Maybe We Can?

Israeli leftists (those of us that are left) can be divided into two. Well, probably more than two, but stay with me a sec… Those who want to end the occupation for pragmatic reasons, and those who want to see an end to Palestinian suffering. There are, of course, many gray areas in between…
I won’t go into the different reasonings for both – that could take years. I will say, that for me it kind of depends on my mood. If I’m in a “Have-you-hugged-your-Palestinian-today?-mood”, and I’m all feel-good-lovey-dovey, then I can easily go for a one-state solution and let my kid marry a Palestinian. But the truth is, I haven’t felt like that for years.
Usually I’m in a “Good-fences-make-good-neighbors-mood”. Which basically means, I want the occupation to end, for all settlements to be removed (now!), and that I wouldn’t feel too bad if I didn’t see another Palestinian for the rest of my life.
But every once in a while I get those peace-pangs, deep down inside. It happened again recently when I watched an interview on Channel 2 with Knesset member Ahmed Tibi. It brought back those good ‘ole feelings of “not only do I think I CAN live with Palestinians, I may actually WANT to live with them”.
I’m going to do an injustice to Tibi by trying to sum him up in just a few lines for those of you who don’t know him, but – it must be done. He’s an Arab MK, the leader of the Ta’al party. He is a trained medical doctor, and in the early 90’s before he got into the Knesset, he was an advisor to Yasser Arafat.
Over the years, Tibi has been called every name in the book, from “traitor” to “terrorist”. But I’ve always found him to be a rather moderate MK, and a straight-talking politician. Very rare these days, as you know.
To cut a long story short, last Wednesday on International Holocaust Remebrance Day, Tibi gave a speech from the Knesset podium. I guess that since it wasn’t Israel’s official Holocaust Day, they didn’t mind letting an Arab speak. But lo and behold, Tibi took their breath away – even Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin called it one of the best speeches he has ever heard in the plenum.
I’ve subtitled an interview Tibi did with Yair Lapid (who I recently wrote about here)  on Channel 2’s flagship Friday evening news show, about the speech.
Take a look (it’s only 5 minutes), and meet me later for a chat.
Now, some of my readers are probably saying: “Oh, Tibi’s just telling us what we want to hear”. Call me naive, but I thought he was very genuine.
First, for those of you who aren’t Israeli it might be difficult to understand – but to hear an Arab with a thick Arab accent tell the story of a young couple who fell in love in Auschwitz, with all the German and Jewish names, and tell it as if it was his people that had been persecuted – all this is very new to Israeli ears. It had a strange affect on me, at least…
Lapid, being the usual drama-queen that he is, was actually asking the right questions. Not the questions that I would have asked, but the ones that the typical Israeli on the street wants to hear answers to: We’re here to stay because of the Holocaust, can you understand that?
I believe Tibi understands. I believe many Arabs do – though I don’t know if all of them do. But the same can also be said about the understanding of the Palestinian’s pain on our side.
I do know that if we all lived by Tibi’s credo, of not wanting to beat each other – but to win together – things might look a whole lot better around here.

15 Responses to “Maybe We Can?”

  1. February 2, 2010 at 10:04

    Great post. Hmm, that’s going to be an interesting comment thread. 🙂
    Interesting interview. I’d be keen on seeing the entire speech.
    And I doubt Tibi would bother say “what you want to hear”. Because, well, most Israelis hate his living guts anyway.

    I have a couple of comments here –

    a) “We’re here to stay because of the Holocaust, can you understand that?” – actually, no. The “we have nowhere else to go” argument I can relate to being born an immigrant in a country I considered de facto ‘mine’ while the ‘natives’ around me thought otherwise.
    But the Holocaust argument doesn’t ring right to me – first because Israel, and the first waves of Aliyah, predate WW2; but also because I always felt that “We’re here to stay because of the Holocaust” was a rhetorical, ‘layman’ argument rather than an intellectual/informed one.

    b) Your introduction, with the “good fences make good neighbours” (I agree, btw) and “I wouldn’t feel too bad if I didn’t see another Palestinian for the rest of my life” gave me the impression that your article was about the occupation, two-state solution, etc etc etc.
    But then you discuss Tibi – an Israeli who’s unlikely to go anywhere, even when a peace settlement is achieved and the ‘good fences’ are erected.

