"Our Palestinian Future in Israel: How Long Can We Be Dehumanised in a Racist State?
By Khalil Nakhleh
Every month or so I drive for three hours from Ramallah to my native village in Upper Galilee to hike in the olive orchards engulfing my village and to reminisce about my childhood. My village, which was perched alone on that hill under the cold drift from Mount Hermon, as I remember it, now is forced to share the surrounding hills with Jewish-only colonies. One morning, one of those Saturday hiking mornings, two Jewish colonists from a nearby colony passed me on their dirt bikes on their way to promenade in our olive orchards and hurled at me a soft and humane “boker tov” (good morning), to which I responded, equally softly and humanely. They continued their ride, and I was forcefully left with my unanswered questions about the nature of our “living together.”
On the face of it, the “boker tov” greeting was natural and expected. But why did it upset me? Something did not settle well with me. By itself, it was a natural human greeting, but in an unnatural context and environment: these two men were there, on my land, only because they happened to be Jews (and, most likely, Zionists). Thus, they were rendered privileged to live in a subsidised house that was built for them on stolen Arab land, while people in my village are not even permitted to build or expand their houses on their very own land in order to meet the need of their extended families, only because they happened to be Palestinian Arabs. This is what did not settle well with me. Because, as they passed me on that October Saturday morning, we were not equal under this Zionist-Jewish system, nor did we have access to the same resources – economic, legal, political, etc. – in a place where I should have been “more equal” and more privileged, having been born on this very land. My narrative has been undermined by force and mythology.
How do I interpret what I might call our expropriated narrative? And how can we, as a people – individuals and collectives – repossess this narrative?
I begin by posing two interrelated questions: What does it mean to be a Palestinian Arab living in Israel? And what does it mean to be part of an indigenous minority that is a remaining fragment of the Palestinian people, living in a country that is directly responsible for this historical evil?
To heighten our Palestinian narrative, I propose to look at three interconnected events in our very recent history, threaded by the same historical sequence, and underpinned by the same racist ideology. The focus on these events will shape the answer to the above two questions. The three events are Yawm al-Ard (Land Day) of March 1976, Habbet October (the October uprising) of October 2000, and the Zionist-Jewish attack on Palestinian Arab Citizens in Akka of October 2008.
Yawm al-Ard, 1976
Yawm al-Ard refers to the day of the general strike that was held on 30 March 1976 among the Palestinian communities in Israel to protest the new wave of government-approved expropriation of Arab-owned lands, hitting at the heart of Arab villages in Central Galilee. The decision to strike was an exercise of the Palestinian community’s right to protest and civil disobedience, as a means of affirming the indigenous Palestinian struggle against the gradual dispossession of their patrimony, the “Judaisation” (tahweed) of historical Palestine, and the “de-indigenisation” of their native place. Through protest and public strike, the Palestinians in Israel sought to halt the vicious and determined process aiming toward their ethnic cleansing. The Israeli security apparatus made a conscious attempt to forcefully put down the strike by deploying police, “border guards,” and army units in the heart of Palestinian communities. As a result, 6 Palestinian civilians were killed, about 50 injured, and about 300 arrested.
Israel’s colonisation plans for the Galilee were explicitly expressed in 1976 in what became known as the “Koenig Memorandum,” which was submitted to and approved by the Israeli government. The Memorandum detailed the “Judaisation of the Galilee Project,” whose objective was to expropriate Arab lands in the Galilee and develop 58 additional Jewish colonies by the end of the decade, increasing the Jewish population of the Galilee by 60 percent. The explicit purpose of this “development” was to break up the concentration of the Palestinian Arab population in large contiguous areas by infusing them with new Jewish colonies.
