to prevent a regional war that would hurt us all.”
Badawi says that this is also the beginning of a way to repair the fractured relations from the events of 2000 [when 13 Arab citizens were killed by the Israeli police], after which it was practically impossible to find Arab partners for political protest. “The age is over when we would accept Jewish partnership at any price,” she says. “Today the connection is genuine, with Jewish activists paying the price of their participation by demonstrations against the wall in Bil’in, refusal to serve in the military, activism at the checkpoints. We have a common fate, but it is different than in the past. These demonstrations can help us out of the severed relations of October 200. Now the Arab-Jewish partnership is egalitarian.”
Only one area remains outside the joint space: the emotional memories. When Badawi talks about the evils of the Separation Fence, her personal baggage takes her back to 1948. Knopova agrees to every word, but has other associations from the collective Jewish memory. “I do not want Germans guarding us within the ghetto that we created for ourselves with the Separation Walls and security zones,” she says. “In the tragic evolution of Zionism, Israel has become the final solution of itself.” Perhaps this is not the text that will accompany the official lighting of torches on Independence Day in Israel, but it is the only moment when the thoughts of the two good friends part ways.
Wednesday, August 16th, 2006
A war is being waged in the north and south of Israel – a war that invades our private as well as public space. Our homes are no longer protected, but exposed to risk on many levels – national, economic, social, family, and emotional. In this war, hundreds of thousands of civilians including children are under attack in Israel, Lebanon and Gaza.
This war mixes a ‘military’ with a ‘civilian’ reality, breaking down the distinctions between army and society, political and personal, strength and weakness, military and social allocations. In this war, the home front is being asked to show strength, but not asked its opinion. In the media, the masculine-military discourse is the only one heard. This language does not express our lives.
As activists in feminist organizations, we call attention to the population that has been abandoned in the home front – many of them women and children – who lack all protection. These include Mizrahi, Arab, and immigrant women with no resources and support networks, many of them single mothers, some whose lives were already troubled by violence. This war has had a special impact on women.
Decisions are being made about military and political measures that bring massive harm to the civilian population, but there is no real examination of non-military alternatives, no representation of women, no attention to the civilian and gender considerations, and no discussion of the ethical and humanitarian implications of war policies on civilians in Israel and beyond its borders.
We call upon the government of Israel:
• To prefer political channels to resolving this conflict, avoid harm to the civilian population, and promote a diplomatic solution.
• To implement the amendment to the Law of Equality for Women in the spirit of UN Security Council Resolution 1325. This law mandates the inclusion of women in all political decision-making, whether formulating domestic policies or policies regarding the continuation or discontinuation of the war, including ad hoc task forces to promote a diplomatic solution through negotiations.
We call upon the Israeli authorities:
Regarding compensation for loss of income: To recognize that most women who remain in the war zone are those lacking the means to leave, and struggling with difficult circumstances. These women need immediate and ongoing assistance, and should be included in all decisions regarding compensation for their loss of income as a direct and indirect result of the war. This compensation must be accomplished rapidly, without undue bureaucracy, and with dignity.
Regarding violence against women during war: To recognize that war situations increase the incidence of gender violence against women and girls, and to undertake to prevent and deal with this violence. The security of women is jeopardized by a discourse of national security that fails to include the security of women.
Regarding assistance to families: To provide material and emotional support to women and families in their shelters and homes – food, medical attention, emotional support, communication tools, police responsiveness.
Regarding Arab citizens of Israel: The state of Israel must provide equal services to its Arab citizens – accessible help, infrastructure, and information – to create physical, social and economic security to all its citizens. Arab women are particularly vulnerable to the economic and social repercussions of war, which should be addressed.
We call upon the Israeli media:
To include women in every program and deliberation regarding military, political, social, and economic issues, and to bring a gendered and civil society perspective to these programs.
