Saturday, February 11, 2017

Let's Explore What is This, Through Literature . . .

Van Leer Institute, Jerusalem
Yehuda Shenhav is a professor of sociology at Tel Aviv University, an Israeli theorist on bureaucracy, management, and capitalism, and a writer on the Israel/Palestinian conflict. He has taught in the United States at Stanford, Princeton, University of Wisconsin—Madison, and Columbia. His critical essay, Beyond the Two State Solution (2012) argued that the world’s fixation on Israel’s Green Line (the 1948 cease fire line), and Israeli settlements beyond the Green Line since 1967, is counter-productive and offers no long-term solution. See reviews of his position by Alex Kane Here and Here. Gilad Halpern and Dahlia Scheindlin, now co-hosts of the podcast series The Tel Aviv Review, interviewed him on their most recent program.  

Shenhav has lost faith in the ability of academic scholarship to bridge the gap between Israeli and Palestinian society, and so he is turning to literature. With the support of the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem he is translating novels written by Palestinians about the Palestinian condition from Arabic into Hebrew. The first book in the series, Salman Natur’s Walking on the Wind, will be launched at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute on Wednesday February 15, 2017. 

Translation of literature is needed, says Shenhav, because the number of Jewish Israelis who speak Arabic (outside of the security services) is approximately none. The translation of Arabic literature, he hopes, will help bridge the gap between these languages and cultures. Literature, he hopes, can help forge a common language and that might represent a tentative step towards a shared society.

Literature, thinks Shenhav, can approach topics that our political discourse can not: 
 “I think that literature is a better battlefield than academia. To be honest, I lost some faith in academia and research. . . .  It has to do with my identity. We were three or four good friends. One of them was Adi Ophir and Hanan Chever; one of them  (was) a prominent philosopher and (the other) a literary researcher, (and they) said very nasty things against the Jewish state. The Zionist state. Then comes me, who says similar things. Then comes (an Israeli Palestinian) who says more lenient arguments—he is not as critical. . . (but) the interpretation of what he says is mediated by his position in  society: if you are an Ashkenazi Jew (European) the latitude of what you can say is wider; when you are Mizrahi (Jew from Muslim lands) it narrows down; when you’re an Arab . . . you can go to hell.
Or you can write a novel. . . .  in Arabic.
"I always told [my Palestinian friends who cause a political uproar]. . . if I say what you have said, nothing would have happened. . . . (But, still) my position as a Mizrahi, who is potentially an Arab Jew, is much more alerting than if my dear friend Hanan Chever agrees with me. He is the (accepted) black sheep of the family. [The Palestinian Israeli's criticism] is beyond the pale; I am in between. (So) identity mediates very much what you say.  This is (a). And (b) . . . I don’t think this whole project of the two-state-solution and the idea of dividing (the land is viable). . .
It's something better approached through literature, because when it comes to political discourse "I think that the left in Israel is not less fascist than the right winger is, and sometimes more.  . . ."
"The Nakbah, which I call (painfully) 'the ethnic cleansing of Palestine,' was done by the Israeli Left. By the Jewish Left.  Hashomer Hatza’ir, the most radical leftist (Social Worker’s party movement), swallowed most of the Palestinian lands and (their) story (is that) the war of ’48 (justified everything). . . This is bullshit, because most of the Palestinians were kicked out prior to ’48. I say that painfully. 
"I could have been an ardent Zionist. I was. I was. But I feel as a Jew, an Israeli Jew who grew up here--I’m from the ’73 cohort; that’s when I was in the army--I was betrayed. . . . I wouldn’t say (betrayed) by this country, but by this (Zionist) ideology. And I realize that this is not what we were told all these years. And somebody who feels he was cheated thinks twice afterwards. And where we were cheated, and why we were cheated, . . . we—the Sabra Jews who were really, really (patriotic). . . .
. . . and Shenhav trails off into shared, traumatic, memory; memories best left to literature.

Halpern prods him: “The whole outlook that you now paint is very bleak. Do you have any hope whatsoever in the future? You said you lost faith in the ability of academia to change (the dialogue) and now you’re engaged in this cultural/literary project. . . .

And Scheindlein chimes in: “I think this is very clear—for everything you have lost faith in, you have something to replace it: you’ve lost faith in academia, but you replaced it with literature; you’ve lost faith in the two-state-solution, and you have replaced it with . . .  ?”

Shenhav gives it a try: we cannot divide the land! 
“I would say (we cannot divide the land). There is no way we can divide the land because the Palestinians and the Jews are like Siamese twins. You cannot separate them.  You know how they (try to) separate them here: they call them Palestinians in the West Bank, and Israeli Arabs here. But this is bullshit. . . . This is like in South Africa: they had 14 definitions of blacks just to divide them and rule . . .”
Jews and Muslims cannot be separate from their close embrace in the small land that is Israel Palestine, not much larger than Los Angeles. We may as well learn each other's language, read each other's literature, suggests Shenhav . . . .
“I remember, Dahlia, that we met in New York once, after the debate with Peter Beinart (on Broadway, on the upper East Side). We were all going out to a restaurant, . . .  Peter Beinart, if you put a gun to his head and ask him—‘so at the end, what do you want?’  (He answers) ‘A Jewish state.' 
Not enough Arab literature in that, suggests, Shenhav. It'll never work . . . .

In the 1990’s, with Rabin and the peace process, Shenhav believed in the two-state-solution. He protested against the settlements. . . “all these kind of things. . . ."

Not today. Today . . . "I believe today that you should not kick out people, expel people from their homes, even if . . .   It’s a bad practice; it’s a bad practice. And I think we should be very careful with those kind of practices."

In 2005 Israel withdrew its troops from inside Gaza, while continuing to control passage in and out of Gaza of goods and people. . . . It was a mistake:
“Had it been today. . . , I would protest against the government with the settlers. However, I also believe in the right of return. I think it's possible. I think it is desirable, and I think to some extent it will happen.  . . . ."
"For all sides: for Jews, for Palestinians, and for Jews in the West Bank and Gaza," asks Halperin. “Why not?” says Shenhav. In other words, giving up Gaza was a mistake, but not for the usual reasons.
“I don’t have anything against settlements. . .  [But] let me end with a non-provocative statement.  There is no single settlement that causes (as) much trouble to Palestinians as Modi'in and Karmiel (two Jewish cities inside Israel).  There are 19 years that separate ’67 and ’48. What is the difference between these settlements and other settlements?  So we cannot object to settlements (per se).  The funny decision that the Green Line has become . . . 
Non-provocative perhaps only in literature . . . .

Dahlia Scheindlin recalled attending a demonstration by Palestinians at Tel Aviv University some years ago. . . ("it must have been Nakba Day," she says)  There she observed Baruch Marzel (the Kach movement settler) wearing a blue T-shirt with the words “Al-Shaykh Muwannis." That was the name of the old Palestinian village where Tel Aviv University sits today.  Surely he wore the T-shirt sarcastically, Scheindlin suggested.

Members of Harel Brigade, Sheik Muwannis (1948)
“No. No,” said Shenhav. “If you are going to talk about settlements, they want to speak of the old places as well. They want this idea (that there is no difference between pre-'48 and post-'67 Israel) to trickle down.  And I say the same. So my students went out from class when they saw that, and they protested with him against the Meretz (left wing) voters, who denied (this Marzel view). . . 
"This is the paradox, that the Meretz voters denied that this was an Arab village, and Baruch Marzel acknowledged it. So you know that something is crooked here. You know that something is upside down here. You know that something is not right here. So let’s explore, what is this? . . .
Through literature . . .

Listen to the program at TLV1 HERE.

Follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles

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