Thursday, February 11, 2010

Communicating the Jewish Experience in Shomron and Yehudah

Marc Prowisor is an impressive individual. As an IDF Chief Army Security Coordinator between Ramallah and Shechem from the late 1990s and through the Second Intifada, and now living in the Jewish village of Shilo, nearby Palestinian Sinjil, Marc has a serious understanding of the challenges to Jewish settlement of Yesha. Educated not through CNN reports, but through life and work on the culture and conditions of his Arab neighbors, he sports a professional, security-minded focus that brings bottom-line clarity and context to issues concerning Jewish settlements.

Now that I've introduced him, and having read through his many ruminations, allow me to promote his Yesha Views - a unique perspective of a knowledgeable Israeli Jew, living in, and advocating for the peaceful Jewish settlement of Israel's historic heartland.

The following are my remarks, with some small edits, to a post Marc wrote regarding developing better communicators among representatives of Jews in Shomron and Yehudah:

The best asset of Jews living in Shomron and Yehudah is their daily experience of life there. American Jews view their brethren in Yesha, and the rest of Israel, largely through the media frame of conflict and war. There are no agriculture or technology stories from Yesha getting NYTimes or WaPo coverage; only outbreaks of violence or political wrangling over the settlements' status or future make news here.

Understanding that most American Jews, especially younger ones, view the settlement issue through the frame of controversy, politics, legality, morality and violence, it is critical to be able to address these issues, and to understand how the Arabs frame and present their narrative. It is vital to understand the sensitivities of the audience, and perhaps even more importantly, to present our own position honestly. Forget the "hasbara"; there is no need to be clever or sophisticated. Just tell your story as it is, as you see it.

If you are asked a question about the Arabs, don't worry about national politics and the various political platforms. Ignore ideology. Instead, relate your own, personal experiences and interactions with local Arabs in your area. Speak from personal experience.

A common remark of Jews living in Shomron and Yehudah (which Marc notes in his piece) is that the Arabs "want us there". It is repeated often by representatives of Yesha. Really? They want you so badly that they shoot at you? Such a statement appears utterly self-serving and dishonest. Do the Arabs "want us there", or do they want the development and infrastructure and innovation and a drive to make things better that Jews tend to bring with them? If they could kill you all, or some of you - let's not get genocidal here - and still have access to a modern irrigation system, would they? You live next door, so ask them.

Life is complicated. Be honest. Be specific. Break the simplicity of emotional framing lacking context that is so prevalent among our detractors. Present complexity. Challenge your audience with the daily decisions you must make, the conflicts you are forced to resolve. Jews are not perfect; we make mistakes, as any other people. The Jews of Israel have done more good than bad, all things considered, and are learning to be better; including better neighbors to millions of Arabs who aren't going anywhere. Neither are we.

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