The other night, when I was coming back to Tel Aviv after spending nearly two weeks in Occupied Palestine, I fell asleep on the bus. When I woke up I was underneath the overpass next to Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station. In my exhausted state, I thought that the column of the overpass was the base of one of the many watchtower throughout the Occupied West Bank — I was carrying the occupation into Tel Aviv.
While some of the most active human rights activists and Palestinian supporters live in Tel Aviv, the majority of people live isolated intellectually as well as physically from the situation in Occupied Palestine — that is the point of Tel Aviv — to feel normal, to be isolated, to enjoy human rights like art and culture, drink and dance. I myself did this for a number of years, due to a desire to know a “normal” Israel. However, since I started engaging the occupation and traveling to the Occupied Palestinian Territories three months ago, I’ve found it very challenging to move between the near ghetto that we have created in the West Bank and Tel Aviv without saying something.
When I come back, I feel a responsibility to engage my Tel Avivian friends, who rarely think about or discuss the conflict — I must bring the occupation to Tel Aviv, confront the Tel Avivians. At the same time, I know that it has to be done gently. In order to have an open constructive dialogue, I have to be thoughtful about how I engage my friends and neighbors. One example of this, is using art.
In this post, I want to share with you a photograph recently taken by Ben Kelmer, an Israeli photojournalist, in al-Arakib (August 4, 2010), the day the Israeli Land Administration, came to the village for the second time in a week and destroyed the temporary homes (why? read here) — which were built in solidarity with Jewish – Israelis (If you don’t know about this issue, you can view this video which was released the same day that the re-demolition happened).
In order to create an opportunity to discuss the occupation with a friend of mine from Tel Aviv, I shared this photograph with him. In a short analysis of our chat conversation, I try to show how a structure created and reinforced by politicians, the media and other powerful actors creates and uses fear — typically attributed to Hamas — to justify violence and make the population compliant with the occupation.
Resident of al-Arakib next to home rebuilt with aid from Jewish – Israelis and redestroyed by the Israeli Land Administration by Ben Kelmer, August 4, 2010
This conversation, like many others I’ve had, reveals how perceived threats and fear result in disengagement with the conflict and compliance with the occupation. The photograph, which can be interpreted in many ways, creates a space for us to have dialogue about violence indirectly.
After my friend agrees to have a conversation with me about the photograph, he looks at the photograph and immediately connects to the human struggle. He says, “It shows the hell and heaven living together in this woman’s life”. Knowing that this woman has just seen her home demolished by the Israeli government a second time, he tries to ease his pain and guilt by saying, “It seems she is happy at this point when the pic was shot, because she knows this is how it goes, it’s a hard life.” Thus, in order to affirm his lack of responsibility, he frames her life as a victim of a force that cannot be changed, she becomes a bi-standard in a life that is predetermined to be horrific or “hard” as he puts it.
In order to blame someone for the pain he sees, he starts arguing that I am biased and demonizing Israel. ”What bothers me is that you only show the weak side, which is the Palestinians…[Israel] has to sacrifice in this situation and prove to the world that its not its fault.” I remind him that this woman is a Bedouin, who lives in the Negev (not a Palestinian) and ask him, “Who is responsible for this?”
Even though I provide him with an answer, the Israeli Land Administration — the Israeli government — he continues to evade my question and starts to de legitimize my choice to write about the oppressed. He does this in two ways that journalists will be familiar with: one by telling me that a good journalist doesn’t take sides — a good journalist is “balanced,” “objective” and must remain neutral (or silent), two because I haven’t lived here long enough.
When we start to go into the history of the conflict, using the “facts” that he so desired, he tries to use the “let’s agree to disagree” card to end the conversation. I ask him as a friend to continue in dialogue with me, and to know that this conversation is framed to be a win-win situation for us both — it’s about listening to each other not about solving or conquering.
Once we regain common ground, he engages again in dialogue and admits that sometimes Israel is wrong. He also opens up and speaks about how he personally did not want to go to the army “to kill people” but justifies this act because he needed to protect his home. This thinking shows how Israelis view service in the army as a the solution to their fears — a way to feel secure.
However, the army and the army spokespeople are responsible for creating a perceived connection between fear and military service — protection and “legitimate” violence. Hence, I ask him what is the connection between protecting your family, home and the army? “Is it possible that you could protect your home better by listening to people, forgiving and building trust with your enemy?”
