Language and History: Two Revolutionary Keys to Overcoming Fear

The attacks on Gaza affected me more than any other past war or campaign of the Israeli army. Beyond the horrific pictures that I saw, I found it very difficult to cope with the enormous public support, with the vindication of the killing and with the mobilization of the media. I found it difficult to accept that Israelis saw themselves as the victim. I struggled with the twisted idea that our existence was endangered and so we had to prove Israel's military might through mass murder.

As someone who refused to be conscripted into the army, I thought I was already familiar with the feeling of being a "traitor" in the country and an enemy of my people. But as an objector to the attacks on Gaza, I felt more than ever before just what it means to be rejected by the majority. Every day, throughout the campaign, I participated in demonstrations against the attacks, because without such action, I couldn't have coped with the feelings of anger and helplessness that built up in me. At the demonstrations, I was exposed to the reactions of people passing in the street and, of course, to those of the opposing demonstrators who often outnumbered us. Passersby threw eggs at us and, once, the firemen took the law into their own hands and sprayed us with water as if we were a fire that had to be extinguished, or perhaps voices that had to be silenced. I genuinely felt frightened about walking about on my own bearing any sign of my being one of the objectors. I cut off contact with everyone who supported the attacks. In addition, I found that some of my high school classmates were now in Gaza as soldiers. I felt angry towards them, but at the same time feared for their safety.

Embedded Fears

For me, Operation Cast Lead exposed the amount of fear that is being nurtured in Israel - a fear that provides the green light to carry out crimes.

This fear was expressed by the way in which people were defensive and willing to justify the campaign in their own minds, with a complete lack of sensitivity towards others. I heard claims such as "I know that hundreds of children are being killed or maimed, but it's the only solution, and with all the pain we have to continue with the campaign to protect inhabitants in the south." These assertions arise from fears that are embedded in the Jewish citizens of Israel from childhood - a fear that unites, that unifies in war situations. The people in the south have suffered for years from the government's neglect. They're discriminated against in their standard of living compared to those in the center of the country and in established towns and villages or those living in the settlements (on the West Bank). But there were no calls to support and assist them until the moment when a common Arab enemy was found - from that moment there was unity and "concern" for the inhabitants of the south. The Qassam rockets and the armament of Hamas were the excuse for the attack and an end to them was the declared goal of the Operation. And now that the fighting is over, neglect of the southern citizens has returned.

It's not difficult to mobilize the public against the Arab enemy. There are several ways that state and society prepare the ground and encourage racist attitudes towards Arabs. Let me begin with the ignorance about anything relating to Arabs and Arab culture. This ignorance is extremely dangerous and a major stumbling block before any progress towards Jews and Arabs being able to live together. The methodology to induce fear begins in the education system and appears as well in the media, the army and in our cultural life. Not very long ago, at Passover, we sang from the Haggadah: "In every generation, they rise up to strike against us...." This fear has grown so extreme that many Jews don't even want to hear Arabic; they don't trust Arabs and so become racist. I try to think of ways to encourage people to show an interest in the rich culture, language and life of the people they so fear. Then I immediately admit defeat, thinking that if the Jews really wanted to confront their fears, they would do so without artificial stimuli. It's easy for an occupying country to vindicate its crimes, to justify itself, to think that it is threatened without admitting or even understanding that it is the threat and it has the power. To get out of this situation, it is first necessary to acknowledge it.

Empowered by Language

When I'm relaxed, seated in front of the computer, I can make endless suggestions to change the situation and lots of activities to strengthen the chances of peace. But the fact is that during the attacks on Gaza, I felt helpless against the sheer size of the establishment. An establishment that has the strength, with a single word, to murder and injure thousands of people. One of my words, on the other hand, cannot influence a change in the situation.

During the attacks, I felt like a tiny grain of sand in a gigantic machine of hatred, called Israel. Immediately after Operation Cast Lead, I decided to take the initiative. I decided to go back to learning Arabic. Having grown up in Neve Shalom - Wahat al-Salam (the only village in Israel established jointly by Jews and Palestinian Arabs of Israeli citizenship), I do speak Arabic, but nevertheless felt the need to improve my use of the language and to learn it in a more systematic and thorough way. I now consider my studies of Arabic to be of much greater importance than any political action in which I am involved.

I believe that for the conqueror to learn the language of a conquered people is an act of solidarity and is an attempt to extend a hand and create connections between people.

When I talk to an Arab in the conqueror's language, I feel that the relationship between us is not reciprocal - that I have the power. But when I address Arabs in their language, I am making an effort to blend into their culture, their "territory" and they, thanks to the change in the balance of power, become empowered and, so, a certain balance is created between us. I don't think it conceivable that we can expect any possibility of living equally alongside one another as long as communication between us is only carried on in the conqueror's language.

