dinsdag 24 juni 2014

The many dimensions of Ari Shavit

The sociologist and theologian Gied ten Berge, chairman of SIVMO, the Support Committee for Israeli Peace and Human Rights Organizations, wrote in the summer issue of the magazine Nieuwe Liefde a review of the book My promised land by Ari Shavit. The title of his review is well chosen: “Life on seven lines of fracture”, which refers to the seven rebellions that Shavit signals in Israel, and which just about sounds like ‘dancing on a volcano’.

But for the rest, Ten Berge missed a lot in Shavit’s book. Indeed, the book has much more dimensions than the review reflects. By that I have ia in mind the dimension of the history of Zionism, and the many aspects of Shavit’s vision of the Israeli peace movement.

For an adequate understanding of Israel and Zionism familiarity with their history is an absolute requirement. A long, loaded past must be taken into consideration, especially of centuries of Christian and secular anti-Semitism in Europe.

In one of her last columns journalist Eva van Sonderen makes clear how deep that kind of collective negative experiences can get fixed in the human mind. “I have experienced several workshops ‘Family Constellations’ and often the Holocaust emerged as a gigantic blockade, especially among young people, the third generation after, of which at first sight you would not think that. And sometimes, with Mizrahi or Sephardi participants, also there stories came up about the pogroms against Jews in North Africa or Asia”.

Shavit assigns an important role to that kind of blockages, and clearly shows to what degree they had their impact long before the Holocaust. In particular, the Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews already at the end of the nineteenth century could no longer. They had nothing to lose anymore, Zionism was their last straw and Shavit reveals that well in his stories about the pioneers.

It is noteworthy that Ten Berge says nothing about this history, which is essential for the overall picture of Shavit. Just as for the Shavit the history of the expelled Palestinians is of great importance: they simply lived there already for generations. Which indeed Ten Berge does emphasize too.

Then there is the role of the Israeli peace movement. Shavit goes to great lengths to make clear that ‘doing the right thing’ and ‘peace’ are not as easily aligned as one might think. And certainly not in the brutal Middle East.

An average peace movement might cherish that illusion, and so did the Israeli peace movement. Shavit tells that, as a student and young journalist, he initially went along in that mood. He was a left-wing activist and protested against the occupation, in the belief that by ending the occupation peace would come within range.

“Only when I was thirty, and began to seriously listen to what the Palestinians actually had to say, I realized that this prospect for peace was unfounded. About this occupation the left was absolutely right: it is a moral, demographic and political disaster. But regarding peace the left was totally wrong. They counted on a peace partner that does not really exist. It was assumed that peace had to be feasible because it was needed. But the history of the conflict and the geo-strategic situation of the region involved that peace could not be achieved”. Yet, also from a kind of self-protection, that illusion of peace was hold on to.

The moral struggle that with a man like Shavit is accompanied by this type of analyses is palpable in his book. For my part, Ten Berge could have devoted a few words to it.

Instead, he believes that Shavit lacks a prophetic vision. Could there perhaps be something prophetic in the ruthless honesty and openness with which Shavit dares to face the situation?

Also see Right and Wrong