Thursday, May 31, 2012

Nakba not yet lost

The Nakba is alive for both Jews and Arabs:

Salman Masalha || Nakba not yet lost

Let's set aside for a moment the discourse about human rights and the debate about natural rights, because no salvation will come from them. Moreover, they will never lead to a solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On the contrary, they pour oil on the flames and encourage people to continue wallowing in the mud. In the never-ending fire, the growing occupation with the issue of the Nakba ("catastrophe," the Palestinians' term for what happened to them when Israel was founded in 1948 ) proves more than anything that it is a living event, among both the Arabs and the Jews. This country's emotion-laden past is a dangerous swamp. Those who choose to go back to the past to remain there find themselves up to the neck in the mud of bygone years.

It must be stated openly: All the disasters connected with this country are shared by the Jews and the Arabs. They are shared because they make all of us lose sleep over them and have an influence on the way of life of all the people, regardless of religion, race or sex.

It is worthwhile to understand the root of the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy. Because the disaster of this land, or, to be more exact, of those who inhabit it, Jews as well as Arabs, stems from the wide abyss between the two opposing concepts of the charged term "homeland."

The Jewish Zionist conceives of the entire land as his homeland in which he can move from place to place, settle down and live. On the other hand, the Palestinian thinks of the specific village, the specific tree and well that no longer exist. In other words, the Jewish Zionist is not attached to a certain private plot of land while the Arab is too attached to a certain restricted piece of land.

To illustrate the difference between these two conceptions of homeland, let's look at Hebrew and Arabic poetry. The poet Aharon Shabtai, for example, expresses his familiarity with the homeland in every grain of sand from Dan to until Eilat: "In every grain, from Dan until Eilat, the homeland stretches/ and I cannot be found in any place except in the homeland/ If someone asks me: 'Where are you?' I shall reply: 'In the homeland'/ and let's assume he takes a sledgehammer and hits me on the head/ and some Tom, Dick or Harry comes and asks:/ 'Where is that stupid man you killed?'/ the response will necessarily be: 'Even now he is in his homeland'/ because Aharon, because Aharon, because Aharon is only in the homeland." (From "Artzenu [Our Land] - Poems, 1987-2002." ) Contrary to this broad concept, there exists the Palestinians' limited concept. The most outstanding expression of it is given by Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian national poet: "I am from there and I have memories/ I have a mother/ And a house with lots of windows/ I learned all the words and I pulled them apart to put together one word/ it is homeland." However Darwish's "homeland" is not a political homeland, it is not Gaza or Ramallah - as he said once, "Neither Dan nor Eilat," but a very small and limited place: "I love to go/ to a village that did not hang my last night on its cypresses." Darwish's homeland is merely a small village in Galilee: "I shall throw a great number of roses before I arrive at one rose in Galilee." This is how the national poet reveals the substance of the homeland in Palestinian consciousness.

When he returned to Ramallah in the wake of the Oslo Accords, Darwish declared in a May 1996 interview with The New York Times that he wants to ask for Israeli citizenship. And he added: "I shall accept any document that will give me the right to be there." That is how the Palestinian "national" poet sums up his yearning and the substance of the homeland. The two opposing concepts of the term "homeland" are the root of the tragedy. On the one hand, the Jewish Zionist concept, which is a broad approach that spreads over the face of the land, an explosion which is growing and is expansive. On the other hand, the Arab Palestinian way of thinking, which is restricted and introverted, and which collapses backward into a black hole.
Published:Opinions-Haaretz, May 31, 2012

For Hebrew, press here

Thursday, May 17, 2012

For Jews only

Israel's new cabinet is driven by Jewish messianic fervor...

Salman Masalha || For Jews only

Our lawmakers had a sleepless night last week, although it was much ado about nothing. There is nothing new under the Israeli political sun. Ehud Barak may have feared losing his commanding position. Maybe Shas' chief feared the lion breathing down his neck, and Kadima's leader might have worried about Yair Lapid nipping at his heels. The prime minister may have been worried, too, about any change in the status quo.

I must admit, I don't understand what the pundits are complaining about. We simply went to sleep with elections in the air and woke up with a severe national-unity hangover. The night's "stinking maneuver," which supposedly surprised everyone, was no more than one small chord in a basic melody on which the pundits base their musical world. The people who for years ensured that the public was blasted by the mendacious melody called the Jewish democratic state shouldn't be surprised to wake up one morning with a Jewish undemocratic government.

From the moment the pundits followed in the footsteps of the politicians, both large and small, they carried this noxious melody everywhere. They were part of legitimizing the illegitimate in Israeli politics. Well, the new national unity government is the bitter result of that slogan that is rooted so deeply in Israeli society.

Let's remember that Shaul Mofaz was elected to head Kadima in part due to crates of votes from Arab clans; that has been the custom in these parts from time immemorial. But he didn't remember the favor his Arab voters did for him. When all the votes from the primary were counted, he discounted them. He did this because he never forgot "what it is to be Jewish," to borrow a phrase from another Jewish man Mofaz has joined in the coalition.

The sense of disgust from the conduct of politicians and small-time wheeler-dealers, regardless of religion, race or gender, isn't easy to bear. Whoever staged this behind-the-scenes maneuver and stopped the election from happening poses the real danger to Israeli democracy.

Some called this maneuver political sleight of hand from the school of the magician Benjamin Netanyahu. But Netanyahu's flip-flop isn't a reflection of strength. He had neither Iran nor the Tal Law in the front of his mind. The last straw came from an unexpected place: the High Court of Justice's ruling requiring the evacuation of the Ulpana neighborhood in the Beit El settlement. If Netanyahu hadn't called off the elections, that ruling would have put him on a collision course with the rule of law and a vociferous opposition.

