RSS Feeds
The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil,    but because of the people who don't do anything about it    
Occupation magazine - Commentary

Home page  back Print  Send To friend

Jews and Palestinians: Separate or Together? a recent speech
David A. Wesley--March 2012--I would like to invite you to join me on a personal journey. This journey first brought me to Israel as a young man and then led me to undertake anthropological research on the way that Israeli government-initiated programs impacted on Arab-Palestinian towns in Israel. As I encountered Israeli reality, studied it, and was moved to ponder that reality, I gained deeper understanding of the practices of Jewish-Zionist exclusion vis-à-vis the Palestinians inside Israel (and outside it) and arrived at personal identification with projects that challenge such exclusion and look for the possibility of sharing rather than separation..

My research was carried out in the foregone understanding that there were SIDES in the world I was studying – and that one of the sides suffered discrimination built into the system. The research problem was to discover HOW the power system worked, not whether it existed, or where the lines of contention ran.

In this, I found myself in agreement with general developments in anthropology dealt with in various ways by the editors of and contributors to a 2008 volume Taking Sides: Ethics, Politics and Fieldwork in Anthropology, particularly Heidi Armbruster, Anna Laerke, and Nancy Lindisfarne centered at the Department of Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. What emerges from their work is a shift in research stance in which anthropology’s “openness and orientation to the other” have led anthropologists “to take sides with those they feel are placed on the receiving end of systemic oppression” (Armbruster, Introduction). Furthermore, one of these authors suggests that “the researcher’s own emotions and personal history must be explicitly recognized as key methodological tools.”

You will hear two different registers in my talk. One is that of the research – the ethnography and the analysis of my findings, a description of the divided world predicated on fear of “the other” that I found. The other has to do with my own personal thinking and search. Where might engaged anthropologists and those in search of a Jewish alternative to that world look.
And of course, my personal experience.

I was an American-born youth who had come to Israel at the age of twenty-three out of a desire to take an active part in the new building of Jewish history taking place there. In 1956, shortly after my arrival, I joined Kibbutz Gesher Haziv, located on a hill on the Mediterranean, overlooking the destroyed Palestinian village of AzZib. One could see the remains of the Arab village as one looked out in the evening toward the sea. You could see the crumbled remains of the stonework of several buildings, including a mosque and a palm tree rising alongside it – all this against the horizon as the evening sun set in the sea: it was a picturesque, exotic kind of scene. One of the kibbutz artists had been asked for a drawing that could serve as a logo for kibbutz stationery, newsletters, etc., and this is the view she drew. The view was made even more picturesque by the fact that AzZib was situated on the site of an ancient Phoenician-Canaanite town. There was an archeological dig of the Phoenician site going on. Kibbutz members would show visitors around and point to the ruins of “our Canaanite village.” Thus: a connection between renewed Jewish presence and the biblical past with no need to account for an intervening Palestinian presence at AzZib.

Now, the kibbutz had taken over the lands that had belonged to AzZib, and with them, citrus orchards that had been planted by the villagers of AzZib. I, the orchard manager, would have to hire outside workers to pick the citrus crop – and among them would be former residents of the destroyed village – people who had themselves planted and owned these orchards, who had found refuge in the few nearby Palestinian localities that had survived the 1948 war.

The situation was one to give rise to cognitive dissonance, but the truth is that it was only after long years and considerable political education that I became more consciously aware of the systematic nature of Arab disadvantage in Israel, aware enough for that recognition to impel me to undertake the research and writing that I did.

And so, I turn to my field research, carried out in the 1990s and on into the present century.

Among elements at play in the events and transactions I was observing were the images of the Zionist discourse, two in particular. One was the image of Arab territorial threat and the consequent sense of fear among the Jews – especially among Jewish planners and officials. The second image was that of Arab traditionalism and the concomitant Zionist sense that the Jewish settlers were bringing modernization and development to traditional Arab society.

Population growth in the Arab towns and expanded building needs were and are seen as an Arab threat to take over land. In response, mainstream Jewish planners promoted programs to establish rural Jewish settlements and to set up and expand urban settlements. The idea was “to drive a wedge” of Jewish-held land between the areas of the expanding Arab towns. Notable among Jewish urban settlements in Galilee were Upper Nazareth, established in 1957, and Karmiel in 1964. Upper Nazareth was established right alongside and above Nazareth, the largest Arab urban center in the north; Karmiel in the center of a valley in which six Arab towns were located. Both of these Jewish towns were established on land expropriated from Arab owners. Now, the Planning and Building Law allows for expropriation of privately-owned land for public purposes. “Public purpose” may be to run a roadway or a rail line, to build a hospital or a school – but in this case, “public purpose” was used as the rationale for taking land from one population group for the purpose of settling another group in its midst. The idea was that the new Jewish towns would prevent the Arab towns from coalescing geographically and would provide a population counterweight – in both ways to prevent the emergence of a true Arab urban center – as the Jewish planners put it: to counter the threat of the emergence of an Arab conurbation and, as one writer put it, to dominate the Arab towns. Such development was perceived by the Jewish planners in almost military terms. “To drive a wedge” is itself a military term. And planners referred to their programs as “geostrategic” policy. The plan for Zipporit, the large industrial park Upper Nazareth was building at the time, was described by one of the people involved in the planning as “militant Jewish development acting against militant Islam” – he referred explicitly to the great Islamic conquests of the seventh and eighth centuries.

