Open Call: An Eastern Joint Initiative – "Mizrahi Palestinian Partnership"

Open Call: An Eastern Joint Initiative – "Mizrahi Palestinian Partnership"


Open Call: An Eastern Joint Initiative – "Mizrahi Palestinian Partnership"

Translation: Zach Smith

In the face of a reality of fear, discrimination, separation, and incitement, we have joined together to forge alliances, to create partnerships, to cross group, ethnic, gender and national barriers, and to awaken hope. The partnership that we search for is not a simple or easy solution to the ills of our time. It requires commitment, and a willingness to take responsibility for the long journey, together.

We do offer all the oppressed groups in Israeli society to join hands and walk together: Palestinians, Mizrahim, Ethiopians, Russian-speakers, the people who are living in conditions of poverty, everyone that is pushed to the periphery and the social margins, and anyone that strives to fundamentally change the existing situation and fight oppression. These groups frequently deal with similar issues, although not necessarily in the same ways, and we believe that with the power of ongoing, respectful partnership, we can overcome those who seek to divide and incite.

“Being Mizrahi is not an ethnicity, it’s a form of consciousness,” said Eli Hamo (of blessed memory), a founding social activist. His implication was that this is a matter of choice; we consider this choice the basis for the alliance to which we aspire. The three monotheistic religions were formed on the Mediterranean coast, Hebrew was born in the east, and despite efforts to obscure this plain fact, Israel is in the Middle East. Thus, we see in the Mizrahi option an opening of hope for making the Israeli society a truly civil and inclusive one. We do believe that Mizrahi pluralistic identity, joint responsibility, and partnership in the struggle to end wrongs and oppression can be a foundation for collective life and a source of inspiration and reform for all residents of this land. We therefore declare ourselves Mizrahim whether we were born to families that originated in the Middle East and North Africa or not, whether we were forced into the Israeli melting pot or chose to embrace it, whether we felt the manifolds forms of oppression in this society or not – from the upper classes or from the lower classes – residents of Israel or refugees and asylum seekers and etc.

We all have struggled for many years to change Israeli society, and yet we do not have a natural political home. Often, we have had to choose between voting for parties that purport to strengthen the Left without meaningful Palestinian-Jewish partnership, without representing Mizrahim, and without engaging with the Mizrahi struggle, or a Mizrahi vote which often meant contenting ourselves with symbolic representation and support for the oppression of Palestinians. This choice has often led us to vote in solidarity with Palestinian parties, even if they, too, seldom engage with the Mizrahi struggle.

In the founding of the Joint List we have perceived a historic opportunity to establish a partnership that is not a matter of tactically joining forces for lack of alternative but a meaningful choice that can bring new messages.

The establishment of the Joint List is an open invitation to imagine, together, a vision of an open and inclusive Middle Eastern home based on striving together for justice. From the heart of a dispiriting reality, within a state of siege, war, racism, and oppression, we call for the creation of an alliance between all who seek to combat the neoliberal social order and the anti-democratic forces.

This alliance rests on the assumption that oppression and its effects are not experienced in the same way nor does they leave the same traces on different groups of people; at the same time, every ranking of inequality, suffering, and injustice creates additional suffering and injustice. The creation of a hierarchy of forms of oppression serves the intransigence of Israeli governments seeking to reorder violently the space.

As natives of the region, we reject the idea of a colonialist withdrawal entrenchment within an imagined “White villa in the dark jungle”. We must work find the courage to dismantle together the human food chain that has taken root here since 1948, which designates some of us superior and others inferior, while setting us upon each other. To oppose this division is our moral obligation as Mizrahim, as Jews, and as those who come from this region.

But beyond that, it is also in our interest, and of each group, that though the struggle against inequality and injustice that groups in Israel experience on the basis of gender, nationality, and ethnicity would demand some of us to relinquish privileges, it will also contribute to creating a safer and richer life for all, not one under the shadow of checkpoints and barriers that endanger each and all. Fascism seeps into every relationships in every shared space – Urban, peripheral, into neighborhoods and intimate spaces, and oftentimes into our familial relationships, and its main victims are women and children.

Throughout the years of forging a state for the Jews, Zionism created a hierarchical social order based on dispossession and expulsion, denying people’s rights and granting privileges. As Zionism has oppressed us as Mizrahim – politically, economically and culturally, but at the same time granted us privileges as Jews at the expense of the Palestinians.

We are deeply aware that during the last 68 years, although Zionism has levied injustices on Mizrahim in Israel, the Mizrahi public was incorporated in the Zionist project and has largely become an active partner in it. Thus, we cannot face our Palestinian brothers and sisters in clear conscience and claim that we had no part in the injustices propagated by Zionism. We recognize, therefore, that repairing these injustices is inextricably connected with the right of return of the Palestinian refugees without creating new displaced persons, on the basis on the principle that one cannot correct an unjust situation by causing further injustice.

