Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Book Review: The Other Side of Israel by Susan Nathan

I had a friend one time refer to a “pluralistic multi-cultural” level of development that only 10% of the world population achieves. I thought about this ability to look to something greater than ourselves as I was reading Susan Nathan’s “The Other Side of Israel”.

Nathan is a Jew who used her “Right of Return” under Israeli law to move to Israel and become an Israeli citizen. Having been born in England, she was a part of the Diaspora that felt out of place. From an early age she had been indoctrinated with Zionist ideology, telling her that the only true home she had was in Israel. So, she left her family behind and traveled to the “Holy Land” and established a good income for herself teaching English in Tel Aviv.

Through a series of events, Nathan was asked to write a funding application for disadvantaged communities in Israel read: ARAB Israeli communities. After visiting one of these communities, and through Nathan’s obvious “pluralistic multi-cultural” level of development, she had the mental capacity to step back and realize that something was not right. So, she chose to live amongst the Arab Israelis and witness first-hand their day to day lives and try to understand the intense discrimination they faced. We must stop for a moment here and realize that this would be equivalent to a middle-class white American choosing to live with the outcasts in the ghettoes of our nation. An even greater example would be a white South African choosing to live among the blacks during the apartheid era. In other words, it was unheard of.

Relationships were developed and deep friendships were made. Susan Nathan was shocked. These Arabs were nothing like she had been taught from her Zionist childhood…they were not savages. They were oppressed people…equal human beings…looking for their place and a homeland to call their own much like the Jews who were oppressing them. In fact the greatest irony to the entire situation is that the Palestinian Arabs are the new Jews. They have taken the place of the Jews who were in the past the people without a homeland.

The parallels between the Israeli “left” and the American “left” were what struck me most about this book. There are certain debates…even among so-called liberals…that are not allowed in either country. For example, those Israelis who claim to be leftists will fight for Palestinian rights to an extent, saying that the occupation shouldn’t continue, etc…but will stop at declaring that the Palestinians should have equal rights. Only those who can objectively step outside of themselves, look at the bigger picture of “pluralistic multi-cultural” levels of development will be able to see the injustices. Jews in Israel and the Diaspora are so indoctrinated that the idea of equality has been erased from the collective consciousness. Until we as citizens of the world, and especially those of us activists(myself included)can battle this line of thinking, there is little hope for reconciliation. It will be a slow process, but if you value human rights it is a situation that can not be ignored, especially in the West which often sides unconditionally with Israel. I’m not talking about rhetoric; I’m talking about the stronger language of continued military aid. The opportunity to defuse a situation that could plunge the entire world into war is there…will we take it before it’s too late?

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