Terra Incognita: Do as we say, not as we did

How many of those who support the Ariel cultural boycott live, even today, in homes or on lands that belonged to Arabs?

The anger directed at the inauguration of a new cultural center in Ariel with cultural figures announcing a boycott, is motivated more by the subconscious knowledge of their misdeeds than by the moral consciousness they preach. In projecting their past onto contemporary Israel, they seek to burden those born today with their own inner demons.
Last month, more than 60 actors and theater professionals announced that they will not perform at the new cultural center. Their boycott was followed by a petition of the usual suspects of far-left academics, artists and writers, who decided to voice their support for the actors. The cultural figures wrote that “we will not take part in any kind of cultural activity beyond the Green Line... We support the theater artists refusing to play in Ariel, express our appreciation of their public courage and thank them for bringing the debate on settlements back into the headlines.”
What they really mean is that they won’t take part in any activity in Jewish places beyond the Green Line; some of them actively support cultural endeavors among the Palestinian populace there. The complainers include most of the country’s best-known writers and intellectuals, as well as the fringe anti-Israel academics who garner the most attention abroad – Amos Oz, Shlomo Sand, David Grossman, Ilana Hammerman (editor at Am Oved), Neve Gordon, Oren Yiftachel, Anat Biletzki and Ze’ev Sternhell.
Another group of who’s who protested outside the Habima theater in Tel Aviv. They included former Ma’ariv editor-in-chief Dan Galezer, Meretz’s Haim Oron, former MK Zahava Gal-On and head of Peace Now Yariv Oppenheimer.
The motto of this group is “do as I say, not as I did.”
Few, if any, of the cultural figures involved in these protests, boycotts and petitions live beyond the Green Line, but many, perhaps a disproportionate number of them, live on land whose origins are not exactly clean. Amos Oz grew up in Jerusalem’s Kerem Avraham neighborhood, attended Gymnasia Rehavia and moved to Kibbutz Hulda, not far from the freshly ruined Arab village of Khulda, in 1954. He was in the IDF’s Nahal Brigade and fought in the 1967 and 1973 wars. He later settled in the Negev in Arad.
Oren Yiftachel was raised on Kibbutz Matzuva, which was founded in 1940 and absorbed lands of the ruined Arab Christian village of Bassa. Yiftachel writes that he was raised on a northern kibbutz “where socialism was not a curse and social justice was not a mere theory.”
When he was hired by Ben-Gurion University, he moved to the elite town of Omer in the Negev, where he has campaigned tirelessly on behalf of the rights of the Beduin and serves as cochairman of the human-rights organization B’Tselem.
Shlomo Sand was born in Austria in 1946 but was raised in Jaffa, most of which had been abandoned by its Arab residents in 1948. Haim Oron grew up in Givatayim, served in Nahal and moved to Kibbutz Lahav, which controls 33,000 dunams in the Negev, in the 1960s. The kibbutz was located on the border of the Beduin reservation created by the state after 1948, and the Tiaha tribe claims Lahav was built on its lands. Ze’ev Sternhell immigrated here in 1951 and served in four of Israel’s wars from 1956 to 1982.
THE TRAGIC truth is that if you look too far beneath the surface of the Ariel cultural boycott, you will find that those who want to boycott Ariel are burdening it with their own past. Too many of those who support the boycott are from a kibbutz which happily took over the lands of abandoned Arab villages, or live in the Negev on lands the Beduin claim, or served in the army at the time of the conquest of the territories in 1967.
How many of those who signed the boycott of Ariel live, even today, in former Arab homes? How many received their wealth from agricultural land underneath which was Bassa or Khulda or any number of Arab villages? Is their boycott and activism, say on behalf of the Negev Beduin, merely a subconscious way of atoning for what they know is an Ariel by another name in Israel? Consider the facts. Ariel is located on 14,000 dunams of public land. According to the municipality’s Web site, none of it was confiscated from Palestinians (Peace Now claims that 2,500 dunams are private Palestinian land). Compare that to the artists’ colony, complete with many figures who abhor the settlements, at Ein Hod, which is located almost completely within the confines of an abandoned Arab village.
Too much of the history of Israel has been based on a simple mantra: I did it, I feel guilty, now you shouldn’t. I live on 30,000 dunams of land claimed by Beduin, now I believe the Beduin deserve “justice” – just so long as that justice doesn’t mean giving them back Kibbutz Lahav or Omer or Arad. I want to give back Ariel, but not my Arab home in Baka, and certainly not Matzuva.
The question that should be asked is why a child born in Ariel should suffer culturally because of what Ze’ev Sternhell or Oren Yiftachel did? If the occupation should be ended, it should be for a good reason. But those living beyond the Green Line shouldn’t be punished merely to assuage the consciences and inner demons of those who want to consider themselves moral paragons.
The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew University and a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.