Altogether, the image that the Arab population poses a territorial threat came to have a very concrete expression – in the takeover and expropriation of Arab land by the state – in Arab land loss.

The image of Arab traditionalism is also that – an image. Tourism development programs for Galilee play on this image – periodicals devoted to nature and to rural tourism show photographs of Arab men dressed in traditional style, a masbaha, a string of prayer beads, in their hands – the caption attributing to the men a longing for the good old days, the days before the coming of the automobile. The image becomes tangible. It comes to have effects in the real world. Thus, the head of the Northern District Planning and Building Commission, in rejecting plans for developing an industrial area in the Arab city of Nazareth, explained that “the proper industry of Nazareth is tourism.”

The two images, that of Arab territorial threat and that of Arab traditionalism, intersect – overlap. One of the results of that overlap is what I call “the appropriation of Arab development potential.”

One finds this in the 1977 national planning document for Galilee that provided for establishing large so-called “regional industrial parks” that would serve as the engine of development for the new Jewish urban centers. The Arab population would need employment, and these needs would be met through the plants that were to be established in the large regional industrial areas as well as through a number of small local industrial areas that the plan proposed building in the Arab towns themselves. Moreover, the Arab towns would have growing needs for professional and administrative services, and the large regional centers would provide the location for these. Altogether, the needs of the Arab population for employment and for the provision of services were harnessed by the plan to fuel the growth of the new Jewish towns.

It should be noted that these “regional” industrial parks were regional in the sense that they were expected to provide employment for residents of a relatively large region, both Jews and Arabs. And also in the sense that any entrepreneur could apply to purchase a plot of land there. A small number of Arabs from nearby towns did indeed do so. But in terms of generating municipal tax revenue, one of their important functions, they were anything but regional. In this, they served only the locality in which they were located, the Jewish town or the Jewish regional council.

Although this national plan prided itself on promoting what it called the integration of the Arab population in Galilee, it did this not to make that population true partners in the development of the region but rather to defuse and ameliorate the friction that would otherwise arise from unmet needs and diminish the attractiveness of the urban centers to new Jewish settlers: it was a plan for the exclusion of the Arab towns from the major thrust of development in Galilee, while appropriating the needs of the Arab residents to the development of the Jewish centers.

Nearly twenty years down the line, in 1995, there were some fourteen large regional industrial areas in Galilee with a total area of some 2,750 acres of land for industrial construction associated with Jewish cities and regional councils. There were another fourteen local industrial areas in the Arab towns with a grand total of 190 acres (190 compared with 2,750). This gave the Arab towns 6% of the industrial area, when at the same time, a full 48% of the Galilee population lived in the Arab towns. The ability of those towns to provide services and infrastructure for their residents is dependent upon the nearly non-existent sources of the municipal tax revenue in their jurisdiction. The absence of industrial development is a major element in the dearth of such tax revenue. Even more important, the exclusion of these towns from development impinges directly on the ability of the individuals who live in them to enjoy an equal share in progress, prosperity, and well-being.

Zipporit, the large industrial park that was being put up in the jurisdiction of Upper Nazareth, was one of the nodes of interaction I studied. It was being built on land just then transferred, for that purpose, by the Minister of the Interior to the jurisdiction of that city. It was one of the large regional industrial parks in the government’s program. Less than 1000 meters away the Ministry of Industry was also putting up one of the small local industrial areas – in the jurisdiction of the Arab town of Kafar Kanna.

For land for industry in Kafar Kanna, the ILA was charging nearly three-and-one-half times as much as it was charging in Zipporit. This same Jewish-Arab price differential held in other places throughout Galilee. The Ministry and Treasury officials with whom I spoke had what sounded to them like perfectly rational explanations for how this could be “not discrimination.” I don’t want to dwell on this here. My own explanation has to do with what I would call normalization.

At first, the discourse is one of fear, threat, and geostrategy. Once normalization has had its way, one talks about zoning plans, industry, and the environment, even about which National Priority Region category a particular locality should enjoy. This is the normalization that the administrative mechanism, the planning world, brings into play. And it cloaks the basic geostrategic nature of far-reaching policy acts, hides the political nature of the original decision to set up Upper Nazareth to counter the development of Nazareth, to set up Zipporit out of the same fear of the Arab threat to land.

Geo-strategic development policy produces and perpetuates a divided society. Its rationale lies at the intersection of the Zionist images – of Arab traditionalism and of Arab territorial threat. Normalization is that which enables one to avert one’s gaze, to avoid according recognition to the creation of difference.

There are other aspects of the loss of land and its impact on development potential with which my research deals. The British drew the boundaries of Arab villages (later, towns) in the Survey of Palestine they (the British) carried out. The British mapmaking team would go out to the field, and the Mukhtar of the village and the landowners would gather at that place and show the surveyors which lands were claimed and used by the villagers. The British surveyors recorded this information as “the village boundaries”. It emerges that these boundaries also reflected boundaries drawn earlier in Ottoman land surveys. A quick look at the British Survey of Palestine map will show that the land was all claimed – and all assigned – there were no empty spaces.

