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I am a Palestinian Jew, or at least I will be

In order to avoid theocracy, apartheid and civil war, one Israeli believes it is time for her fellow Jewish citizens to start re-imagining their identity.

By Dorit Naaman

Fine, I am not yet a Palestinian Jew, but in 10 to 15 years – and certainly in my lifetime – this place will be called Palestine, and I will be a citizen of Jewish-Israeli heritage. By saying I am a Palestinian Jew I am being neither flippant nor provocative, as my critics would likely hasten to argue. Instead, I am analyzing the current reality and describing the future – utopian, or apocalyptic – depending on the viewer’s position.

The truth is that it is quite odd for me to describe myself as a Palestinian Jew, since I am an Ashkenazi Israeli, and thus have no Arab-Jewish lineage. On my father’s side, I am a sixth generation Jerusalemite, but my forefathers and foremothers spoke Yiddish and prayed in the Hungarian-Jewish tradition. They were citizens of the Ottoman Empire, and then citizens of the British Mandate of Palestine, but they did not consider themselves Palestinian. In fact, my great-grandfather was a staunch Zionist and a member of the first Knesset, despite his ultra-Orthodox background. My father was an atheist since childhood, my mother was raised secular, and I grew up as a secular, liberal Zionist Israeli. Being secular and Israeli are still the most prominent markers of my identity, despite my immigrating to Canada.

Neturei Karta protesting Israel day parade (David Galalis CC BY NC-ND 2.0)

Neturei Karta protesting Israel day parade (David Galalis CC BY NC-ND 2.0)

I try to say it out loud: I am a Palestinian Jew. But it doesn’t easily roll off my tongue. I am not ready to say it to anyone else – I don’t even know what it means. But in all likelihood, I will become one sooner or later, so I better practice.

Tipping the scales

I do not know whether partitioning the land into Israeli and Palestinian states would have worked in 1947, or even as a result of the Oslo Accords. What I do know is that Israel has long made that reality impossible. In the West Bank, Israel controls nearly three million Palestinians, dispersed among towns and villages, without an independent economic infrastructure or any possibility of contiguity or growth due to the settlements and other forms of direct or indirect control. In Gaza, Israel dismantled the settlements, yet it retains control over the lives of more than 1.5 million Palestinians through an aerial, land and naval blockade (coordinated with Egypt). Curiously, Israel still issues birth and death certificates in Gaza, leaving Palestinians with little autonomy as a political entity.

Inside Israel 1.5 million Palestinians live as second-class citizens. Take Beit Safafa for example: once a Palestinian village, and now a Jerusalem neighborhood with a population of thousands. Beit Safafa has no urban development plan, contains hardly any street names, sidewalks or buses, and is mostly absent from Israeli maps (as opposed to Jerusalem’s other neighborhoods). Currently, the Israeli government is working to divide Beit Safafa into four isolated sections, by building Route 4 to allow settlers to easily travel to Jerusalem.

Read: The two state vs. one state debate is a waste of time

Segregation based on religion, ethnicity, or nationality were done away with through Israel’s Declaration of Independence, issued in 1948. But the same document declared Israel the homeland of the Jews, and as such, set the stage for an ethnocentric country. In practice, the promise of equal citizenship remained on paper, while state institutions and their satellites – such as the Jewish National Fund, or the Jewish Agency – worked diligently to Judaize the country. Altogether, close to six million Palestinians live under Israeli control (including citizens, residents and occupied Palestinians).

Israel’s Jewish population is slightly over six million, meaning that in just a short few years, a newborn Palestinian will have the honor of tipping the balance in favor of a Palestinian majority. As Israeli Jews, we will have to choose whether we want to be part of a democracy or of a Jewish state. If we choose a democracy, a bi-national state for all its citizens will be established peacefully. If we opt to be a Jewish, non-democratic state, the term “apartheid” will apply in its broadest definition. Israel will be shunned economically and culturally, and eventually yield to international (and perhaps also internal) pressure in order to end apartheid. If democracy is established in this post-apartheid state, it will have a Palestinian majority and will likely be called Palestine. In this future Palestine, I will be part of a national minority.

