The Things That You Don't Get to Know

There is a school of thought which contends that if only Israelis went to where Palestinians live, if only they met them as flesh-and-blood human beings, their political and security opinions would be transformed.

There is a school of thought which contends that if only Israelis went to where Palestinians live, if only they met them as flesh-and-blood human beings, their political and security opinions would be transformed. They would no longer automatically support the government's policies of recent years toward the Palestinians, nor would they continue to have a priori faith in every official Israeli explanation for some political or military action.

People who have experienced this transformation personally are living testimony that this school of thought has validity. And these are people, only a few perhaps, whose political background cannot explain the doubts they now have toward Israeli policy - for example, those who employed and still employ Palestinians. Over the years they have learned to doubt the security explanations given for the hermetic closure and limits on the freedom of movement of their employees since 1991.

People like M., a woman from Jerusalem who votes NRP and who befriended a family from a Palestinian village. She was aghast to discover how easily and systematically Palestinian lands are confiscated and orchards uprooted, how savings and hopes dissipate in favor of the settlements.

Photographers and a small number of other media people who come to the territories find it difficult to explain to their friends in Tel Aviv that there is a huge gap between what they know about an "Israeli war of self-defense" in the territories, and the reality of massive, aggressive destruction that the IDF leaves in its wake.

Such attempts teach us that many are the axioms that are shaken when a relationship is created with Palestinians who are not archetypal demons, but ordinary individuals, and when Israelis are personally exposed to the scenes of Israeli aggression in the territories.

That is the logic behind the activities of the women of Machsom Watch. They not only carry out what in their opinion is their civil duty, monitoring events at IDF roadblocks. They also try to bring more and more women to the roadblocks who are less critical than they are with regard to Israeli policies, so that they will learn the reality of that microcosm of relationships between the conqueror and the conquered that exists between Israel and the Palestinians.

There is a very humanistic assumption at work here. It says that because people are rational, the more information they are exposed to, the more independent an opinion they will form, that is free from the all-knowing political propaganda of official spokespeople. This school of thought says that one's ethnic-national identity does not have to lead one to automatically justify the policies of the government that represents that particular identity.

Because this is a humanistic statement, it is difficult to counter and remember that in fact many Israelis are exposed to the reality of the territories on a daily basis - settlers and soldiers. The first group are concerned for their personal safety, their welfare, and the possessions they have amassed in the occupied territory. The second group is concerned for their lives, after they have been sent to defend the first group.

The immediate personal interest and privilege of both groups, as Israelis, prevents them from interpreting what their eyes see from a non-security perspective. If they did, they would see that two contradictory foundations are being laid - the continually-being-developed, for Jews only, and the withheld, the choked-off, and the delimited, for the Palestinians. The settlers and the soldiers radiate onto a large group of Israelis. Neither group finds this system, the seeds of which were planted with the conquest of 1967 and which came to maturity during the Oslo period (when Jewish infrastructure in the territories merely expanded) objectionable. The security rationale becomes the defensive shield for a system that is obviously immoral.

There is no conspiracy that prevents Israelis from knowing more. Perhaps it is preferable not to know more, because knowledge will confront them with the demand to give up the supernumerary rights involved in conquest. This is difficult to admit, especially for journalists, because the abundance of information supplied by the Israeli press has not percolated into the consciousness of those who do not wish it to.

One of the most recent examples of this is the recent Israeli domestic debate on the "security fence." For over a year now, independent press reports have been providing most of the information about the nature of this wall.

They have reported that it penetrates deeply into Palestinian territory, that it is fatal to agricultural areas essential to the future Palestinian state, that it isolates villages from their lands and from other villages, and closes off Qalqilya on three sides. Protests against the wall have been going on almost weekly for more than a year.

But neither press reports nor protests have succeeded in engendering the public debate in Israel that President Bush did when he hinted that he had objections to the land-grabbing route of the fence - he even used the non-Israeli terminology "wall" and not "fence." It was as if we had discovered another continent. Suddenly we heard villagers whose lands had been taken being interviewed on the radio, and questions were raised that arose not only from the immediate Israeli security perspective, questions that reminded us of the fact that Ariel is a settlement.