The Israeli state came to establish local government in the Arab towns, mostly in the 1950s and 1960s, but in some instances, later than that. As one of my sources conversant with Israeli Ministry of Interior practice put it: “The boundaries of jurisdiction in Arab localities were set in a confining manner – the historical nucleus of the village plus a certain addition – not much.” My informant went on to explain that this was different from the approach to setting the boundaries of the Jewish towns – there, the boundaries were set expansively, to allow for future population growth and future development.

Overall, the boundaries of jurisdiction of the Arab local authorities, once they were set up, tended to be about 50% of the area included in the village boundaries set in the British survey. This created space for Jewish settlement and its expansion. It created the land that had once been within Meshhed’s village boundaries but was left out of that town’s jurisdictional boundaries, land that could be annexed to Upper Nazareth for the establishment of the Zipporit industrial area, and could no longer be thought of as a reserve for future development of the Arab town.

But then, one regional planner submitted an expert opinion in support of the transfer of other land from a Jewish regional council to Upper Nazareth to further expansion of Zipporit. His statement is particularly ironic and astounding: “Zipporit is intended to be a large interurban employment area. As such, it will provide places of employment to meet the expected demand not only for the residents of Upper Nazareth, but also for the residents of the region, particularly from the many non-Jewish localities, in which the land reserves for the development of industry are extremely limited.” This, of course, is just one manifestation of the appropriation of Arab development potential for the benefit of Jewish development. The minister, if he chose to, could just as easily have transferred land to any of the Arab towns for large industrial development. But the planners divide the world. For one thing, the purpose of development in the planners’ eyes is to strengthen the Jewish presence; for another, the Arab towns are not perceived as suitable partners for development

The tight-fisted setting of jurisdictional boundaries for the Arab towns was also one of the factors in the limited land available for population growth. One comparative figure will suffice: In 2009 Arab Nazareth had a population of over 72,000; it had about 14,000 dunams in its jurisdiction. Jewish Upper Nazareth had a population of close to 41,000 and about 33,000 dunams of land in its jurisdiction. That is, Jewish Upper Nazareth has 1.2 persons per dunam; Arab Nazareth has 5.1.

I have been describing Arab loss of land brought about by Jewish control and Jewish fear. I will give just one more example of Jewish fear. Recall that Upper Nazareth was built alongside and above Arab Nazareth. The roads entering Upper Nazareth, from the south and from the north, had to pass through intersections at the periphery of Nazareth – narrow corridors through populated areas. Planners saw a need for a bypass road that would circumvent the critical points where the population of Nazareth and the surrounding towns was perceived to threaten access to the new Jewish city. The new road they built does indeed ease the flow of traffic into and out of Upper Nazareth. But the images that arose from the explanation proffered to me by planners were those of enabling the unhindered provisioning of, and evacuation from the Jewish city. These were the images of military planning.

One shouldn’t think that the Palestinian citizens of Israel are passive victims of the system. They organize, challenge, contest, fight back at committees, in the courts, through the media. It was this challenge that led me to speak, near the end of my book, about future change.

But several years have gone by, and whatever victories there are do not seem to add up to basic change. Consider the index of equality between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel, the result of an ongoing yearly study carried out by Sikkuy, the Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality. In 2011 the study reported a continuing and widening gap in socio-economic indicators between the two sectors. As a Sikkuy director put it, “The gaps are increasing largely because one side is stronger and receives greater resources and so will continue to grow stronger than its counterpart” (Sikkuy 2011, reported in Haaretz).

Consider also the perennial shortage of land in the Arab towns for residential building. The absence of adequate zoning plans means that people cannot build to meet the needs of their growing families on their own, privately-owned land. If they do, the buildings fall into the category of illegal buildings. The population in Nazareth and the nearby Arab towns has grown by over 40% from 1995 to 2009. But new zoning plans are held up for years at the District Planning and Building Commission on the grounds of the lack of adequate waste water treatment facilities. Yet such facilities are not governed by the municipalities. The sewage collection problem “somehow skipped the Jewish localities” says Hanna Swaid, Arab Knesset member from the Hadash party (Smolsky 2012; Wesley, new information 2011-2012).

Plans for expanding the industrial areas in the Arab towns, even by the miniscule amount of twenty-five acres, are held up; some wait for years only for the minister’s signature. Prices for state-owned land for industry in the Arab towns are still much higher than in Jewish localities. Plans for joint Jewish-Arab industrial parks languish (Wesley, new information; Eppsteiner). So far, there is little to suggest that Arab towns can be partners in development, in creating development initiative and thrust – and share in the benefits of that development. Altogether, development takes place on state land – which ought to be used, one would think, for the benefit of all citizens, rather than for a particular segment of the population.

In January 2012 (just last month) Prime Minister Netanyahu told an audience of 3000 young Jews, participants in the Birthright Israel project, that Israel is the only country in the region in which Arabs enjoy full rights, and urged them to go back home and spread that truth about Israel (Neistat 2012). But this is only a partial truth. It relates to voting rights which the Palestinian citizens of Israel do enjoy. But even in that, Netanyahu’s assertion cannot be accepted at face value. Schools – Arab schools and all schools – are not allowed to discuss the Arab-Palestinian view of what happened in 1948 and on. Arab members of the Knesset are not deemed to be legitimate political allies on “sensitive” issues – such as making concessions for peace. They are not considered suitable partners in any government coalition formed by any party, whether rightwing, middle-of-the-road, or leftwing. And in the domains of access to land, infrastructure, socio-economic well-being, and Palestinian culture and heritage, what Netanyahu claims has to be rejected as out-and-out fabrication.

