Is Loyalty A Type Of Private Prejudice?

I believe in human rights, which is to say that I value righteousness and the utmost importance of moral accountability. I believe that we have the moral responsibility to care for universally acknowledged and shared values such as dignity and to be treated fairly and respectfully, to have equal opportunity and access to employment and education no matter one’s age, gender, sexual orientation, religion or culture and to have the freedom to enable independence – particularly the freedom of thought – which returns back to access to education. I remember when I was in secondary school, I was the person protecting “nerds” from the “jocks” because I was popular as well as smart, the one known to fight against authoritarian teachers and was frequently punished with suspensions and detentions. I reflect how Aristotle’s The Golden Mean and Confucianism were both incredibly appealing to me at a very young age because I naturally desired respect and equality as though instinctually aligned with that type of regularity and balance. I understood the relevance of self-cultivation, appreciated concepts of honour and integrity, and held the ideas of goldin (loyalty) in high esteem as they nurture relationships that promote social harmony.

Loyalty plays a significant role in moral agency as it enables cooperation in order to shape and apply ethical values, and we often approach the subject under the common understanding that it is an ethical principle held in esteem as a favourable moral condition. Indeed, loyalty to your wife or husband and commitment to a promise illustrates moral behaviour and accountability especially through difficult times either during a marriage or when experiencing personal affliction, sharing the burden and helping the other now a part of your life to find relief because you desire both you and your partner to be happy. While the inherent nature of our motivations remains problematic, it returns back to that regularity and balance, this pride in upholding morally worthy behaviour and this is only achieved in mutual recognition based on trust. But is that loyalty? Or is that commitment defined by an underlying friendship or a bond enjoined by empathy, this moral consciousness that I refer to as ‘love’ where one identifies the deeper need to see their beloved happy and desirous to share a life with them? That is, an effortless outcome caused by a will mediated by empathy that stands as a mechanism of reason to mediate the relationship between our private motivations and social patterns? There have been instances where women who are conscious of their husbands cheating turn a blind eye, men who tolerate unbearable circumstances because of their obligation to their religion rather than their will leading to all sorts of hidden depravities as visible with the Catholic Church and the crimes against children some priests have committed. Can one not say that a Nazi was loyal, that criminals who have killed and murdered show loyalty, that ethnocentric behaviour or Othering is a type of loyalty: “By the process of Othering, the colonizers treat the colonized as ‘not fully human’ and as a result, it dehumanizes natives. Othering codifies and fixes the self as the true human and the other as other than human. The Colonizers consider themselves as the embodiment of “proper self” while label the colonized as ‘savages.'”[1] Can we call criminals loyal?

At a social and political level, such unity can be empowering as it enables solidarity that functions as a conduit to communicate order, where numerous people identify with the same ideas and form a sense of belonging and comradeship. Foucault speaks of this power being as much a positive network then negative that shapes society into a coherent whole, indeed the very framework that enables emotional feelings of belonging and give one an identity and purpose. Loyalty nurtures cooperation and social harmony, but it additionally shapes distinctions and differences, that while it characterises ideas of social inclusion and connectedness also promotes exclusivity that loses the essential traits of a community. Therein forms a phenomenological reduction where prejudicial preconceptions are mistaken as the truth and where no other cognitive activity or individual volition is left. Injustice and highly immoral behaviour suddenly becomes “fact” because the group or power structure has reinforced the provision and motivation to believe automatically that it is fact and so prejudice becomes the enabler that destroys the ethical purpose of loyalty.

A man who is automaton in his sexist or misogynistic behaviour removes the individual and turns women into an object, unconsciously or immediately assessing her qualities comparative to this archetype shared to him by his environment. He would defend any man, even the most wretched of men, over a woman (rapists are suddenly given compassion over the victim who appears to be ‘asking for it’ and her behaviour is questionable despite the fact that he is the violent rapist) and without reason or logic involuntarily assumes that his faux ‘knowledge’ is a circumstance of reality. It just is, despite logic, despite evidence on the contrary, therein remains a deeply embedded benevolent sexism that is immovable because the power of this ‘knowledge’ has solidified into the unconscious iceberg where it is frozen into ‘fact’ and therefore no longer requires further thought. His loyalty to men is prejudicial, despite assuming that it is positive and even more disturbingly a moral attribute. Do the men of Sudan and other parts of Africa and the Middle East really find genital mutilation attractive?

Kant purports that the Categorical Imperative is that very maxim where the moral agent is tested, confirming whether they are enabled to rationalise and reason the just and appropriate way and motivated to act accordingly. Loyalty seems to me to not be defined as a standalone moral or ethical attribute but rather the product of one’s private motivations, illustrating the difference between someone who has conformed in blind submission leaving their behaviour to chance with someone who can rationalise and distinguish morally appropriate behaviour independently, to understand moral worthiness without religious or social approval and the need to belong as their primary motivator. They have transcended toward independent thinking and have overcome the fear of any potential aggression or isolation it may initiate. Loyalty is indeed a virtue, but it remains relative and regulated by something much more important. Reason.

It is clear that a distinction needs to be made, one such already touched upon by Josiah Royce and while, albeit, there certainly requires more depth that he has offered, has attempted to explain that loyalty is a commitment and the conditions for genuine loyalty is choice, much the same way he establishes a distinction between a crowd and a community. “A crowd, whether it be a dangerous mob, or an amiably joyous gathering at a picnic is not a community. It has a mind, but no institutions, no organizations, no coherent unity, no history, no traditions.”[2] A community is an emotional extension of ourselves and a materialisation of our subjective individuality through something concrete that society enables and loyalty is that commitment to the choice of serving it ethically. Loyalty is the right word to describe the unity and connectedness that forms through freedom of choice just like a ‘mistake’ materialises only when one feels remorse after becoming conscious of making a mistake, otherwise it would not be a ‘mistake’ and in much the same way ‘loyalty’ only materialises when one becomes conscious of and decides to approach her values willingly. Criminals who are committed are not loyal but predatory because it lacks any cognitive ‘scrutiny’ that enables him to question right or wrong behaviour.[3] What makes something truly moral is the authenticity of the motivations; am I saying this and am I agreeing with that only so that other people will accept me or because I want something or I am afraid of being disliked, or am I saying this because I have a gut feeling it is the right thing to do and I am not afraid of trusting that despite potentially aggravating people or being disconnected or dislocated.

This leads me to the following. I have just left staying in the refugee camp for almost a month and the circumstances were rather dire. As I meet new people and hear their personal and sometimes shattering stories, I see how living under occupation in the extremely dense conditions where everyone is in close proximity to one another, rubbish piling on the streets that is sporadically collected by local garbage collectors paid a measly amount by UNRWA, unemployment at almost 50% where youth roam hopelessly despite many with high academic credentials but who are unable to afford the costs of further study, who are exposed to violence and prison that has almost become normalised, it is hard not to feel a sense of righteousness and to desire improvement. I am loyal to human rights and that all people deserve to be treated fairly and with dignity, the military occupation being predatory by imposing such discriminatory restrictions that it led to the very violence it was seeking to control.

