On July 8, 2003, the Palestine-Israel Journal held a roundtable
discussion at the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem on human
rights. The participants were: Maha Abu Dayyeh-Shamas, director of
the Women's Center for Legal Aid and Counseling; lawyer Mohammad
Kadah from the Jerusalem Center for Economic and Social Rights;
Jessica Montell, executive director of B'Tselem, the Israeli
Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories;
and lawyer Dan Yakir, legal adviser to the Association for Civil
Rights in Israel (ACRI). The moderator was Benjamin Pogrund,
director of Yakar's Center for Social Concern in Jerusalem.
Mr Pogrund: The occupation is the dominant reason for the
current abuse of human rights in this part of the world.
Palestinians and Israelis are affected separately, yet their
experiences are inseparable from each other. What is the extent of
the abuse? What can be done to counter it, or must this await a
Ms Montell: You start rightly with the occupation. Our frame
of reference for organizations working on the ground is both the
1967 occupation and this current Intifada, which obviously has
greatly exacerbated Israel's human rights violations.
The current reality is affecting Palestinian human rights in every
sphere, and virtually all Palestinians, certainly if we talk about
restrictions on freedom of movement. It's the most insidious form
of human rights violations.
Ms Abu Dayyeh-Shamas: Everybody hears about the killings,
destruction and uprooting of trees, but nobody thinks about the
undermining of social infrastructure. For me, this is the greatest
violence because it breaks down the core of well being, the core of
existence. It's not only the physical violence, but the
I can see it, because I'm working with women and their
organizations. The whole fabric of society is being undermined.
There is a policy to make Palestinian society lose its sense of
community and become a dependent rather than a productive society,
that can take care of its own.
Mr Pogrund: What is the place of women in Palestinian
society? Would they have full rights if it weren't for the
Ms Abu Dayyeh-Shamas: If we compare the struggle of women in
Palestinian society to the rest of the Arab world, it would be like
Lebanon or Syria, where there is openness, but still a struggle. It
wouldn't be like Saudi Arabia, or even Iraq, as Palestinian women
are more mobilized, more educated. There is more of a middle
There definitely will be a gender struggle, as there is in Israel
or America. I've seen regression in terms of social attitudes with
regard to women because of the occupation, the insecurity and the
undermining of infrastructure.
Mr Pogrund: Is this a deliberate Israeli strategy?
Ms Abu Dayyeh-Shamas: I really feel it is.
Mr Pogrund: That's a very strong statement.
Ms Abu Dayyeh-Shamas: It's a strong statement, but that is
what I believe is happening. A society's cultural values are
dependent on a way of life based on its economic foundation. When
that is suddenly undermined, there is an immediate shift without a
transition period. This affects women and children first and
For instance, there was an overnight shift from the status of
agrarians to refugees. Many husbands went to the Gulf countries.
All of a sudden, women were left without a male supporter, in
charge of a family they didn't know how to manage. When you uproot
people from their economic base, this affects the community. When a
community of farmers has to adjust to a ghetto-like existence where
there are no jobs, problems are created. You know what a ghetto is.
And that's what we see here.
Mr Pogrund: Jessica, as someone who works across the lines
and as a fellow woman, how do you react to what Maha is
Ms Montell: We deal with Israel's direct responsibility for
human rights violations and less with the community work involved
in the after-effects. Our address is the Israeli government, to
cease its violations and give some redress. Obviously, there are
long-term effects to Israel's policies in the occupied territories,
and the burden is primarily on the Palestinian community to deal
with all the socio-economic effects of these policies.
Mr Kadah: My organization specializes in the delicate
situation of Arab Palestinian Jerusalemites. We deal with social
and economic issues under Israeli law. The people of Jerusalem are
in a very delicate situation, and looking at these problems, we can
see a kind of hidden policy. In the 1970's, there was a declaration
that they wanted 30 percent Arabs and 70 percent Jews in Jerusalem,
and we can see that this policy still holds. It starts from the
right of residency. The Palestinians of Jerusalem are not citizens
of the Israeli state, and also not citizens of any other
Mr Pogrund: They have Jordanian citizenship. I have friends
with Jordanian passports.