Indeed, on the very same Haaretz page that carried the report of Netanyahu’s speech for the Birthright youth, one finds a report of government plans (the Jewish National Fund and the District Planning and Building Commission) to destroy a Bedouin village for the purpose of establishing a forest. The residents of this village once lived on Negev land to which they claimed historic possession. But years ago, the Israeli military governor asked them to move, and they moved at his request to their current location. This is what is now classified as an “unrecognized” village, up for destruction.

Thus, Israel is not a democracy in any normal, accepted sense of the word. It is a divided world, marked by discrimination arising out of fear, the perception of a “threatening other”, and being locked in to needing an exclusive Jewish state for the sake of imagined security.

I would like to turn here to describe the progress of the search that was motivated by having to deal, personally, with the implications of my research.

Land was so clearly a central element in the web of Jewish-Arab relations in Israel. It was my good fortune to hear a prominent Israeli urban and regional planner make the following statement at a Haifa University conference titled “Minority, Majority and the State of Israel: The Question of Land”: “Every child loves its mother as its only mother,” he said, “while his/her mother may have many children and love them all – so too, many populations may live in one territory, all with the sense of rootedness, possession and control – without pushing out the others.” He was not part of the speakers’ panel. Rather, he rose to make his statement from the floor.

For me, this was a statement to fire the imagination!

What would be possible if one were to think in terms not of exclusion, of zero-sum conflict, but in terms of sharing.

The idea I am getting at is the possibility that Jews and Palestinians might share the land as the homeland of each – something that was implicit in the comment of the Israeli planner. And so, I concluded my book with what I called “a personal note in the register of self-interest.” I wrote: “It is my sense that, by and large, the Jewish people in Israel has, at least since the advent of the state, been embarked on a course of closing in on itself in ever-narrowing circles. That way, I feel, lies not existence but eventual suffocation. Part of our constriction inheres in our attempt to exclude those others, our Palestinian fellow citizens, who, like us, may claim this land as their homeland. To share the land would mean to choose, instead, breath and life.”

This fit well with my sense of the rightness of politically-engaged anthropology – that research could add new perspectives, expand ways of seeing, and, indeed, take a moral stand.

To think about a future that is different from the current state of affairs is not just hope – it is also a challenge to the established, entrenched ways of thinking, and, as such, something that can provoke anger.

I do not intend to talk about a political program, but rather about some lines of thought and my encounter with other, challenging writing. Like my own thinking, this writing is set in the post-Zionist space opened up among scholars and some parts of the Israeli and Jewish public by “new historian” writers such as Morris (1987) and Pappe (2006).

I started my research by finding images of the Zionist discourse, I will be talking now about the images of an alternative.

Such images have to do with exclusion, on the one hand, and sharing on the other. Note that I do not put the term inclusion as the opposite of exclusion, since it runs the risk of meaning inclusion of one by the other. “Sharing,” by contrast, implies partnership, being and acting together.

In 2009, Ariella Azoulay, Professor of Visual Culture and Contemporary Philosophy at Bar Ilan University, mounted a photographic exhibit called “Constituting Violence: 1947-1950” (or in some translations “Constituent Violence”). The exhibit contained over 200 photographs documenting situations and events from those years. The photographs were drawn primarily from Israeli state archives. They document with great impact the violence of the state acts of 1947-1950 that, according to Azoulay, was the origin of a society split asunder, in which it appeared right for the state to subject its Arab citizens to control and domination (the military government, under which the Arab Population in Israel was governed from 1948-1966) and to treat them differently than it treated (and treats) its Jewish citizens. In the dominant narrative, the events were described as the victory of Zionism and as a catastrophe (nakba) from their (the Palestinians’) point of view. And the Palestinian narrative has adopted this description of events. But, argues Azoulay, one has to see these events as a catastrophe from ANY point of view. For the violent acts of 1947-1950 brought about a total rupture in the web of relations that existed beforehand – when Jews and Arabs lived together and participated in joint, common social, economic activity.

Seeing Azoulay’s exhibit, and hearing her talk in 2009, drove home for me the perception of rupture. It led me to a deeper understanding regarding the division in the world I had been describing in my research, the division created by state authorities and those acting in its name – that state practices were dividing practices and that the split running down the middle of that world was but a continuation of what had transpired in 1948.

Now, it is true that before 1948 Jews and Arabs in Palestine worked together at the same work places – the ports, the railway, the oil refinery, the Haifa municipality are some of them. In some instances, Arab workers shielded their Jewish comrades from violence that erupted at times (Lockman 1996). There are accounts of Arab and Jewish brothers – infants of families who lived in the same courtyard, and were nursed together at the breast of one of the mothers – and became thereby brothers for life (Zochrot tour, personal testimony at Salama; Alcalay 1993, p135). Conversely, there is no doubt in my mind about the violence of 1947-1950 – the takeover, the pillage, the expulsion, and the destruction that continued after the war. And still, there is something that seems to me not quite right in Azoulay’s definition of a halcyon earlier period. Both Gershon Shafir and Zachary Lockman provide a useful correction to her contention that separation began only with the establishment of the Israeli state.

