“I should warn you. Amira Hass is a Zionist,” a pro-Palestinian activist in South Africa wrote about me two months ago. When she left the room, her fuming eyes already conveyed that what I had said in my conversation with her and her colleagues had gone beyond the party line. For example, I didn’t come out in favor of the magic, one-state solution and didn’t define the wars against Gaza as genocide.
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I also told that same audience that it is not enough to analyze the colonial roots of Israel. The historical context must also include the Nazi industry of murder and the fact that most countries refused to take in large numbers of Jewish refugees.
The thing that apparently angered them most was that I dared claim that the use of weapons does not advance the Palestinians’ cause today. It was not because of my Israeli identity that I was critical of the worship of the armed struggle and wars, I clarified, but rather out of a feminist and socialist worldview. I disparaged the lethal male mimicry (whether among soldiers or between Palestinians and soldiers) of competing over “whose is bigger.” The Israelis’ is bigger. Their capacity for destructive revenge is bigger so other means need to be found in the struggle. After all, there is also revolutionary responsibility for preventing more devastation and destruction, and not just understanding the human need of the oppressed for revenge.
I tell every audience also what it doesn’t want to hear. I tell Zionists how surprising it is that Palestinian acts of violence are so few compared to the systematic and humiliating violence that Israelis authorities employ against them. At a pro-Palestinian conference in the Netherlands about two years ago, I said that the Jewish linkage to the Holy Land cannot be ignored, which also prompted fuming eyes, as if I had never written against the dispossession and expulsion of Palestinians.
In meetings with socialist Zionist youth in South Africa I told them they should not immigrate to Israel. As the other Whites, they still benefited from past privilege of criminal proportions in South Africa, so they should stay in their country and fight to genuinely curb the crimes of apartheid. Fully consciously exploiting additional privilege and moving to Israel would be choosing to participate in another crime.
I said something similar on a panel that I moderated at the HaaretzQ conference in New York last week that dealt with struggles for equality. The audience comprised mostly liberal Zionists. The newspaper’s representatives made it clear that Haaretz is a Zionist publication, that its opposition to the occupation stems from Zionist principles. I found it appropriate to distinguish myself from this stance.
Zionism preaches in favor of the immigration of Diaspora Jews to Israel. Every liberal Zionist Jew living well in the Diaspora needed to know that even without “making aliyah,” Israel was granting them rights denied to Palestinians who were born in the country or whose parents were. Diaspora Jews have the right to visit Israel, to acquire Israeli citizenship, to live and work on either side of Israel’s pre-1967 border with the West Bank, to marry an Israeli, travel between Israel and the United States and not lose their rights in either country.
Everything Israel provides Diaspora Jews, it denies the Palestinians. Most of the Palestinians who live abroad are not even entitled to visit the land of their mothers and grandmothers (their real ones; not imaginary ones from thousands of years ago). Those who are allowed to visit are subject to restrictions: Some can’t leave the West Bank, others are not allowed to enter the West Bank, most are barred from going to Gaza.
Israel is not only barring them from returning to their country. It is also preventing them from settling down in the enclaves of the West Bank. Palestinians who have fled or are trying to flee the nightmare of the Syrian slaughterhouse can’t even dream about the most rational of options: taking refuge in their country of origin.
As a rule, Israel bars Palestinians in the Gaza Strip from traveling abroad, to Israel or to the West Bank. It bars them from living in the West Bank and bars West Bank Palestinians from living in about 60 percent of West Bank territory. Jews from Brooklyn or Tel Aviv can settle tomorrow in the Jewish settlement of Ofra. Residents of the Palestinian village of Silwad, whose land was stolen for Ofra, are not entitled to settle in Jaffa or to establish a community on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Palestinian citizens of Israel lose their social rights if they dare live in the West Bank.
People born in Jerusalem are expelled from the country and lose their residency status if they dare marry and work in the U.S. By the way, Israel also prohibits them from living in Kafr Qasem inside Israel, or in Be’er Sheva. They are only allowed to live in the ghettos that we created for them in the united city.
Israel uses Jewish immigration to excuse and deepen the dispossession. Immigrants to Israel become conscious collaborators with the increasingly extreme apartheid policy. Apartheid is considered a crime. We who were born in this country are collaborators against our will. All that remains for us is to use our privileges to fight the regime of privileges and, as much as possible, reduce the level of our collaboration with the dispossession. This course of action is not unique to us. Israel is not the only evil regime in the world creating rights for some groups and depriving others of them. But Israel, by default, is our home.