Isha L’Isha: Haifa Feminist Center
Mahut Center: Information, Guidance and Employment for Women
Amuta for Economic Empowerment of Women
Itach – Ma’aki: Women Lawyers for Social Justice
Kol Ha-Isha: Jerusalem Feminist Center
Feminist House, Tel Aviv
Feminist College for Empowerment of Women
Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel
Ahoti: For Women in Israel
Coalition of Women for Peace
Monday, August 7th, 2006
(Address by Yali Hashash to a mass rally for peace in Copenhagen on 7 August 2006)
My name is Yali Hashash. I represent today the Coalition of Women for Peace (CWP) in Israel, in which the feminist organization I belong to is a member. My organization is called Ahoti – Sister, and it stands for social justice, peace, and ethnic equality for women.
Women from CWP were the first to protest the Second Lebanon War. A few weeks into the war, thousands in Israel are joining the women’s initiative. And indeed women have much to lose and little to gain from any war situation in the region. While we can all agree that Hizbullah’s threats and actions against the civilian population are intolerable, we cannot understand why Lebanese civilians should pay the price of the conflict, or how massive bombing on a civilian population and infrastructure can promote any attempts to achieve a long lasting peace.
Previous attempts to achieve stability in the region, whether in the north through peace negotiations with Syria and Lebanon, or whether through peace settlements with the Palestinians, have all failed so far. It is my belief that one of the main reasons for that failure is that these attempts have failed to take into account any considerations of economic security for the vast population on all sides of the conflict. In Ahoti – my organization – we strongly believe that any discussion of peace in the Middle East is futile unless it gives people a sense of future prospects, both of physical safety, but also of economic stability.
Peace agreement attempts seem to fail in gaining large supporters with all sides partly because they seem to deteriorate rather better the economic security of large populations. Factories in the periphery in israel have been shut and moved to Jordan and Egypt for low cost labor, making the periphery pay for the peace costs. The Oslo agreement suggested solving most territorial issues, yet offered no economic future prospects for Palestinians. Thus, support for militaristic action at least gives a sense of belonging and solidarity, and perhaps a hope for social mobility to people, which peace, as practiced so far has failed to do.
So today, while opposing the aggression against civilians in northern Israel and southern Lebanon, and Israel’s disproportionate retaliation against the civilian population, I wish to remind you that a temporary ceasefire or even a peace agreement is not enough. Only massive investments in local economy throughout the middle east, while opposing a neoliberal economy, can recruit people once again into believing that peace holds any future for them and their children. Indeed, only a strong alternative to the American “new order” policy, an alternative that promotes coexistence rather than constant forcing of a neocolonial order, can bring true peace to the region.
Unfortunately, some leaders in my country have adopted the “evil axis” rhetoric promoted by Bush. It is a rhetoric that leads to a dead end, and goes against all that we know about true negotiation. Jews and Arabs have long rich traditions of negotiating. Both have been the carriers of goods, knowledge and culture to the whole world, using negotiation as a skill that is crucial for survival in a heterogenous reality, and developed it to an art. Given the right economic terms, I am confident that negotiating peace in the middle east is not beyond us.
Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006
Saturday, July 22nd, 2006
Abarjel, Co-founder of the Black Panthers, and Lavie, a Mizrachi Feminist activist, discuss the reasons for Mizrachi (Arab Jewish) compliance with the present atrocities inflicted on Lebanon and and Palestine by the Ashkenazi-Zionist regime.
Operations “Summer Rains” and “Adequate Pay”: Another Act in the Mizrachi-Palestinian Tragedy
On January 25, 2006, Hammas won a landslide victory in the democratic Palestinian legislative elections. The elections were conducted under tight U.S. supervision. Immediately thereafter, Israel’s general attorney, Menny Mazouz, started exploring the legal procedures to jail the movement’s leadership. Soon the IDF started executing the Gazan leadership of the movement by air strikes. Several dozen innocent Palestinian civilians were casualties in the process. On June 24 the IDF land forces entered the Gaza strip and kidnapped two Hammas men. As a response, on June 25 Hammas captured Gilad Shalit, an IDF soldier. The IDF immediately launched “Operation Summer Rains,” to inflict large-scale destruction and to press for Shalit’s release. On 12 July, Hizbollah captured two more Israeli soldiers–Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser–in the Lebanese border zone. From then on, IDF’s “Operation Adequate Pay” has been inflicting heinous carnage and destruction all over Lebanon.
