Inside Israel: Prospects of Peace at Weizmann’s home
Many people I met during my recent visit to Israel — which kept me away from this blog for a fortnight — suggested the impossible. It’s this: left to the people of Palestine and Israel, peace is possible.
It’s never easy to extract concessions from the fear-struck Jews, not even in their views. But as one gets talking, there invariably comes a moment when the tongue slips through.
From the Jewish man next to me on the 25-minute flight from Amman to Tel Aviv, to film-makers and writers, everyone seriously thought peace was being held hostage — by the Arabs, who fear democratization; by Gaza outfits several times more rigid than Hamas, by Iran, and by the Israeli establishment itself, who have lost sight of their first President Chiam Weizmann.
My pursuit of possibilities of peace began with a 40-minute drive to Jerusalem straight from Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion airport. This was followed by a dash to the Dead Sea to its south and, then, a trip to Haifa city further north, where rocket-spewing Lebanon was within sight, before returning to Tel Aviv.
In Tel Aviv’s Rehovot, is the Weizmann Institute of Science, a world-class facility for fundamental research dedicated to Israel’s first President and a scientist-Zionist. I sat through a short film on Weizmann’s life. He lived and died here. The institute, one of whose scientists won a Nobel this year, also houses the Weizmann Archives, where I wished I could have spent a few months, if not years.
When one considers the birth of Israel, Weizmann is the natural starting point, as British MP Richard Crossman had noted. Unlike Moses, he died in the Promised Land. Throughout many years of turmoil, Weizmann had remained a moderate, and in 1931, when he gave up his post as chief of the world
Zionists, he refused to give ground on this issue. He expressed his philosophy in a three-hour farewell address, words that might just as well have summed up his views in 1949.
He said: “With a strong national home in Palestine, built up peacefully and harmoniously, we may expect, in cooperation with the Arabs, also to open up for Jewish endeavour the vast areas which for their development need intelligence, initiative, organization and finances.
“The constant formulation of excessive demands endangers the safety of the mandate. We have been searching for other ways and means. In this quest I have not always been successful, but in laying down my office, formally and definitely, today, I feel that I have brought the movement a little nearer
to its goal. That goal we shall reach.”
I have no doubt that the reason why Israel has had to deal with terrorism is because, during the past 62 years, it has been dispossessing, expelling, occupying and oppressing the native Palestinians. The extremist groups have of course answered with deadly assaults, violating human rights.
The fatigue of war is evident now. “What’s better for us than peace,” Shifra Horn, a celebrity feminist Israeli novelist, tells me over dinner at a hip Kosher restaurant in West Jerusalem.
When the late Yitztak Rabin and Yasser Arafat made peace, film-maker Sylvain Biegeleisen took his camera and went around asking Palestinian and Israeli children what they thought about the famous handshake. “My dream was to open up a little bit of the border and plant trees,” he told me over a scrumptious meal at another restaurant.
In the Middle-east, the strongest wish among people is to see an honourable, equitable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict being arrived at.
The outcry over the Goldstone report last year — which blamed both Hamas and Israel for excesses during last December’s Gaza offensive — may well have changed the Palestinian political landscape forever. It certainly means that Palestinian leaders will have to take into account public feelings on any given issue.
On settlements, Palestinian feelings (and any rational position) are clear. Settlements are directly contradictory to a peace process since they pre-empt the very issue to be discussed. As such they are not acceptable and it is not acceptable for any leader to negotiate with Israel while settlement construction continues. And this is the current US stand too.
Israel has to realise this. That it’s Gaza policy is not working at all. “Not only is it not working, it is counter-productive and morally wrong,” says Gershon Baskin, the co-CEO of Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. See here.
As I watched the film on Weizmann’s, 39 young people from Gaza applied to attend a peace education workshop sponsored by Baskin’s organisation and held in a school in Beit Jala. All 39 Gazans were denied entry, but Baskin managed to get four in.
The refusal of the army to allow their entry had nothing to do with security. The army’s officer-in-charge even told Baskin so. This is the policy and the army is implementing it. So what is the policy? It is to completely cut off Gazans from the rest of the world.
“I cannot find logic in prohibiting young people from Gaza from meeting Israelis. Is the government implementing an anti-normalization campaign?” asks Baskin.
My own hunch is that moderate voices on either side, such as Baskin’s, will grow stronger. In the arts, the longing for peace is the strongest. My Israeli sojourn ended with a fantastic late night show of the world-famous new-age dance troupe, Mayumana. It’s latest show, Momentum, asks: “What would you do if you could turn back time. What would you change?”