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Natives with jackets and degrees. Othering, objectiﬁcation and the role of Palestinians in the co-existence ﬁeld in Israel*
A brief histor y of the co-existence field in Israel
Educational agencies and packages involved in promoting co-existence between Israelis and Palestinian citizens of Israel1 is a polymorphic, varied and relatively loose amalgam, labelled here the co-existence ﬁeld or the co-existence project2 (the two phrases are used interchangeably herein). Elements of the ﬁeld became a signiﬁcant element in Israeli education from the early 1980s.3 The origins of the project in Israel are often linked to consternation and alarm which spread in the liberal wing of Zionist Israelis following a 1980 survey of the attitudes of Israeli youths vis-a-vis the Palestinian citizens of Israel (Hareven 1985; Maoz 1997). The survey (Zemach 1980) indicated a stereotypical tendency among Israeli youngsters to view all Arabs, anywhere within the state of Israel and beyond, as a menacing and ill-intentioned collective. It also exposed a worrying level of support for legal and administrative measures which, if ever implemented, would curb the freedom of Palestinian citizens of Israel, limiting their civil and even human rights. This tendency evidently worried those who subsequently became involved in the co-existence project. Paramount in their concern was a concurrent growth in the
* This article is based on ﬁeldwork carried out as part of the research group established by the VanLeer Jerusalem Foundation (VLJF) to produce a critical review of VLJF’s own efforts towards coexistence since the late 1970s. I am grateful to the VLJF for the funding which enabled me to carry out my portion of the project. I am also indebted to Adi Oﬁr, the project coordinator, and to him and to Yoav Peled, Khanan Khever, Ariela Azulay, Jose Bronner, Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, Lea Rozen, Ahmad Sa’adi, ’Azmi Bishara, Yehuda Shenhav, Gideon Kunda, Yif’at Ma’oz and Shlomo Fisher for insights gleened through the lively and stimulating debate within the group. The sole responsibility for views and errors in this article remain my own. 1 For my reasons to prefer ‘Palestinian citizens of Israel’ to the more widely used term ‘Israeli Arabs’ or ‘Israel’s Arabs’, see Rabinowitz 1992a: Rabinowitz 1993. 2 The poet and writer Salman Natur coined the term Dakakin al-Salam, Arabic for ‘peace shops’, to describe the project (pers. comm., 1993). 3 For accounts of earlier attempts at co-existence workshop, see Abdul-Hadi (1991); Abu-Nimer (1993); Bar-On (1996); Cohen, Kelman Miller and Smith (1977); Peled and Bargal (1983).
Social Anthropology (2001), 9, 1, 65–80. © 2001 European Association of Social Anthropologists
popularity among Jewish Israeli youth – particularly those whose families originated in Arab countries (Mizrahim) – of Meir Kahana and his ideology. One-time founder of the separatist Jewish Defence League in Brooklyn, Kahana later became founder and leader in Israel of Kach, an ultra-right political party.4 The salience of ‘The Arab Problem’ in Kahana’s ideology and propaganda, and his consistent preaching for wholesale expulsion of Palestinians from the state of Israel, brought the question of Israel’s Palestinian community to centre stage. Yah_asey Yehu~dim ‘Aravim (Hebrew for relations beteween Jews and Arabs) became a visible and controversial issue in Israeli public life. By the early 1980s, many observers of Israel viewed the schism between Israelis and the Palestinian citizens of Israel as the most urgent of Israel’s internal political and cultural frontiers.5 Israelis who later became main actors in the co-existence ﬁeld saw the 1980 survey results and Kahana’s growing popularity as indications of imminent danger to what they perceived as the essentially liberal nature of Israel as a state and a society.6 These sentiments were shared by Jewish and non-Jewish individuals and foundations abroad, particularly in the United States, who grew ever more willing to raise and contribute funds for projects geared to stemming the worrying tide. Institutions which had been involved a generation earlier in projects aimed at integrating minorities into American society became the ﬁnancial backbone of the co-existence ﬁeld in Israel. Initially a non-governmental effort, the ﬁeld had in its early days a variety of NGOs involved in research, development and implementation of educational programmes. As the peace treaty with Egypt of 1979 matured in the early 1980s, and with the Lebanon war unfolding from 1982, the effort was hesitantly recognised by the Ministry of Education as important, and was partially incorporated into school curricula. The ﬁeld was consolidated further with the establishment in 1986 of the ‘Unit for Democracy and Co-existence’ – a section of the Ministry of Education ofﬁcially entrusted with funding and supervising research, development and proliferation of educational packages concerned with coexistence.7 Various programmes were generated to match ideological and educational tropes,
4 The party, which secured a seat in the Israeli Knesset in 1984, was disqualiﬁed by the central election committee and the supreme court in 1988. Both bodies determined that the party spread illegal racist propaganda. Meir Kahana himself was assassinated while on a lecture tour in New York in 1990. 5 Most mainstream conceptualisations of society and politics in Israel (e.g. Eisenstadt 1985), saw ‘Israeli society’ as a wholesome entity with temporary cleavages along three lines: Arabs versus Jews; Ashkenazim (European) versus Mizrahim (Israeli Jews of oriental origins); and religious versus secular. More critical assessments (e.g. Zureik 1979; Shohat 1988, 1989; Sa’adi 1992) tend to see Israel as a non-composite structure in which one group – Ashkenazi Israelis – permanently exercises economic, political and cultural domination of Mizrahim and Palestinians. 6 Elsewhere (Rabinowitz 1997) I present a more elaborate critique of the claims of Israel in particular, and liberal western-style states generally, to be even-handed neutral arbitrators between essentially equal citizens. 7 The co-existence project made inroads in the secular and more academically oriented element of the Israeli educational system. Schools belonging to the Jewish religious streams – the Zionist National Religious schools and the Ultra-orthodox non-Zionist ones – have traditionally been opposed to the project. (Israel, while running a state-sponsored and ﬁnanced education system, has religious schools operating in virtually autonomous enclaves. While funded by state money allocated on a per capita basis, these structures have managed effectively to protect themselves from state control in terms of curriculum and values.)
