Nurit Peled-Elhanan – another kind of Israeli

Nurit Peled-Elhanan

Dr. Nurit Peled-Elhanan is a Lecturer in Language Education at Hebrew University in Jerusalem specializing in discourse in Israeli education with emphasis on visual and verbal presentation of Palestinian and non-western Jews. In September 1997, Nurit’s daughter Samarder was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber. She and her family are members of the Palestinian and Israeli Bereaved Families for Peace.  Her two elder sons are active in the peace movements of the Refusenik and Combatants for Peace, a new movement of Israeli and Palestinian ex fighters.  Dr. Peled-Elhanan is the recipient of the European Parliament 2001 Sakharov Prize for Human Rights and Freedom of Thought.  She is now touring the US together with a Palestinian women (Hanan Abu Ghosh) who lost her 17 year old brother to Israeli gunfire.

Education or mind infection?

By Nurit Peled-Elhanan
Speech given at Connecticut College, New London, CT 09/27/06

I would like to dedicate these words to all the Palestinian boys and girls, and to all the Lebanese boys and girls, and to all the Iraqi boys and girls who have been massacred by mind-infected Israeli and American soldier boys, and who have recently joined my own little girl in the underground kingdom of dead children, which is growing under our feet as I speak. I would like to tell them not to worry: “You will be well received there, children, and no one will hurt you just because you wandered off on your way to school or because you wore a scarf on your head or because you lived in a certain place. Rest in peace, everyone is equally worthy in your new world. This is the world where Israeli children dwell side by side with Palestinian children. There they lay, victims and murderers, whose bloods have long been absorbed by the holy land which has always been indifferent to blood. There they rest, all of them, victims of deceit.

All of you dead children were deceived, because your death has achieved nothing at all and the world goes on living as if your blood had never been shed. Because the leaders of the world keep playing their murderous games, using you as their dice and our grief as fuel for their killing machines. Because Children are abstract entities for generals and grief is a political tool. Living at both sides, that of the victims and that of the killers, I keep asking myself, what are the means by which good Israeli children are turned into murdering monsters, what are the means by which they are so mind-infected as to kill and torture and humiliate other
children, their parents and grandparents, and sacrifice their own life for nothing but the folly and megalomania of their chiefs. In the so-called Western enlightened world everyone feels very well-founded when they blame Islam for suicide bombing and terror. But who would ever blame Judaism for murder? And yet, Ulta Orthodox Jewish children who have never left Brooklyn know that to kill Arabs is a ‘mitzva’ (holy commandment) for they are ‘vilde hayeths’ (wild beasts). And Israeli children actually commit the crimes of slaughter and tporture.  Neither Judaism nor Islam nor any religion for that matter are the cause for murder and terror. Racist education is. American imperialism is, and Israeli ruthless regime of occupation is. The women and children who suffer most from western violence today are Muslim women but racism has its way and the blame for their suffering is attributed to their being muslim.

The western world today is infected with fear of Islam and of the muslim womb. Great France of liberte egalite and fraternite  is scared of little head-scarved girls, Jewish Israel calls in public speeches and schoolbooks the Arab citizens of Israel  a demographic nightmare and the enemy from within. As for the Palestinians refugees living under occupation, they are defined in Israeli History schoolbooks as a ‘problem to be solved”. Not long ago the Jews were a problem to be solved.

This in spite the fact that the people who are destroying the world today are not muslim. The people who are using the most sophisticated disastrous weapons to kill thousand of innocent civilians are not Muslim. They are Christian, and Jewish. Nevertheless people who belong to the Judeo-Christian cultures, who support American-British and Israeli crimes against humanity, and particularly against Muslims all over the world, people who send their children to fight these ruthless useless wars in the name of democracy and freedom which are cover names for greed and megalomania, dare call themselves enlightened and blame it all on some imaginary clash of civilizations.. What does this fear-stricken world offer as a solution to Palestinian , Iraqi or Afgan people who are harassed, abused, tortured and famished by western crimes and exploitation? The general offer this enlightened world gives them is: Be like us. Constitute a Democracy like ours, embrace our values which despise you, which consider you an inferior primitive lot to be cultivated or cleansed away.