However, the atmosphere of hostility that compelled Israel was also initiated by the aggression and opposition it experienced particularly from the Arab world that led to today’s oppressive military occupation and political groups such as Hamas continue to weaken the prospect of peaceful relations through continued hostility. They are justified. They seek to protect their own and the Palestinian social and political landscape has a great deal of improvements that need to be made. While conditions of the occupied territories can be improved as must the political regime of Palestine, the occupation itself must and needs to end in order to enable that domestic transition and further changes, which again returns to the problem of Israel building settlements and provoking further aggression. It is undignified having Palestinians leave the bus on their way to Jerusalem to be checked at gunpoint while the rest of us remained on the bus.

I care for people and unfortunately the majority of Palestinian people are innocent, they are truly suffering but remain hospitable and kind. Removing the intensity of the security and sometimes the bad behaviour of security personnel, so are the Israelis. Yet, when I say that I support the Palestinian people, I am immediately opposed to Israel. When I say I support Israel, I am immediately opposed to Palestine. I am forced to make a choice and I absolutely refuse to. Therein lies the fear that I will lose favour from either side. My political and legal criticisms will remain impartial and I am determined to be vociferousness against any clear legal, humanitarian and human rights breaches from both sides. I will liberally criticise racism present in Zionism without being called an anti-Semite and I will liberally criticise terrorists labelled ‘martyrs’ without feeling threatened. I believe absolutely in the inherent freedom to criticize governments. Silencing the Palestinian voice and having the military commit gross human rights abuses is unacceptable and I will fight that. It does not imply that I am against the existence of Israel.

I feel like I am a mother with two sons who both don’t seem to get along but both of whom I love very much and both as guilty as they are innocent, the cycle of distrust and violence in continuity because they are too stubborn to accept their misdeeds. I listen to both and hear the same narratives being repeated and I worry that heightened in-group/out-group hostility – the whole “I am right and you are wrong” behaviour – may create the conditions to enable underlying prejudices guide discourse that will eventually solidify into “fact” without thought. I am afraid it has but I refuse to implicit favoritism on either side.

I sit in transit on my way out of Israel, a tear rolls down my cheek.

 

[1] S. R. Moosavinia, N. Niazi, Ahmad Ghaforian, Edward Said’s Orientalism and the Study of the Self and the Other in Orwell’s Burmese Days, Studies In Literature and Language, Vol. 2, No. 1, 2011, pp. 103-113
[2] Josiah Royce, John Edwin Smith (1988). “Josiah Royce: Selected Writings”, p.272, Paulist Press
[3] https://www.iep.utm.edu/roycejos/#SH2b

Israeli Nation-State Law: Legalising Discrimination

Australia will always be my home. My professional ambition is to work in the field of human rights by completing short-term contracts where I report as a program specialist on program fidelity and consult on M&E assurance in the field of education for children and young people. But home is where I am building a stronghold of friends and family, where I love my job and have a stable routine, where I get the chance to go for weekends away hiking and camping, where I feel secure and free. I used to feel trapped in a dead-end job, living with people I did not really get along with and so I would imagine ideas of escape to somewhere else, but it was my life that I needed to change and not my location and right now I can say that Australia is a wonderful place.

I am currently visiting Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem working with young people and exploring and developing my skills, but the restriction to my movements, the fear of even going for a long walk on my own, the sight of teenagers holding weapons and toddlers roaming the streets on their own barefoot in dirty clothing sends shivers down my spine. Only this morning, a young boy was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers in the neighboring Dheisheh refugee camp. Unfortunately, I had a meeting at the Walled Off Hotel with a friend and on my way back I turned the corner to find young people protesting the fatal attack and were throwing stones at the Israeli Sniper Tower in Bethlehem, one hitting my arm by accident as it ricocheted off the wall from the building beside me as I suddenly found myself caught in between the clashes.

My visit to the camp has given me direct access to see how unfortunate the circumstances are for these young boys and girls, all of whom have very limited opportunity to find work or to study, their movements curtailed because they have no money and are confined behind restrictions of the Israeli occupation, continuously belittled and degraded and where their chances of exploring their creativity or other skills remains extremely narrow. To escape that feeling of powerlessness, many turn to crime and form attachments to religious and political ideologies that give them a sense of purpose such as becoming a shahid or martyr dying for their faith, which enables an escape from their unhappy situation by imagining themselves a part of something bigger.

It is whole populations being imprisoned within extreme socioeconomic conditions, internally displaced from their homes and feeling the tension of the constant threat of attack, with overcrowding, poor infrastructure and restricted access to food and water. 42.5% of the population of Palestine are refugees, with UNRWA figures showing a total of 5,340,443 (2017) registered Palestinian refugees across Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, the total increasing when considering worldwide refugees located in other countries. Since 1948 when Israeli forces expelled and displaced Palestinians from their homes known as the al-Nakbah and further perpetuating totals following the 1967 war that ultimately led to occupation of regions in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians remain the longest and one of the largest displaced refugees in the world.

Article 12 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights discusses freedom of movement both internally and the ability to leave, where one shall not be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country. Further to this, the right to self-determination is enshrined in principle within Art 1 (2) of the United Nations Charter, whereby previous to this in the Atlantic Charter by Roosevelt and Churchill, it claimed that “[N]o territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned.” The charter itself in addition to this right clarifies how the principle of self-determination also concerns other territories that assume responsibility to ensure that measures are taken to assist and promote international peace and security so that the interests of the inhabitants are recognised or enabled (Art 73). Israel, on the other hand, has set aside their obligation and indeed continues to disable the conditions necessary for Palestinian self-determination.

