The Other Side
By Joel Schalit / March 9, 2009
It’s never been an official policy. But, some time over the last twenty-five years, Israel stopped giving its wars official names. Take, for example, the 18-year-long conflict in Lebanon. ‘The Lebanon War’ refers to the 1982 invasion of the country by Israeli forces, not … Read More
It’s never been an official policy. But, some time over the last twenty-five years, Israel stopped giving its wars official names. Take, for example, the 18-year-long conflict in Lebanon. ‘The Lebanon War’ refers to the 1982 invasion of the country by Israeli forces, not the near two-decade occupation of southern Lebanon that followed. If Israel gives titles to conflicts today, they are usually those of military operations - Operation Defensive Shield
, Operation Summer Rains
(the second Lebanon war), or Operation Cast Lead
, the codename given to the IDF’s recent campaign in Gaza.
What does it mean, this refusal to name? That, at a certain point, the sheer repetitiveness of the violence does something to language, to a speaker’s willingness to identify that which is so oppressively familiar. Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank - all blur into one largely uninterrupted continuum. Though what takes place is endlessly reported in the media, the fact that events at the country’s periphery remain predictably violent renders such reporting a monstrous abstraction. For the last three years, London-born writer Leila Segal has divided her time between Israel and the UK, working with Arab-Jewish youth group Sadaka-Reut
. She has kept a blog, The Other Side
, charting her journey. During this time, Segal’s entries have managed to restore to language an experience of Israeli politics and culture that is increasingly absent from much Anglophone Israel blogging, shaped as it is by hasbara cliche
and a blindness to the contradictions of contemporary Israeli life. Segal portrays Israeli Jews as people, not caricatures – and Palestinian citizens of Israel are always a part of her ‘mix’. Segal shows us a multicultural Israel, one that exists outside the frame of ideology. Segal stays in Jaffa, on the border of South Tel Aviv, a diverse neighborhood teeming with new immigrants, non-Jewish laborers and Arabs. It is a neighbourhood on the verge of gentrification - provoking struggle by its native Palestinian population to remain in houses they’ve inhabited since before creation of the State. Segal’s work - she lead The Jaffa Photography Project
, a documentary photography project with young Arabs and Jews - allows the two communities voice, and a rare forum for genuine social interaction. She has, as a result, a unique insight into the interactions of Palestinians and Jews in Jaffa, one of Israel’s rare mixed environments.
Her writing is fraught with dilemmas, both political and personal, inhabiting a border-zone of Jewish-Arab interaction under pressure from the wider conflict. Segal is inevitably subject to the difficulties of being a Jew in Israel who works alongside Palestinian citizens, whose status and experience is subject to an entirely different kind of stress. This, in its distinctly unglamorous, anxiety-provoking whole, is the Israel that greets Segal every time she ventures outside of her apartment. As a literary event, the elements that make Segal’s blog such a remarkable read are summed up in her writing about Operation Cast Lead. They express the level of profound distress that so many Israelis and Jews actually felt about the violence. Her writing reflects constant conflict - interpersonal, with the military campaign and its brutality, with other Jews who rationalize the assault, and, most significantly, with her own identity as a Jew.
Segal’s approach to narrating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not polemical or didactic, but more akin to a landscape painting. Her abiding concern is people, and their moral struggles in the heart of a new kind of warzone. She lets readers draw their own conclusions from the stories she narrates, and that is what’s so compelling about her work.
This series will open with a short vignette
recounting Segal’s first night back in Tel Aviv, eight days before the war began. Zeek
will be reprinting the entirety of Segal’s writing about Israel’s Gaza offensive, and its aftermath, twice a week, until its conclusion. We hope you enjoy reading it, and appreciate it as much as we do.