`This isn't my story'
Conversations with Arab intellectuals who are citizens of Israel reveal disengagement from the disengagement, and deep pessimism about the future of Jewish-Arab relations in Israel
Dr. Adel Manna, a historian at Hebrew University and the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem, has two blue pro-disengagement ribbons in his car. He took them, he says, from amiable youngsters who were handing them out at intersections, in order to encourage the kids, but never hung them up. "I'm not part of the camp, and not part of the discourse on this subject," he says in a coolly analytic tone mixed with a sad cynicism, a tone that runs through our lengthy conversation about the place of Israel's Arabs in the public debate on the disengagement. "My voice is not being heard, partly because no one is interested in it. The disengagement is an Israeli operation, and the Israelis are acting as if they were facing the third destruction of the Temple. The disengagement is the exclusive story of the Jewish tribe; it isn't our business. When they talk about the future of the `home,' they don't ask the opinion of the subtenants."
It should be said that throughout the entire conversation, "Israeli" is a synonym for "Jew." And not only when speaking with Manna. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Arabs in this country are disengaged from the disengagement, which they consider an internal Jewish affair in which they are taking no part. Back when the question of withdrawal from the Golan was under discussion, there was debate over the participation of the Arabs in a possible referendum. But now, the issue of their participation has been decided without any discussion being held: They're outside. At most, they follow events with much anxiety, assessing the potential damage to Israeli society as it concerns them. Sometimes they don't even bother to follow events.
Prof. Aziz Haider, a Hebrew University sociologist, says that he is so estranged from what is happening that he no longer watches the news. He pays the television license fee, without "consuming" the product. He heard about the terrorist bombing in Netanya only the next morning. "They're cutting us off from the state so much so that I don't even care about the news," he says. "I watched this week, but only because you intended to talk to me about it. But deep down, I'm not supposed to follow the news. It isn't my story."
This feeling is shared by Lutfi Mashour, the editor of Al-Sinara, the Arabic-language newspaper published in Nazareth. It never even occurred to him to send a correspondent to Gush Katif, even though reporters from all over the world are inundating the area. Reporters from Arab media outlets in Israel are not, it seems, among them. This week, Mashour did watch the violent scuffle between the settlers and the army and police. All he could think about was how it would have ended had the demonstrators been Arabs, working out in his head the multiples of the 13 Arabs killed in the October 2000 riots in relation to the number of demonstrators. If anyone in Nazareth is talking about the disengagement, it is only in this context. Aside from that - there is no interest.
Visiting Nazareth and the surrounding Arab villages today is like taking a trip to a faraway land. At a time when the cities of Jewish Israel are an arena for the wrestling match between opponents and supporters of the pullout, in which every exposed wall and tree trunk becomes a place to hang an orange or blue statement of opinion, the Arab locales are cut off from all that. There isn't a trace of struggle. The only orange in Nazareth is that of the Balad movement, which long ago adopted it as its color; the few blue ribbons on the cars were placed there, it may be assumed, to placate Jewish employers with pro-disengagement feelings. Unlike Oslo, the Arabs in Israel are not part of the process now. They are only concerned about the destructive ramifications for the democracy that people feel is being undermined, as well as what they interpret as an escalation of the sense of tribalism in Israeli society.
"Even the more optimistic among us are becoming pessimistic in regard to the nature of the Jewish individual," protests Manna. "I am astounded at the lack of magnanimity in Israeli society; I feel I didn't really know it. The atmosphere of depression and trauma that you talk about when it comes to the disengagement is, in my opinion, a reflection of the lack of a generosity of spirit in Israeli society. Instead of turning this minor step into an impetus for hope and opportunity, you behave as if a limb is being removed from your body, and not like someone who is undergoing an operation for the benefit of the body and spirit of his people. This lack of magnanimity scares me, because it will reverberate where I am concerned, too. Even more than before, I am melancholy about my future as an Arab citizen in Israel."
Manna is particularly worried about the fact that through this process, Israeli society is becoming, he feels, more Jewish. "That is the real trade-off now," he notes. "Territories in exchange for a more Jewish state. Every argument offered as grounds for every diplomatic step, including the disengagement, is demographic in nature. Not only on the right, but on the left, too. What does that portend for me as an Arab? Only bad things. I see how the settlers, who used to be referred to as obstacles to peace, now receive empathy and a measure of support in their chauvinist and fascist discourse. And I think to myself that if this is already happening now, what will happen when they have to dismantle Beit El? Into what psychosis will Israeli society fall then? I feel less Israeli than ever before. For me, it's a simple equation: The more they concede to the Palestinians, the more Jewish Israel will be, and I will be left further outside."
Lutfi Mashour concurs with this assessment. Speaking at the new offices of his newspaper in Nazareth, he cynically comments: "I, as an Arab, lack the legitimacy to be involved in purely Jewish matters. On the contrary - it is preferable that my voice not be heard. The left is sending me this message, too. So we are standing on the sidelines and observing."
