For Jewish Israelis, 'The Other' Just Doesn't Exist

Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat
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A protest in the Arab city of Umm al Fahem last week.
A protest in the Arab city of Umm al Fahem last week.Credit: AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS
Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat

The Strategy and National Security Conference being organized Wednesday by Haaretz and the Commanders for Israel’s Security NGO will be held without the participation of a single Arab citizen. At first I told myself: Okay, what do we Israeli Arabs have to do with such lofty matters? They are of concern only for the chosen few. Ordinary folks like us would be better off organizing a “Bread and Labor Conference.” But after I looked at the list of participants, all good kosher Jews, of course, I realized that one of them, at least, also has nothing to do with strategy: What does Betzalel Smotrich, that champion of racial purity, have to do with security matters?

And if Smotrich is invited, I thought, then why not invite the rising star of Israeli strategy – Itamar Ben-Gvir – to enable him to present his strategic doctrine that centers around expelling the Arab enemy? In that case, it would also be a good idea to invite representatives of those slated for expulsion, so they could say what type of transportation they’d prefer for their trip across the border: an air-conditioned bus? A plane? Or maybe their own cars?

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And what is the name of former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro doing on the list of confab invitees? Does his Jewishness qualify him to take part in a strategic conference while the citizenship of an Arab in Israel does not grant him or her the same qualification? Evidently, at the moment of reckoning, the state, which is supposed to be based on the fundamental civic element of equality for all, excludes its Arab citizens while embracing Shapiro, a non-Israeli Jew.

Hello, is this the state? You’ve got the wrong number, sir, this is a branch of the Jewish Agency.

This type of exclusion is so natural that no one seems to notice it, and the Arabs, too, have already grasped that their place is not there. The masters of the house get embroiled in discussions, are torn between right and left, and in the end the Arab just has to swallow what they’ve cooked up.

A year ago, out of the blue, we learned that the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had formulated part of Donald Trump’s “deal of the century,” whereby Arab communities from Wadi Ara would become part of a Palestinian state, which will function as one big prison.

Let us note something else here that may be helpful: About 70 years ago, then Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett said, “It seems that I cannot demand from all of you [Jewish Israelis] here to have had the same experience I had when I lived surrounded by Arabs in an all-Arab village, in order to become aware that Arabs are human beings, that they have brains, rational thoughts, self-esteem and human emotions, and are capable of feelings of outrage just like us.”

It’s hard to demand from those who run our lives, who don’t even personally know a single Arab, to fulfill Sharett’s request. That’s particularly true since an infatuation with force has taken hold here, as if a path based on dialogue and cooperation signifies weakness. Apropos that, let us recall that even when the disengagement plan was being carried out in the Gaza Strip, Ariel Sharon did not bother to coordinate anything with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. That’s how it works: You go in (occupy) without saying good morning and leave without saying good night. This is the dominant strategy here: "The other" does not exist.

Nonetheless, and despite the fact that I’ve not been invited either to the strategy conference, I would like to present a position here that takes a slightly different approach: In place of all the tricks and shticks that Netanyahu continually showers upon us, I propose that he address the Palestinian people and tell it that the coronavirus does not recognize borders and does not spare anyone due to their ethnicity, and therefore, Israel, being a neighbor and the keeper of the keys, will guarantee vaccines for all Palestinians.

Imagine how positively such a move would reverberate, what a historic turning point it could be. If you want more ideas, I’m ready to participate in the conference and to present some more revolutionary proposals. Granted, I’m no mega-strategist, but deep down in my human soul, I do have a certain amount of understanding.

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