Two weeks ago when I received my copy of A Zionist Among Palestinians from Indiana University Press, I was ecstatic. Hillel Bardin, the author, had turned to me with the first few chapters in 2006 to ask if I thought this was a worthwhile project. I loved the experienced, yet naïve voice of the Israeli soldier narrator in Jericho, who was commanded to guard a sick girl who had been mistaken for a boy throwing stones. From the first page of this book, the reader senses the tragic absurdity of the Israeli Occupation and the moral conflicts presented to soldiers at every corner.
“Of course you should pursue this,” I told Hillel. Published by Indiana University Press this year, A Zionist Among Palestinians tells the story of one Zionist’s openness to the plight of the Palestinians and his belief in their desire for peace through nonviolent resistance. For twenty years, Bardin organized dialogue-action groups with Palestinians and Israelis in an effort to educate Israelis that there is a partner for peace.
A Zionist Among Palestinians wavers between inspiration and hopelessness. Probably its most important contribution to the literature of the Israeli Occupation is to show the complexity of the situation and the challenges faced by grassroots activity for peace, in light of the crushing bureaucracies—the Civil Administration, Shabak, Israeli army, Israeli Police and Municipality of Jerusalem. Nonetheless, it also shows how one person can make a difference in a sea of apathy.
For anyone unfamiliar with the terrain of Palestinian nonviolent resistance, A Zionist Among Palestinians is a good place to start. I’ve asked Hillel to write a few words for WriteInIsrael.
I’ve written this book to share with you the roller coaster of hopes and disappointments after twenty years of working with Israelis and Palestinians who struggled against the overwhelming oppression.
It all began when my son’s little bicycle was stolen outside our Jerusalem home. Instead of turning to the Israeli police, I went to the mukhtar of the Arab village next to our neighborhood to enlist his help. Thus began two decades of cooperative work between Jews and Arabs. The mukhtar returned my son’s bike and my neighborhood helped the village resist the Jewish National Fund’s planting a pine forest on the village’s agricultural land. We were helped by Mayor Teddy Kolleck, MK Ehud Olmert and other members of Knesset. We organized the first joint demonstration of Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem. I learned then that joint action against the authorities can be a powerful tool of non-violent resistance.
In A Zionist Among Palestinians you will meet Sa’ed and Wajiha, Palestinians whom my platoon arrested in 1988 when I did reserve duty in Jericho and whom I later sought out to hear their side of the story. Much to my surprise, they favored peace with Israel and a two-state solution. From this encounter grew many dialogue-action groups in Palestinian villages, towns and refugee camps.
You’ll witness how the Israel Defense Forces did all in its power to prevent Jews and Arabs from meeting to promote peace. But finally, in 1993 in Nablus, the army assigned the Chief Intelligence Officer of Central Command to work with us to ease our getting through checkpoints and getting permits for the Palestinian families to come to Jerusalem to meet with us. Nonetheless, rivalry between the military and the civil branches of the army destroyed much of what we built.
I believed that Palestinians were seeking peace with us, but they were not speaking in a language we could understand. Throwing rocks at Israelis was no way to convince us that they sought peace. However, even non-violent demonstrations were strictly forbidden by Israel’s army. I tried to find a non-confrontational way that Palestinians could send a clear message to Israelis. On one reserve duty in Ramallah and with my commander’s encouragement, I tried to find Palestinian leaders who would be willing to stop rock throwing in exchange for being allowed to demonstrate non-violently. Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful, but was arrested by the Israeli army and sentenced to two weeks in prison.
I travelled to Tunis with Sarah Kaminker and Mosher Amirav, both Jerusalem municipal councillors, to meet Yasser Arafat. We pleaded with him to allow Palestinians to vote in municipal elections and join the Jerusalem municipality. Only in that way could they fight for their rights to build homes, get free education, and demand two capitals for two peoples. We did not succeed in convincing him, however.
I value the impressive accomplishments of Israel, but I cannot accept the denial of a national homeland for my neighbors. A Zionist Among Palestinians describes my efforts, along with many others, to help Palestinians send a message of peace to the Israelis and to the world.
You can read reviews of A Zionist Among Palestinians and buy the book at this link: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=a+zionist+among+palestinians