Nakba denial and its consequence
We may one day have ‘peaceful coexistence’ with the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza. With the Arabs of Israel, it will take much more. We need sincere reconciliation.
Zvi Bar’el, 17 April 2013
The workers at the immaculate Jaffa butcher shop had their hands full on the eve of Independence Day. Packaged trays of kebab were being panic-bought as if the Iranian bomb was already on the way; dozens of veal and lamb skewers were piled up like arrows ready to be released; pieces of entrecote and chicken parts filled overflowing baskets on their way to the checkout.
As usual, there was someone among the dozens of Jews waiting in line who remembered to share the colorful saying, “This is Nakba Day for the sheep” [a reference to the Palestinians’ Nakba Day, when they protest the formation of Israel]. Someone else responded: “Never mind, the Arabs also deserve to be happy on Independence Day. Let the guy make some money until the Jewish butchers drop their prices.” A woman hugging a huge side of meat said with a sigh, “They make a pretty good living off of us,” adding, “The line here is longer than the line at Abulafia after Passover week,” referring to the popular Arab-owned bakery.
The Jaffa butcher is unlikely to be in line for the award honoring outstanding citizens that the Tel Aviv Municipality hands out on Independence Day, despite his leadership of the large institution contributing to Arab-Jewish coexistence. You don’t even need all the fingers on one hand to count the number of Arabs who have been awarded that honor in all the years of its existence. But why complain? After all, one of the Independence Day ceremony torch lighters was the president of Achva Academic College, Prof. Alean Al-Krenawi, a resident of Rahat. Also from that Bedouin city was the truck driver who ran down and killed six citizens near Nesher last week. Citizens? Arabs. The country breathed a sigh of relief.
Deep semantic and ideological controversy is generated by the question of whether Israel is an apartheid state. Some people see Israel’s policies in the occupied territories, and institutionalized discrimination between settlers and Palestinians, as proof of the existence of apartheid. That perception is wrong. The territories are under occupation, which by definition is discriminatory and oppressive. The solution to discrimination in the territories is not for the Palestinians to enjoy the same rights as Israeli citizens, as if they had been annexed to Israel; rather, it is freedom from occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state, which will be founded on equal rights for all citizens.
Others see apartheid in the differences in the funding that Arab municipalities receive and the untenable gaps in education and income between Jews and Arabs. That perception legitimizes the concept of apartheid.
True apartheid is in our consciousness and nothing like the expression “peaceful coexistence with the Arabs in Israel” − as a number of the torch bearers hoped for in their statements, to describe this handicap of consciousness. After all, no one calls for peaceful coexistence with immigrants from Russia, Ethiopia or Europe, because peaceful coexistence is what we wish for with an enemy.
Last year, then Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar criticized the Nakba Day ceremony at Tel Aviv University: “This is a wrong, infuriating decision that hurts the public’s feelings,” he said. “There is no reason that campuses in Israel should be places for shows of hatred against Israel.”
All he was doing in this statement was protecting the consciousness of apartheid. The nakba terrifies Israel. We cannot forgive the Arabs for exiling themselves from Palestine, for destroying their own villages, for becoming refugees and for causing the cleansing of the War of Independence. Neither can we forgive them for the fact that many of them remained in Israel, destroying its aspiration to be a pure Jewish state, not only a state for Jews.
In contrast to an occupation that can end and unlink Israel from the occupied population, apartheid of the consciousness has become part of the Israeli-Jewish DNA. It germinated before the occupation, flourished during it, and will continue to do so even after the occupation ends someday. We may one day have “peaceful coexistence” with the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza. With the Arabs of Israel, it will take much more. We need sincere reconciliation.
“Apartheid cannot be reformed; it has to be eliminated,” Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme said, one week before he was assassinated. Equal funding or formal affirmative action will not uproot Israeli apartheid, nor will a joke about sheep at the butcher. Only reconciliation with the nakba.