Opinion |

What Do You Know About What the Palestinians Want?

I've been living among the Palestinians for nearly 25 years, yet I would not claim to know what all the Palestinian people want (aside from freedom)

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
A Palestinian argues with Israeli soldier during clashes after a protest, in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, in the West Bank city of Hebron, Thursday, April 27, 2017.
A Palestinian argues with Israeli soldier during clashes after a protest, in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, in the West Bank city of Hebron, Thursday, April 2Credit: Nasser Shiyoukhi/AP
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

I had no intention of replying to Orna and Moshe Gan-Zvi, even though I am mentioned in their letter announcing the cancellation of their Haaretz subscription. I am late in joining this latest buzz because my colleague Gideon Levy, who has stronger nerves than I have when dealing with fact-deniers, answered in my name too. Unfortunately, part of his answer was flawed. Thus wrote Gideon, referring to the couple’s letter: “And how could Amira Hass be so one-sided and lacking in perspective that would explain how a people could prefer the elimination of another people over a democratic society? Really, how could you, Amira?”

His answer might give the impression that the couple’s statement that this people (only in Gaza? It’s not clear from the letter) wants to eliminate us, but that this wish is understandable. That is not correct.

After asserting what the Palestinians want, the couple also asserts what the Palestinians have not experienced. “Gideon Levy and Amira Hass put the (alleged) Palestinian catastrophe at the center of their writing,” they wrote. The couple could have argued with the analysis that Zionism planned the Nakba and bears responsibility for it, but who are they to deny the Palestinians’ disaster? To decide for the Palestinians how to define their history?

I’ve been living among the Palestinians for nearly 25 years, including through the Israeli army’s shelling and bombardments in Gaza and the West Bank, and curfews during which soldiers in tanks fired at women who were standing on a balconies and killed them. I’ve known people whose wounded children died buried in rubble because the Israeli army made their rescue impossible. I’ve known young people whose family’s village is ten times larger than the refugee camps where they live crowded together with the descendants of other ruined villages. All of my Palestinian friends and acquaintances have felt the sting of our blows, whether by family expulsions, Shin Bet security service torture, land theft or being cut off from their relatives. Yet with all my years here and knowing all of these people, I would not claim to know what all the Palestinian people want (aside from freedom).

Hatred? I have encountered it, especially since the illusion that the Israelis want peace has evaporated. Suspicion and anger and hostility? Of course. Talk that the Jews should go back where they came from? I’ve heard that too. Ignorance about Jewish history? Quite a bit. But to a much greater degree I’ve seen an ability to distinguish between the active arms of the occupation (settlers, soldiers, police, the Civil Administration) and ordinary Israelis. Just ask my neighbor’s children who, winking, greet me “good morning” in Hebrew. I’ve heard people talk wistfully about times when there were friendly relations with Jews, and I’ve heard them express affection for longtime Jewish acquaintances. I’ve encountered curiosity about Israeli culture. But that can’t be right because, as the Gan-Zvis are so sure, the Palestinians only want to eliminate the Jews. How do they know?

All of us, even those of us who eat chametz on Passover, sang the Haggadah mantra about how in every generation enemies rose up to wipe us out. Since the Mapai era, we’ve been fed on the propaganda that “they” want to throw us into the sea, while erasing evidence of their existence and of the fact that we’re the ones who drove them out. Even the Shabbat-profaners among us readily say that the rockets from Gaza are evidence of “intent to destroy” Israel. Secular and religious alike continue to commit the same sins of repeating malicious and ahistorical mantras, while systematically ignoring the context: our hostile takeover of the Palestinian people.

But this idea of the Gan-Zvis they want to eliminate us arose out of a very coherent socio-ideological basis. Here is how Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed, head of the Beit El Yeshiva, explains the phrase in the Haggadah, “They rise up to destroy us.” “We are more moral and spiritual and it is hard for the nations of the world to emulate us. Our special virtues arouse in them great hatred and profound jealousy toward us, and throughout the generations they have tried to harm us. Now, in our generation, the generation of the Redemption, when the Jewish people has returned to its land, the hatred and desire to extinguish us is primarily concentrated against the State of Israel.”

The above was published on the Arutz Sheva Yeshiva website. The site, which can also be surfed on the holy Sabbath, offers a variety of references to those wishing to those who wish to wipe us out, chiefly the people of Amalek. Rabbi Elisha Aviner of Ma’aleh Adumim discusses the “novelty (sic!) offered by Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik in the name of his father, that the law of Amalek, [mentioned in the Bible], applies to any people that wants to hurt the Jewish people or plans to destroy it.” Wiping out Amalek is a mitzvah. Do the Gan-Zvis think this should apply to the Palestinians too?

Should we, because of the words of Soloveitchik (or those who say “the best goy is a dead goy”) say that the entire Jewish people wants to wipe the Palestinians off the face of the earth? No. Because tens of thousands of soldiers of all ranks have killed unarmed Palestinians since 1948, many times more than the number of our own people killed by them, and because thousands of bureaucrats have been involved in their dispossession, should we say that the Israeli people seeks to eliminate the Palestinians? You tell me.

The letter from the Gan-Zvis contains all of this: Denial of Palestinian history, denial of the present-day oppression, the supremacy of a superior people backed by the authority of esteemed rabbis, and the mentality of the weakling from the ghetto (ignoring our status as a military power). In the context of armed messianic settler militias who get the army’s protection, the Gan-Zvis’ assumptions about what the Palestinians supposedly want is fuel for the fire of Israeli incitement.

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