But deep down, Mashour is troubled by more fundamental processes. In his estimate, the real Jewish state is beginning to take shape from within the debate in Israeli society over the disengagement. "Until now, you were an improvisation," he observes. "It even sounded from your national anthem that a state didn't yet exist. So now, it seems, it is about to be created for the second time. This time maybe a state that has borders, but one that is more Jewish, as well. As part of this process, the opportunity to include 20 percent of the citizens of the state that was established is being missed. Even if it were to be established now according to all the rules, it could not exist without including 20 percent of its citizens, which will at some point in the future be 25 percent. So it will have to be established a third time."
Mashour is worried about what will happen in the interim, between the second and third stages he mentions. He anticipates that the situation of the Arabs in Israel will only worsen. "For now, the settlers are busy with the Palestinians in Gaza," he says. "When the settlers come back inside the Green Line, we will be their Palestinians. The internal conflict with the Arabs in Israel will only be aggravated."
He finds the first signs of this phenomenon in the current atmosphere and the language that is now being used. For instance, when the evacuees of Gush Katif are called upon to go and "Judaize" the Galilee. "What land are they threatening now?" he wonders out loud. "When they leave there, I feel threatened here. The drama is mine, not theirs. I will be their new `Jabalya man' [referring to the refugee camp in Gaza]. Every solution of a Jewish problem is always at my expense. So you're right, the disengagement is our issue, very much so. But not really. The Jews made a mistake in taking us out of this debate, and we made a mistake in taking ourselves out of it."
Being left outside has emotional and intellectual nuances: The Arabs in Israel are unable to relate to the emotional dimension of the evacuation of the settlers, or to thoughts of "the day after." When someone at Van Leer broached the idea of making a visit to Gush Katif, Manna thought it was pointless. "These people, who are seemingly being evacuated from their homes, provoke no empathy in me," he explains.
"The opposite is the case. More than ever, I think of the difficult things that have happened to Palestinians since 1948, about the transfer, primarily that of the Arabs in Israel, about the house demolitions, about destruction of the mosques. It doesn't spark any feeling among the Jews, and when you have to move a few thousand settlers into Israel, so that it might become a normal country, the emotions are overflowing. More than ever before, the Jews seem to me a tribe and not a people, behaving like a narrow religious community concerned with its own needs."
Even the undermining of democracy, the breakdown in people's compliance with the law, the deterioration of the sovereignty of the state, and the restrictions imposed by the state on freedom of expression and protest - these do not arouse in him any reaction at the intellectual level. "As a democrat I am incensed, but the only thing I can think of is that you were not moved by what was done to us, and you are moved when much less than that is now happening to you," says Manna.
Is he gloating? "No," he replies. "If Israeli society should be torn apart from the institutions of the state, it will be bad for me, too. When societies are in chaos, the first ones to suffer are the minorities, who are made scapegoats. This is the opportunity to say to all the self-righteous prigs out there: Keep your eyes open. You didn't raise an outcry when it concerned us. Perhaps in that sense my situation is improving."
Dr. Aziz Haider sees no improvement. On the contrary: When he watches the conflict between security forces and settlers, he only grows more worried. He is personally frightened by the level of violence of the settlers. "If they are hitting policemen, they can certainly hit me," he notes. "Except that when that happens, the policeman that is now on the receiving end of the beating will once again be on their side. Everything has only gotten more frightening."
Even the fact that people are undermining the army's authority, which has the potential to erode the militarization of society in Israel, makes him uneasy. "Maybe it is good for the Jews, but not for the Arab public. It isn't going to help us. The minimal internal discourse that does exist in Arab society speaks of a collapse of our normative system. When this is added to the collapse of the state system, we are in chaos. But people aren't even talking about that. I've noticed that even our writers and poets have stopped creating recently."
Mashour expresses deep concern about the potential practical ramifications of the disengagement for the Arabs in Israel. "If the disengagement process will in fact be extended to other territories, the result will be that you will finally establish the Jewish, the truly Jewish, state. I have no doubt that that is the plan, and I am saying that on the basis of conversations I have had, with people from the left, as well. People are already talking now - not by chance - about moving Umm al-Fahm to the Palestinian state, and that is only the beginning. And when this real Jewish state is established, alongside, perhaps, the Palestinian state, they will say to me: `Go there, or go to hell.' I have no doubt that that is what they will say. So what sort of good news does the disengagement have for me?"
Only Jalal Hattib, a bus driver from Dir Hana, found a glimmer of comfort in current events . This Tuesday he drove a bus filled with Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) zealots from Safed to Gush Katif. The police stopped them on the Wadi Ara road. As he sat in the driver's seat, Hattib watched the men dancing in the middle of the busy road, singing "Messiah, Messiah," surrounded by a large contingent of policemen that was sent to stop them along the way. He had stumbled onto this surrealist, not quite democratic scene. "You can't say any more that there is a lack of democracy only for Arabs," he said, smiling.
Yet that is not exactly true. The improbable dream sequence ended after 15 minutes or so, with an examination of the Arab driver's and car licenses, and with his particulars being recorded by a policeman. The demonstrators were sent on their way, with a "have a nice drive" from the cops. Hovering over the incident were the words of Haider, who commented with sadness that he, as an Arab, would never have the same measure of freedom to say "No" to the government. That is his lesson from the disengagement.
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