EW ran a feature on LCC’s “Creativity for Peace” program Oct. 17, including a photo of Israeli and Palestinian exchange students smiling happily in a semi-hug. It looked benign and hopeful. Until one looks more closely. The headline read, “Peacemakers: LCC Students from Israel and Palestine.” The story described how two young women from “opposite sides of a conflict” are being prepared “to pave the way for peace in their communities and across borders.” Unfortunately, this introduction seriously misrepresents the reality of the Israel/Palestine relationship.
Numerous community and high school presentations about “honest dialogue” are anticipated. We hope our young visitors enjoy Oregon, its old-growth forests, waterfalls and scenic coastline as well as their educational experience here, but we have serious concerns about the honesty, integrity and teaching value of this program for either U.S. audiences or the young women themselves. Their civic responsibilities when returning home are important to us all, since EU surveys rate Israel the #1 threat to world peace and Israel is the #1 recipient of U.S. foreign aid. Considering these high stakes, our doubts deserve a hearing.
First of all, historic Palestine has long been reduced to a non-self-governing territory under military occupation by Israel. Israel has never declared its borders (the world’s only country not to do so) but intrudes constantly and at will across the recognized borders of Palestine as part of its occupation and blockade. An honest headline of educational value would have read “LCC Students from Israel and Israeli-occupied Palestine.”
Given that introduction, the photo of two smiling girls demonstrating apparent affection might have appeared incongruous, especially given that the Israeli member of the pair, Yaara, has served in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) that subjects the land and people represented by Deema to brutal occupation, dispossession, arbitrary imprisonment with routine torture, military incursions and attacks, extrajudicial executions, an inhumane blockade called “the world’s largest open-air prison,” segregation into bantustans separated by Jewish-only roads and a massive wall slashing across their communities, and collective punishments that violate the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel’s maps of itself, in fact, show the West Bank and Gaza as part of Israel, demarcated by dotted lines denoting a temporary status and described as “areas for which there are no data.”
In short, there is no Palestine in the Israeli worldview, just “Arabs” who are viewed as inconsequential and unwelcome “aliens” or “foreigners” in their land. This is extensively documented from a five-year study by Israeli professor Nurit Peled-Elhanan, who paints a vivid picture of Yaara’s likely education in racism (http://wkly.ws/1n5).
Secondly, peacemaking is not a bilateral responsibility in a settler-colonial state (the world’s last). Only Israel can make peace by discontinuing its aggression and providing restorative justice to its victims. Under current conditions, Palestinians can have peace only by discontinuing their resistance, relinquishing their demands for justice, and submitting to Israeli domination.
The language as well as overall framing of this program are very deceptive. Dottie Indyke, the escorting director reciting a familiar Israeli propaganda distortion, referred to their brutal land theft and occupation as a “conflict” and a “war,” implying symmetry with equal power and responsibility while ignoring history and international law, and said it might not be resolved in their lifetimes, thus disarming them from even trying!
Yarra had attended a previous camp but couldn’t discuss it with her fellow soldiers upon returning (meaning she returned unprepared for any meaningful activism toward change) and Palestinian Deema liked the program since Yarra would be a kinder checkpoint guard! Neither had any apparent expectation of challenging or even questioning the apartheid system under which they lived. When Yarra was asked about a single, integrated democratic state, she saw no likelihood of (or wish for) that. Apparently Deema is agreeable company at a summer camp and a US community college but not as a next door neighbor back home.
Deema expressed surprise that Israelis “also suffered.” This is like comparing terminal brain cancer with a tension headache. Yes, both “suffer,” but … On average, two Israelis a year are killed by Hamas fertilizer-powered Qassam rockets. In Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09, Israel killed over 1,400 Palestinians in three weeks. Since the beginning of the second Intifada in September 2000, Israel has killed over 1,500 Palestinian children while 129 Israeli children have been killed (HYPERLINK “http://www.rememberthesechildren.org/”www.rememberthesechildren.org). Israel occupies Palestine, not vice versa. Palestinian, not Israeli homes are being demolished. Palestinians, not Israelis are being dispossessed. Palestinians, not Israelis are arrested, tortured and imprisoned. Israel, not Palestine has a military. Israel has complete control, Palestine is helpless.
So why is this program disseminating deceptive framing and chimerical expectations throughout the U.S.?
Increasingly threatened by the international BDS movement and near-universal international condemnation, Israel has launched a well-orchestrated campaign to influence American public opinion. U.N. bodies have passed several hundred resolutions by overwhelming majorities condemning Israeli actions. The U.N. Security Council has proposed 43 resolutions to censure or discipline Israel, each vetoed by the U.S. under Israel lobby pressure. On each occasion the U.S. cast the only vote supporting Israel among five permanent and 10 rotating UNSC members.
World opinion means nothing since, with the UNSC veto, only our vote counts. Without this Israel would face unsympathetic world judgments and probable sanctions. Thus, controlling the American public mind is of paramount importance. Israel’s Reut Institute — a think tank developing its propaganda (hasbara) strategies — identifies “human rights activists” as its greatest threat and recommends that such activists be “attacked” and “sabotaged.” Campuses are now viewed as primary battlefields. Birthright Israel and several other pro-Israel programs aggressively target college students.
