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The Arab-Jewish conflict over the land which Jews refer to as Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel» and the Arabs call Filastin, was permeated from the beginning by mutual denial of the collectivity of the Other. The slogan which was coined by a Jewish leader at the beginning of the century, "a people without a land for a land without a people" expressed a widespread perception among Zionists. As late as the early 1970s, Golda Meir, the prime minister of Israel at the time, publicly denied the existence of a Palestinian people.
The Arabs, for their part, could never understand or accept the notion that the Jews, whom they knew for centuries only as a religious collective, have ~he right to be considered as a "nation." Article 20 of the Palestinian Charter, which the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) first articulated in 1965 as the basis for its entire political and spiritual struggle reads: "Judaism, being a religion of the Covenant, does not constitute a nationality with an independent existence, and the Jews do not constitute a separate nation with a unique identity. The Jews are the citizens of the states to which they belong."
Mutual denial is quite common between nations in conflict. However in the Palestinian-Israeli case, both sides tried to write off the very existence of the Other. This happened not only because the conflict was seen by both sides as a zero-sum conflict, but primarily since both the modem nation of Israel, as well as the Palestinian political entity, were born along with the conflict itself, and to a large degree were shaped by it. The conflict was not simply a fight over a certain piece of land, but over the evolving unique and self-articulated identity of both contenders. Both sides required the total denial of the very existence of the other, as a prerequisite for a full and unmitigated identification of the self.
Being an Israeli Jew, and a Zionist, I shall deal primarily with the Zionist perspective, leaving the task of analyzing the Arab perceptions to Palestinian scholars. The following will be an attempt to sketch the different parameters and the changing images which structured the Zionist perceptions of the Palestinian Arabs.

The Wasteland

During their exile, Jews imagined the land from which they had been banished by God for their sins as an empty space, laying waste, waiting for them to return and resettle it. Throughout two millennia, the popular image of Palestine, and especially of Jerusalem, in the eyes of Jews was of a city of ruins, barrenness and wasteland. The destruction of their Temple by Titus in 70 AD and the sights of its ruins symbolized for them the general material condition of the entire land.
Numerous legends in the Jewish scriptures and prayers created in the Jewish mind this image of the Holy Land as a wasteland. To be sure, pilgrims could hardly fail to reinforce this image by their reports on the destitute physical conditions which they saw in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the land also in later periods. The early Zionist settlers primarily saw large stretches of uninhabited land, of malaria-infested swamps and many ruins everywhere, since these lands were those available to their colonizing efforts. Thus the entire Zionist project was conceived not only the redemption of the Jews by their promised return to their land, but also the redemption of the land from its destitution.
But to conceive of the land as waste and void also implied disdain and denial of the other people who inhabited the land. They could not be counted as its legitimate owners, since they did so little to make the land bloom and become once more the "land of milk and honey." In the famous song written by the lyricist Naomi Shemer shortly before the Six-Day War in 1967, she describes the Old City of Jerusalem, the access to which was barred to Israelis between 1948 and 1967, and states: "The market place is empty and nobody gets up to the Holy Mount on the Jericho road." This is indeed an odd line, since the markets in old Jerusalem were surely bustling with their Arab inhabitants and the many pilgrims, and the road from Jericho certainly resounded with the din of cars, camels and donkeys climbing towards the Holy Mount. But for Naomi Shemer and the mass of Israelis and Zionists who sang "Jerusalem of Gold" with an anthem-like devotion, these did not count as real. That part of the land that was empty of Jews was the important fact to be redressed and redeemed.