budget restrictions and timetable requirements of the divergent sections of the Israeli educational system. Schools that wanted to engage enjoyed an increasing pool of resources and materials to select from. In fact, by the late 1980s most youngsters attending mainstream Israeli schools – that is, secular state schools for Jewish Israelis – could be expected to take part in a structured meeting with Palestinians, view a ﬁlm or play, or participate in a discussion associated with co-existence once every school year or two. The same was true, incidentally, in respect of schools in Palestinian communities in Israel. In fact the smaller size of the Palestinian community compared to the Jewish Israeli community, and the fact that there are far fewer schools in the Palestinian sector, meant that in the climax of the co-existence project Palestinian schools were in high demand by Israeli counterparts for joint occasions. The willingness among the Paslestinians to engage was high – a situation which is typical when members of a minority group feel their perspective is undertold (cf. Rouhana and Korper 1997). This plethora of opportunities notwithstanding, the topic of peace and co-existence never became part of the formal academic curriculum and never carried any academic credit in its own right. Its proliferation and effectiveness thus remains dependent on grassroot responses from school principals and teachers, in turn determined by institutional atmosphere, personal attitude and current affairs. The ﬁeld has gone through three main turning points. One came in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when under Yitzhak Shamir’s Likud government, which had the Ministry of Education dominated by the National Religious Party, state sponsorship of the co-existence project became narrower in scope and more restrictive ideologically. The second shift came with the ascent to power of Binyamin Netanyahu’s rightwing government in 1996, which brought about a steep decline in budget allocation for co-existence projects, followed by a sharp reduction in activities. The third, which came as a consequence of the Oslo accord between Israel and the Palestinians in 1993, saw a proliferation of projects, ﬁnanced primarily by EU and US agencies, that focus on relations between Israelis and Palestinian subjects of the newly formed Palestinian Authority. These schemes are more geared to adult participation (university student groups, vocational interest groups and even tourism). Such branching off the ﬁeld, however, is less relevant to the present discussion which focuses on the place of coexistence projects within Israeli education.
Theor etical and ideological rationales
While naturally diverse in scope, means, methods and impact, all organisations involved in the coexistence project, including those formally afﬁliated with the Ministry of Education, explicitly saw the bringing together of Israelis and Palestinian citizens of Israel as an important contribution to peace and reconciliation in the Middle East. All of them perceived ‘hands on’ experience, ideally involving personal and group encounters with members of the other side, as essential. The ethos of the project stressed mutuality and equality, attempting to produce an ambiance of true co-operation and balanced participation between members of the two communities. This notwithstanding, the ﬁeld was established, organized and managed under exclusive Israeli dominance. Palestinians, when incorporated, tended to be positioned at the middle and lower echelons of management and agency. Within this framework, two institutions made signiﬁcant quantitative and quali-
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tative impact on the ﬁeld. One is the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute (VLJI), which operated in the co-existence ﬁeld roughly between 1982 and 1992, and whose early work later became the conceptual backbone for the Ministry of Education’s Unit for Democracy and Co-existence; the other is the Neve Shalom School for Peace (NSSP), a more independent fringe institution now entering its third decade of operation. With respective turnovers of tens of thousands of participants in workshops, meetings and other activities, VLJI and NSSP became household names within the Israeli educational systems, attracting considerable public attention and scientiﬁc curiosity.8 The two projects, each with its own array of practices and policies in planning, staff training, operation and follow up, represent diverging theoretical perspectives and somewhat different political agendas. VLJI, undoubtedly the leading and most inﬂuential organ in the ﬁeld during the 1980s, worked from the assumption that there is a link between interpersonal contact and large-scale solutions to political strife – a paradigm often glossed ‘the contact theory’ or ‘the contact hypothesis’. Informed mostly by post-war social psychology research carried out in the United States (e.g. Allport 1954; Festinger 1957; Cook 1970; 1984), this approach was later buttressed with research carried out by Israeli academics of similar persuasions (e.g. Amir 1969; 1979; Ben-Ari and Amir 1986; 1988). An important feature of this approach, particularly in its early days, was the conviction that the project should, and