Ms Abu Dayyeh-Shamas: I have one. But it does not mean you
have citizenship. You get a passport, which is more of a travel
document, but it doesn't give you the right to reside in Jordan.
With this passport, you're immediately targeted. When you go to
Arab countries, they know where you're from by the start of the
Mr Kadah: The basic issue if a man, woman or child wants to
live under Israeli law is that East Jerusalem has been annexed to
Israel and separated from the West Bank. After 1967, people got the
right of residency, to work, travel or be eligible for social
benefits. If you're a resident, you get these rights. However, if
you're out of Jerusalem for seven years, you lose them. If you get
citizenship or residency of another country, you also lose your
right to residency. These restrictions mean that the people of
Jerusalem can't move, develop themselves economically or go to
another country to further their education, conduct business, or
see the world.
Mr Pogrund: How many people fall into this in-between
Mr Kadah: Thousands have lost their residency rights.
Mr Pogrund: What numbers of Palestinians living in East
Jerusalem are affected?
Mr Kadah: Everybody. There are about 250,000 Palestinians
living in East Jerusalem. The vast majority of them are there based
on this right of residency, and that is the only right they
Mr Pogrund: You mentioned social rights. The Palestinians
can belong to one of the Israeli health maintenance organizations,
the Kupat Holim. They have the same rights as anyone in Israel to
health care. It's a strange contradiction.
Mr Yakir: Every permanent resident is entitled to health
care and health insurance, but there is a problem with infants born
in East Jerusalem. We were part of a petition to the Supreme Court
against the policy of the Social Security Institute's refusal to
register babies who were born in East Jerusalem until their parents
go through a very prolonged process of investigation to determine
whether they are genuinely residents of East Jerusalem, or if they
had moved from East Jerusalem to outlying neighborhoods and so had
lost their residency rights.
As a result, for long periods, those babies have no health
insurance. This is an example of how policies, both of the Ministry
of Interior and of the Social Security Institute, affect the daily
lives of East Jerusalem residents.
Mr Pogrund: You achieve some amelioration by going to the
Supreme Court, and that is obviously open to the people who live in
Mr Yakir: It's also open to Palestinians in the occupied
Mr Pogrund: Do we have to wait for a political settlement,
whenever that might be, or is there any action that can be taken
now to confront discrimination and human rights abuses in East
Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza?
Mr Yakir: Three petitions that were heard this morning in
the Supreme Court are examples of the ways we are trying to deal
with these things until a political solution is achieved. Clearly,
a real solution to human rights violations will be achieved only
with an overall political solution. However, that does not mean
that, in the meantime, there is nothing to be done to try to
minimize the severe infringements upon basic civil liberties and
The three petitions were against targeted killings; using
Palestinians as human shields during army operations in the
occupied territories; and the prolonged closure of the Talitakumi
neighborhood of Beit Jallah, which has been separated from the rest
of Beit Jallah for the last two and a half years.
This last petition we filed a few months ago on behalf of a
resident of that neighborhood and ACRI (Association for Civil
Rights in Israel). This morning, the army came to the Supreme Court
to report that they had opened the roadblock of the last two and a
half years, and from seven in the morning until seven in the
evening, vehicles will be allowed to move back and forth from
Talithakumi to Beit Jallah. But this has nothing to do with the
petition in the court. It's because of the hudna [ceasefire] and
the situation in general. We insisted on opening the roadblock at
night for emergency cases and for ambulances. However, the court
cited "security reasons," and dismissed the petition.
The other two cases, which are much farther-reaching against the
current policies of the army, are still pending. The court drags
out the hearings and gives the state prolonged postponements to
prepare their arguments. The court has difficulty dealing with
these sensitive issues and limiting the army.
Mr Pogrund: How sympathetic do you find the Supreme Court to
human rights violations of this type?
