The spirit of 1948 hovers over the Israeli army’s raids on refugee camps, even when they are not fatal – like attacks on Gaza, most of whose inmates are refugees – and end up with injured youths and perhaps a dead youth. Dheisheh, Far’aa, al-Fawwar, Al-Am’ari are the camps to which soldiers have been sent in recent weeks, to once again prove Israel’s omnipotence and to sate the desire of the soldiers for a little action.
A thick cable of continuity links the current raids on the living quarters of thousands of camp residents and the expulsion of their families from their original communities, sometimes just a few kilometers away. The grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the expellers point their rifles not only at the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the expelled, but also at the expelled themselves, who are aged 70 and up.
The houses in which the expelled were born, the sabra bushes with which they marked the borders of their family land, the path that led to the mosque or school, the trees that their grandparents planted – and the wide open spaces, oh, the wide open spaces – continue to live in their hearts and be theirs. The soldiers don’t even consider how the stun grenades, gas, metal bullets and Rugers that they employ choke and frighten the old people, who as infants and children were expelled by the grandfathers of today’s invaders.
Brainwashed and stuffed with routine incitement (“terror infrastructure”) by their commanders and the press, the soldiers are brought into the crowded camps, the narrow alleys and the gray concrete maze. Poverty is reflected in every corner. The soldiers associate the poverty and misery with danger. Immature and full of ammo, 19-20 years old, the hormones rage inside them. Fear for their lives also wells up, which turns them in their own eyes and in the IDF spokesman’s formulations into potential, innocent victims of every stone thrower whose age is, say, 15 or 17 and who disturbs the pristine order they represent.
For them, history began with God’s promise to a migrant named Abraham. Their relations with the settlers and the settlements, in whose shadow their bases are sheltered and for which they exist, are drawing closer. Then history, or rather intentional hysteria, goes as far as the stones that the great-grandchildren of those exiled throw at them or at cars on Route 60, which has an abundance of settlements on its fringes, or at the gigantic wall north and west of Bethlehem.
Sometimes, a Hebrew speaker (who for a living built homes or was a gardener in Israeli cities before they were born) or an English teacher defy and speak, despite the rifle aimed at them in their bedrooms, extract from the soldiers a fragment of humanity for a moment. As happened in al-Fawwar last week.
But at that same moment, the soldiers’ objective role, even if it is undeclared, is to perpetuate 1948; to prove that we were and remain a settler-colonialist society, whose goal and aspiration is to replace the native population with its own people. Happily, we have not entirely succeeded (as countries like Australia, Canada and the United States “succeeded.”) Expulsion is not extinction. You can gather the pieces and build something anew from them.
Now Israel is compromising between its powerful desire to replace one population with another, and the mismatch between this aspiration and global and regional politics. The compromise is to limit all construction (real and metaphorical) and to compress the Palestinians into crowded urban and semi-urban pockets on both sides of the Green Line, while continuing to allocate the open spaces to Jews.
The refugee camps are ready-made pockets, and because their inhabitants refuse to forget and continue to resist the logic of the colonialist-settler society, they are permanent targets. The compression methods, besides building, licensing regulations and evacuations, are demolitions, repression, raids, instilling terror, injury and killing. The compression operators and the implementers of the internal Israeli compromise are our soldiers.
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