by Daniel Bar-Tal
After serving four years as Israeli co-editor of the Palestine Israel Journal (PIJ) and co-editing twelve issues, I am stepping down from my role, leaving for a sabbatical abroad. Hillel Schenker, who fulfilled the role of the Israeli co-managing editor with great dedication, will begin to serve as the Israeli co-editor of the journal alongside Ziad Abu-Zayyad. I am sure that under his co-leadership, the PIJ will be greatly rewarded and I wish him great success in his new position.
I believe that the Palestine Israel Journal will continue to play a role, as it has in the past, in the process of enlightening the Israeli and the Palestinian publics and moving them towards acceptance of the peace process.
The current issue is another contribution to this process of illumination. Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia (as well as anti-Arabism) play a role in the accumulation of animosity and hatred. They provide a basis for the ill-intended rhetoric and actions that broaden the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They are the backbones of the negative psychological inter-group repertoire and therefore must be eliminated in both societies. The articles in the issue present their scope, contents, roots and consequences. They make an important contribution to their understanding.
In conclusion, I would like to say that the work at the PIJ is not a normal one. I always saw it as a mission that goes beyond personal needs and goals. Only this view allowed me to persist and continue the important undertaking of the PIJ. We went through all kinds of crises and it was not always easy for me to cope with them. Interestingly, the large crisis — the political one, of the violent context, we passed with relative ease, and this shows that the PIJ has the strength of conviction in peaceful coexistence. No doubt the credit for this success has to be given to the Palestinian partners, and especially to Ziad.
During the years of my mission in the PIJ, I tried my best not only to help the Journal to continue and publish the best issues that we could, to expand the list of contributors and promote it to new audiences, but also to create a climate of trust, cooperation and intimacy in the organization. This was a special challenge, as I believe that in the PIJ we should recreate an example of what should be good relations among people.
I leave the PIJ with a good feeling that the mission is being fulfilled. We play an important role in “maintaining the channels for cooperation and dialogue between the Palestinians and Israelis and provide a forum where the complex issues of the conflict are examined seriously, freely and critically.” Also I believe that we succeed to create a warm and friendly atmosphere in the office.
Due to financial difficulties, the staff worked for many months without salaries, and I admire their devotion and loyalty to the Journal. They are the ones that provide the energy, wisdom and tolerance that plays an important part in the PIJ’s existence. It was an honor to work with such a staff, and I wish them much success in their personal life, as well in the mission they perform for the benefit of the two nations.
Personal Observations about Israeli-Palestinian Relations
I would like to use this opportunity to sum up my observations and evaluations about Israeli-Palestinian relations, which my role at the PIJ helped to collect. I have learned that accumulated grievances, hostility, fear, hate and contentions are deeply rooted in the psyche of both nations. Years of violent confrontations, which caused suffering to the Jews and Palestinians in this region, and the continuous mutual delegitimization were imprinted on the collective psyche of both nations. These ferocious experiences penetrated deeply into the public cultures of both nations and fed the creation of a destructive psychological repertoire. This repertoire motivated and led to violent actions on both sides.
We Jews are imprinted by the continuous Palestinian violence, which not only hurts us, but also arouses strong feelings of fear and insecurity because of our specific long, collective traumatic history. We view our fallen and injured indiscriminately — whether soldiers or civilians that include children and women and men. All of them — whether they fell in suicidal bombings, knifings, battles, stone-throwing or attempts to arrest people — are perceived as victims of Palestinian terror. This way of thinking diminishes the brutal meaning of real terror acts and their consequences. We also indiscriminately view different ways of Palestinian resistance to our occupation. All acts of resistance, either violent or nonviolent, serve many of us as evidence of the Palestinian refusal to resolve the conflict peacefully, their wish to destroy the Jewish state of Israel, their anti-Semitic views, their barbaric traditions, their fanaticism and lack of concern about human life. The result of this view is that a great majority of the Jews in Israel are ready to inflict almost any harsh measure to stop Palestinian violence and other acts of resistance, and to teach them a lesson. They pay little attention to the context of the Palestinians’ violence and resistance, its reasons, basis, types or types of performers.