And now here we are, in front of the Israeli TV screen, bombarded by the discourse of experts. The channels are broadcasting live from studios and battlefields. Commercial interludes are part of the show. By default the majority of experts are Ashkenazi (European Jewish) males. They are flanked by a handful of Mizrachi men (Oriental Jews who immigrated to Israel mainly from the Arab World). These men climbed the public service ladder within the nationalist hegemonic confines. Together, they are Israel’s knowledge mercenaries. Through the tube – Israel’s tribal campfire — they dictate the national agenda. The viewers are convinced it must be humanistic, because it is calmly narrated by handsome necktied men. They use professional lingo and have the standardized, de-Semitized Hebrew accent. These talking heads say this war is not only for our own good, but is also for the civic betterment of Palestinians and Lebanese. Their sober discourse facilitates public compliance with IDF’s shift of tactics–from warplane “surgical killings” to a combination of marine, air and land forces, to destroy the Hizbollah using the massive weaponry that the U.S. allocates to the IDF.
The three Israeli TV channels bombard us with metaphors like “crushing Hizbollah,” “the return of Israeli deterrence,” and “the rehabilitation of the Israeli soldier’s fighter image.” Such imagery enables us to peer into the blood, smoke and devastation the IDF sows. Veiled by the fuss over Lebanon, Israel concurrently continues to plan and execute the socio-cide of both public and intimate spheres of the West Bank and Gaza. The present results: reaping the temporary unity of the Jewish victim-turned-warrior nation-state.
When the cannons roar, the Mizrachi communities fall silent. Like servants before the master, the Mizrachim habitually comply. They are the generations flowing from the Jews who were in Palestine from time immemorial, as well as descendants of those brought here from the Arab World and other non-European countries during the previous century. They are the local hosts for those fleeing the New European anti-Semitism. Mizrachim provide the demographic majority on whose civic docility the Eurocentric Israeli regime rests. Mizrachim have been the Jewish labor turning the cogs of the European-Zionist colonial project ever since its inception, with the Yemeni-Jewish labor migration of 1882. Mizrachim freed Zionism from its total dependency on indigenous Palestinian labor. Mizrachim were the Zionists’ “natural laborers,” employed in near-slavery conditions. In order for Mizrachim to work with efficacy, the Zionist hegemonic patriarchy ruptured Mizrachi extended families. For themselves, they used the appellation “ideological laborers,” and went on to found Israel’s socialist-liberal Left. It is this very Left that is now fighting yet another self-righteous Israeli war. The Zionist movement’s leadership has always conducted itself, in front of the Mizrachim, the Palestinians, and the citizens of the Arab World, through the tools of occupation, oppression and humiliation. Yet Mizrachi communities keep silent. Along the way, the US-European minority has co-opted the Mizrachi moral, economic and cultural power to resist.
Israel has always compartmentalized its occupation into different categories, as if Gaza, the West Bank, the Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the Palestinian Diaspora were not all consequences of the 1948 Nakba and 1967 Naqsa. Yet even such a divisive strategy has failed to diminish the legitimacy of the Palestinian struggle for a homeland. Despite the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, this strategy has nevertheless resulted in an almost across-the-board refusal of the Arab body of citizenry to normalize Israel into the region. The Ashkenazi leadership has repeatedly evoked the image that Israel is a European villa, planted in the midst of the regional jungle, from Bible times to the present day.
