A Dialogue-breaker

March 6, 2010 at 1:57 pm 12 comments

Everyone talks about dialogue here, but what is the meaning of dialogue? Is dialogue even happening when the parties come with their fixed agenda and just wanna be heard?

I must confess I’m not much of an activist or a political person so I only had 3 genuine conversations with Palestinians in my life (2 of them in ALF) but all 3 left me with little hope of peaceful coexistence in the horizon. Last night at dinner it finally caught up with me: A dialogue cannot happen when there is no real listening. Obviously we grew up on very different narratives we both perceive as the complete truth, and probably both of them aren’t the whole truth. But as long as every Palestinian I meet thinks his narrative is the only truth, how can there be dialogue?

Last night at dinner, a Palestinian peace activist tells me “Israel has no right to exist; it’s a colonial country to begin with”. Isn’t that just the ultimate dialogue breaker? I don’t even want to get into the establishment of Israel by the UN in a territory that was under the British mandate, since we can’t deal with what’s more true or more “right” forever. What we need to do is figure out our next steps in present tense. I’m sorry to inform you but even if that statement was true or right, it’s unrealistic and even childish – Israel is already here, well established and let’s face it, it’s not going anywhere.  In fact, the last time the Arab countries decided to pretend Israel doesn’t exist and act on it, is exactly when Israel found itself occupying more territories won in war from Jordan and Egypt.

My father keeps morning the fact that Sadat didn’t wanna take back Gaza along with Sinai. Can you imagine how many hours would a Palestinian intifada last in Egypt? Do you really think that Egyptian, Syrian or Jordanian governments want a Palestinian state? Let’s say we all packed our bags and moved to Canada, do you think the conflict will end or only begin? Hamas and Fatach will kill each other for control, and only after the Israeli scape goat gets outta the way, the Arab league of states will show their true “diversity” on the matter, recreating those same circumstances that didn’t enable the forming of a Palestinian identity under Jordanian, Egyptian or Turkish Empire rule.

It’s just easy to be united against a mutual other, one that “breaks the territorial continuity of Arab population” as I was told yesterday, ironically, just one minute after I was blamed for ethnic cleansing and racism. I am willing to trade nationalism for something more inclusive here in the area, but for an alternate nationalism? No thanks.

So the question isn’t what was, true or just, it gets us nowhere and there’s no easy answer or single narrative. The real questions are what IS and what now? In the Israeli side there are similar groups that dream of Israeli nationalism in a bigger land in the area as they enjoyed in biblical days, and they’re being unrealistic and childish too. If you deny reality how do you expect to change it? What I learned about change is that in order to change something you must accept the current situation as it really is first, it is the starting point.

Israel got to where it is today because it accepted what was given to it despite its greater dreams, because you gotta start with something. But as long as our starting points are unrealistic dreams and we keep playing that “all or nothing” sum zero game, don’t be surprised you often end up with the nothing, always placing one of us in the occupation role.

I thought I’m coming to talk about that middle way, realistic, present tense middle way, but I’m finally realizing that the real will of the Palestinian people I meet is not only to stop occupation but to reverse it. Heck, I was even invited to stay in the Palestinian state if I wanted to. But if one of us will necessarily occupy the other, i’d rather it be me, a country that is essentially bound by democratic laws even when it crosses the line.

The only equal solution I see is to bring back the British mandate. Let’s call this the “shared occupation” solution, and if we all get EU passports I’m sure we won’t even fight it. How about that?

Congratulations, my Palestinian friends. It takes special talent to turn someone that looks beyond nationalism and is very critical of the Israeli administration into a (hopefully temporary) defensive patriot.  I leave this forum with much less hope for a solution in my lifetime and much less will to remain involved in such non dialogic dialogues. Let me know when everyone reaches the present, because frankly, there isn’t much to talk about before that.

My plea to Anna Lindh is: if you want to see a Palestinian state any time soon, do not facilitate any more meetings between Israeli and Palestinians, please. So many Israelis believe most Palestinians just want to live in peace in a neighbour state, and if they hear what I heard, they would all become extremists and naturally wanna defend themselves, thus create a public opinion that will not allow any solution. If Palestinians want a country, they should try to avoid “dialogues” with the average Israeli, and let us continue believing in their good intentions of coexistence – that is the strategy I’m proposing.

