In 1995, Dr. Assaf David, a political scientist at the Hebrew University, then a soldier in the Israeli army, traveled to reach his military base on a bus in Jerusalem. Near Rene Cassin High School, the bus was struck by a terrorist suicide bombing. David was seriously injured and lost an eye.

In a 2015 Haaretz article, David recalled his story. “The terrorist was sitting in a very crowded bus, and was very close to me. I remember a strong jolt to my eye, and then a sensation as if I was flying in the air, a soul without a body. I lost consciousness – I don’t know for how long – until at some point I became aware of the fact that I was lying on the floor. I moved my tongue over my teeth to see if they were still there, and then came the dreadful smell and taste. I felt people walking on top of me to escape, and then I understood a terrorist attack had occurred. I got up – my rifle was still on me – and sat down on the sidewalk, in shock. I did not absorb the fact that I couldn’t see in one eye, and assumed I was simply in a deep fog… At the hospital, they suspected that the piece of shrapnel that damaged my eye had penetrated to the brain. In the end, the bleeding in the brain was absorbed, but it wasn’t possible to save my eye. I went on to have a series of operations on my hand, because the shrapnel had cut into it down to the bone. I still don’t have much feeling in my hand.”

Apart from the trauma, David admits that “the event changed me in the sense that I am able to imagine the suffering of the other side.” In 2015, David and colleagues established the think tank Forum for Regional Thinking, which aims to offer an “alternate voice,” one which is “less harsh and more diverse” about the Middle East.

David identifies with the new alternative voice. In an article in Hebrew last year, David stated, “Sometimes I feel more Arab than Jewish, especially when it comes to oppression and racism against Arabs and Mizrahim in general. I’m part of the East, my appearance is Mizrahi, I speak Arabic, even when I speak Hebrew, the pronunciation is Arabic.”

Comments to his articles suggest manifestations of the Stockholm Syndrome, an emotional response of a victim of abuse that develops positive sympathy toward the abuser.

Last month, David published an article in Haaretz titled “No, Palestinian Textbooks Are Not Antisemitic.” David reviewed a German Georg Eckert Institute (GEI) report on the Palestinian Authority school’s textbooks. David believes that ignoring Israeli textbooks in comparison is “fundamentally tendentious.” The article is misleading. Contrary to his assertions, Dr. Arnon Groiss, who has been following Palestinian textbooks for many years, found enough evidence of anti-Semitic nature. He wrote a response.

For example, Groiss found a verse in a poem of a seventh-grade textbook that calls for the liberation of Al-Aqsa Mosque “from the grip of infidelity and the Devil’s aides.”

Groiss found a history textbook where students need to “‘clarify the Zionist gangs’ goal in perpetrating massacres’, the student who ‘defined correctly the Zionist gangs’ goal in perpetrating massacres’ gets the unsatisfactory mark. The student who ‘connected correctly the thinking of the Zionist gangs to their perpetration of massacres’ gets the satisfactory mark, and the one who ‘accurately connected the perpetration of the Zionist massacres to the Jewish religious thinking’ gets the highest mark – Good.”

Groiss also noted that David incorrectly read an interpretation. The Georg Eckert Institute report finds a “call for tolerance, mercy, forgiveness and justice” within the PA textbooks when referring to the Palestinian society exclusively, with no connection to Israel or the conflict. Yet, David assumed it was said in relation to Israel.

David wrote in his article favorably of the research done by Tel Aviv University Prof. Daniel Bar-Tal, another peace activist whose research had been shaped by decades of pro-Palestinian activism. Bar-Tal was one of the academic “peace industry” pioneers, which has received millions in financial support. The “peace industry” was intent on demonstrating that Palestinians were “ripe” for peace.

After describing Palestinian textbooks favorably, David contradicts himself when stating that “Palestinian textbooks do contain examples of anti-Semitism, incitement to violence, glorification of violence and dehumanization of Jews or Israelis, but according to the researchers their frequency is limited.”

David has an explanation for Palestinian anti-Semitism: “The Palestinian nation would have to be a saint for its textbooks to be completely free of such examples, in light of the expanding occupation, the widespread dispossession and the dehumanization from the Israeli side, which are supported by the enormous resources that are at the disposal of the strong party in the conflict.”

These days, David and his colleagues are working hard to show that the Palestinians and their textbooks are free of anti-Semitism.