Mizrahci communities are intricately positioned along the Israel/Palestine divide as a result of the hegemonic sophistication of the Ashkenazim. Historically, under Menachem Begin, it was the Right who offered the Mizrachim a political home of sorts by not forcing them to secularize in imitation of the Labor party regime. Mizrachim are situated between the rock of economic-cultural oppression caused by the US-European capitalist Israeli rule, and the hard place of Palestine’s war of independence. Zionism was superimposed on Mizrachi communities, yet they welcomed it with open arms. Many still believe in its deceitful vision of an integrationalist inter-racial utopia, even though they are systematically excluded from the centers of power due to Zionism’s intra-Jewish racism. Those few who succeeded in securing high-ranking positions in the Ashkenazi regime have long since erased their own past, as they adopted their masters’ worldview. Rebuilding the ruptured Mizrachi families was difficult, because they were denied access to the financial and cultural resources necessary to facilitate an equal participation in the Zionist patriarchy. Mizrachi men’s feminism is epitomized in their struggle to mimic handsomely crested Sabra masculinity, hoping it might provide them with equal opportunities. Even with the arrival of South Asian maids in the 1990s, Mizrachi women continue to occupy the lowest-paying scale of the Israeli job market. Having lost their production line and house cleaning jobs to Filipinas, they work as lower level secretaries and service providers, and they constitute the majority of the unemployed.
Most of the Palestinian suicide attacks have occurred in the public spaces of the economically deprived and legally disenfranchised Mizrachi communities: bus rides taken by people who can’t afford to have a private car, markets frequented by those who can’t afford to shop in air conditioned malls and supermarkets, and ‘hoods too poor to afford to purchase the patrol services of private security companies, and where the police avoid entering except during drug raids. The majority of the dead and wounded have been Mizrachim, destitute immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and foreign guest workers.
The majority IDF casualties of the al-Aqsa intifada since October 2000 have been Mizrachim, Druze, Russian immigrants, and Ethiopians – the marginal groups that comprise the majority of Israel’s social fabric. Since the 1982 Lebanon war, frontline military service is out of fashion among the Ashkenazi elite, who no longer find it necessary for upward mobility. Due to the historical conjunction of ethnicity and poverty typical of Mizrachi communities, young Mizrachi men are excluded from avenues of upward mobility that would require a major capital investment. Alas, combat zone service is one of the few routes for socio-economic mobility — an integrationist phantom of sorts.
Sderot, a borderzone Mizrachi town often bombarded by Qassam missiles, has a high percentage of Ethiopian and Russian immigrants, and high unemployment rates. It is the Israeli town closest to Gaza. The same demography is true of the development towns and agricultural co-ops on the Lebanese border, and even of some of the Haifa ‘hoods hit by the Hizbollah Katiushas.
Mizrachi communities were pushed into the West Bank and Gaza post-1967 settlements through the back door. Both the Right and Left wing Israeli governments prevented any reasonably priced housing solutions for residents of Mizrachi slums. The mass Soviet immigration of the 1990s transformed Israel’s center, the source of most decently paying jobs, into a real estate bubble. This prohibited Mizrachi families from leaving the ghettos, unless for subsidized houses in the settlements. These were built by the housing ministry on the pristine West Bank hills and virgin Gaza beaches. They made the Israeli dream of a single-family dwelling come true. The superior public school system was an additional benefit. The Judaization of the Galilee project was designed for Ashkenazim who could not afford single-family dwellings in central Israel – gated communities with strict admission committees, whose majestic mansions overlook Palestinian villages situated within the 1949 Rhodes armistice agreement.
In the mid 1980s, when the welfare state disappeared from Mizrachi communities’ lives (if it had ever been there), ultra-orthodox Sephardic Judaism entered the scene in the form of the SHAS party. At its height, during the 1999 elections, SHAS won 17 seats in the Knesset. Four of them were ministers of influential government offices, and four were deputy ministers. SHAS offered an apparatus of education and food to rehab Mizrachi honor, either by preaching the return to the forefathers’ pious morality or by exposing the racism in the disenfranchisement and poverty. Eventually, such an intrusion was destructive. In fact, the ultra-orthodox Mizrachi new sages adopted the old Ashkenazi method of discipline: a controlled dispensation of charity so that the very act of dispensing becomes a shock absorber against any possible social upheaval. Since SHAS’s entry into the public sphere, even the feeble resistance of Mizrachi ghettos has ceased to exist.
