As the peace process gets under way, the question arises: just who is the Jewish-Israeli society which is about to make peace with its enemies? To what extent is this society sufficiently mature to respect the different identity of another people?
The Jewish-Israeli society is one of polarization, of fissures and of divisions within its own ranks. Among its characteristics one finds a long-standing racism toward the Oriental Jewish community living within it. It is a society which is suffering from the failure of its attempts at integration, repeated from generation to generation.
The reasons for the failure to integrate diverse elements of the population living in Israel are psychohistorical and deeply rooted. In connection with this sociohistorical situation, I wish to put forward a number of hypotheses:
My first hypothesis is that the split between the Ashkenazi (Western) and Sephardi (Oriental) is embedded in the cornerstone of the society. The people of the Second Aliya (wave of immigration, 1904-1914), who came from Russia to settle in Palestine, left an indelible mark on Jewish-Israeli society for generations to come. Their values were deemed preeminent: settlement on the land and manual labor. They also abandoned religion, considered to belong to the Diaspora and thus out of date. The central idea was to give birth to a new sort of Jew, the forerunner of the proud Sabra (native-born Israeli).
This mentality completely overlooked and even denied the fact that the people of Israel were settling into the Middle East. It was as if the Middle East with all its characteristics did not exist. From the point of view of mentality, national identity and Jewish existence itself had been created elsewhere. What we have here is the rebirth in Palestine of European Jewry with rejuvenated characteristics.
Over the years this core of mentality was augmented by characteristics deemed to be Ashkenazi - language, accent, dress, customs, music, etc. Everything symbolizing European culture was considered supreme.
This mentality created a deep barrier between those who fitted in and belonged, and the others, those who were different. The Oriental Jews were imbued with traditional religious values. Unlike the people of the Second Aliya who lived collectively, had rebelled against the parent generation and left their homes, the Oriental youth did not distance itself from its sources in such a way as to create a new path for itself.
The Oriental Jews thus had from the start no part in the new culture.
Thought of as a population which had nothing to contribute from a cultural point of view, they suffered from an arrogant and separative attitude on the part of the Ashkenazi population. My hypothesis is that a social structure whose foundations were built in this way must influence the social mentality of the here and now. Today it is hard to reach integration when there is no basic history of bringing the various elements together. Moreover, the situation was never dealt with or corrected because the reality of the problem had always been denied. This, therefore, made it easier to ignore the actual existence of the dilemma.

Oriental Jews as an Unconscious Threat

My second hypothesis is that the Oriental Jews posed an unconscious threat to the emerging society. It appears that unconscious psychological processes created divisions and prevented the possibility of integration.
In the first years of the life of the State the extremely young Jewish-Israeli society was given to processes of formation and establishment. It was not ready to incorporate differences and to accept them as part of itself. This was a society which determined clear values for itself and held onto them. The need to live according to clear definitions was a natural one for a society in the stage of being established. In addition, there was the trauma of the Holocaust which led to placing the emphasis upon military security. The slogan was: we will no longer go like sheep to the slaughter. The national identity had to be both uniform and clear.
With this background it was more natural to regard the Middle East as a place which had to be conquered rather than as a place to which one should try to feel closer, and where one should become familiar with the peoples living in it. To approach the other and to enter into a dialogue were not the first priorities in which Jews really believed.
In this context, the Oriental Jews were not conceived as a connecting link or as a bridge capable of bringing about rapprochement. On the contrary, they threatened the clear differentiation between Europeans and Levantines, between whites and blacks. Their complex identity as Jews who were simultaneously close to the Arabs as regards color of skin, the language and customs served to blur the boundaries between West and East. For the Ashkenazim, this blurring led to fear and confusion.
Because of their dread of being influenced by the Levant and becoming part of the environment, the Ashkenazi Jews rejected everything which had an Oriental flavor. For their part, the Oriental Jews, who had for so long suffered rejection and discrimination, also began to identify with these processes: they themselves started to feel inferior and to be ashamed of their origins. A society which develops instinctive fears of the other, of the one who is different, is one which builds around itself more and more walls. Everything which is different becomes dangerous and threatening. It is a society living in mental siege, in which the other is not a partner for dialogue and a source of fertilization and growth/ but a frightening, often demonic enemy upon whom are projected many fantasies connected with evil, inferiority and crudity.