This, ladies and gentlemen is the attitude that permit American soldiers to rape, torture and kill muslim men women and children by the thousands, that permits Israeli soldiers to order Palestinian women to strip in front of their children for security reasons, jailers to keep them in inhuman conditions, without necessary hygienic aids, without clean water or clean mattresses and separate them from their breast-fed babies and toddlers. To block their way to education, to confiscate their lands, to destroy their water wells, to uproot their trees and to prevent them from working their fields. This is what permits Israeli pilots to drop a hundred bombs of one ton a day on the most crowded area in the world –Gaza. This is what permits Israel to issue racist laws that separate mothers from fathers and children.

Palestinian Iraqi and Afgan women are mothers like me. And when they lose a child, even if it is one of 12, their pain is equal to mine. But in addition to losing their children they also lose their homes and their livelihood and their future because the world does not listen to their sufferings and does not punish their murderers. Their honour as women and mothers is crushed. Their identity is destroyed and their cry is not heard. their faith and customs, their centuries-old ways of life are disregarded and despised.

Not only American soldiers but also Israeli soldiers who actually perform massacres of ‘Arabs’ – Palestinian or Lebanese – may never see an Arab human face until they are drafted to the army, but they learn, for 12 long years, that these people are primitive, bear children in order to send them to the streets and throw stones at our peace-keeping soldiers, uneducated because they don’t receive our education, conniving and dirty because they have different notions about politeness, they dress differently and cover their heads with different pieces of cloth. Well, from my experience there are many more Kafiehs in the camp of peace lovers than there are kippas. Israeli children are deprived from knowing their immediate neighbours, their history and their culture and their merits. Israeli children are educated to see their neighbours as an unwanted element. This is not education, this is mind infection.

The scientist Richard Dawkins was the first to speak about viruses of the mind. Children, because their minds are gullible and open to almost any suggestion, are not immune to mental infections of all sorts of propaganda and fashion. They are easily persuaded to pierce their faces and tattoo their bottoms, to turn their hats around and bare their bellies, to believe in angels and fairies. They are equally easy to acquire political beliefs and to appropriate mental maps which will later influence their decisions on the question of the future borders of the state and on the necessity of war. All of Our children are mind-infected from an early age. So that by the time they are old enough to become real soldiers, they have already learned to be good soldiers, which means their minds are totally infected and they are incapable of questioning the ‘truth’ that has been inculcated to them. This is part of the explanation one can give to the terrible deeds that are committed today by good Israeli boys, who are characterized once and again as “people of values”. Therefore it is high time to ask, what values are these? The following lines are part of a personal preface by Tal Sela, one of my university students to his term-paper, which included the analysis of a History textbook:

On the 5th of September 1997 I found myself in LEbanon , on a rescuing mission . All my friends were in the battle, 12 soldiers were killed. The following days I was happy: ” I am alive, I survived” I said to myself. However, a year later I was in deep depression. Sad and morose. I decided to consult a psychologist. After a few sessions I was able to gather up my forces again, both physical and moral. I could reorganize my thoughts. Then I understood that the mental crisis I had was in fact
a moral crisis, a crisis of consciousness. What I actually felt was frustration, shame and anger.  How could I be so gullible and let myself be duped?  How can I explain that a man of peace, exposes himself to such a morbid experience of his own free will? Today, like every two weeks, I drove peace activists to the military check-points of the Israeli army in the occupied Palestinian territories. I saw an officer put tight handcuffs on a taxi driver because he failed to obey the soldiers’ order to park here and not there. “We told him a thousand times” the soldiers said. The man was lying on the ground in the worst heat of the summer, thirsty, for hours on end. His friend was luckier: He had to stand on his feet, in a cell, without handcuffs. What pushes these young Israeli boys to play the rôle of supreme judges until they lose all judgment? In my opinion it is the Grand Zionist Narrative which serves as a collective conscience to the whole Israeli society, explicitly as well as implicitly. This grand narrative is the system of values that makes us belong to this particular collective.

