Who are the victims?

By ARDIE GELDMAN
November 3, 2013 21:31

Would it enter the Palestinians' minds that some of the people who live in Efrat, or their parents or grandparents, not so long ago, were made to wait in line surrounded by soldiers in a black universe where Kalandia would have been considered a life-giving oasis?




Mosque in Abdullah Ibrahim behind houses in West Bank Jewish settlement of Efrat, December 2011.

Efrat settlement 370. (photo credit:REUTERS/Baz Ratner )

Her tone was sharp, her words piercing: “You want us to think that you are the victims. You talk about the Romans, the Holocaust and the Arab armies in 1948 and 1967. But you’re not the victims.”

These remarks were directed at me recently by a woman from England who was part of a small Christian delegation that had come to our home in Efrat that morning.

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The group had an interest in visiting an “illegal settlement” and hearing the views of a “settler” about Israel’s “occupation of Palestine.”

Early in the morning this woman and the others in her group had stood in line with Palestinians at the Kalandia checkpoint on their way to Efrat from Ramallah where they had spent the night. Another member of the group took pains to refer to this experience several times. It sounded as if their encounter with the checkpoint was not only a demonstration of this group’s solidarity with Palestinians but also a badge of honor.

This group was typical of the veritable endless caravan of delegations whose members come to “Israel Palestine” from abroad to “learn about the conflict.” During a typical five- to 10-day visit the bulk of their time is spent among Palestinians within the Palestinian Authority (or meeting with pro-Palestinian Israeli NGOs).

This particular group allocated approximately two hours to hear the views of a single “settler.”

It should therefore come as no surprise that to this woman it is the Palestinians who are the victims and Israel, and in particular Israeli settlers, who are responsible for their victimization.

She was expressing a phenomenon known as “Holocaust fatigue” and taking it one step further. This benighted concept has emerged in recent years to express the feelings of some non-Jews who are sick and tired of hearing about how Jews suffered and died in the Holocaust.

What was, they feel, was. Having come through the checkpoint that morning it was clear to this woman who are the victims today.

This group, like others with a similar agenda, was interested in hearing the Israeli “settler” narrative. But their primary objective while touring the area was experiencing the Palestinian narrative. They strove to personally know individual Palestinians and witness their suffering; thus, the Kalandia checkpoint experience. In contrast, most internationals rarely spend more than a couple of hours when visiting an “illegal settlement.”

Such distancing, trying to avoid attaching a name or a face to the image of “settler,” contributes to the delegitimization of Jewish community life beyond the 1949 armistice lines. The people who organize these groups’ itineraries know that seeing is believing, while hearing represents a far less powerful experience. They feel secure that visitors given only a limited opportunity to interact with Jewish “settlers” are unlikely to question their own commitment to the Palestinian cause; in fact, after their brief exposure to a community like Efrat, this commitment may in fact become stronger.

The woman who spoke out acknowledged that she was visiting the region for the first time and that she knew very little about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before deciding to join her co-religionists on this mission. The Christian denomination to which she belongs is Low Church and liberal. Among other social justice campaigns with which it is involved, it supports the boycott of all manufactured products as well as fruits and vegetables produced by Jews in Judea and Samaria.

Her present understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she said, was formed at the short, preparatory seminar offered to all trip participants approximately a month before departure. The views presented at that time were now being confirmed by the partisan encounters that comprised this group’s tour. For example, as I learned, the few other Israelis invited to meet with this group all expressed strong criticism of the “occupation.” Otherwise, this group’s time was spent with Palestinians.

It is no wonder this woman reacted to my presentation in the manner she did. Until reaching Efrat she was likely surrounded by discussions of stolen land, refugee camps, home demolitions, travel restrictions, checkpoints, abusive soldiers and the scarcity of water, all attributable to the “occupation.”

Most poignantly, she was taken to see the “wall,” Israel’s national security barrier, which has become the premier symbol of the “occupation” and synonymous with “apartheid” in the lexicon of all groups sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

Since her group’s arrival in Israel she surely had also observed dozens of IDF personnel with automatic weapons as well as military jeeps on patrol. To this woman, a people whose soldiers drive around in jeeps with guns and are able to control the movement of other people are certainly not victims... they can only victimize others.

This woman’s failure to view current realities as the outcome of past events blocked her ability to understand the causal relationship between the extended waves of suicide bombings Israel faced a decade ago and the obligation of a government to maintain whatever measures are necessary to protect its citizenry. Her jaundiced view of the conflict echoed in her cynical dismissal of the explanation for such measures.