In his seminal 1989 study Land, Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict 1882-1914, Gershon Shafir analyzes the development of Jewish exclusionary practices starting in about 1905. “Conquest of Labor”, originally a term referring to transforming Jews into productive workers, came to mean instead, monopolization of the labor market and exclusion of the Palestinians. It was the principle of “Hebrew Labor”, and the result was a split labor market. After 1909 this was conjoined to the concept of “hityashvut ovedet” (“laboring settlement”), referring to the kibbutz and the moshav. This entailed “the principle of exclusive Jewish land ownership that could be extended into a guarantee of exclusive Jewish employment” (p192). There were, to be sure, places in daily life where Jews and Palestinians came together in the pursuit of common aims. But Shafir shows how, largely, separation between Jews and Palestinians was a characteristic of Jewish settlement in Palestine from its early days. Among other things, Shafir shows how the programs and principles of the Zionist movement did not arise full-blown and ideal but rather were formed in the thrust and parry of opposing communal, national forces.

Zachary Lockman (Comrades and Enemies 1996) extends this kind of analysis into the period of the British Mandate. He relates how during that time groups of Arab and Jewish workers were involved in efforts to cooperate. In the case of the railway workers, there was a sense of solidarity that at times transcended national divisions. Lockman shows how, nonetheless, “relations were profoundly affected by the dynamics of the broader Zionist-Palestinian conflict” (p360). Labor Zionism found it useful to count the Arab workers as an enemy to mobilize against for economic and political ends, [but also] as an ally, a passive junior partner whose presence [under the tutelage of the Histadrut] could be read as a guarantee of, and a justification for the Zionist project” (365). As part of the policy of Hebrew labor, Arab workers were during the Mandate and on until 1959 not accepted as members in the Histadrut, the Federation of Hebrew Labor.

So, one might follow Azoulay in seeing that there must have been a great deal of daily contact, exchange, interaction between Jews and Arabs during the pre-state period. But if one is looking for sharing that partakes of mutual recognition, I believe it is necessary to shift one’s search away altogether from the time of the Zionist project.

To do so, I turn to the work of Ammiel Alcalay, writer, translator, poet, professor of Hebrew Literature in New York. In his amazing After Jews and Arabs (1993), he presents an alternative history of Jewish culture centering on the Levant – a geographic area with the Mediterranean as its focal point – from Portugal and Spain through southern Europe, the Balkans, Iraq and Iran, and North Africa – from the advent of Andalusian culture in tenth century Spain until the dissolution of the Jewish communities in those places in the 1950s (p21). Alcalay brings together and discusses the rich cultural creation of the Jews – who “lived and traveled, settled down, and created from one end of this realm to the other, throughout the roughly thousand year period” (p28). The Jew was a native, at home, throughout this region – “a notion so foreign to the modern dogma of the Jew as eternal stranger” (p27).

This treasure has been shunted aside – a result of the rejection and disparagement by the Zionist movement, its origins in Europe, of everything Arab. Among other results one can count the Zionist-Israeli rejection of the Jews from the East and their consequent subordinate position in the Israeli class structure.

To be able to reappropriate this cultural treasure would entail giving Arabic its rightful place and recreating the possibility of Jews and Palestinians living together. How to do this – in what would no doubt be a different Israel (or something other) would have to be worked out.

But there are currents in Israeli society today to which I would give my support. Central is the work of Zochrot, an Israeli NGO, which has developed programs regarding the Nakba, toward acknowledging it and taking responsibility for it, and regarding the return of Palestinian exiles. These are positions which are anathema to many mainstream Israeli Jews, and indeed often work as the proverbial red flag.

So I would like to ease my way into this topic by discussing an academic work produced by two prominent Israeli anthropologists, Shulamit Carmi and Henry Rosenfeld (published in 2002). They have found that in July 1948, the middle of the war, an Israeli government ministerial committee took a majority decision to the effect that a suitable amount of the so-called abandoned land was to be kept in reserve for the return of the Arab refugees. Experts, their experts, determined that there was “room for all” (p54).

But then, in the beginning of 1949, the policy of the majority acknowledging return disappeared, and what remained was that of the Prime Minister/Minister of Defense. According to Carmi and Rosenfeld, the majority was intimidated, and democracy caved in. The cave-in was aided by chauvinism and the attraction of war spoils (pp58-59). The authors, in further explanation of the cave-in of the democratic majority before state power, mention Ben Gurion’s strong-arm tactics (including threats to resign) in the politics of the party and national government. Carmi and Rosenfeld sum up: “the statement made by some of the Israeli ministers, ‘there is room for all’, became a “defeated alternative to be renegotiated under new circumstances” (p63).

Well, Zochrot, mostly Jewish and centered in Tel Aviv, has been working on plans and thinking and discussion about Return. The organization was founded ten years ago, and today has a signed-up mailing list of over 2,500. The number of participants in any given activity may be only in the neighborhood of fifty or so, but each activity draws its own bunch.