Judaism and Israeli identity will survive – Zionism won’t

What would the transition from being an Israeli to a Palestinian citizen entail for me and for other Israeli Jews? Around the world, being Jewish encompasses both ethnicity and religion, but the situation in Israel is different. In Israel, Jewish ethnicity functions only internally – that is, as a marker between Ashkenazi, Mizrahi and Russian Jews, for example. Secular Israelis experience their Jewishness primarily through their connection to a tradition grounded in a specific geographical space. For instance, celebrating the Jewish holiday Tu Bishvat (Israel’s ecological awareness day) in Canada during the winter makes no sense to my daughter. In Israel, however where the almond trees bloom, it is simply natural to mark the rejuvenation of nature. The life cycle and daily rhythms of secular Israelis are governed by Jewish traditions, but do not include the observing of all, or any, of the religious laws. Orthodox Jews, by contrast, practice their religion as a daily manifestation of their Jewishness. Assuming that future Palestine does not become a theocracy, there is every reason to believe that both secular and Orthodox Jews will be able practice their Judaism in much the same way we do today.

The contemporary national identity of Israelis (especially those born in Israel) has developed as a result of the modernization of the Hebrew language and original (and hybrid) cultural forms, as well as a healthy mix of high and pop culture; world influences; homegrown forms; and a very active intellectual community. Hebrew and Arabic are currently both the official languages of Israel. I believe it is likely that we will establish a cultural confederation – one in which citizens can choose their education and religious services – just as we do today, and it will be uni-national, religious or integrated.

Women in Black. (photo by Activestills.org)

Women in Black. (photo by Activestills.org)

The achilles heel for most of us will be the place of Zionism in our identity. Zionism, as a national movement geared toward creating a homeland for the Jewish people, is by definition ethnocentric, and thus exclusionary of non-Jews. In the political climate of Europe in the late 19th century, the logic and necessity of focusing on establishing a state where Ashkenazi Jews could live freely was abundantly clear. Indeed, if it weren’t for Zionism, I wouldn’t be alive at all, as my maternal family would likely have perished in the Holocaust. But as soon as Israel was established and stabilized itself, Zionism achieved its goal and should have been dismantled in favor of a “state of all its citizens.” Instead, Zionism was entrenched in the Israeli education system, as well as in state institutions. An ethnocentric education system in a multi-ethnic state could only lead to racism toward other ethnic, national and religious minorities. Perhaps it wasn’t the original goal, but today, as long as we keep Zionism as a core value of the Israeli system, we are actively practicing racism.

But since Zionism achieved its goals, perhaps it is time to let it go and experience it as part of our collective history, rather than part of our contemporary life. I am not sure much, if anything, will be lost of Israeli identity. But I do know what will be gained: we will live in a humanist, egalitarian and truly democratic society. If the new state is based on a just economic system, personal security will naturally follow for everyone.

Something to look forward to

I draw hope – perhaps naively – from the bloody history of Canada, where the French and the British fought each other for several hundred years, until Canada’s indigenous people convinced both parties that neither one can defeat the other. The compromise between the two sides relegates national sentiments to the cultural and education sphere, while citizenship is construed based on civic rights, rather than ethnic, national, or religious belonging. I do not know who could mediate between Israelis and Palestinians (and it is important to note that Canada’s indigenous populations is still systematically disenfranchised), but I look forward to the opportunity of living equally in a country full of diversity.

Zionism has shaped me throughout my childhood and adolescence. But in my academic, creative, and activism, I have come up, time and again, against its severe blindness and ethical flaws. In the past few years, I stopped describing myself as a Zionist, and found that my Israeli identity had only been strengthened. I teach at a Canadian university, but my research and work is all based in Jerusalem.