Israel’s defense strategies have long included the “dialogue industry” with “Traubman living room dialogue groups” promoted by our disingenuous mediator Dennis Ross, “Seeds of Peace” for teens, and now college-targeted Creativity for Peace, the latest in a 20-year history of such programs. These have paralleled the post-Oslo “Peace Process” providing diplomatic cover for Israel while doubling its settler population on occupied Palestinian land and drawing its noose ever tighter around the Palestinian neck.
After almost a decade of dialogue programs, a study by the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, published in the San Francisco Chronicle, reported “not a single peace activist on either side” had been produced despite some $25 million invested. In my profession as a behavioral health scientist, models tested and shown ineffective receive no further funding. But as “facts on the ground” in occupied Palestine progressively worsen, the funds keep flowing for these “compassionate listening” programs. Empirical minds wonder why.
Two reasons favoring Israel’s self-interest are easily seen. First, the framing is badly distorted. Participants presumably represent “two sides” as if balanced, equally legitimate opponents rather than a massive power imbalance between oppressor and oppressed. As Jewish author Marcy Jane Knopf-Newman states in her excellent book, The Politics of Teaching Palestine to Americans, “Seeds of Peace, as with Oslo, keeps power in the hands of the colonizer.”
Discussions avoid the 1948 Nakba, focusing post-1967 to evade the Right of Return dreaded by Israel but central to Palestinian collective memory and demands for restorative justice. This evades essential history, which is not a matter of opinion or “narratives.” The originating history, fully documented by Israeli historians following declassification of Israeli archives, is one of brutal, continuous ethnic cleansing and settler colonialism.** Israeli historian Ilan Pappe calls the Nakba a “crime” (http://wkly.ws/1n6). Israeli historians Avi Shlaim and Shlomo Sand call it a “rape.” Rapes and other crimes are not mislabeled “conflicts.” Military occupation by massive armed forces crushing resistance equipped with little more than rocks, slingshots, homemade fertilizer-powered rockets and their own bodies, is hardly a “war” (http://wkly.ws/1n7).
Student and other audiences of this program are denied truthful historical context including knowledge of internationally defined human rights denied Palestinians, relevant international law, the right to resist dispossession and occupation, violent Israeli suppression of that resistance, and protection of Israeli human rights violations by US vetoes under Israel lobby influence. Implying false symmetries of blame and suffering, the Dialogue Industry draws a misleading roadmap through an imaginary landscape, thereby precluding pressure on the aggressor for justice-driven change.
Imagine if you will that the relationship was reversed – that it was a Jewish population of several million driven from their homes and country by massacres and a carefully planned campaign of terrorism (“Plan Dalet”), living for 65 or 46 years in refugee camps, under occupation or blockade or apartheid conditions in a state that was once their own. Would our community be simply advocating “compassionate dialogue”? Would we be talking about how “both sides have suffered” and how “both sides have made mistakes”?
Or imagine that the Nazis still occupied France, had bulldozed or stolen most of its vineyards, obliterated its culture, destroyed its economy, arrested, tortured and imprisoned its citizens without trial under a military occupation regime, bombed, destroyed infrastructure and killed at will, invaded homes and seized occupied citizenry including children at will, and was holding Provence under a suffocating blockade as punishment for resistance after having destroyed its waste treatment facilities with raw sewage pouring into their Mediterranean fisheries for the past five years.
Were the victim a Western culture with which we identify, would this be not only tolerated but supported by our government? Would Germany be our cherished ally and the #1 recipient of our foreign aid to protect it from the rest of Europe lest they try to liberate France? And how would a French girl posed smiling together with a German soldier be viewed by her countrymen and the world? Following WW II we learned the answer to that.
In addition, participants and audiences do not learn effective, activist options such as BDS, resources for human rights advocacy, and excellent Israeli organizations with which to connect such as Zochrot, ICAHD, B’Tselem and the Alternative Information Center, all working to secure Palestinian rights. In short, participants are not empowered to make a real difference. A Palestinian exchange student summarizes it well: Can we Talk? The Middle East “Peace Industry” (http://wkly.ws/1n8).
This is NOT the picture that should be presented in our high schools, and our community and educators are entitled to better understand and decide about this from a more fully informed perspective, hopefully then providing their students with the same. Without empirical validation and honest, factual instruction on historical origins, international legal context and current realities of Palestine’s dispossession and occupation by Israel, these programs have no legitimate place in an educational setting where curricula receiving public funds must meet the “evidence-based” criterion.
Palestinians have good Israeli friends working on their behalf. I hope our two students, arriving here representing “two sides,” will return home as allies representing one side – international law and human rights, demanding freedom, justice and equality for the “side” denied these. Otherwise, the word “peace” simply means pacification.
* Al-Nakba Awareness Project is Eugene’s organization representing Palestinian human rights under international law. It’s co-directors are Jack Dresser, Mariah Leung, and Portland’s Chris Barghout, son of a survivor of the Lydda massacre expelled from Palestine in 1948.
** The right of return, once honored and implemented, would threaten Jewish majority and supremacy in Israel, which therefore adamantly denies and opposes this right. For example, a current, shameless disinformation campaign asserts an “exchange of populations” between Jewish and Palestinian refugee populations to neutralize claims for the Palestinian right of return. This is disingenuous in many ways, not least of which is the fact that no Jewish emigres or refugees (many stampeded into fleeing by false flag Mossad attacks on synagogues in Arab countries) have been denied the right to return, and several Arab countries have proactively invited their return.