The Iron Wall

Not all the early Zionists turned a blind eye to the Arab inhabitants of the land. The first generation of Sabras, born in the few colonies established by the first wave of Zionist immigration in the 1880s and 1890s, were too few and too isolated to be able not to encounter daily and mix intimately with their Arab neighbors. Arab women often served as their nannies, young Arabs ran their farms' affairs and lived inside their housing compounds, armed Palestinians served as their guards, and the Arabic language, which many of them spoke fluently, penetrated their vernacular Hebrew as well. Some writers and artists imagined the Arabs, and especially the Bedouins, as the contemporary incarnations of the Israelites of old. The German-born painter, Abel Pan, created portraits of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Patriarchs of the nation and their spouses the Matriarchs, taking his models from Bedouins he saw when he arrived in Palestine at the turn of the century. The common orienta list version of the "noble savage" was not far from the imagination of these early artists, who expressed romantic fondness of the "native," but surely also patronizing attitudes.
A few Zionist leaders and thinkers looked at the situation with a higher degree of realism. Although Palestinian nationalism and self-consciousness started to find its overt expressions only by the end of the first decade of this century, sensitive observers could discern the seeds of the conflict already a decade earlier. The most prominent of these was the renowned Zionist thinker Ahad Ha'am, who drew his colleagues' attention to the burgeoning problem already in 1891 in the article "Truth from the Land of Israel" which he wrote after a visit he paid to the early Zionist settlements in Palestine. "The Jews abroad tend to consider all Arabs as desert savages [ ... ] but this is a serious mistake, the Arabs like all children of Shem have sharp minds and are resourceful," Ahad Ha'am wrote then, 100 years ago. He noticed that initially many Arabs were friendly to the Jews since the scope of Jewish colonization was still very small and did not seem to them to present a real menace. "But when the time will come and the Jews will develop in this country and will start to displace the Arabs, they will not quit the land so easily."
Another prominent example was Yitzhak Epstein, a Hebrew teacher active in the Galilee in the early years of the century. He complained in an article published in 1907 of the self-delusion of the Zionist leaders who failed to realize the severity of the "Arab problem." Both these writers warned their colleagues of the strife with which the clash between Jews and Arabs in the land was pregnant. But only after the end of the First World War, in response to the Balfour Declaration, which promised in the name of Great Britain to help develop a Jewish homeland in Palestine, did Palestinian national resistance to Zionism become more organized and active under the leadership of Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. Yet most Zionists in the 1920s found it still difficult to confront the Palestinian national movement. They tried to explain it away by blaming it on the intrigues and perfidy of the British government, or the manipulation of the otherwise "friendly and peace-loving" (meaning docile) Arab fellahin (farmers) by the feudal landowners and the religious Muslim zealots.
Paradoxically, it was the radical Zionist nationalist Ze'ev Jabotinsky who first recognized Palestinian nationalism as such, and correctly understood the head-on clash between the two national movements, who claimed ownership rights for the same land and aspired to realize their new national identity in it. In a famous article titled "The Iron Wall" published in 1923, he recognized clearly that "in the land of Israel two nations will always live." He wrote that, unlike the Arabs of Baghdad or Mecca, for whom Palestine may well be a marginal area, "for the Arabs of Eretz Yisrae1 this land is not a border area; this is their only homeland, the sole center and base of their separate national existence."
From his realism as an observer he recommended to the Zionists a militant policy: The Jews must acquire the land without even trying to win the agreement of its former inhabitants, and erect an iron wall (meaning military power) in order to defend their project against the Palestinian resistance and despite their bitter opposition. The iron wall will have to be maintained until the day comes in which the Arabs will be obliged to realize that Zionist control over the land is irreversible. Only when the Palestinians totally despair of the efficacy of their resistance, will peace come to the land.

