From a balcony in Ramallah, surrounded by friends and acquaintances, the nation-state law shrinks to its proper ludicrous proportions. The creationists erased a nation from the written text.
And yet, nine indisputable representatives of that nation sat and joked, turned serious, reminisced, traded political gossip about senior Palestinian Authority officials, voiced fears and concerns, made predictions and retracted them. What a privilege it was for me to sit among them and enjoy what is so natural to them that they don’t even categorize it — a rootedness and a belonging that don’t need verbal trappings; a zest for life; unimaginable strength and courage.
They were born in a village that was destroyed; in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip; in Damascus, Jaffa, Nablus, Ramallah, Nazareth, Acre. They’re the first, second and third generations of the 1948 refugees. Some are third-class citizens — fifth-class, now — of the state that robbed them of their homeland. Some returned to their homeland after the Palestinian Authority was established in 1994 and settled down in the West Bank, subject to Israeli military orders.
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All are members of the same nation, regardless of what is written on their identity cards. They escaped Israeli bombings in Beirut and in Gaza; they lived under Israeli-imposed curfew, siege and house arrest; they were jailed in Israeli prisons for political activity; they were interrogated by Israel’s Shin Bet security service; they raised themselves from poverty; they wandered, studied, worked in left-wing organizations.
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All of them have lost relatives and close friends, killed by Israel or in civil wars in the Arab countries where they used to live. All of them treasure the silent, pained gazes of their parents, who told them about the home that was lost 70 years ago.
Some of them also became bourgeois. Which doesn’t spare them the checkpoints; the Israeli expressions of racism and arrogance; the forced separations from relatives who cannot go (from the Gaza Strip) or come (from Syria); the fears for the future.
Not far, yet very far from there — under a lean-to in Khan al-Ahmar — women sit on thin mattresses placed on the ground and talk about the attack by police officers two weeks ago and a wedding party that is scheduled for this week. The strength and courage of these women from the Jahalin Bedouin tribe are equally evident. There, in those heartbreaking shelters, Israel’s greedy racism is also an immediate issue, broadcast by the spacious houses of the settlement of Kfar Adumim.
How do they live like this, with nonstop threats and aggression from bureaucrats, soldiers, policemen and settlers who covet the little that remains to them? Where do they get the strength to live in crowded conditions that are hard to get used to, without electricity or running water — which are the minimum conditions for community life — with shrinking pasturage and shrinking income, and yet not give in to the expellers’ orders? Their strength comes from that same rootedness and natural sense of belonging, which the deniers of evolution, the drafters of the nation-state law, are incapable of understanding.
For over a month, this community, which is threatened with a new expulsion, has been hosting mass public events — press conferences, rallies, speeches, delegations. There’s an element of exploitation and ostentation here on the Palestinian Authority’s part. Yet at the same time, another process is taking place, one that is very political: Palestinians from both urban and rural communities are liberating themselves from the alienation they used to feel toward the Bedouin.
Palestinians from both sides of the Green Line are meeting. What they have in common is growing stronger, despite their differences. And the Arabic language — with its wealth of Palestinian slang and pronunciations — is spoken without the seal of approval of Israeli Knesset members.
The nation-state law reflects the reality of hedonistic discrimination that creates feelings of superiority and racism. This dangerous law declares the intentions of its authors: to teach additional generations of Israeli Jews that the world is flat and entrust them with the mission of expelling and wiping out a nation.
Infected with superiority and devoid of shame, they’re incapable of understanding that this strength, this courage, this rootedness and belonging that Palestinians have in their homeland, will always find ways to cope, to resist, to innovate and to fight.