Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Peace, moral stands and choosing one’s audience

Posted by worriedlebanese on 16/01/2010

You can't expect better from a phone with a disabled flash. Gideon Levy (left) & Eyal Sivan (right)

Gideon Levy is in France these days promoting his new book, a collection of articles he wrote on Gaza (from 2006 to 2009) translated into French and published by La Fabrique. He gave a lecture this thursday at Columbia University’s parisien address (an amazing compact campus).

Moral support for a marginal[ised] group
I’ve been following Gideon Levy’s writing on Haaretz’s english edition for four or five years now, so I’m quite familiar with his approach to the conflict. Nothing of what he said was new. He wasn’t actually here to inform the public on thing they didn’t know. Those who were present were quite familiar with the conflict. This was quite obvious from their questions. And it was quite expected because of the networks through which his lectures (and book signings) were promoted. His discussion of Gaza meant to explain his moral stand, one that he shared with the audience. His voice is a lonely one in the Israeli media. And those who were present at this little gathering also represented marginal group: jewish/israelis who were supportive of Palestinian rights (what’s left of the “peace camp”), pro-Palestinian individuals who still had faith in Israel… Each person seemed to be leaning on the other to feed the little hope they still held in their hearts.

A scandalous blond (and failed party pooper)
Many of the people in the audience were jewish, some were even Israeli. Next to our covert Lebanese group was a very conspicuous Israeli (ashkenazi) group.  And all except one person seemed to share Gideon Levy’s moral stand. This became quite visible when this person spoke out. She could have been Arielle Dombasle’s twin sister (who had seen another plastic surgeon). She confessed that she’d a bit nervous about coming here, and that she was hurt by the way the lecturer had portrayed Israel and Israelis. She said that Israelis too were hurt and were suffering, and he didn’t speak of that. She also added that Palestinians too were responsible of many wrongdoing and that he didn’t mention that either. As she was speaking her mind, you could feel the negative vibes radiate out of the audience. People were whispering to each other their contempt for her position… and they were expecting a strong reaction from Gideon Levy, one they could brush her remarks off and aplaude to. And that’s just what they got!

Gideon Levy saves the day
Our lecturer was quick to point out that her arguments didn’t hold because they called for an artificial balance in an extremely asymmetrical situation. He argued that you couldn’t be “balanced” when one side has one of the world’s strongest armies and the other under-equipped and untrained fighters… when one side is still the occupant and the other the occupied (an argument he developed during his lecture)… when one territory is the main battleground (indiscriminately)… when the death and destruction is so high on one side and so low on the other…
And as expected, the public applauded… for the first time in this Q&A session.
I obviously agreed with most of his arguments. And I understand why his reaction was so swift and razor-sharp. In many academic conferences and intellectual debates relating to Israel/Palestine, you increasingly have a group of well trained pro-Israel advocates within the audience who either disrupt the conference, try to destabilise the speaker or deviate the debate or the discussion. I’ve seen them operate on several occasions and they are extremely efficient. But Arielle’s twin was obviously not one of them. She shares with them the same point of view and probably the same sources of information, but she was here alone, to (somewhat) listen and to share her divergent point of view. She was one of those people Gideon Levy had been talking about, one of those people who support each and every Tsahal action, who believe it is the most moral army in the world (“couldn’t it be the second or the third?” asked Gideon Levy, “right after Liechtenstein’s?”)… and he obviously couldn’t reach out to her. She didn’t hear him and he didn’t know how to make his voice heard.

Here lays the biggest challenge of what is left of the Peace camp: instead of find a way to make itself heard, it should find a way to make people listen. Instead of talking to a supportive audience that agrees with all that it stands for, it should be seeking ways to reach out to another audience, THE other audience. And it can only do that by going through their networks. This will undoubtedly be a tough challenge… yet it’s probably the only challenge worth taking.

4 Responses to “Peace, moral stands and choosing one’s audience”

  1. There is no doubt in my mind that since its creation, Israel has been committing one aggression after another, has often overreacted, adopted wrong policies and has not shown a genuine desire in reaching any settlement except on its own terms. But yet this does not mean that all the acts of the Palestinian groups are to be applauded. I genuinely believe that the resistance movement has not been productive, on the contrary it has at times added to the misery and squalor of those that it is trying to help. Maybe it is time for the Palestinian movement to reevaluate its tactics as to consider seriously civil disobedience and a request to have the West Bank and Gaza fully integrated into the state of Israel. The request for integration might prove to be the best weapon for the Palestinians to get the Israeli side to sit down and negotiate seriously about a two state solution. As Golda Meier and Abba Eban have often warned, Israel cannot afford to be seen as an occupier neither can it maintain its exclusivity by absorbing the West Bank and Gaza. Israel must give accept a two state solution.
    I would further add to the above that one can even look at the two state solution as the first step in eventually getting the bi national state that Buber advocated in his famous 1948 speech.

  2. Roy said

    If Gideon Levy wants to be listened to, especially by those who he criticizes and should hear him (hint: most of them do not live in New York), he should listen to this girl more carefully. By the way, this is probably true for the girl too.
    There are too many one-sided views. You can’t really explain it all using one side’s action, or portraying one side as good and the other as bad. Each side truly believes that it is doing good, or at least trying to, in the face of what the other side is doing and what its own needs are. It might not be consistent, and powers are definitely not equal, but it is no reason to ignore the wrongdoings of the weak, or the good deeds of the strong. Even if they are not numerous.

    I truly appreciate Gideon Levy’s work, and some of my best friends share his view, but I do think that it’s very convenient and comforting to always blame the strong. Underdogs are always favorite.

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