So, today I was pretty darn inspired. And I feel a little bit like a sucker for it because I went into this conference somewhat cynical (if that wasn’t obvious from my first post) but right away, from the first day, J Street did give me exactly what I asked for (and doubted I was going to get.) The three speakers during today’s plenary session were Israeli and they were brave, intelligent and moving in their own right.
Amos Oz, a prominent Israeli author and thinker represented an older liberal. He is honest and blunt. There are two endings, he said. One is Shakespearean. Everyone ends up dead on the stage but there is some justice happening up above. The other is Chekhov. In Chekhov, everyone is sad and miserable and depressed and whiny, but they are alive. A two state solution is the Chekhov ending, he says. It will be difficult and painful, but it is the right thing to do. Needless to say, I appreciated his honesty. I have no doubt that any solution that awaits us will not feel good. Its definitely too late for that.
Michael Biton, Mayor of Yerucham in the Negev, is the son of Moroccan immigrants. He highlighted the fact that as security and nationalism have begun to rule Israeli politics, Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews are voting more and more for right wing parties despite the fact that the neoliberal polices they support are against a welfare state. In addition, the funneling of funds into the territories prevents development of Israel’s periphery and allows for ongoing neglect of smaller and low-income towns..
He also didn’t ignore the struggle that awaits us. Removing the settlers, and providing them with housing in Israel, from the territories in no small challenge, he reminds us. Yerucham though, will be there to take them so that that can happen.
The speaker that touched me most, and began the session, was Stav Shaffir. She is one of the leader’s of the Israeli protest movement that organized in July and was characterized by the tent cities spread throughout Israel.
I left Israel right as these protests took off. When they began, many of my Palestinian and foreign activist friends eyed them with skepticism. The issues were not about the conflict or land or the settlements, so thus, it seemed, like nothing was going to change.
But, I argued, and hoped, for Israelis to organize, for them to unite under something other than fear- isn’t that significant? Doesn’t it mean something for people to sacrifice time and comfort and social acceptance to oppose a government whose actions are not in their best interest? Could this be the beginning of something bigger? It made sense, I still think, that Israelis would begin to address problems that touch their own lives. The occupation, despite being 40 minutes from Tel Aviv, is not something most Israelis feel the daily repercussions of. High rent, faltering social and health services and expensive schooling, are things they really feel.
Shaffir’s presence at the conference made me feel like what began in July is still going on. She is young and determined, pushing for Israel to change, not only in with its policies in Jerusalem and the West Bank, but within its borders too. She spoke of the fear that the government relies on to prevent Israeli citizens from asking questions or demanding for things to change. She was ashamed by Netanyahu’s comparing the lives of Israelis now to those of her, and my grandparents, in Eastern Europe. “We can’t build,” she said, “ if we are constantly fighting. The Zionist dream of a welfare shelter has turned into a bomb shelter.”
Shaffir is taking a risk by being an activist in Israel. It is no easy task given the current prominent thought in Israeli society right now, and how simple it is to take the path of acceptance. She too know what challenges lie ahead of her and that she will have to make sacrifices for her goals to be achieved. There is no easy solution here, but at this point it’s about reshaping a nation’s values that have been lost to violence and conflict. That will be a long brutal path.
The knowledge, though, that there is a population of young people, leaders and intellectual in Israel that have continued to take action inspires hope that I haven’t felt in a long time. I’m impressed how much the event got to me, and while I have my qualms, and I will address those in later posts, I’m going to keep riding this wave of optimism, at least for tonight.