Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ib and Masa

November 18, 2010

Number one, shout out to Anna Nabel’s birthday tomorrow! I love you!

Wow, I am so sorry for not having written in almost a month! My god, what have I been doing? Answer: working hard, having lots of fun, and being immersed in the complexities of this conflict. Here are some highlights from the last month, before I delve into the here and now.

We went on a trip to the north, to the Carmel Mountains. It was a great overnight trip, but the highlight for me was meeting with this absolutely incredible woman who lives in the Arab village of Faradis. Her name is Ibtisam Mahammed, she is an Arab woman, and she is doing some of the best long-term Jewish-Arab coexistence work in the country, and probably the world. She has started a group for Jewish and Arab women to meet and talk together, and they focus on issues of peace and women’s empowerment. The Jewish women come from the next town over, which is predominantly Jewish, so it takes a serious commitment for the two groups to meet. This movement has been building for over 20 years, and has been so successful that Ib received an award from the Dalai Lama for being an unsung hero for peace. Ib also ran for Mayor of Faradis, which no woman had ever done before. Usually the man in charge of the most powerful family is the Mayor, but Ib ran. No one wanted to vote for a woman, but she videotaped the Imam telling people that woman should have rights and the Quran supports that. She showed the tape to all the families in the villiage, and a lot of them were convinced. Ib did not win the election, but she certainly paved the way for other women to run; in fact, at the time we spoke with her, another woman was currently running for Mayor, and Ib thought she would win. It was absolutely incredible getting to talk to this woman that is doing what others say is impossible – really creating peace and trust and bonds across physical, cultural, lingustic, religious, and sociological barriers. I was incredibly inspired by her, and I hope to be a tiny fraction of how badass she is when I’m an activist.

We also went to the big Masa event of the year. Masa is the agency that funds our program (thanks for the money, Masa!), and has over 100 programs in Israel. They have programs for kids in high school, between high school and college, college, and post-college. They are a part of the Jewish Agency, and have a very strong ulterior motive of getting Diaspora Jews to make Aliya, move to Israel, become Zionists, and make more Jewish Zionist Israeli babies. And by “ulterior,” I mean pretty open. Their big event was a concert, featuring Idan Raichel, an Israeli pop star. They had a couple thousand participants packed into this big theater in Jerusalem, most of them in post-high school gap year programs, we think. The first hour was Masa people talking about how amazing Masa is, how we should all move to Israel, and how the future and security of Israel is in our hands. Hannah and I were so frustrated and crazy at that point, that we started a fake drinking game: we took a pretend shot every time someone said “Jewish,” “Israel,” “home,” or “future.” We would have died of alcohol poisoning a thousand times over. There were also dancers, aerialists on harnesses and on silks, firedancers, and confetti cannons. It was like the “Make Aliya Circus.” It was ridiculous. I’ve never been to something so blatantly propagandistic, and using the mob mentality in such an intentional way, in my entire life. It was quite traumatizing, actually.

We also went to another Masa event – a weekend-long conference on “Israeli Security Issues.” Ten of us from Tikkun Olam went, and it was a very intense experience. All the speakers were men, and their topics covered “The Security Fence (called the ‘Apartheid Wall’ by Palestinians),” “The Iranian Threat,” “Hezbollah and the Lebanon Border,” “Being an Arab-Israeli Journalist,” etc. All of the speakers and all of the topics ranged from centrist to right-wing, and all were unapologetically Zionist and pro-Israel, which was not entirely unexpected. What was unexpected was the lack of time or space for critical conversations about the speeches – it seemed like the weekend was carefully constructed to eliminate all chance of discussion or critical inquiry about the topics. There was one speaker that I hated with my entire heart and soul, and basically wanted to punch in the face. Here is what happened:

He was giving his super right-wing speech about Israel and Palestine, and talked about how other countries should withhold their financial support from Palestine until they start spending their money on infrastructure instead of terrorism and having the government live like kings. During the Q&A, Hannah (MY HERO) raised her hand and said (something like): “I work and live in Yafo, and we see a lot of discrimination against Israeli Arab children every day. In light of what you said, do you think that other countries should withhold their support from Israel until the discrimination against Israeli Arabs and the demonization of Palestinians stops?” Obviously, we didn’t expect him to say “yes,” but what he did say was horrific. He said “there is no demonization of Palestinians in Israel, so I’m not even going to address that part,” and then proceeded to talk for 10 minutes about how there isn’t any. Then he said, and I quote: “There is no racism in Israel.” And talked for 10 minutes about how there certainly is no racism against Arabs here. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? ARE. YOU. KIDDING. ME. Every place has racism, every place, and this place especially. I see it every single day, and for this white guy from New York who made Aliya 30 years ago to deny that to my face was one of the most offensive and disturbing things that has happened to me here.

The terrifying thing is that a lot of the other speaks were so funny, so likeable, so congenial, that it was hard to not fall into their traps, and be like: “this all makes sense! They must be right! Long live Israel and the IDF!” Insidious. At least that guy was such an asshole that it was not insidious at all. Just incredibly blatant racism.

During the weekend, I felt confused, frustrated, upset, terrified, intellectually invigorated, ashamed, and incredibly proud of my program. We were the only people in the rooms asking the tough questions, the only people who seemed to be standing up for the Arabs, Palestinians, and women who had no voice in that space. I think maybe, in light of that, Tikkun Olam might not be invited back to another Masa education weekend, but what can you do. I was so proud of how horrified we all were, and how well we stood up and said the things that are hard.

I was thinking a lot about how hard it was for me to hear these things, how hard it was to be overwhelmed by speech after speech saying the same things that I don’t believe in, or am not sure about. I’m trying to remember that feeling, to make sure that when I do social justice and anti-racist education, I do not give people these feelings. I want them to have time to process, to have time for discussion, to encourage critical thinking, and to make sure to take their questions seriously. To pay attention to their emotional needs, give them breaks when they need, let them speak when they need, and let them process together without me. I do not want to do an anti-racist indoctrination, I do not want to brainwash anyone. I have learned a lot from Masa about how not to “educate” people, and I am really going to take those lessons with me.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting, Emma! I've been waiting for this post. :-) I am so proud of you for being so honest about your feelings, even when you are unsure about things. I think that is the beauty of your learning experience in Israel. You can give me your autograph when you get back.