Why do they identify as Palestinians?

Israeli Arabs rallying for a right of return for Palestinian refugees, Atlit near Haifa, 19 April 2018

Hanin Majadli writes in Haaretz on 13 January 2023:

Kan 11, the public broadcaster, launched a series of reports this week by Eran Singer and Roy Ettinger titled “Palestinians Blue-and-White.” The first item set out to examine “the growing extremism in Arab society in Israel” and asked, “What went wrong?” What went wrong, that the Arabs now drink espresso? That the Balad party received 45 percent of the vote in Abu Ghosh, a town west of Jerusalem that the Jews love to love? What does this say about the spectrum of affiliation between Palestinian and Israeli? Maybe to build more roads?

The problem with reports like this isn’t only the patronizing and the old Orientalism – as if 150 years haven’t gone by since the first Jewish settlers became acquainted with the food of the Middle East – but also that they don’t try to challenge the viewer. Instead, they try to challenge the Palestinian interviewee and make him feel that in the best case he’s mistaken and in the worst, a traitor.

One of the interviewees was the head of the Abu Ghosh council, a member of the Likud Central Committee who personally loves Benjamin Netanyahu. This was presented as a benefit for his town, so there will be institutions, roads and schools. Not that he’s trying to entice Bibi voters to eat hummus precisely there, heaven forbid. He truly esteems the man, even if his actions in recent years are hard to defend.

Also interviewed was Ahsan Abed Alrahman from Balad, the director of the young people’s center in the Abu Ghosh community center, who terms himself a Palestinian Arab with Israeli citizenship. “You don’t even say [you’re] ‘Israeli,’” the stunned Singer said, and asked what his response was to Jews who ask about voting for Balad. First of all, no person, even if he’s an Arab, is obligated to give a public account of his vote. It’s too bad the report didn’t take note of the courage a public personality needs to identify politically at all, especially with Balad. The Jews whom Singer asked about needn’t be given an answer at all; they are the ones who need to answer us about how it came about that Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich are in power.

The true gem was hidden in the second report, which addressed the preservation of Palestinian culture in Haifa. The interviewee, Suwad Mahul, who owns a gallery of Palestinian art in the city’s Wadi Nisnas neighborhood, uttered the most beautiful comment about the Nakba that I’ve ever heard. “Since my childhood, when I saw on the balcony, I painted abandoned homes… Nakba is something that slices your life. The fact that we are talking about it now is a matter of coping, it’s not easy for everyone to hear these things,” she said. Indeed, it’s not easy, and even less easy to buy them.

Mahul said that the Jewish tourists who come to Wadi Nisnas mostly talk about the Arab pitas, the labaneh and the falafel, but they don’t go into the gallery and they certainly don’t buy what’s in it. She said it’s because Palestinian embroidery hangs at the entrance with the explicit word “Palestinian” on it. As we know, Palestinian food is good, and Palestinian art is bad.

It’s possible and also desirable to discuss the processes that are underway in Israel’s Arab society, which is not uniform and homogeneous and in which diverse developments occur in different directions, notably a natural and healthy identification as Palestinians after 75 years of attempts to erase their identity. But Jews who are asking why more and more Arabs are self-identifying as Palestinians would do well to ask themselves what part they had in this development. And it also wouldn’t hurt if an Arab journalist takes part in the next series of reports – at least as long as the public broadcaster is allowed to employ them.

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