The former leader of the Jewish Congregation in Oslo is writing a book about her experience. Apparently, this triggered a need to go to the West Bank in the Norwegian Church Aid accompaniment program, to see what life is like for Palestinians.
These are her experiences, as published on the ethical debate forum of Vårt Land.
I am of course happy for Mrs. Sender, that she gets to write a book and travel to the West Bank. I am not writing a book, but I do have the occasional access to the West Bank as an external consultant in my particular medical field. My task is to educate Palestinian professionals, who simply refuse to receive this training from their Israeli peers. What am I to make out of this self-victimizatioin?
I am of course not indifferent to poverty and human suffering, I see it there, in South America and even in Norway. But does it help anybody if I too rend my clothes and sit in ashes? What happened to “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am ‘I’? And if not now, when?”
While Mrs. Sender is drafting her book, Mr. Bernard-Henri Levy, who probably is towering slightly higher than Mrs. Sender in academic and philosophical stature, has sounded the alarm of what he sees as a double threat against Jews in Israel and in the Diaspora in the shape of good old fashioned anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism (see below Mrs. Sender’s oped to find Mr. Levy’s concerns)
I am of course not suggesting that Mrs. Sender is wrong to satisfy her own curiosity, merely contrasting her concerns with that of others…
The veil is gone
Published Yesterday at. 10:44 – 5820 Views Post
I have seen and experienced life in East Jerusalem and the West Bank for nearly three months this summer, as a participant in the Norwegian Church Aid’s companion program. The Palestinian reality has got under my skin. It was painful.
I have not been unaware of or indifferent to the Palestinian reality, but earlier it was at a distance. Getting up close was something else. The veil was gone, I saw poverty, the unequal distribution of resources, frustration and hopelessness that the occupation causes. Not alone, of course, but Israel’s handling of it all amplified everything.
Throughout my adult life I have worked for and with Israel, against anti-Semitism. I’ve argued that criticism of Israel must stay within the red line and that the Jews in Norway should be seen and treated as an equal minority. My challenge has always been that journalists, politicians and church people would see Israel as more than conflict: Learning to recognize diversity, cultural creativity and respect for the rule of law. They should be happy that the country is a haven for Jews from all over the globe, with religious freedom for all groups. I shall continue with this task.
Out of the comfort zone.
After I resigned as leader of the Jewish community, I began to write a book, the development I have been involved in – the transformation of Norway from mono-cultural to cultural diversity. I got to the point where I describe our relationship with Israel, the struggle the country is in and how it affects our own situation. Then I had to admit that I had not even done that I challenged others to do, take a step out of my comfort zone and look at the Palestinian society with all its facets from within.
I decided that I wanted to experience how Israel treats its minorities and their Palestinian neighbors in the middle of her own existential struggle. Not least, I marveled at how strong the internal polarization between various Christian groups in Norway has been in recent years. What was it they saw and heard – Church leaders, bishops, politicians and journalists when they were in Israel and Palestine, which meant that they spoke out so emotionally upon returning home? What was it they were presented that I did not know enough about? How would I find out? When I told Rabbi Melchior Joav what I was going to do, he replied;
“To acquire new knowledge is never wrong, I’m looking forward to when you come home and share your knowledge with us.”
The Jewish community (DMT) has never been close to Norwegian Church Aid. We experienced the organization’s frequent and one-sided finger-wagging statements against Israel as little constructive. Ten years ago, we nevertheless agreed to provide information about the Jews in Norway and our relationship with Israel, when the NCA invited volunteers to train for the newly established “Companion Program.” Church leaders in Jerusalem, along with several Israeli peace organizations, had requested assistance from international churches after the tense and confined situation the small Palestinian villages found themselves in during the second Intifada. Norwegian Church Aid was appointed as administrative body for the Norwegian part of the program.
In recent years, the NCA Israeli partner organizations have come to Norway to inform, and to meet the DMT. Cooperation changed both NCA participants who learned more about the complexities and dilemmas facing Israel, and some of us from DMT who were presented with the injustice committed in Israel-controlled East Jerusalem and the Israeli-controlled part of the West Bank.
Eyes and ears.
I knew that NCA could help me with access to the West Bank, and I got to participate in the program as part of work on the book. My position was free, but I would even participate in the field where we companions lived with Palestinians. My team was stationed in East Jerusalem, but I also lived on the plains south of Hebron and participated in Bethlehem. Participants are secular Christians, Jews and Muslims who all come with a desire to provide protective presence of Palestinians in vulnerable situations.