This is the system that dictates the relationships between us and the Palestinians.  How else can one explain young people who were educated to love their neighbour as they love themselves killing their neighbours, destroying their educational institutions, their libraries and their hospitals, for no apparent reason other than their being neighbours? The only explanation is that their minds are infected by parents, teachers and leaders, who convince them that the others are not as human as we are, and therefore killing them is not real killing; it has other legitimating names such as “cleansing” “purifying”, “punishment”, “operation”, “mission”, “campaign” and “war”. Although I speak about Israeli boys this is not an Israeli affair because, as you know, the epidemic is worldwide. My nephew, Doroni, 7 years old, who lives in the US, came home on Halloween day and said he wanted to be a soldier, and then to go to Iraq and save America. How many American young men, ignorant as he is of the absurdity of this statement, actually went to Iraq and died there without knowing why, but with the words “save America” on their lips? The question is, how were these false values imprinted on their minds and how can they be erased?

The human psyche, says Dawkins, has two great sicknesses: the urge to carry vendetta across generations and the tendency to fasten group labels on people rather than see them as individuals.  We all suffer because of labels, but only those of us who died because of labels have realized  that the way to fight labels is to refuse
labels. The way to defeat false value systems is to expose them.  The viruses of the mind are only partially weakened by young people like Tal and other Israeli refusniks such as ‘Combatants for Peace’. But  most of our mind infected children would not be free of the grip of those viruses until they find their final rest in the evergrowing, underground kingdom of dead children . Only there will they realize that is doesn’t matter whether their head was bare or not in a synagogue or a church or a mosque, whether they were circumcised or not, whether they pronounced forbidden words, ate pig or cow or whether they had a hot chocolate after their salami pizza just before they were blown up by someone who didn’t.  Israeli, American, English, Italian mothers raise their children with all the love and care in order to sacrifice them to the god of death, as if their uterus is a national or rather an international asset. and fathers urge their children to commit themselves to armies those interests have nothing to do with defense. And when these children die for the profits of somebody else their parents bear it with dignity and pride, as they were taught, put their dead children’s photographs on the mantelpiece and sigh: He was so handsome in uniform. It is time to tell these parents that no-one is  andsome in the uniform of brutality. It is time to tell them uniforms and ranks and medals have become ugly. Tell them their dignity and pride are misplaced. It is time to tell Jewish people that the only way to discourage anti-Semitism is by condemning the only government in the world who deliberately sends young Jewish boys and girls to their certain death and who persecutes to the point of genocide a whole Semitic nation, explain to them that it is the Jewish government and the actions of its army, not some primordial hatred for the Jewish race, which are the reasons for the invention of the new sign we often see in pro-Palestinian demonstration, where the Star of David is equated with the swastika.

It is a terribly hard task for people who were educated in Israel or in the USA or in any other ‘western’ ‘democratic’ country, to admit we were raised on false racist values. On heterophobia. The only thing that can enhance such a change of spirit is the constant image of the mutilated small bodies of the victims of these values .
Tomorrow is Yom Kippur, the holiest day for the Jews. On this day people are required to ask forgiveness. Not to forgive but to try and be forgiven. I would like to quote one stanza from a poem written by the late Hanoh Levin, one of Israel’s greatest playwrights, in the 1970s:

Dear Father, when you stand on my grave
Old and tired and very lonely,
And you see how they burry me in the ground –
Ask me to forgive you my father.

