mai abdul rahman October 22, 2014
There is an emergence of recognition among Palestinians and Israelis that negotiating a peaceful end of Israel’s occupation and Siege of Palestinians has become almost impossible to achieve. This new emerging consensus is evident by Israel’s expedient rush to establish facts on the ground that reflect Israel’s consensus of creating “Greater Israel” that stretches from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. But what will it take to bring about peace with dignity that honors both Israelis and Palestinians? And what drives Israel to such extreme measures?
Palestinians have come to realize that the Jewish history of trauma is an impediment for building trust between Palestinians and Israelis. The question that Palestinians are grappling with is how to convince Israelis and Jews that it is in their self interest to end Israel’s military policies, and usher a humane political paradigm that respects the collective and individual dignity of Palestinians and Israelis. Before they can do so, Palestinians have to figure out how to untangle and separate the Palestinian- Israeli narrative from the Jewish historical narrative of pain and suffering.
The Palestinian perspective and experience with the Israelis suggests that the root obstacle to peace for both people rests on the prevailing Jewish historical experience that is defined by a litany of atrocities. These horrendous atrocities are commemorated, and transmitted to the next generation at every Seder and Jewish ritual. The Jewish traumatic discourse is also affirmed and recounted in popular culture and literature where stories about historical violence committed on innocent Jews are described; it is circulated in the media, and the news; and it is retold and memorialized in movies and oral histories. These horrific accounts of the collective Jewish experience touches and pains readers, listeners and viewers even when they are not immediately affected or personally victimized.
The dread of violence and trauma is real and manifested by observant and non-observant Jews. It is also observed among Jews who have lived free of overt racism and prejudice. Jews raised on the Jewish traumatic narrative and history of anti-Semitism, may sympathize with Palestinians, but still fear the possibility of a cruel future that can potentially repeat- if they let their guard down.
It is the reason why most American Jews will still fund, support, and defend Israel’s actions and policies even when they feel implicated by the injustices that Israel perpetrates on the Palestinians. Traumatic violence has become an intangible threat that most Jews carry with them in every sphere. It is most pronounced in the manner by which Jews and Israelis relate to Palestinians. For example, Israeli leaders, Israel’s extremists, as well as US Jewish leaders justify and fiercely defend Israel’s military actions, policies, its Gaza Siege, and illegal settlers with words and invocations of the Holocaust. In addition, Palestinian leaders of all stripes are compared to Hitler. Meanwhile, Zionists and illegal Israeli settlers accuse Palestinians who propose Israel withdraws to pre-1967 green line as if they are proposing the final solution.
Furthermore, any criticism of the state of Israel, its occupation policies, or its Zionist militant character is considered anti-Semitic, and an attack on Jews, their faith and identity. Palestinians are compared to Nazis so often that it has become predictable to the point of a common clichés. In fact, Palestinians often say that while Germany may have lost the war, Hitler, his deeds and words are still daily invoked by Israelis and Jews.
There is no question or ambiguity about the shared horrific Jewish experience that millions of Jews have endured prior to 1948. The Holocaust has been the core of the Jewish identity, and Israel’s distinguished unifying historical experience. It has been the impetus for the creation of the state of Israel, and the raison d’être that provides Israelis and Jews worldwide the drive, and determination to support Israel with blood and treasure. Interestingly, while Palestinians had no hand in Israel’s collective and individual suffering that the Holocaust experience has imprinted on Israelis and Jews, Palestinians are the open wounds who pay the price for the Jewish peoples’ bitter memory.
Countless of Palestinian men, women, and children are well aware that they are the living scarred witnesses of the painful Jewish past. So, while Palestinians do not justify Israel’s actions and policies they have come to realize that the collective Jewish fear of persecution and victimization whether immediate, actual, or a past memory is the psychological and emotional barrier to peace between the two people.
Fear of anti-Semitism is real and it is difficult to get over and clearly no one- Jewish or sane Palestinian- should underestimate it. While Palestinians did not have a hand in the Jewish European experience of loss, trauma, and destitution, they intuitively and experientially recognize the powerful hold of the Holocaust on their daily life under Israel’s Siege and Occupation.
It is certainly difficult for Palestinians to rationalize why they are the ones chosen to pay the price of European crimes and atrocities. Nonetheless, Palestinians have an intimate knowledge of the impact of this large and formidable collective Jewish fear that harshly confines and imprisons Palestinians behind Israel’s dreadful separation Walls, check points, electric and barbed wire fences, steel cattle gates, and Siege; which also walls and cages the Israelis.
Fear is the reason why for seven decades the Israelis have maintained that the Palestinians are the aggressors, and Israel is a victim of its own militant actions and occupation. It is what motivates Jews to absolve the Israeli government, the IDF, and its illegal settlers from any legal or political responsibility for robbing Palestinians of their properties, polluting their environment, and uprooting their ancient Roman olive trees; and it is the reason that holds young under age Palestinian children in far away Israeli prisons.
Palestinians also recognize that the Jewish horrific past is the reason that drove Israel to become an army nation, where boundaries between its militant ideology and society are blurred. It is the reason why Israel is more like ancient Sparta, where mandatory military service provides its impressionable young with one unifying identity and one enemy- the Palestinians. Young Israelis and their Palestinian captive victims are the living tragedy of the “never again” and “never forget” Jewish motto that has provoked Israel to build a warrior society that is unique among nations.
While understanding the confining power of the Jewish narrative of trauma is necessary for Palestinians, Israelis, and their supporters, the crucial question for Palestinians is when will the Jews be able forgive those who committed the most heinous and horrific acts on their Jewish neighbors, friends, associates, and fellow citizens (Germans, Poles, Italians, Russians and so on). Yes, it is a tall order and most difficult considering the oppressive nature, and the psychological, emotional and physical damage that was inflicted on generations of Jews. Nonetheless, forgiveness has the potential to heal and liberate both people. Otherwise, the Jewish fear of recurring trauma will remain the invisible weight that keeps both people from the honorable just peace they deserve and desire.
Palestinians understand the power and utility of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a Palestinian social practice and the corner-stone of their communal tradition that has helped them resolve social conflict, and address family and community disputes in every town, village and tent. Across Palestinian society- in Palestine, Israel, and the Diaspora- conflict management, and conflict reduction and resolution are formally and ritually performed in the absence of state officials or a central government.
If and when Jews are able to forgive the world for the deep wounds that were inflicted on millions of Jews, then and only then will Jews be able to trust to forgive and be forgiven. Only when Jews are able to forgive the world for its cruelty and inhumane treatment of Jews; only then will Jews and Israelis allow themselves to forgive the Palestinians, and only then will they believe that the Palestinians who have been victimized by Israel will forgive them, too.
Jews must forgive to believe that the Palestinians are also capable of forgiving. In short, for peace to bud and grow among Israelis and Palestinians requires the commitment of Israelis and Jews to transform their society through deliberate action to change Israel’s national character, motives, behavior, and narrative.