Another Israel exhibition in Norwich/Norfolk Peace Cycle
The Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians has long been the focus of criticism. Now, as prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu offers to recognise an independent Palestinian state, Keiron Pim previews a Norwich-bound exhibition that highlights lesser-known efforts to bring peace.
For anyone with an eye on current affairs, the word “Israel” brings to mind many things: illegal settlements on Palestinian land, bombardment of civilians in Gaza, the systematic humiliation of innocent people at army checkpoints, to name three examples. These associations are sadly accurate but that is not to say that they have the support of all Jewish Israelis, nor indeed diaspora Jews.
In truth there is another Israel, one in which Jews and Palestinians are cooperating to counter the brutal treatment meted out by the army and to work towards a peaceful future.
Some of the ways in which this is happening are detailed in a new display opening in Norwich on Saturday, arranged by the Norfolk Jewish Peace Group. Jean Davis and Ed Mendelsohn, two of the organisers, explained that the exhibition is intended to cast light on more progressive attitudes afoot in Israel that rarely receive media coverage.
“The voice of the official Jewish organisations in this country is very strong and you don’t see the other side expressed very much,” says Jean, who lives in Norwich.
“I think most people in this country and certainly here in Norwich have no idea that there’s a different Israel; that it’s not all about what the Israeli government does to Palestinians. We think there’s an assumption that if you are Jewish you must be pro-Israel and therefore defend all the actions, all the settlements, the expansions, knocking down of houses. And we don’t. Many Jewish people in this country don’t, and that doesn’t always appear in the media.”
The exhibition, which takes the form of a series of display boards at Friends’ Meeting House on Upper Goat Lane, is simply called Another Israel. It has toured the country since its launch in March 2008 and will be at the Friends’ Meeting House from Saturday, and then will feature in the Norwich Peace Camp that takes place on July 4 outside the Forum.
The panels describe the work of 30 of the hundreds of organisations in Israel today that seek to build bridges rather than wage war. Some examples are:
Machsomwatch, a voluntary organisation of 400 Israeli women best known for daily monitoring of the checkpoints. They oppose policies that reduce Palestinians’ freedom of movement within their own territory.
Combatants for Peace, which brings together Israelis and Palestinians who were previously involved in violence, as IDF soldiers or Palestinian resistance fighters, but who now take part in non-violent actions to support Palestinian rights to land, water and freedom from harassment.
Yesh Gvul, which supports Israeli soldiers who refuse duties of a repressive or aggressive nature.
Yesh Din – Israeli volunteers who document and disseminate information about human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories and apply pressure on the government to end them.
Ed, who lives near Norwich, hopes that the fourth annual Norwich Peace Camp will be a good showcase for how positive connections are being made locally on this issue of international concern.
“Last year, and we hope it will be the same again this year, we had our stall side by side with the Palestinian stall,” he said. “We are committed to building relations with Muslim groups locally. We have had contact with lots of groups, mainly through the mosque at UEA.”
These links were first made in 2004 when two “refuseniks”, Adam Maor and Matan Kaminer, gave a talk at the Friends’ Meeting House.
“Some of the leading members of the Muslim groups came along to that meeting and that kicked it off,” said Jean. She and the other members of the Norfolk Jewish Peace Group meet every month to support projects that promote peace in the Middle East. They support the Israelis by raising aware- ness of the “refuseniks” and they aid the Palestinians by helping promote Palestinian olive oil.
“Another of the things we are doing currently is writing to all the Norfolk MPs asking them to support the recommendations made by the all-party group that went to Gaza recently,” said Jean. “It’s important to say that we don’t support the attacks on Israel. We don’t support any attacks on civilians.”
The Norfolk Jewish Peace Group is affiliated to a wider organisation called Jews for Justice for Palestinians. The movement notes that while Israel’s actions are often carried out by zealots who believe that they have God on their side, their religion fundamentally opposes such behaviour. Rabbi Hillel, a central figure to Jewish religious thought, coined the so-called Golden Rule: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. That is the whole Torah, the rest is commentary.”
Another Israel is on view at the Friends’ Meeting House from Saturday to June 27 at the following times: Saturday 9.30am-lpm; Monday llam-3pm; Tuesday 1pm-3pm and 7.30pm-9pm; Wednesday 10am-midday; Friday 10am-noon. For other times phone the Friends’ Meeting House on 01603 624854.