Polar opposites of the Israeli-Palestinian spectrum

Australian Jewish News
Vic Alhadeff
25 October 2018

HERE is Dalal Mughrabi and there is Oded Revivi. At one end of the spectrum, admiration and veneration of terrorists and suicide bombers; at the other, islands of peace and inspirational leadership in fostering Jewish–Arab relations.
In between, confusion and chaos, political impasse and violence.

These polar opposites were but two aspects of the morass of information with which participants on the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies Journalists Mission returned to Australia from Israel this week. Mughrabi led the most lethal terrorist attack in Israel’s history – the 1978 Coastal Road massacre, in which she and other Fatah terrorists hijacked a bus and murdered 37 people, 12 of them children.

Grotesquely, she is honoured across Palestinian society as a hero to be emulated, with public squares, girls’ schools and other public facilities named for her. “Every one of us wishes to be like… Dalal Mughrabi,” exhorts a 2017 Palestinian Authority fifth-grade schoolbook, her smiling face beaming beatifically from its pages and the Palestinian national colours flowing beneath. “Heroes have an important position in every nation … We are proud of them, sing their praises, learn the history of their lives, name our children after them and name streets, squares and prominent cultural sites after them. Every one of us wishes to be like them.”

At the other end of the spectrum is Revivi, the Mayor of Efrat, one of the
“consensus settlements” that will remain part of Israel in the event that a two-state solution eventuates. Articulate, confident and a champion of Jewish–Arab relations, he notes defiantly that Efrat was the first place where Jews and Arabs united against the security barrier.

“Fences create a sense of security, they don’t actually create security,” he told the Australian journalists; as a result, there is no barrier between Efrat and three neighbouring Palestinian villages. Two years ago, the area was rocked by two terrorist attacks. Revivi paid his condolences to both bereaved families, after which – reeling from the inconsolable grief he had encountered – he was scheduled to make one of his regular courtesy visits to a neighbouring Palestinian village. “There are usually 10 people there to welcome me,” he recounted. “This time there were 60.” They understood and they wanted to reach out.

Soon afterwards it was Succot, so Revivi reciprocated by inviting 10 representatives from that Palestinian village to his succah; 30 arrived. He also invited 20 residents of Efrat; 80 arrived. As did an Israel Defence Force general and 30 Israeli army and police commanders.

Some of the Palestinian guests posed with the general, the photograph was posted on Facebook and four of them were arrested by the Palestinian Authority, accused of conspiring with the enemy. They were incarcerated for four days, with Revivi advocating for their release and paying the $US15,000 bail.
At Succot 2017, a year later, Revivi again invited the Palestinian village leaders to his succah, although uncertain whether they would attend, given the arrests of the previous year; the response – tradition! They came.

“The challenge is against human nature,” he said – “which is to run away when an attack happens. But we shop together in our supermarket, Jews and Arabs; we mustn’t let the 99 per cent of positive days be dominated by the one per cent of bad days, which get reported. We have 1100 Arabs working alongside Jews in Efrat. We do something different here, it’s a bottom-up approach. We’re an island of peace. Let’s duplicate and multiply this and make it policy. It’s harder to build a bridge than a fence.”

The general told Revivi that the more that such gatherings occur, the less the IDF would need to spend on security. Unrealistic? Not necessarily. Indeed, the Journalists Mission encountered several encouraging programs, such as Roots – which sees settlers and Palestinians working together to change the discourse from competing ownership of the land to mutual recognition that both peoples belong to the land; and Save A Child’s Heart – an Israeli initiative which has given cardiac treatment to 4800 infants from 57 nations, 50 per cent of them from Gaza and the West Bank. On the other hand, the frustrating political impasse endures. Yet as strategic analyst Dr Eran Lerman observed, “conflict management is not
such a bad solution”.

Alhadeff is the CEO of the NSW Jewish Board of

Deputies, and accompanied the
Journalists Mission.