No, Palestinian textbooks are not antisemitic

Opinion | No, Palestinian Textbooks Are Not Antisemitic

A new study unequivocally refutes the accusation made by right-wing Israeli organizations

Assaf David
Aug. 10, 2021 12:26 PM

In June, Germany’s Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research published a comprehensive survey of textbooks used in the Palestinian Authority school system. Over the course of 18 months a research team analyzed 156 textbooks and 16 teacher guides פublished by the Palestinian Education Ministry between 2017 and 2019, as part of a curriculum and textbook reform initiated by the PA for all subjects taught in grades 1-12. The GEI study examined content in Palestinian textbooks addressing hate or violence, the promotion of peace and religious coexistence as well as elements addressing reconciliation, tolerance and the observation of human rights. The research was funded in its entirety by the European Union, and the materials were analyzed on the basis of UNESCO-defined criteria of peace, tolerance and nonviolence in education.
As with any comprehensive study of such a complicated subject, the findings are complex and can be interpreted in various ways.
Conservatives in Europe and in the United States (especially in the U.S. Congress) pounced on it, some of them with a push from anti-Palestinian conservatives in Israel. The reactions from the other side, however, have been few, perhaps because the obsession with Palestinian textbooks is perceived, correctly, as an amusement reserved for the right. But the left cannot exclude itself from the playing field on which the rules of the game and the balance of power between the occupier and its allies on one side and the occupied on the other are determined. I will address the research and its findings while paying attention to the framework defined for it, to what is in it and especially to what is not in it.
First, the research team’s statement, in a press release, that its work provides a “comprehensive and objective analysis” of Palestinian textbooks is puzzling by all accounts. The analysis is indeed very comprehensive, but the extent of its objectivity can only by evaluated by readers with a range of perspectives, not the authors. Such a statement is unusual when voiced by such a reputable textbook research institution as GEI, and raises a creeping suspicion that it is not by chance.
A 200-page report of a study funded by the EU and devoted entirely to examining the textbooks of one side of the conflict – the vanquished side – is inherently flawed. Students in the state education systems in Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territories do not learn about each other in a vacuum. The balance of power between Israel, which denies the growing violence required to maintain the occupation, and the Palestinians, dictates the framework and the narratives that are taught in each.
The research of Profs. Daniel Bar-Tal and Sami Adwan, whose review and comparison of textbooks on both sides by a joint Israeli/Palestinian research team yielded fascinating findings, is an example of how research on the textbooks of two societies that are involved in an intractable conflict can and should be carried out. It is surprising that an EU-funded study ignores such a necessary comparative methodology, the kind that is reflected even in the doctoral dissertation of Yifat Shasha-Biton, a senior member of a moderate right-wing party who serves as Israel’s education minister.
One-sided objectivity
The very notion of examining only Palestinian textbooks with a fine-tooth comb, while completely ignoring their mirror image in Israeli textbooks, is fundamentally tendentious. It’s hard to believe that political considerations were not involved in the decision, the result in part of ongoing pressure from IMPACT-SE, a conservative Israeli nongovernmental organization, on the EU and on the British government, a contributor to the PA and to the UN Relief and Works Agency – pressure that was also expressed as “assistance” in drawing up EU legislation that includes Palestinian textbooks only.
One of the leaders of the one-sided criticism of Palestinian textbooks in the European Parliament is Monika Hohlmeier, a conservative MEP from Germany. The pressure for such a study began effectively in a proposal she pushed through the EU Committee on Budgetary Control in 2018 that focused solely on criticizing the Palestinian textbooks and curricula. In these circumstances, the GEI research team’s insistence on its “objectivity” is mere whistling in the dark.
Given that the study’s objective is to focus on the response of the occupied population to the violence of the occupier, our only option is to make the best of a bad situation and extract from it a few important findings and insights for the benefit of the fight against the occupation and the pursuit of Palestinian independence.

