Lisa Ohayon

Self-Negation Does Not Equal Acknowledgement of the Other

I came across this piece on a facebook friend’s timeline: is an online publication which touts itself as ‘radical voices for an alternative diaspora’. What follows is my response, which some other posters felt deserved a wider audience.

This article represents a way of thinking that to my mind should at least partially take the blame for the fact that there has been no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict up until now.

Israel exists as a Jewish majority state right now as we speak. It is not an idea, it is not an ideology, it is not a colonial power whose citizens can “go home”. There are a little over 8 million Israeli citizens the vast majority of whom have no other home and absolutely nowhere else to go. The moment that the international community, the Palestinians and the diaspora Jews accept that Israel exists and isn’t going anywhere, is the moment we can begin to work out how to resolve the conflict and bring about a just peace for all. Constantly questioning Israel’s right to exist has done nothing to advance a just and equitable resolution to this conflict. No country is ever going to simply commit suicide, particularly one that is made up of people that have faced persecution and the threat of annihilation throughout their history.

Anyone who believes that being a Zionist means that you support the oppression of the Palestinians is part of the problem. Being a Zionist simply means that you support the right of the Jews to live in their own homeland and govern themselves. No matter whether you call the declaration of the State of Israel “Nakba”or “Independence”, there is no point in wishing it away and pretending we can turn back the clock. We have to deal with what is, not with what could have been or should be. The notion that Israel as a majority Jewish state will somehow be defeated, wiped out, or cease to exist in some other way is part of what has kept the Palestinian leadership and the rest of the Arab world from coming to an agreement about how to address the injustices and move on to a future of co-existence.

In 2002 there was an historic reversal of this by the Arab League who unanimously offered Israel full recognition and normalization in exchange for a withdrawal to the 1967 lines. This was reiterated in 2007 and 2013. Israel has proved intransigent and has failed to engage with this stunning reversal of perception and the willingness of the Arab world to deal with what is, rather than engage in further wishful thinking that is simply detrimental to the Palestinian cause. The rise of the “Greater Israel” school of thought from the fringe to a more mainstream strain in Israeli society, is the other side of this coin. Just as refusing to engage with the reality that is Israel today is futile, so too are the spurious assertions that “there was never a Palestinian people” that ” the Palestinians have no right to the land” that “Palestinians are all Egyptians and Jordanians” etc etc.

The only way to move forward imho is for both sides to acknowledge the claims and grievances of the other. For both sides to acknowledge the existence and identity of the other. For both sides to grapple with how to cope with and allay the fears and insecurities of the other. Israelis desperately want security, they want to feel that their very existence is not threatened at every turn. Palestinians desperately want justice. They want to feel that their suffering, their humiliation, their dispossession is acknowledged, recognized and addressed in some concrete way. As long as Israelis feel they are fighting for their very existence they will never give that acknowledgement. It is too risky. The only way it will happen is if they feel that their right to exist is no longer in question. It’s time to move on from the wishful thinking and fantasy towards a real just peace for all. What form that will take is unclear, but it will never happen as long as the voices of delegitimization on both sides are shouting louder than the voices of recognition and acknowledgement. Peace and justice does not require one side to negate itself but rather for both sides to acknowledge the other.

About the Author
Lisa Ohayon is a South African born clinical psychologist with a Masters in Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution. She is a mother of four and has been living in Israel for the past seventeen years.