The Jewish messianic understanding of the "Land of Israel" is what dictated the move. Now Netanyahu will surely find a way around the High Court with general Jewish support.

This isn't a national unity government. It's a mono-national government applying the slogan "Jewish democratic." This is the bitter truth, if we recall Labor Party chief Shelly Yacimovich's statement that she doesn't rule out joining the Netanyahu government after the next elections. Arab MKs have their own task - that of the fig leaf that covers the Jewish democratic nakedness.

So when Netanyahu marches securely in this Lilliputian country, when almost all the Jewish MKs bow to him while the pundits ride along on their commentaries, who needs elections and opinion polls? The game is fixed. Fixed for Jews only.
Published: Opinions_Haaretz, May 17, 2012

For Hebrew, press here

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The reluctant philanthropists

Horsemen of the handout:

Today the halukkah comes from the working public. This public - both Jews and Arabs - pays taxes and bears the burden, and in recent years it has taken the place of the 'new philanthropist.'

Salman Masalha || The reluctant philanthropists

In the middle of the eighth century, the Muslim caliph, Hisham Ibn Abd al-Malik, sent a special emissary to the king of Turkistan. The king asked his translator to clarify what the emissary wanted. The emissary explained the caliph's request to the king, saying that he wished for him and his subjects to adopt the Muslim faith. "And what is this Islam?" the king asked him. The emissary expounded on the commandments and the prayers, and explained what was permitted and what was prohibited by Islam.

Ten days later, the king returned accompanied by ten flag bearers and asked the emissary to join him. "We rode a full night until we reached a hill," the emissary related, "and when the sun came up, the king ordered every flag bearer to wave his flag. Whenever a flag bearer waved his banner, 10,000 armed cavalry would arrive in the valley below and their commander would approach the king and salute him. The ceremony continued in this manner until 100,000 cavalry had gathered in the valley." We shall return later to the king's response to the caliph's emissary. It is not important whether events like that really took place. The story is merely an allegory for what has been bothering the public in Israel these past few years. From time to time, the social tension between the ultra-Orthodox and secular people comes to the fore. For example, when it was proposed to split Beit Shemesh into two separate entities, Interior Minister Eli Yishai immediately began protesting: "The Haredi town will be without income, without taxes and without industry," he declared in an interview with an ultra-Orthodox radio station. "It is not right to do that."

Tzuriel Krispel, mayor of the predominantly Haredi town of Elad, also explained the danger of having a separate entity for the ultra-Orthodox. In a Haredi town, he said, most of the residents get reductions in their property tax, and a town cannot exist in that fashion. Therefore it was preferable that the ultra-Orthodox live with secular people.

Living at the expense of philanthropists is not a new custom in this region. Once upon a time, it was known as halukkah [distribution of charity]. The people of Jerusalem, for example, lived that way - not only now, but from a long way back. This is what was written about them in 1887: "The halukkah is almost a partner to all the people of Jerusalem ... A Jerusalemite views the halukkah as a national fund that must not be revoked from him, as a secure inheritance from his forefathers, and as a right that must not be doubted. It has never occurred to any one of them to do without it ... Most of them see in the halukkah a basic means of existence." That is how Dr. Chaim Hissin described the charity culture, in his diary.

Hissin added: "It distracted the masses from the struggle for existence of every individual, [who would otherwise] have to earn a living with his own capabilities and look for his bread honestly." Moreover, Dr. Hissin summed up what he had observed as the nature of the Jerusalemite: "It is not sufficient that he does not give, but he also receives and his sense of honesty remains completely unperturbed." (from "The Diary of a Bilu Member," 1925." )

Today the halukkah comes from the working public. This public - both Jews and Arabs - pays taxes and bears the burden, and in recent years it has taken the place of the "new philanthropist." A large percentage of a constantly-growing population remains idle and eats at the table of those who work in Israel.

Let's go back to the story of the king of Turkistan and the caliph's emissary. When the tens of thousands of horsemen were lined up in the valley before him, the king turned to the translator and said: "Tell the emissary to explain to his master that among all of these men, there is not even one healer, one shoemaker or one tailor. If they take on the Islamic faith and adhere to the commandments of the religion, where will they get food?"

And in that context, it is worth mentioning to all of those who insist on adhering to the halukkah: "If there is no flour, there is no Torah." And to paraphrase the words of the king of Turkistan - if they "become Muslims," what will they eat?

Published: Opinions-Haaretz, May 6, 2012

For Hebrew, press here

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    المتابع من أبناء جلدتنا لما يجري في هذا العالم الواسع يجد نفسه أمام ظاهرة فريدة. فلو نظرنا إلى ما يحصل من أحداث نرى أنّ القاسم المشترك بينها هو أنّ غالبيّتها هو مواقع وقوعها الجغرافية. إذ نرى أنّها تحدث في الأصقاع التي توصف بانتمائها إلى العالمين العربي والإسلامي.
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  • الحلم

    أنّي في سجن جدران بيضاء
    حيث لا يعرفني أحدٌ، وأصواتٌ
    تختفي في الرّدهات، وأضواء تستنشقُ
    جمجمتي اللّاهثة.
    تتمة الكلام

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Site Archive

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    المتابع من أبناء جلدتنا لما يجري في هذا العالم الواسع يجد نفسه أمام ظاهرة فريدة. فلو نظرنا إلى ما يحصل من أحداث نرى أنّ القاسم المشترك بينها هو أنّ غالبيّتها هو مواقع وقوعها الجغرافية. إذ نرى أنّها تحدث في الأصقاع التي توصف بانتمائها إلى العالمين العربي والإسلامي.
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