Leah Shakdiel– a well-known Israeli Orthodox peace activist and feminist– is a very old friend of mine. This is a recent interview she did with an Italian journalist, in a publication called The Holy Land Review. The news from Gaza continues to be awful. — Lilly
Ever since the Disengagement of Israel from the Gaza Strip, its people missed the opportunity of using the huge amounts of money they received towards their own development, and instead fell into the hands of a government that invests in attacking Israel.
Having said that, I can now concentrate of what my side should have done: Israel has kept Gaza under economic siege; Israel refused systematically to go around the anti-israel and even anti-Semitic discourse and acts of Hamas and include it in a pro-peace negotiations with Palestine; Israel vilified all 1.8 million souls there as the devil incarnate; Israel overlooked the simple fact that Hamas-supporting Palestinians and other Palestinians are co-nationals and co-religionist and feel for each other naturally.
Israel has contributed to the escalation of the animosity, especially since the abduction and murder of the three teenagers, because it thrives on the conflict and fears the reality of post-conflict. Israel celebrates its “unity” around catastrophic events such as terrorist attacks and wars with funerals for brave soldiers, and does not invest in the cohesiveness of democratic life, with discord that can be contained and the resilience of equal rights for different people who make room for each other.
The Hamas can hurt us, kill and maim, destroy and scare, but it cannot destroy us. The disintegration of Israeli society into racism, apartheid (in the West Bank), and disproportionate killing of civilians in the course of handling security issues on the Gaza border – well these ailments can and will destroy us, and therefore they are much more dangerous.
We have maintained our contacts throughout. In Yeruham like in other places, we held a joint event with our Bedouin neighbors at the close of the Jewish fast day of the 17th happened in the middle of the Ramadan. For the veteran participants in these meetings, the asymmetry was to be expected: we Jews spoke of our disgust at the racism of many Israeli Jews these days, and the Bedouins spoke of concrete grievances, in this case, the lack of anti-missile protection in the Bedouin diaspora of the Negev desert. But such an event these days also attracted new crowds, who were shocked at this discrepancy and felt overwhelmed by this double task, to address not only issues of discourse but also issues of distributive justice and discrimination.
What went wrong in the past 20 years in the dialogue between Israelis and
Palestinians? How did we arrive to non-dialogue at all and no recognition on behalf
of Israel of the Palestinian leadership?
Israel is ailed by three ills simultaneously: 1) The popularity of racist, ethnocentric versions of religion and national traditions (both Jewish and Muslim/Arab). 2) The fixation on the victim mentality – post-trauma if you will – as the major raison d’etre of non-religious national philosophies, which results in an insatiable need for physical power, militarism and even fascism.
Again, both sides display the same illness – the Jews [center] their identity on the Shoa and Antisemitism (anti-Semitic incidents in Europe are reported here with victors’ joy almost), and the Palestinians are hung up on the Naqba and the Occupation as the only content of their identity.
3) The idol of capitalist economy with all its injustices, as the only air we can breathe and can do nothing about. These three problems reinforce each other. All three condition a national character of rigid egotism and deafness to the Other. I argue that Israeli humanists like me must struggle on all three fronts simultaneously – teach humanistic versions of Judaism and Islam, of Zionism and Palestinian nationalism; force non-religious people to work on their collective cultural identity away from victories and defeats in battlefields and death camps; and stop the erosion of the welfare state so that a social contract of solidarity and economic modesty.
You went to live in Yeruham also to affirm a different model of being “a Jewish Orthodox” and an Israeli Zionist in comparison to the one affirmed by the settlers in the Occupied Territories. Why do you still call the choice of living in Yeruham “the most important decision of your life”? What does it mean? What message does this choice convey?
I have adopted the useful slogan, “think globally, act locally”. The ethic of justice must be globally valid, and compatible with other applications of the same ethic in Italy or India. But it is important to have it work on manageable, human-scale dimensions, locally. The personal is political, where I live, what I buy, how I raise my children, what I do for a living, how I react to distress of my neighbor, to racist remarks on the bus, to sexism in the media, etc. In the framework of Machsom Watch I make regular rounds of the Southern Hebron area, and as a member of that organization I participated inter alia in the Peace Conference recently in Tel Aviv. But I am also active with other Yeruhamites in a group called Regional Texture (Mirkam Azori), that supports successfully the efforts of out Bedouin neighbors to turn their village Rahma into a recognized planned community with governmental investments.
I served on the board of Masslan, a women’s crisis center in Beer Sheva, and a recent scandal of sexual harassment in Yeruham triggered me to write an article that weds the Torah’s concept of testifying as an uncontested duty of the witness with radical feminism, in contrast to the liberal idea that if the harassed woman chooses not to testify she has every right to move on and do nothing about it. The perpetrator in this case is a religious man who prays in our synagogue too, his daughter is the leader of the local branch of Bnei Akiva the religious youth movement. I was locally infuriated by the helplessness of my community in this case, but it sent me into research of both Jewish law and contemporary legal theories and I hope to break some ground here.
You have talked about the need of creating new forms of being Jewish and Zionist, as sovereign people, who finally have a state. How is it possible to arrive to a new concept of sovereignty that takes in shared citizenship, with the rise of right and extreme –right wing, and the rise of nationalism in the country?
We cannot afford to give up the struggle. I read Haaretz daily, and it helps me connect to reporters, journalists, and political thinkers, who don’t give up. I speak up at every opportunity and refuse to go into “internal exile”. I teach critical perspectives of Jewish sources as well as principles of democratic life. I point explicitly at the do’s and the don’ts in my opinion – I call Naftali Bennet fascist even when most of my extended family members and synagogue goers voted for him; I tell young people to avoid serving in K’fir, the field force that was created to rule the West Bank (as distinguished from other infantry forces that can be understood as defending the State of Israel proper); I tell everyone that by voting Yesh Atid they doomed Israel to an administration that cannot possibly deal with our main goals. I am proud to be a member of civil society organizations like Rabbis for Human Rights, B’Tselem, Tag Me’ir (the coalition set up by Dr. Gadi Gvaryahu to counter anti-Arab incidents in Israel, which does actually the work of good old Oz ve’Shalom [a religious peace group founded a couple of decades ago]).