Visiting Ankara in early December 1981, at a time when the European Common Market countries had halted more than $600 million of aid to the new Turkish junta for its human rights abuses, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger told General Kenan Evren that “we admire the way in which the order and law have been restored in Turkey.” The military government, he said, had “lived up to our expectations.”
As Cold War tensions have eased between Washington and Moscow, so have some American “expectations” of their Turkish allies. But the dynamic of great power relations is still a competitive one: As Ömer Karasapan observes in these pages, the military infrastructure built up over the past 40 years, and particularly over the last decade, ensures that Turkey will continue to represent an important military and political “asset” in the coming phase of US-Soviet relations.
Washington’s “expectations” of Turkey in the 1980s never featured human rights, and the improved situation there today owes primarily to the persistent, courageous work of activists there. Herman Schwartz, in his interview in this issue, juxtaposes the “casual heroism” of the critics of the regime with present-tense reports of torture he heard in his investigation of prison conditions. Schwartz’s observations, along with the cultural inquiries of Martin Stokes and Miriam Rosen, reflect the impressive recuperative powers of this society.
The early August media attention to the competition for hostages between Israel and the Lebanese Party of God stands in contrast to the perfect media silence that attended an important meeting in Toledo, Spain, a few weeks earlier. “Jews of the Orient and Palestinians: A Dialogue for Arab-Israeli Peace” was mainly the work of two Paris-based groups, Perspectif Judeao-Arabes and Identite et Dialogue.
Two of our contributors, Ammiel Alcalay and Ella Shohat, were there. According to Ammiel, this was the biggest Israeli delegation so far — some 40 in number — to meet with PLO representatives, among whom were executive committee member Mahmoud ‘Abbas (Abu Mazen) and poet Mahmoud Darwish. The Israeli group included academics, artists, businesspeople, professionals, activists with working-class backgrounds, and even two rabbis. Almost all were of Middle Eastern background, and active in groups like East For Peace and the Oriental Front.
“Many gave their presentations in Arabic,” Ammiel told us, “which made for a very different atmosphere than usually exists in these meetings.” In order to get around the Israeli law forbidding Israelis from political contacts with PLO members, the session was billed as an academic conference and sponsored by the Madrid-based Foundation for Studies on Peace and International Relations. Avi Bardugo, a lawyer and activist who was one of the first speakers, joked that the Israeli establishment never counted on there being 40 Oriental intellectuals, so could hardly have imagined such a meeting taking place.
Other participants — there were close to a hundred all together — came from Europe and the Arab world, including Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia. Avraham Udovitch, the Princeton professor who had met with Arafat in Stockholm last December, was among several from the US. Ammiel said that the conference got some press coverage in Spain and Europe but zero in the US. The Israeli coverage, what little there was, seriously understated the participation of Orientals.
We asked Ammiel what he saw as the significance of the event. “Mainly that it happened,” he replied. “Beyond that, I think the encounter showed a real need on the part of the PLO to rethink certain things. They’ve never met with people like this before. There was a very interesting dynamic going on. They were speaking officially — the two-state line — and we almost all raised the question of what would happen afterwards, the possibility of getting rid of borders and having a common culture. The Palestinians really weren’t expecting that sort of approach. There was a lot of animation, and a lot of emotion — different from the usual dynamics of guilt and morality that have dominated earlier dialogue sessions.”
The most moving moment for Ammiel was a talk by Gabriel Ben Simhon, a playwright and poet who teaches at Tel Aviv University. “He spun a wonderful mythical allegory from a play of his about the coming of the Messiah in North Africa, and how people would go to their roofs and jump and hope to arrive in the land of Israel. Now it is the Palestinians who are jumping from roofs in Gaza and Nablus, he said, and he hoped they would reach their land without becoming too fractured.”
“The most interesting encounters,” Ammiel said, “were between the Palestinian bodyguards and the non-intellectuals in the Israeli group. They really hit it off and would stay up talking until 4 in the morning.” We asked about tensions. “There were some, but they were different from the usual sort. I raised a lot of ire when I said that a lot of us Orientals felt we had come to meet the Ashkenazim of the Palestinians. The Palestinians were at first very defensive, but they subsequently agreed that there were class issues and an economic dimension that had to be thought out if they were to reach the Orientals. The rhetoric of the Israeli peace camp, which the Palestinians have heard often, is threatening to the majority of Israel’s Oriental population. The Palestinians have to realize that 1967 represents one thing for the Israeli middle class and something else for the working class. That’s what people meant by the need for a larger vision — to encompass class as well as national issues. Obviously, the goal is Palestinian statehood. But beyond that, what will force the Israeli left to think in a different way and change their rhetoric toward their own population?”
“The few non-Oriental Israelis there stuck out in every respect,” Ammiel added, “in their approach, their tone. Even one of the rabbis, who was very critical of the PLO’s terrorist activities, ended his talk with a verse from Ecclesiastes about how there’s a time to cast stones, and it was very clear what he was referring to.”
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