A new generation is stepping forward – help us build Partners to Peace

Jonty Leibowitz

Young Brits, Israelis and Palestinians are no longer willing to watch an older generation lead us down a path of violence, polarisation and a stalled peace process. The time for action has come.

The recent passing of Shimon Peres reminds us that we are further away from peace than we have been in any of our lifetimes. In the two decades since he last served as Prime Minister, it has become more difficult than ever before to see an end to the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.

A whole generation has grown up in a climate of mutual fear and suspicion, without any real concept of what a stable outcome could be. The politics of division have sown themselves deep; so much so that both sides in the conflict are no longer even encouraged to try to understand one another. Only last week, four Palestinians were arrested by the PA for attending a Jewish Sukkot celebration. In Israel, most Jewish children grow up knowing very few Arabs, if any. The result is a lack of trust and communication on both sides.

It is into this space that Yachad Youth are launching our Partners to Peace Campaign. Over thirty students from across the UK are coming together, raising money and awareness for the Holy Land Trust, a Palestinian NGO based in Bethlehem. We have chosen the Trust because we saw their work firsthand in September, during the 2016 Yachad Student Trip to Israel & the West Bank.

On the trip, we saw time and time again the impact that generations of conflict has on young people across the region. They have grown up knowing only bombs, guns and a life of conflict – making ‘peace’ seem remote and alien. Whether it’s Israelis who only know Palestinians as terrorists, or young Palestinians who associate all Israelis with the IDF, the consequence is a culture of violence and fear.

The Holy Land Trust seeks to remedy this divide. Working in Bethlehem, the Trust empowers Palestinian young people and encourages them away from violence. We are seeking to raise £8000, which will help fund long-term educational programmes that teach Palestinian young people non-violent methods of change and build critical leadership skills.

The reason behind choosing such a programme is clear: it is by training a new generation of leaders to turn away from the violence of the last generation that we can find hope of a peaceful solution. As young British Jews, we want to see a thriving Israel and a stable, secure Palestine, and know that this yearning is deep in the heart of most in the region. Yet, too often, the debate in Britain about what we can do to help has been stale. We hope that, by launching this project, we can begin to change the conversation.

Partners to Peace stands in a proud lineage of young British Jews working energetically to refashion our community. Since 2011, Yachad Youth has been a tireless voice for young progressive Zionists in the Anglo-Jewish community. We draw on our experiences from across the Jewish community, from our synagogues and Youth Movements. From Youth Movement Workers and Israel Tour leaders to 17 year olds staffing summer camp for the first time, building a network of young people helps us to maximise influence. We seek to harness the fire and dedication of young British Jews, eager to forge new possibilities in the British conversation about Israel. Partners to Peace is the product of this passionate energy, fuelled by a team of volunteers who believe that the time to take action must be now.

Too many children are growing up with a polarised view of the Israel-Palestine conflict. In the schools and homes of Jerusalem, Ramallah and even Pinner the story is one of polarisation and blaming the ‘other side’. Yet now is the time to build bridges between our communities, rather than embellish the politics of division. Partners to Peace is based on the recognition that we all want a peaceful resolution to the conflict, and that this can only be achieved by cooperation and collaboration. The Holy Land Trust exemplifies the sort of Israel & Palestine we want to forge, and British Jews must reach out to this extended arm of friendship.

We are aiming to raise £8000, but more fundamentally we want to fire the starting gun for a new type of conversation; one which recognises that partnership is our best route to peace and stability. We need each and every one of you to take this message of nonviolence and solidarity back to your communities, schools, synagogues and campuses. Follow us on social media, donate via our webpage, share our articles. Email your shul or school, and get in touch with us to find out how you can play your part.

Our generation could be the ones to end this bloody conflict. We have the will, strength and resolve to reject the years of violence, and seek something better. Join us to help begin the peace process anew.

Violence and Moderation in the Tug of War

Aaron Simons

Yet another wave of violence engulfs Israel and the Palestinian territories. The illusion of peace has been shattered once more, although perhaps the only surprise is that the illusion existed in the first place.