The Palestinians focus mainly on their land and their conditions of life as a result of occupation. They see that the Zionist project does not end. It began in 1882 and, in spite the fact that the Jewish state of Israel was established in 1948, the project has continued through 2005 with the same vigor, determination, manipulation, force and self-righteousness as in the 1920s or 1930s. It is clear to them that we did not finish the expansion with their disaster of 1948 — but dunam (¼ acre) after dunam we continue to expand into Palestinian land and destroy the dream of establishing their independent state. This expansion is done with the powerful means of the state, with the participation and help of all its mighty institutions, organizations and organs. This expansion has not been carried out by irredentist and fanatical groups, but by the Israeli government, the legislative body, the legal system and all the powerful security forces of Israel, which have planned and executed the scheme of expansion, often performing illegal acts in accordance with the Israeli laws.
No nation in the world looks passively on the destruction of its own national basis, but all the nations resist, mainly violently, their own destruction. Within this context, any resistance to Jewish presence, occupation or expansion, whether violent or peaceful, is met with an iron fist and presented as a reflection of the will to annihilate Jews with terrorism. The acts of preventing violence and controlling Palestinian life are interwoven into the massive machinery that embitters the life of the Palestinians on a daily basis through roadblocks, curfews, territorial closures, prevention of free movement, limitation of basic human rights and control of almost every aspect of their life. All are consequences of an evil occupation. In such a climate it is hard to see any progress towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
We, the Israeli Jews, have much more power and control to transform the reality that can change the motivational basis of the Palestinians to engage in violence. But the governments that ruled Israel in the past four years did not search for accommodation, negotiation and a peaceful resolution with the Palestinians that could meet their minimal national needs. The leadership shifted its aspiration to ensure security through force, to expand Israel into the West Bank to the maximum potential in the present international context, to establish maximum control over the life of the Palestinians, to widen the schism in Palestinian society and to weaken the Palestinian Authority (which later served as a justification for the refusal to negotiate). All of this was done with a well-propagated rationalization about the lack of a partner, the weakness of the Palestinian leadership and the lack of security that has always been accepted by the majority of the Israeli Jews.
These goals serve as a fertile ground for the arousal of dissatisfaction by the Palestinian masses that lose hope in the peace process. They lead to the disintegration of the central moderate authorities, the growth of extreme forces and an increase in violence which later serves as evidence to the Israeli public of the rightness of the governmental claims. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy at its best.
I am not diminishing the colossal meaning of the withdrawal of the Jewish settlements and military presence from the Gaza Strip. This is an historical precedent that indicates that settlements can be dismantled in Greater Israel. In spite of this dramatic change, the future does not look promising. Although many Israelis and Palestinians recognize the contours of the possible Israeli-Palestinian final agreement in the Clinton Plan, the Taba talks and the Geneva Initiative, there is no real will or intention on the Israeli side to grasp this possibility and make an effort to turn the dreams of peace into reality.
The changes in the Israeli political map and the elections in both societies place both of them on a crossroads. There is a possibility to open a new page in relations by beginning negotiations and moving in coordination via the Road Map towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict. But there is also a real possibility that the elected Israeli government will continue unilateral moves in order to fortify Israel behind the wall, creating a Bantustan Palestinian state. The latter path will surely lead to the continuation of the conflict and mutual bloodshed.
Although the Israeli public has traveled a long way from denying Palestinian national existence, it still has to progress further to support the accepted contours of a possible solution, which ensures the existence of Israel as a Jewish state and also sets the conditions for the establishment of a sovereign, viable and contiguous Palestinian state, with a divided Jerusalem. It will be in the power of the new elected Israeli government to determine the course of events. It is my hope that it will embark on the road of well-intentioned and frank negotiations that can bring peace and prosperity to the deeply wounded nations, and will not yield to the extreme forces that strive to continue the bloody conflict for generations.