One of the important things about the study is the team’s clear determination that the characterization of Palestinian textbooks in the studies published by IMPACT-SE suffer from “generalising and exaggerated conclusions based on methodological shortcomings” (p. 15). In contrast, binational comparative studies of Palestinian and Israeli textbooks, including that of Bar-Tal and Adwan, are mentioned favorably. We can only hope that the editors of the Ynet news website, who in recent years have given IMPACT-SE a broad platform, remember this in the future.
The research team offers a passing reference to the Palestinian Education Ministry’s determination that international law permits resistance – by implication, violent resistance – to an occupying power (p. 20). This is a very complex legal issue, and it is impossible to analyze the attitude to it in the Palestinian textbooks without addressing it seriously. It seems that the team tried to have it both ways and failed. In any event, its recognition of the occupation and of the legitimacy of resisting it, at least nonviolently, stands out as a lone voice in the wilderness of conservative studies generated by Israeli organizations, led by IMPACT-SE. These organizations have never heard of the Israeli occupation in the territories, apparently, and therefore cannot recognize the legitimacy of any form of resistance.
The distinction among different types of resistance, and between violent resistance directed against an army versus that targeting civilians, is a good beginning for any future examination of Palestinian textbooks, and GEI did well to find a place for it, even if cautiously and indistinctly. It is nevertheless hard not to wonder about the discovery of the “narrative of resistance” to the occupation and the “antagonism towards Israel” in the textbooks.
Sympathy for the occupier?
Did the researchers forget that the occupation is more present than ever, and that every day Israel works very hard, directly and through its settler emissaries, to tarnish its image in the eyes of the Palestinians in the territories? In these circumstances, is it possible to expect narratives sympathetic to Israel?
Finally, and perhaps most important: The study’s findings unequivocally refute the exaggerated and overgeneralized accusations by conservative Israeli organizations about antisemitism and incitement to violence in Palestinian textbooks. It reveals “numerous instances [in which] the textbooks call for tolerance, mercy, forgiveness and justice” and distinguishes among various types of Palestinian criticism of Israel and among textbooks in various subjects (such as religious studies).
Palestinian textbooks do contain examples of antisemitism, incitement to violence, glorification of violence and dehumanization of Jews or Israelis, but according to the researchers their frequency is limited. But this bears repeating: The Palestinian nation would have to be a saint for its textbooks to be completely free of such examples, in light of the expanding occupation, the widespread dispossession and the dehumanization from the Israeli side, which are supported by the enormous resources that are at the disposal of the strong party in the conflict.
Given the inherent limitations of the study, and the framework imposed on it, these are important insights that should set a minimum threshold for future research on the subject. It would be better, of course, for these studies to be comparative and deeply rooted in the context of the occupation, in order to deserve the descriptor “objective.”
Assaf David is the director of the Israel in the Middle East research cluster at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute and co-founder and academic director of the Forum for Regional Thinking.


Dr. Groiss responds to Haaretz

Dr. Groiss responds to Haaretz
By Dr. Arnon Groiss -August 12, 2021

Dr. Assaf David, head of the Israeli Forum for Regional Thinking, has published an article in Haaretz, Aug 10, 2021, in which he reviews the recent report by the German Georg Eckert Institute (GEI) on the Palestinian Authority textbooks. In his article, titled “No, Palestinian textbooks are not anti-Semitic” Dr. David tries to stress the findings of the report in light of his anti-occupation ideology. He also laments the floor given to Israeli “conservative” research institutes that influence with their “one-sided” findings policy makers in Europe. Being one of the researchers he probably refers to, I would like to make the following comments:

In sharp contrast to the article’s title, there is anti-Semitism in the PA textbooks. The teachers’ guides as well show the ways it is inculcated in the students’ minds. Following are 2 examples:
A verse within a poem in a seventh-grade textbook calls for the liberation of Al-Aqsa Mosque “from the grip of infidelity and the Devil’s aides”. Is it not anti-Semitism?
(Arabic Language, Grade 7, Part 1 (2020) p. 67)
A teacher’s guide accompanying a grade-10 history textbook features a student evaluation sheet dealing with three topics. The third one (marked in red) evaluates the student’s ability to “clarify the Zionist gangs’ goal in perpetrating massacres”, with three options: Good (3 points), Satisfactory (2) and Unsatisfactory (1). The student who “defined correctly the Zionist gangs’ goal in perpetrating massacres” gets the unsatisfactory mark. The student who “connected correctly the thinking of the Zionist gangs to their perpetration of massacres” gets the satisfactory mark, and the one who “accurately connected the perpetration of the Zionist massacres to the Jewish religious thinking” gets the highest mark – Good (3). Again, is the pedagogical attempt to channel the student into combining Judaism with massacres not anti-Semitism of the worst kind?
(Teacher’s guide, Geography and Modern and Contemporary History of Palestine, Grade 10 (2018) p. 164)
Even the Georg Eckert Institute’s report itself, that tries hard to hide such phenomena in the PA textbooks (the above-mentioned two examples do not appear there), presents a case of anti-Semitic attitude in a PA textbook: “One textbook provides a learning context that displays anti-Semitic motifs” (p. 172).

Dr. David himself eventually admits in his Haaretz article that “examples of anti-Semitism… exist in the Palestinian textbooks but, according to the research team, their scope is limited” (translated from his Hebrew article).

Why, then, is this misleading title of his article?

The Georg Eckert Institute has found other negative aspects in the Palestinian textbooks, such as questioning the legitimacy of the State of Israel’s existence (pp. 171, 173 in the report) and the approval of violence against Israeli civilians (the Executive Summary p. 4), but it still insists that these books meet UNESCO standards. In view of this and other failings I wonder if this 194-page report is truly professionally scientific. To me it seems highly politicized.
III. Dr. David mentions and praises a former study of both Palestinian and Israeli schoolbooks conducted by Professors Daniel Bar-tal of Tel Aviv University and Sami Adwan of Bethlehem University. That research was grossly biased and I criticized it widely when published (2013). The researchers simply omitted the most extremist Palestinian textbooks (those of religious studies) and added the ultra-religious Haredi textbooks that are not subjected to the Israeli Ministry of Education’s supervision, just to “show” that the two parties are evenly extremist. They also omitted from the list of the study categories the one dealing with peace education (because such items appeared in the Israeli textbooks only). And there were other serious faults in that study I referred to at that time.

