by Bethany Firnhaber, Rosalina Nieves, and Robyn Carolyn Price
The relationship between Arabs and Jews in Israel has been strained by failed peace agreements, suicide bombings, and the construction of a separation wall — all which have fostered fear and anger on both sides.
Since Israel became a state in 1948, the road to peaceful coexistence has been, as many people in the region describe it, complicated. Somewhere in the midst of the conflict, however, are two communities — one Arab and one Jewish — that for years have shared a well, harvested crops together, and attended each others’ weddings and funerals.
Their relationship began in the early ’50s when Kibbutz Mezer was established. Unable to find a viable water source of their own, the new kibbutz relied on the generosity of its Arab neighbors, who allowed them to share their own small well. In gratitude, Kibbutz Mezer shared with Meiser tips for navigating the new Israeli bureaucracy.
Both communities say that, in time, respect and even friendships grew. And not even the murder of a family at the kibbutz by a Palestinian extremist on November 10, 2002 could dismantle the peaceful relationship the two communities share.
The video above is a tale of Mezer and Meiser, communities that have lived side by side for over 55 years, offering a model of what peaceful coexistence in the region might look like.
Bethany Firnhaber is a Los Angeles-based freelance reporter and photographer who recently received a master’s degree in Journalism from the University of Southern California. She is most interested in reporting on issues of social responsibility and human rights, especially across cultural and international borders.
Rosalina Nieves is a master’s degree candidate in Broadcast Journalism at the University of Southern California. After graduating from Purdue University, she began her career at WFLD-TV (FOX) in Chicago. Since that time, she has worked at KABC-TV and is currently an assignment editor at CNN’s Los Angeles bureau.
Robyn Carolyn Price is native of Los Angeles, California. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from New York University, and studied in Florence, Italy. She is currently a master’s degree candidate in the Specialized Journalism Program at the University of Southern California. Her specialization is American politics and its effects on marginalized communities.
Read more about their reporting in Mezer and Meiser on their website, We would also like to include a link to the projects’s website, Coexistence in Israel: A Tale of Two Cities.Comments
by Debra Dean Murphy, guest contributor
"I Think I’m Ready to Fly Away" (photo: DiaTM/Flickr, by-nc-nd 2.0)
"However much we try to distinguish between morally good and morally evils ways of killing, our attempts are beset with contradictions, and these contradictions remain a fragile part of our modern subjectivity."
—Talal Asad, On Suicide Bombing
You can often detect it when a politician or journalist uses a word like "barbaric" to describe the actions of any suicide bomber before, on, or after 9/11: the assumption that “Islamic terrorism” represents an uncontainable hostility toward modernity.
The extremists, on this view, are primitive; we are civilized. They are irrational; we are people of prudence and reason. This is the “clash of civilizations” narrative that has held sway in the West for generations, but with a special power in the last decade.
Yet as anthropologist Talal Asad points out, the histories of Europe and Islam are not so neatly separated and thus the clash of civilizations rhetoric ignores a rich legacy of mutual borrowings and continuous interactions among Christians, Jews, and Muslims. More than that, though, the very selective heritage that shapes a people (that strange, unknown hybrid called Judeo-Christianity, for instance) often bears no relation to the hard facts on the ground — to the way people self-identify, to what they do, how they negotiate the world, and so on.
The concept of jihad is a case in point. Asad notes that the term is not central to Islam, but Western histories of the religion have made it integral to an Islamic civilization rooted in religion. In fact, jihad has been a subject of centuries-long debate among Muslim scholars of different historical and social contexts. It is simply not part of a transhistorical Muslim worldview but rather belongs to, as Asad writes, “an elaborate political-theological vocabulary in which jurists, men of religious learning, and modernist reformers debated and polemicized in response to varying circumstances.”
All of which is to say that the West’s tidy narration of Islam vis-a-vis modern liberal social orders has posited a set of very persuasive yet fictive binaries: freedom vs. repression; savagery vs. the rule of law; legitimate warfare vs. terrorism. So much so that in the deeply partisan, brutally contentious world of American politics, both Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, routinely employ a model in which, Asad says, “rational democrats in the West react defensively to destructive terrorists from the East.”
The point here — mine and most certainly Asad’s — is not to condone or justify atrocities committed by extremists. Osama bin Laden was a bad guy and the violence he was responsible for indefensible. Period. The point, instead, is to question the moral high ground America regularly claims in response to criminals like bin Laden and to ask the difficult questions that arise from inhabiting such a lofty perch.
The point also is to be willing to entertain unsettling answers to these questions — to name the contradictions that beset our attempts to rationalize, and celebrate, state-sponsored violence while we categorically condemn, and punish, rogue terrorism.
Can we begin to acknowledge that violence is embedded in the very concept of liberty that lies at the heart of liberal social orders like the United States of America? As Wendell Berry puts it in a poem, “When they want you to buy something they will call you. When they want you to die for profit they will let you know.”
Can we begin to acknowledge that there is no moral difference between the horror inflicted by state armies and the horror inflicted by insurgents? Shot-off limbs, dead babies, destroyed livelihoods — these are the on-the-ground realities whether the munitions come from teenage suicide bombers or the U.S. military.