could, be ‘apolitical’. Issues raised in structured meetings, books and manuals tended to be presented as liberal choices. Conﬂicts of interests between Israelis and Palestinians as political collectives were ﬂattened and largely ignored. Most moderators preferred to see them as taking place between individuals who, due to the lamentable shortcomings of human nature, the media and other variables, overplayed aspects of politics to somehow produce destructive fears, anxieties and hatred. The aim of the activity was to produce improved, more trusting individuals, with more willingness to recognise the basic humanity and civil rights of others. The assumption was that such a shift would enhance peaceful co-existence. This depoliticising outlook became accentuated in the Unit for Democracy and Co-existence at the Ministry of Education, which became prominent in the ﬁeld in the late 1980s. Consciously and openly directing the institutions and actors sponsored by it to steer away from anything ‘political’, the result was often an awkward attempt at ‘teaching’ co-existence. Palestinian and Israeli moderators seeking to question issues pertaining to more collective aspects of the situation – such as the war of 1948 and the disastrous demise of the Palestinian community in what became the state of Israel, the pre-1948 chapters of Palestinian history or the desire of Palestinians to redeﬁne their place as second class Israelis – were discouraged and, if necessary, ousted.9 The theoretical focus of NSSP is somewhat different. Relying primarily on Kurt
8 For published reviews and critiques of the Van-Leer Jerusalem Foundation co-existence project, see Katz and Kahanov 1990; Rouhana and Fiske 1995; Rouhana and Korper 1997; and Maoz 1997. The activity conducted in Neve Shalom is (favourably) described in Bargal and Bar 1990; 1992; 1994; and Bargal 1992. Additional projects feature in Hoffman and Najjar 1986. 9 This typiﬁcation, I must stress, is representative of mainstream elements within the project only. In practice, individual Palestinian and Israeli actors naturally subscribed to a wider variety of attitudes and agency. The loose organisational nature of the project and its methodology, which stresses open debate as a central pedagogic tool, obviously ruled out the possibility of effective control. Individuals who really wanted to do so could follow their own agendas, at least for a while (Efrat Maoz, pers. comm.).
Lewin’s sensitivity (Lewin 1935; 1948) to majority–minority situations (Bargal 1990) and working from a critique of the over-reliance on traditional contact theory (including of Stephan’s  cognitive version of it,) NSSP moderators do not shy away from political aspects in the structured meetings. In fact the meeting is treated not only as an opportunity for interpersonal encounter. Rather, it purports to be a platform for participants to accept the presence of an inter-group conﬂict and work from it rather than around it (Bargal and Bar 1990; 1994; 1995). According to this approach progress hinges on three elements highlighted in Lewin’s work: the need to take account of minority–majority dynamics and improve the low self-images of minority members; the group as a vehicle for individual development and change; and the need to incorporate research, action and education within the same institutional framework (Bargal and Bar 1992). Whatever the theoretical differences between the two approaches, one obvious similarity is that both emphasise meeting the ultimate Other, previously perceived by many participants as belonging to a demonised collective, in controlled and relatively calm circumstances. A critical examination of the role and agency of Palestinian actors and participants in such occasions is essential for a critique of the assumptions and operation of the co-existence field, and of the claims within it of being ‘a-political’ and offering a ‘mutual’, ideal-speech situation for the two sides. My main contention, based on a theoretical treatise as well as ethnographic interviews and text analysis, is that rather than primarily geared to enhance Israeli–Palestinian rapprochement, the agenda of much of the co-existence field was, and still is, embedded in an intraIsraeli social and political struggle, in which the Ashkenazi (European) dominant milieu is desperately trying to preserve its erstwhile ideological and political edge over Mizrahim (oriental Israelis). Rather than subjects operating on an equal footing with their Israeli counterparts, the Palestinian actors thus often serve as objectified pawns in an ideological contest fought elsewhere. While relevant primarily for those parts of the field that have the contact hypothesis as their main theoretical grounding, this critique is valid to an extent also for efforts such as Neve Shalom, where inter-personal contact between individuals purports to be of secondary importance. A discussion of the role of Palestinians in the co-existence ﬁeld, while not completely absent from the literature (see Rouhana and Korper 1997), is embryonic. It is particularly valuable for a theoretical discussion of Othering and for a better understanding of the perpetual construction and re-construction of the Palestinian Other within Israeli social science (Rabinowitz 1998:133–52).
