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The Other Side of Israel: My Journey Across the Jewish/Arab Divide

An exploration of the tensions between Israel's Jews and the resident Arab population since the 1948 Arab–Israeli War

Citation Information

Bender, Robert 2016. The Other Side of Israel: My Journey Across the Jewish/Arab Divide, URL = <http://www.rationalrealm.com/philosophy/reviews/other-side-of-israel.html>.

Publication Information

The Other Side of Israel: My Journey Across the Jewish/Arab Divide, London: HarperCollins Publishers, 2005, pp. xvii+302, (paperback).

Israeli checkpoint near Rachel's Tomb

Susan Nathan, the author of The Other Side of Israel, grew up under apartheid in South Africa. She spent much of her adult life in England as an AIDS counsellor and emigrated to Israel in 1999, aged 50. Arriving in Tel Aviv, she taught English to business people. She then moved to an all-Arab Galilean village, Tamra, as an agent of Mahapach. This was a student organization ministering to disadvantaged communities. In Tamara, she lived with the Palestinian Arab family of a widowed grandmother and her children and grandchildren and came to know them intimately.

She soon became aware of how difficult life had become for Israel's Arab minority. This group is under intense pressure to give up all land ownership. As most Jews fear going into Arab towns, these towns get no electricity, gas, telephone or postal services. The national Housing Ministry has a Master Plan that does not recognize the existence of most Arab housing and tries to demolish them. This denial provokes long-running defensive legal battles by the Arabs. Many such towns have Jewish communities nearby with full services automatically provided.

Unemployment rates in Arab communities are extremely high, especially for youth. The real rate of unemployment is masked by manipulated definitions dependent on entitlement to benefits. These entitlements, in turn, exclude most Arab youths. The Israeli state owns 93 per cent of all land and reserves nearly all of that for exclusive use by Jews. Jews obtain town planning permits and building permits easily, while Arabs are consistently denied them. Only three per cent of the land is owned by the 1.5 million resident Arabs. Nearly all Arab land has been confiscated and handed over to Jewish communities, including the 480 Arab villages deserted during the 1948 war. These villages were all demolished, with the reclaimed land planted with pine trees. As permits to build new housing are always refused, Arabs build upwards to add apartments for adult children. These are then classified by the Israeli authorities as illegal and under threat of demolition.

Nathan interviewed various spokespeople for the dispossessed and then tried to investigate their claims for herself. At other times, she interviewed the claimants with grievances. She records an amazing interview with a female television journalist who got hysterical about her views and would not believe her stories about the discrimination faced by Arab citizens. Nathan also joined various left-wing groups promoting reconciliation. Disappointingly, she found their activities restricted to walking through Arab villages with eager expressions of brotherly love. However, they expressed complete disinterest in hearing about the discrimination perpetrated on Arab citizens.

Book cover: The Other Side of Israel: My Journey Across the Jewish/Arab Divide by Susan Nathan

Nathan finishes her book with a long discussion about possible resolutions. Principally, these are the one-state and two-state proposals that are always frustrated by stonewalling at negotiation sessions. The great fear Israel's Jews have is of being swamped by all the Palestinians they banished in 1948. They feel the need to perpetuate the Jewish majority by living in denial of the suffering their evictions have caused.

Nathan recounts several conversations she had with a young Israeli woman who was drafted into the army. This officer knew she would be assigned to one of the tense checkpoints at which Palestinians are often delayed for hours while waiting to go to work or to hospitals. She tells how Arabs are seriously mistreated by power-crazed Israeli armed guards and shares stories about shootings of children at these checkpoints. Some of the abuses reported are just appalling.

The big problem, as Nathan sees it, is almost universal refusal by Israel's Jews to acknowledge what they did to the 750,000 Palestinians who were dispossessed in 1948. They are in denial that anybody but themselves can ever be victims and refuse to listen to any argument in favour. She, and many of her interviewees, were marginalized and ostracized for not conforming automatically to the prevailing creed that Israel is the Promised Land for Jews. Israel's Jews stubbornly hold to the view that the Palestinians they dispossessed have been trespassers on their land for 2,000 years.

Nathan is a very calm and level-headed writer. She is deeply suspicious of fanaticism from any source. However, she seems to have been a non-conformist all her life, prone to champion difficult causes. Her book contains an excellent glossary at the back for readers unfamiliar with the administrative terms used by the Israeli government.

Copyright © 2016

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