A peaceful resolution to the conflict looks further away than ever. Oslo seems dead and buried. Netanyahu and Abbas appear more interested in preserving personal power than in helping their people.

The effects of violence run far deeper than the immediate tragedy. The widespread broadcast of brutal and evocative violence pushes the conflict into ever widening polarities, cementing rival narratives and creating opposing camps unable to engage with or even comprehend the viewpoint of the other.

The two narratives are obvious to anyone who dares trawl through their facebook or twitter feed. The typical pro-Israel narrative holds that Palestinians are addicted to violence, that Israel will never be safe, that Israel is the victim of Islamic extremism on its doorstep, and that the occupation remains a security necessity. The opposing pro-Palestinian narrative sees the IDF as willing murderers, the stabbings a cry of help against endless oppression, and Israel as a country engulfed by anti-Arab racism.

As long as the narratives remain entrenched, neither progress nor peace will come. Each narrative inoculates its side against the suffering of the other, unable to see, and unwilling to look. So long as each side remains encamped in its own worldview, Israelis and their advocates will never even begin to understand what it is like to live under occupation, and Palestinians and their advocates will never empathise with the all-encompassing fear that keeps Israelis inside their homes, terrified of walking to the shops and being stabbed in the back.

Genuine debate between the two narratives is sparse, if it exists at all. All too often, anything labelled ‘debate’ descends into an extravagant shouting match of repetition and avoidance. Neither side engages but both fire away, shouting the same phrases over and over again. When someone mentions the Israeli fear of being stabbed, someone else mentions the Palestinian fear of being shot, unable to comprehend that both are real and not a counterweight to the other. One side shouts incitement, the other shouts settlements. Both exist, but neither side cares if it the point doesn’t fit into their predetermined perspective. The Israeli-Palestinian debate is like trying to untie a knot through a game of Tug of War.

The effect of violence is to catalyse this process and drive each narrative further and further away. In the drama of heart-wrenching violence, both sides close ranks, unwilling to cede any political territory to the other. This is hardly surprising – it would be unhuman to not be affected by this violence. Spasms of grief close minds to reflection. Attitudes harden, and whatever remained of open discussion becomes angry and emotive polemic. In the game of Tug of War, violence just makes both sides pull harder.

Good people become racists when ethnic conflict causes innocent people to die. Violence like this is an extreme act, so it should be no surprise when it produces extreme opinions. When the path to peace requires each side to humanise the other, acts of violence only serve to dehumanise.

Even conciliatory opinions espoused by usually moderate journalists disappear when lives are on the line. It’s only natural. Why would one lend an ear to an opinion shared by a murderer? This is the final effect of violence. It firmly delineates both sides, and two peoples become entrenched in even deeper opposition, pushed into increasingly intractable polarities.

Social media inflames it all. Videos of violence are provided with no context, creating an analytical vacuum which radicalises pre-existing perspectives. If you were pro-Palestinian but didn’t think the IDF were heartless murderers, you’ll think exactly that after seeing this context free video of a Palestinian child bleeding on the ground. If you were pro-Israel but sought to understand the Palestinian plight, you sure as hell won’t bother understanding any more after watching this video of a meat cleaver being plunged into a Rabbi’s chest.

Violence’s final effect is its ultimate tragedy. Violence drives each side further and further apart, when peace will only come when both sides meet in the middle. And as violence increases this distance between Israelis and Palestinians, violence itself becomes even more likely, in an endless spiral of blood.

I want to end this piece with a call for understanding, a call for empathy, and a call for moderation. But I understand, amongst all the violence, if people won’t listen.

Newton’s Third Law of Palestinian Stabbings

Aaron Simons

Where there is an action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

This has been the line taken in a series of op-eds on the recent wave of violence in Israel and Palestine. Many of them say the same thing over and over again: Palestinian violence is the inevitable response to the occupation.

Gideon Levy wrote Even Gandhi Would Understand the Palestinians’ Violence. In the Guardian, Marwan Barghouti argued There will be no peace until Israel’s occupation of Palestine ends, whilst Mairav Zonszein opined that Israel’s domination of Palestinians makes violence inevitable. In September, Samah Salaime asked Why do they throw stones? The answer, of course, is the occupation.

