Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Robert Krause - Israel/Palestine: Reflections of South Africans

This is the second article in the Israel/Palestine: Reflections of South Africans series. For details on how to submit click here. Click here to see other contributions.

Why are we arguing?

Whenever the tragic decades-long Israel-Palestinian conflict becomes a main news story it is a near certainty that the letters pages of newspapers and the lines of radio stations will be flooded with the impassioned voices of South African Jews and Muslims cheering “their” side on. At the end of the ritual it can be safely predicted that all involved are even more entrenched in their positions, that Palestinians are no closer to liberation and Israelis no closer to peace.

If arguments about the political and human situation stand a hope of having a positive impact (i.e. of getting people to examine and even revise their views), it is vital that they are based on criteria that can apply to everyone. Ethnocentric arguments, which appeal to a highly narcissistic reading of one’s history - or even the seal of God - amount to preaching to the converted . The principles of international human rights law and humanitarian law, anchored as they are in everyone’s right to life, self determination and equitable treatment offer such common grounds.

Unfortunately (and this is drawn both from my research into Jewish and Muslim community radio and my general impressions from mainstream media), too much of the discourse employed by individuals from both communities is ethnocentric. On the Jewish side, one can often detect an insular, culturally essentialist Zionist discourse. The motive for criticism of Israel/Zionism is the world’s incurable hostility to Jews. Muslims/Arabs are viewed through the Orientalist prism of a clash of civilisation with Israel, whom they hate because (like the US) they represent “civilised”, “westernised” values. In the face of this barbarity Israel’s occupation is portrayed as trivial and Israeli ethnic cleansing of Palestinians is dismissed as being invented by Israel’s opponents.

Ironically, many Muslim contributions situate their conflict within a similar clash of civilizations scenario – that of the global conspiracy against Muslims (which in its worst versions employs the anti-Semitic canard of a global Jewish/Zionist conspiracy). The desired future for Palestine frequently exhibits a highly nativist view: because Israel exists as the result of a colonial-settler movement (a premise I don’t contest), the Jewish population in Palestine has no right to remain except as guests in a Muslim dominated Palestine (any recognition of an Israeli people is viewed as an intolerable concession to Zionism).

If all the heated argumentation on Israel-Palestine is not serving to highlight the tragic Mideast situation what is it doing for the participants? I would suggest there is a strong element of self-affirmation. However the people of Israel-Palestine have no need for such affirmation. Neither do local Muslims and Jews who are unnecessarily alienated from another.

What Palestinians and Israelis do need is solidarity. Solidarity between those who are uncovering the brutality of the occupation (such as the Israeli soldiers who formed Breaking the Silence) and those who are non-violently resisting a system of ethnic discrimination that dehumanizes all who take part in it (such as the Palestinians who have struggled against the confiscation of agricultural land by Israel through the illegal West Bank wall).

Such solidarity can only be built around a vision based around the self-determination of both peoples and the equal rights of all individuals in Israel-Palestine (whether in a 2-state or a single state framework). Those who genuinely want peace and justice in the Middle East should contribute to public discussion with this aim in mind.

Robert Krause holds a BA (Honours) in History from the University of Cape Town and is currently completing his LLB at the same institution.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting article Rob. I think it is passionate and well-reasoned. Both sides need to get over their respective ethnocentricism because it only cultivates fear and mistrust.

    You say in your last paragraph:
    "Such solidarity can only be built around a vision based around the self-determination of both peoples and the equal rights of all individuals in Israel-Palestine (whether in a 2-state or a single state framework)."

    I think you are correct to say that there needs to be an acknowledgment of the individual rights of Israelis and Palestinians by both groups. However, which national organisational framework would produce the best outcome to this effect: the single- or the two-state solution?