When the Savage Ceased to Be Noble

The armed and diplomatic Palestinian struggle against Zionism, which intensified in the late 1920s and during the 1930s, could no more be discounted. In the 1920s and the 1930s, hundreds of articles, written by the most prominent Zionist leaders, appeared daily on the so-called "Arab Problem" in the Hebrew press. However, not willing to give up their aspiration to establish a Jewish homeland in the whole of Palestine, the "Arab Problem" was considered a problem for the Jews, to be solved diplomatically or militarily. The "Arabs of the Land of Israel" (not yet referred to as "Palestinians") were not accorded the status of a nation.
Also, a young generation of Jews, born in Palestine under the self-imposed Zionist separationist policy in the first three decades of the 20th century, came of age free from any of the earlier nostalgia A few young fighters, such as Moshe Dayan and Yigal Allon, knew the Arabs well, and may even have felt compassion for them, but had no illusions as to their hostility to the Zionist project.
For this generation, conquest inevitably implied military activities whether defensive or offensive. The key reference was now to the first military conquest of the Promised Land, led by Joshua, the disciple of Moses. The Arab was no more the docile fellah, who against his best interest was incited by his effendi to hate the Jews, the "noble savage" of the Orientalist school, but the Hittite, the Emorite, the Canaanite and the Jebusite - the indigenous inhabitants of the land that had to be defeated and conquered. Typically, David Ben-Gurion, the hero of this young generation and their uncontested leader, said repeatedly that the Book of Joshua (to my mind one of the less exciting of the biblical books) was in his opinion the most inspiring book of the Bible.
The almost total spatial separation between Arabs and Jews which the 1936 Arab revolt brought about, facilitated the stereotyping of the Other as the willful enemy. Images of Jewish victims of Arab attacks, of burned fields (returning the land to its waste ... ), of defiled holy scriptures and uprooted young plants planted by "well-wishing" Zionist pioneers - these led not only to a denial of the collective existence of the Palestinians. There was now a also denial of their humanity and worthiness.
The Second World War brought about a respite of six years with the Palestinian national movement in disarray through pro-German orientation, Transjordanian meddling and internal strife. But relations with the Jews were never the same and the image of the Jews was dominated by negative stereotypes, suspicions and expectations of a military showdown.
On the Israeli side, there was similarly a mostly negative view of the Palestinian Arabs. The Israeli sociologist, Ruth Firer, analyzed textbooks used in Jewish schools in Palestine during the 1930s and 1940s, and later in Israel during the 1950s and 1960s. She discovered the overwhelming use of negative stereotypes, both with regard to the "Arab mentality" in general, and to the collective nature and rights of the Palestinians in particular. Adjectives used to describe the Arab such as "barbaric," "primitive," "robber," "prone to be incited" were abundant. According to one textbook, it was not national consciousness that motivated the Arabs to oppose the Zionist enterprise but their "appetite and impudence," and their armed struggle is depicted as "pogroms perpetrated by mobs incited by their leaders."
The negative stereotyping of the Palestinian Arab came to a head in the 1948 war. This war, however, also brought about the collapse of Palestinian power and political presence. This development also enabled the reappearance of the total denial of Palestinian collective existence and rights as a unique national entity in the eyes of most Israelis. At the beginning of the 1948 war, when in the wake of the UN decision to partition Palestine, the Palestinians again took up armed resistance, collective abusive terms such as por'im (rioters) or knufiot (gangs), which were amply used in the late 1930s to designate the Palestinian groups fighting against the Jews, again became current in the Hebrew media. These terms expressed disdain and moral delegitimization, but also showed a hidden fear and deep-seated enmity.