Benjamin Netanyahu, who I see as a leader who has done nothing but destroy the remaining prospect for any two-state solution in the region, is chairman of the right-wing Likud Party and current Prime Minister of Israel and the party while supportive of improved Arab-Israeli relations has a strong opposition to Palestinian statehood. The party continuously undermines any potential peace settlements as seen with Netanyahu’ clear and unambiguous statement that Israel will remain in the West Bank with or without a peace deal that unnervingly clarifies an indefinite occupation in the region. The Oslo Accords divided the West Bank into three administrative divisions of A, which is effectively controlled by the Palestinian Authority and is comprised of about 18% of the territory and are separated by Israeli controlled checkpoints that Palestinians would need to travel through to get to other areas even within Area A. Refusal to pass is common as is the constant humiliation and treatment given to Palestinians at these checkpoints. Area B is even more complex, with limited Palestinian control and more exclusivity to Israeli security forces over Palestinian authorities, and Area C is under full control by Israel making up almost 60% of the West Bank’ territories. Palestinians living in Area C are often mistreated and have limited – if any – access to drinking water, and any Palestinian homes built in areas controlled by Israel are demolished. Even within that, Hebron is further divided into H1 controlled by PA and H2 by Israel where within 20% of the city are illegally built Israeli settlements. Palestinians control a small percentage of the land with a much higher population density and limited resources, comparatively to Israeli occupied territories making up the largest with the smallest population of Israeli settlements.

image.adapt.990.high.East_Jerusalem_map_2007.1404855022290

Criticism of Israeli policy and government is not anti-Semitism and it should not be a tool to assist solidarity and easily dismiss facts. I am not against Israel as a State, on the contrary, but the facts are that there have been continuous attacks and a blatant disregard to international law that clearly showcase Israeli discrimination against the Palestinians, largely confirmed by the recent legislative changes that now sanction discrimination as constitutionally acceptable. The Nation-State Law is not only dangerously discriminatory and intentionally alienates the Arab community of Israel, but any sensible person can see that it is in contravention of basic human rights and has clear ideological roots that borders an almost radical ultra-nationalism in the political spectrum. For instance:

1 (c) – The actualisation of the right of national self-determination in the state of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.

This ridiculous statement claims that only Jewish people have the right to self-determination in the region and is characterised as forcible suppression of Palestinian rights.

3 – The unified and complete city of Jerusalem is the capital of Israel

This remains a contentious issue since Palestinians also claim Jerusalem to be their political capital and the division between East and West Jerusalem is clarity of the ongoing issues. Donald Trump’ recent move to transfer the US Embassy into the region caused widespread protests as it became a reference to the ownership of Jerusalem by Israel. Since the UK originally declared Jerusalem to be an international zone, the west of Jerusalem was taken in 1948 during the war and the east in 1967.

4 (a) Hebrew is the language of the state.

The Arabic language will be removed as an official language and regulated, though afforded “special status” that really means nothing.

7. The state views Jewish settlement as a national value and will labor to encourage and promote its establishment and development.

This promotes the already highly disputed issue of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, something Netanyahu has eagerly promoted. Prior to the development of Israel as a State, questions about what Israel would actually look like given the largely diverse Jewish communities across Europe – particularly Russia and Poland – where religion is heavily involved in state affairs or conversely to be more secular as promoted by mainly those from the United States continues even today. It is an unanswered civil question that can almost be seen between the residents of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

The illegal settlements built in occupied territories in contravention of International Law perpetuate feelings of antagonism and hostility that the Israelis themselves are creating and members of revisionist Zionism continues to remain skeptical to any concessions with Palestine, the assassination of Israeli leader Yitzak Rabin clarity of this deeply hostile Othering that almost suggests that the history and pain from a very long and terrible past continues to be present and unresolved today. Have Israeli citizens found forgiveness for what they have experienced in the past, or do they still believe and fear that everyone is and will always be against them and willing to destroy them? The fear and hostility, the aggression and political adaptation of a far-right nexus are all suggestive of a collective pathology that needs to be addressed, but in saying that when states like Iran scream nuclear annihilation it only enables and justifies Israeli hostility. Everyone deserves to protect themselves. However, the religious or biblical justifications that mobilise such authority in the region where Rabbi’s have recently initiated confirmation of this privileged position by mobilising over 1,000 Israeli settlers to try enter into Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem in yet another blatant disregard to the cultural identity of Islam to the Palestinian people.

To focus on what reconciliation looks like following a history of violence that included genocide against the Jewish people and the psychological effects from such a long history of discrimination and violence has to current political affairs may contribute to a better understanding of how to promote and build peace. Laws that segregate communities and isolate diversity only perpetuate the problem as it reinforces and encourages illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied territories of Palestine. In addition to this, to promote peace and non-violence amongst the Palestinians who themselves have faced a recent history of violence, occupation and other gross violations of their human rights need to also find forgiveness in order to repair and sustain a state strong enough to build the framework for self-determination. What this forgiveness looks like is difficult to see right now, but I am confident to never give up hope that there will be peace.

 

On Forgiveness: The Individual Represents The State

I seem to find myself saying that we need to give love and then having to explain what that means, so I may as well start with it. Love is moral consciousness, that being loving is having the awareness and the need to create what is both right and good to all. Each time I wanted to write about forgiveness, it felt inappropriate as though I were not allowed considering that I still felt resentment, still fought with people, or that people thought I was bad or weird and therefore I did not have the authority to discuss such a subject. To be angry is wrong or as the Stoics believe ungoverned anger begets madness, and while the idea that anger and love are mutually exclusive, is there no such thing as injustice? The term humanity explains our capacity for benevolence, propriety and loving-kindness, but there are crimes against humanity and gross injustice that demonstrates our capacity for evil, to look the other way, to hate or abuse those who are vulnerable. There are many layers to anger, one being the socially constructed character where ‘masculinity’ is defined by this permission to display aggression while ‘feminine’ is restraining such emotions, thus when a woman displays anger she becomes ‘crazy’ because of this contrast just as much as a quiet man is labelled cowardly. The other is anger as primitive, egotistic, an unauthored state of mind that rises like steam in the heat of the moment from the reservoir of our deepest emotions and fears especially when we lose control, giving us a false sense of empowerment. Does a person scream because they seek to display power and dominate the situation, or do they scream because they feel they are not being heard or acknowledged?

 

The Individual


Unrequited feelings of rejection is one thing, but having the person that you have feelings for mistreat you is another. The hurt is considerable. I felt incredibly small and worthless, shrinking into the shadows that it soon became clear that my life was withering away.  ‘Stop. Leave me alone,’ I would mutter in desperation when his taunting became unbearable. I could no longer fight against all the games he played and the pretending he did that quite simply broke my heart. I needed him gone so the hurt could go with him. He was another monster in a series of people who had let me down, including my father. My father was a very aggressive man and his aggression stemmed purposefully because he was raised in an environment that told him how he should treat women, his wife and children and his fellow men and my father was the type to do what he was told. It is unfortunate that in the Turkish culture that he grew up in, what he was told to do were all wrong and where masculinity and ‘being a man’ were defined by your capacity for violence. The survival of the fittest. He often ruminated, however, how much he wished to have been educated and you could see deep within him that longing to shatter the chains of the cultural repression that forced him to be a monster and normalised and accepted his bad behaviour.

My mother could never tell my father that he was a monster that she instead took her aggression out on me and she would always do this when no one was around to witness her behaviour. Words like ‘slut’ and ‘bitch’ were hurled in my direction, opinions like ‘you are worthless’ and ‘never come to my funeral when I die’ were consistently launched before she would go to my father and others and claim that I abused her. I was mistreated and then blamed as though I deserved the mistreatment. It was much worse from my siblings who constantly taunted and belittled me in much the same manner, my eldest brother violent and my sisters cruel. I was ugly, stupid and had no purpose in life other than to serve and as this occurred from such a young age being the youngest in my family, I came to believe it. Violence is both physical and psychological.

