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Monday, August 13, 2007

Engagement with an open mind

[note: this is a re-posting of an earlier post, slightly amended for personal reasons]

Engage has a piece by a Catholic who spent several years as a Palestine Solidarity Campaign activist, but was led by a discussion with Jon Pike and David Hirsh of Engage to the realization that the boycott campaign represented a demonization of Israel with racist overtones. Consequently she has resigned from the PSC. Read her story.

What I find striking about her account is the sense of a finely woven net of anti-Zionist propaganda which, once you fall into it, will ensure that you simply never hear a reasoned exposition of the other side of the story. This is precisely the impression I got when having a fairly heated debate with the EAPPI volunteer at my church on Sunday. Things which I had assumed he was deliberately downplaying turn out to be, apparently, completely off his radar. He seemed, for instance, genuinely surprised at the suggestion that the post-1948 exodus of Jews from Arab countries was comparable in scale to that of Palestinians from Israel. He thought that Jews had been living in perfect harmony in Iraq until Mossad started planting bombs to scare them away. Baghdad pogrom, 1941, 180 dead minimum? He'd never heard of it. Though you can bet your bottom shekel that he's heard of Deir Yassin.

As the writer says:-

'Throughout my exploration of the Palestinian situation, I learnt very little about the Palestinian mandate for Palestine, the demands of their resistance, the philosophy behind it, their attitudes to the reciprocal rights of Jews. Considering how much time I had spent submerged in their side of the story, I was surprisingly ignorant of their claims, attitudes and choices of resistance. What I was well versed in was their suffering and who was to blame.'

I think there's probably still quite a lot that the writer and I wouldn't see eye to eye about. Nevertheless she has clearly seen the same warning lights flashing that I first saw around the time she was getting involved in the PSC. It's not easy to change someone's mind about an issue where passions run so high, or to let your mind be changed. Respect to all involved in this model of engagement.