On October 30, 2013 Efraim Davidi of TAU (Sverdlin Institute) and BGU (Politics & Government) wrote to the Social Science Forum, a platform based at the HUJ, to inform about an evening devoted to a new book on Avishai Ehrlich's work. Ehrlich was one of the first members of the radical group Matzpen to join the academy as a lecturer of sociology at the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Academic College. His meager publishing record has included articles "demonstrating" that Israel is a retrograde, fascist state and such.
There is nothing surprising in Ehrlich's writings as it contains standard Matzpen themes paddled since the 1960s. What is interesting, however, is the misrepresentation of the identity of the book publishers. Davidi wrote that the book was published by the "British Cambridge" clearly implying that it was Cambridge University Press. In fact, the publishers are Cambridge Scholars Publishing, an obscure press based in Newcastle which is in no way related to Cambridge University Press.
Efforts by an IAM member to correct the misperception were rebuffed by the Social Science Forum without providing a reason. Thus it is only possible to speculate that the gatekeepers of the Forum were interested in preserving the charade of academic respectability. Indeed, many of the radical academics publish in marginal, self-proclaimed radical presses such as Pluto, Verso or Zed. The International Evaluation Committee of the BGU Department of Politics and Government noted that many of its members publish in non-mainstream venues, a fact that was counted as detrimental to the professional standing of the Department.
Social sciences are among the least competitive fields in the Israeli academy. Inflating the prestige of a press by a creating a false perception is not helpful.
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Subject: [SocSci-IL] תל-אביב: השקת ספר על עבודתו של אבישי ארליך
תל-אביב: השקת ספר על עבודתו של אבישי ארליך
במועדון הגדה השמאלית בתל-אביב יתקיים אירוע השקה של הספר: "עבודתו של אבישי ארליך, סוציולוג פוליטי, פעיל ואינטלקטואל ציבורי", שפורסם בהוצאת קמבריג' הבריטית. בספר שלושה חלקים: עבודותיו הפחות ידועות של פרופ' אבישי ארליך, עמיתים בתחום ממקומות שונים בעולם מעריכים את תרומתו המחקרית וחברים ותלמידים המספרים על ארליך כמורה וחבר. הספר יצא לכבוד יום הולדתו ה-70.
פרופסור אבישי ארליך (צילום: אל אתיחאד)
בערב שיתקיים בגדה השמאלית, ידברו על הספר פרופ' אורלי בנימין (אוניברסיטת בר אילן), ד"ר נועה לביא (המכללה האקדמית ת"א-יפו), ופרופ' יואב פלד (אוניברסיטת תל אביב). האירוע יתקיים ברחוב אחד העם 70, תל-אביב; ביום רביעי, 13 בנובמבר, בשעה 20:00. הכניסה ללא תשלום.
עוד על הספר:
The Work of Avishai Ehrlich:
Political Sociologist, Activist
and Public Intellectual
Nea Ehrlich, Lesley Marks and Nira Yuval-Davis
This book first published 2013
Cambridge Scholars Publishing
12 Back Chapman Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 2XX, UK
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Copyright © 2013 by Nea Ehrlich, Lesley Marks and Nira Yuval-Davis and contributors
All rights for this book reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system,
or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or
otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner.
ISBN (10): 1-4438-4838-7, ISBN (13): 978-1-4438-4838-1
List of Illustrations xiii
Part I: Works by Avishai Ehrlich 1
Chapter 1 Conflict and Memory 3
Chapter 2 Language and Narrative in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict 13
Chapter 3 Palestine, Global Politics and Israeli Judaism 25
Chapter 4 On the Right of Return: Demography & Ethnic Cleansing in the Present Phase of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict 49
Chapter 5 Israeli Judaism 65
Chapter 6 In Gaza, No End in Sight: Questions for Avishai Ehrlich 87
Chapter 7 Avishai Ehrlich, a Pessimist of Intellect but Optimist of Will: A Gramsci-inspired Sociology An Interview by Nicos Trimikliniotis 95
Part II: Commentary on the Work of Avishai Ehrlich 111
Chapter 8 Leo Panitch: An Exemplary Intellectual: Avishai Ehrlich over Six Decades 113
Chapter 9 Uri Ram: The Colonization and Conflict Perspective in Israel Studies 125
Chapter 10 Hagit Borer: Zionism, Israel and the New Crusaders 133
Chapter 11 Margret Johannsen: Postscript: A Personal Memory 143
Chapter 12 Michal Bodemann: Ideological Labour 145
Chapter 13 Orly Benjamin: Recognizing Avishai Ehrlich's Contribution to Intersectionality Theory in the Understanding of Women's Work in Israel
Chapter 14 Hanna Herzog: Landmarks in Critical Thinking: Some Personal Comments about Avishai Ehrlich 165
Chapter 15 Nira Yuval-Davis: Avishai Ehrlich – some Formative Memories 171
Part III: Personal Recollections 177
Chapter 16 Noa Lavie: What I Learned from Avishai Ehrlich 179
Chapter 17 Maria Hadjipavlou: Avishai Ehrlich, an Authentic Leftist in Continual Agonia 185
Chapter 18 Sajida Madni: Avishai Ehrlich: A Simple Man with a Towering Personality 189
Chapter 19 Monika Beutel: To Avishai: A Teacher and friend 193
Chapter 20 Tom Wengraf: Some Personal Reflections 195
Chapter 21 On Barak: Science Fiction as a New Frontier for the Sociology of Conflict 199
Chapter 22 Lesley Marks: Reflections on Living in Cyprus 207
Chapter 23 Nea Ehrlich: My Father the Storyteller 213
List of Contributors 231
vi Table of Contents
A man comes to customs at an airport with a sack.
“What’s inside?” asks the customs officer.
“Bird food”, says the man.
“Open it!” orders the officer.
He does, it’s full of coffee beans.
“Is this bird food?” The officer asks angrily.
“If they want they will eat, and if they don’t—they will not...” answers the
As I go over the press, I selected some bird food for my thought.
I share it with you.
You do not have to eat or agree!
This quote is part of a series of emails sent by Avishai to his friends and
colleagues, sharing his analysis and views on current events. This book is
just that, sharing the ideas of a man, whose views may not necessarily be
accepted by all, but whose ongoing life-goal is to achieve and disseminate
knowledge, create food for thought and do what he believes necessary to
create a better and more just world.
This book is about Avishai Ehrlich, his life’s work in political sociol-
ogy, his contribution to the field of sociology in Israel and his role as a
public intellectual. As three people who know Avishai very well and very
differently—as partner, as daughter and as friend-and-colleague—our idea
when initiating this book was to celebrate his work and ideas. By including
a sample of his work together with commentaries and personal reflections
by leading academic colleagues and friends, these writings introduce the
reader to someone who is often described as a “Renaissance man”. Avishai
Ehrlich’s interests span a very wide range: sociology, Marxist theory, po-
litical economy, photography, botany and cooking! He is currently reading
Jewish philosophy at Tel Aviv University and studying Arabic; he is also
considering improving his knowledge of German. This book is about his
ideas, his work and the influence he wields among his students, peers and
As a political sociologist, Avishai has been researching the Israeli-Pal-
estinian conflict for over 45 years; and he is a well-known activist in the
Israeli anti-Zionist Left. He has taught at the London School of Econom-
ics, Middlesex University in London, Tel Aviv University, York University
in Toronto, the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Jaffa and the University of
Nicosia in Cyprus. In addition, Avishai was Research Fellow at the Institute
for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg and at
the Austrian Institute for International Politics in Vienna, one of the editors
of Khamsin: Journal of the Revolutionary Left of the Middle East and today
he sits on the Board of Directors of the Public Committee Against Torture
in Israel (PCATI).
Avishai specializes in comparing protracted conflicts; he has written and
taught about Israeli and political sociology, sociology of religion, socialism
and the welfare state, political economy of the Middle East, globalization
and international relations. He was one of the first sociologists to engage
with the question of how war and occupation shape every aspect of Israeli
society and its political relationships with its neighbors, and has produced
thought-provoking analyses of Israeli and global politics. The continuing
significance of the Middle East in global politics, and the current discourse
about human rights in a society of anti-terrorism surveillance, make these
ideas increasingly important to comprehend.
The Work of Avishai Ehrlich: Political Sociologist, Activist and Pub-
lic Intellectual includes a selection of his own articles, commentaries on
his work and his public activism, and experiences related by some of his
colleagues and students during his many years of teaching. Ehrlich’s own
works present the development of his thinking as shaped by changing global
events, whilst the commentaries on his evolving ideas by leading academics
shed light on how his ideas have influenced and enriched others in sociol-
ogy and related fields.
This introduction aims to introduce the man behind the ideas, adding the
personal to the professional in order to offer a multi-layered perspective and
celebrate a special partner, father, friend, colleague and teacher.
Part I includes selected articles written by Avishai Ehrlich at different
points in his career. These cover a wide range of topics, reflecting his di-
verse interests and his ability to piece together different parts of the global
puzzle in original and incisive analyses. Also included in Part I, are excerpts
from a series of interviews by Nicos Trimikliniotis titled “Avishai Ehrlich,
a Pessimist of Intellect but Optimist of Will: a Gramsci-Inspired Sociol-
ogy”, because of the personal nature of these recollections. Here Avishai
focuses on experiences which were formative in the development of his
political and academic thinking. In particular, his perspectives on Israel as a
“permanent war society”, his experiences in the student movements during
the late 1960s and his participation in the journal Khamsin during the 1970s
In Part II, Leo Panitch’s “An Exemplary Intellectual: Avishai Ehrlich
over Six Decades” discusses Ehrlich as a multi-faceted personality and ex-
amines his life-long commitment to socialist thinking, both in relation to
Israeli society and globally. He traces the development of Ehrlich’s work
since his PhD dissertation on the student movement to his recent compara-
tive work on different divided societies.
Avishai Ehrlich’s contribution to the field of Israeli sociology and so-
ciology in general is evaluated and defined by academic colleagues who
focus on his insights about Israeli society. In “The Colonization and Con-
flict Perspective in Israel Studies”, Uri Ram describes the different stages
in the development of Israel studies, both in sociology and in related social
sciences. He highlights the ground-breaking contribution by Khamsin in
general, and by Ehrlich in particular, to the analysis of the Zionist project
as a colonial settler society and the Israeli state and society as a divided and
permanent war society.
In her article titled “Zionism, Israel and the New Crusaders”, Hagit Bor-
er engages with an attempt to answer the question which occupied Ehrlich:
the failure of the Oslo peace process. Borer focuses on the political forces
which have affected the USA’s withdrawal from its commitment to the pro-
cess beyond giving it occasional lip service. She disagrees with Ehrlich as to
the importance of the Jewish Zionist lobby on American policy makers and
instead focuses on the crucial role of the Christian Zionists.
In “Postscript: A Personal Memory”, Margret Johannsen reflects on the
article she wrote with Ehrlich in 2000-1, and how the post-9/11 political
reality forced her to re-evaluate the validity of her concept of “security”
which was rejected by Ehrlich when they were co-writing the article.
“Ideological Labour”, by Michal Bodemann, describes the different
historical stages in which German Jewry practiced ideological labour in
Germany thus establishing the otherness of a particular subaltern group in a
given society. Bodemann claims that similar ideological labour, analyzed in
Ehrlich’s work, has been carried out by various groupings in Israeli society,
such as Israeli Arabs and Russian Jews, among others.
In “Recognizing Avishai Ehrlich’s Contribution to Intersectionality
Theory in the Understanding of Women’s Work in Israel”, Orly Benjamin
discusses the influence that Ehrlich has had on her work both as a teacher
and as a scholar, in his response to her study on cleaning women’s employ-
ment policies in Israel, and on her thinking about how different categories
of women are situated differently in the labour market.
Hanna Herzog describes Avishai’s extensive contribution to Israeli soci-
ology as a teacher, activist and researcher in “Landmarks in Critical Think-
ing: Some Personal Comments about Avishai Ehrlich”. She highlights his
ix The Work of Avishai Ehrlich
crucial contribution to feminist analysis of the Zionist project.
Nira Yuval-Davis’ “Avishai Ehrlich—Some Formative Memories” fo-
cuses on her intellectual and political dialogical work with Ehrlich, ranging
from research into the national identity and education of Palestinian youth
citizens of Israel in the 1960s, to their respective PhD dissertations on dif-
ferent student movements in London in the 1970s, and their work as mem-
bers of the editorial collective of Khamsin. Together they examined issues
such as the nature of social change and cooption, the gendered character of
the Zionist settler project and the role of messianic Judaism in the construc-
tion of the secular Zionist movement.
Combining personal memories with Avishai Ehrlich’s political activism
and academic legacy is apparent throughout this book, but particularly so in
the contributions in Part III.
Noa Lavie’s “What I Have Learned from Avishai Ehrlich” describes her
personal acquaintance with Avishai as teacher, colleague and friend. She
refers to his teachings of Marxism and neo-liberalism as influencing her
research and social world view, as well as Avishai’s personal support and
experienced advice that guided her through junctions in her own academic
career, influencing her teachings to this day.
In “Avishai Ehrlich, an Authentic Leftist in Continual ‘Agonia’, Maria
Hadjipavlou describes her friendship with Ehrlich, focusing on the simi-
larities between the so-called “Cyprus Problem” and the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict which have been at the forefront of their respective political and
academic endeavours, as well as their personal experiences of “home”.
Sajida Madni contributes a short tribute to Ehrlich, “Avishai Ehrlich: A
Simple Man with a Towering Personality” as an activist and educator who
has enriched her understanding in the different conferences and courses
which they shared in the UK, Cyprus and Israel.
Monika Beutel contributes a short “birthday” note expressing her ap-
preciation of Ehrlich as a teacher and friend.
Tom Wengraf has been Ehrlich’s close friend since they both became
members of the Sociology Department at Middlesex Polytechnic in the ear-
ly 1970s. In his article “Some Personal Reflections” he examines their long
period of friendship and describes himself and Avishai as products of the
“1956 Suez/Hungary to 1968” generation.
On Barak, Ehrlich’s nephew, writes “Science Fiction as a New Fron-
tier for the Sociology of Conflict”, an article with an ironic tone linking
Ehrlich’s analytical work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and his love of
science fiction, arguing that his insistence on analyzing the former in na-
tional, regional and global contexts is inspired by his reading the literature
on extra-terrestrial and inter-gallactic warfare.
Finally Nea Ehrlich and Lesley Marks offer two very personal contribu-
tions. In “Reflections on Living in Cyprus”, Lesley recounts her time in Cy-
prus with Avishai and how he reacted to living on the island by learning as
much about it as he could—both its local characteristics and attributes and
its regional significance in the East Mediterranean and its position in global
politics. Nea Ehrlich’s “My Father the Storyteller” offers a view of Avishai
as father. Nea shares her personal insights about his wider teachings about
life, beauty and the power of stories, as well as his magical ability to touch
others and share his ideas in ever-creative, unexpected ways.
This book engages Avishai Ehrlich’s ideas through the voices of es-
tablished scholars and creative thinkers. Together the contributions locate
his ideas in a wide context that reflects his own interests, passions and
concerns. The Work of Avishai Ehrlich: Political Sociologist, Activist and
Public Intellectual will be of interest to anyone who seeks a deeper un-
derstanding of how sociological perspectives about labour, religion, gender
and conflict shed light on a globalized world shaped by political economy,
post-colonialism, fundamentalism, nationalism, terrorism and the discourse
of human rights.
xi The Work of Avishai Ehrlich
WORKS BY AVISHAI EHRLICH
Conflict and Memory1
Can you remember a place you have never been to?
I have never been here before; this is my first trip to Poland. I had many
opportunities to come but always found reasons not to. It was not for lack of
travelling: I travelled around and lived in different countries for many years.
I even came close to Poland once, but never landed on Polish soil.
Now I am in Cracow. It is May and I have strong memories of spring
in Poland, as if I have been here before: the smell of freshly reaped hay,
creamy chestnut blossoms, pink and purple lilacs. But I have never been
My parents came from Poland. My mother, Karola Altman, was born
and raised in Czestochowa. From early childhood, I absorbed her stories
about Jasna Góra and the Virgin Mary, and pilgrims climbing the hill on
their knees singing hymns. My maternal grandparents were born there, and
murdered there in 1939. My father, David, comes from Kovel near Lviv,
formerly in Poland, now in the Ukraine. He used to tell us about his last el-
ementary school trip to Gdansk after it became the free city. His native area
was annexed to the USSR under the Stalin-Hitler Pact and was destroyed
completely during WWII. None of his family survived.
My parents immigrated to Palestine in 1936. Karola was 25 and David
27. She died at age 87; he at age 94. Both are buried near Tel Aviv. Most of
their respective families perished in death camps. I grew up without grand-
parents, with very few relatives. My parents’ friends and their children sub-
stituted for family.
My mother never wanted to visit Poland: “Why should I go there?” she
used to say. “It will only bring back sad memories”.
So, through my mother’s feelings, Poland became a forbidden place for
me too... until now! She refused to recognise a Poland in which her past
had no place. She preferred her frozen memory of a Poland that is no more.
Her memories were not all sad or bad; they were of places and smells, of
tastes and music, of events and people she knew. She clung fondly to these
memories which were part of her. Involuntarily, she passed many of those
memories—more than I am aware of—to her children.
I was born in 1941 in Tel Aviv, in Palestine under the British Mandate,
during World War II, during a night air raid by Mussolini’s air force. Win-
dows were painted dark blue to prevent the light shining through and guid-
ing enemy bombers. I don’t remember this directly; I was only told what
it was like. When I was born my parents already knew their parents had
perished and they named me, their first-born, in memory of them: l’avi-shai
in Hebrew means “a gift to my father”. When I was six and a half, in May
1948, 60 years ago, the state of Israel was founded and war broke out im-
mediately, called the War for Independence in Hebrew and al-nakhba (the
disaster) in Arabic: one side’s independence was the other’s disaster.
The partition of Palestine was voted at the UN Assembly during the Cold
War by a rare majority of western and eastern bloc countries on November
29, 1947. Jewish suffering during World War II was still fresh in people’s
minds. My only sister was born that night. I remember how we brought my
mum to hospital and then joined the rejoicing crowds in the streets of Tel
Aviv. Hostilities broke out that night. In the morning I had a sister and the
first funerals were held. My parents named her Deborah after my maternal
grandmother who was murdered by the Nazis in the street in Czestochowa.
The partition of Palestine was never executed: the Palestinians, who repre-
sented two-thirds of the population, rejected it. Riots broke out, and Arabs
and Jews fled, seeking safety among their own communities in ethnic en-
claves. As a sociologist who studies partitions in other parts of the world,
I can attest, though not justify, that almost as a rule where ethnic violence
erupts, atrocities happen on both sides.
When the State of Israel was declared, several Arab states sent their
armies against it. By the end of the war, about 750,000 Palestinians had fled
or had been forcefully expelled from territories that became Israel. Israel
seized 78% of Palestine and the rest was controlled by Jordan and Egypt.
Jordan annexed the West Bank and Egypt administered the Gaza Strip with-
out annexation. A Palestinian state was never formed in those sectors, and
the refugees were not settled or absorbed in the Arab states where they now
lived. In most Arab countries until today, with the exception of Jordan, they
are denied basic human rights, even if they and their parents were born
there. A Palestinian friend who lives in Beirut wrote to me last year about
events in Nahr el-Bared, a refugee camp taken over by a Jihadist group and
bombarded by the Lebanese army: “...everyone loves Palestine but hates the
Palestinians”. They were made to believe—and wanted to believe—they
would return to their homes. In their memories, they recalled a Palestine
before the Jews arrived. My mother never wanted to go back.
Between 1949 and 1953 Israel absorbed a number of Jews from Arab
countries similar to that of Palestinian refugees. The Arab Jews left their
homes hurriedly, after centuries of living, mostly amicably, among Arabs.
Chapter One 4
They had to leave because of growing nationalism and hostility to Jews
caused by the first Israeli-Arab war. The majority lost all their property.
These “Oriental Jewish” immigrants, or “Arab Jews”, settled mostly on Pal-
estinian land, and almost 418 Palestinian villages and towns were demol-
ished by Israel during the war and in subsequent years.
When my parents emigrated they became citizens of Palestine and gave
up their Polish citizenship. I never regarded myself as a Pole. My place of
birth on my birth certificate was still called Palestine. I suppose I am there-
fore also a Palestinian. However, since Israel went to war with the Arab
states, Palestinians today are understood to be Arabs—in contradistinction
to Israeli Jews. However, “Arab” is not a religion but a linguistic and cul-
tural group (like Slavonic, Germanic, Turkic). There are Christian and Mus-
lim Arabs, as well as non-religious Arabs. Most of the Jews who came from
Arab countries spoke Arabic and were steeped in Arab culture; they are
Arab Jews. It must sound strange, but it is only strange because there is a
conflict between Israel and the Arabs. Upon arrival in Israel the Arab Jews
were labelled by the mostly East European Jews as “Oriental Jews” rather
than “Arab Jews”. They were regarded inferior and suffered discrimination.
Still, to be an Oriental Jew in Israel was better than being an Arab.
How ironic this must sound to those who know history, for the euphe-
mism “Ost-Juden” was a derogatory term used by Germans towards Jews
who migrated to Germany from Poland and Russia. Outside Israel Jews
are seen as a religious group but in Israel Jews are regarded as a national
group. However, about 28% of the people in Israel are not regarded as Jew-
ish by the religion; non-Jews by religion are not equal in Israel. We see that
every oppressed group can become an oppressor, and every difference can
There are no Jews today in Czestochowa, but I found a distant relative
there, whose mother converted and so survived. My mother’s home in Cze-
stochowa still stands at 23 Warszawska Street. I knew many details about
the house that I heard from my mother. On this first visit to Poland I went to
see it with my daughter. I wanted to have my own impression of the place;
it was also homage to my mother. It is a big house built around an inner
courtyard, but it is in a very poor state. Many poor families live there now;
I don’t know which part was my grand-parents’ flat. I brought my daughter
with me, so that she too would have a personal memory of that place. For
her it will never be, however, the memory of home as it was for my mother.
Her home, like mine, is somewhere else. But this may add to her memory of
her grandmother whom she knew—unlike me who did not know my grand-
Conflict and Memory 5
When I was a student at the Hebrew University I rented a room in an
Arab house in a quarter of Jerusalem that had been inhabited by affluent
Arab families before 1948. The oriental house was beautiful and lavish. We
students could only afford to rent rooms in the servants’ quarters. One day
in the summer of 1967, shortly after the Six Day War, an old Palestinian
couple knocked on the door and asked politely, in very good English, if they
could look around for a while since the house, they said, had been their fam-
ily home until 1948. A Jewish family from Yemen occupied the house, and
they were anxious that the visit may lead to these Arabs claiming the house
Palestinians made keys and hung them on gold chains or strings on the
necks of their children, a symbol of their determination to return to their
land and homes. The homes are mostly not there; they were demolished
long ago and new homes built for Jews stand in their place. The Arab names
of the villages and streets have also been changed; the Arab past in the Jew-
ish State has been systematically erased. Most Jews do not know what was
there before; do not want to know. But the memory of home lingers on. In
my mother’s case she talked about the chestnut tree that stood in front of her
window and the apple orchard behind the house. In the Palestinian stories it
is usually a fig or pomegranate tree by the house, and an olive grove behind
the village. Palestinian refugee camps are named after abandoned villages;
children born there, when asked where they are from, say they are from the
place that is no more. A memory of the home that we have never been to
is also a memory transferred from generation to generation. It becomes the
collective memory of those forced to leave their home or land, and have
nowhere else to call home.
When I was 18, I joined a Kibbutz in the south of Israel, across from
the Gaza Strip, and became a shepherd. While wandering with my sheep, I
discovered the ruins of Arab villages and deserted orchards surrounded by
prickly fences made of cactus. This was next to my Kibbutz, yet, we were
all told that the area was desolate until the Jews settled there. I started to
doubt the Zionist narrative. I left the Kibbutz shortly after and became an
anti-Zionist. I came to believe, as I still do, that Israel was founded on an
injustice to the Palestinians; that the solution to the Jewish predicament in
Europe came at the expense of people who were not responsible. I used
to argue bitterly with my Zionist father who believed that the only viable
solution to anti-Semitism was the gathering of all Jews in one place where
they could become a majority, able to govern themselves and no longer at
the mercy of others. These arguments would usually end with his trumping
sentence: “I only know one thing, my son. I came to Palestine and I am
Chapter One 6
alive, while those of my family and friends who remained in Poland per-
ished. That”, he would say “is the best proof that Zionism was right.” A few
months before his death in 2003, he said while watching the news on TV
showing the Israeli bulldozers demolishing the town of Jenin in the West
Bank, “My son, this is not what I and my friends envisaged when we came
My parents, especially my mother, were very Polish in their culture,
manners, composure, emotions and self-righteousness. They made a con-
scious decision, however, as did a whole generation of their peers, to cut
themselves—and us—off from the culture of their countries of birth and
raise us as “New Hebrews” in Palestine. We were Jewish by virtue of being
born to Jewish mothers, but not Jewish in any religious sense. My parents
were atheists and socialists; they rebelled against their religious orthodox
parents. During my youth, secular Zionism was still ardently anti-religious
in the sense of radical enlightenment. In Tel Aviv we lived mostly among
other secular Jews. We were Jewish but we did not need to do anything
about it. We did not go to synagogue or adhere to Jewish customs or prohi-
The strongest trait that distinguished us was that we were raised entirely
in the Hebrew language and culture. My parents only spoke to us in Hebrew,
though over the years we picked up quite a number of Polish and Yiddish
words and phrases. For them Hebrew remained a second language; a hard
and harsh language which they spoke well but never perfectly. We corrected
and laughed at their mistakes. We were bred on Hebrew culture which was
secular and nationalist, with a strong emphasis on the Land, the ancestral
Land of Israel which waited for us, sons of Israel, to return. We were taught
to look down on diaspora Jews as weaklings or assimilationists.
Most of us did not know any Palestinian Arabs as youngsters. Jews and
Arabs lived mostly in separate towns and villages. Tel Aviv, where I grew
up, was founded in 1909 as a Jewish city, a modern, Bauhaus-influenced,
Mediterranean city on a white sandy beach. Next to Tel Aviv was the Arab
Jaffa, an ancient port and a thriving centre of commerce. In 1948 it was
conquered and annexed to Tel Aviv. Most of its population fled, and it was
ransacked and looted by people from Tel Aviv. Much was demolished but
many Jews settled in the more opulent Arab houses. A minority Arab popu-
lation remained, and eventually became Israeli citizens. They are referred to
as Israeli Arabs or, as they call themselves, Israeli-Palestinians. They now
comprise about 20% of Israel’s population. They are not equal citizens;
most of their lands have been taken away and given to Jews. Until 1965
they lived under military government which restricted their movement and
Conflict and Memory 7
did not allow them to participate in the labor market. Arabs in Israel suffer
discrimination in the allocation of resources, development, education, em-
ployment, cultural autonomy, political freedoms and political participation.
They are the poorest section of the population. Jewish Israel has never ac-
cepted them as legitimate citizens, only as part of the plural but not multi-
cultural composition of Israeli society. At best they are tolerated but are
suspected of being a fifth column. Most Jews do not distinguish between
them and Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza. On several occasions the
army and police resorted to killing Israeli-Arabs, seen as insurrectionists, to
nip any potential rebellion in the bud.
We constantly select what to pay attention to and what to ignore; what
to remember and what to forget. We cannot remember everything, so we
remember what we regard as meaningful and translate it into a narrative.
Narratives can be created by individuals to give meaning to their existence;
but the most important narratives—those which affect multitudes of people
and persist through time—are collective narratives. We grow up with narra-
tives and pass them on from generation to generation through socialization.
The very fact that narratives are accepted and shared makes them “true”.
We organize time and space according to our narrative; we create shared
symbols and rituals and places of memory. We create “regimes of memory”
and we live in the narrative we create.
The most important collective narratives in modern times are still reli-
gious and national. Religions and nationalisms are organized around nar-
ratives which tell a story of emergence and development of communities.
Also our concept of time as cyclical, linear, tragic, heroic, epic, happy-
ending, etc, is itself a ploy of narration. It is important to recognize that
memory is not simply just out there, but that it is socially constituted and
reconstituted, regimes of remembrance are also regimes of truth. By virtue
of what we choose to remember, we also choose what to erase. What we
choose to remember becomes shared, taught and “true”; similarly, what we
erase becomes unknown, suspect or “false”.
Many years ago I travelled in Wales and spent a night in a remote bed
and breakfast run by an elderly lady. In the morning, before leaving, the
lady asked me to inscribe something in her guest book, and I wrote my
address in Jerusalem. When she saw it, she was overcome with excitement
and asked: “Oh, Jerusalem, does it really exist?” When I assured her that
we actually lived there, she asked, “And the Garden of Eden, does it exist
too?” Jerusalem is a place of memory shrouded in myth. Yehuda Amichai,
a famous Israeli poet, wrote that Jerusalem “...is a place where everyone
remembers they forgot something there!” Jerusalem stands at the heart of
the narratives of Judaism, Christianity and Islam; each has a foundation nar-
rative there. Zion (Jerusalem) is the place where the Word of God (Truth)
is supposed to come from. To own Jerusalem is thus to assert the ‘truth’ of
one narrative over the others. Many wars have been fought over Jerusalem
from Canaanite times, to the Babylonians, Romans, Arabs and Crusaders,
up until the present day; Jerusalem is not the city of peace it is envisaged to
be. Over many centuries it has been divided and subdivided, a place which
attracts extremes and zealotry.
What happens to narratives in situations of protracted national conflicts?
Wherever there is a national conflict there are at least two narratives. Each
side of the conflict has its own version of truth; usually even more than one
version. To a sociologist, to study conflict is to study the narratives of the
parties to conflict in order to understand how they perceive their own and
each other’s positions. However, this is not done within each conflicting
camp. The parties to the conflict do not regard it as an exercise in academic
objectivity; more usually each tells and re-tells their version of the narra-
When the conflict is protracted, it is necessary to prepare the next genera-
tion to continue the conflict; to mobilize their sense of truth, justice, motiva-
tion and resolve; to prepare them to take their place when their time comes
and to accept the hardships and the sacrifices the conflict entails. What is
being transmitted is that “we” are right and the “other” is wrong. However,
when required to explain the motives of the enemy, the explanations are
usually essentialist, naturalist and irrational: They murder because they are
murderous; it is in their nature; they are evil. To represent the narrative of
the other as equivalent to our own is perceived as treacherous, subversive
and weakening of our resolve. Similarly, when required to explain death in
the armed conflict, our side’s dead are always victims, martyrs, never per-
petrators; “theirs” are never innocent. Our side’s deaths are never meaning-
less or futile. When commemorating the dead, we tell our youngsters, “It is
thanks to them that we are alive”. Their lives become heroic examples to be
followed. We teach their stories in our schools. We erect monuments in their
memory. We remember them in special places and at special times.
As parties to the conflict, we do not talk to each other directly; we fill
the empty spaces of the conversation. We ask the questions and we answer
them. Thus, our opponent is constructed by us, usually as an irrational de-
monic creature. When we talk about the conflict in this one-sided way, all
we achieve is a perpetuation of it—with each side becoming more firmly
entrenched in its self-righteous position.
Palestinians are now a separate nation; they are not “just” Arabs. There
Conflict and Memory 9
are no generic Arabs, there are Egyptian Arabs, Lebanese Arabs, Jordanian
Arabs, Syrian Arabs, Iraqi Arabs, etc. And there are Palestinian Arabs, that
is, Arabs whose patria is Palestine. Similarly, Israeli Jews are no longer a
religious community as they were in the 19th century. They have become a
nation in a place they call Israel—the same geographic space that the Pal-
estinians call Palestine. The fight over the name is a fight over whose place
it is. People in Poland know similar double names from their own history.
Jews and Palestinians became modern nations, on a par with other nations in
the present world. Jews became Zionists due to their experience in Europe.
Palestinians became a nation in their struggle against British colonialism
and the colonization of Palestine by Jews. Israeli nationalism and Palestin-
ian nationalism moulded and shaped each other in their struggle.
All material and cultural resources are channelled to serve the conflict.
Religion is also a major resource for internal solidarity and alliance. In most
protracted conflicts today, religion plays a role but that is not to say that
most conflicts are religious. For example, to depict the troubles in North-
ern Ireland as a struggle between Catholics and Protestants, rather than as
between Republicans and Unionists, does not facilitate an understanding
of the friction between these communities. I view the causes of conflict
in Northern Ireland as colonialism, inequality, discrimination, not religion,
though it can be expressed through religion.
Most protracted conflicts nowadays are national. They are about equal-
ity in the state or, where this is seen as impossible, about the right to have
a separate state. Religion still touches very deep layers of our identity. In
many nations religion and nationalism have historically come to overlap.
The conflict in Israel-Palestine is not religious at root but national. It is
about mutual recognition of two nations and about the land and whose it
is. It is about dispossession, inequality, oppression and security. Both sides
mobilize religion to enhance in-group solidarity and to gain support from
wider forces: Islamic, Jewish or “Judeo-Christian”. It is wrong in my opin-
ion to view the rise of Hamas as first and foremost a religious phenomenon.
Hamas is a nationalist-religious movement that increased its power due to
the failure to resolve the conflict and due to the disintegration and corrup-
tion of the secular-nationalist Fatah. Fatah mobilized national feelings in
the name of Pan-Arabism and anti-colonialism and Hamas mobilises the
same national feeling in the name of Pan-Islamic solidarity. Hamas is not a
cosmopolitan Jihadist group; it is a mistake to categorize it under the same
caption as Al-Qaeda.
Nationalism harks back to an imagined past that it wants to revive, but
there is no going back in history, only going forward. The wrongs that were
Chapter One 10
done have already happened; the past is not a DVD that we can rewind.
Israelis and Palestinians may wish the other were not there, but they are and
they are there to stay. How can we move forward? As my topic is “memory
and conflict”, I would conclude by saying that we have to use memory to
re-construct a viable, better future. We have to try to create a narrative that
will take account of the painful narratives of both sides. Many Palestinians
refuse to listen to stories of the Holocaust; they have had enough of its use
by Israel to justify the disaster that befell them. Many Israelis refuse to
recognize that their revival is at the expense of Palestinian society. Israeli-
Jews and Palestinians now compete over victimhood—who suffered more.
This is how two different horrible events are wrongly equated or denied. To
move forward both narratives will have to be recognized, understood and
mutually internalised. Both sides will also have to forgo the simplistic, in-
nocent and romantic images they have about themselves, and see that they
did, and are capable of doing, horrible things. The narratives of both sides
tell a partial truth, but each reveals what the other narrative tries to hide. If
the two narratives could be taken in they will tell a fuller, complementary
story. In a critical narrative both sides will be less heroic but also less de-
monic, more humane. I do not believe that to forgive is to forget. On the
contrary, to forgive is to remember all, to know and forgive—see the ex-
ample of the truth commissions in South Africa.
Is the forging of a critical mutual narrative possible at this point in time?
There was a beginning of this while there was a dialogue between Israelis
and Palestinians from the mid-1980s to 2000. It was broken up by the fail-
ure of the Camp David Accord. Since 2000, the two sides have reverted to
more violence. When there is violence, it is hard to conduct a dialogue, but
that is precisely the time when dialogue is most needed.
Conflict and Memory 11
Language and Narrative In the
Our meeting and our discussions in the autumn have faded into what
seems like the distant past following events since October 2008: the Israeli
war on Gaza and the Israeli elections have shown starkly and brutally the
reality of our conflict.
By evacuating its settlements from Gaza, Israel did not stop its occu-
pation; it only moved to more effective, indirect control. The closure and
control of the passages allows Israel to retain an effective hold over the
livelihood of Gaza’s population. Israel’s refusal to deal with Hamas led to
recurring stoppages in the transfer of goods and resulting acute shortages in
Gaza; inadvertently this created the tunnelling industry. The tunnels, once
constructed, enabled the transport of longer range missiles which were de-
ployed against greater swathes of southern Israel and were, thus, an excuse
for the military campaign.
The campaign had no military achievements; it was a cruel punitive
strike against Gazans and the infrastructure of Gaza. In its limited scope
and short duration—the same time as the transition from Bush to Obama—
it failed to topple Hamas. Hamas cadres melted into the population and
people had nowhere to flee. The result was a very high proportion of civil-
ian casualties. Israeli efforts to minimize casualties among its own soldiers,
thus making the war more acceptable to Israelis before elections, were also
a factor in the wanton destruction and killings. Hamas came out of the cam-
paign stronger, and Fatah weaker. Each side declared an ostensible unilat-
eral truce, but hostilities around Gaza continue. While western governments
continue to boycott Hamas as terrorists and back Israel’s right to security,
public opinion in most European states and, to a lesser extent, in North
America has turned significantly against Israel.
It was shortly after the Gaza campaign that the Israeli elections were
held. The results showed a clear majority for the bloc of parties which are
against continued political negotiations with the Palestinian Authority,
against a two state solution and for expanding settlement in the West Bank.
The manifest trend, since Hamas’ election victory in 2006, the violent split
between the West Bank and Gaza and in the latest Israeli elections shows
growing radicalization and disillusionment among Israelis and Palestinians
alike; moderates are on the wane on both sides. Under such pessimistic
conditions, the discussions about either a two-state or a one-state solution
sound hollow. A one-state solution cannot be imposed by the Palestinians;
it requires an end to violence, an extended period of trust-building and the
working out of the minutiae of power sharing; at present this looks purely
One only hopes that because the situation in the Middle East remains
so volatile, and as the question of Iran’s nuclear power looms higher, the
involvement of Arab states, Europe, the US and the UN will not let the an-
tagonists sink into a long period of more futile violence.
In my opening remarks I would like to say few things about inter-related
discursive aspects of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, specifically narrative
and naming in the hope that these ideas will initiate wider discussion. In
the second part of my paper I would like to comment on the experience of
the conference and on the aftermath of the events in Gaza and the elections
results in Israel.
Both Israeli and Palestinian nationalisms are grounded in traumatic ex-
periences of the violent destruction of the respective communities. I say this
without comparing al-naqba with the shoah, each is different but both involve
the destruction of community. Though Zionism came into being before the ho-
locaust, it was the previous world crisis and Nazism, not Zionist propaganda,
which more than doubled the number of Jews in Palestine within six years of
Hitler’s rise to power. Enough immigrants arrived to create a critical Jewish
mass which demanded a state from 1939. It was Nazism which decimated Eu-
ropean Jewry and, following the holocaust, it was guilt in the Christian world
which underpinned the UN majority support for a Jewish state and for the
partition of Palestine.
It was obvious in 1947 to the majorities in Christian countries, west and
east, that Jews were persecuted not just on grounds of religion, but because
they were a distinct people (ethnicity or “race” as the Nazis put it) and therefore
deserved a state. Only a minority thought then that this solution was wrong.
The vote in the UN on 29 November 1947 was a very rare moment of
agreement during the cold war era. Very few states have been established by a
decision of the UN, and since the UN was responsible for the creation of the
situation in Palestine it has been involved in it more than in any other conflict
Chapter Two 14
Judaism as nationality or religion
Allow me here a short digression on Judaism as nationality or religion.
This is germane to our topic as it seems to produce endless futile arguments
between Jews and Muslims, and also among some non-Jews in Europe born
long after WW2. The debates about whether Jews are a religious group or
a nationality are as old as the French Revolution; they were raised in the
context of granting citizenship to French Jews after the revolution (Eman-
cipation). At that time (and for many even today) nationality was viewed as
analogous to religion; as an indivisible and exclusive loyalty. It was argued,
for example, that just as one cannot be both a Christian and a Muslim, one
could also not be both French and German. If Jews were a nationality, how
could they be French? The question was turned over to the Jews, and they
were asked to define themselves.
Christianity, from its inception, distinguished between state and God
as separate spheres of influence: “Render unto Caesar the things which are
Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). In early
modernity this led to separation of church and state and is held in the West
as a fundamental condition for tolerance, freedom and democracy. This
separation is at the core of current debates about secularism and the consti-
tutional values of the EU.
However, this concept, so central to modernity, is uniquely Catholic
and Protestant and does not feature in eastern Christianity, Islam, Hinduism
or Judaism wherein a closer overlap between these two institutions is pre-
scribed. In Islam, for example, the term for nation is Umma (from the word
“mother”) and it means both the community of believers in Islam and the
modern nation state (ummat al mu’minin’ means Community of the Believ-
ers and Al-Umam Al-Muttahida equates to the United Nations).2
After long deliberations, the representatives of the Jewish community in
France opted to define themselves as “French of the Mosaic faith” and were
granted citizenship in 1791. France was the first state to give equal citizen-
ship to Jews in Europe. In their debates, which have been preserved, they
argued that the very question either religion or nationality was Christian in
nature. That is, the French Parliament demanded that they translate Jewish
“otherness” into the dominant Christian conceptual framework which did
not correspond to the Jewish conceptual discourse. To use a present-day
EU phrase, it was conditionality for accession to French citizenship: adapt
yourselves to fit our terminology or forego citizenship. The demand was
an act of power by a majority which could exclude a minority which had a
strong interest in belonging. This problem is even more pertinent today with
Language and Narrative 15
Europe’s expansion: What are the limits of otherness that Europe is willing
to tolerate? Today this conditionality weighs even more with Muslims in
Europe than with Jews.
Modern western Jewry was transformed by European thought and to-
day it spans the entire spectrum of possible permutations on a continuum
between religion and nation. It is this plurality and lack of agreement which
divides Jews and confuses non-Jews.
In Israel, there are Jews at one end of the continuum who view them-
selves entirely in national terms and are totally secular or atheist and main-
tain no overlap between nation and religion. Next are those who see Judaism
as a nation that partially overlaps with religion and therefore they maintain
that Jewish state law must respect and incorporate some religious laws too.
These are the traditionalists and they differ among themselves. Then are
those who see a full overlap between religion and nationalism and thus ad-
vocate a Jewish state in which state law should dovetail with religious law.
These are the national religious and they differ between themselves too. At
the other end of the continuum are those in Israel who view Judaism solely
as a religion. They do not accept that Israel is a Jewish state and they are
Outside Israel, many Jews see Judaism solely as a religion. They prac-
tice various degrees of religiosity, or none at all, but their civic identity is
determined by their country of domicile. Still, the majority of Jews outside
Israel feel an affinity to Israel either as an idea, as the Holy Land, as a place
where they have family ties, or as a possible haven for times of persecution.
While Palestinian nationalism started around the turn of the 20th cen-
tury, it was the naqba and its consequences which became the constitutive
experience of Palestinian nationalism. The Israeli, so-called War of Inde-
pendence of 1948 was not between the imperial power and the colonized, as
was the case in most colonial wars of independence, it started as an internal
war between a majority and a minority community determined to establish
a separate state in the territory.
Partition in Palestine had dire consequences: many thousands died on
each side. To Palestinians it was the end of their community; the expulsion
and flight of the majority of the Palestinian population, the destruction of
hundreds of Palestinian villages and towns, the establishment of a Jewish
state on 79% of British Mandate territory and the occupation of the rest by
Jordan and Egypt. Most important, however, is the resulting lack of state-
hood. Unlike partitions in India or Cyprus, the distinguishing feature of the
Israeli-Palestinian case is that partition resulted in statehood for the Jews
but not for the Palestinians.