Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Next year in Jerusalem? Sixty three years after the Nakba

In the binary view of war or peace it is the cruelest irony that May 14 commemorates Independence Day in Israel while May 15 commemorates the Nakba, or Catastrophe, in Palestine..and on the very same land.
Sixty-three years ago, more than 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from 531 towns and villages. Today, there are an estimated seven million Palestinians still living in 58 registered refugee camps throughout the Middle while millions endure collective punishment in the Occupied Territories.
This, despite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that states that every person “has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” Not only has Israel never accepted  this basic human right for Palestinians as a basis for peace negotiations, it has successfully undermined these rights by ignoring them – and convincing the international community to follow suit.
What is changing, although so slowly it must feel inconsequential to those directly affected, is the historical narrative of “a land without a people for a people without a land” that blossomed during and after World War II and still thrives today.

“God is not a real estate agent”
Ziad Abbas, associate director of MECA, grew up in Dheisheh refugee camp in the West Bank. His family and more than twelve hundred others were expelled violently from their village, Zachariah near Jerusalem (now Kfar Zacharia) in October 1948.
Abbas says, “That God gave the empty Promised  Land to his Chosen People is a romantic and  convenient myth...and inaccurate. God is not a real estate agent.”
Abbas conducted an oral history that shares witness reports from local villages. He talked to the daughter of the woman who, along with three men and a child, were abducted from Zachariah by Zionist militias. The men were executed and the woman and child sent back to the village with a terrible message: they intend to kill us all; we must flee for our lives.
Walid Khalidi, Ilan Pape, and Rosemary Esber are among the sources of this more accurate history that is replacing the binary, cartoon-heroic versions taught in schools and communities around the world. Even Zionist historians agree that the 1948 expulsions – referred to euphemistically as “transfers” by perpetrators – were violent and  wide-spread and followed the ethnic cleansing strategy laid out in the Haganah's master Plan Dalet (“D” in Hebrew). The Zionist version of this same history fully embraces the views of Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, et al that cleansing Palestine of ethnic Arabs is a basic requirement for a successful Jewish state. Murder, mayhem, usurpation of land and property, cultural destruction, and banishing Palestinians to refugee camps were fully sanctioned and justified; they continue to this day.

What goes around, comes around
There was nothing organic in how the Jewish state was founded, little that grew out of diverse people working over time toward generative solutions while respecting differences. Rather it was violent rush to fill the spaces left by living, breathing, loving human beings terrified for their lives leaving behind generations of orchards, fields, gardens, and memories.
Anyone with an open mind who actually visits Israel and the Occupied Territories quickly understands that nothing is simple here. Beneath the surface energy of “can-do” Israelis and awed Holy Land pilgrims lies a deeply complex multi-culture...with a highly stratified class system that reflects the country's founding ethos.

Associate professor of cultural anthropology Smadar Lavie grew up in Jaffa as a lower-middle class Arab Jew, or Misragi. A college professor once told her that her mind was “too untamed.” This meant, Lavie says, “I asked too many questions about Zionism – and everything in Israel is filtered through the sieve of Zionism.”
Lavie said in a recent radio interview, that Arab Jews, like her mother from Yemen, and others from Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, and north Africa, were brought to Israel to swell the numbers of Jews, as place-holders to inhabit the homes and land left by terrified Palestinians, and as workers for Ashkenazim, or European Jews. Considered “dirty Arabs” – upon arrival in Israel they were sprayed with DDT – Misragim children often were taken from parents “for their own good” and put in boarding schools; even babies were taken from mothers and given to childless Ashkenazim. 
Dislocated from their native lands and cultural bearings kept Misragim complaint and available to work at menial jobs for minimum wage. Misragim still fill this function in Israel; they are over-represented in lower levels of the military, as grunts, check-point attendants, and as enforcers.
Moreover, Lavie states that, despite the stereotype depicted on television of settlers as “Brooklyn Cowboys”, many Misragim live in the settlements ...and are happy to do so if urban slums are their alternative. The group tends toward right-wing politics and the benefits offered by right-wing politicians, such as airy, affordable homes in disputed areas. Nevertheless, Misragim are, for the most part, politically powerless.  “Misragi women,” says Lavie, “try to 'marry up' so as to access higher level careers or society.”
Tragically, what could be an alliance between Palestinians and Misragim, based on shared Arab roots and language, does not happen.
“The hegemony of Ashkenazim includes the intellectual, political, professional, business, and industrial classes. This privileged group is mobile and has access to alternative living arrangements in Europe and the United States if things get too bad in Israel.”
The Misragim, on the other hand, cannot return to their ancestral, predominantly Moslem, lands. In addition, Palestinians do not look to Misragim for a political solution; they look to Ashkenazim even though very few of that elite speak Arabic or mix socially with Palestinians. Furthermore, says Lavie, “the face of day-to-day oppression – at the check points, in military and police vehicles, and so on, is Misragi – or 'Schwartzes' (Blacks) as we are known in Israel.” 

The two-state pipe-dream
The two state solution – an Ashkenazi promoted pipe-dream that also holds sway within the US political elite and military-industrial and business classes – has failed. When this becomes clear even to those who can still afford to ignore such “facts on the ground”, Ashkenazim will depart Israel for greener pastures – as they did, for example, after South Africa's apartheid regime crashed.
Nothing is simple in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Will Palestinian history repeat itself, this time for the Misragim pawns in the Zionist grand plan, who will be left to face the consequences of the plunder of the last 63 years?

And read another excellent article on the Nakba by Dina Jadallah

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