May 23, 2019

In Search of the Left in Israel/Palestine

“Barreling down a barely existent road in the South Hebron Hills, as I sit in the passenger seat of Nasser Nawaja’s well-worn Dacia Duster, the conversation turns to the fate of the Holy Land. “Do you have more or less hope now than you did ten years ago?” I ask Nawaja, a veteran Palestinian activist from this rural stretch of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. A pause. A laugh. “Little bit less hope,” he admits. “Ten years ago, more hope. Ten years ago, I see a lot of Israeli active. But now?”

At a loss for English words, he jumps into Hebrew to make himself clear — his first tongue is Arabic, but he shares the Jewish state’s official language with his other passenger, an Israeli Jewish 30-something named Avner Gvaryahu. The latter is one of the perhaps-crazy few still carrying out the work of the Israeli anti-occupation left. He is a former combat soldier who says he served in this very spot during the bloody early-aughts Palestinian-Israeli clash known as the Second Intifada. He now works for a much-demonized activist organization of repentant Israeli ex-combatants called Breaking the Silence, and that group brought him into the orbit of Nawaja, who documents and appeals against military demolitions of legally disputed rural Palestinian communities.

After Nawaja laments in Hebrew, Gvaryahu speaks, and it’s unclear where the translation of his friend ends and his own thoughts begin: “I mean, what happened after the Second Intifada was that, on the one hand, there was a moment of breakdown for this kumbaya peace,” he says. “Meeting, eating hummus, getting to know each other in hotels — that broke down.” The Second Intifada — a clash that lasted from 2000 to 2005 and consisted of asymmetrical warfare from the Palestinians and military might from the Israelis — was unleashed after a left-leaning Israeli administration’s failure to secure peace, and thus played a key part in discrediting dovishness. “But,” Gvaryahu says, “alongside that, there was a core of Israeli activists that realized, this is our moment to stand with our Palestinian friends.” However, even though Gvaryahu cites a few small, hard-won victories in recent years, it’s clear that he’s aware of the dearth of progress on the foundational question of Israel, the one that peppers the air you breathe while discussing this oft-vilified nation-state: how to resolve the hatreds between Israeli Jews and indigenous Arabs.”

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