At first the organization focused on activities aimed at giving recognition to the Nakba. These included organized trips to depopulated and destroyed villages, erecting place name signs, and hearing oral testimony from still-accessible survivors. You know, you see the ruins at the sides of the road and pass them by as a naturalized remnant of the past, or see the village of AzZib, as I did, see the gutted remains of buildings spread here and there on the kibbutz land, identifying them only as the ‘spoils of war’, until one day you realize that you are looking at destroyed life (see Kadman 2008). Eitan Bronstein, a guiding spirit in Zochrot, puts it: “It is important to know that there is another history of the land, not only our biblical forefathers, but another people, until just fifty years ago.” “This is our history too,” he says, and invokes the possibility of there being two memories of the same place.

The name of the organization “Zochrot” reflects this. It is the feminine form of the word “remembering” – usually in Hebrew, one would use the masculine form “Zochrim” even for a mixed group, but the feminine form “Zochrot” was adopted against the grain, against the built-in, male-oriented sense of the language and the militaristic spirit of the culture, to focus instead on compassion and inclusion.

Since 2008 Zochrot has initiated projects that involve thinking practically about Return – not so much about the right itself, but more about the possibilities, how to implement it. One of these is the planning of return to Miska, a destroyed village outside of Kfar Saba – interested Jews planning together with refugees from Miska who live nearby. That, the direct participation of the refugees, their voice, is vital to the project. There are Jewish settlements near the remains of Miska, but the area of Miska itself is empty, except for the ruins. That is the case in very many of the sites of some five hundred villages destroyed during the war and the early years of the state. “Planning” in these Zochrot projects refers to zoning, layout, capacities, functions, and local mapping.

About a year ago, Zochrot mounted an exhibit presenting some of these projects. In a recorded talk with Eitan, Aviv Gross-Alon, the curator of the exhibit, spoke about how at the beginning of her participation in the project, she felt that she was facing a closed door of fear – a door that must be entered – “many fascinating possibilities arise when you open that door,” she says.

In that talk with Gross-Alon, Bronstein went on, “People say that Return is extermination of the state of Israel, or extermination of the Jews themselves. We try to say that no, it’s not like that, to show Israelis that there are possibilities of return. None of the projects talk about expelling anyone. We’re talking about how to return, but based also on the rights of the people who are living here to live here.” The projects are based on the premise that no further injustice shall be inflicted.

The projects avoid the principle of Return and deal instead with practicalities of how to organize Return. Bronstein comments, “Hopefully, the practicalities of the Return project will break through the wall of fear and misinformation surrounding the Palestinian right of Return, and open up a much needed debate within Israeli society.”

In keeping with this approach, the Return that is planned is not to an unchanged, idealized past, not return as realization of a myth of redemption, but to the human social geography of the present day.

One of the workshops developed the idea that the Return of the refugees contains the hypothetical possibility of opening up Israeli Jews to the Arab world in whose midst they live.

Bronstein talks about the life-giving potential of such development, rather than simply living in anticipation of the next war. He points out how important this is for Jewish Israelis. As he puts it, “We are soldiers, victims of a military society.”

Among the participants in various panel discussions built around the exhibit were Israeli academics, architects, geographers, and planners. One of these is Yehouda Shenhav, a prominent Israeli sociologist centered at Tel Aviv University and the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem. In considering the potential loss of Jewish numerical superiority in future developments, Shenhav offers a critique of the concept of sovereignty based on territorial exclusivity that grew out of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Today, sovereignty covers vague regions and is based on a racialized state of emergency as a permanent regime strategy. But, he writes, sovereignty ought to be thought of “as a multifaceted concept, rather than a stable, unitary category.”

He considers the possibility of joint sovereignties of Jews and Palestinians, based “[not] on linear territorial contiguity, but on joint, intersecting spheres… that will provide solutions to the national, cultural, religious, economic, and political aspirations of diverse communities.” He observes that, in his view, the Jewish territorial sovereignty achieved in 1948, rather than returning the Jews to history, as promised, had the paradoxical consequence of imprisoning them in a mythic conception of time and space external to both world history and the history of the region (2011, pp11-12).

On the one hand, it is true that Palestinians under Israeli Occupation suffer greatly and that that suffering includes hardship in moving about their personal affairs inside the Territories and in leaving and entering them. But on the other hand, I would put Shenhav’s point more bluntly: we Jews in Israel find ourselves imprisoned in a ghetto of our own making. This is the sense of walls closing in on us, suffocating us, that I wrote about briefly at the end of State Practices.

I would like to say something about the new historians and kinds of evidence. The “old historians” told the story of 1948 as a glorious epic victory of David against Goliath. The “new historians”, using Israeli state archives, tell a different story – they view Palestinian dispossession as central to the creation of the state of Israel.

But there is an inner tension in their work. Ilan Pappe tells about ethnic cleansing and argues that it was premeditated. By contrast, Benny Morris contends that the Palestinian refugee problem was “born of war, not by design.” Yet it has been argued that Morris’ own evidcnce shows that it was expulsion, premeditated and systematic (Journal of Palestine Studies 21 (1) 1991) [Norman Finkelstein, Nur Masalha].

There is in my mind a question that arises here of how one integrates three kinds of evidence. One comprises contingent events on the ground, local interaction. A second would be statements, proclamations, debate about aims and principles. This second kind of evidence is a major component of what might be called the discursive envelope. That envelope, following Foucault (1972), contains both discursive and non-discursive elements. “Hebrew labor” is an example of the first; the wage level at a particular time and place, an example of the second. The third kind of evidence would be to measure only by results. It should be noted that material from one domain may shift into another. Thus, the political maneuvering of a committee meeting is a local transaction, but the statements made and the decisions become part of the discursive envelope.