The Eclipse of a Nation

The sweeping success of the military operations launched by the Jews during April and May 1948, destroyed for almost two decades the collective Palestinian entity, both military and as a unified political factor.
The heyday of Pan-Arab ism under the leadership of Gamal Abdul Nasser in the late 1950s and 1960s swept the consciousness of most Palestinians, and relieved, for a while, the Israelis of the obligation to confront the Palestinians as the main root of their conflict with the Arab world. The "enemy" was no more the Palestinian nationalist but the regular soldiers of the Arab states. The Palestinian was relegated, in the eyes of the Israeli Jews, to fulfill the role of the uprooted, impoverished refugee who deserves humanitarian aid, but was now totally deprived of any meaningful collective significance.
The Palestinian Arabs, who remained behind and now became second¬class citizens of Israel, were designated as mi'utim (the minorities), a euphemism to describe groups of people one does not have to take into account too seriously. On the other hand, out of desperation, a sense of vengance or a search for economic gain the Palestinians from across the borders in the Gaza Strip (which was controlled by Egypt), and the West Bank (which belonged to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan), embarked on campaigns to cross the border to maraud Israeli settlers. These were considered by the Israeli stereotype as pawns of political manipulation in the grand game of the Arab states, rather than as an expression of their own national aspirations.
However, the image of the "enemy" as an Egyptian or Syrian soldier, entrenched behind barbed wire and mine fields, was more abstract than the Palestinian one could meet before 1948 in the marketplace or on the highway. The growing self-confidence of the Israeli, especially after the 1956 Sinai Campaign, and the grudging acceptance of most Israelis of the 1949 armistice lines as the permanent borders of their state, enabled many of them to relax and view the Arabs as an eventual partner for peace in the Middle East. To a large degree, during the 1950s and early 1960s, Ben-Gurion himself realized Jabotinsky's prescription and led the country into a fort, surrounded with an iron wall. But behind the wall, there was now less need and less motivation to "hate" the enemy. Many Israelis did not see an essential conflict between Tel Aviv and Cairo or Damascus, let alone Amman and Beirut.
Like Jabotinsky in his day, it was now the turn of Moshe Dayan, the admired commander-in-chief of the IDF in the 1950s, to develop a realistic appreciation of the Palestinian plight. On the fresh grave of Ro'i Rothberg, a young pioneer who was slain by Palestinians near Gaza, referring to the Palestinian refugees he said: "Why should we complain of their fierce hatred? For the last eight years they have been rotting in the refugee camps of Gaza, watching how we inherit in front of their eyes the lands and villages which they and their ancestors inhabited, and make them our own homes." But like Jabotinsky 30 years earlier, Dayan's prescription remained the use of unwavering power: "We know that in order to kill their dream to exterminate us we must be armed and ready day and night. In order to inherit this land we must remember that without the steel helmet and the muzzle of a gun we will not be able to plant a tree or build a house." Dayan remained quite confident that these Palestinians, languishing in their refugee camps, should and could be contained behind barbed wire and mine fields by the Arab states in which they now resided, and if not, by the Israeli army directly.

The Palestinians Once More

The 1967 war and the Israeli conquest of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip radically changed the entire paradigm of the Arab-Israeli conflict in many ways. One of the most important innovations it brought about was the reappearance of the Palestinian national movement as an active and central actor on the Middle East stage. On the one hand, the Palestinians could no longer be pushed aside, neither as an irrelevant submerged minority inside Israel, nor as a group of uprooted refugees who had yielded their struggle to the Arab states. When Arafat took over the PLO and activated the armed struggle, the Palestinians surfaced also in the Israeli mind, this time as savage terrorists who had no moral inhibitions about killing innocent citizens, including women and children, and use the most atrocious violent means in their military struggle against Jews around the world. With the murder of school children in Ma'alot, of the athletes in Munich and of a crippled Jew in the Achille Lauro cruiser, and dozens of other similar attacks, the media set out to demonize the Palestinians.
On the other hand, two million Palestinians, headed by an impressive elite and intelligentsia, now came into daily contact with the Israelis through employment, commerce, direct exposure to the media and, as well as through dialogues organized by peace groups. Whether as an employer, a settler, a soldier serving in the occupied territories, or a peacenik seeking cooperation and dialogue, the average Israeli had now to confront the Palestinian in human terms.
During the 1970s and early 1980s public opinion inside Israel was polarized. There was a distinct shift to the right which entailed a hardening of belligerent attitudes towards the Palestinian Arabs. This shift contributed
to the rise of the Likud to power in 1977.
Yet, at the same time, the Israeli peace movement also gained significance in the streets of Israeli town and cities. Among many other kinds of activities which the different peace groups in Israel initiated, a growing number of organized "coexistence" ~ducational seminars were launched. These were primarily meetings and workshops organized jointly for Jewish and Arab Israelis, but in an indirect way they also helped to break the negative stereotypes of the Arabs in general. With less frequency, some peace groups also organized meetings with Palestinians from the occupied territories and visits to Palestinian villages and towns by Israeli Jews. The peace movement also brought sOJp.e of the new Palestinian leaders (such as Faisal Husseini or Sari Nusseibeh) to speak at their public gatherings, allowing growing numbers of Israelis to meet and listen to messages of peace and compromise directly from Palestinian personalities.
The Intifada, which broke out in December 1987, brought into play yet another dimension in the constantly changing imagery of the Palestinian in the Israeli mind. The sight of young Palestinians defying Israeli soldiers courageously with their stones, oral defamations, belligerent graffiti and the hoisting of their flags on electric wires and atop poles and minarets, was literally brought horne every evening through the television newscasts. Thousands of Israelis also experienced this frustration personally during their stints of military duty in the occupied territories. The immediate reaction was probably anger and disdain, but gradually there developed a new appreciation of the courage and resolve of their young opponents, disgust with their own posture as oppressors, growing realization of the futility of the Occupation and the invincibility of the Palestinian aspiration for independence and self-determination.
The former popularity of the Jewish settlers also waned. A growing number of Israelis were forced to realize that settlements in the West Bank and Gaza can no more be considered as "the conquest of a wasteland." The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, and in the West Bank as well, the throngs of Palestinian youth who packed the streets of Ramallah, Nablus and Hebron served as a convincing reminder that the struggle now was over a well-populated land.