    I confess – and don’t take it as criticism – I felt a bit of discomfort. The idea that the Tibis of Israel – its Arab minority – could be placed on the other side of this ‘good fence’ is one I didn’t expect to read here…
    I may have misunderstood of course.

    *** on an unrelated note – does anyone know how to contact Tibi/Tibi’s office? I would like to interview him for an article…

    • 2 Ami Kaufman
      February 2, 2010 at 10:22

      Thanks Mo!

      As for item (b), I’m sorry – that’s NOT what I meant at all. I would never, ever think about putting on the other side of the fence Israeli Arabs (or as Tibi might call himself, an Israeli Palestinian). That’s Lieberman’s idea, I think you know I’m not exactly on his side… I may have to go back and edit that, or hope that this comment clears it up.
      This post isn’t about relations with the Arab minority in Israel, but a more holistic view about the possibility of living with my “enemies”.
      I hope that clears it up, and sorry again for the discomfort…

      • February 2, 2010 at 11:01

        Oh, by all means, no edits necessary! As a faithful reader I have a good idea where you stand on things 🙂 and I didn’t assume this is what you meant, but the transition struck me as very odd.. which is why I allowed myself to write down the above comment. My apology if it came across as critical, it wasn’t meant to be!

        I guess how Israeli Jews relate to Israeli Arabs (or Israeli Palestinians) is a very complex issue – because a theoretical mental distinction between Israeli Arabs and, well, Palestinian Arabs makes sense on paper – those are citizens, those aren’t – but in practice I imagine it’s far more complicated..
        (perhaps an idea for a future post? 🙂 )

  2. 4 rick
    February 2, 2010 at 10:22

    hey mo, here´s the speech, did not read it all yet.
    ami, thanks for posting & translating the speech!

  3. 5 rick
    February 2, 2010 at 10:27

    and lazy mo, here´s his office. please post your article if you intervied him.

  4. February 2, 2010 at 14:26

    I know this is totally inappropriate but…

    Tibi and Bibi give me the heeby jeebies.

    OK, now I can continue with my day.

  5. February 2, 2010 at 17:57

    Ami, this is an important post. Thanks for writing it. On topic, you might be interested in an article a friend of mine wrote last year: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1083563.html Of course the article is of ultimate importance, but also check out the talkbacks:I have never seen so many positive responses to a piece in Haaretz. Such is the disarming power of empathy joined with compassion.

  6. 10 Danny
    February 2, 2010 at 18:10

    What a pity there are not thousands of Ahmad Tibis, Jewish and Arab. People who are willing to try to understand the other side and with the courage to speak of that understanding. These are the kihds of dialogues needed here.
    By the way, what questions would you have posed if you were conducting the interview?

  7. 11 Shelly
    February 2, 2010 at 19:30

    Ami, that was a really “feel good” post. And quite a touching speech by Dr. Ahmed Tibi in the Knesset. Although I am sure that there are many Arabs who feel the way he does, sympathetic, sensitive, I also think that no matter what happens politically, even if Israel relinquishes all the occupied territories, they will always feel like “victims of the victims.” And rightfully so. As far as they are concerned, they, the Arabs, bear the burden of the Holocaust because it essentially resulted in Jews living on and ruling in their land.

  8. February 7, 2010 at 07:37

    I don’t know… I have mixed feeling about this interview and Ahmad Tibi’s approach to the Holocaust. I do agree with some of the things he said (the ethical dimension of his speech), but what I felt uncomfortable with is that he is saying to Israeli-Jews what they want to hear. And this is not necessarily a bad thing, but I’m not sure it’s very productive.

    I’m not being very clear here, but that’s probably because the whole thing is still confused in my mind.

    Maybe I should talk about my own encounter with the Holocaust. The first time I went to a Holocaust memorial, I did it to understand Israel and Israeli-Jews. I thought, Israeli-Jews and Jews worldwide are traumatised by this historical event, and to understand this trauma I should go and see a memorial that speaks of it. So I went to see a first memorial (then a second, then a third…). I think my approach holds in practice, but isn’t it kind of absurd? I remember an interview with Yeshayahu Leibowitz in which he said something that is very true. I don’t remember his exact words but he said something like the Holocaust is not a jewish problem, it’s a German or a Gentile problem; they are the ones that should be concerned with it. But this unfortunately is not the case today. The Holocaust has become an exclusive jewish affair and is recognised as such. And the Holocaust memorials are a central part of this displacement.
    When one goes to see a Holocaust memorial, one is supposed to go there to have a better understanding of how the Nazi killing machine worked, and why it worked. It is obvious that attention should be given to its victims. A lot of attention should be given to its victims, out of respect for what they endured. But it becomes problematic when this concern becomes the central edifice of a collective identity. The ties with this identity becomes so strong that the universal message and approach to it can easily get lost.
    One way out of it is to remember its other victims. In this way the victims are remembered, but most importantly, the weight (and burden) of the nazi’s lethal hate is not carried by one group, but by a larger group, which makes it slightly less heavy to carry.