One may privilege one or another of the three kinds of evidence. Or one may search for some kind of synthesis, moving back and forth perhaps from one level to another. I think that all this is relevant to the inner tension in the work of the post-Zionists. It may be that Morris was able to argue “born of war, not by design” by putting aside evidence from the discursive envelope – evidence which Pappe does use in his analysis.

Both Gershon Shafir and Zachary Lockman, in the works I cited above, integrated evidence from the discursive envelope and from contingent local events. On the other hand, the article by Carmi and Rosenfeld on the decision of the ministerial committee in 1948 and the overthrow of that decision looked primarily at local events. I would dare to suggest that the Rosenfelds’ analysis of how the decision “there is room for all” was overturned could have been profitably augmented had they been willing to give more consideration to the discursive envelope. I might add that in my own book of 2006 I adopted an approach that sought to integrate data from local nodes of interaction and that from the discursive envelope.

Ariella Azoulai’s photographic exhibit, on which she bases her interpretation of 1947-1950, is something else. It is raw history, presented for the eye’s gaze. The photographs were taken by people on the spot, for the record, perhaps with some pride. One can only look and look and look and try to take in the world they capture, try to understand.

To understand the effect of the discursive envelope in creating our world, one has to be able to step outside the discourse. Events and conditions seen from outside the discourse look different. And seen from outside, the discourse itself may be challenged. To the early Zionists, the principle of “Hebrew labor” appeared virtuous, redemption of the Galut Jew, something to be proud of. It takes quite a bit of distance to be able to discern the negative long-term effects of the exclusion and separation it produced. Those who took the photographs assembled by Azoulay were not able to see them as Azoulay and we can see them today. That is, as some of us can see them today. Others who are still caught in the Zionist discourse see her work as a threat. Relevantly, she was denied tenure at Bar Ilan University in September last year.

To pursue that idea of threat and fear. Relevant here is Glenn Bowman’s 2003 article “Constitutive Violence and Rhetorics of Identity”, in which he studied the mobilization of nationalist identity in the Occupied Territories and former Yugoslavia. He writes about the necessity of perceptions of violence and shared threat for the creation and maintenance of national solidarity. He writes about Palestinians and Yugoslavians, but as I read his work, my mind kept coming back to the analogous case of Israel itself – a place where the rhetoric of threat and fear is manipulated by right-wing politicians to promote xenophobic nationalism on which they build their own power. Indeed, one may argue that the deep fragmentation among the Jews in Israel is overcome by being able to invoke the perception of a common external enemy.

Alcalay devotes some attention to what he calls “the state rites of power, suspicion, and fear regarding the Arabs” (p42) in Israel. One needs, I think, to add arrogance to that mix – the fear and arrogance that characterize current Israeli relations with surrounding nations, with those under the heel of Occupation, and with its own citizens. In and through these relations, we Jews in Israel define who and what we are.

In recent years, Jewish fears have been cast in terms of approaching Arab/Palestinian numerical superiority, whether as a result of Return or not. Altogether, Palestinians inside Israel and in the Occupied Territories number, according to Palestinian figures, 5.6 million; the Jews in Israel number 5.9 million. Some Jewish experts cast some doubt on the accuracy of the Palestinian figures, but the general trend is clear enough. Jews call this “the demographic threat.” Echoing the military language of development schemes I spoke about earlier, they refer to it as “the demographic time bomb,” a “ticking bomb”. These are phrases that, in my view, ought to give every Jew pause, and send a shudder down one’s spine. Using language with the laundered term “demographic problem” has the effect of subsuming young Palestinian families as a military threat, to picture newborn Muslim infants with a sword in their hands.

I submit that it is we Jews who, through our fear, will make the threat materialize.

But good relations and sharing at the boundary can be a source of selfhood too. There are other voices, voices that reach out. Avraham Burg, in his The Holocaust is Over; We Must Rise from Its Ashes, talks about what “needs repair in Jewish life”, advocating for a “new Judaism” that will “leave behind suspicious isolationism and paranoia” (p209). Tom Selwyn, in his 2009 article about Rachel’s tomb, evokes the possibility of overcoming the walls that have been built in order to create new kinds of relations between Jews and Palestinians.

Uri Avnery, in one of his challenging and lucid columns titled “Whose Acre (Akko)?” wrote about the multiple strands of history and its actors that are interwoven in Israel/Palestine. He talks of a manifesto on Jerusalem he drafted together with Feisal al-Husseini. One of the paragraphs read “Our Jerusalem is a mosaic of all the cultures, all the religions, and all the periods that enriched the city, from earliest antiquity to this very day – Canaanites and Jebusites and Israelites, Jews and Hellenes, Romans and Byzantines, Christians and Muslims, Arabs and Mamelukes, Ottomans and Britons, Palestinians and Israelis. They and all the others who made their contribution to the city have a place in the spiritual and the physical landscape of Jerusalem.” The point, as I see it, is that the history of our shared land ought to be read and told as a rich multi-layered historical and cultural mix.

