In May of 2011, the Palestinians made a brave attempt to start the Third Intifada. On the northern borders, the grandsons and granddaughters of those who had been dispossessed during the nakba attempted to exercise their United Nations-acknowledged right of return. These were the grandsons of those who had been driven from their homes, which were later declared “abandoned” by a law that the new “Jewish and democratic” state made up several years after it was created. The grandsons of those who were locked out of the land in which they were born; the grandsons of those were then declared “infiltrators” when they tried to return.
Israeli soldiers, ignoring their own protocol, did not shoot to disable. They shot to kill. Some of these grandsons died on the Lebanese border. Others were slain near the line that separates Syria from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, which Israel annexed unilaterally in 1981, a move that was deemed illegal by the United Nations.
Those grandsons and granddaughters of the dispossessed and stateless gathered in the Qalandia refugee camp. From there, they attempted to march to the checkpoint—built not on the Green Line but, rather, on Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory—a place of humiliation, of indignity. A cement, steel, and wire reminder that neither the Palestinian people nor the individuals among them had total control over their lives.
So they marched. They held signs and they clapped and they chanted and they sang. But the Israeli army had breached its own checkpoint and was waiting for them on the edge of the refugee camp. When the unarmed protesters were 100 meters away from the soldiers, they were met with massive quantities of tear gas. The demonstrators choked. They retched. And they reformed and went forward again.
Some of the Palestinian grandsons threw stones. They faced rubber-coated bullets and live fire in return.
And so the glimmerings of the Third Intifada were crushed. The “Jewish and democratic” state believed that self-determination should be theirs alone.
“The world is against us,” Israel’s leaders said, pointing to the Holocaust as proof, neglecting to remind the public that Zionism had not protected the Jewish people from that terrible tragedy. “September’s unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state will bring a diplomatic tsunami to Israel.”
Their words echoed the advertisements taken out by several Israeli rabbis, Hebrew-language ads that were spotted on Jerusalem buses earlier in the year: “A Palestinian state is a disaster for Israel.” They also seemed to dovetail with the right-wing graffiti that had popped up in Tel Aviv depicting September 2011 as Israel’s equivalent to America’s 9/11.
“Our backs are against the wall,” the Prime Minister said in a fiery speech delivered at the end of May to American politicians. “Our very existence, the survival of the Jewish people, is at stake.”
Some in the audience were Jewish and their hearts beat faster when they heard the words. It was as though their lives in America—a democracy that ensured their individual freedom to self-determine, a country that was home to more Jews than the state of Israel was—were truly at risk. Or maybe it was just the fragile identity they’d projected on to this battered, disputed piece of land.
“We need your unwavering support,” the PM said. And so, in part because the Americans felt guilty for doing so little during the Holocaust—and in part because they wanted to keep their foothold in the Middle East—the US gave Israel a little more rope to hang herself with.**
That rope came in the form of political support and weapons. And, in August of 2011—in a move, that shocked the international community and again sparked condemnation from the United Nations—Israeli leaders used these weapons to annex the West Bank.
The Israeli public, fearful, brainwashed by their schools, their army, and their media, supported the move.
Because they associated the word “intifada” with violence—overlooking the fact that the First Intifada was rooted in nonviolence—they’d been frightened by the events in May of 2011. When they’d read that one of the grandsons who had breached the border had spent the day walking, peacefully, amongst them, a red-head who sat next to soldiers on the bus he took to Jaffa, where he looked for the home his family left in 1948… well, the Israeli public had had difficulty processing the story. This man was too complicated. He didn’t fit into anything they’d been taught.
And so there was nary a peep of protest from the public inside that “Jewish and democratic” state.
One border at a time, Israel—which renamed itself the Jewish Republic of Israel in early 2012, in a bid to force its neighbors to “recognize” it as a Jewish state—built walls. The brain drain that had started long before became an exodus. Israel’s academics and intellectuals poured out. Israel tried to stop it, adding to a “Prevention of Defector’s Law” to the slew of anti-democratic legislation making its way through the Knesset. Those who couldn’t make it out via land or air, smuggled themselves out on boats, like the ones that had brought their grandfathers to Palestine, “illegally”, during the British mandate.