We must all ask our children’s forgiveness for not being more alert, for not fighting hard enough to keep our promises for a better world, for not refusing the evil viruses before and for letting them be the victims of the horrible, mental infection we are all suffering from, to look at their innocent, astonished, disillusioned small faces and ask ourselves: why  does that streak of blood rip the petal of their cheek???
Nurit Peled Elhanan

From 2006, but only now translated from Hebrew, a piece by Nurit Peled-Elhanan
Original Hebrew:

I would like to dedicate my words to the memory of the Palestinian children who are regularly murdered in cold blood, not because of human error and not because of technical errors, as is alleged in the media, but in accordance with correct procedures, children for whose systematic, routine murders nobody will ever be found guilty.

I would like to dedicate my words to the mothers of those murdered children, who continue to bring children into the world and to raise families, who prepare sandwiches as they see the bulldozers approaching to demolish their houses, who accompany their children every day to school over many kilometres of devastation and pollution, in front of the levelled rifles of casually brutal soldiers, and who know that those soldiers, the murderers of their children, will never be brought to justice and if they are brought to justice will never be found guilty, because the murder of Palestinian children is not a crime in the Jewish and Democratic State of Israel. And lastly, I would like to dedicate my words to the memory of the writer and poet Prof. Izzat Ghazzawi, with whom I had the honour of sharing the Sakharov prize for human rights and freedom of thought. A few months before his death from humiliation he wrote to me, about the soldiers who were breaking into his house at night, breaking furniture and windows, polluting, and scaring the children, “it looks to me like they are trying to silence me.” Izzat Ghazzawi asked me to appeal to the Foreign Ministry and ask them to correct the mistake. But his heart knew the truth and stopped beating a short time afterwards.

The cruelty that cannot be expressed in words, the orderly, ingenious abuse, that the best Jewish brains have been put to work planning and perfecting, did not emerge from a void. It is the fruit of basic, deep, total education.

Israel’s children are educated within an uncompromisingly racist discourse. A racist discourse that does not stop at checkpoints, but governs all human relations in this country.

Israel’s children are educated to see in the evil that they are destined to implement  immediately after the end of their schooling, a necessity of the reality in which they are called to fulfil their roles.

Israel’s children are educated to see international resolutions, human and divine laws and orders as empty utterances that do not apply to us. Israel’s children do not know that there is an occupation. They learn about the “settlements”. On the demographic maps  in geography textbooks the occupied territories are shown as part of Israel or are left without colour and marked as “areas without data”, which means areas devoid of human beings.

In no geography textbook in Israel is there a map of the borders of the State, because Israel’s children learn that the real geographical entity that belongs to us is the mythological entity called The Land of Israel, of which the State of Israel is a small and temporary part.

Israel’s children learn that in their country there are Jews and non-Jews: a Jewish sector and a non-Jewish sector, Jewish and non-Jewish agriculture, Jewish and non-Jewish cities. Who are these non-Jews, what are they doing? What do they look like? Does it matter?

When they are not called non-Jews, the Others in this country are given a sweeping label: Arabs, for example.

In the book “Israel: Man and Space” published in 2002, it is stated:

P. 12: “the Arab population 
 within this population group are members of different religions and different ethnic groups: Muslims, Christians, Druze, Bedouins, Circassians, most of whom are Arabs – henceforth, throughout the whole book, members of these groups will be referred to as Arabs or the Arab population.”

In the same book the Palestinians are referred to as “foreign workers” and their shameful conditions of work, says the book, are “characteristic of developed countries”.

The Palestinians – whether citizens of the State of Israel or those who live in the occupied territories – are not represented in any textbook as modern, urban people who are occupied with creative or valuable work, or in positive ‘ethnic’ activities. They are represented in stereotypical iconic pictures: the Arabs who are citizens of Israel are referred to by the humiliating term “Israel’s Arabs” and are represented either in racist caricatures like the Arabs from the Thousand and One Nights, with a moustache and a keffiye, pointed clown shoes and a camel plodding along behind (“Geography of the Land of Israel” 2002), or in typical racist images that represent the Third World in the West – the pre-technological peasant who walks behind a primitive plough attached to a pair of oxen (“People in the Region” 1998). The Palestinian residents of the occupied territories are represented with pictures of masked terrorists (“Modern Times II”), or groups of barefoot refugees walking from no- place to no- place with mattresses on their heads (“Journey to the Past”, 2001). The adjectives applied to those stereotypes in the textbooks are “demographic nightmare”, “security danger”, “developmental burden” or “a problem that has to be solved”.