While on sabbatical, I live in the Katamon neighborhood in Jerusalem, where I am excavating the buried histories of the area. As I walk in “flower garden of Jerusalem” (the neighborhood’s Arabic nickname), I imagine the Iraqi, Lebanese and Egyptian embassies populated once again. I imagine myself walking down from Duar Abdintoday Reha Friar Square, to the Philosopher’s Square, without losing my identity. I think it is possible. I hope it is. The other options are theocracy, apartheid and civil war. So in the meantime I am practicing: I am a Jewish-Israeli and a Palestinian citizen. One day it won’t sound weird at all.

Read this post in Hebrew on Local Call.

Related:
Why it’s time to discuss the one-state solution
One or two states? The status quo is Israel’s rational choice

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    COMMENTS

    1. Laura

      Dear Dorit, I have never read anything like this before. Your reader is a Palestinian-Brit who had all but lost hope in there ever being a resolution, both sides are so disillusioned, frustrated and jaded, but this was truly a breath of fresh air. In moments of optimism I dare to believe that change will come from within, or at least I continue to hope that this is the case. Thank you for having the courage to write this article and and for using a term that no doubt to many will be so contentious. Respect from the other side. Laura

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Dear Laura. Sorry to disappoint you once again but the author of the article lives in Canada and raises her children there. Whatever change may occur here will take place while the author is digging her car out of snow.

        As is the case for most people who imagine themselves as “Palestinian Jews” they are able to do so because they have no real attachment to this place. They have no reason to stay. As such they are unlikely to have much of an impact.

        She is also very very confused. She somehow believes that abandoning Israel strengthens her Israeli identity. Absent the context of Zionism and Israel there is no Israeli identity. Not only that, but within the context of a ‘Palestine’ she wouldn’t be seen as much of a ‘Jew’ given the fact that she is secular and likely atheist while the Palestinian concept of a ‘Jew’ is strictly religious in nature. At best she can embrace a future possible identity being a Palestinian atheist though I tend to doubt that moniker has much of a lifespan.

        Reply to Comment
        • Baladi Akka 1948

          You don’t seem to bother about hasbarats like Bar/Rab who live in the States….

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            I don’t think they will have any impact either.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            I don’t publish on 972.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Bar

      Why wait? Move to Gaza tomorrow and you’ll be well prepared for this day you’re imagining in 15 years.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Baladi Akka 1948

      What a great piece, Dorit ! I’m really moved by your words. This is an article that has to be read by all Palestinians.
      God bless you.

      Reply to Comment
    4. BOOZ

      “But I do know what will be gained: we will live in a humanist, egalitarian and truly democratic society. If the new state is based on a just economic system, personal security will naturally follow for everyone.”

      Assuming that “the other side” is looking at the future in the same manner is either arrogance (of the colionalist sort ) or naïveté.

      IMHO, a worthless article. Childish babble.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bar

        Bingo!

        Reply to Comment
    5. Yoni

      What’s the differnece between a present day Israeli-Arab and a future Jewish-Palestinian?

      Because the Israelis took Palestinian lands, you want to give the land back to the Palestinian, right?
      And then Israelis will be turned into Palestinian Jews, and will be made to give back their land to the Palestinians and give up their state to the Palestinians also?

      I don’t really see the differnece, can someone please explain?

      Sorry for my bad English. I am 11 years old and was forced to learn about this for school.

      Reply to Comment
      • Shalom Yoni – don’t worry about being confused, so am I and it’s not for my lack of English but for the utter insanity proposed by this article! Stay in Canada

        Reply to Comment
      • Yoni, thank you for your intelligent question and interest. For such a young man, I am impressed!

        The Israelis did NOT “steal” Palestinian land. Most of the land was not owned by Palestinian Arabs and 75% of it was purchased at above-market rates. Most of the remaining indigenous Palestinian Arabs fled because they were told to by invading Arab armies under threat of being considered Israeli allies.

        The facts of the immigration and establishment of the state of Israel are documented here:

        http://www.examiner.com/article/another-nation-under-god-why-the-double-standard-for-israel

        Reply to Comment
        • David T.