“Why,” she asked, “does the ‘wall’ not follow the precise route of the ‘green line’ (the 1949 armistice line)?” In other words, why does the security barrier run through and divide privately owned Palestinian property or in other ways deviate from the route of the “green line” and spill over onto Palestinian land? The answer she received, that except where Israeli security experts deemed it necessary the barrier does follow the “green line,” caused her to cast a fleeting, conspiratorial glance at a colleague.

THE PALESTINIAN narrative continues to win peoples’ hearts and minds because people respond more viscerally and permanently to what they see and experience than to what they are told, and Palestinians regularly make sure that outsiders are brought to see the assortment of encumbrances imposed upon them by the “occupation.”

In contrast, visitors to Israel will undoubtedly hear the story of the Jewish People’s unprecedented national renaissance in the wake of the Holocaust or be treated to a PowerPoint presentation highlighting the state of Israel’s incredible achievements in science, technology and culture. As impressive as these may otherwise be, this approach has a significantly lesser impact on dubious visitors than the unsettling experience of being stopped by soldiers carrying weapons and asked to present passports at an IDF checkpoint, an experience reported by some overseas groups.

This woman had it wrong. My telescopic recounting of Jewish history leading up to the creation of the state of Israel to her and her group was not intended as a review of Jewish victimization. That Jews carry the unenviable distinction of being the most consistently victimized people throughout the past two millennia is self-evident from any sober reading of world history.

Rather, my intention was something else, and twofold.

First, I wished to trace the trajectory of events framing Israel’s unique historic exile and return to the Land, events that I am certain had no place in this group’s consciousness. Second, I wished to illustrate how we Jews, in spite of our travails and against all odds, through a combination of abiding religious faith and sheer will, succeeded in returning to history and re-establishing our membership among the sovereign nations of the world. This feat was not achieved by touting our victimization.

Following their morning visit to Efrat this group returned by bus to Ramallah, a journey that again involved their waiting in line at the Kalandia checkpoint.

I have no doubt that while standing patiently in line alongside Palestinians they would again contrast the surrounding dismal scene with the green lawns and comfortable homes they just left behind in Efrat. But would it enter their minds that some of the people who live in Efrat, or their parents or grandparents, not so long ago, were made to wait in line surrounded by soldiers in a black universe where Kalandia would have been considered a life-giving oasis? Although we never forget those lines, here the woman from England was actually right; we did not allow them to make us victims.

The author lives in Efrat and is the director of iTalkIsrael.Her tone was sharp, her words piercing: “You want us to think that you are the victims. You talk about the Romans, the Holocaust and the Arab armies in 1948 and 1967. But you’re not the victims.”

These remarks were directed at me recently by a woman from England who was part of a small Christian delegation that had come to our home in Efrat that morning.

The group had an interest in visiting an “illegal settlement” and hearing the views of a “settler” about Israel’s “occupation of Palestine.”

Early in the morning this woman and the others in her group had stood in line with Palestinians at the Kalandia checkpoint on their way to Efrat from Ramallah where they had spent the night. Another member of the group took pains to refer to this experience several times. It sounded as if their encounter with the checkpoint was not only a demonstration of this group’s solidarity with Palestinians but also a badge of honor.

This group was typical of the veritable endless caravan of delegations whose members come to “Israel Palestine” from abroad to “learn about the conflict.” During a typical five- to 10-day visit the bulk of their time is spent among Palestinians within the Palestinian Authority (or meeting with pro-Palestinian Israeli NGOs).

This particular group allocated approximately two hours to hear the views of a single “settler.”

It should therefore come as no surprise that to this woman it is the Palestinians who are the victims and Israel, and in particular Israeli settlers, who are responsible for their victimization.

She was expressing a phenomenon known as “Holocaust fatigue” and taking it one step further. This benighted concept has emerged in recent years to express the feelings of some non-Jews who are sick and tired of hearing about how Jews suffered and died in the Holocaust.

What was, they feel, was. Having come through the checkpoint that morning it was clear to this woman who are the victims today.

This group, like others with a similar agenda, was interested in hearing the Israeli “settler” narrative. But their primary objective while touring the area was experiencing the Palestinian narrative. They strove to personally know individual Palestinians and witness their suffering; thus, the Kalandia checkpoint experience. In contrast, most internationals rarely spend more than a couple of hours when visiting an “illegal settlement.”