Palestinians in the Co-existence Pr oject
Palestinian citizens of Israel featured as actors in co-existence workshops in a number of roles. Two which I find particularly suggestive in the present context are manh_im (Hebrew plural form for moderator in a structured meeting) and notney edu~t `ishit (Hebrew for witnesses or, literally, ‘bearers of personal testimony’). Structured meetings of Israeli and Palestinian schoolchildren are by far the central component of the co-existence ﬁeld. A meeting could last a few hours or a few days, could be one-off or continue over a period of a few months. The 1980s also saw struc-
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tured meetings between school teachers, although the intention to widen the scope and organise meetings for members of other vocations never quite materialized.10 Administrative coordination towards a structured meeting involving an Israeli and a Palestinian school was usually done by school principals and teachers, either directly or through an intermediate agency such as VLJI, NSSP or similar bodies. Moderation was carried out by specially trained staff – normally a team of two, an Israeli and a Palestinian. Palestinian moderators, almost invariably men, were often recruited to the project by Israeli friends – mainly fellow students during their time in university.11 Once recruited, a person would go through training in the psycho-dynamic tradition. Emphasis was put on exposure, containment and legitimisation of feelings, on acting out, and on personal and group feedback. In the structured meeting itself, the Israeli and Palestinian moderator would work together, attempting to create a common ground between them that would serve as a stepping stone for the entire group. Presenting personal testimony was practised mainly in the early days of the project. A Palestinian would visit an Israeli school, appear in front of a classroom or a school assembly and relay his personal experiences. A popular heading for such a presentation was ‘Being an Arab in Israel’, though similar phrases were used too. The encounter of Israeli youths with a Palestinian and his narrative was primarily and consciously designed to humanise the Palestinians. The assumption was that personalised and personiﬁed in the interlocutor, the narrative would help listeners develop empathy with those who, while being Israeli citizens, nevertheless face incidents of discrimination, racialisation and humiliation as a matter of course, if not routine. The role reversal which takes place when the otherwise silent underdog assumes a voice and becomes raconteur was expected to infuse the moment with emotional signiﬁcance. The counter-intuitive situation in which a person stereotypically perceived as belonging to a hostile and potentially violent group surfaces as an articulate victim was designed to breed cathartic impact. It often did. The expectation was not restricted to events that centred on personal testimony. Palestinians who moderated structured meetings also acted, in more informal ways, as ﬁrst-hand witnesses. Their positioning turns them, for many Israelis, into believable and stimulating personiﬁcations of a realm hitherto perceived solely through media images, many of them unfavourable. This assertion can also be extended to Palestinian lay participants in structured meetings. Meetings, much like testimonies, are constructed partly to expose participants to each other as individuals. Israeli moderators have commented on the efﬁcacy of such encounters, which often present Israeli youths with a ﬁrst ever opportunity to meet a Palestinian face-to-face. The chance to hear Arabs with a sophisticated vocabulary and a fashionable attire – images that are in blatant contradiction to the powerful symbolic ﬁgures of Palestinian peasants or guerillas – can produce a meaningful
10 Meetings of university students and professors, which take place from time to time ad hoc, are not discussed here, mainly because they are initiated and practiced in ways other than the speciﬁcally educational trajectory of the co-existence project. 11 Most Palestinian activists tended to be graduates of Haifa University or the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The proportion of Palestinian students at Haifa University, located nearest the concentration of Palestinians in Galilee and the Triangle, is around 20 per cent. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem has approximately 1,500 Palestinian students (about 10 per cent of the student body). Other universities have far fewer Palestinian students.
moment for Israeli youths and sometimes transform their earlier generalised misconceptions. Do Israeli moderators create a similar impact on Palestinian youths? Probably yes, but to a much lesser degree. As members of a marginalised minority, most Palestinian citizens of Israel are exposed to Israelis in a variety of civil roles that convincingly mitigate the negative stereotype of Israel as a military culture and of Israelis as uni-dimensional brutes. Israeli moderators thus seldom felt that their main role is to erode stereotypes that Palestinians may have. Rouhana and Korper (1997) highlight another aspect of asymmetry between Israelis and Palestinians taking part in structured meetings organised by the VLJI, namely diverging expectations. Palestinians expected the encounters to deal intensively with their predicament as members of a marginal minority within the highly unbalanced power structure of the Israeli state. The Israelis, on the other hand, preferred the idea that the encounters would be ‘less political’, and would do less to challenge that very power structure.12 This was reﬂected in the difﬁculties organisers experienced in subsequent periods in the history of the co-existence project when trying to recruit participants. When the orientation of meetings tended to become more political, the Israelis were hesitant to attend. When the pendulum was swinging towards a more neutral framing, the Palestinians lost interest. In the heyday of the project in the 1980s, organisations sponsoring co-existence programmes while not a permanent source of employment or a long-term career option for Palestinians became desirable stop-overs for young and intellectually gifted Palestinians. Victims of a chronic shortage of suitable employment opportunities, Palestinian university graduates aspiring to more than a teaching job in schools at their local communities treated employment in the co-existence ﬁeld as a welcome extension of a generally gratifying period spent at the Israeli university. Jobs within the ﬁeld tended to come and go, only seldom materialising into solid, long-term positions.13 They did, however, offer Palestinians new acquaintances, respect within the Israeli fold and, arguably, a sense of doing something constructive and meaningful for their society. Reconstructing some of his experiences as a moderator a decade earlier, one Palestinian activist said, during an interview:
What I wanted to achieve at the time was that Jews should understand that the national identity of an Arab does not necessarily manifest itself in threats towards Jews. It does not contradict his civil identity as an Israeli. On the contrary, it can be integrated into it. This way I hoped to do away with the threat that Jews so often feel from Arabs.
Another Palestinian commented on his state of mind at the time of his involvement some years earlier:
12 Rouhana and Korper (1997: 6) present signiﬁcant quantitative ﬁndings regarding respective expectations of Palestinians and of Israelis from the structured interaction in the meetings. The Palestinians clearly wanted sympathy and understanding with their predicament as a collective, while Israelis mainly wanted to get to know a different way of life and to make personal acquaintance with Palestinian individuals. 13 I am not aware of any Palestinians who were involved in the ﬁeld ten years ago and are employed in it on a permanent basis today.
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I was equipped with theoretical knowledge which showed convincingly that Arabs in Israel successfully create a satisfactory synthesis between their Israeli and their Palestinian identities, and that the two are not contradictory or mutually exclusive. The trouble was that at the time I did not realise the severity of the situation in the Jewish sector in Israel, namely that the Jews never wanted the Arab collective among them and will never want it. My perception that the Jews are really ‘a nation to its own’ is stronger today, after my stint in co-existence projects, than it had ever been before.