Since the breakup of the indigenous demographic contiguity of the Galilee and al-Naqab and their transformation from Arab majority areas have not yet been completed, the Israeli government created in 2005 a new portfolio for its deputy prime minister at the time (Shimon Peres) to “develop” al-Naqab and the Galilee. In a follow-up speech, Peres stated, “The development of al-Naqab and the Galilee is the most important Zionist project of the coming years.” Thus, the responsible ministerial committee allocated US$ 450 million “to building Jewish majorities in the Galilee and al-Naqab over the coming 5 years.”
Habbet October, 2000
Habbet October (or the October uprising) refers to the subsequent events that occurred during the general strike and protest marches of the Palestinian community in Israel on 1 October 2000, heeding the call of the “Higher Follow-up Committee of the Arab Masses” a week after Sharon’s insistent entry to al-Haram al-Sharif, which resulted in the killing of 80 Palestinians and the injuring of hundreds in the West Bank and Gaza during the week following Sharon’s visit.
As for the protest marches during the day of the general strike of the Palestinian communities inside Israel, the police were instructed by Ehud Barak, the minister of internal security at the time, to use all means possible to quell the protest. As a result, the police used live ammunition, rubber-coated bullets, and snipers, which resulted in the killing of 13 Palestinian civilian citizens. According to documented testimonies, the police used violent means to “inflict the maximum damage possible.” To avert severe protests from all quarters, and with the approach of elections for the prime minister, the government appointed an official commission of inquiry headed by a judge of the Supreme Court (Theodore Orr) eleven months later.
The Orr Commission laid the blame for what happened on the Palestinian community in Israel and its political leadership, on the basis that the protest marches were illegal and unjustified and that they were only intended to disrupt the public order; on the other hand, the Commission maintained that the response of the police was equally illegal and unjustified. Thus, in their “balanced” response, the Commission blamed the victim.
The allusions in the Commission’s conclusions are very telling. I shall focus only on two: the first has to do with the relationship of the police with the Palestinian community in Israel, and the second has to do with what is referred to as “Arab-Jewish relations.”
Regarding the first: the Commission emphasised the need for “conceptual transformation” in how the police deal with the “Arab sector.” The police are viewed in the Arab sector not as an agent of support, or assistance provider, but as an “enemy agent that serves an enemy authority.” The Commission emphasised the need for re-training and re-indoctrination among the police, stressing that the Arab communities in the state are not an enemy and that they should not be treated as such.
As for the conclusion regarding “Jewish-Arab relations,” the Commission stated, as summarised two years later by the academic member of the Commission (Shamir’s lecture, Tel Aviv University, 19 September 2005, p. 6):
· The Arab minority population of Israel is an indigenous population which perceives itself subject to the hegemony of a society that is largely not indigenous.
· The Arab minority in Israel is a majority transformed; it bears a heritage of several centuries of belonging to the majority, and views with disapproval its minority status, forced upon it with the establishment of the state.
· This reversal was the result of a harsh defeat suffered by the Arabs which, in their historical memory, is tied to the Nakba – the most severe collective trauma in their history.
· There was a continuous dynamic aspect to the decisive outcome gained by the Zionist movement in the struggle over the establishment of the State, reflected primarily in the takeover of extensive lands, clearing space for the masses of new immigrants. This fact fostered a feeling among the Arabs that the Israeli democracy is not as democratic toward the Arabs as it is toward the Jews.
Regarding the two events above, it is worth remembering that in all previous violent confrontations with Jewish protest movements in Israel, e.g., Black Panthers, the Rabbi Uzi Meshulem Movement, etc., never before was live ammunition used to quell a protest by Israeli Jews; and never was a Jew killed by the agents of the state.