Superior and Inferior in the Social Order

My third hypothesis is that the need for belonging and not belonging does not facilitate integration. The Jewish-Israeli society is made up in all its layers of immigrants who were tom from their roots and had to start afresh. In this society the terminology associated with those who came first took upon itself a mythical dimension. The first to come, the pioneers and the veterans, are the Israeli aristocracy. This phenomenon is so deeply ingrained in the psychology of the society that the new immigrant is always inferior, never belongs, has not built anything from scratch, has no foundations here. This is a society where classes are created which distinguish between those with ancestral rights and the others, who do not belong.
In addition, the society underwent a change when, following the creation of the State, it shed the pioneering values now considered anachronistic. While these values were lost, the problems of belonging continued in all their severity. The criteria for belonging changed and are now divorced from the former values; belonging is now determined by economic status and by all the accompanying manifestations of this status. However, the need for people who do not belong, who will be peripheral to the society, existed then and remains today. Now, when we look ahead to the peace process, we must also explore the difficulties of Jewish society in making peace within itself, and the derogatory attitude toward the Oriental communities, as well as toward the immigrants of recent years from Ethiopia and from Russia. This attitude also projects upon relations with the Arabs. Because they have suffered and been humiliated, the Oriental communities themselves project a derogatory attitude upon other groups, namely the Arabs. When the social order is built upon superior and inferior, masters and servants, there is no reason why the Oriental communities will desire to form relationships with the Arabs. On the contrary, they need them as a lower order on which to deposit their own inferiority and non-belonging. What this means is that the derogatory attitude toward the Oriental communities has implications on the relationships of the two peoples, the Jewish and the Arab.
The psychological phenomenon which should be examined and researched is connected with the human need that there should always be an other, someone upon whom one can cast all the evil. The less progressive and mature the society, the more it needs to maintain - within its borders but a small distance away - another society which will typify all the lowly and inferior aspects. In this way the society itself can foster the illusion that it is exalted and superior. The three hypotheses which I have raised show that we must try to make a thorough investigation of the roots, and how the seeds of current difficulties were sown many years ago. In a television program in December 1993, Yaron London reported how in the 1950s, the years of the great immigration from Morocco, a senior journalist from the daily Ha'aretz went to see the immigrants in the transit camps. After his visit, this journalist claimed in an article that the North African immigrants were barbarians. The editor of the newspaper supported the article and stressed that in his opinion, selectivity should be introduced in accepting the immigration. A great commotion arose in the wake of this, in the course of which the paper tried to shed responsibility for these racist expressions.

Discrimination - Theory and Practice

In this country there have always been commotions, and debates in which racism and discrimination have been condemned. In practice, however, in spite of declarations against racism, the Oriental Jews, including those born and bred in Israel, had to bear the brunt of not insignificant blows because of their Oriental identity.
As a daughter of Oriental Jews born in Israel in its early days, I felt that I had to erase or modify a guttural form of speaking which, though correct, was considered inferior. My parents' mother tongue was Arabic and in my childhood, Arabic was the second language spoken at home. The sound of the language always made me ashamed. The world outside brought home to me that reading and writing in Arabic were inferior. I never thought or felt that I possessed an important asset, an instrument of communication with the East. The subtle and indirect message permeated so deeply within me that, fearing to be similar to the Arabs and identified with them, I was eventually unable to take in a single word of Arabic.
This is merely a private example of a general phenomenon which was always prevalent in Israel: the need of the Jews to preserve their identity, separatism and keeping a distance from the people of the region. This phenomenon is still making its mark today, repeating itself before our own eyes day in and day out. In a weekly television news program in September 1994, an item was broadcast on how, in Oriental neighborhoods, six high schools currently under construction will cater only for children of the Oriental communities. This differentiation between Ashkenazim and Orientals is intended to encourage the Orientals to take a higher place in society. However, such a phenomenon should be seen as a warning light, for it is perhaps a public admission of the failure of integration.
In the New Year issue of the evening paper Yediot Achronot, September 1994, findings from a research project by Naomi Tsion on youth from all over the country were published by Shulamith Teneh. Here is an excerpt from the article:

The Ingathering of the Exiles, the melting pot, a united Israeli society - all these are slogans. But it transpires that Israeli youth is full of hostile and even hateful prejudice toward groups of youth which appear in their eyes to be different from them in character. The research indicates an abyss of strangeness dividing distant and polarized groups of youth like kibbutzniks, pupils from development towns, and high school pupils from the better-off north and the poorer southern parts of Tel Aviv. Here, for example, is what the kibbutzniks thought of their contemporaries from Shderot: they are street-wise, they have an Eastern accent, they dress gaudily. Their girls are cheap, their heads are full of music and shit. The youth from Shderot is also full of stereotypes regarding the kibbutzniks: they are Ashkenazim, arrogant, leftists, snobs, square, and enjoy the benefit of favoritism in the army.