Other Palestinian activists relaying experiences and insights of the project had a similar tendency to single out the impact they thought the project had on Israeli participants and overlook its meaning for the Palestinian participants. A Palestinian man I interviewed, whose involvement in the ﬁeld included both moderating mixed groups and presenting personal testimony in Israeli schools, was asked to assess in general terms the impact his role and the project he had been involved with had had on the youngsters he worked with. His answer was:
I still think it did something to the children who took part. The problem was it had no continuity. It is hard to keep in touch, hundreds of kilometres away. We moderators tried to keep in touch, to come to the schools, to do simulation games, whatever. But then one father says something to his daughter about one of us being ‘a dirty Arab’ and that spoils everything.
One Palestinian moderator spoke of letters he received from youngsters who had participated in programmes he had moderated. It soon turned out that these letters came exclusively from Israelis, none from Palestinians. In his words:
I know I inﬂuenced lots of Jewish kids to switch from supporting (extreme right-wing) Tehiya and Likud to become Labour supporters. These meetings often have general discussions mature into more personal encounters. And you, as instructor and moderator, have a lot of inﬂuence. Because kids look for people to identify with. So they ask you questions, personal stuff, life at home, difﬁculties you may have had with your parents. One of the things I was often asked was how I got on in high school – because I always told them I had studied in a predominantly Jewish school in the mixed town where I was born and raised. I saw myself more as a friend, less as a teacher.
Palestinian interviewees (I conducted some ﬁfteen interviews), did not come up voluntarily with accounts of their inﬂuence on Palestinian youths. For them, these interactions clearly failed to constitute a category of real signiﬁcance – a point that further questions the notion of the ﬁeld as a balanced, mutual exercise that aims to bring change to both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide. I subsequently found that, like their Palestinian counterparts, Israeli moderators too were preoccupied primarily with the impact the meetings may have had on Israeli audiences. A particularly lucid opportunity to trace the Palestinian construct transpires in written texts solicited by the co-existence project from Palestinians for publication in Hebrew for Israeli audiences. In 1985, an edited volume was published by the VLJI and the Israeli Oriental Society (Hareven 1985) that included an essay by ’Adel Mana’. The volume’s title is To become acquainted with neighbouring nations. Mana’s piece (Mana’ 1985) is called ‘The live encounter. A personal testimony.’ The time of publication, when VLJI and the contact hypothesis were at the zenith of intellectual and institutional inﬂuence in the co-existence ﬁeld, the fact that the
essayist Mana’ is a Palestinian citizen of Israel, and the biographical resemblance between him and other Palestinians involved in the co-existence project, merit a closer look at this formative and early written contribution to the project. The book deals with a problem central to the co-existence project: how can Israelis learn more about their neighbours, the Arabs. The introduction clariﬁes that the volume is not of the ‘know thy enemy’ variety. Rather, the editor implies, it seeks ways to break new ground, offering en route empathic knowledge that brings people together rather than set them further apart. Mana’s essay comes at the end of the volume after eleven essays by leading Israeli academicians. It differs from the preceding contributions in being devoid of scientiﬁc apparatus. A respectable, accomplished academic writer, Mana’, an historian, uncharacteristically avoids footnotes, references or links between his testimony and theory or politics. Rather, his account is a heart-felt, direct and honest exposition of personal memories, some of them painful. His conclusions are intuitive rather than learned. The personal testimony is constructed as a life history. The essay opens with a description of the day in 1948 on which the writer’s family was forced to leave their native village in Galilee (Mana’ 1985: 163–4). The writer was one-year-old at the time, and, as Mana’ himself testiﬁes, the account is based on stories he heard later, from older members of the family. The narrative at this point is rather general, with few details, and is at times almost elusive. ‘The lorries,’ Mana’ writes (1985: 164), ‘ferried the people to an area in Wadi ’Arah in the Triangle, where they were ordered to march east.’ The Israeli ofﬁcers behind the shipment orders and the steering wheels are, at ﬁrst, faceless, nameless. Even their very Israeliness is unspeciﬁed at ﬁrst, and the horrible orders they give the deportee appear in the text only in passive voice: ‘There they [the deportees] were ordered to march east’ [ibid.]. Signiﬁcantly, the stories, told mainly by the writer’s father, were not bitter. In his words:
The Jews in my father’s stories were usually strong, well organised and armed to the teeth, and they molested Palestinians. They chased them from their homes and used weapons to prevent them from returning. Nevertheless, there were good and decent people among them, who acted differently. The story of the village and the fate of the family were presented, on the whole, without bitterness or hatred towards the Jews (ibid.).
