The Independent views of an Israeli
The Other Side of Israel
By Susan Nathan
A Jewish Women suggests a possible Resolution of Israeli -Palestinian Conflict
In 1999, Susan Nathan moved from the UK to Israel, taking advantage of the Jewish state’s standing offer of automatic citizenry for any Jew. She moved from a nation in which she was part of a minority to one where she was a member of the majority. Her first reaction was euphoric. ‘My first months were filled with thrilling moments of feeling, for the first time in my life, that I belonged… I did not need to explain my family name, nor did I have to hide my pride in my Jewishness.’ Raised on tales of historical oppression and the more recent depravity of the Holocaust, Nathan felt that she had come to a home where she could be secure in her identity.
What could be more natural? After all, Israel came into existence after World War II as a homeland for her people: a ‘land without a people,’ as early Zionists claimed, ‘for a people without a land.’
The reality wasn’t so simple. Nathan soon learned that a million Israeli Arabs live in the country as well; descended from those Palestinians who refused to flee during Israel’s initial seizure of land and homes. Today, those citizens — referred to not as Palestinians but as ‘the Arabs’ by the Jewish majority — live in cramped, squalid conditions, their rights abridged, and their voices unheard in public. Many of their villages have been razed and planted over with pine forests. They are, for all intent and purposes, an invisible population.
As Nathan learned of this, she underwent a crisis of conscience that was as powerful as it was unexpected. Even more unusual was her response: leaving her home and career in Tel Aviv, she moved into a small, third-story apartment in the village of Tamra. She has made her permanent home there, the only Jew living openly in a town of some 20,000 residents. The Other Side of Israel documents her life.
Nathan describes injustice piled atop injustice, as Israel’s Arab citizens struggle against ridiculous odds. Life in Tamra exposes Nathan to inequalities that are part of everyday life for Israel’s Arabs: the town lacks basic services such as electricity, roads, and a sewerage system; its children, some of the poorest in the land, are barred from receiving university scholarships through a clever series of restrictions that allow only active members of the armed services to receive government money. (Non-Jews are barred from the armed services, and from government services such as scholarships or unemployment benefits.) It is illegal for Arab Israeli school children to be taught in Arabic. Village land can be — and is — confiscated at the government’s whim. The depressing list goes on and on.
Nathan is not afraid to draw parallels which would earn her the ire of many Zionists. Having lived part of her life in South Africa, she declares that ‘Israel chose the path of apartheid’ in creating its twin systems of law for Jews and non-Jews. More provocatively, she compares the current plight of Israeli Arabs with that of European Jews in the 1930s.
Watching a film about the Holocaust, she takes in the scenes of Jews being driven from their ghettos and remarks, ‘I could not help but see a parallel with what had happened to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians only three years after the Holocaust.’ Such a contention from a non-Jew would bring instant charges of anti-Semitism from many quarters; one can only imagine the reaction from Israelis themselves, or the non-Israelis who support their state.
To be sure, Nathan does not claim that there is any systematic extermination program in place, such as the Germans used on the Jews. Her comparison is with the wretched conditions of the Warsaw ghetto, not the death camps of Treblinka and Auschwitz.
She also examines the absurdity inherent in the notion of a ‘Jewish democracy.’ When the state is, by definition, identified with a single group the very notion of democracy become meaningless. Israel operates on a dual level, with one set of laws and privileges for Jews, and another set for everybody else.
The book ends with a consideration of possible ways out of the current impasse. The most extraordinary idea of all, perhaps, is that there is a way out. Certainly it won’t be easy, and it will require commitment and creative thinking on both sides, but as Nathan points out, ‘everyone — apart, apparently, from our current leaders in Washington and Jerusalem and a few Islamic extremists — agrees that armed conflict can offer neither side a meaningful victory…. Ordinary Israelis understand that the Palestinian nation’s desire for independence and freedom cannot be defeated with weapons; and most Palestinians accept that they cannot vanquish one of the most powerful armies in the world….’ What, then, is left?
Nathan proposes a model that combines elements of both one-state and two-state solutions. ‘There would be one secular, democratic country, but it would be divided into two confederated states, one Palestinian, one Jewish, each with its own political institutions.’ Co-existing within a single border, Israeli Arabs could choose to continue living under Israeli law — or move to Palestinian territory if they wished. Israeli settlers now living illegally in the occupied territories would be allowed to stay, under Palestinian authority, or move to Israeli territory if they wished. The tricky part is that ‘the security of each minority would be guaranteed by legal codes that banned discrimination… Resources would have to be divided equitably between the two states and within each state.’ Far from a perfect solution?. But it has the advantage of moving this intractable situation in a new direction, and it is proposed by a woman who truly understands both sides of the conflict, from the inside out. Susan Nathan’s voice is a unique one in Israeli society. We would all do well to listen. [The Other Side of Israel; Book By Susan Nathan, Harper Collins, UK, ISBN 978-0-00-719511-4 , 274pp. £8.99, Apeople without a land: Book Reviewed by David Maine, Courtesy, Dawn, 7 June 2009, http://188.8.131.52/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/in-paper-magazine/books-and-authors/a-people-without-a-land]