Mr Yakir: The torture case is a fine example of an exception
to the court's unwillingness to intervene and limit the power of
the army and the state in those matters. The rule is that thousands
of petitions have been dismissed, although there are cases where
the court tried to press the army to change its policies. That has
some effect on the army in terms of adjusting its policies and
easing things. But when the court feels it has used all the
pressure it has and nothing further can be done, usually the
petition will be dismissed and the army legitimized by the
Ms Montell: Talking about where change is going to come from,
it's important to look at three levels. The first is a political
solution. It's clear that we are not going to fully enjoy all our
human rights here until there is a resolution of the occupation and
the political conflict. At the same time, it's clear, from the
human rights perspective, that we can't wait for that utopia. There
are two levels on the day-to-day basis - the legal level and the
social level. From our perspective, that means turning to the
Israeli public and policy makers and courts.
The Israeli courts are limited in their ability to intervene, and
certainly in their willingness to restrict government and military
actions, given the social reality of widespread support, security
hysteria, lack of any sort of recognition of the humanity and
rights of Palestinians. You can't talk about the courts in a
Mr Pogrund: The two of you represent major Israeli human rights
organizations. How much influence do you think you have in Israeli
Mr Yakir: That's hard to quantify. I think we have a more
important standing vis-a-vis the decision makers, the government.
Both of us regularly testify before Knesset committees, and the
army listens to us. The military advocate-general deemed it
important enough for him to invite both B'Tselem and ACRI to
discuss his policy of not investigating cases of deaths in the
Mr Pogrund: What about the public at large?
Mr Yakir: Much less. The general public is willing to sacrifice
most or all of the human rights of Palestinians in exchange for
some vain promises of security.
Ms Montell: I agree. Our big challenge is to articulate a human
rights message in the face of this security hysteria, to come
forward with the message that not everything is justified in the
name of security, that the whole idea of security has to be
examined - what we mean by it, what's justified, what ultimately is
going to achieve our security - all those questions that are swept
under the carpet in Israeli society.
And we have not been very successful. The past three years have
seen a very big setback, not only in human rights and the suffering
of victims, but also in the Israeli public's understanding of the
importance of human rights.
Ms Abu Dayyeh-Shamas: I'd like to pick up on the court's
sensitivity to public opinion. How can the High Court become
independent of public opinion and government policy? I have
observed the rulings of the High Court vis-a-vis the Palestinians
over the last 10 or 15 years because I also worked for the Quaker
Legal Aid Service, and monitored and discussed these things with
Avigdor Feldman, after ten years of taking cases to the High Court
on behalf of Palestinians.
What's happened is that the High Court has worked more on the
regulations of occupation than on taking decisions of principle
against the occupation. There are always cases that could be
considered precedent setting, and they rework that particular case
rather than coming up with an overall precedent-setting
I recollect the case of Elon Moreh [regarding settlements], which
was a big achievement in those days. It was a decision of principle
by the High Court and, after that, the policy of land confiscation
changed. It begins with military seizure, and is then transformed
for civilian use. Over the years, the High Court has been hesitant
to take precedent-setting positions on matters related to policy.
This is aggravating for human rights activists. Because of the
occupation, the High Court has become more politicized than
principled. Over the years, this has even impacted on the justice
system in Israel.
Mr Kadah: Israeli law, as well as the political side of Israel,
does not recognize that the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East
Jerusalem are occupied territories. Most international law and
conventions are not implemented on those lands, and the Supreme
Court itself does not recognize these territories as being under
occupation, at least in terms of which law is in effect
They recognize the military acts that deal with day-to-day life in
the territories. In East Jerusalem, you have Israeli laws. In the
occupied territories, you have military acts. With this narrow
leeway, you try to get the maximum effect of these laws. In East
Jerusalem, there is a lack of awareness about people's rights under
Israeli law and these are the only laws we can use in court. As an
organization, we work on specific cases, to promote awareness and
to assist as much as possible in the utilization of rights with
regard to the general issues of Israeli law.
Mr Pogrund: How much have human rights within Israeli society
been affected by all of this?