And so, Sharing.

I know there are many who feel threatened by the nearby presence of someone or something different, something that does not conform to the code. For myself, I feel that there is richness in openness and the embracing of difference. What and who I am depends upon me, not upon the reflection of sameness that I get from my neighbor. I might go further, echoing ideas first put forward by the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber in the 1920s: when I make room for the close-by existence of the Other, and he or she does the same for me, then that is something that reinforces my own individual existence.

The alternative to fear and exclusion is a potential for cultural diversity and richness, a potential for gaining deep recognition for ourselves by offering such recognition to others. Just think, we might study the Arabic language not in order to qualify for military intelligence work, but to regain access to the beauty and culture shared over centuries.

The journey I have been describing may have relevance for both advocates and scholars concerned with relations at boundaries, across boundaries, and in border areas; for those anywhere who seek historical dialogue and accountability for past violence (see the Alliance for Historical Dialogue and Accountability).

But I wish to conclude with a question, one meant for the Jewish people in Israel. When will the time come to take up the challenge implicit in Carmi and Rosenfeld’s final words: “’There is room for all’ remains an alternative to be renegotiated under new circumstances”? Can we envision, along with Alcalay, Jews and Arabs living together?

I would like to express my thanks to Emanuel Marx, Tom Selwyn, Elana Wesley, and Jeanie Shaterian. Each of them, each in his or her own way, has been a generous fountain of warm support and mind- and heart-expanding challenge and stimulation. Ah! if I could but drink at their fountain for another, say, fifty years, then I might be able to give the gift I would truly like to give. In the meanwhile, I offer this.


Alcalay, Ammiel. 1993. After Jews and Arabs: Remaking Levantine Culture. University of Minnesota Press.

Alliance for Historical Dialogue and Accountability

Avnery, Uri. 2009. “Whose Acre?” (15 August).

Azoulay, Ariella. 2009. Constituent Violence 1947-1950: A Genealogy of a Regime and “A Catastrophe from Their Point of View.” Resling. Israel.

Bowman, Glenn. 2003. “Constitutive Violence and Rhetorics of Identity: A Comparative Study of Nationalist Movements in the Israeli-Occupied Territories and Former Yugoslavia.” Social Anthropology (Journal of the European Association of Social Anthropologists) 11 (3): 37-58.

Bronstein, Eitan. Various documents downloaded from the Internet.

Buber, Martin. 1937. English translation of I and Thou. Charles Scribner’s Sons. First published 1923.

–––––––-, and Paul Mendes-Flohr ed. 1983. A Land of Two Peoples: Martin Buber on Jews and Arabs.

Burg, Avraham. 2008. The Holocaust is Over; We Must Arise from Its Ashes. Palgrave Macmillan.

Carmi, Shulamit, and Henry Rosenfeld. 2002. “The Time When the Majority in the Israeli Cabinet Decided ‘not to block the possibility of the return of the Arab refugees’ and How and Why This Policy was Defeated.” In Michael Saltman, ed. Land and Territoriality, Berg. Oxford, New York: pp37-69.

Eppsteiner, Harris. Personal contact regarding new research carried out by Eppsteiner in 2011.

Foucault, Michel. 1972. The Archaeology of Knowledge. London: Tavistock Publications.

Gross-Alon, Aviv. Report of talk with Eitan Bronstein.

Journal of Palestine Studies. 1991. 21(1). Articles by Norman Finkelstein and Nur Masalha

Kadman, Noga. 2008. Erased from Space and Consciousness: Depopulated Palestinian Villages in the Israeli-Zionist Discourse. November Books Ltd. Jerusalem.

Khoury, Jacky. 2012. “The State Plans to Evacuate a Bedouin Village for the Sake of a Forest” Haaretz, January 8, p6. Hebrew.

Lockman, Zachary. 1996. Comrades and Enemies: Arab and Jewish Workers in Palestine 1906-1948. University of California Press.

Morris, Benny. 1987. The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem 1947-1949. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Neistat, Amy. 2012. “Netanyahu: The Arabs Are Citizens with Equal Rights.” Haaretz, p6, January 8. Hebrew.

Pappe, Ilan. 2006. The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Oxford: Oneworld.

Selwyn, Tom. 2009. “Ghettoizing a Matriarch and a City: An Everyday Story from the Palestinian/Israeli Borderlands.” Journal of Borderlands Studies 24 (3): 39-55.

Shafir, Gershon. 1989 Land, Labor, and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict 1882-1914. University of Cambridge.

Shenhav, Yehouda. 2011. “The Chronotope of Refugee Return.” Sedek No.6. May. Israel.


Smolsky, Raz. 2012. “New Housing for Arab Villages Stonewalled.” Haaretz, Business. January 2.

Wesley, David A. 2006. State Practices and Zionist Images: Shaping Economic Development in Arab Towns in Israel. Berghahn New York. With the addition of updated information (2011-2012) received from personal contacts with those involved.

Zochrot tour. Personal account at Salama during tour of several former Palestinian villages on which Tel Aviv is built.

February 2012
Links to the latest articles in this section

Would Israel’s left succeed in uniting ahead of elections? Read more:
Guardian Joins Labour Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign, Censors Editorial Cartoonist
Gaza not soothed by minor Israeli trade concessions