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If Israeli Jews want change, they must refuse to be masters

The fact that the occupier declares his refusal to be ‘the enemy’ of the oppressed is simply not enough. Israelis must go one step further and refuse to lord over Palestinians.

Members of Knesset lead a demonstration in Tel Aviv, attended by thousands of Arabs and Jews, against home demolitions and for equality. (Members of Knesset lead a demonstration in Tel Aviv, attended by thousands of Arabs and Jews, against home demolitions and for equality, February 4, 2017. (Tohar Lev Jacobson)

Members of Knesset lead a demonstration in Tel Aviv, attended by thousands of Arabs and Jews, against home demolitions and for equality. (Members of Knesset lead a demonstration in Tel Aviv, attended by thousands of Arabs and Jews, against home demolitions and for equality, February 4, 2017. (Tohar Lev Jacobson)

A few hours before Saturday evening’s Arab-Jewish protest in Tel Aviv, the town of Qalansuwa held a conference to mark the international day of solidarity with Palestinians in Israel. Yes, there is such a thing. This is the second year in a row that we mark this day, with events taking place in Gaza, Ramallah, and Beirut.

I had the honor of speaking at the conference on Saturday, and as far as I could tell I was the only Jewish person in the room. The event ended early enough for me to head to the march in Tel Aviv. Yet somehow at the end of the event, the protest seemed less relevant. Qalansuwa is less than an hour from Tel Aviv, yet it exists in what feels like a parallel universe. It seems to me that we needed to invest a bit more energy in learning about this universe before we celebrate on the streets of Tel Aviv.

Don’t get me wrong — these days every act of joint Arab-Jewish resistance is praiseworthy. But one can also wonder how it is that we always play the role of the “host?” Why do these acts of joint protest almost always take place in Tel Aviv, which gets to — once again — show the world how liberal it is, while Palestinians are forced to make yet another pilgrimage to the White City from across the country? One can also wonder about demonstrations where Hebrew is the dominant language, where Jews speak out against racism, home demolitions, police violence. Where they call for equality and refuse to be enemies.

Palestinian citizens of Israel demonstrate at a mass rally following the demolition of 11 homes in the Arab town of Qalansuwa, central Israel, January 13, 2017. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Palestinian citizens of Israel demonstrate at a mass rally following the demolition of 11 homes in the Arab town of Qalansuwa, central Israel, January 13, 2017. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Yet these are the same rallies where Jews refuse to openly say that the reality we see today is the logical conclusion of Zionism itself — not a detour. They cannot say that this is its natural course, and that there is no way to reach “equality” without building an alternative to Zionism. They dare not speak of a state for all its citizens.

A ‘holy symmetry’

I assume that much of this will sound like political purism that subverts honest attempts by well-meaning Jews and Arabs to create spaces for partnership, despite our inciting, dividing leadership, which seeks to set us against one another. This is not my intention. The organizers and participants are my allies and part of my political camp. But we must be able to have this discussion within our movement, where dominant voices often silence those who deserve to be heard.

Holding Jewish-Arab protests is an incredibly important thing in its own right, but the implied symmetry is problematic. One of the most prominent expressions of this imagined symmetry is, for instance, the flagship slogan of these protests: “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.” On paper, there is no more fitting slogan, especially in these days when hatred and enmity are running wild. But this slogan also hides an asymmetry that we must be aware of. The fact that Arabs refuse to be enemies of their occupier and oppressor is worthy of our deepest appreciation. The fact that the occupier refuses to be the enemy of the oppressed is certainly not enough. Jews should not refuse to be the enemy — they should refuse to be masters.

Sign reads "Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies" at J14 protest, August 20 2011 (photo: Oren Ziv/activestills)

A demonstrator holds a sign reading ‘Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies’ at a social justice protest, August 20, 2011 (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Among the thousands of participants in Saturday’s demonstration were, I assume, many Jews who have no real problem with a regime that grants them privileges at the expense of non-Jews, yet feel compelled to make clear that they “refuse to be enemies.” Perhaps it is the nature of these slogans to all-encompassing so that they include as many people as possible.

But we must also ask whether the number of attendants alone is enough to measure the success of a protest, and we are allowed to ask what kind of change a demonstration is trying to bring about when it refrains from slogans that actually touch on the root of the problem. And the root of the problem is not that Jews and Arabs want to be enemies — it is that same regime of privileges that even good Jews — some of whom even spoke onstage Saturday night — refuse to let go of.

Looking for the blind spots

This thinking not only dictates the slogans we hear, but its list of speakers. It is no coincidence that the rally was supposed to include a representative of the Zionist Union. It is no coincidence that not a single member of the Balad faction was invited to speak, and won’t likely be invited to these kinds of demonstrations.