Even though the Palestinian areas are not indicated on the maps, the Palestinian Authority is an enemy. For example, in the book “Geography of the Land of Israel” from 2002, there is a subsection that is headed: “The Palestinian Authority steals water from Israel in Ramallah”.

But above all, racism is given expression in books that are considered to be non-racist, that are perhaps unaware of the racist discourse that they have adopted. Books that are called by scholars “progressive, bold, politically correct”, books that aspire to “historical truth” and peace. For example:

“The Twentieth Century” by Eli Bar Navi, p. 244:

Chapter 32: “The Palestinians, from refugees to nation”

“This chapter examines the development of the Palestinian problem  and the Israeli public’s attitudes towards the problem and the nature of its solution”

If I were told that that heading was taken from somewhere else, a little more than sixty years ago and instead of the Palestinian problem was written “The Jewish Problem” I would not be surprised.

How was that problem created?

“Modern Times II” by Eli Bar Navi and Eyal Naveh explains:

P. 238: “ in the misery, the idleness and the frustration that were the lot of the refugees in their wretched camps, ‘the Palestinian problem’ was incubated”.

What does that problem do?

P. 239 “ the Palestinian problem has been poisoning Israel’s relations with the Arab world and with the international community for a generation and more.”

The identity of the Palestinians according to this book is based on “the dream of return to the Land of Israel” and not to Palestine (p. 238: “The Palestinians … based their identity on the dream of return to the Land of Israel”).

How was Palestinian nationalism created?

“Modern Times II”: “Over the course of years the alienation and hatred, propaganda and the hope of return and revenge turned the Palestinians into a nation 

And the book also explains that the presence of the Palestinians among us is liable “to convert the Zionist dream into a nightmare along the lines of South Africa” (The 20 th Century p. 249).

Those words were written after the victory of Nelson Mandela but the book still identifies the Jews in the State of Israel with the Whites in South Africa for whom the native population is a nightmare.

The murder of Palestinians by Israelis always have positive implications according to these textbooks:

“Modern Times”: Eli Bar Navi and Eyal Naveh

228: “The Deir Yassin massacre did not in fact inaugurate the mass flight of the Arabs of this country, which had started before, but the news of the massacre greatly accelerated it.”

“Inaugurate” is a festive word. And immediately after that, on p. 230:

“The flight of the Arabs solved, at least in part, a horrifying demographic problem, and even a moderate man like Chaim Weizmann spoke of it as a ‘miracle’ “.

Thus Israel’s children learn that a land devoid of Arabs is nothing less than the realization of the Zionist ideal. They learn that the killing of Palestinians, the devastation of their land and the murder of their children are not a crime; on the contrary, the whole civilized world is indeed afraid of the uterus of the Muslim woman and every party in power that wants to prevail in elections and to prove its commitment to Zionism, to democracy, or to progress, stages a surprise exhibition slaughter of Palestinians.

This despite the fact that Jewish schools in the State of Israel are full of slogans like “love the Other, get to know those who are different”. The “Others” and the “different” of those slogans are certainly not natives of the place where we live.

Israel’s children know more about Europe – their imagined homeland and the heart’s desire of the rulers of the country – than they do about the Middle East in which they live and from which more than half of the Israeli population derives its origins. Jewish children in the State of Israel are educated in humanitarian values that they do not see being realized in any place around them.