Mr Yakir: It has definitely taken a toll on Israeli society, as
well. The legacy of such a harsh occupation participated in by
thousands of Israelis over the years cannot leave people untouched.
Of course, it's difficult to connect the specific violence that
occurs in Israel to people's experiences in the territories.
Mr Pogrund: You've got many young men involved in a great deal
of violence and brutal behavior. This must have some carry-over
when they shed their uniforms.
Mr Yakir: As far as I know, no. It's hard to make this
connection, although I share your belief that it has this effect.
People who torture others tend to be in denial. They come home and
hug their children as if nothing has happened. So it's difficult to
trace the effects, but my gut feeling is that there are
repercussions on Israelis, and within Israeli society.
Ms Montell: I agree that it's difficult to quantify, yet it's
clear that we pay a price for the occupation and our human rights
violations. But the price is much less tangible than the concrete
benefits of the occupation. First, you have to recognize that
Israel, since the beginning of the occupation, has benefited
tremendously in terms of exploitation of water resources, direct
income from taxes paid by Palestinians and the creation of a cheap
labor market of Palestinian laborers working inside Israel. Since
1967, Israel has exploited extensive territories for settlement
expansion and in other ways. So I don't think you can portray
Israelis simply as victims of their own human rights
But, over the past three years, we have to look at Israelis as
direct victims of human rights violations in the form of suicide
bombings and other attacks on civilians inside Israel. Until the
beginning of this Intifada, it was almost wholly the case that the
human rights victims in this conflict were disproportionately
Palestinians, and that Israelis were reaping the benefits. That's
no longer the case. In many cases, Israelis are also victims of
human rights violations.
Mr Pogrund: How do you react to that, Mohammad and Maha?
Ms Abu Dayyeh-Shamas: I cannot say how it's affecting Israeli
society. I have heard women's organizations talk about increased
Mr Pogrund: Do you work with Israeli organizations?
Ms Abu Dayyeh-Shamas: We have connections.
Mr Pogrund: Has that deepened during the Intifada, or are
there growing distances?
Ms Abu Dayyeh-Shamas: Lately, I think everybody has begun to
realize how dangerous polarized positions are, so there is more of
an attempt to reach out to the other and become more involved in
assisting a political solution that is fair to everybody.
In Israeli society, those who have been affected by committing
violent acts during their military service have managed to find
ways to deal with it psychologically - it was necessary, orders
were given. Human beings have tricks to deal with situations like
that. I don't know how much it affects their lives.
But I think the economic dimension is important, the fact that so
many people have gotten rich out of the occupation. The occupation
is economically beneficial to many layers of Israelis - the VAT,
the wholesale traders. Everything has to be done through Israeli
wholesalers. Whatever little economic basis there was in
Palestinian society has been destroyed over the years.
During the 35 years of occupation, the little industries in Beit
Sahur and Nablus and Hebron were forced to close down. Now, instead
of importing goods to satisfy Israeli society, you have double that
- to support the Palestinian society, as well. So some people are
really getting very rich off the occupation.
And don't forget the developers, those involved in housing, the
architects and engineers. Those behind settlement development have
gotten very rich with government funding. The building industry is
very powerful in Israel.
Exploitation of labor is very damaging on both sides. Even some
Palestinians are involved. They find workers and take a month's
salary for getting an Israeli job permit. And then the worker is
paid less than an equivalent Israeli worker. On the Palestinian
side, this is a very dangerous thing - people exploiting a
difficult situation and becoming rich off it. Women in agriculture
are paid 20 shekels a day. In Jerusalem, someone cleaning houses is
paid 20 shekels an hour.
Mr Pogrund: Mohammad, do you have a view of what has happened
to Israeli society over the past three years in particular?
Mr Kadah: Yes. You can divide Israeli society into three. First
there is what I call an open circle, allowing the occupation of
another people and the violation of their basic rights. A teenager,
a soldier, given the experience of controlling another people, can
find his interior values disturbed. Look at what is happening at
the checkpoints, how some young soldiers, who are terrified, behave
toward the Palestinians. This is one aspect of three years of
Intifada. People are losing some of their basic values.