Carmel Vaisman

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12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Richard Shotton  |  March 6, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    hi Carmel

    2 things…

    1. How many conversations have you ever had with Palestinians? 3, I think you said in your blogpost. Is it just possible that dialogue requires a little more patience? If it was so easy to find solutions to difficult problems through an immediate agreement with the first few people you speak to, there would be no need for organisations like the ALF. A belief in dialogue and negotiation which cannot survive even 3 conversations in just 2 days is of no help whatsoever. Peace needs far greater sustained commitment. My request? Please don’t give up so easily.

    2. To me as a Brit, your comment about returning Israel/Palestine to the British Mandate is remarkable, even as a joke. I really don’t know what to say. Would you like to see Tony Blair in charge of the region?

    with respect

    Richard Shotton

  • 2. inthetoon  |  March 6, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    I think you are right Carmel – that in order to change something you must accept the current situation as it really is first.

    Can you then accept that the the last 60 years of conflict and particularly the increasing suffering of more recent times has left people on both sides constructing ‘truths’ that seem never able to be reconciled?

    It is easy in such circumstances to take an initial set back or difficulty as an excuse to fail completely. OK I hear that you don’t like what you have heard from the Palestinians you have spoken to, but they are here and talking to you.

    You can choose to stay and talk or walk away..

    David Van der Velde

  • 3. carmelv  |  March 6, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    would love to talk to anyone who realizes israel is here to stay, he doesn’t have to like it, but what’s there to talk about when the basic notion is”i wish u weren’t here to begin with”? I don’t expect to reach any concent, my surprise is that peace and concent are not the issue/goal! I accept current reality and i was always a supporter of stoping occupation, now i’m confused to find out what’s the tradeoff. And yes, i think i speak for many israelis who would love tonny blair here and even elect him democratically. At least we get to blaim it all on the brits 🙂

  • 4. adshill  |  March 6, 2010 at 11:34 pm

    I think we deserve a big chunk of the blame anyway – you don’t need tony blair for that

    Interesting post and I can’t really imagine what its like to hear those kind of comments to your face. But I think that if you believe a person, religion, race or opinion should be wiped off the planet or shouldn’t exist then you’re not in a position to sit at the table when it comes to dialogue because the brick wall needs to crumble at least a bit first.

    Really hope that we keep trying though. And I really hope you don’t lost faith… I’ve seen you show great patience and understanding and I hope after the initial shock, you continue to be involved in this work and these projects as you’ve given a great deal.

  • 5. carmelv  |  March 7, 2010 at 1:38 am

    thanks adam. many people reacted to this post in face to face conversations with me today. some said i was naive and that it will take time before we could speak from a place of “well, we’re both here so let’s see how we handle it”, and others swore they know people who are realistic about this and ready to work together towards a mutual future. if i’m ever going to participate in anything like that again i will make sure not to engage in any interction in which only one side is truly ready to listen and question the rethoric and narratives he grew up with. some of the shock comes from being taken by surprise in the informal dinner time, but i’ll get over it.

  • 6. Ari Rusila  |  March 8, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    Dear Carmel – your post was really shocking, I didn’t expected that happen in ALF forum. Crisis management and solving conflicts will be much more harder if local stakeholders are unable even to talk each other.

    I understand that official circles, diplomats etc. public figures some times for political reasons try to show themselves strong by no compromise positions, I understand if one individuals only motivation to participate is to be extension of these circles so fanatic propaganda is the answer. What I don’t understand is why these fanatics are participating to forum or ALF cooperation at all, do they really think that other participants would buy their propaganda.

    I think that you had really bad luck to meet only hardliners as I believe there was also open minded persons from Palestine participating to forum. I also heard in Agora WSs, info sessions etc. few promising examples about grass root Israel-Palestine cooperation, for example “Parents Circle” and Arawa environmental studies so I believe dialog is possible and that ALF makes great work by facilitating this e.g. by forum.