This early scene is soon followed by a brief account of life in ‘Ain H_ilwa, the refugee camp in Lebanon where the family settled (ibid. 164–5) until hardship there pushed them to take a big decision, one the author notes as ‘brave’: to return to the village in their homeland, in what is now ‘the state of the Jews’ (ibid. 165). A few years after the return to Galilee the author, now a child, was ﬁrst exposed to Israelis: he goes in summer to the Israeli suburbs in Haifa bay, selling ﬁgs from door to door. The encounter is depicted in positive terms, as a generally amicable interaction – ‘a challenge which ﬁred my imagination’, in Mana’s terms (ibid.). The Israeli suburbs appear to have had a pleasant quality of life, well trimmed boulevards and clean courtyards, tacitly contrasted in the text with the writer’s own village. Even more signiﬁcantly, the Israeli residents – housewives and men alike – ‘failed to match the stereotype of the evil Jew I had known from the stories. They did not look to me as threatening, frightening heroes’ (ibid.). The author’s next encounter with Israelis comes when he ﬁnds temporary employment between his graduation from high school and the commencement of his studies at university. This time the experience disappoints him. Now seventeen years
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old, he is marginalised within the labour market like other Palestinian citizens of Israel and forced to perform hard, humiliating menial tasks. He ends up confronting his Israeli superiors, and is sacked (ibid. 166). The affair is summed up in the following words:
Over and above the discrimination and humiliation which the Arab worker so often gets from his employer, he also encounters snobbism and animosity from the majority of Jewish co-workers. Justice, equality and other ideals he had internalised at school are very seldom applied in the reality of Jewish-Arab life in the state (ibid.).
The author’s early days at Haifa University are a difﬁcult, frustrating episode (ibid. 167), highlighting the predicament of being a member of the minority in an institution dominated by the Euro-centre. But academic success soon paves the way to the advantages associated with campus life. In his words: ‘Freedom of expression and thought, albeit within certain limits, were not just empty slogans. In the university I found cultural pluralism, political and social tolerance, which eased the sense of alienation and isolation’ (ibid.). Life in the university crystallised the author’s political identity. He takes an active role in the committee of Palestinian students and becomes active in promoting understanding between Israelis and Palestinians as part of a leftist political group. The positive experience of co-operation with Israeli students leaves ‘a deep mark’ on his outlook (ibid. 168). The university is depicted as a meeting ground for people from similar social and cultural backgrounds, a symmetric encounter between people who act ‘as free and equal individuals’ (ibid.). At this point the narrative departs from the autobiographical, becoming a coherent, linear analysis, based on the incidents just mentioned, of the potential for ‘live interpersonal encounters’ between Israelis and Palestinians. The analysis is not euphoric. There are disclaimers stating that ‘the live encounter by itself is no guarantee for better acquaintance with the other side’ (ibid.); and that ‘the results of the encounter depend on many variables which must be taken into consideration. As long as the conﬂict continues, the obstacles built into live encounters are at least as difﬁcult as those experienced by students and researchers of the other side’ (ibid.). And yet, compared to the alternative, a situation in which Israelis and Arabs acquire a mutual sense of each other through the mass media (an option Mana’ views unfavourably [ibid. 169–170]), direct interpersonal encounters remains his strategy of choice. He expressly wishes such opportunities to be developed and encouraged. To consolidate his point, the author contrasts the situation inside Israel with that in the occupied territories, where the ills of military occupation make productive personal encounters between Israelis and Palestinians out of the question. The comparison allows him to portray life within the green line as radically different:
The life of Jews and Arabs inside the state of Israel present a good laboratory for the development of a new formula for the relations between the two peoples. To date, this opportunity has not been put to use in any systematic way. Without a doubt, there is fertile soil for positive forms of life together within the state of Israel (ibid. 172).
Mana’s progression in the essay is telling. First, the author’s willingness to depict the events of 1948 in terms of personal strife buttresses his image as an honest writer intent on bringing his (Israeli) readership a full, uncensored picture, even if it invokes dis-
turbing images. The war of 1948 – and this is true in 2000 at least as much as it had been in 1985 – is a period that many Israelis still tend to view unproblematically, as one in which the righteous few (themselves, just escaped from a burning Europe) narrowly escaped a cruel assault by huge, well organised, offensive armies of seven Arab states. The Palestinian tragedy, with 750,000 refugees and displaced persons, colossal loss of homes, land, means of livelihood and honour, remains consistently silenced in Israeli historiography. In this respect Mana’s willingness to spill the beans in a book initiated and published by Israeli institutions for Israeli readership, is particularly meaningful.14 ‘Adel Mana’ emerges from the ﬁrst part of his essay as an honest and courageous writer. In 1985, not many Palestinian citizens of Israel were ready to feature painful personal and familial memories of 1948 in a text written in Hebrew for Israelis. This move, it is worth noting, does service also to the volume as a whole. The inclusion of Mana’s piece allows the book to claim position as a site in which cultural pluralism and social and political tolerance shape the order of the day. But the thrust of Mana’s argument is developed in the latter part of the essay. It is, in essence, a positive evaluation of the potential of personal dialogue between Israelis and Palestinian citizens of Israel. It claims that despite past grievances and present difﬁculties, and contrary to the unfortunate situation in the occupied territories, the dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians within Israel is viable, feasible and well worth developing. The intellectual biography of ’Adel Mana’ is typical of many of the Palestinians who became involved in the co-existence ﬁeld during the 1980s. University graduates, primarily in the social sciences and in psychology, some held further degrees or were en route there. Some had undertaken stints as volunteers or ofﬁcers with student associations or with institutions involved with human rights, civil rights and rights for Palestinians within Israel or under occupation in the territories. A considerable proportion studied at the teachers training centre at Haifa University’s School of Education, one of the pioneering institutions involved in training moderators and coexistence activists since the 1970s. When Palestinian interviewees were asked to characterise the model Palestinian actor in the ﬁeld, they tended to sketch a fairly coherent prototype. The ﬁeld clearly selected young, single Palestinian men whose biographies and socialisation emphasised higher education, rationality, modernity and a willingness to acknowledge the more liberal aspects of Israeli state and society. Palestinian actors were not expected to represent emblems of Palestinian identity such as traditional village life, the fallah (peasant) or other symbols connecting Palestinian culture to territory, history and values.15 This is understandable if we take into account the fact that Palestinian rootedness is deeply threatening to Israelis. It invokes a clear, unbroken personal and familial link to the disputed land, the like of which Zionism cannot hope to match. Educated Palestinians on the other hand are perceived by Israelis as products of the magnanimity of Israel towards its Palestinian citizens. Associated with the ever-posi14 Not many Palestinian citizens of Israel published documentary books in Hebrew depicting the personal, familial and communal tragedies of 1948. Those books which did get published tended to be sponsored by anti-establishment organisations and publishing outlets (e.g. Jiryas 1966). 15 For an account of the place of the Fallah in Palestinian nation building and identity, see Swedenburg 1990; 1991.
