Encountering Peace: The loss of youth

Their childhood was filled with fear; where did these young people learn to raise their voices with such clarity of purpose and determination?

By
September 5, 2011 21:13
March of the million in Jerusalem

March of the million Jerusalem 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

One of the most uplifting characteristics of summer 2011 in Israel was the realization of the leadership of Israel’s youth. Inspiring! There is no better word to describe how uplifting it was to see our young people take to the streets and demonstrate their leadership. Their organization, supported by their command of new technologies and new media and augmented by their energy and optimism, swept across the land, and their enthusiasm captured the very spirit of Israel.

By far the most impressive and distinguishing attribute of these young leaders is their speaking ability. They are so expressive, so remarkably capable of putting into words their vision for an Israel that I would certainly be very proud to be part of. I listened to them on Rothschild Blvd. I heard them in Gan Ha’sus and Gan Ha’ir in Jerusalem. I sat with them in my own neighborhood of Kiryat Yovel in Jerusalem.

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They so clearly defined what is wrong in Israel and they expressed so clearly how to repair our world with a lucid sense of justice as a guiding principle for social and economic policies. Their speeches in all of the demonstrations were so uplifting.

Where did these young people learn to stand before crowds of tens of thousands and raise their voices with such astonishing clarity of purpose and determination? I was moved by their dedication to the values that I believe are the foundations of the exemplary state that Herzl and Ben-Gurion dreamed of and tried to create and on which I grew up and educated generations after me in the youth movement.

My high appreciation and admiration of this new spirit in Israel is offset by and equally disappointed with the lack of vision demonstrated by these young people regarding the issue of peace with our Arab neighbors – both within our State and those who surround us. I am saddened by the reality that our young people don’t believe in the vision of peace.

A recent study of the youth in Israel documented the rising support for the rightwing political movements in Israel among the young people of this country. Some of the news reports on the research interviewed young people about their anti-Arab and anti-peace positions. Many of them said “peace – we tried it. It didn’t work, so what do you expect?” Perhaps this is a rational approach by these young people.

They came of age during the second intifada watching buses, coffee shops, pizzerias and discotheques getting blown up by the most extreme form of terrorism we have ever known – suicide bombers. Their childhood was filled with fear and terror which had a clear address. They heard their own leaders repeat the “no partner” mantra so often that it has become an essential part of their consciousness. They came of age in a world of separation barriers and walls which enabled our neighbors to become invisible. The Palestinian laborers of the 1970’s, 1980’s and the early 1990’s were replaced by the migrant workers from all over the world and these people certainly exist only deep in the dark shadows of our society.

I don’t blame the young people for not having a vision of peace. I don’t blame them for not even expressing a dream that could merge a vision of social justice with a vision of justice in ending our 44 year control over our neighbors’ lives. I am simply saddened by this fact. They say we don’t want to be divisive. We want to invite everyone into our tent – left and right, religious and secular, Jew and Arab – a tent for all who feel the injustices of Israeli society (in reality there were almost no Arabs).

They amplified the Israeli dream for consensus, for the middle ground, for being a party in the center. The ultimate Israeli political fantasy (more correctly myth) is that the center is the best place on the map.

At the same time that they have created a new social-economic discourse in Israel, they have helped to foster the disappearance of the existence of the normative left and right in our consciousness in deference to the current notion of only extreme left and extreme right. Anyone who falls out of the center has become an extremist.

Our young people’s source of all information –Wikipedia – defines “extremist” in the following way (emphases are my own): Extremism is any ideology or political act far outside the perceived political center of a society; or otherwise claimed to violate common moral standards.

Morality. In democratic societies, individuals or groups that advocate the replacement of democracy with an authoritarian regime are usually branded extremists, in authoritarian societies the opposite applies.

The term is invariably, or almost invariably, used pejoratively. Extremism is usually contrasted with moderation, and extremists with moderates.

(For example, in contemporary discussions in Western countries of Islam, or of Islamic political movements, it is common for there to be a heavy stress on the distinction between extremist and moderate Muslims. It is also not uncommon to necessarily define distinctions regarding extremist Christians as opposed to moderate Christians, as in countries such as the United States).

Political agendas perceived as extremist often include those from the far left or, as a more general term, fanaticism.

In Israel today those who believe in peace with our neighbors as something more than empty rhetoric are extremists. Those of us who believe that we cannot speak about social justice while we have systemic inequality between Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel are extremists. Those of us who understand that supporting a two state solution is not a hollow slogan of prime ministers but actually means that we must end our control over the Palestinian people and their land are extremists.

Those of us who speak about peace in moral terms and not simply motivated by interests are extremists.

I am glad to have taken part of the Israeli revolution of the summer of 2011. I am proud to have been counted in all of the demonstrations of the past two months. I raised my voice in the choir of hundreds of thousands loud and strong for justice not charity, for public housing, for ending the privatization of public services, for putting a lid on piggish capitalism.

I was glad to hear rabbis and Jewish scholars amongst the speakers who rooted this struggle on the words of the Prophets and our sacred texts. I am equally and perhaps even more disappointed by seeing a generation of young people who don’t believe and who don’t fight for a future of peace.

As they remove their tents for the cities’ squares they declare that the struggle is not over. It certainly isn’t!

The writer is the founder and co-director of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, he hosts a weekly radio show in Hebrew on All for Peace radio, and a voluntary columnist for the Jerusalem Post.


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