          What “facts” in YOUR OWN hasbara article, Craig?

          So the “Israelis” did not “steal” more than the 6% they privately owned? How did they acquire it other than by war and conquest?

          And “most” Palestinians “fled” although Israel doesn’t allow them to return which actually makes it an expulsion, whether they were expelled from the get to or prevented to return?

          Your logic is ridiciulous. Even if not all was stolen that doesn’t mean that nothing has been stolen. Even if some have fled that doesn’t mean that most of them have fled.

          Try to learn some basic set theory before writing another hasbara article.

          Reply to Comment
      • shachalnur

        Yoni,

        Do you often impersonate 11 year olds in order to get attention from other mentally and morally 8 year olds?

        Reply to Comment
        • Yoni

          You called my bluff, man.

          I was actually aiming for the mentally and morally 8 year olds who blindly agree with the article, not the mentally and morally 8 year olds who blindly disagree. But hey- I got your attention, didn’t I?

          But still- no one seemed to answer my questions. Which is sort of a repeating motive…

          Reply to Comment
          • shachalnur

            Adults impersonating children on the internet are usually child molesters.

            That’s what caught my attention,the rest of your dribble in windowdressing.

            Reply to Comment
          • Yoni

            Riiiiight… and what does this have to do with anything?

            Oh, wait- by Jove, man!

            You’ve insulted a complete stranger and implied that he is a child molester, how could I have been so blind?
            Your jib has made me see the error of my ways, I have been brainwashed by the Zionist media and was oh-so-wrong.

            This is bloody ridiculous. I may be a bit of a cynic at times, but I actually thought I could generate a thought provoking political discussion in this forum, and maybe gain a deeper understanding of some of the views on the conflict, from both sides of the spectrum.

            Well- I guess I did. Thank you Shachalnur, for your wonderful and kind explanation, outlining the more subtle aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You have truly enriched my world.

            Reply to Comment
          • shachalnur

            Oh,I see,you’re the victim.

            Reply to Comment
          • Yoni

            ???
            What does this have to do with anything?

            Why do I have the feeling that somewhere, someone is having an incredible laugh about this little exchange?

            Reply to Comment
          • shachalnur

            Impersonating children on the internet is no laughing matter,only in your twisted world.

            And that your comment get support from the IDF(proven child abusers) and some Zio-Nazi site,allegedly ,since this is the virtual world,only shows your comment was meant to be disgusting and obscene.

            If you want to talk about it,go see a shrink,there’s more of them per capita in Israel than anywhere else.

            Reply to Comment
          • Yoni

            Well, you’re just a big bully and a poopy head.

            This is amazing, I had no idea that this things were actually happening

            Reply to Comment
          • shachalnur

            You’re a Lingam,Yoni.

            Reply to Comment
          • Yoni

            Nice!
            I think you’ve won this round.
            Quite funny actually…

            Reply to Comment
    6. Daoud

      Thanks for this! This Arab-American greatly appreciates your openness to joining the greater Arab world as a Palestinian. It is my dream that the Middle East will one day be a united federation of states or regions where people of all religions can move about, living and working where they wish in a democratic society that protects and respects minorities. Perhaps then we will once again have thriving Jewish communities in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.

      Reply to Comment
      • Samuel

        “Thanks for this! This Arab-American greatly appreciates your openness to joining the greater Arab world as a Palestinian”

        Nice dream. But I would prefer it to be a new democratic human society not necessarily a democratic Arab society.

        In any case …

        Before I buy into it, I would want to see evidence that it is actually feasible. To date, I am not aware of a single Arab society which is non supremacist and which doesn’t oppress non Muslim religions (and sometimes even oppresses Muslims who happen to be different) and which is also democratic.

        So, until you guys show me one, I will stick with the imperfect but nevertheless democratic society that Israel already is.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ramzi

          Lebanon, morocco….

          Reply to Comment
          • Samuel

            Lebanon?

            You are kidding, right???!

            Morocco?

