Tanya Reinhart was one of those rare people who looked beyond ethnic, political and sectarian loyalties and saw the human being. For the Palestinians, long used to being demonised and even caricatured as beasts by their Israeli antagonists, Tanya’s mirror on their lives gave the Palestinians a chance to be seen as a people who are being brutalised, penalised and traumatised by the very state of which Tanya was a citizen. For daring to do that, Tanya was ostracised by many of her own people in Israel and also by the pro-Zionist lobby groups around the world. Her stance required a special kind of courage that few have because it put Tanya outside the world that would ordinarily have feted her achievements and would have elevated her to the ranks of Israel’s intellectual elite.
Although a brilliant linguist and researcher who made major contributions in her field, she did not bury herself in the comfort of books and academic life. Instead, she wrote books to open the debate on Palestine and took herself far and wide to speak about Israel’s crimes. Her gentle demeanour and warm smile belied the steely resolve within, but it was reflected in the words she spoke, quietly and firmly and unaffected by what was politic. She knew that truth has no need for such niceties and Tanya was certainly not shy of controversy.
When so many others would dance around the issues, careful not to tread on the sacred cow of Zionism, Tanya openly acknowledged Zionist Israel’s apartheid policies against the Palestinians and supported an academic boycott of Israel. To her, human rights could not be qualified for the sake of preserving a state and certainly not for a blindly eulogised one. Like others, Tanya could see that Israel has followed the South-African Apartheid model in the extreme, yet all the while operating under a mantle of respectability. Promoting its policies as a compromise for peace, Israel has so far succeeded in convincing a world so easily convinced on Israel, that a Palestinian state is possible behind the Wall going up, the land control taking place, the suffocating military cordons being implemented, the bypass roads, settlements and military bases dissecting the West Bank, and the absolute economic dependence being forced on the Palestinians as Israel takes their water and their fertile land and prevents free access to markets. In a letter to Israeli academic Baruch Kimmerling in May 2002, Tanya wrote:
“. . . no matter what you think of the Oslo years, what Israel is doing now exceeds the crimes of the South Africa’s white regime. It has started to take the form of systematic ethnic cleansing, which South Africa never attempted. After thirty-five years of occupation, it is completely clear that the only two choices the Israeli political system has generated for the Palestinians are Apartheid or ethnic cleansing (‘transfer’).”
She saw that intellectual responsibility requires the safeguarding of moral principles and that a large body of Israeli academia, by failing to uphold those principles in their own society, are by their silence, collaborating with the Israeli government in the illegal occupation. Last year, she took the painful decision to leave her home for good, no longer able to live in a state that has led its citizens into moral bankruptcy. Her decision was a most honourable demonstration of someone willing to act on peace, justice and human rights no matter what the personal cost. Her untimely death has left an enormous sadness in all of us who so admired her courage, integrity and unshakeable resolve in defending the rights of the Palestinian people. Her writings though remain and will always be testament to the strength of her convictions. Perhaps one day, comfort may be found in the world acknowledging the truth of her life and work. But for now, only sadness wells up at her passing and the memory of a very decent human being who was so willing to provide a voice for humanity.