Hatred of the Other

The Israel of 1994 faces the same fissures and the same barriers which have always divided its society. Accordingly, processes of uniting, merging and integrating are not taking place. The younger generation, which has been steeped in these failures, will continue to pass them on to the next generation.
The fear of the other, the need to see him as responsible for the bad and the inferior, is a deep and archaic human fear, the roots of which are to be found in the foundations of human culture. The hostility between Jews and Arabs is only one example of the deep human need for hatred of the other. The more a society needs the other in order to attribute its own failures and weaknesses to him, the less open it is to sustain differences and to recognize its own internal barriers.
One interesting general example which helps us to realize how deep is the fear of the stranger and how strong the need to regard him as inferior, to look down on him and to hate him, can be found in the meaning of the word "barbarian." I am referring, of course, to the changes and distortion of the original meaning of the word.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, "Barbarian is the name among the early Greeks for all foreigners, including the Romans." The word probably represents the uncouth babbling which the Greeks heard in languages other than their own. "It soon assumed an evil meaning, becoming associated with the vices and savage nature which the Greeks attributed to their enemies. The Romans adopted the word for all peoples other than those under Greco-Roman influence and domination."
In this development of the meaning of the word, we can sense that there is a psychological need to look at someone who behaves differently, speaks a different language and looks different, as inferior to oneself. It seems that all cruelty, violence and crude behavior are projected onto the stranger. In this way, one can preserve the goodness and purity of one's own identity.
I would like to relate briefly to the book Waiting for the Barbarians by the South African writer J.M. Coetzee. It deals with a kingdom in which rumors broke out and spread throughout the community that the barbarians were threatening the kingdom. Coetzee does not specify time or place concerning
these happenings. These events could happen any place, any time. The book tells of a colonel who wanders around the borders of the kingdom, taking into captivity barbarians that he comes across. These barbarians are simple fishermen and vagabonds who do not know what he wants from them. However, the atmosphere is full of menace. Throughout the kingdom the feeling permeates that soon the barbarians will destroy their way of life. It is therefore necessary to interrogate the captives.
The irony of the story is that the more the colonel tries to suppress the barbarians in various inhuman ways, the more he himself sinks to the uttermost depths of depravity. He, who represents culture, becomes the barbarian.
Coetzee touches here upon a universal human phenomenon. This book was written long before the Intifada, but contains an exact description of the impossible dynamics of the situation in which the Israeli soldier was placed. A soldier who became a representative of the occupation was compelled to perpetrate acts which were contrary to his human values.
Fear of the Arab - who is different, the other side, the foreign, the enemy - grew stronger in the wake of the Intifada.

A Period of Transformation

It can be assumed that a society which needs barbarians who contain all the evil, will make sure that in reality it will have such people. Jews-Israelis meet Palestinians or see Palestinians on the television only in the context of disturbances and terror, or as unskilled laborers. Many Palestinians meet Jews-Israelis only as soldiers in uniform, or as employers exploiting them.
These sorts of encounters perpetuate the fear, the suspicion, the hostility and the hatred. The society which created these sorts of encounters overlooks the fact that this type of aggressive confrontation screened on television is the consequence of years of oppression, discrimination and occupation.
The period ahead can be one of transformation, one of transition from violent encounters perpetuating hatred and fear, to those of a different nature, facilitating dialogue and rapprochement. The decisive question is to what extent such a change is possible and what are the ways to encourage it. Peace with Egypt did not bring real rapprochement and seeing people as stereotypes continued. Is it possible to reach different relations between the parties, relations over and above those of cold peace?
Prolonged work over generations may be needed in order to make it possible to see the other through a new prism.
Rapprochement with the stranger may take place when there are mutual interests benefiting the two peoples. Change does not take place through information, preaching, or education, since social processes permeate indirectly and with an emotional power. This is what dictates our concept of the other. It is to be hoped that change will take place through joint projects in the economic and cultural fields. In these sorts of encounters, it will be possible to relate to the other with respect, to learn from him and to facilitate the development of mutual fertilization.
So as to enable such encounters to take place, each of the peoples must feel itself sufficiently mature and confident; to reach this level, there will be a need for a long period of self-growth and development.

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