In Dr. David’s view, the Palestinians – being an occupied nation – are fully entitled to express their resistance to the occupier (Israel) in their schoolbooks, so that one should be lenient to expressions of hatred and violence appearing there – contrary to the view of the authors of the GEI report whom he criticizes over that. He just forgets to mention, as a scholar of Middle Eastern studies, the fact that, in Palestinian eyes, the occupation of Palestine started with the very establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, and not in 1967. For those who do not know this, following is an example taken from the Palestinian schoolbooks:
In the following chart in a mathematics textbook that presents the numbers of Palestinians in various areas in the world in 2015, according to the Palestinian Statistics Center, the Palestinian citizens of Israel are classified as living “inside the territories occupied in 1948” (the second pink line):

Mathematics, Grade 4, Part 1 (2020) p. 22)
I think that one must not be naïve and talk about the Palestinians’ right to act against the occupation so long as they mean the territory “from the river to the sea”. Accordingly, one should not justify the hatred and violence expressions against Israel and the Jews that are found in their schoolbooks in the pretext of “the occupation”, as done by Dr. David.

He further stresses the report’s finding that the PA textbooks “call for tolerance, mercy, forgiveness and justice” but fails to mention that the report specifically states (p. 170) that such pieces refer to the Palestinian society exclusively, with no connection made to Israel or the conflict. Such failure may signify that he did not read the report (or rather the General Conclusion thereof) profoundly enough. I would not be harsh on him and say that he ignored that on purpose.
To sum up, Dr. Assaf David’s article is, in my view, a pure political statement with no professional values
Dr. Arnon Groiss is an expert on Middle Eastern affairs, having earned his Ph.D. degree from Princeton University’s Department of Near Eastern Studies. He is also a retired journalist, having worked for close to 40 years at the Voice of Israel – Arabic Radio, where he acquired additional experience in this field. Since 2000 he has been studying the attitude to the “other” and to peace in various Middle Eastern curricula, particularly the Palestinian one, and authored numerous reports dealing with this issue, having examined over a thousand schoolbooks and teachers’ guides. Dr. Groiss presented his findings to policy makers at the United Nations, the US Congress, the European Parliament, the British House of Commons, the French Assemblée nationale, the German Bundestag, the Canadian and Swedish parliaments and the Israeli Knesset, as well as to people of the press and in various research institutions.

What is Israel’s place in the Middle East?
By +972 Magazine September 6, 2016

It’s time for Israel to recognize that it can coexist with its neighbors without fear or feelings of superiority. Academia can lead the way.
By Assaf David

The perception of Israel as a foreign entity in the Middle East, hence a fortress under threat, is shared by all major purveyors of knowledge and discourse in the political and public Israeli-Jewish sphere. Alas, the academia, as well as the so-called “peace camp,” do not offer an alternative perception, which would view Israel for what it really is: a country becoming well-integrated into the Middle East, and one that can and should live in the region without fear or feelings of superiority.

