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Israeli Jewish hearts under siege

By Rima Merriman
The Jordan Times
2 June 2005

Sponsors of people-to-people encounter programmes that aim to foster
dialogue between the Israelis and Palestinians insist on political
correctness. They demand, absurdly, that no judgements be made, and
that the pain of the occupier and the pain of the occupied be given
equal weight.

But reconciliation between ordinary Jewish Israelis and ordinary
Palestinians in the occupied territories necessitates something that
embodies the negative sense of the word, as in `to cause to submit
to something unpleasant`. And I am not talking about the
Palestinians having to face unpleasant facts dictated by an
imbalance in power.

For reconciliation to have a chance, Israelis must be educated about
the pain of the Palestinians. They must be able to penetrate the fog
of Zionist propaganda in which they are reared, so as to see this
other, whom their country is subjugating, less darkly. In short,
they must submit to something unpleasant, namely, who they really
are and what they have done -- not only now with their land-grabbing
wall and their illegal settlements, but historically as well.

Peace between Israel and the Palestinians still seems as far fetched
as ever, and some people are already wondering if Israel`s colonial
greed, its physical assaults on the Palestinians and its
stranglehold on their livelihoods, both inside and outside Israel,
will ever stop.

`Reconciliation assumes that Israeli Jewish hearts have already been
changed and won,` says Bernard Sabella, executive secretary of the
Department of Services to Palestinian Refugees in Jerusalem.

But Israeli Jewish hearts are far from won. Since the establishment
of Israel as a Jewish state in Palestine, dialogue between Jewish
Israelis and Palestinian Israelis has been cued to one script and
one script only -- the subjugation of Palestinian identity to the
Zionist project, the cultivation and legalisation of an apartheid

Perhaps no other poet expresses Palestinian pain more passionately
or lyrically than Mahmoud Darwish, whose poetry was banned from
Israel and from the occupied territories for nearly thirty years.
When, in March of 2000, an Israeli education minister proposed to
include Darwish`s poetry in a new multicultural literature
curriculum in Israeli high schools, he caused Ehud Barak`s
government to face a political crisis. Israel was not yet ready for
Darwish`s poetry to be taught in the schools.

Israel may never be ready. Oren Ben Dor, a self-described ex-Israeli
and lecturer in law at the University of Southampton in the UK,
wrote in Counterpunch last month: `All my education in Israel was
one sided, treating the Other as the enemy, the murderers, the
rioters, the terrorists -- without alluding, in any way, to their
pains and longings.`

Not only are Israeli students not allowed to empathise with
Palestinian pain, but neither, apparently, are students worldwide.

In May, Israel`s embassy in Oslo expressed `surprise and shock` over
the decision to include, in Norway`s junior high school curriculum,
a poem written by Norwegian author Lillian Schmidt called `Nida Al
Azzais -- a Palestinian pupil`. The poem describes a 14-year-old girl
killed in 2002 by Israeli soldiers in a Bethlehem refugee camp. It
is one among a number of other texts on conflicts and
misunderstandings included in the Norwegian exam curriculum.

ReadWriteThink, a partnership between the International Reading
Association, the National Council of Teachers of English and the
MarcoPolo Education Foundation, featured in its May calendar a
learning activity on the `Modern State of Israel` without,
incredibly, a single mention of the Palestinians whose land this
`modern state` is occupying.

Israel has long depicted Arabs negatively in its curriculum, which
is taught not only to the children of European Jewish immigrants but
also to indigenous Palestinians.

Arabs are `backward, cowards and occupiers of the land of Israel`
(see Arabs in the Israeli Curricula, Middle East Studies Centre,
Jordan). Israeli textbooks deny the historical Muslim presence in
Jerusalem, considering mosques and churches alike as archaeological
interlopers on Jewish ruins.

Darwish, who was educated in Israeli schools on Zionist poetry,
says: `They teach pupils the country (meaning Palestine before the
establishment of the Jewish state) was empty. So when they teach
Palestinian poets, this knowledge is broken: most of my poetry is
about love for my country.`

Born in Birweh (Galilee region) in 1942, Darwish was barred from
reentering Israel after leaving the country on a trip in 1970. His
mother died without him being able to visit her.

Israeli Jewish hearts are under siege. `This siege will persist
until we teach our enemies models of our finest poetry,` writes
Darwish in `A State of Siege`.

I offer an excerpt of Darwish`s poem, if not Lillian Schmidt`s, as a

`A woman said to a cloud: cover my dear one,

for my clothes are wet with his blood.

If you are not rain, o dear one,

then be a tree,

fertile and verdant. Be a tree.

And if not a tree, o dear one

be a stone

laden with dew. Be a stone.

And if not a stone, o dear one,

be the moon itself

in the dreams of she who loves you. Be the moon itself.

[thus a woman said to her son, in his funeral]`
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