If all it takes to participate in the protest is the willingness to declare that we “refuse to be enemies,” it means we are including representatives of a party that has not yet decided whether it supports or opposes a law that could expel a Palestinian elected official from the Knesset — while leaving out that very same official. This kind of demonstration, for me at least, becomes less attractive, and not only because I am a member of Balad. This is not a question of political ego or petty rivalries. While I praise my organizer friends for the successful protest, I believe we must be aware of the blind spots that leave people out of our movement.

After a trip through the streets of Qalansuwa and an hours worth of doing my best to understand the speeches in Arabic — an experience that, unfortunately, Jewish activists do not partake in very often — my optimism slowly dissipated, and I returned home to Jerusalem. The traffic, as usual, was in the opposite direction.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    1. AJew

      “Yet these are the same rallies where Jews refuse to openly say that the reality we see today is the logical conclusion of Zionism itself”

      This is where the author lost me.

      According to her, Jews advocating self determination for Jews, to have one Jewish majority state in the world is a problem.

      Arab nationalism is not a problem though. How many Arab states are there? And how many of them openly call themselves Islamic states? That’s not a problem for the author. Only one sole tiny little Jewish majority state which serves as a haven for Jews against historic persecutions is a problem for her. That’s why she lost me.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @AJew: This may have escaped your attention, but the roughly 6.5 milllion Jews need to control, dominate and quarantine the 6.5 milllion Palestinians in order for there to be a “Jewish state”. In some kind of pure, ideal, theoretical sense there’s nothing wrong with the idea of a “Jewish state”, it’s the details that are problematic.

        Reply to Comment
        • AJew

          Not really Bruce.

          Israel’s Arab citizens represent only 20% of the population. That is by anyone’s language a Jewish majority.

          The West Bank Arabs on the other hand are never destined to be Israeli citizens, so there goes your 6.5 million Jews, 6.5 million Arabs 50-50 claim.

          I know they are desperately delaying the signing of a peace deal with us with the vain hope that ultimately they would be able to claim that an Arab state is not viable and therefore we must accept the West Bank Arabs too as citizens or else they will continue their lie about us being an apartheid state. I know that is their strategy but that kind of blackmail won’t work. The end result is that they will have their own state in whatever part of the West Bank, or they will become citizens of Jordan. Whatever they prefer but they will never become Israeli citizens, so the Jewish majority will be maintained nor will we become apartheid. So there!

          Reply to Comment
        • i_like_ike52

          I quote Dennis Prager: “If Israel laid down its weapons tomorrow, the Jewish of Israel would be slaughtered, if the Arabs laid down their weapons tomorrow, there would be peace within 24 hours”. I hope that explains why the situation is as complicated as you indicated.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Yeah, some peace. While you go on happily munching away at Palestinian land and exclaiming how wonderful “peace” is. What you say is spoken by someone who thinks shoving people off their land and brutally occupying them for 50 years is “peaceful.” “We Israelis, we’re so peaceful.” Explain that concept of “peace” to the people whose private land you confiscated in 86.4% of Ma’aleh Adumim or whose land you elsewhere confiscated for “firing practice” and whose olive trees you peacefully tore out by the thousands to build an access road to your “peaceful” settlement. Among the Palestinians’ weapons are international law, the Geneva Conventions, and the opinion of the United States and Europe. If the Palestinians laid down those weapons you’d swallow the entire West Bank within 24 hours and begin mass population transfers in the next 24.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            Not the opinions of the United States. Just the opinions of Obama and Kery and Carter.

            Bush, Reagan and now Trump did/do not call the settlements illegal. They may call it unwise, unhelpful or whatnot. But not illegal.

            As for the rest of the world who play self interested politics? What can one say? It is the same world which allowed a UNESCO resolution to pass which claims that Jerusalem is a holy city of the Muslims but did not mention that it is holy for Jews and Christians too.

            And what did the Palestinian Arabs do when that same world voted for the partition of the British Mandate of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state? The Arabs ignored the wishes of the same world. So guess, what, Benny? We feel the same way. Why are we then bigger villains than your Palestinian Arabs?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            ​Again this is really bullshit. Administrations since Eisenhower deliberately pulled their punches diplomatically and downgraded “illegal” to their standard code word, “illegitimate,” but did this for external diplomatic, Israel-covering reasons. All the while their internal State Department legal judgment was that the settlements are in fact illegal. “Oh hey, but the USA says we are illegitimate! Hooray!”

            The Unesco resolution is another subject you are using to distract.* What the UN did with this resolution does not change what opinion the US and Europeans have of the settlements and it remains true that if the Palestinians lay down their true (non-military) arms as opposed to Ike’s imaginary armies of tanks on the plains poised to overrun Israel, they would be overrun by settlers (and an Israeli army in tanks) in no time flat. Anyone who listens to the statements of the Likud, the Yesha Council, and the Israeli government would have to be a complete freier to believe otherwise.