The following talk was presented, in Arabic, at a conference titled “Winds of Change in the Middle East” at Ben Gurion University on January 26, 2015.
Good afternoon,
Instead of offering you a well-organized thesis on the Israeli public discourse with respect to the Arab Spring, I would like to address a few aspects of the topic. These aspects have to do with the way in which Jewish citizens of Israel tend to view the Middle East, and the ways in which the various purveyors of knowledge and discourse vis-a-vis the region — be they members of the establishment, of academia, or of what is known as the “peace camp” in the political sphere and outside of it — replicate this point of view.
Let us start at the beginning: the claim that Israel is a foreign entity in the Middle East fails the test of reality. Israel, in fact, is closely tied — for better or worse — to the region in which it exists, much more so than to the liberal-democratic West, and much more so than some Jews or Arabs are willing to admit. Israel and its neighbors are new nation-states, products of the withdrawal of colonial powers from the region in the middle of the last century. All countries of the Middle East face processes that are characteristic of post-colonial states, the foremost being the threat toward their national identity from super-identities (such as religion and pan-nationalism) or sub-identities (community, origin, or ethnicity), and the prioritization of military-security considerations over civilian ones in decision-making.
Second, Israel is a state in which a certain nationality and religion control the government and the resources, similar to other countries in the region (with the exception of Lebanon). Third, in all countries of the region, including Israel, religion and the state compete for primacy as well as for shaping the public sphere. Fourth, with its many communities, Israeli society is a collectivist society, resembling the surrounding societies more than it resembles those of the liberal-democratic West. And finally, the Mizrahi background, with its many aspects, is a central component in the Israeli identity, including Israeli Jewish identity.
I could go on and on, but I think that the principle is clear. Israel, as a state, community, and population, fits well into the Arab Middle Eastern world. How prominent is this fact among the Israeli purveyors of knowledge and discourse regarding the Middle East? Not so much. They find it convenient to think of Israel as a Western, liberal state, different from the regional landscape. But this is only partially true and only in certain aspects. If we take into account long-term trends, Israel is — in significant aspects — a proud Middle Eastern state.
If Israel is a Western, liberal, different state, then the Middle East necessarily constitutes a threat. And there are well-known ways to address a threat. If it is a real threat, it is possible to strike at it or live with it in tense coexistence. If it is a potential threat, it can be disregarded as long as it is small and insignificant. When it awakens and becomes powerful, it should be monitored in order to know when it reaches the level of a real threat. These are exactly the means adopted by the State of Israel and its purveyors of knowledge and discourse toward Arabs, Islam, and the Middle East. Since all of these are perceived as threats, a path-dependence is created which ostensibly compels us to address the “threat” using known means.
Thus the peace agreements between the State of Israel and Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinians are intended primarily to contain that threat. Once contained or neutralized, it is relegated to the level of potential threat. It can be disregarded (like Jordan), watched with concern in case it is a great threat (like Egypt), and be under constant debate whether we should attack it, live with it in tense coexistence, dismiss it or monitor it. If the threat is domestic like the Palestinians, even if contained or neutralized, it remains an eternal threat and cannot be viewed as an opportunity for a genuine connection with the region in which we exist. Or in other words: to replace the security attitude with a civil one.
Hence the attitude of the Israeli purveyors of knowledge and discourse toward the vicissitudes of the Arab Spring. We should not complain about the establishment. The state institutions charged with collecting intelligence, research, and evaluation of the uprising are by nature conservative, cautious, and more risk-averse than opportunity-driven. No wonder that when the Arab Spring began to falter, state authorities adopted a pessimistic view of the events and preferred the return of oppressive regimes to the democratically elected Islamic option. This attitude is justified, at least in part, by instability and rising violence, and certainly the disintegration of some states, which concern not only Israel’s citizens, but even more so, the citizens of these states.
But what is the role of purveyors of knowledge and discourse in the public and political sphere, in the academia and the media? I cannot avoid cynicism; in a Western, liberal, civilized state, they are expected, and should be expected to present an alternative world view — a pluralistic and multi-dimensional perspective of reality. But the central purveyors in Israel accept the two components of the prevailing paradigm: first, Israel is a foreign entity in the region, and second, as a consequence, Israel is permanently faced with an existential threat. This paradigm blinds many from seeing that there is no big difference, for example, between integrating the Muslim Brotherhood into the political regime of the neighboring countries, versus the struggle between religious-conservative parties and the secular-liberal parties in Israel. Political Islam is perceived by the Israeli purveyors of discourse and knowledge as a threat, whereas political Judaism is perceived as reality — not desirable, perhaps, but nevertheless a product of a democratic process that has to be accepted.
Let us start with the Israeli academia. Is research on the Middle East conducted in Israel capable of offering alternative, critical, and complex thinking about what is going on in the region? Moreover, does the Israeli academia itself reflect the recognition that Israel belongs in the Middle East? The answer is emphatically “no.” Were the answer “yes,” there would have been Regional Studies programs offering courses on Israel and the Middle East alongside one another, and the various courses would have featured the relationships between society and state, religion and state, army and politics, sociology, political economy and so on — of all Middle Eastern states, including Israel. However, the studies of modern Israel are concentrated in the faculties of Social Science (sociology, anthropology, political science, economics), and the study of Israeli and Jewish history and the history of Islam and the Middle East are segregated in the humanities and liberal arts faculties
