Mansour Abbas is not Hamas. To say Abbas is Hamas is to do him an injustice, whether the person saying it is on the right or left side of the political map. In an attempt to defend him against the right’s false accusations, my colleague Gideon Levy wrote in Haaretz’s Hebrew edition last week that “a Palestinian Islamist with Israeli citizenship can’t be fundamentally different from a Palestinian Islamist without citizenship. It’s impossible to expect that they won’t identify with each other.”
The first sentence is odd and the second is misleading, but the strangest thing is that they’re presented as equivalents. What does it mean that there is no fundamental difference between an Israeli Palestinian and a Palestinian from Gaza? What does Levy want to say beyond stating the obvious fact that both are Palestinians?
After all, as someone who identifies with the Palestinian struggle, Levy certainly knows that identification isn’t the same as identity, and in any case, the important question regards the extent of the identification.
Is it impossible to imagine a Palestinian from the West Bank or Gaza Strip who identifies with the Palestinian struggle but opposes the armed struggle, or at the very least attacks on civilians? Is it impossible to identify with the ends and oppose the means? Is it impossible to identify with the people without supporting their government? After all, Levy, as an Israeli who criticizes Israel for the occupation, is a clear example that identification is layered.
Above all, Levy’s two statements minimize complex issues such as identity and identification while dismissing Abbas’ biography as a trivial detail in the forming of his identity. Levy writes: “Only their personal biographies separated them: Yahya Sinwar was born in the Khan Yunis refugee camp to a family expelled from al-Majdal [near Tiberias] and had no choice but to join the armed struggle. Abbas was born in Maghar [also in the north] to a family whose fate was better and wasn’t expelled; they could take the path of the democratic struggle, not the violent.”
But what does that mean, “only their personal biographies”? Is there a more crucial component in a person’s life, in the molding of his or her identity, than their personal biography? If Levy meant that where you were born and live dictates your life, then Ehud Barak was much more radical when he said in 1998 – in an interview with Levy, by the way – “If I was [a Palestinian] at the right age, at some stage I would have entered one of the terror organizations and have fought from there.”
Big deal. So Barak could have been Yasser Arafat and Abbas could have been Sinwar, the Hamas leader in Gaza, but what can you do when Barak isn’t a Palestinian youth and Abbas was born in Israel, and neither joined a terror group?
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In the end, both the criticism from the right and the defense from the left contain the same basic assumption: Abbas, in his essence as a Palestinian Islamist, can’t identify with Israel – even though he’s an Israeli citizen, a real Palestinian sabra, the father of three Israelis, the chairman of the United Arab List party that just broke a taboo and is a member of the governing coalition. His entire life – with all its complexity and countless footprints charting the path he has taken – is crudely erased. The bottom line is, he is told: You’re a Palestinian Islamist.
Can't it be remotely imaginable that Abbas identifies with Israel despite the occupation? And that for many among the 2 million Palestinian Israelis, an attachment to the country has developed despite the hatred, incitement, insults and discrimination against them? That they have a feeling of belonging – maybe painful, checkered, scarred, disputed – and yet, of belonging to the country and not just the land? After all, that’s exactly what Abbas represents.
Levy is trying to defend the legitimacy of Abbas’ identification with his brothers and sisters in Gaza and even Hamas, but what’s really under attack and needs defending is this enormous thing Abbas is founding now, with wisdom that inspires admiration and resilience that very few people in the Knesset have been endowed with: the Israeli revolution of the country’s Arab citizens.