“My eyes strained to see the arbitrary lines that dictate where life is allowed to be lived and where it is not.” Photo taken on top of Mt. Hermon, 40 km from Damascus. At waste line, you can see a small Druze village located right beyond Israel’s boarder with Syria.
With so much in the air right now, it seems unlikely that writing a single op-ed piece could succeed in shining light on any truth besides the one I struggle to decipher for myself. The past three weeks in Israel have involved a tightrope routine –navigating the murky boundaries between modern Zionist ideology and the pervasive anti-Palestinian sentiment. Life continues to unfold as a series of conversations with the undying humanist alive in my soul.
Three days before, I stood atop Mt. Hermon. My eyes strained to see the arbitrary lines that dictate where life is allowed to be lived and where it is not. On my way to the Hermon, I passed through Majdal Shams, the largest Druze villages in the Golan Heights. Since Israel’s occupation of the Golan from the Six-Day War of June 1967, the people of Majdal Shams have been separated from their Syrian brethren. Although the Israeli government now permits Shams’ citizens to file for Israeli citizenship, the Syrian authorities still consider the villagers to be citizens of Syria. Boarder crossing is permissible, however, sometimes only out of Israel. It is one thing to contest over boarders and land, it is another to contest over people.
For those who have never seen The Syrian Bride (2004), it is a compelling film that tells the story of a woman forced to decide between marriage and the one place she has always known. The filmed was shot in Majdal Shams and offers an authentic view of life for natives in the Golan. A full version of the film is available on youtube and embedded here.
This afternoon I returned for the fourth time to the welcoming village of Kfar Manda. It was here, in the home of my dear friend, with the familiar sting of Arabic coffee in my throat, that I witness the election of Mohammed Morsi. Egypt’s new president marks a great transition as well as trepidation for those who feel threatened by the Muslim Brotherhood. It is important that I write now, though there is only so much I can unpack in one sitting, because tomorrow morning I will leave for three days in Amman, Jordan.
I would like to share some resources related to Israeli and Palestinian-based resistance movements. Though I have not had the opportunity to become an active participant within the resistance movement, I commend those who place themselves at risk in order advocate for the rights of others. In my opinion, this is a subject that requires quite a bit of education before action should be taken (on either side).
Too many times I hear the words “Israeli” and “Jewish” being used synonymously. Israel is not exclusively a Jewish nation and members of many other ethnic, social and religious groups hold citizenship here. I write these words as the sole Jew in Kfar Manda, a village of 15,000+ Muslims. As Avi Melamed explains, “the Arab Israeli conflict is a struggle over narrative –symbols, names, awareness and identity are all central, and of utmost importance. By continuing to allow mistakes and misconceptions to live and evolve on both sides, the conflict perpetuates a process of flawed perceptions and those perceptions become reality.”
This is especially important when long-term conflicts span generations because mistakes become set in collective consciousness and soon are accepted as facts. “And the danger is” Melamed states, “that sometimes there is no desire to change the awareness even when people know it’s wrong. More alarming, the conflict does not just breed this process; it is bred by this process. And thus a vicious cycle is created which is very difficult to break. And the conflict continues and gets worse…”
I was privileged enough to meet Avi and to learn about his mission which reminds the world that “Israel speaks Arabic”. Melamed, an Israeli Jew, is the founder of Feenjan, an organization that addresses the Arab world about Israel using the Arabic language. Feenjan’s goal is to add an Israeli–Jewish voice to the narrative in a balanced, objective way. Feenjan fosters an online community of Israelis and Arabs that communicate with each other, thus contributing towards more understanding and tolerance. As Kurt Tocholsky observed at the time of Nazi Germany, “A country is not only what is does, but also what it tolerates.” Tolerance of a misrepresented narrative is something that I would like to see change in Israel.
It is getting late, though I feel the need to at least mention the work of a young poet and activist named Moriel Rothman. His leftist politics and poetry is accessible via the blog The Leftern Wall. Moriel serves as an advocate for Palestinians who are currently loosing their homes to Israeli zoning laws. Like Moriel, I reject Israeli bulldozers destroying the homes of Palestinians and want to help spread the word. Two days ago there was an important peaceful demonstration in the village of Susya, which the poem below describes. Here are also two pictures posted by participants in the demonstration. Please listen and then follow along to The Leftern Wall to learn more.
For further reading, see ‘I Am an Illegal Alien on My Own Land’ by David Shulman. It is a well written and compelling article –extremely relevant for anyone interested in the current situation of Israeli settlers expropriating Palestinian land. http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2012/jun/28/susya-demolition-israeli-occupation/
Thank you for reading. Please share your response or comments. Perhaps an approach to the question: Where Do I Stand?
Blessings from my journey to the experience of the Human Heart,
Levi Gershkowitz June 24, 2012 Kfar Manda, Israel
Protest in Susya, South Hebron Hills, 22/06/2012. About 350 Palestinian, Israeli and international activists gathered in Susya village to protest against the 56 demolition orders distributed by the Israeli Civic Administration which, if carried out, will destroy the entire village.