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tive concept of progress so seldom problematised by Israelis, modernising Palestinians are often seen by Israelis as signs of the beneﬁcial impact Zionism likes to believe it has had on the Middle East, propelling its otherwise backward populace into modernity. By exposing Israelis to this particular image, the project sought to erode what I label the ‘Samsonic image’ of the Palestinians. Many Israelis still see Palestinians as potentially blood thirsty desperados, yearning for violent revenge, pushed to act against their own interests if they can only harm as many Israelis as they can (cf. Rabinowitz 1992b). This image of irrationality, which nourishes an amalgam of right-wing anti-Arab reasoning, was seen by captains of the co-existence project as best dissolved by an image of Palestinians which Israelis can identify as PLU (Person Like Us): rational and eloquent, possessing the with positive characteristics people tend to associate with their own collectives. There is a gender aspect to this as well, of course: employing predominantly Palestinian men is particularly efﬁcacious in this context. It is young Palestinian men, otherwise associated in the minds of Israelis with insolence and violence, that Israeli participants will register more forcefully when they appear as friendly, dialogical partners. Quintessential symbols of anti-Israeli sentiments, young Palestinian men are best suited to modify it. Additionally, a well groomed and sophisticated Palestinian can best tackle what many Israelis in the ﬁeld saw as a major contribution to the marginalisation of Palestinians within Israel – the stereotype which many Israelis have of Palestinians as primitive and backward peasants. Not surprisingly, Palestinian women were very few and far between within the ﬁeld in the 1980s, while Palestinian men abounded. Let me sum up the evidence so far. Rather than equal subjects to a mutual encounter, the Palestinian moderators, witnesses and lay participants in structured meetings – particularly those of the contact hypothesis variety – ended up objectiﬁed by the very frameworks that exposed them. Their discursive role, while seldom presented in those terms, was to help convince young Israelis that rational, well-meaning, ‘good’ Palestinians do exist (cf. Smooha 1989). Regardless of its declarative strategies of mutuality and co-work, the project transpires as self-referencial, conceived and geared primarily for Israelis. Its focus is to have Israelis look at their own preconceptions, their stereotypes and the political ﬁxations that arise from them. One of the means to do this is the objectifying gaze, producing an image the captains of the ﬁeld dearly wanted to proliferate: that of the rational, well spoken, responsible Arab – a civilised, stereotype-busting native, with a jacket, a degree and an understanding smile.
Conclusion: r eframing the co-existence field
The co-existence ﬁeld’s genealogy, practices, and, most importantly, the role it was designed to play in Israeli politics, are at the heart of this analysis. First, I wish to historicise the ﬁeld’s own assessment of its genesis as a result of Mina Zemach’s survey of 1980 and of Kahana’s unexpected popularity. While meaningful, these two events cannot be understood correctly without taking into account the 1977 parliamentary elections and their historic outcome. Known in Hebrew as Hamahapakh (the turnover), the 1977 ballot signalled the ascent to power of right wing Likud headed by Menachem Begin. The hitherto hegemonic Labour movement, whose brand of Socialist Zionism had dominated pre-state and
state politics in Israel from the beginning of the century, was removed from power for the ﬁrst time ever. The turnover is generally recognised as a result of Begin’s success in winning over votes of Mizrahim–Jewish Israeli immigrants of Arab origin. Most observers also agree that this swing reﬂected a protest vote of Mizrahim against decades of political, economic and cultural discrimination by the Ashkenazi Eurocentre. An alternative explanation sometimes favored by the Euro-entre sees the Mizrahi vote as a belated manifestation of grudges held against their erstwhile hostile hosts in Arab countries. The 1977 ballot, according to this view, enabled the Mizrahim to transform these sentiments into the political realm through Begin’s anti-Arab hard line. It was in those years that the idea of Mizrahim as inherently anti-Arab hardliners – a belief many in Israel still hold today – was crystallised. The electoral defeat triggered extensive soul-searching in the Labour movement in an attempt to ﬁnd the reasons for their downfall. The failure to hold on to the votes of Mizrahim, coupled with the alarming evidence a few years later that Kahana was attracting Mizrahi members of the lower socio-economic stratas, made the sociology and voting patterns of Mizrahim a primary issue for social scientists and political strategists. The co-existence ﬁeld has always had a tendency to portray the Palestinians favorably. Part of its project, after all, was to humanise the Palestinians in an attempt to nudge Israelis away from essentialist conceptions and their attendant marginalising practices. Aware of the tendencies of the Eurocentre to identify the core of anti-Arab racism as emanating from the Mizrahi fold, we can plausibly analyse the co-existence project as designed primarily for a Mizrahi audience. Generally liberal in outlook, the