A Land With­out Borders

  • Review
By – January 4, 2017

This recent view of the Israeli-Pales­tin­ian con­flict stands apart from the oth­ers. Jour­nal­ist Nir Baram doesn’t rehearse the usu­al assump­tions, advo­cate a par­tic­u­lar solu­tion, or claim a faux objec­tiv­i­ty. He does some­thing far more valu­able: he lis­tens to the peo­ple at the front lines of the sit­u­a­tion and reflects on the impli­ca­tions of what he hears.

Con­trary to con­ven­tion­al wis­dom, Baram hears that the root of the con­flict lies not in 1967, but in the expul­sion of Pales­tini­ans in 1948 and the result­ing dias­po­ra. When he asks Pales­tini­ans where they’re from, they typ­i­cal­ly don’t iden­ti­fy the town where they live: they name the place where their fam­i­ly lived before 1948, in what is now Israel, even if they have nev­er actu­al­ly been there. For them, the right of return” is not a bar­gain­ing chip — it’s fun­da­men­tal to their sense of iden­ti­ty, and justice.

Baram finds that bor­ders and sov­er­eign­ty are much less impor­tant to aver­age Pales­tini­ans than prac­ti­cal mat­ters, like free­dom of move­ment and liv­ing with­out fear or harass­ment. Dani Dayan, the for­mer head of the Judea-Samaria (“Yesha”) Coun­cil who today is Israel’s Con­sul Gen­er­al in New York, agrees. He defends a pro-set­tle­ment Zion­ism, but Dayan also real­izes that Pales­tini­ans large­ly see Israel as a colo­nial­ist project, not as the his­toric Jew­ish home­land. He is less con­cerned with com­pet­ing nar­ra­tives, how­ev­er, than with people’s every­day cir­cum­stances. There is a moral prob­lem here,” he says. If we want to stay in Judea and Samaria, the Pales­tini­ans must be able to live nor­mal lives.”

Nei­ther side trusts the other’s ver­sion of the facts. Pales­tini­ans don’t believe any­thing they hear from Israeli media, and Israeli Jews think that Pales­tin­ian news is pro­pa­gan­da. Because their assump­tions are so dif­fer­ent, small acts by one side” can hold enor­mous sym­bol­ic import to the oth­er. When a few reli­gious Jews vis­it the Tem­ple Mount, Pales­tini­ans see it as part of a plan even­tu­al­ly to seize it, because they have so often seen their land tak­en from them; a West Bank set­tler like­wise jumps to an extreme con­clu­sion: If we have no place in Judea and Samaria, then we have no place in Tel Aviv.”

Per­cep­tions aside, the Pales­tin­ian econ­o­my has shrunk to a frac­tion of the size of Israel’s, mak­ing Pales­tini­ans less self-suf­fi­cient and more heav­i­ly depen­dent on trade with Israelis. Bur­geon­ing check­points and the sep­a­ra­tion wall add hours to what once was a 20-minute trip. Some slices of Pales­tin­ian Jerusalem have become a vir­tu­al no-man’s‑land where author­i­ty is ambigu­ous and where there are prac­ti­cal­ly no munic­i­pal ser­vices. It is under­stand­able, then, that a tra­di­tion­al polit­i­cal solu­tion — one state, two states, what­ev­er — is less impor­tant to many Pales­tini­ans than end­ing the con­stant intru­sions of the occupation.

The late Rab­bi Men­achem Fro­man worked active­ly with Pales­tin­ian lead­ers to pro­mote the inte­gra­tion of Jews and Pales­tini­ans in the West Bank. Vis­it­ing the uncon­ven­tion­al Otniel Yeshi­va, where Rab­bi Fro­man taught, Baram hears lit­tle polit­i­cal detail about how exact­ly Jews and Pales­tini­ans might live togeth­er in peace. But he meets teach­ers and stu­dents who reg­u­lar­ly col­lab­o­rate with Pales­tini­ans in local coex­is­tence projects. Maybe prag­mat­ic, face-to-face steps can suc­ceed where inter­na­tion­al nego­ti­a­tions have failed.

A Land With­out Bor­ders, writ­ten with con­vic­tion but with­out polemics, brings fresh under­stand­ing to a much-dis­cussed top­ic, and it’s engag­ing­ly read­able besides. Jes­si­ca Cohen’s Eng­lish ren­der­ing is so nat­ur­al, clear, and pre­cise that you might for­get you’re read­ing a trans­la­tion at all. Any­one with an open mind about the con­flict will be grate­ful for this rev­e­la­to­ry book

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