Home > Jerusalem, Suppression of Dissent > Waving the flag of humanism at Sheikh Jarrah

Waving the flag of humanism at Sheikh Jarrah

The sustained protests, against the settlement of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and the attendant eviction of Palestinian families, have been widely applauded.  However, they have also elicited some fierce push-back. Notably, these have not come only from government and right-wing elements, but also from members of the old “peace camp.” When hearing criticism from this quarter, one is hard pressed to escape the impression that it is motivated by embarrassment. These youngsters, with virtually no resources, have pulled-off what seemed like mission impossible over the past decade: Effective mobilization of an anti-Occupation movement.

Case in point: After the success of the March 6 2010 rally at the neighborhood — which, with over 3,000 participants, could not be ignored — a number of these stalwarts of the demonstrations of 1980’s took turns slamming the absence of the Israeli flag. Recently, Nili Osherov, and Israeli editor and satirist, explained in Ynet [full translation at bottom] that this demand was a recipe for continued paralysis and that the protest leaders had a better sense of today’s reality than their critics.

I have a clear answer why the Israeli flag has not been waved there, and it has one word: tact. Sheikh Jarrah, just like the nonviolent protests at Bil’in and Ni’lin, just like organizations such as Breaking the Silence and Combatants for Peace, are part of a process being led by young Israelis today (and other young people like them on the Palestinian side), that could be the start of the end of the violent conflict in our area.

I have a clear answer why the Israeli flag has not been waved there, and it has one word: tact. Sheikh Jarrah, just like the nonviolent protests at Bil’in and Ni’lin, just like organizations such as Breaking the Silence and Combatants for Peace, are part of a process being led by young Israelis today (and other young people like them on the Palestinian side), that could be the start of the end of the violent conflict in our area. […]

These young people understand that the endless cycle of violence created by the “kill or be killed” mentality has to simply be severed. Sheikh Jarrah is a symbol to them, a sort of a local “committee of truth and reconciliation,” from which more committees may grow in more and more places. They are neither fanatics nor blind. They know this is not a one-sided story of perpetrators and victims. They are not blaming the forefathers of Zionism, the founders of Israel nor — thank God — us, their parents, for everything.

But in the present situation, in the current balance of power between us and the Palestinians, they understand who is the weak side and who is obligated to show generosity, concessions and the willingness to swallow their pride and national honor. The Israeli flags seen today in Sheikh Jarrah are the ones waved defiantly on the homes of the settlers who heartlessly took over the Palestinian homes. […]

Their choice to stay here and to fight an almost hopeless battle for the values of peace and humanism is commendable. Sometimes I want to ask their forgiveness for the impossible country we gave them. They do not have to wave the Israeli flag anywhere. Each one of them is to me a waving flag of humanism, compassion and true loyalty to their country and people. “To the glory of the state of Israel” — nobody deserves that phrase more than they do, even if it gives them the creeps.

Reporting on the suppression of the protest on Friday (April 9 2010), Bernard Avishai makes a mockery of any attempt to label the protesters as radicals.

The organizers of the weekly Sheikh Jarrah demonstrations are a loose, but hardly amorphous, group; no formal hierarchy, but rather a network of perhaps a dozen thirty-somethings, as closely knit as a basketball team. The ones who more or less act as the point guards are graduate students who’ve gone to school in America and have come back — Assaf Sharon from Stanford, Avner Inbar from the University of Chicago — to write theses in political philosophy. Instead, they are now practicing political philosophy. The oldest in the group, Dr. Amos Goldberg, is a Hebrew University teaching fellow in Holocaust Studies (and a former graduate student of my wife, Sidra).

Almost none in the group, I hasten to add, are leftists in the ordinary sense. Assaf and Amos are the products of the National Religious Party youth movement, Bnei Akiva, and came by their skepticism honestly. Another, Sara Benninga, is the daughter of a distinguished Tel Aviv University business professor. Most came to this issue because it could simply not be ignored. Little by little, they are becoming radicals of democratic globalism.

—-

Tact in Sheikh Jarrah

The Sheikh Jarrah demonstrators are criticized from the right and the left over the absence of Israeli flags at their demonstrations. But when you look at their considerations they are commendable.

