As some of you know, my PhD research centred on the concept of belonging. We all feel the need to belong – whether to our families, our social groups, our sports clubs, our towns or our countries. Belonging is, amongst other things, to do with place – the role that place plays in our identity. My decision to move to Israel, for example, had a lot to do with my search for belonging. One of the conclusions of my research was that threats to belonging induce hostile reactions, and therefore that recognizing the belonging of the Other would help to reduce the level of violence in this or any other region. Belonging is about narrative – about the collective stories that we weave into our own personal stories. I am fairly certain that I will be returning to the theme of belonging fairly regularly in this blog, both because it remains of considerable interest to me even after completing my doctorate, and because I believe it to be of great significance in our ongoing conflict.
An article in yesterday’s edition of Haaretz newspaper suggested that between 1967 and 1994 Israel canceled the residency rights of around 140,000 Palestinians from the West Bank. Palestinians who travelled abroad and stayed out of the country for a period exceeding six years, without extending their permits, found themselves stripped of the right to return to their homes. A similar procedure is still in place, apparently, for Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem. As opposed toIsrael’s approach to Israeli Jews who have moved abroad, to whom Israel grants generous financial incentives in an attempt to persuade them to return, Israel quietly but effectively forced thousands of Palestinians out of the country.
Israel regularly demands that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state – in effect a demand to recognize the Jewish narrative of belonging. Yet Israel also consistently denies the Palestinian narrative of belonging. Recognizing each other’s rights to belong would be a good place to start a process towards building a viable peace agreement.