The task is simple: to be the eyes and ears and tell what kind of impact the politics has on the individual. Human rights came into being in order to protect individuals from abuse of power. If this is forgotten in the pursuit of security, land, favorable boundaries or physical barriers – all parties lose.
All reports that can be documented are taken on by Israeli rights organizations for testing in the legal system. They also cooperate with Palestinian organizations that monitor Palestinian violence against other Palestinians, even if they still don’t have the tools required to intervene before the Palestinian Authority. Traditionally, Israel has had a very high level of rule of law, and in many instances the ruling has come down on the side that a a given case has been dealt with contrary both to international conventions Israel has signed, and the country’s own laws.
In recent years the right shift in Israel politics has led to certain parts of the legal system is obstructing justice , or rules in favor of the offender in such cases, because politics influence the Law. It’s outrageous. And no, it does not help Israel that we do not talk about it. The quality of the criticism is important, but its contents must be dealt with honestly.
The religious and political settler organizations have taken control of land set aside for a future Palestinian state. Regardless of the extent to which the Palestinian Authority have themselves to blame for their deplorable situation, it does not absolve Israel of its obligation to follow the moral and democratic rules.
The Companion program invalidates neither the threat from Iran, jihadist ideology nor rockets from Gaza. Israel is vulnerable, but also the stronger of the two. The occupation, which in practice is negatively affecting Israel in countless areas, also increases her vulnerability. I can not and will legitimize the various Norwegian organizations delegates’s previous statements or practices of their Israel-Palestine engagement. But I can say what I learned and experienced in the summer.
My experience is that the companion program is sincere in its desire to contribute constructively, and companions first and foremost learn that no one is served by unilateral support one against the other. Illegality supported by one-sided Israel friends, Christians or Jews, contributes in reality to the prolongation of the conflict and creates divisions. Friends of Palestine who delegitimize Israel’s rightful claim to the Land feeds the fear. Neither party is served by external friends who look only to their own vested visions – whether biblical or political. The parties need to have friends in common. This is what I saw even more clearly than before.
The day to day tribulations, the different aspects of the conflict, history and the different religions made us rather more humble. Personally, my belief that the good forces in Israel are stronger than the destructive has been strengthened, but leaders must not plead that the others are worse. Friends of Israel can learn, improve and strengthen the fight for Israel by looking with both eyes. We met countless people and groups that contributed to hope and reconciliation on both sides. These are the ones who can find pragmatic solutions, because life in freedom is more important than anything else.
Below you can enjoy Mr. Levy’s contribution. You will no doubt notice that even in an interview, there are significantly fewer logical breeches and inaccuracies than in Mrs. Sender’s well meaning but nevertheless inaccurate oped:
Lévy: Jews of Diaspora and Israel are under attack10/31/2012 02:23
Prominent French-Jewish intellectual says the Jewish people are facing a twin threat of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.
PHOTO: ARIEL JEROZOLIMSKI
Prominent French-Jewish intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy declared on Tuesday night that Jews in Israel and around the world are under attack from the twin threats of anti-Semitism in the guise of anti-Zionism, and total war against the State of Israel.
Speaking at a conference on the future of the Jewish peopleorganized by the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI), Lévy labeled the phenomenon of anti-Zionism as “the new mutation of the anti-Semitism virus.”
Hatred of Israel, denial or partial denial of the Holocaust, and the identification of Palestinians as the only legitimate victims, he explained, form the basis of the anti-Zionist and anti- Semitic onslaught.
In addition, he said, Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas are planning a total war constituting a serious threat to the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
“For the moment they don’t have the means to wage total war; maybe they will never have it. But when you listen to Hamas, to Hassan Nasrallah, to the men in power in Tehran including the so-called moderates such as Rafsanjani, the words they speak have to be considered as a plan for a form of total war,” Lévy suggested.
Prof. Suzanne Last Stone, academic counsel to JPPI, said the conference was designed to approach challenges to the Jewish people in a more holistic fashion.
One of the overarching challenges, she said, was the importance of building “mutual understanding” to develop and improve Israel-Diaspora relations.
One focus of misunderstanding between the two communities was the lack of understanding among US Jewry regarding the matter of religion and state in Israel.
“The Israeli way of arranging religion and state is strange and troubling for US Jews, and part of a larger set of differences between Israel and the Diaspora,” Last Stone said.
“There are no easy and immediate solutions, but the goal of this conference is to put the issues on the table and bring both communities to understand each other’s positions.”