Nili Osherov, Ynet, April 3 2010 [Hebrew original here]

“Why don’t you wave the Israeli flag?” the Sheikh Jarrah demonstrators are challenged again and again. The right wing in all of its stripes sees it as further proof of the separatism, alienation and self-hate with which the radical left is inflicted. The new Israeli left (or in a word, the right) begs: “Please wave it. Sheikh Jarrah is a good ‘case’ that could win the sympathy of the Israeli public. If only you waved the Israeli flag the whole nation would be with you.”Is that wise advice? I am afraid that the left of Sheikh Jarrah will not sweep up the Israeli nation even if it wraps itself in national flags from head to toe and decorates itself with pictures of Israel’s chiefs of staff and presidents through the ages. If the left wants the sympathy of the people of Israel I would recommend it wave slogans such as “Jerusalem is our united capital for ever and ever” or “death to the Arabs.” That would do the job better.

But since I was there, and since I know the people well enough to draw a typical profile of a Sheikh Jarrah demonstrator defined as a radical left wing activist (or simply: the true left), I have a clear answer why the Israeli flag has not been waved there, and it has one word: tact. Sheikh Jarrah, just like the nonviolent protests at Bil’in and Ni’lin, just like organizations such as Breaking the Silence and Combatants for Peace, are part of a process being led by young Israelis today (and other young people like them on the Palestinian side), that could be the start of the end of the violent conflict in our area.

I call these young people part of the “generation of confusion.” On the one hand, they were raised on the accepted Zionist ethos that still reigns almost exclusively in the education system, and upon which my generation was also raised of course, and which we received directly from our parents who survived the Holocaust and founded Israel. On the other hand, they began hearing, whether at home or in other social and educational settings, other alternatives to the Zionist narrative.

And on yet the other hand, growing up between two intifadas and exploding buses contributed to further demonizing the Palestinians. And all this came in the context of the continuing occupation and the active role they were forced to play in it as soldiers-storm troopers, which aroused their feelings of revulsion and the sense of urgency to end it (without even asking who started and why).

A hopeless war over values

Out of that confusion is rising, amazingly although still tentatively and quietly, a movement of repair and reconciliation. These young people understand that the endless cycle of violence created by the “kill or be killed” mentality has to simply be severed. Sheikh Jarrah is a symbol to them, a sort of a local “committee of truth and reconciliation,” from which more committees may grow in more and more places. They are neither fanatics nor blind. They know this is not a one-sided story of perpetrators and victims. They are not blaming the forefathers of Zionism, the founders of Israel nor — thank God — us, their parents, for everything.

But in the present situation, in the current balance of power between us and the Palestinians, they understand who is the weak side and who is obligated to show generosity, concessions and the willingness to swallow their pride and national honor. The Israeli flags seen today in Sheikh Jarrah are the ones waved defiantly on the homes of the settlers who heartlessly took over the Palestinian homes.

Therefore, when the left wing demonstrators come to Sheikh Jarrah, to the place that symbolizes the continuing injustice to the Palestinians, they have a minimum measure of tact, that quality that does not necessarily characterize the common Israeli, not to wave in the faces of their partners the Israeli flag, that so completely represents the Zionist ethos.

These young people understand that today the Palestinians are the weak and victimized side (despite the terror attacks and the Qassam rockets) whereas the strong and sovereign state of Israel has the power. Therefore if they really want to repair, they must play down symbols of power and injustice such as the flag, even if it also symbolizes to them and to their people a luminous side of a glorious national and cultural heritage.

For the humanist secular young person today Israel is a scary place. The religious-messianic childbearing policy of the religious-right wing-Orthodox public, which is completely disconnected from any rational consideration of personal resources or national or natural resources, is going to turn this group of young people within a few years into a minority that will collapse under the economic burden. Simultaneously, the rise of fanaticism and nationalism as a result of the same demographic trend will make ending the conflict even harder.

Their choice to stay here and to fight an almost hopeless battle for the values of peace and humanism is commendable. Sometimes I want to ask their forgiveness for the impossible country we gave them. They do not have to wave the Israeli flag anywhere. Each one of them is to me a waving flag of humanism, compassion and true loyalty to their country and people. “To the glory of the state of Israel” — nobody deserves that phrase more than they do, even if it gives them the creeps.

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  1. April 13, 2010 at 18:19
  2. April 20, 2010 at 16:59

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