The centrist walls of the Arab nation-state cracked during the Infitah with Anwar Saadat’s Opening-to-the-West policy. Multinational cultural and market globalization forces entered the Arab World’s civic sphere. Forming alternative societal institutions, the Islamist movements started substituting for the state. Like SHAS, these institutions were constructed on the premise of injecting pious morality into the civic sphere. The communalist power of both SHAS and the Islamist movements rested in part on a reformulation of strict religious familial patriarchy as a liberating feminist praxis. Concurrently, the Islamist movements, as in the cases of Egypt and the Occupied Territories, have integrated women into all spheres of their public activism but fighting.
We do not wish here to judge Arab society. Yet to the best of our understanding, the impact of Islamist movements in the Arab public sphere has been diametrically opposite to that of SHAS in the Mizrachi ghettos. With a middle class professional core, the Islamists presented the Arab world with a new agenda. All the while, the Mizrachi ultra-orthodoxy imposed the forefathers’ morality as yet another strategy for integrating the Mizrachim into the bosom of the Zionist lived reality. But how could they not? SHAS sensed it had no other option. Its middle class emerged from the rank and file of party apparatchiks. The Question of Palestine was one of the unifying themes of the Islamist movements. During the 1980s, Sabra and Shatila reverberated into the First Intifada. Palestinian nationalism gathered constituencies in the West. Hoping to counter Palestine’s secular nationalism, the worried Israeli regime nurtured the Islamist movements in Lebanon and the Occupied Territories. Assuming that these movements would be nothing but SHAS-style charities, the Israeli regime hoped they might also serve as its tools to deny yet again the Question of Palestine. As the PLO welfare apparatus relocated from Lebanon to Tunis, the Islamist movements patched the cracks and flowered forth. The 2006 democratic elections in the Palestinian authority ended in a sweeping Hammas victory, which of course disappointed Israel’s expectations. This time around, the Zionist regime preferred the necktied and conventionally handsome Mahmoud Abu Ma’azan over hennaed and long-bearded Muhammad abu-Tir. Henceforth Israel, backed by the US, sweepingly refused to recognize and negotiate with the legitimate government of the Palestinian people.
These days the Mizrachim are the ones who pay the high price required to join Israel’s “family of blood,” a key concept in the Zionist discourse of national honor. They fall like ripe fruit into Ashkenazi-Zionist militant adventurism. The Western pro-Israeli lobby, with its Israeli branches, does not pay the price. On the contrary, it shares the profits with the G-8 superpowers. This axis of evil will come to an end only if Mizrachi communities are able to conjoin the memories of their Arab past with a vision for a future that will be shared with the people of this region—not just the Palestinians, but the rest of the Arab World as well.
As long as the Arab World’s public discourse does not differentiate between Yahud (Jews), Sahyoniyin (Zionists), and Yahud-Arab (Arab Jews), and as long as all Israelis are considered Yahud-wa-bas ( just Jews ), such a process is impossible. As long as the Western peace discourse does not designate separate categories for Mizrachi Jewry, the majority of Israel’s Jewry, for the Ashkenazi peace movements, and for Zionism, Mizrachi communities’ processual reworking into the region will lack the transnational aura necessary to render it possible. As long as the Arab leadership, not to mention the Palestinians, prefers talking peace with the ruling Ashkenazi minority — be it Zionists, post-Zionists, even anti-Zionists – Mizrachi communities will continue to view the peace discourse as part of the repertoire of exotic antics that the Ashkenazi cosmopolitan elite perform for the West. At the same time, they will continue to conceive of the Arabs, particularly Palestinians, only as lethal enemies.
Those who present themselves as seekers of peace — Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin — are actually supporting the present destruction of civil society in Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza. They are the spokesmen explaining the necessity for the atrocious measures taken by the Israeli government. Mizrachim remember them mainly as those who started the move to privatize and outsource labor from their community into the globalized economic wonderland that the peace dons termed “the New Middle East.” For Mizrachi communities, unemployment and debt were the most immediate results of the Oslo agreement’s peace festival. These days the peace dons also brandish a Moroccan defense minister, Amir Peretz, to execute their policies, even though they are the ones who publicly dissed him and failed him along his political career. No wonder this discourse of peace is so alien to Mizrachi communities.