Study of the modern day Middle East in general — and inter-disciplinary study in particular — is missing from the Israeli academia, for two reasons: first, the prevailing perception that “Middle Eastern studies” necessarily, and exclusively, means the history of Arabs and Islam; and second, the lack of interest on the part of Middle Eastern studies in true inter-disciplinary research. In other words, it is doubtful whether the Israeli academia, in its present form, is capable of creating a large body of research and scholars who could analyze the events in the Middle East from different angles and within diverse scientific disciplines, which is the only way to enrich the local academic discourse, currently focused on history or, at best, on modern political or radical Islam. Without the contribution of social sciences — sociology, political economy, political psychology, political science, anthropology and culture studies — it is impossible to put together a body of knowledge about any society. Israeli research offers none of the above, and it is doubtful that it can offer any, given the lack of academic programs and research training. This in spite of the fact that inter-disciplinary research of the Middle East is flourishing in the Western, liberal academia, to which we ardently aspire to belong.
Let us take one of the main purveyors of Middle East knowledge in Israel, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), as a prime example. MEMRI’s motto is “to get to know the neighbors in order to make peace.” However, anyone reading their publications gets the impression that “knowing the neighbors” merely aims to reinforce the prevailing paradigm — namely, that the Arabs and Islam are fundamentally different from Israel — rather than challenging it. Under these circumstances it is futile, of course, to speak of peace. Other extra-academic research institutes and information (not to mention intelligence) gathering centers are sometimes guilty of lacking the ability to conduct research in Arabic, therefore unable to cope with the complexity of the reality of the Arab and Islamic region; or of inundating us with information and analysis reflecting the security-based “perception of threat.” And I ask: why do we need more knowledge if it only reinforces what we already know?)
For its part, the Israeli media derives its information mostly from these purveyors of discourse. Sometimes it provides a stage for academics who, as discussed earlier, lack the knowledge, time, attention, and necessary scientific tools to analyze modern events, although they may possess rich historical knowledge. With the exception of a few pundits, the central commentators in the Israeli public discourse, both from the academic and the communication perspective, support and inflate the “threat thesis.” The fear-mongering TV programs of Zvi Yehezkeli, in the spirit of “Allah, Islam, and ISIS” are the most prominent examples of this phenomenon.
One of the greatest features of the public discourse on the Middle East in Israel is the preservation of the imaginary separation between Israel and other Middle Eastern countries, and the belief that what happens “here” is fundamentally different from what goes on “there.” It therefore follows that there is no reason or need to compare the two sides: these are not just distinct domains of reporting and analysis, but rather separate worlds that are essentially different from each other. The result is that the public discourse in general, and the public discourse vis-a-vis the Middle East in particular, reflects the belief that criticism of Arabs and of Islam is professionally legitimate and “indicative of reality,” whereas criticism of similar problems and phenomena on “our” side belongs, at best, to domestic politics punditry, and at worst it is “politically biased,” “non-professional” or, to use the explicit term, “leftist.” This tendentious structuring is the work of those dominant research and information institutes, which examine only the Arab contribution to the perpetuation of the conflict. Although some of them can pass academic muster, they nevertheless manufacture a distorted and partial picture of reality.
Will salvation come from civil society organizations, especially from what is known as the “peace camp?” Regrettably, I do not think so. Most of these organizations give up when it comes to a genuine connection to the region. At best, they can communicate in neo-liberal English with the Arab liberal elite. They are obviously incapable of producing alternative knowledge about the Arab region, because most of their members are Ashkenazi Jews, usually male, who never took the time to learn Arabic and, furthermore, do not understand why it is important to do so. Even worse, they gladly leave the graduates of Arabic and Islam studies to join the government and military-security apparatus, which is very eager to incorporate them into its ranks and provides them plenty of opportunity to perpetuate the threat concept. For these organizations, graduates of elite American universities with glittering titles suffice. These graduates may have a natural talent fund-raising, but when it comes to Islam, Middle East, and Arabic, they are completely foreigners to the Middle East, and, in fact, to large segments of Israeli Arab and Jewish society as well.
The “Forum for Regional Thinking,” which I co-founded and head, was established recently based on the “CanThink” website. This site was established over three years ago by a number of Middle East scholars from the Israeli academia, whose convictions differs from what has been described above. The Forum seeks to make its modest contribution to undermining the paradigm of separation between Israel and the Middle East, and to bringing about a significant change in the Israeli public discourse about the Middle East. The Forum members come from different backgrounds, but for each of us the Middle East is part of our lives. We are sick and tired of the tangible and the intangible fences, of the cultivation of ignorance and the resulting anxiety. The damage caused by the fortified walls that Israel has erected to separate itself from its environment is growing, and if we continue to raise them further, it will lose contact with reality.
We seek to change the constricting mode of thinking about Israel’s place and its very existence within the Middle East, which is based on ignorance, a lack of understanding, and fears. We feel that Israel should recognize its strength as a regional power, which can and should coexist with its neighbors without fear or feelings of superiority.
To that end, the members of the Forum are expected to work on formulating an alternative to the conventional and hackneyed representations of the Middle East in the Israeli consciousness. We will do all we can to infuse the Israeli discourse with civilian thinking, acquaintance, understanding and, above all, with empathy. The path we intend to chart leads directly to meeting with our neighborhood and neighbors. Only when we recognize and get to know “them” — the Arabs, their culture, their society, their economy and their politics, as well as the Arab elements that exist within Jewish and Israeli identities — only when we learn to recognize all of these as part of our environment with which and within which we live, only then we can think of a durable future in the Middle East.
I invite every one of those present here, especially the Arabs among us, to contribute analyses, research and policy papers to enrich the Israeli public discourse about Islam, Arabs and Israel in the Middle East.
Dr. Assaf David is a founding member and director of the Forum for Regional Thinking (FORTH). He teaches at the Department of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Read this article in Hebrew here.