Can You Trust Them?

During the last two years of his life, the late Prime Minister Rabin kept saying that one of his strongest motivations to launch in earnest a peace process with the Palestinians, was his realization during the Intifada that Israel could not suppress with military means the desire of the Palestinian for a political collective expression. He distanced himself from Golda Meir's assertion that "there is no Palestinian people." Some may now argue: "Yes, but can you trust them? Did they give up their aspiration to regain control over the entire land and thus undo our own distinct national identity? Are they truly ready for reconciliation?"
Recent research of children's Hebrew books and primary school textbooks indicate a significant moderation of the treatment of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the image of the Other; yet much of the negative stereotyping still persists, especially in the state-run "religious" (Orthodox) school system. It seems that the deep-seated sense of mistrust Jews in Israel feel towards Arabs
in general, and Palestinians in particular, fed on many years of this kind of negative stereotyping in the education system and in popular culture, and still continues to be fed by its strong residual praxis and impact.
These sincere suspicions lay behind the insistence of so many Israelis that the Palestinians revise their Charter and remove the articles which negate the rights of the Jews for nationhood and a state, The answer to this question must be given by the Palestinians as the peace process evolves. The Israeli peace movement always insisted that a peace process with enemies never starts with trust. It begins with a coincidence of interests and must build into the peace treaties arrangements which can secure the interests of both sides despite the lack of trust. Trust may develop only after such arrangements have proven themselves.
There is no doubt that the initial changes in the perception of the Other which took place during the last few years, as a result of the different factors mentioned above, and largely as a result of the work done by the peace activists on both sides, were an important prerequisite for the inauguration and success of the peace process itself. In his moving speech at the opening of the Madrid peace conference in October 1990, the venerable Haidar Abdul Shafi referred to the demonstration organized jointly by Peace Now and the Palestinian leadership of the territories at the end of December 1989, holding a chain of hands around the Old City walls of Jerusalem; he addressed the Israeli delegation and said: "We have seen you at your worst, but we have seen you also at your best," To make us appreciate the "best" in our opponent and help us forget the "worst," is the task of the educators on both sides for the next decade, if reconciliation and good neighborly relations are to replace strife and war in the Holy Land.

Extracts from a presentation at the "Palestinians and Israelis: Educating about Each Other in the Era of Peace" seminar, cosponsored by the Konrad Adenaur Foundation, the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCD and the Palestine Peace Information Center, December 7-8, 1995, Notre Dame Center, Jerusalem.

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