Joharah Baker: Farewell Tanya, Palestine has Lost a Friend

By Joharah Baker

Most people hope that after they are gone, there will be something, however miniscule, that others will remember them by. Linguist, researcher and Palestinian rights advocate Tanya Reinhart far surpassed this goal, because for many, the Palestinians in particular, she has left behind a legacy larger than life. She will never be forgotten.

Tanya Reinhart passed away in New York City on March 17. Born an Israeli citizen who lived most of her life in Israel, Reinhart lived her final days in the United States, not by chance but by meticulous design. After years of exposing Israel’s policies against the Palestinians in her articles, lectures and two major books, Reinhart became one of the precious few in this world who truly practices what she preaches. Feeling she could no longer live in the place she called home because of the injustices it perpetrated against another nation, Reinhart made the painful decision in 2006 to leave the prestigious position of emeritus professor at Tel Aviv University, and to leave her home, forever.

It was not only this act of courage that made this woman so remarkable. It was the fact that, as an Israeli speaking out against the atrocities of her own people, Reinhart knowingly placed herself in a constant line of fire. It goes without saying that she endured blinding hatred by some of her own countrymen, sentiments that only someone as strong-willed and with such a high moral compass could ever endure.

Primarily a linguist, Reinhart studied with the best, working in close collaboration with famed linguist Noam Chomsky. Of her passing, Chomsky wrote, “She was on the front line of direct resistance to intolerable actions, an organizer and a participant, a stance that one cannot respect too highly. She will be remembered not only as a resolute and honorable defender of the rights of Palestinians, but also as one of those who have struggled to defend the moral integrity of her own Israeli society, and its hope for decent survival,”

In addition to her contributions to the field of linguistics, Reinhart also wrote several articles and two books on the conflict: Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948 (2002), and The Roadmap to Nowhere; Israel/Palestine since 2003 (2006).

One of Reinhart’s noted positions, which also brought her stinging criticism from many fellow Israelis, was in 2002 when she signed a European petition calling for a moratorium on European support of Israeli academicians in protest of Israel’s politics against the Palestinians.

Reinhart wrote tirelessly about Israel’s true intentions in the West Bank, about the Israeli war on Lebanon and the so-called Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, insisting that nothing less than a full withdrawal to all Palestinian land occupied in 1967 would be acceptable. However, perhaps one of the “straws that broke the camel’s back”, which ultimately drove her to leave Israel for good was the construction of the West Bank separation wall. In October, 2006 as the wall’s construction continued in full force, Reinhart said the wall was the “first attempt in history to imprison a nation with a wall that cut off villages from their farmlands.” Two months later, she moved to New York permanently.

For the Palestinians, Tanya Reinhart will be sorely missed. Not only was she a staunch advocator of Palestinian rights but she was an Israeli, which made her testimony that much stronger.

Reinhart dedicated her life to dispelling fallacies and exposing Israel’s measures at a time when so much of the world has fallen into the black hole of blind loyalty to Israel. “Palestinians should not have to pay the price for the Holocaust,” she once said. The fact that she was an Israeli Jew gave such a powerful and true statement exponential proportions.

In her life, Reinhart embodied what it meant to truly fight what you believe in. In death, she has left behind some valuable lessons for both Palestinians and Israelis. To the Palestinians, she has shown us not to compromise on our principles, what we believe is right, just and true. Reinhart sacrificed her home, perhaps friends and family and put her reputation on the line in order to follow her passion, to enlighten the world about what she believes.

To the Israelis, Reinhart has left behind an even more valuable lesson, which could be applied to all nations and peoples. It is not enough to know that your country is doing wrong. As Reinhart painstakingly espoused throughout her life, when injustices are perpetrated by your government and army, it is your duty, your responsibility as a citizen, to do something about it. She believed the change must come from within Israeli society, not only to do justice to the Palestinians but for Israel’s own moral salvation.

Reinhart’s passing is a loss for us all, Palestinians and Israelis alike. Although her time on this earth may have been less than expected, it is our duty now not to let her message perish. For the Palestinians, she was a comrade-in-arms, so to speak, waging our war for justice, independence and a dignified life, right alongside us. It is our hope that the inner strength Reinhart possessed and portrayed so fiercely will emanate throughout her own society, touching the consciousnesses of those Israelis who know in their hearts and minds that something must be done.

Ultimately, Reinhart’s message was one of justice, human rights, and above all peace. This is how she should be remembered.

-Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Programme at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at mip@miftah.org.

(MIFTAH.org, March 21, 2007) 

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