Bitter Lemons is one of the few sites I list here as recommended. I’d have done so just for the perfect irony of both title and sub-title, but the e-zine lived up to its aims and beyond. For eleven years, principals Yossi Alpher and Ghassan Khatib have led a dynamic exchange of views between Palestinians and Israelis. But even the best can be beaten down by the relentless momentum of events.
The same day that three 12- and 13-year-old Israeli settler kids were arrested for firebombing a Palestinian family in their car — and barely a week after a lynch mob of Israeli teens tried to beat a Palestinian man to death in the main square of West Jerusalem, with one hundred onlookers doing nothing to stop them — Khatib and Alpher announced that they will cease publishing Bitter Lemons as an e-zine.
Alpher cites many forms of fatigue involved in this decision, including donor fatigue (essentially a childishly impatient “what, you haven’t made peace yet?”) and what he calls “local fatigue”:
There is no peace process and no prospect of one. Informal “track II” dialogue–bitterlemons might be described as a “virtual” track II–is declining. Here and there, writers from the region who used to favor us with their ideas and articles are now begging off, undoubtedly deterred by the revolutionary rise of intolerant political forces in their countries or neighborhood.
Khatib details it further:
Despite the feeling among many in the Arab world that contact with Israelis is tantamount to accepting Israel’s occupation, seldom did authors decline an invitation. Lately, we have observed that this has changed, that even once-forthcoming Palestinians are less interested in sharing ideas with Israelis just across the way. Still, we have been able to present the voices of security chiefs and political prisoners, military generals and farmers losing land, spokespersons for armed groups and peaceniks in an equal and fair manner–rather differently than the situation on the ground.
Nevertheless, this achievement is bittersweet as the scenery around us grows ever more dark and uncertain. Two decades after the signing of the Declaration of Principles that many hoped would usher in the creation of a Palestinian state and independence, freedom and security, Palestinians and Israelis are barely conversational. The structures created by those agreements have atrophied, corrupted by an increasing imbalance in the Palestinian relationship with Israel. Every day, there is new word of land confiscations, arrests, demolitions, and legislative maneuvers to solidify Israel’s control. Israel’s political leaders are beholden to a tide of right-wing sentiment and Palestinian leaders are made to appear ever-smaller in their shrinking spheres of control.
We are now, it appears, at the lowest point in the arc of the pendulum, one that is swinging away from the two-state solution into a known unknown: an apartheid Israel. How this new “one-state” option will be transformed into a solution that provides freedom and security for all remains to be seen.
That last sentence of Khatib’s has to be a model of restrained understatement.
But I totally understand Khatib and Alpher’s fatigue. In fact I am continually amazed at the sheer steadfastness of those Israelis and Palestinians who document the conflict and the occupation, thanks to whom we know so much about the checkpoints, about demolition of homes, about confiscation of land, about arbitrary arrest and detention, and about the Orwellian attempts to “legalize” all of the above. I have no idea how they manage to do it, day in and day out, year in and year out, without feeling that they are sinking into an ever-larger black hole of depression and despair. In fact I know that they do feel that way, but continue nonetheless. Which is even more astonishing.
Alpher and Khatib aren’t going away. They’ll be pursuing other paths for their activism, ones hopefully less dependent on donors with short attention spans, childlike expectations, and increasingly limited funds. I wish them godspeed. Meanwhile they’ll be maintaining Bitter Lemons in the hope that it will serve as an invaluable archive. It will. And it remains on my list of recommended sites.
This post went out to subscribers under the title 3384. My mistake. I forgot to type in the real title. And have no idea why WordPress decided it should be 3384 instead. Any “numberologists” out there?
I know you probably weren’t serious when you asked if there are any numberologists out there – and I’m certainly not one – but if you add all the digits of 3384 together then you arrive at nine, the number of change and I pray that might be the case, a change for the better by some unexpected miracle. There are still quite a lot of grass-roots initiatives and track two diplomats in Israel and they continue to persist in their work. It is very sad that Bitter Lemons is not continuing, they have done a marvellous job, but I can understand their reasons and wish them all the best on the paths of activism they choose to follow. I pray that all those working for peace and able to contain within their hearts a love for Israelis and Palestinians simultaneously without being swayed by some of the rhetoric of hatred, may function like seeds of life sprouting all over the land. I once saw a video in which a group of Jews and Muslims led by the Jerusalem Peacemakers went to Machpelah, the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, to pray together. It is heavily guarded by soldiers and they weren’t allowed to pray together inside so they decided to pray outside and invited the soldiers to join them. You can see on the faces of the soldiers how perplexed they are by this group of people who are supposed to hate each other actually loving each other and you can feel the beginning of joy as they too join the circle. Perplexity at unexpected juxtapositions can work miracles in breaking down long held world views and opening up new worlds of dialogue and reconciliation.
You’re right, of course, I wasn’t serious about the numbers thing– except that after I wrote that I added up the digits and came not to nine but to eighteen, which in Hebrew, of course, is “hai,” meaning “life.” I wish… Perplexity at unexpected juxtapositions indeed. Thanks — L.