    I hope you will get some optimism back and we shall meet in some future ALF event.

    • 7. carmelv  |  March 8, 2010 at 9:02 pm

      ari, i wouldn’t have written such a post over one extrimist. this is not one guy and they are not extrimists at all. that was the shocking realization – that we still can’t really talk, because we’re not anywhere near being beyond the “us vs. them” mindset. you can’t blaim anyone for what he truly believes wether he says it politely or looses temper sometimes. it’s just making me sad that we’re more far away from a breakthrough than i assumed and that some forms of engagment are useless at this point. while soem israelis have begun to question what they were taught in history class, palestinians claim to hold “the truth”. this little incident evolved over my refusal to accept the framing of my country as ethnic cleanser and colonial to begin with. we both gotta question what we’re being fed and there’s absolutly no room for doubt form the other side, that’s all.

  • 8. Magdalena  |  March 10, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    Carmel, I do not think that people who attend forum must be all dreamers with smiles on their faces and opened arms. There is nothing to be optimistic about at the moment and what is going on is a war with very imbalanced power. News from yesterday: 1600 new houses for settlers planned in East Jerusalem.. what to do now? Again the question Sancho Pansa asked. Me, myself I did not now what to tell Israelis met during Forum. Smile is fake. Shake hands is fake. Being silent is fake. Therefore I appreciate more expressed real frustration of Palestinians than smiles and silence and dream never ending talks about dialogue during occupation. At the end of the day – it IS occupation.

    • 9. carmelv  |  March 10, 2010 at 8:44 pm

      hi Magdalena. what you share is true, and i can relate to it and respect that and fight against it on your side if i can, as many israelis who go weekly to east Jerusalem to protest against this. i understand the anger, i didn’t expect anyone to be polite with me and i didn’t take it personally. all i asked for is basic realism, because Israel will not disappear and i fear that if Palestinians will keep telling it to just disappear , it’ll only keep occupying as anyone will do to preserve its safety. we came to “restore trust” forum but i realized we never had trust to begin with and i dunno how to start building it over delusions. my conclusion was that maybe i shouldn’t be involved in such things although i cherish the opportunity to meet people like you, for instance, and not bury my head in tel aviv’s sand….

      • 10. Magdalena  |  March 10, 2010 at 10:10 pm

        Yes, I came to the Forum convinced that there is no trust and how crazy both sides would be to have trust in this situation. Open mind is blessing. How to keep it in present status quo? no chance for me, even born optimist. Even not being directly involved. I am scared of Israeli fear and what is coming out of that. That paralyses my dialogue and fruitful interaction opportunities. I am blocked and step back. And paradoxically: maybe writing you that now, is in fact my first honest proactive step forward…

  • 11. Erez  |  April 30, 2010 at 9:42 am

    Hi Carmel.

    Personally I can totally identify with your feelings. It is very frustrating and I can understand your emotions. I always try to explain it although often with not much luck. I will give you an example. I was talking to an Australian who supports the Palestinian armed struggle against Israel. It was during the second war in Lebanon. I though the war was stupid and horrible. I ask my friend what he thinks the reaction of this war will be on the region. Would it bring hope for peace or maybe the contrary? Of course, that his answer was that such a war will only fuel the hatred and struggle against Israel- according to my friend’s point of view violence will only bring more violence.
    I actually agree with such reasoning. So I ask my friend what he think will be the Israeli reaction to Palestinians groups use of violence? He understood where I am taking the argument and said that this is not the same because the Palestinians are fighting against the Occupation and this is a good thing- they not only have no other choice but also have the moral right to so. This may be the case but still I think this does not change the fact that violence will only bring more violence. I agree with you that it is all about relationships – if we want peace we need to turn bad relationships to good relationships – telling you that you don’t have a right to exist is not a good starting point for such relationships.

  • 12. » הבית לא מסודר, אבל… Absolute Carmel  |  June 30, 2010 at 2:58 am

    […] על ידי פעיל שלום פלסטיני אחר, מה שגרם לי לכתוב את הפוסט הזה בבלוג של הכנס. הדעה הפוליטית שלי כרגע אמביוולנטית […]


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