On the other hand, there are those people who close the circle so
that they can see everything. First, they recognize that they are
occupying another people. Second, they recognize that those people
are not happy about being occupied. Third, they recognize that many
of the rights of those people are being violated. Then they can
close the circle and feel with those people. They can deal with the
other people as human beings. The other major group is living in
denial, saying to themselves, "I don't want to know. I don't want
to think about it."
Mr Pogrund: For Israelis, does the commitment to survive take
precedence over everything? And for Palestinians, does the struggle
for freedom take precedence over everything? Should there be any
red lines about how the other side can be treated? Must a
distinction be drawn between what is expected from the Israeli
state and from the Palestinian non-state?
Ms Montell: For any person committed to human rights, of course
there are red lines, determined by those universal standards that
we think everyone has to respect. Obviously, survival, the right to
life, individually and collectively, is a basic human right that we
all aspire to and have the right to protect. I would argue the same
for the Palestinians. You phrased it as survival and freedom.
Obviously, both are important. The different place each society
finds itself in then determines a difference in emphasis. But for
Palestinians, the struggle for freedom has to be conducted within
the same respect for those red lines of international principles
and moral standards.
Mr Pogrund: Given the unique nature of Jewish history, would
you still say that?
Mr Yakir: Because of the Israeli psyche, maybe because of the
Holocaust, for many Israelis, survival is above everything and
justifies everything. Of course, we in this room do not share such
an opinion. But, because of the Holocaust on the one hand and
suicide bombers on the other, most Israelis are willing to
sacrifice basic human rights and to cross every red line in order
to achieve security and survival.
It's very hard to work in such an environment and to deal with
those fears and those real threats to life and personal security.
But our role is to try to affect the decision makers, the courts,
and Israeli society at large.
Mr Pogrund: Do you come under a lot of attack in Israeli
Mr Yakir: As an organization dealing with the whole range of
human rights and civil liberties, I think it's easier for us to
bring forward the message of the universality of human rights.
Everybody can connect to at least some of the other areas that we
deal with - women's rights, gay rights, freedom of speech, freedom
Through those issues, people can relate more to the message, the
connection between basic Israeli civil liberties and basic
Palestinian human rights. Still, even from our position, it's very
difficult to get the message across.
The horrendous infringement on human rights is a daily situation in
the occupied territories. And it's very hard to generate public
Ms Montell: It's not clear-cut that the legacy of Jewish
history, and the Holocaust specifically, is that fighting for
survival comes regardless of any moral standards. The human rights
movement is the legacy of the Holocaust, and there's no
contradiction between the right to self-defense, the obligation to
protect your citizens, and human rights standards.
I think it was the High Court that said - maybe in a manipulative
context - human rights is not a prescription for suicide. That's
obviously the case. In situations of genuine threat to our
security, the state has the right, and even the duty, to protect
us. It's the legacy of Jewish history that our own security
concerns are manipulated to act as some sort of blank check for all
Israeli government policies, regardless of whether they are
necessary for security.
Mr Pogrund: Are you scorned by many Israelis because of your
Ms Montell: In the current reality where the majority views our
survival as justifying anything, where there is no human face to
Palestinian suffering, no desire to know what the cost is for
Palestinians, it's very difficult to get that message across. It's
clear that we are very marginalized in society now.
Mr Pogrund: On the Palestinian side, does anyone talk about red
lines, or does the struggle for freedom justify anything?
Ms Abu Dayyeh-Shamas: It's more complicated than that.
Survival is not always the issue. It's anger. It's frustration.
It's hopelessness. When you're against the wall, you're bound to do
things without thinking about principles of human rights.
The general attitude is that it serves them right. They kill our
kids and we'll kill theirs. People don't even think that they're
innocent people. It's the anger and the frustration and the sense
of, let them hurt like we hurt.
Mr Pogrund: Are there any voices raised in Palestinian society
objecting to that?