It seems like an obvious point. The Palestinians live under a violent occupation. Many live in refugee camps, with little or no basic rights. Jewish settlements in the West Bank proliferate. Settlers and Palestinians are treated under two different legal systems. Settler violence is often ignored, whilst snipers are used against stone-throwing Palestinian children, who are then tried in military courts.  The settlers have vastly more rights and resources than the Palestinians. Is violent resistance any surprise as the occupation nears its 50 year anniversary?

Yet this point is often lost; the occupation is often ignored. Palestinian violence is seen as the product of incitement and incitement alone, in a sort of Jew vs Arab clash of civilisations. It’s easier to pretend not to see the occupation and to portray the Palestinians as an implacable enemy, as this allows for the avoidance of any degree of self-reflection, or recognition of Israel’s role in perpetuating the conflict.

But pieces such as Barghouti’s and Levy’s do more than just explain Palestinian violence in the context of the occupation. Explanation moves quickly into justification.

In many of these op-eds, it follows that if one recognises that the occupation is the core motive behind the stabbings, then terrorism is merely a functional response.   Terrorism is not condemned, but rather seen as the inevitable output of the structural logic of the occupation.

It’s Newton’s third law of Palestinian stabbings. The occupation is the action, terrorism is the reaction. Nothing else occurs within this logic, and no other causes of violence are deemed important.

This neutral functionalism, where the terrorist is solely and exclusively the product of occupation, absolves the terrorist from any moral judgement. Occupation and terrorism is understood exclusively as action and reaction and nothing more. Under this argument, it doesn’t make sense to condemn a causal inevitability. The terrorist is not condemned for murder in the same way that a balloon isn’t condemned for popping under pressure. Both are the inevitable reaction to the initial action.

This argument goes further. Under this logic, the blame for violence shifts to what is perceived as the root cause. What this means, quite literally, is that it is Netanyahu’s fault that there are stabbings in Tel Aviv. If Netanyahu creates occupation, and occupation creates terrorism, then under Newton’s third law it follows that terrorism is Netanyahu’s fault. Zonszein writes “This current round of violence… is a direct result of government policy”.

And if one thinks the occupation is wrong, then following this functional logic, ultimately terrorism is justified as a form of opposition to it. If not justification, there is sympathy for those carrying out the stabbings. At the very least, the terrorist is blameless. All these arguments have been made explicitly and implicitly in discussion of Palestinian terrorism on social media and in the wider press.

But Newton was a physicist. Not a political theorist, not a sociologist. It is a complete and utter fallacy to reduce Palestinian terrorism to such a simple and monocausal explanation.

Palestinian terrorists are not merely physical objects in the Newtonian world of action and reaction. A terrorist has moral agency.  The terrorist who picks up a screwdriver and stabs five Israelis in Tel Aviv has made an explicit choice to do so. Zonszein reduces the Palestinian terrorist to the “noble savage”; unthinking, unchoosing, and unaccountable for his or her actions. It is only by the Newtonian logic of the noble savage that Zonszein can dismiss the agency of the terrorist, and make Netanyahu directly to blame, rather than the actual perpetrator of the attack.

Yes, the occupation is the central cause of terrorism. But it is also not the only cause. This most recent wave of violence was triggered by the (false) rumour that Israel was planning on changing the status quo on Temple Mount. And that’s to say nothing of brutal and violent incitement. Say, for example, Hamas creating handy ‘how to stab’ videos. Or the Gaza Imam commanding Palestinians to form stabbing squads in a terrifying sermon given last Friday.

Commentators like Levy also seem unable, or simply think it’s irrelevant, to differentiate between just cause and just method. Opposing the occupation is just. Using terrorism as a method is not. But again, all this is lost when terrorism is reduced to nothing more than inevitable reaction to occupation, where Palestinians are conceived of as an unthinking mass, for whom violence is the only way.

Contextualising Palestinian violence in opposition to the occupation is important. But it should never mean reducing terrorism to this logic of inevitability, where the terrorists are blameless or their actions justified. There are indiscriminate stabbings, shootings, and car rammings of civilians on Israel’s streets. Newton’s law just won’t cut it here.