Haaretz has had two interesting stories in recent weeks detailing attempts by Jewish Israeli peace activists to stimulate discussion and reconsideration among their compatriots regarding their views of ‘the Other’.
One of these stories was about a project jointly undertaken by Israeli conceptual artist Mushon Zer-Aviv worked and the brilliant Gaza-Palestinian writer Laila El-Haddad: They created a walking tour of Tel Aviv in which, by overlaying a map of Gaza City onto the map of Tel Aviv, participants could understand the spatial relationships among various different spots in Gaza City by visiting geographically analogous spots in Tel Aviv.
If you’re in Israel, there’s a number you can call, and then punch in numbers to hear Laila’s audio homage to her chosen Gaza City locations. Now, the YANH team has put the audio clips onto their website, too. So even if you’re not in Israel you can download a copy of the project’s map and take an audio-enhanced virtual tour around such Gaza landmarks such as the Arts & Crafts Village, the Palestinian Parliament building, Kathem’s ice cream parlor, etc…
In the Haaretz description of the project linked to above, read Laila’s thoughtful expression of her feelings about working with Zer-Aviv on this project.
The second project described/reviewed by Haaretz is the book about Israeli perceptions of Golan that peace activist (and longtime Golan resident/settler) Yigal Kipnis published recently about Israeli perceptions of Golan.
Reviewer Yechiam Weitz writes,
- The main argument put forth by Kipnis, a geographer and historian, is that the image of the Golan built up over those years in the eyes of the Israeli public was that “the mountain has become a monster,” in the words of a song by Yoav Katz, entitled “The Little Girl from Gadot” (a kibbutz at the foot of the Heights). This perception reached its climax in 1967, “but continued to be shaped and preserved in the collective memory, where it remains fixed to this day.” Kipnis asks if this image is justified, and he proceeds to respond to his own question in a way both complex and riveting.
From the narrow point of view of the residents of the border settlements, who “underwent the routine of life in a war zone at a topographical disadvantage, the answer is decidedly yes,” writes the author. But this subjective memory does not correspond with the historical facts. In actuality, there was no justification at all for the menacing image of a Syrian Golan Heights. The primary reason for this was Israel’s military superiority over Syria, which only increased as the years went by. In this context, Kipnis points out something that is to a large extent an absurdity: “The greater that Israel’s military superiority became, the more powerful was the image, and the more Israel made use of its superior force, the power of the image reached new levels.”
This latter point is one that has much broader applicability in terms of the self-image of Israelis in general, I think.
I am really looking forward to reading Kipnis’s book in English. I do hope it gets translated soon!
Weitz discloses in the review that he himself is the son of Raanan Weitz, who was head of the Settlement Department of the Jewish Agency. He notes that Israel’s M in 1967, Levi Eshkol, had succeeded Raanan Weitz as head of the settlement department and had pursued jewish settlement efforts for many years prior to 1967.
Nevertheless, according to the research revealed in Kipnis’s book,
- Very soon after the war’s end, on June 19, 1967, Eshkol’s cabinet made a dramatic and secret decision: It would sign peace agreements with Egypt and with Syria based on the international borders. All the ministers supported it, including Menachem Begin, who had joined the government on the eve of the war and was a full partner in formulating the decision. It proposed “offering Syria a peace agreement based on the international border, ensuring Israel’s water rights, and the demilitarization of the Golan Heights.”
The decision was conveyed to the American administration, which was to transmit it to the rulers of Egypt and Syria. Kipnis suggests that, “Contrary to conventional wisdom, Egypt and Syria did not reject the peace offer … for the simple reason that it was never passed on to them by the U.S. government.” When no reply to his generous offer was received, Eshkol understood that “the vision of a peace agreement with Syria was not about to be realized in the near future,” and he laid down the policy that there would not be a withdrawal from the Golan without a peace agreement. “This policy was based on the deployment of an
Israeli presence on the Golan and on plans for settlement there, as well as demonstrating determination to hold on to it for as long as was necessary,” Kipnis explains.
Eshkol led the settlement enterprise on the Golan until his death in February 1969…
I am fascinated by this assertion that Eshkol had transmitted to the Americans his withdrawal offers to both Egypt and Syria with, presumably, the clear expectation (or outright request?) that Washington pass them on to those two other governments– but that Washington never did send the message on to Cairo and Damascus.
If so, then the U.S. government bears a large degree of responsibility for all the human suffering that has been occasioned since 1967 by the long delay (in the case of Egypt) and the failure to date (for Syria) of the effort to secure a land-for-peace final peace between Israel and those two countries.
Most notably, given that today is October 7, we could say that the huge human suffering occasioned by the October War of 1973 could have been completely avoided. That war was launched by Egypt and Syria on October 6, 1973 with the express effort of restarting the long-stalled peace diplomacy (in the case of Sadat) and of both restarting the diplomacy and regaining the Syrian national land still held under Israeli occupation (in the case of Syria.)
We can also note that since 1967 some half million Syrian citizens– persons displaced into the Syrian interior by the 1967 war and the subsequent occupation, and their descendants– have been deprived of the right to reside or farm in their families’ rightful Golan homesteads; and the 17,000 or so Golani Syrians who have stayed in their homes since 1967 have been forced to live under a land-grabbing form of Israeli military occupation for 42 years now.
… Anyway, I am really delighted to see the attention being given to Kipnis’s book– as to the very innovative cultural intervention undertaken by Zer-Aviv and El-Haddad. The peace forces in Israel are so much better grounded in the history and realities of their community’s always tortured relations with its Arab neighbors than are most of the ardent “supporters of Israel” in the west! The ignorance many of these “supporters” display about Israel’s own past and present actions is often almost as great as their disregard for the rights and views of Israel’s Arab neighbors.