The Zionist-Jewish attack on Palestinian Arab citizens in Akka, October 2008
This refers to the events that happened in Akka (Acre) on the eve of the Jewish Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). The sequence of events went this way (based on a meticulously documented report by the Akka Residents Coalition):
A 48-year-old Arab citizen of Israel from Akka rides in his car to the house of relatives … who live in the eastern part of the city (with a Jewish majority), to pick up his daughter … He drove slowly and quietly with no radio or speakers turned on (to respect the solemn Jewish holiday). Jewish youth attacked the car with stones.… After Yom Kippur ended (9 October,) a large group of Jewish residents, estimated at 1,500, gathered around the train station in the eastern and northern parts of the city (where a small minority of Palestinian Arabs live in Jewish-majority neighbourhoods) … The Jewish rioters threw stones, clashed with the police, and attacked Arab passersby. In these areas of the city, there is a Jewish majority; about twenty Arab families live there in total. The Jewish rioters gathered in the streets and cried “death to the Arabs.” They attacked Arab family homes trying to make their inhabitants flee; they damaged the homes and set them on fire … A text message distributed to Jewish residents called for a boycott of Arab tradesmen and shopkeepers.
Violent harassment by Jewish-Zionist extremists against Arab residents of the city of Akka did not start on Yom Kippur 2008; it started at least since 2002 when slogans such as “death to Arabs” started appearing on walls, elevators of apartment buildings, etc. This is not accidental vandalism; it is part of a trend to establish Jewish “purity” in the so-called Arab-Jewish mixed cities such as Akka, Lod, Ramleh, and Yaffa, which Jewish-Zionists consider areas of “demographic risk.” This trend is being pushed by the national right-wing party called “the seeds of the settlements” in recent years, by transplanting Jewish “yeshivas” and settlers into the Arab areas, brought in generally from the most extreme racist Jewish colonies in the West Bank. Today there are around 200 yeshivas in Akka, in addition to approximately 1,000 settler-extremists. The clear and overt purpose is to “Judaise” these cities.
In an interview (on Channel 7), the head of the Hesder Yeshiva in Akka, Rabbi Yosi Stern, stated:
"Akka is a national test. Akka today is Israel in ten years’ time. What happens in Akka today is what will happen in Israel.…
“Co-existence is a slogan. Ultimately Akka is a town like Raanana, Kfar Saba, or Haifa, and must safeguard its Jewish identity. I think everyone would agree that Akka is the capital city of Galilee, of thousands of years of Jewish history. We are here to preserve that Jewish identity and to reinforce that spirit, to stand for our nation’s honour.”
How are these three events that happened over the last thirty-some years interconnected? And how do they shape the answer to the two questions I posed earlier?
The ideological underpinnings of the three events are the same and focus on two levels with overt objectives: one is the Judaisation of the entire country through the Jewish colonisation of the land and the prevention of the existence of any Arab majority concentration (hence, the targeting of Galilee, al-Naqab and the Triangle, etc.). The second is the forced disconnection in identity and shared future between the Palestinian minority in Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and in the shatat (diaspora).
The only future for us, as an indigenous national minority that can exercise our inherited basic human rights on our land and that can achieve true justice and equality, is to reclaim and re-assert our narrative. We should seek to regain our status as part of our national Palestinian majority, in historical Palestine, as we struggle for the dismemberment and dissolution of the Zionist racist system and its transformation into a “normal” democratic system, responsive to the needs of all its citizens. Our future, as a national minority in and on our land, and as part of the Arab nation, is organically connected to the future of the Arab nation and to the entire Palestinian people – the communities in the West Bank and Gaza, the refugees, and all those dispersed throughout the world; and it has to be realised in a democratic society in historical Palestine, where we would be ready to co-exist with non-Zionist Jews. Our repossessed narrative cannot be a reinterpretation of our history as a dull shadow of Jewish-Zionist narrative. Our repossessed narrative must be based on the deconstruction of the racist Zionist-Ashkenazi system, which itself is a precondition for such a just solution. The existing Israeli system is, by definition, racist and exclusivist, and it is inherently and structurally incapable of providing justice and genuine equality to my Palestinian people.
Dr. Khalil Nakhleh is a Palestinian anthropologist, writer, and independent development and educational consultant from Galilee who resides in Ramallah. He is the editor of The Future of the Palestinian Minority in Israel (Ramallah: Madar Center, 2008).