leading personnel, hegemonic ideology and funding of the co-existence project were and still are subscribers to the Zionist mainstream. None of the more radical political parties and movements in Israel (e.g Shelly, Moked, the Israeli Communist Party, its parliamentary coalitions Rakah (NKL) and later Hadash (DFP), the Progressive Movement for Peace, and later, Azmi Bishara’s BALAD and other groups and movements) were ever involved in any signiﬁcant way in the project. Initiated by the liberal wing of mainstream Zionism – in other words by predominantly Ashkenazi middle-class inteligensia – but aiming at would-be bigots amongst the Mizrahim, the project had a clear discrepancy built into it between declared intentions and implicit agenda. While its main text was about bringing Israelis and Palestinian citizens of Israel together, the subtext was about reforming Mizrahim. Curbing the menacing popularity of Kahana’s ideas was a consensual banner to rally around, non-controversial in most education circles. The attempt to save the young from racist ideology served as a legitimate gloss for the project’s political agenda to stop the tide of their support of Begin’s Likud. Such a view of the geneology and history of the co-existence ﬁeld raises other questions regarding theory and practice employed within it. One is that beyond the obvious political trajectory, a deeper level of perception is apparent, where westerners (Middle Class Israeli Ashkenazim) attempt to save orientals (Mizrahim as well as Palestinians) from the exegeses of their own ‘mentality’. Another point, more directly tied to pragmatic politics, is that an essentialist analysis of Mizrahim as inherently antiArab saves the Israeli Eurocentre from the unpleasant task of facing the despair that really pushed so many Mizrahim to vote Likud in 1977 and drift towards Kahana. Once the problem is framed as oriental sentimentality and a solution is identiﬁed in
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re-education of Mizrahim with proper doses of rationality and modernity, the liberal wing of Zionism exempts itself from a more judicious understanding of those groups Shohat (1988) powerfully labels the Jewish victims of Zionism. The repeated disgust of liberal Zionism with the consistent strengthening in 1996 and 1999 of Shas – the party that systematically and most successfully cultivates these sentiments amongst Mizrahi Israelis into political power – indicates that the syndrome of liberal misrecognition remains as relevant in 2000 as it was two decades earlier. Conceptualising the project as an effort by hegemonic ‘First’ Israel to stem unwanted tides within the younger echelons of ‘Second’ Israel16 thus puts into perspective the peculiarly passive role designed in it for representative of ‘Third’ Israel – the Palestinian citizens. The Palestinians, particularly those taking active part in structured meetings in the classroom, were there to serve as living illustrations in an ideological and political battle that is of great importance to Jews in Israel but of limited direct relevance for Palestinians. The analysis suggested herein relegates the question of the pedagogic efﬁcacy of the contact theory (and of educational programmes based on it) to second place. Elsewhere (Rabinowitz 1992b; Rabinowitz 1997: 119–45) I stress my ethnographically based doubts of it more fully.17 These arguments notwithstanding, the structured meetings and the co-existence ﬁeld in general must not be seen as inherently harmful. It is people’s over-sized expectations from exercises purporting to be manifestations of progressive ideals that merit modiﬁcation. Politicised, asymmetric, embedded in larger power balances, the coexistence ﬁeld’s hidden agenda does not sustain the claim that liberal attempts to break barriers between individuals serve as even-handed, neutral mechanisms and work equally for all concerned. It is the failure to acknowledge these dynamics that might turn a generally benevolent, perhaps somewhat naive, project into a mechanism that reiﬁes structural inequality and actively withholds real change.
Dr Dan Rabinowitz Department of Social and Anthropology Herbrew University Mt. Scopus Jerusalem 91905 firstname.lastname@example.org
16 ‘Second Israel’ is a term coined in the 1960s by the media to describe the Mizrahi under-class of Israel, many of whom were living in transition camps and slums. 17 My argument (Rabinowitz 1992b) is that the alleged link between eroding negative stereotypes (a goal structured meetings often do fulﬁl) and instigating change in the political orientations of those participating, is not substantiated by ethnographic evidence. The Palestinian basketball coach who leads an all-Jewish club and the Palestinian doctor who successfully treats Israeli children in Natzerat Illit both present their Israeli counterparts with positive experiences that shatter stereotypes and misconceptions. Both men present their Israeli partners with rational, moderate and well-meaning images, enabling the Israelis to experience, often for the ﬁrst time ever, a Palestinian who is essentially positive. Yet even these experiences fail to swing real changes in the attitudes and stances of the Israeli partners, or otherwise enhance the Israelis’ willingness to see beyond the circumstances of this particular encounter. Stereotypes are perhaps moderated, but other aspects of Israelis’ world view remain intact.
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