If We Want to Go on Living Here, Jews and Arabs Need to Be Israelis Together

Tawfiq Da’adli calls the Jews who live in Lod 'outsiders.' But Tawfiq, let's be Israelis together. If you and I join hands we'll become a force to be reckoned with in this racist country.

Rogel Alpher
Rogel Alpher
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Passengers, including secular and religious Jews, as well as Arabs, riding the Light Rail in Jerusalem. Credit: Emil Salman
Rogel Alpher
Rogel Alpher

“Outsiders whom the locale cannot identify” is what Tawfiq Da’adli calls the Jews who chose to live in Lod after the Nakba (“Lod 1948: Dashed hopes and destruction,” July 26). Da’adli, an art historian and archaeologist specializing in Islamic culture, is an Israeli like me, but to him I’m an outsider whom the place doesn’t recognize, a kind of “parasite” that grew here “without roots or resilience.”

Tawfiq, let’s be Israelis together. If we want to go on living here, we have no choice. I’ll give up the “Jewish” label as the formative definition of the State of Israel. I’ll suffice with “democratic.” I’ll fight for “democratic.” But I can’t fight alone. Fight with me. Time will work in our favor.

Your children and mine are Israelis. Your children have more in common with my children than with Palestinians who are not Israeli citizens, or with Egyptians, Syrians and Lebanese. And my children have more in common with your children than with Jews in America or anywhere else in the world. You and I, without noticing, have formed a nation here. The Israeli nation. This is our true national identity. This is what should be written under “nationality” in our ID cards.

Tawfiq, if you and I join hands we will become a very significant force in this racist country that is drowning right before our eyes in a morass of fascism, Bibi-ism and fundamentalism. We neo-Canaanites, sons of this place, can breathe hope into it. Come, let us found an Israeli-ness that is based on enlightenment, secularism, rationality. That grants total religious freedom to people in their homes, but keeps the public space clear of God and of violent tribalism.

Israel is a binational state. The place recognizes you, and it recognizes me. It belongs to both of us, equally. I urge you to acknowledge this, despite the injustice of the expulsion in 1948. That egg has been scrambled. It can’t be put back in its shell. We can overcome the resentments that divide us. When I read you, I see you as my brother. We share a common destiny.

As I’m writing to you, I’m listening to the Canadian band Rush. The lead singer, Geddy Lee, is a Jew from Toronto, the son of Holocaust survivors who lived through Auschwitz, Dachau and Bergen Belsen. Lee had a bar mitzvah. He defines himself culturally as a Jew. He sings about his mother’s experience in the concentration camp, and according to the classic leftist-Zionist outlook, he has a “birthright” to the Land of Israel. This place is his, even if he has never set foot here. Just by virtue of his Jewishness, and moreover by being the child of Holocaust survivors.

Tawfiq, I do not share this view. Israel is yours, and mine, and not Geddy Lee’s. Geddy Lee is Canadian. He does not have rights here.

If Israel wants to be democratic, it has to be the state of the Israelis. Israel is one of the most densely crowded countries in the world. In just 15 years, Israelis of Palestinian descent will number two million. We are destined to be mixed together. There is no moral legitimacy for calling Israel the state of the Jews.

The memory of the Holocaust does not give Geddy Lee a special connection to Israel. The Holocaust is not to be compared with the Nakba (not because of its uniqueness, but because the Nakba was not a genocide), but the memory of the Nakba does not give you a deeper, more rooted connection to Israel than I have.

We need to form a political party. The Israeli idea has no representation in the Knesset. And it is the best and only future we have.

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