Saturday, January 24, 2009

Troubled Friends in the Galilee

Sent 24.Jan.2009
To my friends and any who are still reading about reactions to our war in Gaza,

This past week I was involved with organizing a meeting of Jews and Arabs in our part of the western Galil. We are a group of unrelated Jews in our area of the western Galil with an Arab artists group based in the town of Kfar Yasif, 20 minute drive from Gesher Haziv. We are attempting to initiate programs which reach out to larger sectors of our communities in the hope of creating greater understanding between Arabs and Jews in the Galil.

Our previous meeting had been over a month ago. Meanwhile, 1200 bodies were being buried in Gaza. Last week’s gathering had to be called off because most of the Arab participants said they would not come as a result of the war. Instead we called for a small gathering of our steering group. We met in the community center of Kfar Yasif, 8 of us, Arabs and Jews, to discuss how we can overcome the events of the moment and continue our efforts. One of the Arab participants was a young artist who came to the meeting in order to represent many who were against coming. When he was born his father was hoping for peace and serenity with his relatively new Jewish neighbors in the Galil and therefore named him Saalem.

Saalem spoke at this meeting, and I am trying here to bring you a transcription of what he said. True, I and others weren’t ready to accept all his conclusions, and we had things to say to him as well. But it is also so important for us to hear him out and understand its implications. The results of Gaza are not only in our ability to earn a period of no rockets in the south, and not only about the repercussions in the world media. The results also affect our neighbors who are Arab Israeli citizens.

Here is my attempt at transcribing what Saalem said:

“At this moment in time I have no desire to meet with you and your Jewish friends. Your people have just killed so many men, women and children who are my Palestinian Arab brethren. I and my friends are still licking our wounds and our anger and our despair. I have come here this evening unwillingly, only to tell you these things so that you are not left with the illusion that there is now still an ability for joint communication and dialogue between us.

You Jews come here for dialogue in order to create a semblance of co-existence between us. I’m not looking to make friends. I’m looking for equality. I’m looking for you to know that this land is my land, my father’s and my grandfather’s and his grandfather’s. You have made me a low-class citizen in my land, the land you took from me.

Though I know I cannot roll-back history, I am angered at your not recognizing my history. In school and on my own I’ve studied your history and your suffering over the centuries. I visited the remains of the concentration camps in Europe. I’ve studied your Bible and your literature. But you….you turn your faces away and remain unaware of our Nakba, our disaster, as our land was torn away from us. You live in towns and villages that sit upon the ruins of our villages, and are unaware. Your schools don’t teach our history. You resent any mention of what we have lost. You resent any mention of our rights to our land.

In your eyes we are sub-human. 13 Israeli Arabs were shot and killed by the police during the demonstrations of October 2000. True, the demonstrations were not quiet ones. They were a result of pent-up anger and frustration at our treatment as sub-citizens in our own land. Violent demonstrations by criminal settlers in the West-Bank have never been treated by killing of Jews. But when we demonstrated, you shot and killed 13 of us. It is with that same regard to our sub-status that you saw no wrong in killing so many hundreds of innocent men, women and children in the war against the Hamas in Gaza. You would not have done the same if there were Jews living in the homes which you bombed and destroyed.

I am an artist, and together with other artists in our group I’ll continue having joint art exhibits here in our town with other Jewish artists. But I and most of my friends in this group cannot supply your need to show how we can co-exist while we moan for the loss of so many lives and continue to be a sub-status in our own land.”

That's it. His words were much more compelling than I could transcribe from memory, but I thought you may be interested in reading this. Our dialogue with Saalem was much longer and I think we still have common ground for joint work with Saalem and his friends, but both we and he have an uphill struggle which has now been made more difficult and complicated.

With a deep (but troubled) hope for the future,

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