May 9, 2003

Israeli inequality addressed

For Shalom Dichter, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a remote reality. Rather, it is a fact of everyday life for him and the millions others in Israel.

Dichter, who served in the Israeli army, spoke at the University on Monday about the widespread inequality between Jews and Palestinians in Israel, and was joined by Dr. As'ad Ghanem, a noted Palestinian intellectual.

According to Abra Pollock, the lecture was the first event ever sponsored by the Jewish-Muslim dialogue group. The U of C Human Rights program and the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations also co-sponsored the event, which attracted a turnout of over thirty people.

Dichter and Ghanem were selected to give the lecture because of their unique perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to organizers. Both men are co-directors of Sikkuy, an organization owned and run by both Jews and Palestinians. Founded in 1991, Sikkuy is an organization that advocates the cause of civic equality between Jews and Palestinians in Israel to Israeli governmental institutions.

"I have blood on my hands, since I served in the artillery, and I most likely killed one or two people," Dichter said. "I am a Zionist, a Jew, and a humanist, and I have come to believe that advancing civic equality in Israel between Jews and Palestinians is in the very best interest of both peoples."

According to Dichter, Sikkuy works only to promote equality in Israel for Israeli citizens, and does not participate in areas contested by Israel and the Palestinians.

"Palestinians in Israel are massively and actively discriminated against, without a doubt," Dichter said. "There is social discrimination by the Jewish majority, and discrimination by the Israeli government as well."

The discussion also touched on the Palestinian intifada that began in October 2000 and the repercussions of the intifada on both societies. For Dichter, a crucial moment in that conflict involved the shooting of 13 Palestinians by Israeli police.

"The shock of the Palestinians violently, loudly trying to assert themselves in Israel was, on its own, immense," Dichter said. "But when those 13 individuals were shot, both societies were shocked."

Ghanem and Dichter placed much of the blame for the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict on what Dichter called the "culture of coexistence." Dichter categorized it as a culture that sought to perpetuate unequal relationships between Jews and Palestinians while leaving the Jews in command.

"This culture is designed to make the harsh reality of things palatable, but not to change or improve it in any way," Dichter said. "That culture ruled until October 2000, when the Palestinians said 'no more' to this."

"I think that the discussion was especially interesting because the speakers spoke about how symbolic attempts to further peace actually hinder the chance for real social and economic change," said Michael Ellsworth, a second-year in the College who attended the lecture.

"The views of the Sikkuy co-directors are not ones often heard about or discussed here," Ellsworth said. "So it was definitely refreshing to have a discussion about Israel which did not immediately evolve into the rehashing of very well-trod paths about who is at fault for the current situation."