Outside of the state, even mainstream commentators began to repeat what marginalized voices had been saying for some time: does Israel represent self-determination for the Jewish people? Is chaining the country to conflict rather than making peace true agency? What about all these walls they’ve built?
Or is the state of Israel one big ghetto, not so different than those that the Zionist leaders decried? Have the Jewish people built themselves a prison?
But there was a critical difference between those ghettoes and the one known as Israel. In the latter, there were Palestinian citizens.
The Republic stopped short of expelling them—Israeli leaders knew that this was a red line that the world was watching and that this was a red line the world would not allow it to cross. So it did its best to take the Palestinian out of the grandsons and granddaughters.
The government, corrupt from the top to the bottom and no longer concerned about maintaining the illusion of democracy, continued favoring the oligarchy that had been consolidating Israel’s wealth for dozens of years. Jewish Israelis and Palestinians alike were forced from their homes in the name of gentrification. Developers built malls, to cater to the disappearing middle class, even though the economy was taking a hit from the worldwide boycott of Israel.
In places like Yafo, developers evicted luxury high rises, which were sold, mostly, to foreign Jews. And because these foreign Jews “supported” Israel, but not enough to leave their comfortable lives behind, these places sat empty most of the year, leaving the growing number of displaced and impoverished Palestinians and Jewish Israelis to gaze up at their dark windows.
But, as is always the case, there were cracks in the Republic’s walls. News of both the apartheid and the continued dispossession of the lower class, leaked out. News also leaked in.
Slowly, Jewish Israelis began to understand that they’d been the biggest frierim of them all. They’d been used by Christian Zionists. Their government had exploited them as a political tool. And, they’d been stepped on as America’s foothold in the Middle East..
The Jewish Israelis began to understand, at last, they’d been living under the yoke of colonialism, too.
As the Jewish Israelis were waking up, the Palestinian population inside of Israel was growing.
And then, as these things tend to happen, the fuse was lit at a moment that no one and everyone expected it.
It was another home eviction in Yafo. The family was young and mixed—a Palestinian Muslim father, a Jewish Israeli mother, their three children. The father was young and fed up with it all—the economy, the oppression. He was frightened and desperate. He climbed onto the roof of his home in hopes of using his body to stop the bulldozers.
And he was shot and killed, just like Shimon Yehoshua was in Kfar Shalem.
But this time, the people—Jewish and Palestinian—realized that it was time to rise, together, in the spirit of the Black Panther movement that the state had put down many years before.
So they took to the streets, chanting in Hebrew and Arabic, sometimes sliding from one to another in the space of a breath. They started marching towards all those walls. The Jewish grandfathers who had been born in Syria, who could still hear their mothers’ memories of Damascus, were ready to see the homes their parents missed so much. The Russian grandmothers cried for the freedom they’d thought they’d find in Israel.
The army was deployed, of course. But those boys and girls—children who had been robbed of their best years—were tired. The crowds were huge. And so, as has happened many times before in history, the soldiers put down their guns and joined the protesters.
The walls came down. It was then that the Jewish people and Palestinians were free to build their state together. The place was something new. It was something vibrant and creative, something uniquely Levantine. With time, the language would drift and settle somewhere between Hebrew and Arabic. And because both the Jewish and Palestinian people had suffered, the new statesmen took great pains to ensure that the new Constitution—the one that Israel had never had—protected the individual freedoms of every citizen.
It was the Diaspora Jews that had the hardest time letting go. They’d fantasized about Israel, they’d fetishized her, they’d formed their identity around a piece of earth and demographics, forgoing the hundreds of years of rich culture the Jewish people had forged around the world. And so a new organization was formed, one that sought money and arms to “liberate” the land. Again.
**Disclaimer: I support a shared, Jewish-Palestinian democratic state with equal rights for all. This story, however, was written from a mainstream, Israeli, two-state point of view. Thus the reference to Israel getting enough rope to hang itself. While I am extremely opposed, of course, to annexing the West Bank, I did not intend to imply that additional Palestinian citizens or residents are “a threat” to the state. On the contrary.
This article is licensed courtesy of Babylon Times.