The Subhumans Among Us

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Border police check Palestinian childrens' identification cards as they leave their Jerusalem neighborhood, October 22, 2015.Credit: AP

In the news reports of our childhood, infiltrators crossed the border to murder. In a citrus grove, at a wedding, on a bus. Throughout our childhood. Fear and blood and reprisals. And in fact, until 1956 about 15,000 infiltrators crossed the border — to look for their property, to harvest, to steal, or to return to their homes from which they were driven out. A minority of them came to kill. Despite this, the thousands were branded as murderers. They were all “infiltrators,” because the state killed them en masse. It had a monopoly on the killing, on morality and on the writing of news reports and history, the one that began with “the Arab gangs.”

Then came the occupation. A term was needed for the danger “from within.” First, hablanim (saboteurs) was chosen (most of them crossing in from Jordan, either guerrillas or refugees), and we also had saboteurs ourselves (“to the enemy’s villages we’ll bring destruction three more kilometers, nothing to it, hablan”). Then the term mehablim was invented. The slavish media served up the pus. But mehablim were not actually terrorists.

In Karameh, for example, in 1968, the IDF absorbed its first blow at the hands of guerrillas, but the term mehablim was intended, in the “heritage of battle,” for the Palestinians, who could be arrested, tortured, have their homes destroyed and be killed without a declaration of war. Their continuous illegality made it all “legal.” IRA terrorists and ETA Basques weren’t mehablim, just terrorists, because they didn’t act against us. When the conflict moved to the northern border, TV reporters interviewed Lebanese farmers about the mukhribin (mehablim, in the Israel Broadcasting Authority’s Arabic). The peasants still didn’t understand, and actually there is an Arabic word for “terrorists” (arhabi’iyn).

However, terror came from Lebanon (Avivim, Ma’alot, Nahariya) and Israel bombed a school in Hatzbiya and a football stadium in Beirut because there were the “headquarters of the mehablim.” And who defeated us in south Lebanon? Four hundred Hezbollah partisans? No. Mehablim.

Is a female Palestinian parliamentarian in Israeli prison without trial? No, a mehabelet (female mehabel) is. In short, this is the term Israel uses to mark the arbitrariness of its system. Whoever doesn’t settle for enslavement will be imprisoned, tortured, killed. The term mehablim cannot be translated. It is one of a kind, an exception to any rule. Like us. The media are riddled with it. It’s a name with no signified, a kind of subhuman. The Mufti’s Hitler Jugend. It’s either him or us.

The Palestinian body has become fair game. The prisons are full of them. Their release is our downfall. Masses of civilians, once soldiers on duty, they all detained, at checkpoints, searched, cursed, shouted, raided houses and otherwise forced themselves on hundreds of thousands of subhumans, adults and children, brutally or indifferently. This is how “neutralization” became a spectator sport. The state, which had the monopoly over killing mehablim, privatized it – first only to the settlers; now the whole nation is a hangman.

Basically, it’s natural for Israelis – whose army bombarded and shelled civilian targets in mass killings (in towns along the Suez Canal, the Egyptian interior, south Lebanon, Beirut the pulverized, Gaza), more than any enemy has hurt us – to deny the difference between attacks on civilians and attacks on combatants. The mehablim target civilians, even when they’re not civilians, because we’re immune as human beings. We target only mehablim, which is to say Arabs without immunity, because only we are human beings.

The colonial tongue strengthens “our” solidarity against the occupied nation. “If a mehabel attacks Israeli civilians with a butcher’s knife,” wrote Meretz’s Zehava Galon to hysterical Yair Lapid, “then of course he must be killed and we, as sane people, have one duty, to neutralize him.”

If it’s a knife, it’s a butcher’s knife, of course. But it is our duty as human beings, as sane people, to neutralize. In Be’er Sheva or Ra’anana. If even Galon is sounding like this, we’re deep in the abyss.