Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Efrata - The Other Side

I’m very aware that there is a real danger of only hearing one side of things, so I’m really pleased that this morning we’re off to a settlement to meet a settler and hear his side of the story.

The previous settlement, Ma'ale Adumim, which we had visited en route to Beit Arabia, was something akin to Milton Keynes and our Israeli guide had told us that for most people living there, although the town had been built within the occupied Palestinian Territory, the motivation was financial and aspirational rather than political or ideological. Nice housing, zero percent mortgages, good schools and excellent civic amenities providing inducements of a better life for you and your family.

AG our host explains how for his family and his neighbours in the Orthodox settlement of Efr@ta, the motivation is far more cognitively about a Zionist dream and a clear belief that the Jewish people have a claim to the land.

Born and brought up in the US, AG and his wife moved out to Israel around 26 years ago and took a deliberate decision to live in an Israeli settlement within the Occupied (or as he puts it “Disputed”) Territories. He self-describes as religiously observant and politically centre-right, not an extremist by any stretch, but a definite supporter of the claim of a right to a Jewish state stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. He serves as some sort of spokesman, designated to speak to groups like ours.

It was a privilege to be welcomed into the synagogue and to hear him speak of his passion for the Jewish state and his dream. Clearly he felt a deep, deep ‘right’ to the land, stretching back 2000 years and I wish he would have elaborated and expanded on that more, rather than concentrate rather on citing his reasons for rejecting the Palestinian counter-claims (it was a bit like listening to an opposition party politician that can only rubbish the government’s policies, rather than set-out their own policies).

What was clear though was that given his intent to dwell in the land, security was his biggest concern and it is perhaps too easy to underestimate the impact waves of terrorist attacks have had.

He spoke about how in the past he and other settlers had attempted meetings with local Palestinians in an attempt to work on how they could live alongside each other. Apparently these meetings ceased when the Palestinians felt unable to host alternate meetings on their ‘home turf’ as they couldn’t guarantee safety for the settlers. You could see how deep this issue went as AG forceable emphasised this issue “see that’s ultimately the issue, ‘they’ can’t guarantee our security”.

Similarly, he told us that he had in past years had what he considered a Palestinian friend, a car dealer, who he bought his cars from. It transpired that the relationship had floundered as the divisions between the two societies here were formally increased and that now the situation was such that he and other settlers had very, very little interaction with any Palestinians.

It always seems to me that when two camps are in conflict with each other, it is far harder for any individual in one to camp to paint the “others” as “monsters” (either way), if there are personal relationships that challenge that mindset. It’s harder to maintain the cognitive dissonance of “those people” are inherently bad, deviant, dangerous, stupid if you play in the schoolyard, sit alongside in the café, work at the next-door workstation, buy papers at the same newsagents, smoke outside the same doorways, wash clothes in the same launderette etc.

The current reality is that these relationships are now impossible and I can’t help feeling that much hope is lost as a result.

AG asserts that “I accept of course that not all Palestinians are terrorists, but at the same time all terrorists are Palestinians”.

Presumably Baruch Goldstein who opened fire in the Ibrihimi Mosque in Hebron, killing 29 Arab Muslims and wounding 150 more, is what? A freedom fighter?

And this is the fundamental problem, I’ve done enough reading, seen enough, heard enough to be able to pick hole after hole in his arguments.

The logic he does come up with is thin, even petty at times and ultimately I fear it does little to convince any of us of his cause.

I’m frustrated. I want to hear both sides. Is this the best counter-argument there is?

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