Rauhan Kasvatus Instituuti

Visual artist Haidi Motola: In Israel, the word peace has lost its meaning

When talking about peace in our context, the uneven terrain between oppressor and oppressed is often taken out of the equation.

At some point, the word ‘peace’ had not only completely lost any meaning it might have originally had, it had also turned into newspeak used to entrench Israel’s colonial regime. Like in a game that we used to play as children, endlessly repeating a certain world until its sound changed in our minds; until it became detached from its essence, from reality – the word peace had stopped meaning anything, it had become a mere string of empty syllables, a sound, a remnant shadow of an idea that might once have been.  

Growing up in the north of Israel, which much later I came to know as Palestine, was a relatively serene experience, even despite the constant wars in the background. I was born in the 80s, during the first Israeli onslaught on Lebanon to have deteriorated into a full-fledged war, which lasted all through to my high school years. Then, during the first Gulf War, we moved to my mother’s homeland, Finland. The 90s were marked by the so-called Peace Talks and the Oslo accords, and in the circles, I frequented back then, there was a certain air of hope. 

Despite having grown up in the predominantly Palestinian Galiley, it wasn’t until much later that I came to understand the reality of Israeli colonialism as such. From a very early age, even before school, children here are indoctrinated into the path of being soldiers, and fed the dominant Zionist narrative of dehumanizing Palestinians and internalizing the many subterfuges for Israeli colonialism and domination over the Palestinian people.  

It was only in my 20s, that through visits to the West Bank I began the long journey across the smokescreen of normality. The West Bank, or rather, the nearest checkpoint to cross into it, was probably no more than half an hour’s ride from my home in Tel Aviv, but as close as it was, it was worlds apart from anything I knew. Slowly, it opened my eyes to the hidden details of repression, often violent, but just as often bureaucratic and hidden in plain sight, turning ordinary and unworthy of reporting. 

These were the years following the Intifada – the Palestinian uprising – and while Israel still, at times, talked peace, what I saw was the devastation of Palestinian life. My notion of how that word is used has changed with the realization that in Israeli terms, peace did not mean justice, but rather the abdication of Palestinian rights; surrender without terms. It was through what I saw in the West Bank that I began to notice the inherent apartheid nature of all Israeli rule over Palestinians, including in the Galiley where I grew up, or in Jaffa, where I later lived. 

When talking about peace in our context, the uneven terrain between oppressor and oppressed is often taken out of the equation. Pushing narratives of non-violence as the sole legitimate form of resistance to Israeli rule, focuses a critical look on Palestinian violence, paints it as illegitimate, and renders  Israel’s inherent institutional violence transparent. 

Activestills is a collective of photographers I’ve been involved in for the past several years, working towards a progressive de-colonial reality in Palestine through struggle and a common political goal and vision rather than depoliticized so-called coexistence. Through our work and images, we aim to challenge the mainstream media narrative and try to support the struggle of the oppressed by bringing their narrative into the visible public sphere. The collective was born out of the Palestinian popular struggle and the weekly protests in the West Bank, and the need for documentation by activists and for activists. From its humble beginning, it has grown to include photographers from the “Dakhel” (“inside”, an Arabic nickname for the parts of Palestine that were occupied in the 1948 war and that are treated as “legitimate” Israel), the West Bank, besieged Gaza and the Palestinian diaspora. Our work of documenting Israeli settler colonialism, and resistance to it, has grown into an immense public archive available online, geared first and foremost towards those whose struggle is documented. 

Peace education is meant to create tools and enable the learning of competing narratives, overcoming repressive powers and enabling people to envision justice, and then seek it. In my experience, the learning and unlearning required to gain an understanding of the reality of where we live is real peace education, not the flaunting of empty rhetoric. I think this is the power or the work of The Finnish Peace Education Institute, and that it lies in its ability to enable spaces of real creativity, openness, and free thought. 

Haidi Motola is a Finnish-Israeli photographer, filmmaker and visual artist. She is a member of Activestills photo collective, whose work focuses on documenting the struggle against Israeli colonialism as well as other socio-political issues. 

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