            How many Jews live in Morocco? There used to be many. What happened to them? They ware hated out. Right?

            Ditto for Lebanon. How many Jews in Lebanon? And, Shia hate Sunni, Sunni hate Christian and Druze. And the all hate the Palestinians.

            Lebanon in particular is a very bad example. Morocco, maybe but if that’s the best you can come up with then thanks but no thanks!

            Reply to Comment
    7. Average American

      You guys are dreaming. Of course there will be a separate Jewish State with a Jewish majority. That was set out by the Zionist founders at the inception of Israel and by the Zionist financiers Rothschilds. Bibi is a Zionist and so has been and will be every PM. Israel is the definition of Zionism. Zionism is about Jews. Nobody else. One heads-up for you: Zionism says Israel is going to be much larger than it is now, that means territorial expansion is Israel’s core purpose, to make room for The Jews, no matter who is there already. It’s Jewish Lebensraum, just like Aryan Lebensraum.

      Reply to Comment
      • Samuel

        “You guys are dreaming. Of course there will be a separate Jewish State with a Jewish majority.”

        Good to see that even you agree with that, Mr Average American. Good to see even our haters recognizing reality.

        Reply to Comment
    8. Tzutzik

      Judaism does not deserve to survive if Zionism does not survive.
      Nor will it if Israel dies.

      But Israel will not die. Am Yisrael Chai!

      Reply to Comment
      • Average American

        Fascinating. You are putting Zionism above Judaism. An ultra-nationalist political movement above a long-respected religion. Government above God. Click your boot heels and raise your arm to Zionism!

        Reply to Comment
        • Tzutzik

          “above a long-respected religion.”

          With the type of respect that your kind showed us, we are better off dead.

          Unless of course we can put your kind in your place by having our own state and not having to rely on your kind of respect because we have self respect instead.

          Having got as far as we got because of Zionism, if we don’t have the committment to hang on to it after 2000 years of being under your collective boots, then we don’t deserve to survive as a people. If for no other reason, then to deprive you, the anti-Semites of the pleasure of bullying us. You will just have to find another scapegoat to blame all your personal and emotional miseries for. Are you feeling sorry for yourself already, Average? Don’t worry. We are here to stay. We will give you as good as you give us and then some …

          Reply to Comment
      • Scootalol

        The 8 million-odd Jews who have long decided to not emigrate to Israel might argue the point with you. Israel does not define Judiasm or Jews.In fact Judaism has existed far longer than any nation named “Israel” current or past, and I’m pretty confident it’ll outlast the current incarnation quite handily.

        Reply to Comment
        • shachalnur

          Second that.

          Reply to Comment
    9. Vadim

      Call yourself whatever you like, who cares?

      Palestine is just a Roman name, usurped as usual by Arabs. There’s nothing inherently Arabic in it.

      “The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra” was called “The Palestine Symphony Orchestra” before 48. Ever heard of “The Anglo – Palestine” company? Ever saw coins with Palestine written on them? Ever thought why one side of a coin is called Pali in Hebrew? What’s the big deal?!

      We are all Palestinians, because we live in a region called by Palestine by some. There’s no contradiction with Zionism. All of your article is about stopping being Zionist or Israeli. Fine, but again – who cares?

      Reply to Comment
    10. Tzutzik

      Go and look at the trends.

      The Jewish population of Israel is experiencing healthy growth.

      The Jewish population of the diaspora (galut) is in decline because it is becoming more and more secular. Intermarriage and assimilation is on the rise. Hey, I have no problems with that. If Jews choose to stay in the Galut it is natural for them to assimilate rather than to live in Ghettos. But assimilated Jews are eventually lost to Judaism. That is just a fact of life whether one likes it or not.

      The only reason we survived as Jews in the past 2000 years was because of religion and paradoxically, to a lesser extent, because of anti-Semitism. When we were isolated and hated, it was easier to hold on to religion as a means of psychologically escaping the hatred. Both those trends are now gone and the facts speak for themselves.