It is incredibly difficult finding dignity and self-respect when people directly or indirectly tell you that you are not good enough and it is especially worse when it comes from the people that you love or admire, from your parents or siblings, your lover and your friends. We are taught from a young age that receiving any love or approval is conditional, that we need to obey and do what we are told, that right and wrong behaviour is defined by others, to make decisions and appear a certain way that is approved of by society that our identity is determined by this approval. We build on that, our efforts become all about performing the best according to what our environment dictates, to appear popular and congratulated and so we work hard trying to receive the love from others. When others tell us we are good, that must mean that we are good. When others tell us we are bad, we must be bad. It is about quantity, the more people like us or agree with us then we become more right and more worthy.

But what happens to our identity within all of this, what happens when we realise that all our efforts are simply trying to get other people to tell us we are good and it does not matter how artificial we are in our attempt to attain this? Do we exist, or is our real identity a Jungian ‘shadow’ or the unknown part of our personality that even we don’t completely understand? To realise that we – who we really are – does not actually matter, we come to see that our efforts is vanity, our relationships artificial, and that we are in fact alone because you cannot satisfy something that is insatiable. That is, within that existential nightmare where hedonism and aggression are suddenly permitted, can people recognise who we really are, can love – moral consciousness – be possible? If so, if we create meaning consciously and if our humanity is dependent on our moral fibre, how do we reach out and find that capacity to work against the grain? How can we give, rather than try to receive, love?

The State


In Plato’s The Republic, Socrates explains the individual soul by dividing its purpose into a triptych of 1. rational, 2. emotional and 3. instinctual or the appetites that compel us to pursue our desires. The analogy of the soul is an attempt to demonstrate that while we have those three functions, an individual is capable of being just or moral when they can find an equilibrium or balance between all three. This psychological account of the subjective self is similar to the Freudian division of the psyche, that to repress or restrain our desires can lead to a tumorous pathology elsewhere. Socrates further explains that the soul of the individual or what makes the individual capable of being just is aligned in similar vein to the function of a city or a state. Thus the individual represents the state; murder and mass murder function in much the same way, but on a larger scale.

The Palestinian/Israeli conflict epitomises continuity of aggression and violence and with the diplomatic difficulties between both parties when attempting to find a solution, forgiveness at political level becomes all the more difficult. Following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the United Kingdom gained administrative control of Palestine under the 1922 mandate that formalised British rule in the region by the League of Nations. The violence between Jews and Palestinians occurred at this time as decisions of who will sovereign the region became announced as discussions on the subject ensued. Palestinians were ignored until the British finally announced that it will be a place for Jewish settlement at a time where the Jews themselves were – through Germany and the holocaust – required protection. It did not help that Palestinian leadership under al-Husseini decided to strengthen relations with Germany, a British enemy at the time. When World-War II was over and the United Nations forged, the General Assembly Resolution 181 (II) Future Government of Palestine was articulated as a way to divide the territories into what is known as the two-state solution, something that continues to be rejected by Palestinians. At the time, it was largely rejected by the Arab world that led to Arab-Israeli wars of 1948 and 1967, the former leading to ‘The Catastrophe’ or An-Nakba that resulted in what remains the longest refugees without a homeland in the world.

What happens to the identity of the Palestinians in all of this? The lack of acknowledgement, impoverished without proper leadership and guidance? The rise of the Palestinian Liberation Authority further perpetuated the anger and aggression, where the conditions within the occupied territories worsened to a point of leading to several ‘Intifida‘ or an attempt to remove the powerful grip that Israel had on the Palestinian people. In the context of international law, sovereignty is limited to a state with geographical boundaries, recognised by other states as having stable governance and a capacity for diplomatic relations defined by a permanent population or citizenship. Israel has successfully done this and have the right to be there, but symbolically they continue to struggle justifying – other than through a historical and religious context – their reason to be there. They have adequately and successfully developed a stable polity and society but borne out of aggression and violence such as building settlements in illegal territories. The victim – the Palestinians – are socially and politically in disarray and without adequate leadership and proper legislative boundaries that enable a ‘natural balance’ of the political soul to form a just society, factional differences such as that between Hamas and Fatah will continue to cause delays in reconciliation. They are left with the symbolic right to determination without any practical or organised capacity in our contemporary legal definition of statehood.

 

 

To Fight The Good Fight


 

How do you proceed when you have been hurt so much? How do you find forgiveness? When I experienced the violence both verbally and emotionally, that feeling of emptiness and heart-ache made it difficult for me to function adequately. I was sad and emotional. I lost a lot of weight and became very sick. I had to take care of myself through the difficulties and that resilience through the mental and physical difficulties is hard, because as the victim you should not be the one making the effort to improve. You took it from me and I want it back from you. Until I was able to find that inner voice and function with a healthy mindset, forgiveness within an unstable and unsettled subjectivity is impossible. As Tracy Chapman perfectly said, “unsettled hearts promise what they can’t deliver.” When I reflected on most of the hurt that I experienced from others, from those who were responsible to care for me and those who were irresponsible as people while my own personal life was in disarray, I was not able to see things objectively.

It was only after this, after having lost so much and building myself up again through all the hurt that I was able to understand why my parents and others mistreated me. They have the same pressure as everyone else, to work for and try and impress the people in their social environment or culture in order to gain their approval and recognition so as to form that meaning and identity. While they were making every effort to be recognised by their society, they were failing and became resentful themselves, attacking others in this highly competitive social dynamic thinking that by bringing other people down, they can climb up higher and feel greater worth. It is an artificial sense of empowerment where they feel some control because they feel they have no control. They become destructive and cannot articulate or explain their frustrations because they simply do not understand it.

Just like capitalism, aggression is as Rousseau claims, namely that people are good by nature but are corrupted by society. The Judeo-Christian concept of evil is this considering it opposes authenticity in moral consciousness and thus evil is our failure to think for ourselves and this is the root of our aggression and hatred. The narration by Jesus that “small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” is an explanation of just how difficult it is to recognise yourself and overcome the anxiety of letting go of social norms that stops you from ever finding the capacity to create meaning for yourself. It is in morality and creativity that meaning can be formed and why Kant concludes God as necessary (although I actually believe in the existence of God). It does not, however, suddenly mean those who have mistreated and wronged me are no longer responsible for their actions given the fact that they are ignorant.