Such distancing, trying to avoid attaching a name or a face to the image of “settler,” contributes to the delegitimization of Jewish community life beyond the 1949 armistice lines. The people who organize these groups’ itineraries know that seeing is believing, while hearing represents a far less powerful experience. They feel secure that visitors given only a limited opportunity to interact with Jewish “settlers” are unlikely to question their own commitment to the Palestinian cause; in fact, after their brief exposure to a community like Efrat, this commitment may in fact become stronger.

The woman who spoke out acknowledged that she was visiting the region for the first time and that she knew very little about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before deciding to join her co-religionists on this mission. The Christian denomination to which she belongs is Low Church and liberal. Among other social justice campaigns with which it is involved, it supports the boycott of all manufactured products as well as fruits and vegetables produced by Jews in Judea and Samaria.

Her present understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she said, was formed at the short, preparatory seminar offered to all trip participants approximately a month before departure. The views presented at that time were now being confirmed by the partisan encounters that comprised this group’s tour. For example, as I learned, the few other Israelis invited to meet with this group all expressed strong criticism of the “occupation.” Otherwise, this group’s time was spent with Palestinians.

It is no wonder this woman reacted to my presentation in the manner she did. Until reaching Efrat she was likely surrounded by discussions of stolen land, refugee camps, home demolitions, travel restrictions, checkpoints, abusive soldiers and the scarcity of water, all attributable to the “occupation.”

Most poignantly, she was taken to see the “wall,” Israel’s national security barrier, which has become the premier symbol of the “occupation” and synonymous with “apartheid” in the lexicon of all groups sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

Since her group’s arrival in Israel she surely had also observed dozens of IDF personnel with automatic weapons as well as military jeeps on patrol. To this woman, a people whose soldiers drive around in jeeps with guns and are able to control the movement of other people are certainly not victims... they can only victimize others.

This woman’s failure to view current realities as the outcome of past events blocked her ability to understand the causal relationship between the extended waves of suicide bombings Israel faced a decade ago and the obligation of a government to maintain whatever measures are necessary to protect its citizenry. Her jaundiced view of the conflict echoed in her cynical dismissal of the explanation for such measures.

“Why,” she asked, “does the ‘wall’ not follow the precise route of the ‘green line’ (the 1949 armistice line)?” In other words, why does the security barrier run through and divide privately owned Palestinian property or in other ways deviate from the route of the “green line” and spill over onto Palestinian land? The answer she received, that except where Israeli security experts deemed it necessary the barrier does follow the “green line,” caused her to cast a fleeting, conspiratorial glance at a colleague.

THE PALESTINIAN narrative continues to win peoples’ hearts and minds because people respond more viscerally and permanently to what they see and experience than to what they are told, and Palestinians regularly make sure that outsiders are brought to see the assortment of encumbrances imposed upon them by the “occupation.”

In contrast, visitors to Israel will undoubtedly hear the story of the Jewish People’s unprecedented national renaissance in the wake of the Holocaust or be treated to a PowerPoint presentation highlighting the state of Israel’s incredible achievements in science, technology and culture. As impressive as these may otherwise be, this approach has a significantly lesser impact on dubious visitors than the unsettling experience of being stopped by soldiers carrying weapons and asked to present passports at an IDF checkpoint, an experience reported by some overseas groups.

This woman had it wrong. My telescopic recounting of Jewish history leading up to the creation of the state of Israel to her and her group was not intended as a review of Jewish victimization. That Jews carry the unenviable distinction of being the most consistently victimized people throughout the past two millennia is self-evident from any sober reading of world history.

Rather, my intention was something else, and twofold.

First, I wished to trace the trajectory of events framing Israel’s unique historic exile and return to the Land, events that I am certain had no place in this group’s consciousness. Second, I wished to illustrate how we Jews, in spite of our travails and against all odds, through a combination of abiding religious faith and sheer will, succeeded in returning to history and re-establishing our membership among the sovereign nations of the world. This feat was not achieved by touting our victimization.

Following their morning visit to Efrat this group returned by bus to Ramallah, a journey that again involved their waiting in line at the Kalandia checkpoint.

I have no doubt that while standing patiently in line alongside Palestinians they would again contrast the surrounding dismal scene with the green lawns and comfortable homes they just left behind in Efrat. But would it enter their minds that some of the people who live in Efrat, or their parents or grandparents, not so long ago, were made to wait in line surrounded by soldiers in a black universe where Kalandia would have been considered a life-giving oasis? Although we never forget those lines, here the woman from England was actually right; we did not allow them to make us victims.

The author lives in Efrat and is the director of iTalkIsrael.

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