Lebanese-American Learns about Israel Firsthand

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Dr. Carol Jahshan is a Lebanese-American psychologist and artist, currently residing in Los Angeles. She completed her PhD at the University of California, San Diego in 2010.

This woman, whose father fled Haifa as a child in 1948, identifies as Lebanese.  She spent three months in Israel doing academic work with colleagues at Bar Ilan University and living in Tel Aviv.  She was surprised at the richness of her experience and the complexity of Israeli society, feeling welcomed wherever she went, especially when Israelis learned she was originally from Lebanon. 

At first, one may think of this piece as an exercise in “hasbara,” (public relations or propaganda) but her favorable impression of Israel did not alter her opposition to the occupation of the West Bank.  These are some selections from her article in The Times of Israel, Reflections of a Lebanese woman in Israel”:

My sense of the injustice that Arabs living within the Territories face was never more acute than when I visited my family in Nablus and stayed in the same home where my father had stayed nearly 50 years earlier. This old house, which was once a place of happiness and gathering for my father’s family had now become a neglected, worn structure in a depressed community where the weight of oppression hangs in the air.

But she continued: 

As a woman living in Tel Aviv, I felt safe and respected. I was never stared at or harassed. (I wish I could say the same thing about my experiences in Beirut.) Despite the fact that the right-leaning government tacitly endorses abysmal treatment of Arabs in the Territories, there is a stark contrast in the way other groups like gay people, Ethiopians, and women can thrive in Israel as compared to how they are treated elsewhere in the region. Tel Avivians, I realized by living here, are notably fair-minded, and in many ways not much different from my own friends at home.  . . .

Carol JahshanThe Israeli political spectrum is wide, with zealots on the right and dreamers on the left and everything in between. There is a huge divide among Israelis on the issue of the Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. I was surprised to realize that there are so many Israelis who strongly oppose the indefinite continuation of the Occupation, and who enjoy good relationships and true friendships with Palestinian and Israeli Arabs. But the government’s position remains strongly in favor of the Occupation, which based on my experience in Lebanon, plays directly into the hands of activists enrolling moderate people into a hateful position regarding Israel and adding to the burden of future generations. Not only do I believe an agreement between the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is an ethical imperative, I also believe that in practical terms ending the Occupation will go a long way to undermining the political attacks on Israel into which otherwise moderate Arabs are drawn. Of course anti-Semitism and Israel hatred will continue. I am not naïve enough to believe that attacks driven by this will stop. But I do think they can be diminished over time, and if there is going to be a successful peace process, however imperfect, it will be hard to start while so many Palestinians remain hopeless for their own future and their children’s future.  . . .

My black and white image of Israel has been shattered. My understanding has increased. I am truly glad I visited. I am proud to have Israeli friends and I am grateful to my colleagues for their generosity and talent. I will never view that the Occupation is good for anybody, not even in the long run, for the settlers insisting on building there. But I see that there is tremendous decency in Israeli society, that there are people who I really, deeply like, with whom I have common interests and ideas. People who want to live peacefully, do their art, their science, their jobs, raise their children and see them happy. People I can genuinely relate to.  . . .

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