Daniel Buarque: You point out in your article, “Anti-Semitism and the Left that Doesn’t Learn” (check it out, a fine article-SO), that Israel’s legitimacy is often questioned in the world because of conflicts in the Middle East and because of Israel’s relationship to the Palestinians. Should the rest of the world celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of Israeli independence? Why?
Mitchell Cohen: One of the points I tried to make is that Israel is subjected to double standards, especially on the left. Saying that gives me no joy: I identify with the left so my criticism comes from within the left. I celebrate the birth of the state of Israel because it represented the success of a national liberation movement. Here you have a people, the Jews, who had been persecuted for centuries, who had been the internal “Other” of the West. Their suffering culminated in the Nazi slaughter. From its origins in the late nineteenth century, the Zionist movement was pessimistic about the future of the Jews in the West and in Russia. Many liberals and leftists told them that they were too “particularist” and should put all their faith in universalizing political movements—communism or liberalism, for examples—but nobody can look back at the last century and say that the Zionists were wrong in seeing that emergency was at hand and that what might be called political Esperanto was wrong. Continue reading →
Here are a few more scattered and hopefully better than mediocre thoughts about Encounter Point. In the documentary we meet several Israelis and Palestinians who join the Bereaved Families Forum, a group in which Palestinians and Israelis who have lost family members in the conflict advocate nonviolence and reconciliation together. One of these people is Robi, profiled on the film’s website:
In 2002 a Palestinian sniper killed a group of Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint. Robi’s son David was one of them. Robi is haunted by the loss of her son, and the knowledge that he was posted to defend an Israeli settlement in occupied Palestinian territory to which he was politically opposed. After David was killed, Robi joined the Bereaved Families Forum. She speaks in support of Israeli/Palestinian reconciliation throughout Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and internationally. Robi says that all of her work is aimed at furthering understanding between the Israeli and Palestinian people.
Towards the end of the film, Robi learns that the sniper that killed her son and subsequently became a folk hero was arrested by Israeli authorities. She decides to reach out to the family by writing a letter with the intent of meeting both the family and the sniper himself, all of whom were quite willing to meet her. This is both moving, but also gestures towards a sophisticated ethical position. Throughout the film we hear both Palestinians and Israelis expressing similar positions, namely, “we don’t have to forgive in order to reconcile.” On the way out of the theater I overheard the people in front of me talking to each other, one of whom suggested that the film documents a Christian ethic of love thy neighbor, turning the other cheek etc. This seems very wrong to me. In fact, I’d venture to say that such an ethical position has little to do with Christian ethics. Now, the documentary itself conjured up a number of themes/concepts dealt with by Derrida and Levinas. Not least, encounter, hospitality, forgiveness, trauma and ethics. Continue reading →
I had a chance to see an excellent documentary about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict called Encounter Point over the weekend. It’s an 85-minute feature documentary film that follows a former Israeli settler, a Palestinian ex-prisoner, a bereaved Israeli mother and a wounded Palestinian bereaved brother who risk their lives and public standing to promote a nonviolent end to the conflict. As the description of the film notes, “Their journeys lead them to the unlikeliest places to confront hatred within their communities. The film explores what drives them and thousands of other like-minded civilians to overcome anger and grief to work for grassroots solutions. It is a film about the everyday leaders in our midst.” Certainly true, the scenes of Ali (who lost his brother and was imprisoned by the Israeli’s for many years) talking to people in Hamas stronghold Hebron, who think his non-violent approach is in effect “normalizing” relations with Israel as well as the former settler from the Gaza Strip who joins Israeli women monitoring checkpoints, were both fascinating examples of how ordinary people can interrupt what has become habitual responses to the conflict serving to rethink what’s possible. From the production notes:
For 2 years, the Just Vision crew followed the stories of ordinary people who feel driven to work for an end to bloodshed and occupation in favor of peace. We traveled from Tel Mond to Tulkarem, from Hebron to Haifa documenting the courageous, painful and moving stories of regular people who refuse to sit back as the conflict escalates. These civic leaders navigate suicide bombings and checkpoints to confront militancy on both sides, the wounded and apathetic masses.
All of this was done in a very coherent, straightforward, non-romanticizing type of way. Continue reading →