Mariam Jammal, PCJ Spring 2016 Intern
On June 17th 2014, the Mosaic Institute and Human Rights Watch (HRW) Canada partnered for the first time to co-present a morning information session on housing-rights issues in Area C of the West Bank. It was an informal “family” conversation, which involved a group of students, academics, legal practitioners, and supporters and friends of the Mosaic Institute and HRW Canada. We were joined by a special guest, Bill Van Esveld, who was then listed as HRW’s Senior Researcher for Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. We were also pleased to welcome Sonia Verma, from the Globe and Mail who, despite a short notice, had kindly agreed to interview Bill on his research.
On February 26th 2015, the Mosaic Institute, together with the Consulate of Israel in Toronto, continued this conversation by hosting a Lunch & Learn with Professor Mohammed Wattad. The invite-only informal discussion, attended by members of our Intra-Jewish Steering Committee, UofMosaic Fellows, and our Board, focused on “Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State: A Perspective of an Israeli Arab”. Mariam Jammal, our Spring 2016 PCJ-Mosaic Intern, writes about the event below.
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a Mosaic Institute Lunch and Learn with Professor Mohammed Wattad. Professor Wattad is what many consider an anomaly – an Israeli Arab. He belongs to a demographic that is highly overlooked in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; a demographic that combines two groups that are at violent odds with one another. Despite this, his experiences were used to shed light on internal judicial processes within Israel and the treatment of ethnic minorities from within. Although this may not be a hot topic in Middle Eastern affairs, it is one that has a distinct impact on Israeli politics.
Professor Wattad began with some distinctions, most prominently that Israel’s judicial system operates separately from its government. The Supreme Court of Israel is not only accessible, but easily so to all ethnic and religious groups within Israel. Additionally, Israel’s Attorney General is able to interpret Israeli law without contestation, an effort that helps to maintain objectivity and impartiality. Regardless of the sway of the political spectrum in Israeli governance, the judiciary stands independent and will continue to do so.
Not only does he create a distinction between law and politics, Professor Wattad went even further to create a distinction between internal affairs and foreign policy. In his own words, Professor Wattad states “Israel is not a democracy in the West Bank. It’s an occupation.” In doing so, he asserted that democratic principles are not enforced outside of Israel’s territorial jurisdiction. It is within this capacity that he focuses on the role of Israeli Arabs in the region’s longest standing conflict: acting as the middle ground. He does not feign ignorance on the growing right-wing influences in Israeli politics and the grave ramifications this is bound to have on peace negotiations. Instead, he shifts the rhetoric to introduce a more constructive solution-based approach to the conflict – “Israeli Arabs can be a bridge with the Palestinian community”.
Israeli Arabs, although a combination of two groups, are their own distinct demographic. The Arab minority in Israel has long existed and as such is well-versed in Israeli society, culture and politics. At the same time, they also share the language, heritage and culture with Palestinians and as a result, they are in a very unique position of understanding both sides and thus reconciling both sides. Professor Wattad emphasizes the instrumental role that Israeli Arabs have in restarting the dialogue between both groups, which ideally will not only lead to peace negotiations, but also a deeper and more meaningful understanding towards one another that can overshadow the current animosity.
As a self-identified Arab and Israeli, Professor Mohammad Wattad made a point not to pander to any group involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, choosing instead to maintain an objective analysis of Israeli Arab affairs. His emphasis on the greater role Israeli Arabs can play to exemplify coexistence, and to also bridge the ever widening gap between the two ethnic groups is an asset that has been greatly
Mariam Jammal is a third year student at the University of Toronto majoring in Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies and minoring in both Sociology and Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations. Her academic interests include in migration and resettlement and integration patterns within host countries, and the contributions of immigrant communities within them. Her extracurriculars include working as a co-editor and project manager at AspireYouth, a Toronto based youth run non-profit organization, where she has been a member of the Executive Team for two years. Her interest in community and youth engagement and media reporting are aspects that she brings to the internship.