Any democratic process must start by admitting two unbearable atrocities: first, the exclusiveness that Jews have over political power in a shared space, and second, the Judaizing system that uses state resources to maintain a brutal colonizing process.
By Muhammad Jabali
Asking the Palestinians to accept the creation of a Jewish state back in the 1940s was unfair, insulting and even dehumanizing. It meant asking almost 40 percent of the population of this Jewish state to accept being underprivileged until the end of time. To accept living with fewer political rights than the ruling population, which in modern times means accepting being less “human” and less deserving of “human rights.” Moreover, it meant asking the “Palestinians” (who had superficially won the right to an independent state through the partition plan) to forgo all political, cultural and economic influence in a landscape to which they had been wholly linked.
Unfortunately, this is still the ruling discourse of the “peace process,” as it is understood in Israel and internationally. The Palestinians are still being asked to accept “The Jewish State,” instead of using a rights-based discourse, in which the logic of “securing Jewish existence” in the land would be primary – meaning, securing the right of Jewish people to live and practice their Israeli life. In the present discourse, there is a total equivalence between the “Jewish People” and the “Jewish State.” One can’t begin to call to change the regime, to stop the wheels of the Judaizing machine, without being accused of wanting to destroy the “Jewish People.”
Palestinians are scattered all over the space that Israel controls politically, with different levels of deprivation of their political rights. Of course this deprivation is highest of all in in the West Bank and Gaza. The recent statistic showing that the conviction rate of Palestinians charged in Israeli military courts stands at 99 percent is but one example of this control.
The main factor ignored by people who insist Israel is a democracy is that creating both the Israeli state and the Israeli people has entailed a process of Judaizing a space that was neither empty nor Jewish to start with. It is a physical territorial project of clearing the space of anything that doesn’t fit into the story, and deleting the rest from view and memory. This is what makes the creation and the self-image of Israel a very violent act: the focus on the homogeneity of the Jewish nation-state, and the claim that the right of Israel to exist as the “Jewish democracy” is the right of the “Jewish nation” to self-governance.
The space was never empty. In order to claim democracy and liberalism, Israel attempts to draw parallels to the predominately white and liberal United States. But the parallel fails. The forced attempt at an American-style nation-building narrative is one of the least discussed problems in Israeli existence.
Israel is one big gated community. Jewish towns scattered between Arab towns and villages all sport a prominent gate at the entrances. In the predominant Israeli liberal discourse, this is justified by the need to defend the towns. In that discourse, it seems, these towns were always there, but out of a sudden deep-rooted hatred in the hearts of the Palestinians, the threat of violence against the Jewish towns just appeared.
This process of settling the land and taking political power is at the core of the ongoing construction of Israel, and is at the core of the Israeli regime. It forces Palestinians not to interfere in the return of the Jews to their promised land, even if it means being pushed eastward over the course of a full century. Any attempt to resist this tsunami – or even just to shout, “Hey its our space too, we should be part of decision-making” – is reacted to in violence. Call those reactions price tag attacks. Usually carried out by state mechanisms, not by individuals.
Much of the hate that culminated in Rabin’s assassination was the result of the fact that the Oslo Agreement passed in the Knesset with the support of Arab MKs. After more than a decade of political feuding between the “Right” and “Left” inside the Jewish democracy, the Arabs became citizens – for a moment. And then Rabin was assassinated.
Now, regardless of whether Oslo was a sufficient starting point for negotiations – especially considering there was no clear precondition to stop settlement activity in the West Bank – we should consider the reaction of the “Israeli left” to the assassination. Its primary concern was with the fact that a Jewish leader was killed by a Jew, and with the rift that the peace process created within the “Jewish people.”
This move made the claim for a “Jewish majority” in any “crucial” political decision-making a legitimate claim. It destroyed the possibility of creating what is so essential for any democracy: a public that believes in change though majority, based on ideas and not on an ethnic belonging to a privileged majority produced by force.
A dangerous process was launched. The democratization and reconciliation project offered by the leadership of Palestinian Israelis became a target. The so-called Zionists assumed the Supreme Court would maintain the liberality and equality of the “Israeli regime,” while taking full part in portraying Palestinian democrats as “national radicals,” contributing to the claim that calling Jewish privilege unjust is a radical Palestinian statement. This helped in rebranding Israeli democracy as one that must control two radical sides: Palestinian nationals on one hand and Israeli extremists on the other.
Holding fast to the myth of Jewish democracy, the Israeli left brought back the idea of “moving populations” as a legitimate political solution. The Nakba is legitimized as “inevitable and necessary“ for “Jewish existence” This Jewish existence, as it is presented, masks the fact that Israel is actually a regime that preserved the colonial British skeleton of the mandate, with all of its centralized control over “others.” It went on to produce an even more brutal system of laws relating to land, public spaces, and property, which can’t be described as anything other than theft. More than just theft: the armed robbery of land, public property, public space and wealth.
The whole system was developed in three stages: First with the help of the British bureaucratic legacy, then later through military law. The third stage began in 1967 and continues until today: improving the means of control over the populations of the West Bank and Gaza. It has become a science fiction-like system of electronic fences, sustained through regulation and monitoring, with the help of flying vehicles controlled from afar – like a computer game.
And let us not forget that Israel is a state where the secret police declares clearly that it sees as a security threat anybody that works against the Jewish nature of the state – even through legitimate, democratic ways.
So, if the mere act of claiming equal rights over land and political power is viewed as a security threat, then not only does moving populations become a legitimate topic for the negotiation table, but for the army as well – two years ago, security forces trained for the scenario of evacuating villages and creating huge detention camps.
This is why it should be clear first and foremost that to take on a genuine “leftist” position in any discussion regarding this conflict, one must start by admitting two unbearable atrocities: first, the exclusiveness that Jews have over political power in a shared space, and second, the Judaizing system that uses state resources to maintain a brutal colonizing process. All of this could happen if a few semantics are internalized: for example, the difference between claiming Israel is THE Jewish Homeland, and claiming Israel is A Jewish homeland. Instead of calling Israel the Jewish state, Israel should be called a democratic regime for all its citizens, which preserves the right to a Jewish life and and Israeli cultural existence (linguistically, artistically, etc.). Instead of talking about a peace process between two sides, talking about how to produce a democratic social life.
That’s why there is nothing “left” about the “Zionist Left.” And there’s a clear connection between voting for Tzipi Livni or Shelly Yachimovich, and supporting a Price Tag crime. The difference is encapsulated by your stance on the Altalena Affair: it is an internal discussion within the colonial forces. Whether colonization should be carried out with by more or less force, and whether it should consider international law or not. There is nothing in all of that to help you produce your social democratic identity in a shared space.
Muhammad Jabali is a Palestinian Israeli activist and facilitator. He is a coordinator for the Ayam Association’s Jaffa Project-Autobiography of a City, which works to reconcile memory and space for a cosmopolitan Jaffa. He writes for Palestinian media and blogs within Israel, and has published poems in both Hebrew and Arabic. He is also a part of the Palestinema Group, which promotes films from the Arab world inside Israel-Palestine. He is also an occasional DJ. Visit his personal website here.