A trip to Israel and Palestine

Author: 

Omar Raii, NUS Executive, personal capacity

Last year I visited two countries — Israel and Palestine — about which I had discussed so much and yet seen so little. On a four-day trip organised by the Union of Jewish Students we visited different parts of Israel, including the Golan Heights, and made a short sojourn to Palestine, mainly Ramallah.

It was a trip that was primarily organised to discuss the political issues around the Middle East. To many it will have been disgraceful that I even visited Israel. Had I gone on a visit to my country of birth, a country that punishes homosexuality by execution, and hangs any Muslim who becomes an apostate, I doubt anyone would care in the slightest. And yet the idea of visiting Israel is seen as strange and wrong.

I went with people who held a wide variety of political views but I was the only revolutionary socialist. This was valuable — much discussion was had about the history and politics of the region. I quite like debating ideas with people who may disagree with me. Given that I was raised by a Muslim family with pro-Kremlin political views, I wouldn’t get anywhere if I only talked to people who already agree with me. One of the most prevalent problems in the student movement, and outside it, is the inability of many to not only to fathom views other than their own, but even to find out about them.

The President of NUS, for example, seems 100% certain of everything she needs to know about Israel and is 100% certain that boycotting everything Israeli is the way to achieve change on Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. My views expanded and strengthened after I discussed with people from the left, centre and right of Israeli politics.

Our guide for the trip was a British-Israeli lecturer who on everything, from wars with Lebanon to the prohibition on Jews praying at the Temple Mount, gave us every possible view espoused by different political traditions, while making it clear he was on the left. In Jerusalem and Tel Aviv we saw both tourist areas and traditional sites such as the Temple Mount and Jerusalem’s Old City (where I even got the chance to see the Al-Aqsa mosque, generally prohibited to non-Muslims). We also went to the Lebanese and Syrian borders and discussed the history behind those borders. We visited Sderot, a town famous for having many rockets land on it due to its proximity to Gaza (seeing children’s play centres that have been made resistant to rocket attacks was an unnerving thing that I won’t forget in a hurry). We saw the occupation in Palestine as we went through Bir-Zeit and Ramallah and also a project for a new Palestinian town called Rawabi. We met a charity run by both a settler and a former militant Palestinian who now argues for two-states and reconciliation.

It was rather odd but then Israel has a lot of seemingly incongruous things coexisting: Arabs, Muslims and Christians, religious and secular Jews, LGBT people, hard-right nationalists and liberal vegans. Our trip ended at an LGBT centre in Tel Aviv, which appears in the excellent documentary Oriented (about the lives of a group of gay Arabs living in Israel). We discussed the position of LGBT people in Israeli society, something that would probably be ignored and dismissed as pinkwashing by some anti-Zionists.

The saddest thing about the trip was that, illuminating as I found it, I know for a fact it would have benefited some other people in NUS far more. Not so that they would end their opposition to the Israeli state and its occupation — I firmly support that opposition — but so that they could get a better idea of what it was they were opposing. But my view is premised on the fundamental view that Israel is a real society like any other; like British, or German or Tunisian or Peruvian society.

Within the pre-1967 borders, while it may have some laws that should be opposed, Israel is not an illegitimate regime that sustains itself only through brutal military force. To the anti-Israel Arab states, at least in history, Israel is a temporary illegitimate statelet. To some misguided leftists it is a racist endeavour simply and only for being a nation-state of a certain people. Yet they do not regard as racist and evil any other state, let alone the myriad of those that explicitly describe themselves as Arab or Islamic states, despite not being ethnically or religiously homogenous.

Outside the 1967 border, it is of course a different matter. The continuing occupation and the blockade of Gaza are not examples of a democratic and peaceful society but of an injustice that must end immediately, so that the Palestinian people achieve the same right that the Israelis currently enjoy to live in their own state and have a functioning society. The occupation is a crime and the settlements are illegal.

The trip, which I am thankful to UJS for inviting to take part, did not blind me to these facts. Seeing the desolation and poverty on the road from Ramallah to East Jerusalem cannot make anyone less sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinian people. While Israel may be the most democratic country in the Middle East, the West Bank is not Israel and Israel’s control over it (as well as the blockade of Gaza) is anything but democratic. I still believe that the only immediate peaceful and just end to the conflict should be through a free and independent Palestinian state alongside Israel and a dismantling of the settlements in the West Bank.

Comments

Difference

Unlike Israel, in Britain, Germany, Peru, and I think Tunisia, political rights, the right to travel freely and serve in the military are, at least on paper, open to all citizens irrespective of their religious/ethnic background. The problem with Israel's basic laws is that non-Jewish citizens are denied all or some of those things. Can you imagine a "de-Zionised" Israeli state in which an Arab, or other person from a minority or non-religious person, could become Prime Minister or head of the army, and in which freedom of movement might end the majority status of the Israeli Jews? I'm not sure I can, or that the existence of other religious/ethnic-based states justifies Israel's continued existence as one.

Just gimmie the facts, please

Facts are always selected, can be cherry-picked, presented out of context - and they can also be outright lies.
Mathew presents his as though Israel and its citizens include Arabs who live over the 1949 armistice lines.

