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Past Analysis
ANALYSIS
The Mizrahi - Palestinian Connection, Part I
Sharon Komash
August 18, 2005
Scholarly analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has depicted it as a conflict between two homogenous entities, namely Israel and the Palestinians. However, scholars largely ignore the impact of the "inner-Israeli" conflict between Mizrahim and Ashkenazim on the "external" conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Not only are the Mizrahim excluded from the peace process itself, but academics also fail to research the role they play in the conflict, while their occasional public role is that of extremely right-wing "Arab-haters" who prevent the Ashkenazi-dominated "liberal peace camp" from reaching a solution– hence they are portrayed as an obstacle to peace .


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This is the first part of a three-part study.

Introduction

 

Scholarly analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has depicted it as a conflict between two homogenous entities, namely Israel and the Palestinians. However, scholars largely ignore the impact of the "inner-Israeli" conflict between Mizrahim and Ashkenazim on the "external" conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Not only are the Mizrahim excluded from the peace process itself, but academics also fail to research the role they play in the conflict, while their occasional public role is that of extremely right-wing "Arab-haters" who prevent the Ashkenazi-dominated "liberal peace camp" from reaching a solution– hence they are portrayed as an obstacle to peace[1].

 

Yet during my years facilitating dialogue groups between Israeli and Palestinian youth, this assertion was shattered. I have noticed time and again how Mizrahi participants connected with Palestinians and created friendships, despite the fact that they usually held more right-wing views than those of the Ashkenazi participants. The Ashkenazi, on the other hand, often acted in a patronizing and distant manner towards Palestinians. Being a half-Mizrahi myself, my interest in the subject has increased.

 

This paper embodies some of the realizations I have reached in a process of becoming aware of the oppression that has been exerted on my own family and myself. In this journey, I have been exposed to writings of others who shared the same experiences and whose work has been acknowledged only recently. Even today it is marginalized in the mainstream academic curriculum.

 

First I will describe the historical relationship between the Mizrahim and Zionism, and the concomitant uses of structural, cultural and direct violence toward the Mizrahim. Then I will analyze what comprises the various Mizrahi identities as a reaction to that encounter and illustrate the relevance of those two themes to the linkage between the two groups. Finally, I will demonstrate how those issues are reflected in the public discourse surrounding the struggle of Tali Fahima. For this study I have used scholarly literature, as well as articles published on the internet and electronic feedback to those articles.

 

The topic, the methodology and the inclusion of many quotes are in accordance with the aims I hope to achieve: First, to "give voice to the voiceless"– to bring the Mizrahim to the stage's front as active actors. Second, to give voice to erased histories, silenced contingencies of Mizrahi-Palestinian cooperation and marginalized struggles. Third, to provide critical approach to the understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by showing the common denominator between the Mizrahim and the Palestinians– coping with the same Euro-Zionist super-narrative– and by looking at it through a lens that has often been obscured. I maintain this perspective adds an important dimension to the understanding of the conflict and hence impacts the way the conflict should be managed.

 

The Relationship between Arab-Jews and Zionism

"I was disillusioned at what I found in the Promised Land, disillusioned at the institutionalized racism. The principal interest Israel had in Jews from Islamic countries was as a supply of cheap labor. Ben Gurion needed the "Oriental" Jews to farm the thousands of acres of land left by Palestinians who were driven out by Israeli forces in 1948[2]"

 

Jews have been living for thousands of years in Arab countries in relative peace. By and large, they have been well integrated into Muslim society. Jews held senior public positions in various Arab countries;[3] in Palestine too, the Sephardic community lived peacefully with Muslims[4]. The advent of Zionism caused a dramatic change in the lives of Arab-Jews living in their homelands. Many of them were not supportive of Zionism and regarded it - as their Muslim compatriots did - as a European colonialist movement. Some even joined the Arab nationalist and anti-imperialist movements[5]. Even two decades later, while the tension in Palestine intensified, the Sephardic Jewish leader Elyachar, using "our shared land" language, still offered the British Phil committee a bi-national state with a joint parliament and mutual learning of the languages, encouraging inclusion of Arab students in Jewish schools and vice versa[6]. The more the Zionist movement strengthened, the more difficult the Arab-Jews’ situation because. Eventually, the good relationship between Jewish and Muslim communities shattered[7]. The Arab nationalists identified all Jews as Zionist - hence a fifth column - and ironically adopted the Zionist discourse in which Arabness and Jewishness were perceived as mutually exclusive. In the words of Ella Shohat: "The rigidity of both paradigms has produced the particular Arab Jewish tragedy, since neither paradigm could contain crossed or multiple identities"[8].



[1] In Israel, the distinction between political left and political right is perceived to be the propensity to accept a peace settlement with the Palestinians.

[2] Giladi. N, p.4. Giladi is an Iraqi Jew who immigrated to Israel in the 40s.

[3] For instance, the finance ministers of Iraq and of Egypt, Ishak Sasson and Jamas Sanua respectively, were both Jews. See Shohat 1999.

[4] For example, the Sephardic community established schools where Jews, Muslims and Christians all attended. See Tamari.

[5] In Palestine, Jews from prominent Sephardic families cooperated with their Muslim and Christian fellow citizens in trying to mobilize the Ottoman Palestinians against the Western allies. Tamari points out the distinction between native Arab-Jews and European Jews who immigrated to Palestine in the beginning of the 20th century. In Lebanon, for example, while the former blended into the society and took a prominent place in Arab nationalist and anti-imperialist intellectual circles, the latter were enthusiastically Zionist, "hardly spoke any Arabic, and viewed their host environment with suspicion". See Tamari.

[6] Elyachar, p. 59-60.

[7] Segev, p. 96. In Palestine, both Jewish and Arab leaders complained that the entrance of the Zionist Ashkenazim to the center of the politics under the auspices of the British colonialism badly damaged the relationship between the communities.

[8] Shohat 2003.

 

Sharon Komash holds a Master's in International Peace Studies from the University of Peace.


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