Can we begin to acknowledge that Americans seem to take a de facto stance in which war is condemned only in excess but terrorism in its very essence?
Can we begin to acknowledge that terrorists often talk about what they do in the language of necessity and humanity (as do five-star generals and American presidents)? But, as Asad notes, the banal fact is that “powerful states are never held accountable to [war crimes tribunals], only the weak and the defeated can be convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
Can we begin to acknowledge that, as Asad perceptively puts it, “human life has differential exchange value in the marketplace of death when it comes to ‘civilized’ and ‘uncivilized’ peoples” and that “this is necessary to a hierarchical global order.”
Can we begin to acknowledge that events in recent days ought to disturb us sufficiently to resist the prepackaging of acceptable responses by corporate-controlled media outlets?
To entertain the possibility that the violence wrought in the name of “liberty and justice for all” bears a moral equivalency to that waged by operatives of al-Qaeda is not to impute sinister motives to the American military or its leaders. Not at all. That’s the easy, cynical view born of occupying the moral high ground on another plane.
But the uneasy truth remains: Osama bin Laden is dead, and we have killed him. And the story of violence continues — his, ours, and the inextricable link between the two.
Debra Dean Murphy is an assistant professor of Religion and Christian Education at West Virginia Wesleyan College and serves on the board of The Ekklesia Project. She regularly blogs at Intersections: Thoughts on Religion, Culture, and Politics.
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.Comments
by Andrew Khouri, USC “Reporting on Israel” Journalism Student
A family was killed Friday night. A husband, wife, and their three children died in Itamar, an ideologically driven Jewish settlement deep inside the West Bank. In response to the suspected terrorist attack, Israel approved 500 new housing units inside the occupied territory.
Peace isn’t a popular conversation topic at the moment. News of the stabbing has dominated the news here, and thousands flocked to Jerusalem Sunday for the funeral.
Saturday night, well-known Israeli journalist Yossi Klein Halevi said the latest violence was shocking in its brutality. “This will have, I suspect, a long-term imprint on Israeli discourse and how we view trusting the Palestinian side,” he said.
But both sides can’t now retreat into their separate corners, especially among everyday people. That was the message of Aaron Barnea and Siham Abu Awwad during an hour-and-a-half discussion over their attempts to finally bring peace among the two peoples.
Both Barnea and Abu Awwad lost family members to the conflict. Those losses pushed them to join Parents Circle, a grass roots organization that seeks understanding and peace through dialogue. Members have all lost loved ones to the violence.
“When an event of this kind, this quality happens … then we have to find the words and to find the ways how to translate actually our rage into human words,” Barnea said.
The key to solving the conflict, Barnea and Abu Awwad say, is reconciliation between individual people. Abu Awwad mentioned when she speaks to Israeli children, it is often the first time they have met a Palestinian. One boy was even shocked she didn’t have horns. Even Barnea only interacted with the other side during army patrols before protesting with Palestinians the occupation of southern Lebanon, where his son Noam was killed.
Barnea cautioned Israeli political leaders not to inject Friday’s horrific killing into a larger political debate over Israel’s presence in the West Bank and the two state solution. That, he said, should be decided on a “human basis.”
Of course, Friday’s killing was not the first, and sadly won’t be the last from either side. But Abu Awwad said, despite this, the choice to continue is simple. “What else can we do? We have to keep talking.”
Editor’s note: Krista and the On Being team are in Israel this week and working with Diane Winston’s graduate students from the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism. We’ll be sharing some of these students’ reports as part of our collaboration and to add to the diversity of observations of this complex place.Comments
by Eboo Patel, special contributor
Here’s what struck me about this special panel on Middle East peace that Bill Clinton moderated: it actually focused on the peace, and not the process. The President joked that somebody else in his family was trying to figure out where on the land to draw the line, he wanted us to talk about what needed to happen with the people after that line was drawn.
There were a lot of pursed lips and furrowed brows when he said that. It made me realize just how much attention is paid to the details of the process, and how little we think about the actual peace. Which is to say, how people from different faiths, nationalities, and narratives are going to live together on a pretty small parcel of land.
"In Israel, 20 percent of our citizens are Arabs. And it’s not simple — for them for us, but for one place. There is no hospital in Israel where you don’t have Arab doctors and Arab patients. And, nobody knows — not of the patients and not of the doctors who is operating them — I mean, if a Druze would see an Arab with a knife coming close to him, he would be alarmed. But in the hospital, please. And I ask myself, ‘If we can live in peace in the hospitals, why can’t we live in peace out of the hospitals.’"
We hear frequently the stories of the suicide bombers and the settlers. We read about the squabbles of the diplomats. We get bogged down in the details and made cynical by the seemingly endless failures. But with a single example, Peres illuminated just how much Jews, Christians, and Muslims have in common, pointed out just how well Israelis and Palestinians already work together. It’s enough to keep me thinking past the process, and into the peace.
Eboo Patel is founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core. He’s the author of Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation and writes regularly for The Faith Divide blog on The Washington Post. He’s also served on President Obama’s Advisory Council of the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.Comments