Part of the battle against any unjust situation is fighting attempts to conceal the injustice. In the letter in which the education minister, Maj. Gen. (res.) Yoav Gallant, tried this week to give orders to the education system, he claimed to be against “lies” and in favor of a “Jewish and democratic” Israel.
Yet Gallant is clearly the one who is lying, because Israel is neither Jewish nor democratic. The reality here is binational, with demographic parity but Jewish supremacy – apartheid.
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One can – and should – ridicule Gallant’s failed effort. It’s aggressive, it was done for political purposes and he’s definitely not the first education minister to engage in misdirection. That said, perhaps it’s still worth pausing for a moment to consider whether his actions point to something deeper, relating to feelings that are common to many of us.
In a sense, people who say there’s nothing new about describing Israel as a regime of Jewish supremacy between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea are correct. There’s nothing new, because most of us know the truth and have known it for many years. Granted, what was known was wrapped in cloaked in explanations, apologies, aggression and repression. Nevertheless, just beneath the skin, we knew it.
We know it from a weekend excursion that passes through a destroyed village underneath a Jewish National Fund forest, from what we don’t see beyond the wall along Route 443 and from what we do see when we pass next to a checkpoint. We know it each time MK Ayman Odeh is interviewed on television; or when we see one of those red signs in the West Bank warning Israeli citizens that it’s illegal and hazardous for them to enter Palestinian Authority territory; each time a Jew throws a stone and a Palestinian throws a stone; each time an Israeli flag is flown from another home in Silwan, in East Jerusalem.
When we see a backhoe on the evening news, we know the subject of the item even if the TV is on mute. We know it when Jewish politicians speak of the “demographic threat” and a Jewish majority – and all of them do – even as another olive tree is uprooted, another home is razed and another 16-year-old boy is arrested.
I could go on and waste many more words, but what’s the point? You knew exactly what I was talking about as soon as I began. Everyone knows.
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It’s scary to talk about what everyone knows. It’s less scary to repress it, to continue to pretend that the problem is “there” – there in the territories, sometime in the future. Just not here and not now.
It’s possible to continue pretending that there’s no problem with Israel, and that at most there will be (or perhaps there already is) a problem with the occupation – over there. But that sentence is factually false.
After all, who exactly is conducting the “occupation” (there) if not the state (which is here)? You, who live here: The last time you went, say, to the Dead Sea; did you think that you were “there”? The principles of there and of here are the same: Here, too, we’ve never striven to “foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants” (as the Declaration of Independence falsely proclaimed in 1948). Rather, we have always seen “the development of Jewish settlement as a national value” (as in the Basic Law on Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People, passed in 2018, which ended the lie).
It’s scary to realize that the single state we have built here operates a regime of apartheid. Not in the future, not if and when, not “beyond the mountains of darkness.” (Mountains? In fact, they are hills just 15 minutes away).
For how many years have you been hearing warnings, couched in the future tense, about how it’s two minutes to midnight and who knows what will happen if some particular settlement is built, or if a single square centimeter is officially annexed (only officially!), and if and if and if. Always in the form of a conditional sentence and in the future tense – the syntax of repression.
But many years have passed, and the clock never stopped. Perhaps that particular settlement wasn’t built, but many other settlements were. And perhaps not one additional square centimeter was annexed officially, but our total control “there” doesn’t really depend on doing so. Because de facto annexation, the kind that enables us to create more and more facts on the ground, happened long ago.
With no conditional sentences and in the present tense – the syntax of reality – the hour isn’t two minutes to midnight; it’s already after midnight. Israel isn’t a “Jewish and democratic state” but a binational, undemocratic one, with demographic parity but an apartheid regime that ensures the supremacy of half the population, the Jews, over the other half, the Palestinians.
Prof. Eddie Glaude Jr., in his book “Begin Again,” wrote, “The narrative assumptions that support the everyday order of life, which means we breathe them like air. We count them as truths. We absorb them into our character.” In his analysis of the situation in the United States and the gap between the promise of a multiracial democracy and the reality, and of the various manifestations of violent white supremacy throughout history, he simply termed the collection of narrative assumptions that enable whites not to see “the lie.”
An Israel/Palestine version of this lie exists here as well. For many of us, these are the narrative assumptions that support our way of life here – Jewish and democratic, a temporary occupation and a future solution.
We can continue breathing the lie like air, but we can also stop. It’s certainly scary. But for a different life to emerge here, for all of us, it’s necessary. And that, very simply, is the truth.
Hagai El-Ad is the executive director of B’Tselem.