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Israel Firsters

For the past few months Israelis and Palestinians have experienced a wave of terrorist attacks mainly on civilian targets. Peace education may have an answer.

About twelve years ago I participated in a conference in Cyprus that was co-sponsored by an American and Spanish NGO. The conference brought together Israeli and Palestinian educators to discuss introducing peace-oriented study in their respective school curricula.

We were all asked to bring material relating to peace already in use, which would be reviewed and from which either side could borrow creative ideas. Palestinian educators had no such material so the time at the conference was spent reviewing Israeli material.

During a discussion about, if I remember correctly, problems of teaching peace in the classroom, one of the Palestinian teachers raised an issue that was quite unexpected by the conference sponsors, and by me for that matter. She, being a Christian Arab from Jerusalem, expressed discouragement at the increasing gap between Christians and Muslims within the Palestinian community. As a lifelong Palestinian nationalist she was disturbed by the fact that her teenage son had more in common with Israeli teenagers that he met on the beach in Tel Aviv than he did with Muslim Palestinian teenagers who were his lifelong neighbors.

After she had expressed her concerns the room went dead silent. It seemed to me that we all recognized that the discussion had taken a sudden turn in a direction that could easily lead the entire conference into an orgy of mutual recrimination, which was definitely not the intention of the organizers nor the participants.   

The silence was broken when one of the other Arab participants announced that the problem was obviously caused by “the occupation”. No one, including me, contradicted him. We were all just relieved that the comment gave us an avenue of escape back to the subject of educating for peace.

I recalled this incident when reading a recent opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post about “honor” killings in Israeli Arab society. The author made some valid points but couldn’t help writing, “The government is also responsible for the fact that the unnecessary occupation has caused bloodshed to become a routine and everyday occurrence for Israel’s Arab community.”

One again, the “occupation” allows problems in Arab society, like an unwanted foundling, to be placed at Israel’s doorstep. To the author’s credit, after genuflecting to “the occupation” a pretty good analysis of the phenomenon of the murder of women in the Israeli Arab community followed.

When I first began commenting on articles here at openDemocracy, I was motivated to answer a writer who contended that the State of Israel had intentionally opened the flood gates on one of its dams in order to flood some villages in Gaza.

The article was simply one of many examples where Palestinian leadership misfeasance brought tribulations to Palestinians that were blamed on the Israelis. I have come to refer to such observers as “Israel Firsters”.

The first time I saw the term “Israel Firster” it was used as an anti-Semitic canard by a writer in reference to the alleged dual loyalty of all Jews to their countries of residence and to the State of Israel, with the latter taking precedence.

I have also seen “Israel Firster” used to describe American neo-cons and others of the Jewish faith or Jewish ethnicity. Despite its unfortunate prejudicial origins it seems to me that the term quite accurately describes Jews, Christians, Muslims, Arabs, Europeans and all others who blame the problems and misfortunes of Palestinians (and others) on Israel first. This has had a detrimental effect mostly on Palestinians because it has retarded valid criticism of Palestinian leadership which might have motivated them to do a better job for the Palestinian people. Instead “Israel Firsters” have had the effect of letting Palestinian leadership off the hook, allowing them to go on their way extracting what they can from the situation for their own personal benefit.

For the past few months we (Israelis and Palestinians) have experienced a wave of terrorist attacks mainly on civilian targets. These have mostly been knifings but have also included using vehicles and guns as weapons. For the most part the attackers have been young people, including a few pre-teens, who are inspired to express their nationalism by killing random passersby on the streets. Most of the attackers have been killed in the act, glorified as “shaheed” (martyr) and have become part of the pantheon of Palestinian heroes.

“Israel Firsters” reflexively blame the actions of these young terrorists on “the occupation”. I would suggest that the absence of peace education in most Palestinian Authority schools may have something to do with the motivation of these young people to kill and be killed. A recent article on openDemocracy about reforming education in Egypt, in my opinion, has a great deal of relevance for the Palestinian educational system.

Until Palestinian schools seriously engage in educating for peace rather than glorifying conflict, waves of youthful suicidal terrorism should not be unexpected whether or not “the occupation” continues. 

About the author

Efraim has been a resident of the western Negev, adjacent to the Gaza Strip, for almost 40 years. He has a Masters Degree from the University of Michigan in international relations and is both a farmer and an English teacher, and a teacher twice-retired, most recebntly from teaching English at a Bedouin High School.

 


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