And then we arrive at the most common site of legitimate fear Israelis can articulate — Hamas. ”As long as the Hamas is there, Israel will never help [the Palestinians],” he says. According to him, Israel wants to talk to Hamas, they are just waiting for Hamas to change. This puts the responsibility in the hands of Hamas — not in the European Union, the United States or Israel which declared Hamas a terrorist organization and ended all dialogue with the organization. While my friend acknowledges that the seige is created to communicate how strong Israel is, he isn’t able to acknowledge that Israel doesn’t want to open dialogue with Hamas. Instead, as I try to explain to him, Hamas is used as a legitimate excuse to keep people scared, to keep them complicit and continue accepting of the seige and the occupation.
This is the end of our conversation, which starts with a photograph of physical violence and ends in a discussion about the subtle violence of politics and rhetoric — the violence that is created and amplified in order to make the population fearful and compliant with further human rights violations and violent acts (Lisa Wedeen, “Ambiguities of Domination”). In addition to traveling to the Occupied Palestinian Territories and demonstrating amongst supporters, we must also struggle against the occupation in our minds — we must speak with people that we don’t agree with and bring our anti-Occupation work to the Tel Avivians if we ever hope to see the end of it.
me: I have a picture I want to show you and I want to know what you think. Interested?
After seeing picture.
Friend: it is very symbolized
me: in what ways? what does it remind you of
Friend: it shows the hell and heaven living together in this woman’s life
me: oo i like that interpretation. i like that it’s in black in white–it reminds me of the connection of this moment to history, how many times this moment has been experienced
Friend: it seems she is happy at this point when the pic was shot, because she knows this is how it goes, it’s a hard life
me: and some how she smiles.
Friend: yes that’s the whole point
Who is Responsible?
Friend: yes but showing one image make people believe that all Arabs in Israel are suffering and it makes Israel looks liked its blamed while it really has to sacrifice in this situation and prove to the world that its not its fault
me: Who is responsible for this?
the Land Administration, a government organization
our Israeli government
Friend: As i said you don’t live here long enough to understand all history that is responsible for this shit
but you should not blame Israel
This situation is existed even before Israel was announce as an independent country
me: Yes, these villages existed before
and colonization existed before Israel
This is Just One Side
Friend: What bothers me is that you only show the weak side, which is the Palestinians
You need also to show the hard side of Israel
to remain balanced
and not take one side or opinion, it will make you a better journalist to be objective
at this point its very clear you are totally subjective
this makes all the world watch the reality and judge it, you need observe and not to take a side if you work for the press
me: not necessarily, i think this perception of a need to be objective has to change.
Friend: its a choice
me: no, it’s impossible to be objective. you can strive to be, but you will never be purely objective.
i should not listen to two sides and pick one
me: i should listen to many sides and create places for dialogue
Friend: the media need to show all facts and not be a part of it
me: there is no such thing as facts
“facts” are created and defined by the media
as well as the people
there are several groups that make something “true” or “fact”
Making a Change, Accepting Some Responsibility?
Friend: ok i dont want to get into this again
we wont agree
but its ok
me: well it’s important to discuss
this is the way to make a change, it is to talk with your friends
i’m trying to share something with you, and you me — you don’t have to be fearful that we won’t agree
perhaps just being thoughtful and learning from each other is enough.
Friend: i understand you side
which is very important
i’m not saying that Israelis are innocent
me: yes, that is good. we must accept responsibility
Friend: i really don’t say it
me: no one is purely innocent.
Friend: i even didnt want to go to the army
to kill people
i know where is my home
and i need to protect my home
me: well what does the army and killing people have to do with protecting your home?
Is it possible that you could protect your home better by listening to people, forgiving, building trust with your enemy?
Friend: this wasnt what i said
Israel in one hand need to protect itself and from the other hand need to help these people rebuild themselves and live like normal people
The Problem Is Hamas, God and Fear
Friend: the biggest problem Israel is facing is Gaza, which is controled by Hamas
And as long as the Hamas is there
Israel will never help them
Once Israel will see someone that they can have a dialog they will do it
me: I wish that were true
I dream that some day
we will come to that place
but I think that today, we don’t have a leader that wants real dialogue
he wants to say he tried
but creating a space for dialogue is not what’s important to him
Friend: Israel see everything
they just ignore
me: no one can see everything
and we can’t see god
Friend: I never said Israel doing good things here
god isn’t here, this is the issue
The issue here is that Israel want to show the world that she is powerful
me: The Israeli government doesn’t want only to show the world, but Israeli population as well — we need to be fearful and have our material comforts, or else we won’t comply with the status-quo.
So tragedies like the flotilla, become opportunities to scare the local population, and cry to the world that they came to harm us so we had to respond with disproportionate violence.
A long pause.
Me: so much in a picture :)
Alison Avigayil Ramer is a writer, independent journalist and new media consultant who specializes in using the internet to engage people in peaceful political dialogue. If you would like to hire Alison for consulting or donate to her efforts you can send a donation to her through paypal.
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