It's always a question. Yesterday the EU and the US "condemned" the behaviour of the Israeli security forces at the funeral of the Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh. When we hear that our country has condemned something, we don't think too much about whether we think that this represents us, as a citizen in that country. But when it comes to a small community of people making a statement in our name it's closer to home and we worry about it more. Here's what I wrote to the village, regarding this, regarding another controversy about making a public statement:
This isn't about the killing of the journalist or the behaviour of the security forces at her funeral, I personally think she was killed by a bullet from the Israeli side and that both the killing and the funeral illustrate the disregard by Jewish Israelis towards Palestinian lives.
But once again, we need to think about what we should say, and how we should say it.
I haven't seen the statement that Rita has put out in the name of the village because I do not have a WhatsApp account or an active personal profile on Facebook. (I have a facebook account only to enable me to send official announcement from the village).
I am against the sending of political statements in my name as a member of the village. I might or might not agree with them, but in any case probably won't agree with the wording. I don't think I'm alone in this. It is probable that any political statement put out in the name of three hundred or so members will upset somebody.
All such statement need to begin with "the municipal board of [our community] believes…" or the "educational board of [our community] believes…" and even then only after obtaining a unanimous agreement by the board members.
I'm OK with that. If I have a problem with them, I should elect other board members next time. I'm not sure, in any case, that I elected them to represent my political beliefs.
Then there's the Communications and Development Office. I'm a member of the staff, so I have to do what my boss there tells me. This time, she gave me a specific instruction not to translate or publish on our social media or website anything that the the chair of the municipal society asked me to publish. OK, but what does the website or social media pages represent, and who should decide what goes there? Does the Communications and Development Office have a right to overrule the municipal society or the educational association regarding the publication of political statements. I don't think so, but it's something that we need to decide. Ideally there should be cooperation, because there is a greater chance that, with the involvement of the C&D staff, we will avoid statements that will damage the village. But maybe we are also not sufficiently expert and we should employ a lawyer.
For example, regarding the Mavi Marmora affair, we initially made a statement that accused the army of "murder", then we realized that the word "murder", besides being polarizing, has a specific legal definition, that could result in the charge of libel, so we changed the word to "killing", a fact that could not be disputed.
Regarding the actual content of any message coming from the village, we know from social media that the perceived importance of a person's or an organization's message depends upon their perceived expertise or "authority" in a given field. Of course, that isn't true of celebrities and film stars, who automatically become authorities on almost everything. But that isn't the case for most of us.
So, in the case of an organization or a community like [ours], our place of authority is the fact that we live together, Jews and Arabs, as a community and conduct educational work there. If we want to be heard, we need to speak from that experience, and any statement we make needs to be informed by what we have learned from living together and educating towards a shared society. If we speak with that voice, it is more likely that we will be listened to. That means we should not be speaking like politicians or propagandists for a certain cause, on one side or the other, otherwise we will disappoint the very people that we want to reach. Some of them will not listen to us next time.