Changing Arabic Curriculum

To strengthen the belief in and the connections with Palestinians, we have to break through the assumptions that form the basis for the teaching of Arabic in our schools. The curriculum in the high schools does not aim to teach the language of the Middle East. Studying Arabic in Israel is often greeted with raised eyebrows and wonder. This tendency demonstrates the feelings of alienation that Israelis have towards Arabs and how they totally overlook their existence and the legitimacy of creating a common discourse. It is possible to choose extended courses in Arabic, but this option only exists to serve the army's interests. When the time came in high school to choose our subjects for matriculation, a female soldier in uniform visited our school and tried to talk us into taking the extended Arabic subject so that in three years' time, when we would be conscripted into the army, we could serve in the intelligence unit in which a good knowledge of Arabic is essential to control the enemy. Also, every year, students who do choose this path, are sent to participate in the "Arabic Gadna" (pre-military training corps for youth). The Gadna program is also directly connected to the army. The Arabic syllabus in schools focuses on the Arabic to be found in literature, not that spoken on the streets, and so students are learning a language that will not bring them any closer to people. Any change in the curriculum and in learning objectives is a big thing and dependent on politicians, so until the revolution occurs, young people should learn independently as an act of resistance.

The study of history is yet another strand to the shaping of our culture of fear. Teachers spend a sizeable chunk of history studies time on the situation of the Jews in World War II and during the Holocaust. In my high school, during our final year, we went on a school trip to Poland. On our return, my teacher asked what meaning the trip had for me. I replied that I regarded the trip as superfluous and that I didn't understand why they took the trouble to take us to see the extermination camps. "Were you trying to make us feel what happened there?" I asked. After all, we had learnt about it in school, so why was there a need to walk the route of the "Death March" in the snow? The message of the trip, the teacher explained, was about the importance of knowing what happened there to make sure that the Holocaust would never be repeated - not against us and not against other peoples. So, the Ministry of Education sends young Jews to see and be shocked by the Nazis' machinations of death and discrimination against the Jews (and against other peoples, about which they don't bother teaching us in any detail) but I would ask whether their aim is really to educate us to prevent another holocaust? I felt that they were trying to instill in us the heroism of the Jews who were faced with an enemy determined to destroy them. I wonder why this is relevant today. Our "enemy" today is the "Palestinians, who want to throw us all into the sea." If this is so, when can we display the acts of heroism that are expected of us? For us, all of us walking in the snow, approaching the end of our final year in school, have conscription to the army just around the corner. The future soldiers (and our school is in the top 50 schools sending a high percentage to combat units) - having been subjected to the worst of iniquities - the Holocaust - anything that we do, shocking though it may be, does not compare to the Holocaust and so cannot be improper.

If the Ministry of Education wanted to educate us towards a love of humanity and to a concern that history does not repeat itself, I think it would be appropriate to teach, in addition to the history relating to the Jews, also struggles and conflicts that do not directly affect us. When the history we are taught is so connected to and close to us, our ability to be critical is diminished because the subject touches our most personal feelings. Perhaps, if, for just a moment, we stopped focusing only on ourselves, we might discover that we are not so unique; we'd be exposed to other struggles that once seemed irresolvable, and yet...

If the Ministry of Education were to really adopt the aim of teaching us history so as to allow us to deduce conclusions to correct current situations in Israel and the world, they would have to prepare young people to be thinking, critical beings, who do not act out of brainwashing, fear and revenge. If we were more exposed to other struggles, we could better learn of our own situation, perhaps even see it from an external, fairer point of view.

Nurturing Alternative Education

A change in the national syllabus is not really realistic because the state's objective is to educate its citizens to loyally serve the "Zionist cause," which is why I think there is need for independent, alternative education. People seeking paths of action toward change can set up or join groups that are studying about struggles in other parts of the world and find points of similarity between our situation here and those struggles. It should also be possible to build joint study groups of Israelis and Palestinians. Cooperation with Palestinians not only expands their learning abilities but also exposes Israelis to the Palestinians' point of view and, generally, empowers the study group as a form of political study. Even though research and study groups If the Ministry of Education were to really adopt the aim of teaching us history so as to allow us to deduce conclusions to correct current situations in Israel and the world, they would have to prepare young people to be thinking, critical beings, who do not act out of brainwashing, fear and revenge. would not on the face of it appear to be obviously revolutionary, I see them as acts of protest against the establishment. Studying in this way is simple and achievable and helps us see the situation we're in from the outside.

Ignoring the importance of knowing Arabic and the focus on teaching only highly selective chapters of history are in my opinion expressions of the policy of concealment which serves the state. This concealment prevents us from knowing the "enemy," from hearing and understanding their voices. Today the enemy is hidden behind high concrete walls, which continue to be built - walls that hide the face of the Arabs and the crimes and lies of Israel. In other words, walls that hide the true face of Israel. We have it within us to break the concealing wall. We can expose that which they seek to hide by changing the path that the state has decreed for us. We should cross over the wall, learn about, expose ourselves and get to know our partners in the struggle to bring about the occupation's end. We should expose the truth and find other ways to break off from the path that seems to have been predetermined. This way, I believe, is vital to overcome the fear and distance between Jews and Arabs in the region.

There are many ways to strengthen the hopes and the chances for peace, and every single one of us who is interested in promoting peace acts in their own way. I have mentioned just two options - learning a language and learning history - and that through them, inshallah, we can be exposed to the truth, and we will be able to understand that we have no choice but to free ourselves of the occupation, to free ourselves from our fear of the Arabs, from the fear of being equal and not superior to them, from the fear of peace.

Translated from the Hebrew.

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