But no Israeli citizen is legally hampered in any form of travel whatsoever. This is so self-evidently true and verifiable by any observer that it is pointless to refute. We have left the world of reality and are floating in a miasma of fantasy.

I myself have served with non-Jewish citizens, indeed, not a few. Bedouin, Christians (very committed ones), ex-Russians of very dubious tradition, whatnot. My children's generation serve in a much more integrated framework. Our grandchildren's generation would look upon such nonsense with justified disgust and a maybe a call for men in white coats.

The key, of course, is that Mathew sees a need to justify Israel's existence, and finds none.

But here are some other cherry-picked facts about Israel (sources available if required). Are they not relevant? Out-of-context? Sheer outright lies? Or could they indicate something of the social/political/educational direction in which Israel is moving?

Quotes:

Today, Israeli Arabs comprise 21 percent of the Israeli population and 23 percent of Israeli doctors. More generally, Arabs comprise 16 percent of first-year students in higher education, compared to 8 percent a decade earlier. (My guess is about 80% of pharmacists).

Between 2005 and 2011, inflation-adjusted Arab net family income increased by 7.4 percent. As a result, the share of Arab families that were “very satisfied” with their economic conditions rose from 40 percent in 2004-2005 to 60 percent in 2010-2011. Indeed, recent surveys show Arab families have virtually the same level of satisfaction with their lives as Jewish families.
These gains have made integration into Israeli society a realistic goal for many within the Arab populace.
(. . . The government has) dedicated to Arab towns 40 percent of the transportation budget for the next few years, particularly in Bedouin areas.
. . . the Education Ministry’s goal of increasing by 500 the number of Arab teachers in Jewish schools whose subject of instruction is not language is moving forward. This fall, the increased number reached 300, so that for the first time, a majority of Arab teachers in Jewish schools taught subjects other than Arabic.

Arabs now comprise 28 percent of students at Technion University and more than 4,000 are employed in the high-tech industry compared to less than 400 eight years ago.

A decade ago, the government approved the opportunity for young women to enter National Service where, for one year, they engage in social service activities. For the first few years Arab participation (was self-limited to) Bedouins, Christians, and Druze. (Currently) it has become a personal choice that is no longer stigmatized, leading to a broader participation.

My only personal appearance in court ever was in Hadera, in front of an Arab judge. Whose facial expression told me he'd heard every weird excuse that there was, and don't try any nonsense with him. I won my case.

In 2000, Jewish police fired on Arab protestors, killing 13. In response . . .initiated changes in police training and the integration of Arabs into the national police force. By 2010, almost 100 Arab towns had some Arab police, up from less than a dozen a decade earlier.

. . . As more participate in national service and police forces, Israeli Arabs will be further integrated into the national fabric.

As someone who was sent to many countries in the course of my work (medical diagnostic software) I developed my own rule of thumb for judging the safety of the streets. Basically, after dark, can you see unconcerned/lone women and children on the street. Well, this is Israel and yes you can. Lots. All the time. Most everywhere. And lots of them are easily identified (by dress) as Arabs. From Yakutsk to Chicago and New Orleans, via Glasgow and Cape Town, this is the country where women citizens feel safe by right in every public arena.

Mathew, your views and facts are off the wall. I propose you read Tony Judt "Thinking the 20th Century" as a corrective.

Marriage

Two quick questions, John: is it possible for a Jewish and Arab citizen to contract a civil marriage in Israel, and if not, why is that?

A biased question

Why do you frame the question like that. You are perfectly well aware that if the question is constrained by "Arab" and "Jew" you force an answer that sounds like racism. I refuse the question and the type of thinking behind it..

You could have asked "Why is it that there is no civil marriage in Israel?". That is, two Jews cannot contract a civil marriage, nor a Jew and an non-religious person, nor an Arab Muslim and a Jew, nor an Arab muslim and a non-religious person and so on and so on and on through every assigned micro-category that you care to construct.

But you knew that already, didn't you. So the second question is "Why did you frame the question as you did, where it begs it's own question/answer to the one you seek?".

That there is no civil marriage in Israel is one of many totally disgusting disgraces, I agree. It causes problems and difficulties that simply should not be there. Many of my own family have, with my full encouragement and support, conducted their marriages completely ignoring that appalling religious law. The administrative work-around - which is completely legally acceptable - is to get married abroad. The law then accepts that civil contract as a valid marriage for all Israeli civil and legal purposes.

But you already knew that, didn't you? And even so, framed your question as one of Arab and Jew.

Fooyah!

John

Following the Sodastream model

An item of news not expected to be well-reported in some circles:
From Haaretz Tuesday Feb 21 2017, page 7.

Palestinians in first-ever labor pact

. . . the 75 employees of a garage in the Mishor Adumim industrial zone signed a collective labor agreement with Israeli management last week.

. . . the first of its type marks a major advance for the estimated 50,000 Palestinians who work in Area C of the West Bank.

. . . Management agreed, starting in January 2014 (I think this is a typo for 2017 - JD) to honor the minimum wage laws, pay vacation, travel and sick pay, contribute to employee pension-fund contributions and provide convalescence pay, as required by law.

. . . (but not to guaranteed) annual wage increases and formal pay grades.