Ms Abu Dayyeh-Shamas: There are a lot of voices, but they can't
come out in public. It's all in closed circles because public
opinion is filled with so much anger and frustration, with innocent
people being killed in the name of Israel's security, without any
repercussions. Everybody just watches.
I have experienced moments of anger when, if I had a gun, I would
have used it. Even the most pacifistic among us can be driven to a
point of real anger. When your own son is humiliated in front of
your eyes, it's not easy to take. In moments like that, you don't
think about human rights and principles and values. Your instincts
take over. And of course, a younger person is more easily driven to
acts of revenge.
I have looked into the background of some of those young people who
have done it, and they are not stupid, nor naïve, nor brutal.
They were known to be intelligent, loving kids, affectionate to
their families. Something else drove them, and I don't think any
systematic study has been undertaken yet about this.
There are people who are ideologically motivated and who were
mobilized for a political end, to destroy an agreement. But a lot
of those kids were going willingly to sacrifice themselves. Life
was not worth living. They were so angry. They think this is the
way to do it. Let the Israelis know what it's like to lose members
of your own for no reason.
This is the general attitude. It's unfortunate that it has reached
this point. Had the rule of law been respected earlier on, maybe we
wouldn't have gone so far into this hellish situation.
Mr Pogrund: What does this do to the Palestinian society of the
Ms Abu Dayyeh-Shamas: You see signs of it in the increased rate
of violence, the loss of faith in any means other than violence.
People say Israeli society reacted only when they started losing
some of their own. The only way is to have gestures from the other
side that they are not going to resort to violence.
But I don't see that coming from the Israelis. What we see is more
walls being built. They tell us they have eased up the roadblocks,
but living here, we know they have not.
Mr Pogrund: You're talking about Palestinian attitudes toward
Israelis. What about inside Palestinian society? As a result of the
occupation, is there any scope for respecting human rights, or is
that pushed aside? Respect for women, for children, for basic civil
Ms Abu Dayyeh-Shamas: It's survival mostly. Take care of your
own, your women and children. You need them to stay healthy to
survive this very difficult situation. In terms of understanding
that this is a human rights principle to respect, I don't know that
people think in those terms. Of course, people freak out and use
violence against their wives and children, given the difficulty of
the situation, the extreme forms of violence - emotional,
psychological and physical - over 35 years.
A huge number of people have been tortured and put in jail. Every
one of us has family members, friends or relatives who have been
through the process. It does something to the psyche of the
community. But the community still feels we can't allow this to get
the better of us. When we have problems of increasing domestic
violence, our means of support is the community itself, and men
within the community. The strong will to survive under difficult
conditions is part of human nature, and I don't think the
Palestinians are any different. Some people are thinking that our
survival as a community might require us to think differently about
Mr Pogrund: That's an interesting point.
Ms Abu Dayyeh-Shamas: That is leading many people to rethink
Mr Pogrund: Last year the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring
Group (PHRMG) was saying a lot about abuses of human rights inside
Ms Montell: I think more of their work is now focusing on
Israel. The Palestinian institutions, certainly in the West Bank,
are barely or not functioning. The PHRMG has done work on the issue
of killing collaborators, which has been a serious internal
Palestinian problem since the beginning of this Intifada.
In general, there has been a collapse of rule of law inside
Palestinian society. The police stations and jails basically no
longer exist and the police force no longer has freedom of movement
within the territories. During parts of this Intifada, the
Palestinian police, or anyone wearing a uniform, were automatically
targeted by Israel. Obviously, that is going to have very dramatic
repercussions on the society as a whole.
Going back to what Maha was talking about, the implications are
staggering for building Palestinian society. Think of the number of
people injured who then required rehabilitation, the children, the
relations between children and their parents and children and their
teachers. You talk about seeing your son humiliated. Think of the
effect of children seeing their parents humiliated, to be afraid of
Israeli bombings knowing that their parents cannot protect them.
How can children be disciplined in schools and at home when they
are the ones confronting the military? It's maybe optimistic to
think about building a free society after occupation, but it's
obviously a staggering project.