On the contrary. They see them being violated at every turn. And a witness to this confusion (Haaretz 13/3) is a student who identifies herself as “a spoiled Tel Avivian from the middle class” who expresses astonishment that “soldiers of my people, who are defending me and want what is best for me” have abused a Palestinian father and his son without batting an eyelid.

The expression “soldiers of my people, who are defending me and want what is best for me” in this context is expressive more than anything else of the ideology of racism: abuse of the Other is interpreted as defence of members of our camp. That abuse is what defines us and creates solidarity, all of us abuse them, that is what makes us one people, one heart, one mind and we have to look out for each other.

Who are those whom this ‘spoiled Tel-Avivian’ refers to as members of our people? The word “people”, like the word “us”, is one of the most loaded words that exists in the language. It is a word that is represented as if it were not subject to choice, as a stroke of fate, as an act of nature. Death compelled me and my family to examine that word to its depths. When a journalist asked me, a few years ago, how I could accept condolences from the other side I immediately replied to her that I am not prepared to accept condolences from the other side, and the proof was that when Ehud Olmert, the mayor of Jerusalem, came to express his condolences I left the room and did not agree to shake his hand or to talk to him. He and those like him are the other side in my eyes.

That is because my “us” is not defined in a national or racial way. My “us” is composed of all who are willing to struggle in order to conserve life and to save children from death. Of mothers and fathers who are not consoled over the murder of their children by the murder of other people’s children.

It is true that in our country this camp contains more Palestinians than Jews, for they are the ones who are trying at all cost and with strength that I cannot understand but can only admire, to continue to build lives under the hellish conditions that the occupation regime and Jewish democracy dictate for them. Nevertheless, we too, the Jewish victims of the occupation, who are trying to eschew the culture of force and destruction in the war of civilizations that is taking place here, have a place in it.

My son Alik is a member of a new and growing movement called “Combatants for Peace” the members of which are former combatants, Israelis and Palestinians, who decided to set up a movement of non-violent resistance to the occupation. My family is a member of the forum of Israeli and Palestinian bereft families for peace. My son Guy does theatre with Israeli and Palestinian friends who see themselves as sons of the same place, and who want to liberate themselves from the labels that are attached to them by experience that is evil and racist, but which is not theirs. And my youngest son Yigal spends every summer in a peace camp in which Jewish children and Palestinian children have fun together and create close relationships that continue throughout the year. Those children are our “us”.

That is because we are a part of the people who live in this place, and we believe that the country belongs to those who live in it; not to people who live in Europe or in America. We believe that it is impossible to live in peace without living in the place, with its residents. That genuine fraternity is not based on national and racial criteria but rather on a shared life in a specific place, a specific landscape and shared hardships. We believe that those who do not cross the borders of race and religion and do not connect with the people of their homeland are not people of peace. To my dismay there are many people in this place who call themselves people of peace, but when they see the people of their country locked up in ghettoes and in enclosures, starving to death, they do not protest, and even send their children to serve in the army of occupation as sentinels on the walls of the ghetto and at its gates.

I am not a politician but it is clear to me that the politicians of today are the schoolchildren of yesterday and the politicians of tomorrow are the schoolchildren of today. For that reason it seems to me that those who raise the banner of peace and equality need to interest themselves in education, to examine it and critique it, to warn against the racialization of the educational and social discourse, to propose or to renew laws against racist education and to set up alternative frameworks within which there will be possibilities of education for a true, profound knowledge of the Other, that will bar any possibility of mutual murder. Such education needs to hold before our eyes the pictures of little girls, who are lying in their festive school clothes covered in filth, blood and dust, their small bodies perforated with bullets that were fired at them in accordance with correct procedures, and to ask every day and every hour the question that Anna Akhmatova, who herself lost her son to a murderous regime, asked: “Why does that streak of blood rip the petal of your cheek”?

Nurit Peled-Elhanan, Jerusalem, 16 March 2006
See also Speech by Nurit Peled-Elhanan at the demonstration in Tel Aviv to commemorate 40 years of the occupation


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