I realised that I first needed to apologise to myself, to forgive myself for failing to find my own voice, my own identity through all that I had experienced. Despite the difficulties, when I reflect I see that most of the struggles that I endured were really my own self-defence mechanisms refusing to let go and move forward. Acknowledgement is something that is given and I needed to acknowledge myself through the echoes of all the hateful comments and attacks and transcend all that to appreciate myself and find that dignity and self-respect. To give love does not suddenly exclude you, you too are as much a part of humanity as anyone else and that enabled me to see me as a part of the world around me, to recognise and appreciate my consciousness and freedom to create what is beautiful; that is, what is good. I began to commit myself to helping people as I was taking care of myself at the same time, learning and increasing my knowledge or as said in Isaiah, “lengthen your cords, strengthen your stake.” I am still learning and I have indeed a great deal to learn, but it is a process that creates and improves, something aggression cannot do.

In doing so, I recognise all the suffering my mother went through, and I began to feel compassion for my mother and can see why she struggled, what she experienced and went through, all her hardship. It does not change that she wronged me, but I found forgiveness as though I could see a little girl in my mother and despite the tantrums, I wanted to hug her and kiss her. I saw in my father the intensity of the constructs of masculinity coerced by his environment that obstructed his genuine identity and a little boy afraid that he is not strong enough in a violent society that continuously threatened him and suddenly I wanted to embrace him and read him a book, to keep him safe from that harmful and toxic culture. Despite my father’s violence toward me and my mother, even he deserves the acknowledgement and by giving both of them that acknowledgement without giving up on me but that together we are a part of something bigger, the attitude of forgiveness is solutions-focused, forward or future-thinking to improve a situation and something aggression will never do.

Palestinians need to improve their government and themselves through the hostility and aggression, that despite the symbolic right to the land and a past laden with violence, they need to work through the reality that Israel is there and there to stay, to form a solid government toward the formation of a recognised state as accepted by international law. Palestinians need to acknowledge Israel and the Jewish people, however hard that may be. There is an absence of rationally defensible moral ideals that has made reconciliation and the effort to overcome the resentment in the region difficult. Working through the numerous issues takes time, but the primary effort relies on the Palestinians despite being the victims. They will then see with justice the reasons why Israel exists, why they needed to form a homeland, the history of the Jewish people and the reasons for their hostility. In the process, however, their conditions will improve and justice will be established. Love is something that we give and justice is something we create.

 

 

 

Deterrence of Punishment Against Palestinian Children

The preamble to the Convention on the Rights of a Child states: “Considering that, in accordance with the principles proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations, recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” To include the rights of children as members of this human family and as having equal and inalienable rights is a topic of more complexity than what one would assume, considering questions such as consent vis-à-vis cognitive capacity and whether children are capable of making or even understanding decisions and choice. But human rights are not merely about our individual rights and entitlements, on the contrary it also represents our obligations toward those who may not be capable of protecting or understanding their own rights, to safeguard and protect equality by refraining from actions that could undermine the indivisibility of our moral duty to humanity. It is intriguing that the Convention on the Rights of the Child – whilst signed by the United States – remains unratified alongside countries such as Somalia and South Sudan. Notwithstanding the ridiculous political climate with Donald Trump ready to be inaugurated as the new president, the USA has – among a plethora of reasons for the failure to ratify – over 20% of children living below the poverty line, though it spent a mammoth $598.5 billion just on military expenditure in the last year alone. It is not the only nation-state that emphasizes security above the lives of children. In 2012, the Human Rights Council brought forth a statement on behalf of Defence for Children International (DCI) that Israeli patrol boats were stripping, blindfolding and tying children who were fishing along the Mediterranean Sea in Gaza and violently interrogating them in violation of its international legal obligations. Yet, it was only several weeks ago that reports confirmed Israeli naval forces confiscated several fishing boats and arrested fisherman including a child.[1] While it is clear that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has perpetrated the heightened level of security particularly following events such as the Ma’a lot and Mercaz HaRav massacres that involved the deaths of children, justifications that purport such extreme behavior that betrays the dignity of Palestinian children and international law itself is simply unfounded. The question raised here is how can Israel maintain its level of security without violating the Convention of the Rights of a Child?[2]

Following the Six-Day War[3] in 1967, Israel captured what is referred to as the ‘occupied territories’ of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Sinai Peninsula, Golan Heights and the Gaza Strip when war with its Arab neighbors Egypt, Syria and Jordan broke out. While relations with Egypt and Jordan have to a degree since normalised, territorial disputes particularly relating to the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights remain. The Oslo Accords – agreements between Israel and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) – became an attempt to develop negotiations that would establish peace and an opportunity for Palestinian self-determination, drawing several border areas known as A, B and C with PNA authority over A and B with cities such as Bethlehem, Jericho and a majority of Hebron; the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), however, continue to conducts unauthorized entry into the regions.[4] Area C remains in control by Israel and the allusion of ‘occupied’ refers to United Nation resolutions[5] regarding both settlement policies but also the Palestinian territories of the West Bank. It is clear that there exists gross discrimination against the Palestinian population residing in the West Bank – and why references to the apartheid are made – since the same geographical area contains two separate legal systems, namely the military legal system administered by the army against the entire Palestinian inhabitants whilst the Jewish settler population – now at almost half a million – living within the same jurisdiction are subject to Israeli law, denoting clear segregation and discrimination and a composed flagrance to international law. The Accords intended that Area C will eventually be transferred to Palestinian authority and with the rise of Jewish settlements and the restrictions permitting Palestinian construction of homes, it is clear that the intention is otherwise with ludicrous propositions that Israel is somehow immune to international law since the world is “dedicated to destroying Israel”[6] and therefore anti-Semitic in addition to the right for Israelis to settle in Judea and Samaria through historical and biblical romanticizing that nevertheless strengthens ideological nationalism. Not only are there clear, discriminating restrictions but martial law prohibits freedom of expression and association through the Israeli Defense Force’ Order Regarding Prohibition of Incitement and Hostile Propaganda Actions[7] that forbids any gathering in a public space, holding or displaying political symbols and showing support to what is deemed a hostile organization, providing the authorization for military personnel to exercise powers as vested in the order.

