Palestine-Israel Journal: How do you see the characteristics and motivation of Israeli youth today as compared to former periods?
Avi Levi: The main difference is that present-day youth lacks the commitment to national goals that were broadly accepted before, and I am referring not only to political but also to personal values. I am not speaking here as a representative of any particular movement, but from my own experience with Israeli youth. The generalizations that I project here don't pretend to relate to all sectors of Israeli youth, for example to the religious, the ultra-Orthodox or the extreme right. But I think they do apply in general to broad sections of urban middle-class youngsters. In the past, these have been seen (along with kibbutz youth, which in recent years has lost its old status) as those who set the tone, a sort of prototype of Israeli youth.
More or less, since the Yom Kippur war of 1973, one sees a decreasing commitment to the old values of Zionism, settlement, developing the country, absorbing new immigrants, etc., which were dominant in the formative first decades of Israeli history. On the one hand, young people are frightened to declare that the classic articles of faith no longer provide the main motivation in their lives; on the other hand, they are increasingly subject to social and economic influences, both local and international, which give priority to the personal rather than the general good.

So they wouldn't say this openly?
No. It is hard for them to admit the change and they will say they see the importance of their being Jews and Zionists, serving in the army and so on. But they claim that they personally cannot now give up individual economic opportunities, a promising career at home or abroad, in the name of the Zionist ethos. There is an increasing number of young people who consciously put their own career as their first and only priority, and only pay lip service to old ideals. At a younger age (high-school age), there is even a wider readiness to talk openly of the new priorities. In the context of this dichotomy, people are not prepared to give up national symbols - the Israeli flag as representing them, or their (secular) Israeli and Jewish loyalty. However, they are less and less prepared to see overall national aims as committing them personally in their behavior. This also applies to a readiness to serve in the army.

What about believing in overall humanistic values?
In principle, there is a broad section of yuppie youth in Tel Aviv that votes for leftist parties and accepts progressive views, yet if you ask them about unemployed Israeli workers in southern development towns, they will say that these people "don't want to work." In my view, this speaks volumes about their thinking.

And the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
For most, it has become peripheral. It isn't at the center of their agenda or their concerns. Ehud Barak represents them well: the idea of "separation" from the Palestinians appeals to them. They watch TV, but know little about the details of the peace process. In principle they support peace and may even participate in an occasional demonstration, but apart from a small nucleus of activists, they don't want to get too close to the problem. As far as many of them are concerned, Abu Dis or Hebron could be in a foreign country. There is much ignorance even over the Golan Heights, a topic which interests the whole world today.

What is behind this?
Mainly economic factors. For instance, the growth of commercial TV and of the Internet, which provides access to neverending information from all over the world - these foster a wholly different scale of priorities compared to those common in former decades. The emphasis is on consumerism, not idealism. The dominant process is globalization, not "national" concerns - one can live in Israel physically, but the way of life no longer has to be specifically Israeli. Globalization is a political and economic process, but it influences culture, taste, individual priorities and aspirations, etc. In former periods, one won status by going to a remote border kibbutz. Nobody thinks that way anymore: nowadays, status pertains to economic success, a good career, material assets.
As regards the Palestinians, from my contact with them in dialogue groups, it is clear that their situation is completely opposite. For them, the national factor is the decisive one. Whatever happens, day and night they can't overlook the occupation and the Israeli presence, even under the Palestinian Authority, with the whole system of Israeli permits, etc. They breathe our presence, whereas in order to know the Other, the Israeli must make a special effort. What interests the Israelis is not so much the Palestinians as the interest rate imposed by the Bank of Israel.

Who participates in Israeli-Palestinian dialogue groups?
The composition on both sides is generally hierarchical - Palestinians from Ramallah, Israelis from Jerusalem, both from the same established socioeconomic level. Both are sensitive to influences from abroad through TV, the Internet, and the media. Dialogue is easier when both parties wear the same clothes and shoes, listen to the same music, etc. So it's easier to conduct dialogue with Palestinians from East Jerusalem or Ramallah than from Gaza. For the underprivileged Palestinian, the talk is of occupation, not dialogue. But for different reasons, neither is the underprivileged Israeli particularly interested in dialogue. I think that the determining factor here is the economic status and not, as some think, differences between Ashkenazi (Western) and Oriental Jews.

Coming back to globalization, how does it influence dialogue?
Similar lifestyles which transcend borders provide advantages. For instance, one new and perhaps unexpected development is that it is "in" for young Israelis to spend an evening in Ramallah, the "city of lights," because of its restaurants, discothèques, etc. Here Israelis and Palestinians, mainly from the younger generation, are on the same wavelength. This is a hopeful development. In general, the distances separating the two peoples are getting smaller, but I wouldn't say that, historically, one can speak of a new period: rather, we are in an interim period, between the old and the new and, perhaps, the new generation of "post-Zionist" Israeli youth has better chances of seeing peace than its predecessors. <