Mr Kadah: Pain is the key for crossing red lines. The more you
see the killing of children, prisoners, house demolitions, the
destruction of infrastructure, soldiers and occupation, the more
you feel pain. On the Israeli side, I think the only way they feel
the pain is during the suicide bombings. Maha mentioned that the
suicide bombers are well educated. I think that, subconsciously,
they're trying to bring this pain into Israeli society. When you
are not feeling pain and you are not in danger, you will not act
Ms Abu Dayyeh-Shamas: Going through the checkpoints is an
educational experience every time, observing how people relate to
each other. I was at the Qalandia checkpoint recently, and a
soldier there was searching the bags of little kids and being rough
with them. Then I heard one little kid say, "This is not a life." I
would expect to hear a 50-year-old person say such a thing, but not
an eight-year-old kid. Even in all this turmoil, that stunned me.
You hear this kid saying that, and you think of your own
nine-year-old. What kind of future awaits these kids? And what do
you expect from them?
Mr Pogrund: In South Africa, people became psychopathic killers
because they couldn't care less, there were no jobs, no future and
no economic prosperity.
Ms Montell: One thing about suicide bombers. We cannot leave
the analysis of the phenomenon of suicide bombers only with the
17-year-old boy - or girl now - who turns him or herself into a
bomb. Obviously, our criticism of the soldier at the checkpoint
lies not with the soldier but with the government and the military
establishment. The primary criticism about suicide bombers is
directed not at the boys, but at the people recruiting them and
manipulating them and preparing the explosives.
Ms Abu Dayyeh-Shamas: I agree.
Ms Montell: That's not an issue of personal rage or personal
humiliation. There is obviously no justification. There are much
more cynical, manipulative, political motivations.
Mr Pogrund: Both sides see themselves as victims, and that
gives each side justification for doing terrible things to the
other. The rhetoric is the same. An obvious example is, "they only
understand force," which really means, "we only understand force."
How do we get over the victimhood syndrome that has gripped both
sides, with all the finger pointing and mutual blame?
Mr Kadah: We should recognize that we are all human beings, and
we should treat others according to universal human values. If you
recognize that the other side is human, if you forget the pain and
the past, you will somehow find a common language and a way to
touch the roots of the conflict.
Mr Pogrund: Is that conceivable, given what you were saying
Ms Abu Dayyeh-Shamas: The problem is that the issues are so
painful. We all know what the issues are, but we're too afraid to
confront them. Israel's sense of victimization wasn't created by
the Palestinians - it was inherited from European anti-Semitism and
the Holocaust, and we are paying the price.
The history of the creation of the State of Israel, from the
Palestinian perspective, has caused damage that is also inherited
by generations of Palestinians. What happened in 1948 is a sore
issue with my children, and I never told them what happened to my
parents in 1948. This is something inherited on both sides from
earlier generations' tribulations.
The Israelis have to deal with what they are really afraid of; and
the Palestinians have to deal with what they've inherited and the
current reality. We have to have some sort of resolution to the
difficulties of our existence, and also with the past. We have to
put it behind us one way or the other. Children and grandchildren
keep struggling with this. One Palestinian woman who was born in
America told me, I want to reclaim my parents' history. What does
this mean? How do you translate it?
Mr Yakir: The State of Israel, as the more powerful entity, has
the responsibility to give much more toward a solution. But both
peoples and both governments must try to find a way out of the
Ms Montell: Maha was talking about the need for some sort of
cathartic process, similar to South Africa's, to come to terms with
our histories, both what has been done to us and what we have done
to others. That is obviously necessary here.
That begs the question of how we get there. That's the stage after
a political resolution. The problem that you raise of each of us
feeling that we are the victims and therefore cannot be generous,
make compromises or take risks keeps us in a vicious cycle. We can
see the Promised Land, but don't know how to get there.
I think the majority of Israelis and Palestinians, even with the
major setbacks in trust that we have experienced over the past
three years, still agree on what the goal is. But it's still not at
all clear, even given that agreement, that we know how to get