Solutions to Violent Conflict

Challenging the Israeli Narrative from Within

In Israel/Palestine conflict, Middle East on September 29, 2014 at 9:44 am

Atalia Omer

During the intense days of  “Operation Protective Edge,” in an atmosphere of intimidation and growing self-protectionist groupthink within Israel, thousands of Israelis nonetheless flooded the main squares of cities protesting the occupation, the massacres in Gaza, and the racism and chauvinism that surfaced in explosive and shocking ways.

It is important to identify who these voices of dissent are, what they argue, and how they fit within the broader landscape of Palestine solidarity activism and regional peacebuilding efforts. Doing so means avoiding fatalistic attitudes and navigating the polarizing opinions and interests related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

LOYAL OPPOSITION


Traditionally, the mainstream peace movement in Israel was called the “loyal” left—with “loyal” being shorthand for a commitment to peace that does not challenge the political experiment with Jewish democracy. This loyal opposition has struggled to recover from the failure of the Oslo Accords of 1993, evident in the eruption of the Second Intifada or Palestinian uprising in 2000. One of the blinders of the movement has been its willingness to accept the Green Line of 1967 as not only a spatial boundary but also a normative one.

The impossibility of retaining the Green Line in normative discourse became clear with the death of the fourth Israeli victim of the recent escalation, Muhammed Abu Khudair. A Palestinian citizen of Israel, he was kidnapped and burned alive by Jewish Israeli extremists, supposedly to avenge the killing of the three teenage boys whose kidnapping from the heart of the West Bank sparked the recent war.

The killing of Abu Khudair was enabled by engrained forms of cultural violence, deepened by almost five decades of military occupation. This unspeakable act brings into sharp relief the need for peace activism to connect so-called domestic (within the Green Line) issues of social justice with the broader struggle of Palestinians for self-determination.

NEW NARRATIVE NEEDED


At the heart of the matter resides a need for re-interpreting (not overcoming) the Jewish meanings of the Israeli political project. The military option has traction because it is embedded within particular narratives about Jewish identity and history.

To reverse this mode of authorizing violence, it is necessary to engage in substantive cultural and social critique as well as reframing the prevalent narratives. Fortunately, history tells us that authorizing narratives are never immune from challenges. Indeed, the possibility that counter-narratives will gain traction is a necessary hope animating social movements.

The periodic manifestation of the Occupation in “hot” (or what peacebuilders call “direct” or “acute”) violence, like the recent military clashes surrounding Gaza, is only symptomatic of deeper structural, bureaucratic, and routine forms of violence experienced by Palestinians in Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank. This is why, in response to the welcomed ceasefire in effect since late August, Israeli critics of the violence not only lament the conflict’s preventable death and destruction but also urge movement to end the occupation.

VOICES THAT CHALLENGE


B’Tselem offers one example among a host of Israeli civil society organizations that for years have undertaken the Sisyphean work of addressing the legal, cultural, social, emotional, and economic dimensions of the Israeli occupation of Palestinians.

Likewise, a group of Israelis residing in the U.S.—Israelis for a Sustainable Future—produced an open letter to American Jews asking them to reconsider what it meant to be “pro-Israel.” This is a crucial development considering the strong and often blind support that non-Israeli Jews see as an expression of their unconditional “love” of Israel.

Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), the largest U.S. organization of Jewish critics of Israeli policies, challenges Israel’s monopoly over Jewish identity and history. They flood the streets and social media with signs calling “Not in my Name!” JVP activism also intersects with broader Palestine solidarity campaigns, including the turn to the tactics of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction that recently has gained momentum in various circles, including churches and academic associations.

Recognizing such voices of dissent and how they challenge Israeli policies from Jewish and Israeli perspectives is always an important task, but it is especially vital in light of Israel’s recent announcement that it will expropriate four square kilometers (1.5 square miles) of Palestinian lands in the West Bank. This move, the largest land grab in three decades, will only serve to further entrench the Israeli occupation.

Atalia Omer is Associate Professor of Religion, Conflict and Peace Studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame.