Young Israelis of Mizrahi descent (that is: of North African and Middle Eastern origin) write an open letter to their Arab peers, calling for an opening of a dialog and evoking
a past in which Jews, Muslims and Christians were all part of a thriving Arab culture.
They acknowledge the need to move Israel towards real democracy: "We believe that, as Mizrahi Jews in Israel, our struggle for economic, social, and cultural rights rests on the understanding that political change cannot depend on the Western powers who have exploited our region and its residents for many generations. True change can only come from an intra-regional and inter-religious dialog that is in connection with the different struggles and movements currently active in the Arab world. Specifically, we must be in dialog and solidarity with struggles of the Palestinians citizens of Israel who are fighting for equal political and economic rights and for the termination of racist laws, and the struggle of the Palestinian people living under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank and in Gaza in their demand to end the occupation and to gain Palestinian national independence."
Her/his place (or places) of origin follows each person's signature. This highlights the connection felt to places and cultures that the Zionist narrative has attempted to erase.
Ofer Neiman recommends Orly Noy's excellent take on the Amos Oz - Barghouti affair, which is on a related subject. (Noy is one of the signatories on the open letter.) See Ofer's translation from Hebrew below the letter.)
Sunday, April 24 2011|+972blog
Young Mizrahi Israelis' open letter to Arab peers
Translated from Hebrew by Chana Morgenstern | Arabic version here
In a letter titled "Ruh Jedida: A New Spirit for 2011," young Jewish descendants of the Arab and Islamic world living in Israel write to their peers in the Middle East and North Africa
We, as the descendents of the Jewish communities of the Arab and Muslim world, the Middle East and the Maghreb, and as the second and third generation of Mizrahi Jews in Israel, are watching with great excitement and curiosity the major role that the men and women of our generation are playing so courageously in the demonstrations for freedom and change across the Arab world. We identify with you and are extremely hopeful for the future of the revolutions that have already succeeded in Tunisia and Egypt. We are equally pained and worried at the great loss of life in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, and many other places in the region.
Our generation's protest against repression and oppressive and abusive regimes, and its call for change, freedom, and the establishment of democratic governments that foster citizen participation in the political process, marks a dramatic moment in the history of the Middle East and North Africa, a region which has for generations been torn between various forces, internal and external, and whose leaders have often trampled the political, economic, and cultural rights of its citizens.
We are Israelis, the children and grandchildren of Jews who lived in the Middle East and North Africa for hundreds and thousands of years. Our forefathers and mothers contributed to the development of this region's culture, and were part and parcel of it. Thus the culture of the Islamic world and the multigenerational connection and identification with this region is an inseparable part of our own identity.
We are a part of the religious, cultural, and linguistic history of the Middle East and North Africa, although it seems that we are the forgotten children of its history: First in Israel, which imagines itself and its culture to be somewhere between continental Europe and North America. Then in the Arab world, which often accepts the dichotomy of Jews and Arabs and the imagined view of all Jews as Europeans, and has preferred to repress the history of the Arab-Jews as a minor or even nonexistent chapter in its history; and finally within the Mizrahi communities themselves, who in the wake of Western colonialism, Jewish nationalism and Arab nationalism, became ashamed of their past in the Arab world.
Consequently we often tried to blend into the mainstream of society while erasing or minimizing our own past. The mutual influences and relationships between Jewish and Arab cultures were subjected to forceful attempts at erasure in recent generations, but evidence of them can still be found in many spheres of our lives, including music, prayer, language, and literature.
We wish to express our identification with and hopes for this stage of generational transition in the history of the Middle East and North Africa, and we hope that it will open the gates to freedom and justice and a fair distribution of the region's resources.
We turn to you, our generational peers in the Arab and Muslim world, striving for an honest dialog which will include us in the history and culture of the region. We looked enviously at the pictures from Tunisia and from Al-Tahrir square, admiring your ability to bring forth and organize a nonviolent civil resistance that has brought hundreds of thousands of people out into the streets and the squares, and finally forced your rulers to step down.
We, too, live in a regime that in reality—despite its pretensions to being "enlightened" and "democratic"—does not represent large sections of its actual population in the Occupied Territories and inside of the Green Line border(s). This regime tramples the economic and social rights of most of its citizens, is in an ongoing process of minimizing democratic liberties, and constructs racist barriers against Arab-Jews, the Arab people, and Arabic culture. Unlike the citizens of Tunisia and Egypt, we are still a long way from the capacity to build the kind of solidarity between various groups that we see in these countries, a solidarity movement that would allow us to unite and march together–all who reside here–into the public squares, to demand a civil regime that is culturally, socially, and economically just and inclusive.
We believe that, as Mizrahi Jews in Israel, our struggle for economic, social, and cultural rights rests on the understanding that political change cannot depend on the Western powers who have exploited our region and its residents for many generations. True change can only come from an intra-regional and inter-religious dialog that is in connection with the different struggles and movements currently active in the Arab world. Specifically, we must be in dialog and solidarity with struggles of the Palestinians citizens of Israel who are fighting for equal political and economic rights and for the termination of racist laws, and the struggle of the Palestinian people living under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank and in Gaza in their demand to end the occupation and to gain Palestinian national independence.
In our previous letter written following Obama's Cairo speech in 2009, we called for the rise of the democratic Middle Eastern identity and for our inclusion in such an identity. We now express the hope that our generation – throughout the Arab, Muslim, and Jewish world – will be a generation of renewed bridges that will leap over the walls and hostility created by previous generations and will renew the deep human dialog without which we cannot understand ourselves: between Jews, Sunnis, Shias, and Christians, between Kurds, Berbers, Turks, and Persians, between Mizrahis and Ashkenazis, and between Palestinians and Israelis. We draw on our shared past in order to look forward hopefully towards a shared future.
We have faith in intra-regional dialog—whose purpose is to repair and rehabilitate what was destroyed in recent generations—as a catalyst towards renewing the Andalusian model of Muslim-Jewish-Christian partnership, God willing, Insha'Allah, and as a pathway to a cultural and historical golden era for our countries. This golden era cannot come to pass without equal, democratic citizenship, equal distribution of resources, opportunities, and education, equality between women and men, and the acceptance of all people regardless of faith, race, status, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnic affiliation. All of these rights play equal parts in constructing the new society to which we aspire. We are committed to achieving these goals within a process of dialog between all of the people of Middle East and North Africa, as well as a dialog we will undertake with different Jewish communities in Israel and around the world.
We, the undersigned:
Shva Salhoov (Libya), Naama Gershy (Serbia, Yemen), Yael Ben-Yefet (Iraq, Aden), Leah Aini (Greece, Turkey), Yael Berda (Tunisia), Aharon Shem-Tov (Iraq, Iranian Kurdistan), Yosi Ohana (born in Morocco), Yali Hashash (Libya, Yemen), Yonit Naaman (Yemen, Turkey), Orly Noy (born in Iran), Gadi Alghazi (Yugoslavia, Egypt), Mati Shemoelof (Iran, Iraq, Syria), Eliana Almog (Yemen, Germany), Yuval Evri ((Iraq), Ophir Tubul (Morocco, Algeria), Moti Gigi (Morocco), Shlomit Lir (Iran), Ezra Nawi (Iraq), Hedva Eyal (Iran), Eyal Ben-Moshe (Yemen), Shlomit Binyamin (Cuba, Syria, Turkey), Yael Israel (Turkey, Iran), Benny Nuriely (Tunisia), Ariel Galili (Iran), Natalie Ohana Evry (Morocco, Britain), Itamar Toby Taharlev (Morocco, Jerusalem, Egypt), Ofer Namimi (Iraq, Morocco), Amir Banbaji (Syria), Naftali Shem-Tov (Iraq, Iranian Kurdistan), Mois Benarroch (born in Morocco), Yosi David (Tunisia Iran), Shalom Zarbib (Algeria), Yardena Hamo (Iraqi Kurdistan), Aviv Deri (Morocco) Menny Aka (
Tom Fogel (Yemen, Poland), Eran Efrati (Iraq), Dan Weksler Daniel (Syria, Poland, Ukraine), Yael Gidnian (Iran), Elyakim Nitzani (Lebanon, Iran, Italy), Shelly Horesh-Segel (Morocco), Yoni Mizrahi (Kurdistan), Betty Benbenishti (Turkey), Chen Misgav (Iraq, Poland), Moshe Balmas (Morocco), Tom Cohen (Iraq, Poland, England), Ofir Itah (Morocco), Shirley Karavani (Tunisia, Libya, Yemen), Lorena Atrakzy (Argentina, Iraq), Asaf Abutbul (Poland, Russia, Morocco), Avi Yehudai (Iran), Diana Ahdut (Iran, Jerusalem), Maya Peretz (Nicaragua, Morocco), Yariv Moher (Morocco, Germany), Tami Katzbian (Iran), Oshra Lerer (Iraq, Morocco), Nitzan Manjam (Yemen, Germany, Finland), Rivka Gilad (Iran, Iraq, India), Oshrat Rotem (Morocco), Naava Mashiah (Iraq), Zamira Ron David (Iraq) Omer Avital (Morocco, Yemen), Vered Madar (Yemen), Ziva Atar (Morocco), Yossi Alfi (born in Iraq), Amira Hess (born in Iraq), Navit Barel (Libya), Almog Behar (Iraq, Turkey, Germany)
Amos Oz's Blindness
by Orly Noy
The Israeli left rushed to the defense of Amos Oz, who only wanted Marwan Barghouti to understand "our story". But its acceptance of the "our" bit is the real problem here.
The eternal candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature, Amos Oz, has created a storm in a teapot, by sending a copy of his book "A Tale of Love and Darkness" to imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti, with the dedication "This story is our story, and I hope you read it and come to understand us better". When the news of his "bold, subversive" act broke, there were those who protested Oz's planned participation at a gathering in honor of outstanding physicians at "Assaf Harofe" hospital, and the event was canceled as a result.
Prima facie, all this might seem like yet another negligible tale of a writer with perennial pretensions to have a meaningful say in politics, the same writer who has never uttered a word to which he did not receive the blessing of all the Labor Party's elders. Well, it's Amos Oz; even the right wing's knee-jerk enlistment against this pseudo-leftist was embarrassingly predictable. What did disappoint me somewhat, and this reaction seems quite naïve and childish in retrospect, was Gideon Levy's Haaretz article on the affair:
Levy protests the persecution of Oz ("witch hunt"), and he is appalled precisely because Oz is a devout Zionist and a committed patriot. He recognizes the fact that Oz has never been a radical, and he even mentions the latter's shameful support for Operation Cast Lead. However, the only point which somehow eludes Levy's critical scrutiny is Oz's mere pretension – pompous, narcissistic, and megalomaniacal – to portray his book as "our story". OUR story. Whose exactly? I cannot speak for Levy, but my grandmother never beat her bed sheets every morning to shake off the Levant; members of my family never lived on streets that would eventually be named after them, and no, even our relation to this region has not been derived from the Holocaust trauma, and from the havoc it wrought on the souls of the survivors.
All this comes as no surprise, of course, regarding Oz himself; his literary work has consistently reflected his scorn towards Arabs and Mizrahi Jews. It is Levy's response which embodies the most important aspect of this affair: The absolutist tribalism of the Israeli left. Oz's nationalist, sanctimonious conformism will not stand in Levy's way, even though the latter is a genuinely critical person, and it will not prevent him from adopting Oz's story as "our story", out of utter blindness towards the fact that about half of the Jewish population in Israel has been totally left out of this story. After all, and more than anything, Oz and Levy share a common story which is THE official narrative of this country
This is also the message conveyed to our Palestinian neighbors: if you wish to figure out what's going on here, whom you're dealing with, and who holds the keys to your case, you must study "our story". And this message, as it turns out, runs deep: "A Tale of Love and Darkness" was translated into Arabic thanks to the initiative and financial support of Adv. Elias Khouri, a dear man and a bereaved father who dedicated the project to the memory of his son, also with the belief that the book would constitute a key to the understanding of "their story"; an Arabic translation of a Hebrew book which cries out in Yiddish.
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