      Without Israel, even those Israelis who would survive would be be so pissed off that we would not hang on to Judaism. Hey, most of us are already secular. The only reason we identify as Jews is because we consider ourselves as part of the Jewish nation. Without a Jewish nation, why would we be Jews? In order to be kicked?

      Reply to Comment
      • shachalnur

        I respect your opinion, Tzutzik,but what you describe is a very slippery slope.

        Sounds like suicide to me.

        Reply to Comment
      • Jan

        Is not Israel the largest ghetto of them all?

        Reply to Comment
    11. Yoni

      And besides- isn’t this the idea of having a dialogue?
      Saying something and getting a response?
      From what I see even your comments are getting responses from the same people.

      Reply to Comment
      • Tzutzik

        Yoni

        I wouldn’t worry about Shachalnur. Let him rave on and from time to time come back and give him a dose of his own medicine.

        He is an out and out nut job and a conspiracy theorist extraordinaire. He discredits himself every time he opens his mouth.

        Reply to Comment
    12. delia ruhe

      Lovely piece, Dorit. “Palestinian Jew” makes a lot more sense than “eternal victim,” which appears to be the preferred status of many of your responders here.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Yoni

      The author is naive. Israeli Jews will never relinquish Zionism and will prefer to live in an apartheid state. This will end the day they realize that they should leave the territories because the world will have punish them for the occupation and racism. A binational democratic state will never exist, that’s foolish. Neither israeli jews nor the palestinians will want that.

      Reply to Comment
    14. I enjoy, lead to I discovered exactly what I was having a look for.
      You’ve ended my four day lengthy hunt! God Blesws you man. Have
      a nice day. Bye

      Reply to Comment
    15. Eva de Wilde

      I am a Jew who lives in Jerusalem. For a while I was seeing a Jewish psychotherapist, who one day when I talked about “Palestinians”smiled and said Ï am a Palestinian too” and then explained he was born in Jerusalem during the Mandate period and had a Palestinian passport. Secondly, I live close to Beit Safafa, and except perhaps for names of streets, it is as prosperous a neighbourhood as the Jewish Katamonim neighbourhood. Beit Safafa even has a modern beautiful footballfield which the Katamonim neighbourhood lacks. and both neighbourhoods enjoy the new Park Mesilla, a walking and bicycle path on the former railroad tracks. Listen to the people who actually live in Jerusalem, not in Canada or wherever on the planet.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Jonathan Cartu

      “I draw hope – perhaps naively – from the bloody history of Canada, where the French and the British fought each other for several hundred years, until Canada’s indigenous people convinced both parties that neither one can defeat the other.”

      I’m not sure what Postmodern whackjob taught you that Canada’s indigenous people convinced the French and British to settle with one another, but he/she must have been high on peyote. The British and French did eventually settle their differences, however it was achieved through the bloody Seven Years War and ended with the abrogation of French sovereignty over all of New France. It was a zero-sum victory for the British and a terrible defeat for the French.

      If we’re using Canadian history as a model, then the Israelis might play the part of the successful conquerors (the British), and the Palestinians, the unfortunate conquered (French). Your mistaken analogy falls flat on the point that many Palestinians remain committed to armed struggle, whereas the French surrendered New France.

      I understand you are a somewhat recent immigrant to Canada. May I suggest you indulge yourself in a bit of elementary school Canadian history?

      Reply to Comment
    17. James Ron

      Bravo, Dorit. Well said. I am proud to have been in high school with you all those years ago. And congratulations on your new movie.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Ann E Fink

      What a difference a few decades makes! Palestinian Jews were not uncommon here in Australia when I was growing up. My grandfather married one in 1948 when I was 9 years old. Her family and others who had arrived in Australia in the first decades of the 20th century, came the area around Rehovot. Some from Jerusalem. I grew up familiar with institutions such as The Palestinian Post, now the Jerusalem Post. At a dinner party in Tel Aviv, not so long ago a woman in her 50s refused to believe that Palestinian Jews ever existed. They did.

      Reply to Comment
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