An epiphany for Israel?

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

By Sherri Muzher

Newspapers around the world are alleging that calls for Ehud Olmert’s resignation after a scathing internal verdict on the failed war on Lebanon are indicative of the fact that the Israeli society has awoken. Destroying the infrastructure of other nations over negotiable issues is no good. Period. And frankly, neither is the intended humiliation, which naturally transforms into more resistance and defiance. That’s just human nature.

The timing couldn’t be more appropriate as May 14 marks the 59th anniversary of Israel’s creation and the dispossession of the Palestinians from their land. Its creation is often portrayed in a mythic and heroic narrative. But this tale conveniently leaves out the hell it brought on for 59 years to the native Palestinian inhabitants, and for itself.

“We came here to a country that was populated by Arabs, and we are building here a Hebrew, Jewish state. Instead of Arab villages, Jewish villages were established. You do not even know the names of these villages and I do not blame you, because these geography books no longer exist. Not only the books, but also the villages do not exist. Nahalal was established in place of Mahalul, Gevat in place of Jibta, Sarid in the place of Hanifas and Kafr Yehoushu’a in the place of Tel Shamam. There is not a single settlement that was not established in the place of a former Arab village.”

And with those words, the late former Israeli chief-of-staff and minister of defence Moshe Dayan effectively shot down the infamous pre-1948 Israeli slogan “A land without people for a people without a land” during a speech in 1969 at The Technion (Israel Institute of Technology).

Many supporters of Israel are livid that former president Jimmy Carter wrote the courageous book, “Palestine: Peace, not Apartheid”. But this apartheid actually extends in what is now Israel, because any state that defines itself as a Jewish state is not going to be fair to Israeli Palestinians, Christians or Muslims. Consider that a Jew living in Brooklyn would be better treated than my Israeli Palestinian relatives!

I use the term “Israeli Palestinian” and not “Israeli Arab”, which has cleverly been employed to white out the Palestinian heritage in the Holy Land. I’ve never heard of a generic Arab race — every Arab belongs to a specific heritage, be it Palestinian, Lebanese, Algerian, etc. Think of Latin America, where they all speak the same language (Spanish, minus Portuguese-speaking Brazil) and most share the same religion (Catholic). In the Arab world, they all speak Arabic and most are Muslim. Nonetheless, each country has its own dialect, foods and customs.

From distinguishable dialects and expressions to being able to identify the region a Palestinian woman came from, by the intricate embroidery on her traditional dress, Palestinians have always had a rich and vibrant culture that is all their own — before and after Israel’s creation.

The apartheid may not come in the form of walls and separate roads, as it does in the occupied territories, but systematic discrimination occurs in every aspect of life. For example, Human Rights Watch noted that nearly one in four of Israel’s 1.6 million schoolchildren are educated in a public school system wholly separate from the majority. Often overcrowded and understaffed, poorly built, badly maintained, or simply unavailable, schools for Palestinian Arab children offer fewer facilities and educational opportunities than are offered other Israeli children.

According to the UN Committee of Racial Discrimination, approximately 120 places have been declared holy sites, all Jewish. There is a street named after the late racist Rabbi Meir Kahane, who called for the death of Arabs, and a boulevard named after the late Rehavam Zeevi, who referred to Palestinians as lice and advocated that Israeli Palestinians be deported.

The list goes on.

The hope is that Israeli society will extend its discontent with Olmert and take a good hard look at the past 59 years. The idea of using force and humiliation on neighbours has never worked. It is time to change strategies.

The writer, former director of the Council for Palestinian Restitution and Repatriation, is JD in international law and a political and media analyst in Mason, Michigan. She contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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