ואז הירדני שלא הכרתי אמר לי: קח את העין שלי

ואז הירדני שלא הכרתי אמר לי: קח את העין שלי

ד”ר אסף דוד גדל בקריית ארבע, איבד עין בפיגוע בירושלים, אבל דווקא הפיגוע עורר בו את הצורך להבין מה הישראלים והפלסטינים עושים אלה לאלה. שיחה יוצאת דופן עם אדם שמגדיר את עצמו ישראלי, יהודי, ציוני וערבי. מתוך “אנשי הספר” של אלחנן מילר

מאת: אסף דוד 20.2.2020

נפצעתי בפיגוע טרור. נסעתי באוטובוס, והאוטובוס התפוצץ. פיגוע טרור של חמאס. נפצעתי קשה, איבדתי את עיני השמאלית ונפצעתי קשה גם ביד ובחזה.

זו היתה תקופה קשה מאוד, תקופת ההחלמה אחרי הפציעה ארכה חודשים ואפילו שנים. אני זוכר שבאותה תקופה ניסיתי להבין מה גורם לאדם לחגור חגורת נפץ ולהתפוצץ בין אנשים, אזרחים. באותה תקופה הייתי חייל, לקראת סוף השרות הצבאי, אבל היה מדובר באזרחים, באוטובוס אזרחי, הפצועים ברובם היו אזרחים, ילדים, נשים, זקנים.

הבידוד והגזענות בין היהודים והערבים צריכים להיעלם. דר אסף דוד, המנהל האקדמי של הפורום לחשיבה אזורית (מתוך “אנשי הספר”, צילום ובימוי אלחנן מילר)

מאותו זמן ניסיתי להבין לעומק את המניעים של הפלסטינים שעשו מעשים כאלה ומה עושה ישראל לפלסטינים שגורם להם לעשות מעשים כאלה ומה השלכות הכיבוש, של אנשים ושל אדמה, על הפלסטינים תחושת הדיכוי, והייאוש שדוחפת אנשים לפעולות כאלה.

כעבור כמה שנים התחלתי ללמוד באקדמיה והיו לי חברים רבים ערבים, פלסטינים, ירדנים ולאט לאט התחלתי להבין את המניעים ואת החשיבה הערבית סביב הציונות והיהדות. כמובן שאני עדיין ישראלי, יהודי, ציוני מבחינת האמונה בזכות היהודים להגדרה עצמית, ליהודים כמו לפלסטינים, ואני מאמין בצורך לחלק את הארץ בין היהודים לערבים הפלסטינים ובצורך של שני העמים לחיות בשלום ובטחון, אבל אין משמעות הדבר שלילה של הזכויות הלאומיות של הפלסטינים בקיומה של מדינה פלסטינית ובחיים של שלום ובטחון לערבים ויהודים במזרח התיכון כולו.

“מה אנחנו עושים זה לזה”

אני זוכר מקרה באותו בית חולים שהייתי מאושפז בו לאחר הפציעה. היתה לי פגיעת ראש ודיברתי עם אח ביחידה לפציעות ראש בבית החולים הדסה עין כרם. הוא היה ערבי, שמו עומר, דיברתי איתו בזמן שהחליף את התחבושת. הוא רואה את הפצע ומזיז את ראשו מצד לצד ואומר לי: “מה אנחנו עושים זה לזה”. ובאותו רגע בכיתי את הבכי הראשון. הבכי הראשון אחרי הפציעה קרה כשהאח הערבי עומר דיבר איתי על האלימות שאנחנו מפעילים זה כנגד זה.

לא בכיתי על הפציעה או איבוד העין, אלא על חוסר המשמעות ואי ההבנה בין יהודים וערבים שגורמים לנו לעשות דברים כאלה אחד לשני.

“יהודי המזרח התיכון – מפציעה בפיגוע לעשיית שלום”. מתוך פרויקט “אנשי הספר”. ביים, צילם ותרגם אלחנן מילר

מאותו יום אני רואה את הערבים והפלסטינים ומבין אותם במילים, ובתרבות, ובדרך בה הם מבינים אותנו, איך הם מפרשים את העולם, את ישראל, את הציונות. למרות שאולי אחלוק עליהם בדברים מסוימים, אבל השקפת עולמם על היהדות והציונות נעשית דרך עיני הערבים והפלסטינים, ואז אתה מבין דברים רבים שלא הבנת כיהודי, ציוני, או ישראלי.