    I believe Ahmad Tibi’s talk reinforces this tendency of making the Holocaust an exclusive jewish affair and a central part of a collective identity, and i think it’s disturbing.

    ok, I feel I’m becoming less and less clear. I should stop and get back to it once my mind is clearer.
    I hope I didn’t offend anyone (and I’m sorry if I did. that isn’t my intention).

    • 13 Ami Kaufman
      February 7, 2010 at 08:05

      Hi Lebanese! Welcome to Half & Half 🙂

      I think you’ve raised two issues:

      The first, is whether Tibi’s words are productive or not, because he’s just giving us what we want to hear. I see nothing wrong with that. If all sides were showing empathy a bit more, things would look much better.

      The second issue is about the Holocaust being a Jewish affair. Here, I disagree with you. The Holocaust refers to the extermination of Jews by the Nazi regime. As we all know, millions more were killed during WWII, Soviets, Poles and others – but not as part of a plan based on racial theories, as was done with the Jews. Therefore, the Holocaust is exclusively Jewish.

      Don’t get me wrong – All the oher victims should be remembered as well! But Jews shouldn’t be “blamed” for “taking over” remembrance issues….

      • February 7, 2010 at 10:07

        Hey Ami, thanks for the welcome

        You are absolutely right, I am confusing a whole lot of issues and will undoubtedly keep on doing it for some time because these issues are confusing and multidimensional, and probably because I am confused.
        I didn’t mean to blame anyone (and certainly not people for remembering their dead). And truth to tell, i regret my previous comment which is clumsy and messy.

        You are also right about empathy. It is something that is extremely important and signs of empathy can be very productive in solving conflicts. This is certainly true for person to person conflicts, I’m not sure it is when we’re dealing with group to group conflicts. I believe issues are much more complex for this second type of conflict. I don’t know how effective Tibi’s words can be, even if they gather a lot of positive reactions (probably because of the way this positive reaction is going to be channeled).
        So it’s not empathy I’m bothered with (it’s always good), but some signs of empathy that are used in a dialogical process, and even more by the imprint signs of empathy leave (the way they are channelled or processed by the recipients).

        As for Holocaust remembrance, I believe we’re talking about two distinct set of issues (though they are closely related) and approaching them at different levels. You talk about remembrance (which is a social phenomenon), defining the holocaust (which is terminological and historical) and exceptionalism (which is an epistemological or a dogmatic claim). On the other hand, I raise the question of appropriation of memory (which is an epistemological and ethical consideration) and dealing with trauma (which is a practical issue). You were very clear and I was extremely unclear.

        On the question of remembrance, I believe our views are the same. What we disagree on are policies of remembrance (how the past is understood and explained).
        Even if the sole victims of Nazism were Jewish (the Gypsies and Poles were also part of the same demented racial theories and policies that sent the first to concentration camps and broke down the second group into three: people to exterminate, people to exploit and people to arianize), I still believe it should be primarily addressed by Europeans because they were directly or indirectly responsible for it.
        That’s why I think Yad Vashem’s work is excellent and much needed. What I do not appreciate is what the other museums are doing throughout the western world, or at least those that I have visited in Germany, France and the US, and they’re confusing the crime with the victim’s experience.

        This being said, things are still confused in my mind… so i haven’t made my mind up on these issues. these are only the hypothesis i’m working on. I’m still looking into this issue and hope to start working on it more seriously next year in a lebanese project concerning a handbook on the holocaust written for an Arab audience (and taking into account jewish voices and research in the field).

  9. 15 Ami Kaufman
    February 7, 2010 at 10:32

    You weren’t clumsy at all! Don’t be so hard on yourself… 🙂
    I think I understand what you’re trying to say about remembrance, especially in other countries. It is indeed a very delicate issue.
    I’d be very interested in reading that handbook you’re planning!

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February 2010

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