When I was in Eilat walking one warm evening along the coast, I saw a child probably about four or five years old holding a toy gun. As one who lives in a country where guns are illegal,[8] when I think of a child holding such a ludicrous toy, I visualise the toy being carelessly suspended and maybe making noises like ‘pow pow’ perhaps mimicking a movie or show on television. This child, however, held the gun with his elbows up and one eye closed as though he were a sniper or holding an AK51 and made spraying bullet sounds; to see a small child do that was frightfully shocking, I can assure you. He was symbolically a child soldier. It would be astounding to know that child recruitment during armed conflict is not uncommon in both Israel and Palestine and though rightly prohibited by international law, through a scarcity of documentary evidence it has been noted that Israel recruit Palestinian children to obtain information, particularly following their arrest and interrogation.[9] The level of child fatalities in Palestine is alarming, whereby a majority of these deaths are caused particularly by military offensives in Gaza. Statistics show that since 2000, a total of 1417 Palestinian children have died as a result of air and ground attacks, clashes and random gunfire among others.[10] These attacks can also be sporadic. On the 25th November, Israel shot and killed sixteen-year-old Mohammad Zidan for allegedly attempting to stab a group of Israeli security officers, a narrative so unbelievable that consideration of Israel having the worlds most ‘moral army’ is dubious to say the least, perhaps such rhetoric the very ideological fibre used to justify the brutality. Notwithstanding the death toll, the rate of children who have been detained, arrested or interrogated is far worse with the situation in East Jerusalem more complex to say the least. A report in 2011[11] showed that whilst reforms for Law 5731-1971 (‘Youth Law’) were comprehensively adopted to “greatly improve the treatment of minors in criminal proceedings,”[12] Israeli police consistently violate the provisions of the reforms. “In East Jerusalem, 860 Palestinian children were arrested, including 136 between 7 and 11 years of age, under the age of criminal responsibility.”[13] Recently enacted Order Number 1745 by the Israeli Armed Forces purports documentation and language used during the interrogation process of a minor suspected of committing an offence must be done in the language understandable to the minor and recorded with audiovisual documentation. However, 136d(b)6 states, “This article does not apply to minors suspected of committing security offenses,”[14] which clearly makes the rationale of the directive null and void, undermining the overall attempt to adhere to international norms of protecting minors.

Children are subject to martial law if they throw a stone. The Knesset had recently passed legislation that amended the Penal Code to increase the sentence of stone throwing with a minimum imprisonment of three years, claiming a ‘rock’ as a harmful tool.[15] Without any shame, the Knesset had the audacity to state in its press release on the subject of this legal change that “[i]f a child is convicted of a security crime or of rock-throwing, his parents will not receive NII benefits while he is serving his sentence,”[16] with Constitution and Justice Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky purporting that throwing a rock is an attempt to murder. Whilst it is clear that the endeavour is to use harsh force as a deterrent and perhaps targeting children to generate a consciousness of the threat of punishment for misbehaviour, discouraging terrorism through acts of terror only breeds further hostilities, which is clearly shown by the statistics that prove an increasing number of violence in the occupied territories. This would be difficult for a highly militarised nation to understand, particularly with Netanyahu in a leadership role who consistently utilises historical narratives and other forms of right-wing ideological validations in similar vein to revisionist Zionism that excuse breaches of human rights and humanitarian laws; any attempt to challenge this hardline approach falls on deaf ears since they have the ideological reason to believe otherwise. This extreme Jewish nationalism is the greatest barrier for peace with the Palestinians, clearly shown by the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin murdered by ultra-Orthodox Jew Yigal Amir. The U.N Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for the occupied Palestinian territory reported on ‘price-tag’ strategies of Israeli settlers in certain regions, attacks carried out against Palestinians by Israeli satellite settlements built without official authorization by the government and usually on Palestinian-owned land as a way of deterring authorities from removing them.[17] Thousands of settler attacks have occurred and there is no discrimination against Palestinian children during the violence. In addition, retaliation against Palestinian families who have been accused in some way of attacking Israelis have their homes demolished by authorities as yet another excessive deterrence method, clear by the fact that neighbours are also punished to generate a sense of communal avoidance of hostilities.[18]

The question thus raised is whether these extreme actions have or will have in the long run any influence to reduce the rate of Palestinian terrorism in Israel? The broad definition of terrorism, while undefined in international law with the intent that in doing so one can isolate and address specific or multiple factors causal to an incident, nevertheless is generally considered an “[a]ct intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to a civilian, or to any other person not taking an active part in the hostilities in a situation of armed conflict, when the purpose of such an act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a government or an international organisation to do or to abstain from doing any act,”[19] taking into consideration that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. To understand the complexity of terrorism or when discussing the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, I often consider the following problem:

If one is incapable of providing formal proofs concerning a decision often moral in nature, what is the nature of their certainty and to what degree can one achieve this certainty in order to sufficiently justify the conviction?

It has somewhat become a formula of mine when I subjectively reach a point that I can no longer trespass without the content becoming dubious, requiring relativistic flexibility in an attempt to traverse their frame of mind, cultural position, historical and environmental influences etc &c., to reach an appreciation of the conviction that may or may not make much sense otherwise. This includes an understanding of the Israeli psyche and the rationalization behind decisions.

It is clear that the situation is having a devastating impact on Palestinian children, the lifelong effects from consistent intimidation and harassment in an environment plagued by the fear of continuous violence or the threat of violence, poverty, restrictions to movement and employment opportunities and therefore a sense of hopelessness for a better future cannot – according to the logic of the IDF – break their will for self-determination to form what could be considered an enslaved people – but rather develop the very core issue; it only creates the need to fight back. In Australia, for instance, the impact of the Stolen Generation[20] on indigenous communities resulted in widespread substance abuse, poverty that hinders achievement in education, and neglect that ultimately fosters the failure to attain equal opportunity. The experience of being stripped, blindfolded and detained without reason or an offence not only violates the inherent dignity of the child due to the emotional and physical harm, but the neurological caused by the stress, fear whereby brain development due to their response to such a threat is impaired can cause lifelong interpersonal difficulties, delays and injury to emotional and interpersonal wellbeing such as aggression and anger.

“Children living under occupation have been found to experience significantly more traumatic events than Palestinian citizens of Israel, and report higher levels of post-traumatic symptoms, more pessimistic future orientation, and less favorable attitudes toward peace negotiations… living in proximity to the Separation Wall has led to feelings of sadness and fear amongst women, to a lack of motivation to perform daily activities among men, and is associated with feelings of loneliness and physical ailments. Children have shown increased aggressiveness, and have developed a fear of the night.”[21]

Children do have dignity and have a right to be respected for this indivisible, inherent right that is often overlooked. In the case of domestic violence, for instance, it is assumed that by only supporting the mother during the traumatic experience and helping her recover, she would in turn be capable of supporting her children and whilst this may perhaps be true, during the period of her trauma [where she becomes incapable] the stress this may have on the child is often overlooked. That is, to have potentially witnessed violence against the mother and to witness their mother distressed and incapable of emotionally supporting them consequently isolates and impacts on the development of the child; even when the mother recovers, a continuation of neglecting any dialogue of the incident as a way of overcoming it could potentially and perhaps even permanently leave the child emotionally displaced and confused. The emotional unavailability of parents living under Israeli occupation and the lack of communal, cultural and social inclusiveness encouraged by a hope for a better future dismantles their capacity to develop a healthy, moral construction and development of their own identity and self that the damage could easily be irreversible. It is not just their own physical experience with trauma, the effects just as damaging when witnessing. “[I]t it possible that the symbolic or “imprinting” effects of trauma (e.g., witnessing violence being inflicted on family members) is more traumatic to children than suffering injuries themselves.”[22]

