Israel’s Palestinians Are Not a Minority

Like Canada’s First Peoples, the Palestinians’ nationhood cannot be measured in numbers.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Amira Hass
Amira Hass

One should not use the phrase "extinct nations" within earshot of indigenous people in Canada. I learned this about a year and a half ago from a French-speaking friend from Quebec with whom I visited the Mohawk village of Kanesatake. In 1990, the village embarked on a struggle to prevent the nearby town of Oka from taking over its lands, including a burial site, to expand the town's golf course. Apparently thanks to the presence of that friend, who had participated in the village's land struggle about 20 years ago, I was not asked to leave after uttering that hurtful phrase.

This is not a question of political correctness or the reading of history but rather of political understanding and choosing a side: for the repressive regime or against it. Three regrettably short weeks of conversations with members of native communities in Canada have reminded me that the reciprocal relations between a group of people and its surroundings is an essence that goes beyond the head count, the number of groups, the level of education, the level of income and the other measurable data the ruling bureaucracy relies on when it imposes its machinations.

In recent months, the First Nations in Canada have been fomenting a popular uprising that dwarfs the measurable data even further. Rights, justice, belonging, caring and historical memory are not arithmetic-dependent. This realization nullifies the traditional definitions of "minority" and "majority." This is especially so since the First Nations' demands are connected to the struggle to save the environment (soil, water and air) from the unrestrained aspirations of capital and the mining industry.

Likewise the Palestinian citizens of Israel, whose memory of being robbed is far fresher, are not a minority. And this is a truth that is above any election campaign. In the entire land, from the sea to the river, they are one people (no more and no less invented and real than other peoples) despite their erasure from public opinion polls and despite the walls and the prohibitions on movement and the categorizations and sub-categorizations the Israeli bureaucracy invents for them.

They are not a minority because they were not a minority before their families' members were expelled in 1948 and because their families' members and their people in exile are still attached to the land some with personal memories and others with memories they inherited along with photographs and land ownership documents. They are not a minority because they have the potential to grow in numbers, and though distinct in culture and history
are attached to other peoples in the region especially by bonds of language and religion.

They are not a minority because "minority" is not a neutral term but one that aims at perpetuating inferiority and unequal rights. By arithmetic logic, if the Palestinian citizens of Israel are not a minority, we Jews are not a majority. It is this fear that engenders all the government manipulations: not recognizing Bedouin communities or connecting them to the water grid, blatant discrimination against all Palestinian citizens in the allocation of resources, letting them descend into poverty, passing racist laws and proposals for laws that are even more racist, cutting them off from the rest of the Palestinians who live in the land beyond the 1967 borders and running brainwashing Birthright campaigns for youngsters visiting Israel from the United States.

By non-arithmetic logic, the minority that isn't a minority should understand the majority that isn't a majority and respect its rights, since rights and the connection to a place are not measurable data. It is natural that we, the non-majority, expect our rights to be respected. It is natural that we object to being a tolerated religious non-minority living here by conditional grace and that we expect it to be taken into account that it wasn't just a colonialist ideology but also the Third Reich that brought us here.

But our wishes are meaningless as long as we, the non-majority, are maliciously exploiting our numerical and military superiority. The vision is distant. And in the meantime we must prepare ourselves for more governmental manipulations that will make the tyranny of the non-majority even more sophisticated in the only Jewish democracy in the Middle East.

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