            * “Anti-Semitism, for Netanyahu and much of the Israeli and Jewish press, is clickbait. Mention it and you can all but guarantee almost automatic outrage. Just like advertisers can avoid talking about why a car is expensive by using sexual imagery or even the word “sex” to sell it, the Israeli government can dodge difficult questions about its policy by “anti-Semitizing” those who raise these questions…. Nowhere in the UNESCO resolution is there any statement invalidating or denying Jews’ connection to Temple Mount…”
            read more: https://972mag.com/lets-talk-about-what-unesco-resolution-does-say-instead-of-what-it-doesnt/122629/

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            “Administrations since Eisenhower deliberately pulled their punches diplomatically and downgraded “illegal” to their standard code word, “illegitimate”

            Pulled their punches? Why? Is Israel so terrifying? They are scared of Israel? How about you pull the other one Benny?

            Now again seeing you never give up, I won’t give up either:

            The Arabs ethnically cleansed the West Bank of Jews between 1948 and 1967. They created “facts on the ground” of no Jews in the West Bank.

            So why would you expect Israel to accept such “facts on the ground” after having defeated another war of aggression by the Arabs in 1967? Why would you expects Israel to keep the West Bank free of Jews after Israel ended up controlling the West Bank in 1967?

            Question:

            If the Arabs would have won the war in 1967, do you think they would have kept Arab refugees and their descendants out of Israel?

            The answer is obvious. No, they WOULD NOT HAVE KEPT THE ARAB REFUGEES and THEIR DESCENDANTS OUT OF ISRAEL. And no one would have even blinked an eye about THAT!!!

            So, given all that, we don’t really care what anybody says. Least of all the biased politicised UN. And the rest of the countries are the ones who make up the UN. In other words, they all hold their own self interest above what happens to tiny Israel. They would all rather not piss off the large Arab Muslim block so they are happy to call Israel names and to chastise it in order to please the Arabs and their friends. Do they mean any of it? Nah. They are just playing a double game and at the same time they are winking at us. Get it, Benny?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            ​C’mon, Gussie, you know the Americans pull their punches all the time on behalf of Israel. Are you really that churlish and ungrateful that you can’t acknowledge it? Latest pulled punch: 14-0-1. That “1” is a pulled punch.

            “The Jews” cleansed much of Israel of “the Arabs” too in those times. Your sense of grievance, as always, is non-evenhanded.

            “we don’t really care what anybody says”
            Well now you’re being honest.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            “Are you really that churlish and ungrateful that you can’t acknowledge it?”

            Ungrateful to you Benny? What? You want me to kiss your feet?

            “Your sense of grievance, as always, is non-evenhanded.”

            Yep you are right Benny-leh. I should be as even handed as you are, right?

            “we don’t really care what anybody says”
            Well now you’re being honest.”

            What?! Do you really want me to care what people like you say, Benny-leh? I just can’t bring myself to do it. I really tried honest, Bennyleh, but I just can’t take you seriously. Do you find you have that effect on other people too, Benny-leh? I bet you do. Don’t be shy, just fess up 😋

            Reply to Comment
    2. Susan

      This is where I roll my eyes and understand why the Israeli left never wins elections.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        This is where I roll my eyes and understand why Israel never solves its de facto one state apartheid problem and thinks magically “it will be fine.” I roll my eyes at people who expect to be thought exceptional for refusing to be the enemy of the people they occupy and steal from, and expect the people they occupy and steal from to refuse to be enemies.

        Reply to Comment
        • AJeew

          “steal from, and expect the people they occupy and steal from to refuse to be enemies.”

          But you have no problems with the enemies of Israel saying that the Jewish state has no right to exist as a Jewish state while at the same time 22 Arab states already exist and many of those designate their state religion as Islam. With that, you have no problems, right Benny?

          Reply to Comment
        • AJew

          “I roll my eyes at people who expect to be thought exceptional for refusing to be the enemy of the people they occupy and steal from, and expect the people they occupy and steal from to refuse to be enemies.”

          For the purpose of discussion, I’ll ignore Benny’s jibe about the word “steal”.

          Before 1967 there were no “settlements” yet the Palestinian Arabs still called themselves Israel’s enemy. And they acted like our enemies too. So what’s your excuse for them for being our enemies before 1967, Benny?

          Drum roll…Drum roll…Drum roll…

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            ​C’mon, Gussie, accepting the 1948 events they call the Nakba and moving on and no longer fighting for that land is their compromise. In the interests of a decent peace and final status arrangement. It’s already built in. That they should also “compromise” on the settlements is your far right, peace-killing assumption and product of your unexamined sense of entitlement.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            Poor Benny. