No, I am not going anywhere. I am not leaving Israel. I am not living in despair and I have not lost hope.
My column last week may have given the impression that I am “throwing in the towel” and after 41 years of living in Israel and working for peace between Israel, Palestine and all of Israel’s neighbors, I was giving up and leaving my home. I am not. I stand behind my words that I find it a lot harder for me and people like me to identify with Israel today. What shakes me most is not the thousands of Israelis on the far Right who would willingly use violence against me. What shakes me more is that the margins on the Right have gotten so much wider, and now they have even sent significantly more representatives to the Knesset and will probably set the tone of the next government and its legislative agenda. What shakes me even more is the silence of the majority. As Martin Luther King Jr. stated so well, those who accept evil without protesting against it are really cooperating with it. “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” That is what I see in Israeli society today, and it pains me deeply.
I, unlike most Israeli Jews, work on a daily basis with Palestinians (Israeli citizens and those living under our occupation or under Hamas control in Gaza). I witness the evil of our occupation and control over the Palestinian people and their land. I interact daily with Palestinian citizens of Israel who are becoming increasingly marginalized in their own country and made to feel that they are even below second class citizens. What I witness on a daily basis shakes me to my core and forces me to question our own legitimacy, because a country and a society that behaves in the way that we do loses their moral standing.
I grew up on the Zionist narrative and passed it on to generations of others in the Zionist Youth Movement and through my life and work here over the past 41 years. As stated so well by David Ben-Gurion: We have an “aspiration to be an exceptional people and an exemplary state, and to preserve our perpetual ties with the Jewish people around the world. Our historic goal is a new society founded on liberty, equality, tolerance, mutual aid and love of humankind – in other words, a society free of exploitation, discrimination, bondage, tyranny, the rule of one man over another and the subjugation of conscience.” That is the state that I have aspired to be part of, that was the dream – and towards that dream, I have dedicated my life.
But that dream today is only a mirage, a false image that no longer exists within our reality. The aspiration of being a society based on equality no longer exists in our reality. The Israeli outstretched hand of peace is no longer found. The failure of the peace process (not our sole responsibility – but we are the stronger party here); the continued rounds of violence; the systemization of the occupation and our means of control and domination; the transformation of the occupied people into a transparent people; the tolerance of evilness in our system of control; and our refusal to take responsibility for our own actions has removed for me the beauty of our home.
We cannot deny freedom to a people under our control and be free ourselves. We cannot discriminate against 20% of our citizens and expect to live in a state where we strive for equality. We cannot believe that we are superior people – a superior nation – when we march forward towards a regime based on the tyranny of the majority.
I AM a proud member of peace and human rights organizations. I identify with B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence and Combatants for Peace – and the organization I admire the most and hope to never be a member of is the Israeli Palestinian Bereaved Families Forum (the latter two organizations organized the annual Israeli Palestinian Memorial Day Ceremony). I do this as a loyal Israeli citizen, against the occupation of the Palestinian people and in favor of total equality for all of Israel’s citizens. I work with Palestinians in building partnerships and I am proud of it. I consider Israel’s Palestinian citizens as my brothers and sisters in our struggle for a free and just society. I am reminded of the brilliant speech of actor Michael Douglas in the Hollywood film The American President, in which he said, turning to his opponent from the other party, “For the record, yes, I am a card-carrying member of the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union – similar to our Association of Civil Rights in Israel], but the more important question is ‘Why aren’t you, Bob?’ Now, this is an organization whose sole purpose is to defend the Bill of Rights, so it naturally begs the question, why would a senator – his party’s most powerful spokesman and a candidate for President – choose to reject upholding the constitution?”
I ask the same thing – why are we not all members of human rights organizations or peace organizations? Are there really people here who are opposed to civil rights or who are against peace?
No, I am not leaving Israel, and not only because there is no magnet anywhere in the world pulling me away from here. I will continue to struggle against evil, against the occupation, against the discrimination and marginalization of the Palestinian citizens of Israel. I will continue to be active in joint Israeli-Palestinian organizations. I will continue to build partnerships of Israelis and Palestinians working together. I will continue to work to create a joint political party of Jewish and Palestinian citizens together who share the belief that we all have an equal stake in the development of our country.
Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, but it is also the state of all of its citizens – it cannot be democratic, equal, and exemplary in any other way. This is a blessing and not a curse – learning to live together as equals in this land, in one state, two states or ten states is the challenge for our times and when we come out on the other side of this conflict, we will all be better people and we will live in a better place.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.