While the concluding observations by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child express dismay at the lack of willingness that Israel displays vis-à-vis the implementation of the convention,[23] it is clear that from the report – submitted by Israel seven years after its requested due date – that an exploration of different strategies to encourage and enforce the application of international human rights and humanitarian treaties is required. In Australia, for instance, Victoria has implemented a Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 along with the ACT’ Human Rights Act 2004 as a stepping stone toward the implementation of human rights at federal level. The practice by local municipals to adopt international human rights treaties was approached by the Ashdod City Council in 1997, affirming that it will adhere to and respect the principles as set out by the Convention of the Rights of the Child. If more continue, it could influence a voice that will pressure that hardliners to approach the Palestinian question with more compassion particularly if a future between both is imminent. As a way of facilitating and strengthening a commitment toward measures that seek to prevent and protect children from the damaging effects of living under occupation, implementing compliance to international law by councils could strategically influence national adoption of human rights principles. The voice of the Israeli population who are in support of peaceful relations with the Palestinians could also become the impetus to build a structure of change. Other measures, including rehabilitation, healing through education and other approaches that will strengthen the inherent dignity of Palestinian children is absolute. It is to remember that violence, aggression or fear will not resolve the loom of terrorism, on the contrary it will only breed it.

There is NEVER a justification for violence against children.

[1] http://imemc.org/article/israeli-naval-forces-continue-to-chase-palestinian-fishermen-in-gaza-sea-6-fishermen-including-child-arrested-and-2-fishing-boats-confiscated/
[2] Article 44 (2) of the Convention
[3] The 1967 war took place between 5-10 of June in 1967 between Israel and its surrounding Arab neighbours Egypt, Syria, and Jordan with casualties and crippling losses on the Arab side. Whilst the victory confirmed the state of Israeli military power in the Middle East, it also resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of refugees.
[4] See Operation Defence Shield in the introduction to Norman G. Finkelstein, Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, Verso, 2003
[5] Resolutions 465 and 446
[6] Thomas G. Mitchell, Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution, McFarland (2013) 40
[7] Israel Defense Forces, Order No. 101 Order Regarding Prohibition of Incitement and Hostile Propaganda Actions 
[8] Simon Chapman, Over Our Dead Bodies: Port Arthur and Australia’s Fight for Gun Control, Sydney University Press, 2013
[9] Also see Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict (A/70/836–S/2016/360) 
[10] http://www.dci-palestine.org/child_fatalities_according_to_circumstances_of_death
[11]acri.org.il/en/2011/06/01/police-violations-of-rights-of-minors-in-east-jerusalem
[12] Second Periodic Report Concerning the Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of a Child (2010) 14
[13] https://childrenandarmedconflict.un.org/countries-caac/occupied-palestinian-territory-and-israel/
[14] http://www.militarycourtwatch.org/files/server/Military%20Order%201745_ENG%20(2)(1).pdf
[15] https://www.knesset.gov.il/spokesman/eng/PR_eng.asp?PRID=11736
[16] Ibid
[17] http://www.ochaopt.org/theme/casualties
[18] See (A/69/926-S/2015/409)
[19] Art 2, par 1.(b) Convention on the Suppression of Financing Terrorism
[20] Learn more about the Stolen Generation in ‘Quarterly Essay 1: In Denial: The Stolen Generations and the Right’ by Robert Manne
[21] Bruno Charbonneau, Genevieve Parent, Peacebuilding, Memory and Reconciliation: Bridging Top-Down and Bottom-Up Approaches, Routledge (2013) 150
[22] Stanley Krippner, Teresa M. McIntyre, The Psychological Impact of War Trauma on Civilians: An International Perspective, Greenwood Publishing Group (2003) 288
[23] UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), UN Committee on the Rights of the Child: Concluding Observations: Israel, 9 October 2002, CRC/C/15/Add.195, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3df587210.html %5Baccessed 18 December 2016]

An Aussie Intern in Israel

From the soundless alarm made from the gentle, orange sunrise piercing through the giant tree outside my bedroom window that form shapes on the wall to the random crazy man shouting for no apparent reason on the side of the street. The impolite service, the politics, history, feeling lost in the maze of an unknown language as I stand in shock as people ride hand-made motorised bicycles in the middle of a busy, disorganised road. The combination of young, perfectly tanned girls wearing short dresses that expose their tattoos to women dressed modestly in long skirts and shirts with a scarf over their heads. The dilapidated buildings and infrastructure that is nevertheless functional and the sudden silence during shabbat. On one end I see an overweight, bearded man wearing a payos and hat with a gun strapped around his thigh and on the other I see young, attractive men sipping beers in their board shorts. I am lost in the chaos, overwhelmed by the constant honking of the horns, the failure to understand where to go or what bus to catch. And I love every minute of it.

It goes against every rational, subjective, emotional understanding I have of a place to call home, living in Melbourne – the most livable city in the world – and having an attitude of refined simplicity and quality. Such is the appeal of this country, with the ridiculous personality divided between a strong, almost mad ego and a genuine goodness. There is so much to learn, so much to change for the better and I want to play my part, to flow in the chaotic tide of its beauty and terror even if multiple barriers causes him to reject me, trick me or hurt me. I have fallen in love with the endless possibilities that Israel has to offer.

 

Desert Queen

At the onset of my Masters degree in Human Rights Law, I was told that there would be opportunities to pursue international internships funded by Monash University and noticed several availabilities in Israel. Though I had yet to apply, something told me that I was going and I could only go if I was offered the funds to do so since financial constraints would prevent me from visiting independently. You could imagine how overwhelmed I felt the moment I received the ‘congratulations’ letter, but certainly not as accomplished and confident the moment I stood on the balcony at my Tel Aviv apartment knowing that throughout October I will be in the most complex, beautiful place in the world. Since completing my studies in Middle Eastern and Central Asian Studies several years back at the Australian National University, I have always wanted to come and experience everything that I had learnt about the Arab/Israeli conflict and about Middle Eastern politics in general, of Islam and Judaism and the legal and social issues – something I shall write more about in Part Two: The Political Experience of this blog post. But my love of history and of biblical history in particular was the source of what really compelled me to this region.

Interestingly, however, I though it would be in Jerusalem that I would find a sense of belonging but – as I had experienced in Rome – it was certainly not what I had anticipated, on the contrary. I unwittingly found a love of the rustic and almost cruel Negev region and also in restricted and abandoned streets of Bethlehem. Perhaps it was simply just a string of bad luck, yet I was hoodwinked on several occasions in Jerusalem, losing a substantial amount of money to a taxi driver who intentionally dropped me off at the wrong place, from staying in a terrible apartment though the images showed it otherwise, to be given incorrect directions from a mini-market employee when all I needed to do was walk less than thirty seconds away from the location, I became confused and a little disgruntled. The attitude to Tel Aviv – where I am primarily based – is a liberal city, left-wing and youthful and yet here I have felt welcomed, the vibe being that of kind solicitation, a warmth and eagerness. When I was in Rome, a similar and overwhelming experience had occurred just the same and I felt a strong desire to leave the city and return back to Tuscany where I felt at home in the hills with its peaceful culture, music, art and the medieval architecture. Perhaps, as I said, it was just bad luck and I will endeavour to try Jerusalem once more in anticipation of a better experience.