The documentary filmmaker, Simone Bitton,  claimed in 1996, following the first Mizrahi feminist conference: “We recognize oppression in all its aspects, in all its diversity… therefore, we shall begin to really fight oppression on the day in which we shall fight both the oppression to which we have been victims and the oppression from which we have benefitted… That would be the most progressive or revolutionary platform in this country.” We do not struggle to save children from discrimination in the Israeli school system just to ensure their future as outstanding occupiers; we cannot declare that we shall no longer be oppressed, until committing ourselves not to oppress others. It’s clear to us, now more than ever, that no society can endure in the long run on the basis of systematic oppression, denial of rights, exploitation, and discrimination.

Past initiatives for a Mizrahi-Palestinian partnership were frequently rejected by many on both sides and dismissed as unrealistic and inauthentic. The life of Muslims and Jews in the Middle East and North Africa knew difficult moments of separation and humiliation, but also gave birth to a long and rich tradition of partnership and dialogue that relied on the call for peace and justice for all humans enshrined in all the holy books. We are not blind to the fact that at the present moment, the Torah has been made a mockery and religious language has become a significant obstacle to the creation of a Mizrahi-Palestinian connection, but we do not seek to build this partnership by opposing world of religion, upon which different societies in our region were founded. Those who recognize the traditional close affinity between Judaism and Islam can make a unique contribution for forging a common path and shaping a critical perspective.

We do not forget the Jewish affinity to this country and to the fact that love and longing for Zion have always been a central part of Jewish Identity. However, we refuse to anchor the Jewish bond with this land in a regime based on a system of privileges granted to an ethno-national-religious group at the expense of the indigenous people of this country. We wish, therefore, to permit Jewish religious language to shake off the burden of Zionist Secular thought and undermine the concept of exclusive rigid national sovereignty. On the basis of this tradition, we wish to live in this country not as landlords, but as sons and daughters of a shared home.

The dire political and social reality invites us, Mizrahim and Palestinians, to forge a joint, shared agenda. There are many immediate and concrete issues we can point to: expanding of the areas of jurisdiction of “development towns” and Arab settlements; the struggle against over-imprisonment of both Mizrahim and Palestinians; the struggle against the discriminatory education system; the struggle against the erasure of our cultures and our histories; against police violence and racism; our partnership in the Arabic language and in Arab culture; the expansion of opportunities to express our identity; Creating shared feminist ideas in order to oppose the state discrimination against single mothers, everyday violence against women in general, and more forcefully against women belonging to discriminated and marginalized groups, and for allocating resources for this purpose. We can think about a joint struggle against neo-liberal planning policies, which, on the one hand, promote the processes of dispossession and displacement of Palestinian residents of cities, and on the other, displacemes poor Mizrahim (as well as other groups) out of their neighborhoods under the banner of “urban renewal.”

Without crossing the barrier that Zionism has erected between us it would remain impossible to struggle together for a joint agenda. Crossing these barriers does not mean erasing our identity or ignoring the many layers of history of our respective groups, but rather harnessing them toward the realization of life in common, joint action and civic solidarity.

We see ourselves walking in the footsteps of previous groups and individuals who tried, at different moments, to form a Mizrahi-Palestinian alliance – one deeply rooted and nourished by the long history of contact and mutual borrowing, enrichment and learning between Jews and Muslims and between Jews and Arabs; in the words of the Jewish-Moroccan poet Rabbi David Buzaglo (of blessed memory) in his Mimouna hymn “You are from the West”: “There were Jews and Arabs sitting together / and enriching their hearts with instruments and music / and the Hebrew woman dressed as the Arab woman / and the Hebrew man could not be told from his Arab brother / whether urban or rural, the spirit of everyone was ready / there the boundaries were blurred between Israel and the nations / had it not been for the people of blood that control the state.” We believe that the time is ripe to return to the shared place in which “everyone’s spirit was ready” to build an alliance capable of healing the bleeding wounds of the inhabitants of this country.

We call for the creation of a broad social and civic alliance to fight the anti-democratic foundations of Israel’s regime and political economy. This civic camp would bring about a redistribution of resources after decades of dispossession, and an end to the occupation and to oppression. In this way it will be possible to free Mizrahi and Palestinian cultures from the imposed narrow confines and restrictions which prevent Mizrahim and Palestinians from engaging in a free dialogue with the peoples of the region. We believe that the Mizrahi community could promote establishing a Jewish-Palestinian alliance which does not rest on self-victimization but rather draws enormous strength from the fellowship of men and women of this place, on the basis of equality and of justice.

Against the fourth Netanyahu government, a government of political, economic, social, and human disaster, we strive to begin a real process of reconciliation between the different national, collectivities, Palestinians and Jews, in order to build here a shared home. Together we will recognize the deep wounds of every victim of bloodshed, economic exploitation  and gender-based violence. In the spirit of the poet Mahmoud Darwish, who wrote in the opening of his book State of Siege, “We will sow hope,” we must sow hope in order to offer it to the whole society, to our children, and to coming generations.