A couple of days ago I read an article in Haaretz about a petition that was penned last June by Israeli author David Grossman. The petition has already attracted dozens of “the world’s literary stars” two of whom - Yoram Kaniuk and Seamus Heaney - passed away making this part of their last legacies for peace and human co-existence. It urges “the Netanyahu government not to destroy Palestinian villages in the southern Hebron hills.” I came across it by mere accident as it popped into my Twitter timeline. It could have easily passed my attention as so many other relevant events do. Support was picking up for the petition and there was a hearing on it in the Israeli High Court of Justice. Its wording was strong and passionate. It spoke about Israel expelling, abusing, and destroying. It mentions the villagers living in fear, displacement and disruption. But the petition was also realistic in its expectations; it was to merely “expose and condemn ‘small’ local outrages”. And its moral logic was simple and profound: one must “try and relieve suffering, to do something to bend back the occupation’s giant, cruel hand.”
There are many such stories about Israelis and Jews acting against the suffering which their government causes for Palestinians in Israel or in the Occupied Territories and who seek to limit the cruelties of occupation and expose some of its outrages. Organizations, groups and individuals such as “Breaking the Silence”, “Peace Now”, “Boycott Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS), "refusenik", Ilan Pappe, Shlomo Sand and many others. Those may not see eye to eye in many of the issues they are dealing with, they are diverse in their approaches, philosophies, methods and even politics. But together they form a collective of Jews – Israeli and non - calling for a post-Holocaust era and thinking; Jews calling for empowering the Palestinians; Jews who recognize and empathize with the disaster of the Palestinians; Jews who challenge the various historical and religious myths surrounding the creation of the State of Israel; Jews who expose the predatory behavior of the Israeli State; Jews who insist on remembering their suffering not to justify occupation but to embolden their stance against the humiliation of the Palestinian people; and Jews who are not keen on delegitimizing the existence of Israel rather keen on asserting its legitimacy through peace and prosperity for all those in the region.
Being morally cornered
When discussing the story of the petition with some friends the reactions were varied. A few applauded it with reservation; pointing to the fact that the Israeli government does not seek peace nor consider it a strategic interest; and that much of the Israeli public supports this direction or is indifferent to peace altogether. But the reaction I got most was complete belittlement of the petition and a branding of my attempt to highlight its positive message as a treacherous act of normalization.
This is a conflict that has created a set of moral dilemmas for all sides. And it is time that we sit together, see how we can reach a moral middle ground away from the absolutist language of radicals on both sides.Abdullah Hamidaddin
Here, the point of view was that the Jews came and took over the land from the Palestinians and such acts of kindness should not delude us from that large fact. It is as if one took your home, threw you out then offered a blanket as you shivered in the cold. It is like prison guards being kind to the inmates. How can you, they ask, forget the atrocities perpetrated by the Israelis army? How can you overlook the suffering of the Palestinians since 1948? How can you disregard the racist statements by Israeli politicians? How can you be indifferent to the apartheid like behavior of the Israeli government? How about Israel’s 10-meter high separation barrier? Among other things mentioned.
Hearing such stories of the past and present and framing the issue in this way makes me feel both angry for the Palestinians and morally cornered against such reactions. But then I remind myself that the Israeli government is not the Israeli people; and that the Israeli people themselves are not a monolith. I tell myself that regardless of what happened in the past or is still happening in the present; I cannot reduce five million citizens of Israel to decisions in the past or to politics of the present. That the plight of the Palestinians is as much a consequence of bad decisions from Palestinian and Arab leaders as it is due to Israeli expansionism. That I cannot dismiss humane and moral actions of Israelis simply because I dislike the Israeli government or because I believe in a different and more violent narrative about the creation of the state of Israel. And at that point I get mixed feelings; and I feel I am facing a dilemma; and one to which I have no solution.
Let’s talk to each other
The easiest way to solve a moral dilemma is to take a radical stance. But it is also the most mistaken one. The proper way is to find the answer in the multiple shades of grey between the black and white positions. But those shades of grey can only be perceived when talking with people of opposing views and positions. To solve my moral dilemma I must talk more with people who hold views opposing to the one I grew up on. I must also hear more people from both sides talking to each other and observe them as they debate and argue; agree and disagree. I should speak more to the ‘David Grossmans’ in Israel. I should even go to Israel and I should invite them to my country. All of us, regardless of where we currently stand, need to meet more people of opposing positions. Only then will we start seeing the contours of greyness in our various narratives of black and white.
This is a conflict that has created a set of moral dilemmas for all sides. And it is time that we sit together, see how we can reach a moral middle ground away from the absolutist language of radicals on both sides. I fully understand that many on both sides are not ready, nor willing, nor able to engage in such one to one personal interactions. But there are on both sides the likes of David Grossman; and they should start knowing each other. They should start talking. They should start breaking the myths each has of the other. They should start developing friendships amongst each other. This may solve very little, but little can go a long way in a region infested with anger and frustration.
I do not want to legitimize the suffering and losses of the Palestinians; as some have accused me of. But I also do not want us to remain trapped in the past. I have had a personal experience with loss, forced eviction, exile, and blatant injustice. I understand how easily one can get trapped in memory. I know how comforting it can be to surrender the future to narratives of past victimization. I realize how hard it is to let go of a right in the past for the sake of a place in the future. What I am suggesting here is not easy. But we have no choice. We must sit, talk, argue, know and befriend each other. Those of us who can must start.
Shanah Tovah. May we all be written for a good and peaceful new year; away from fears of war, hunger and disease.
Abdullah Hamidaddin is a writer and commentator on religion, Middle Eastern societies and politics with a focus on Saudi Arabia and Yemen. He is currently a PhD candidate in King’s College London. He can be followed on Twitter: @amiq1