Sometimes it seems as if there are two or even three different nations: the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, and their relatives, one million Israeli citizens. These three groups live under three different administrative and governmental systems.
The first group is the occupied population, dependent since 1994 on an androgynous combination of Israeli military rule and shrinking Palestinian self-rule. The second is the population annexed to Israel. They received residents' status. The third group are Israeli citizens, with the right to vote for Knesset and the theoretical right to participate in determining Israeli politics.
One group experiences deadly military violence on a daily basis, with limitations on their freedom of movement that are as destructive and grave as anything in the country since the 1950s. The second, in East Jerusalem, enjoys basic rights as residents including freedom of movement, but they live under deliberate, institutionalized discrimination that is blunt, blatant and insulting. The third group, the Israeli Arabs, have citizenship that allows them to deal in varied political ways with long years of discrimination both de facto and de jure.
These differences in their daily experience, especially in the last two years, and the varied sorts of harassment and distress, create a hierarchy for their involvement, identity and their future plans. Sometimes it produces ignorance of and about each other, almost to the point of being foreign one from the other. In the Triangle and Galilee, the routines of relatively normal daily life, while filtered through the swamps of discrimination, reduce to a minimum any meeting points with the daily experiences of the intolerable lives of those who live a few kilometers eastward.
However, the few, concrete points of convergence that do take place remind them how much they are the same people. A concert in East Jerusalem or Ramallah, for example: Performers from the Galilee and Ramallah. Muslims and Christians. The family names indicate they come from Hebron or Jerusalem. Or, the only way to get vegetables from the Jenin area to Ramallah nowadays - in other words, not Israeli produce - is to go through Israel. The only driver who will take that roundabout road is an Israeli-Palestinian relative of the shopkeeper in Ramallah.
Hundreds of Israeli Arabs buy phone cards for the mobile phones used by their relatives and friends in the villages and towns of the West Bank. Yes, they continue to hire workers without authorizations, taking the risk of fines and arrest. Not that they don't profit from it, but the risk is also the result of their worries about their relatives.
A brief mention of a curfew in the northern West Bank or land expropriations for military needs, makes an old man in Sakhnin sigh and remember the military administration of the 1950s and how the living space of his village shrank on behalf of a new Jewish city. Let alone the refugee camp residents with relatives in Israel.
The unifying cultural and emotional factors linking Arabs of Nazareth and Jaffa with those of Rafah and the villages west of Ramallah is no less powerful - apparently more - than what unifies a female Israeli soldier from Ethiopia and a Russian soldier whose father is Jewish and arrived in the country 18 months ago. The collective memory developing among the residents of Fassuta in the Galilee and the residents of Dura near Hebron is no less unifying than the collective memory developed in Israel by pupils whose grandparents came from Morocco and those whose grandparents came from Galicia.
Many Israeli citizens no doubt regard that fact as a threat to the Jewish identity of the state and to their personal security, requiring intensification of the policing measures taken against Arab citizens. Others will say that's why Israel has to get out of the territories. Yet others will feel strengthened in their demand for transfer and brag that they aren't sticking their heads in the sand, unlike those who refuse to recognize the familial-national ties that exist between the Arabs on both sides of the Green Line and between them and their compatriots overseas in their diasporas.
But the entire matter can be viewed differently. Who, other than the Palestinian citizens of the state of Israel, know the vitality and stability of the Jewish-Israeli society? Who, other than them, learned to understand the Jewish community's fears and concerns and to operate inside the contradictory frameworks of an ethnocentric democracy? That's why many supported the two-state solution for such a long time, and pinned false hopes on Oslo. They were ready to live with their internal contradiction - of one people living under the political experience of another people. But the state of Israel will lose them, and their alienation will only intensify as long as Israel sticks to its attempts to use military means to impose surrender on significant part of their people.
The brutal demographic division of the separation fence, and the policies of closures, only enhance Palestinian feelings of joint destiny on both sides of the Green Line and strengthen the arguments of those who say that the fence is just another link in the Zionist plot to uproot them. It won't help to look for a "permanent" solution, because there's no such thing in history. A solution can only be a sane, bloodless management of the conflict between the Palestinian people and the Jewish-Israeli people.
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