The experts on TV tell us that the purpose of the present destruction is to secure the release of the “kidnapped” soldiers. If this were indeed the purpose of operations “Summer Rains” and “Adequate Pay,” the release of all Palestinian and Lebanese political prisoners from Israeli jails would be far more cost effective, whether in blood or money. But, alas, when the canons stop roaring, when we finish counting our dead and cleaning up our ruins, we are likely to return to point zero–1882. The Mizrachim, Palestinians and foreign guest workers will resurrect Lebanon, Palestine and Israel from under the rubble, at near-slavery wages and with no social benefits. The US will provide the funding. As long as Mizrachi communities fail to understand that these wars commemorate their disenfranchised poverty, as long as there is no insistence on organized, popular Mizrachi resistance, no just peace will be achieved in our region.
Saturday, July 15th, 2006
What a stroke of luck – 10 days before a war breaks out in Lebanon, we buy an apartment in Nahariya.
We had been looking for a place for about a year. We went to Cyprus to check out the beautiful new communities on the northern shore – it’s quite a bargain, if you don’t mind settling in occupied territory. We thought about Mauritius, but the savings on real estate would be offset by the costs of flights there. So finally we settled on an apartment under construction in Israel’s sweetest little town on the Mediterranean coast – just 5 miles south of the border with Lebanon.
We were looking for a sea view. Had the balcony already been built, we would have been able to watch the Israeli navy array itself along the coast, laying siege to Lebanon. We wanted to be close to Kibbutz Sa’ar, just north of Nahariya, where one of my grown daughters lives, except when she evacuates herself to safer points south. And we wanted a getaway from turbulent Jerusalem, somewhere we could spend long quiet weekends and eventually a serene retirement. Several dozen rockets dropped into her kibbutz and our serene neighborhood this weekend.
In listening to the media, to my neighbors, to the gas station attendant, I am amazed by the lack of comprehension: “We leave Gaza, they shoot missiles at us from there. We leave Lebanon, they kidnap our boys. How do they expect us to leave the West Bank? Fuggedaboudit!”
These views, expressed by most Israelis these days, can only fill me with awe at how the Big Lie works: Repeat it often enough, publicly enough, by political and spiritual leaders, and the whole country/world will begin to believe that Israel is innocent of all wrongdoing and that these attacks emerged from a political vacuum:
As if there is no occupation. As if there is no siege on Gaza. As if there are no 39 years (and counting) of military and political oppression with all the killing, maiming, home destruction, and livelihood wrecking that this entails. What is it about “end the occupation” that they don’t understand?
No, I do not justify Qassam missiles or Katyusha rockets hurled at Israeli towns or the kidnapping of anyone (even armed soldiers in tanks). I do not justify any attacks by missile or suicide bomber or remotely detonated device.
Nor do I justify the endless shelling of Gaza and Lebanon – land, sea, and air – for any reason at all, let alone for purposes more related to posturing and domestic public opinion than with accomplishing any political objective. “How could we not respond when they kill and kidnap our soldiers?” asked Yuli Tamir, our Education Minister (for goodness sakes!) and a former Peace Now activist. As if shelling is sure to make the Hizbullah leaders remorseful and let our boys come home.
So, as usual in wars, we have an alliance of the jingoistic decision-makers on both sides, whipping up patriotism while they watch the fighting on-screen from bunkers deep in the earth. In Israel, this war absolutely thrills the right wing: The escalation keeps up the militaristic approach to problem solving, discredits the view that Israel must leave the occupied territories, and distances the current warfare from its roots in the ongoing occupation. What’s not to love about this war?
And as usual in Israel, a few cantankerous peace organizations – the Coalition of Women for Peace, Gush Shalom, Ta’ayush, and a few others – increase their presence on the streets. At Women in Black last Friday, we carried our regular “End the Occupation” signs and buttressed them with signs saying, “Stop the Killing – Negotiate!” (and “It’s the Occupation, Stupid!”). But when the cannons roar, so do the bystanders, and a dozen police were there to prevent anything worse than words and gestures.
A day will come when this small corner of the Mediterranean will again hold sailboats and waterskiers, and I’m looking forward to that view from the balcony. I still think it was a good investment.