אני בן 46. נולדתי ברמת גן וכשהייתי בן חמש משפחתי עברה לקרית ארבע. גדלתי בהתנחלות. היא היתה למעשה כפר קטן בגדה המערבית, ליד חברון, והתחנכתי בשורות הציונות הדתית. למדתי בבית ספר דתי.

המשפחה היתה מזרחית, ממוצא תימני. סבי עליו השלום נולד בתימן ועלה ארצה עם שתי נשים. הוא היה נשוי לשתי נשים. שתיהן היו סבתות שלי, עליהן השלום. היה נהדר לבלות את החגים עם המשפחה התימנית ובטקסים הדתיים התימנים. כילד דתי, מזרחי, תימני – כל ילדותי היתה סביב הדת והטקסים הדתיים

בציונות הדתית הרגשתי גזענות

השפה הערבית היתה בסביבה של סבא וסבתא שלי ז”ל. הם דיברו ערבית בלהג תימני יהודי שהוא שונה מאוד מהלהג הערבי התימני המקומי. ההגייה של האותיות ח, ע, ה היתה נפוצה מאוד בין המשפחות התימניות ובמסורת ההיהודית התימנית. הייתי הוגה את החי”ת והעי”ן מילדותי ועד היום, יכול להיות שהעי”ן נעלמה קצת…

קריית ארבע בשנות השמונים היתה למעשה כפר קטן, כמו קיבוץ. אנשים הכירו זה את זה והיה ערבוב רב בין המזרחים לאשכנזים, מכל העדות והמוצאים. אבל בית הספר הדתי – האופי שלו היה אשכנזי מאוד, שייך לאליטה האשכנזית של הציונות הדתית, ושם היה קצת מוזר. הרגשתי קיפוח והרגשתי בגזענות.

היתה כמו כפר קטן, כמו קיבוץ. קריית ארבע (מיכל פטאל / פלאש 90)

כתלמיד בכיתה ט’, למדתי מעט ערבית בבית הספר הדתי באפרת. את הרוב למדתי בהמשך, במיוחד לדבר ולתקשר עם אנשים בתקופת הדוקטורט. הדוקטורט שלי עסק ביחסים צבאיים ואזרחיים בירדן. עבדתי גם במכון בשם ECF שעסק ביחסי השלום בין ישראל לפלסטינים, ירדן, ובמידת מסוימת גם מצרים.

ביקרתי בירדן פעמים רבות עם הצוותים הישראלים וליוויתי את הצוותים הירדנים שהגיעו ארצה. שם למדתי הרבה מיומנויות דיבור. הייתי חייב לדבר עם הירדנים והעמיתים. יש לי חברים רבים בירדן ואני אוהב את כולם.

לפעמים אני חש יותר ערבי מיהודי, במיוחד בדברים שנוגעים לדיכוי ולגזענות נגד ערבים ומזרחיים באופן כללי. אני חלק מהמזרח, המראה שלי מזרחי, אני דובר ערבית, אפילו כשאני מדבר עברית, ההגייה ערבית

השפה הערבית היא חלק מחיי וחלק מחיי משפחתי וחלק מהמורשת התרבותית של כל העדה התימנית בישראל. כל החמולה שלי שגרה בראש העין וברחבי הארץ, ככל שדיברו עברית, הייתי שומע ערבית – מההגייה, ומהמילים, ומהביטויים ומההתנהגות, ומהתרבות, הכל משולב בערבית ובתרבות הערבית

התרבות הערבית היתה חלק מחיי, כל חיי, והתנכרתי לתרבות הערבית, במיוחד בתקופת בית הספר הדתי, כי כמו שאמרתי כולו היה תרבות מערבית, והייתי זר שם. נאלצתי להסתיר את התרבות הערבית. במידת מה, התנשאו עליה.

הירדני שהזכיר לי את אבא שלי

כעבור כעשר שנים מהפציעה ומהאירוע עם האח עומר, ליוויתי קבוצה של מורים ישראלים בירדן וביקרנו בא-שונה. פגשתי ירדני אחד שלא הכיר אותי. באותה תקופה היו לי מכרים ירדנים רבים שחלקם ידעו על מה שקרה לי ועל הפציעה בפיגוע, אבל הוא לא ידע.

אחד מחבריי הירדנים סיפר לו את הסיפור שלי והוא התקרב אליי ושאל אותי: “תגיד עסאף (זה השם שלי