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Sunday, 21 November 2010

Yitzhak Laor & the Reality Behind the Image





Published 00:50 14.09.10

Israel does not want to recognize the Palestinian minority within its borders because it seeks to continue to grant privileges to Israeli Jews and to Diaspora Jews, at the expense of the cheap labor, land and water of its Palestinian citizens. By Yitzhak Laor

The spread of ignorance is nothing new and is not limited to those who haven't studied the core curriculum. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demands that the Palestinians first recognize Israel as a Jewish state, or as the nation-state of the Jewish people, he is relying on ignorance that has been widespread among Israelis for years. Even the difference between these two phrases, which he freely alternates in his statements with a kind of sacred innocence, depends not on the fine print in the insurance policy he seeks, but on ignorance about everything connected to the national character of the State of Israel.

In English, the term "nation" relates to the entirety of the citizens of a given English-speaking country. And the adjective "national" can refer to something that is nationwide, like a "national conference." But this is the simple, semantic issue.

The more disturbing matter of Israeli ignorance - consistently disseminated in all media outlets and the school system, and also reflected in the tendency to feel good (even when doing so is accompanied by mild guilt feelings ) - is connected to the images we don't see when we travel around the country. Forget about the ruins, the fig trees that appear out of nowhere (there are no fig trees, or olive or almond trees, for that matter, that grow on their own ). Instead, take a look at the proximity between Jisr al-Zarqa, the poorest village in Israel, and Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael, one of the richest kibbutzim in the country (if not the richest ). And that's just one example.

Jisr al-Zarqa is a remnant of Kabara, a village that was destroyed in 1948 and its inhabitants expelled. It is the only Palestinian community left on the Mediterranean shore from Gaza to Acre (in Jaffa, the Palestinians were moved off the beach to Ajami ). It was said that the Jisr al-Zarqa residents were immune to malaria, and to their good fortune, like that of the residents of Fureidis, the farmers of Zichron Yaakov needed their cheap labor for draining the swamps, and so they were not expelled.

Most of the land went to kibbutzim in the area, mainly to Ma'agan Michael. Therein lies the importance of this example, even if one looks not at the past and its wounds, but at the increasingly ugly present that gives rise to the boast that might makes right. After all, a bus filled with cleaning ladies sets out from Jisr al-Zarqa every morning, headed for Haifa's Rambam Medical Center.

This is not about the injustices of the past, like the missing inhabitants of neighboring Tantura, where Haifa University geographers have managed to erase what happened there and in many nearby villages. It's not about the past but about the present: Jisr al-Zarqa is trapped, without land and between fences. Its children cannot even run to retrieve a ball that flies over the fence dividing the village from the nature reserve that was once part of the village; they would have to go a very long way, to the other side of the separation fence via the beach and back.

And on its other side, the village is shut off by Israel's richest suburb, Caesarea. Poverty and overcrowding beget violence, which is mounting in Jisr al-Zarqa, a ghetto without hope that no one notices except as a foreign Arab entity amid the surrounding wealth, beauty, landscape and sea.

Recognition of an exclusive Jewish nationality for our country, which Netanyahu is demanding from the Palestinians now, is nothing but a demand to recognize the legitimacy of racist discrimination against the Arab minority in Israel. If this minority had been awarded equal rights, including water rights for agriculture, equality in education and health care, and equal employment opportunities, there would be no need to go back to the Nakba. It would become a wound like other past wounds, like the partial extinction of other national minorities (and after all, there is room to provide compensation for disasters, as per tort law. )

But the State of Israel does not want to recognize the Palestinian minority within its borders because it seeks to continue to grant privileges to Israeli Jews and to Diaspora Jews, at the expense of the cheap labor, land and water of its Palestinian citizens. All this is in order to say that recognition of Israel will come only if we recognize the equality of the minority in our midst. They are not settlers. They were living here before we were.

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