It was nevertheless unexpected that traversing the Judaean Desert, from the Dead Sea to Ein Gedi, from Eilat and even to Jordan where experiencing Wadi Rum since watching Laurence of Arabia would have been as appealing as it has to me. Like most adventurers, some find it appealing to climb mountains, others hiking forests or out at sea, for me it would seem that there is a desert appeal, the richness of archeological and historical artefacts and stories, the cruelty and beauty.

Mar Saba Monestary
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Staying in Israel until the end of October, I also find myself being a part of the most celebratory month of the year. Though I have rented an apartment near the beach and so locally there appears to be options to buy groceries or visit a cafe despite the public holiday, I still want to get myself involved and learn more about the customs and traditions. At the moment, the celebration of Rosh Hashanah is underway or the Jewish New Year and Jews all over the world traditionally eat apples dipped in honey to promote a sweet new year. I wish for nothing more than the sweetest New Year and being an avid – perhaps way too avid – fruit lover, I spent a portion of my funds on apples, pears, plums, honey and pomegranates for the two-day holiday. Oh, how I love fruit so I thank Rosh Hashanah for the excuse to eat it all! In the Book of Leviticus, Rosh Hashanah or the Feast of the Trumpets is traditionally a way of reflecting over the past year, to be penitent and to ask God for forgiveness for any wrongdoing made in addition to celebrating the beginning of the harvest. Challah bread – which is circular – is also traditionally served to symbolise the cycle of the year. Shanah tovah u’metukah!

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Following Rosh Hashanah will be the celebration of Yom Kippur, considered the holiest of holidays for the Jewish community all around the world. Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement require fasting and prayer over the day and night, asking for forgiveness and atoning for any sin or wrongdoing. This is followed by Sukkot or the Feast of the Tabernacles and is a celebration of the exodus through the wilderness as signified in the Book of Leviticus as well as marking the agricultural year from the Book of Exodus. It ends over a period of seven days on Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. To be a part of a country celebrating these festivities, I feel honoured to be present during October.

A Personal Journey of Recovery

I went through the worst year of my life last year. I found myself being bullied and harassed, I lost all my savings and ultimately my dreams, I had a car accident, I was seriously threatened, physically injured and ill with rapid weight loss, amenorrhea and severe angina, twice hospitalised where I nearly died. All this while I was alone. It felt like the whole world hated me and all I really wanted was one person, a friend, to say that I was going to be ok, only it was the contrary. There were days that I spent hours in physical agony from the angina that I never left the house and to avoid the severity of the situation, I would utilise social networking sites as a way to pretend that I was not as incredibly vulnerable, confused or afraid as I was. It was only when the angina suddenly disappeared to the dismay of my doctor and myself that I was able to slowly stand from the distress and work my way out of the sense of emptiness and hurt. Though I permanently injured my left leg and without a car, despite the pain I forced myself to walk and get groceries, to catch two trains to my new job and back. Slowly but surely and now with an income and employment that gave me purpose, I moved into my own unit and took control of my life once more. I started a masters degree and began writing my own blog, making a pact with myself that 2016 will be a New Year that will never repeat what I had experienced previously. Step by step, struggle-by-struggle, I gained the strength and did so with independence, hard work, a strong will and my faith in the loving-kindness of God.

In saying all that, the terrible experiences awakened a part of me that I had long kept hidden. I never realised how much my family had hurt me until the recent events because – being alone for so long – the severity of the experience made me realise that I did not want to be alone anymore, which made me question why I was. After a childhood spent being rejected from my parents and relentlessly told by my siblings that I was ugly and stupid, unawares, I believed it and pushed all men away as I kept myself hidden from the fear of being hurt just the same as I never had ambition professionally since I thought I was never good enough. Though no one would know of my inherent isolation, year after year was lost in the acceptance that I was less worthy than everyone else. All these experiences has in a cyclic fashion encapsulated everything that I have decidedly become. Though it was incredibly difficult for me, a photo in my swimsuit at Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea was an effort to express in symbolic format that I will no longer believe that I am ugly and that beauty is the confidence to have self-respect, to commit to a life of moral worthiness, to be genuinely kind and to love with all my heart and though I have not yet been in a relationship, I am no longer embarrassed or afraid neither do I nor will I ever believe in other people’ viciousness. I have conquered hate. My passion now lies in children and my philosophy will remain that every child deserves a childhood. My mother, being a victim of severe domestic violence, failed to adequately care and I know that a childhood can only develop correctly with a mother who is of right mind. Thus, by extension, women’s rights is fundamental to the rights of children. Though I myself can never have children, my fierce maternal instincts, genuine sense of love for all of humankind, honour in my person and respect for myself has led me to commit myself to this purpose. I am also learning to appreciate beauty both physically and subjectively.

Which is why my purpose was found on the day I decided to travel into Bethlehem, the West Bank. Encountering the Palestinian/Israeli conflict directly, it was quite overwhelming to hear stories of Palestinian children being shot dead, something that reaches deep into my soul as completely and unequivocally unacceptable. The restrictions particularly with movement and self-determination, the poverty and lack of opportunity will certainly impact on the well-being of mothers. To change the conditions of society, to prevent the growth or maturation of a negative culture, children need to experience love, happiness, freedom. It was in Bethlehem that I met the founder of the organisation Alrowwad For Culture and Arts, a wonderful organisation in the UNRWA managed refugee camp Aida that provides both women and children with hope through creativity and education.

BanksySpraying on the wall West Bank Wall Aida Camp GraffitiMe with Palestinian Children

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Aida Camp is managed by UNRWA and with more than 3000 inhabitants covering a mere 0.070 square kilometres, it is one of many camps in the region that is susceptible to violence being in a vulnerable location and overcrowded. Dr. Abdelfattah Abusrour gave me a plethora of information regarding the work of the organisation and I was so moved by its validity that I have decided to establish Australian Friends of Alrowwad when I get back home to Melbourne as a way of supporting the organisation and the children in the camp. I am apolitical and will ensure that it remains so, my only concern being the rights of women and children despite Israel and Palestine being divided withe a long and intricate history of violence and fear among other delicate issues. My personal experience with hardship and my current state of subjective peace was only possible when I stopped focusing on the evils of the past but took the necessary steps to develop change for the better. It is unfruitful and unproductive otherwise as all experiences should never be forgotten but it is essential to overcome.

I want to end with a quote that I believe stands at the heart of this personal post of mine.

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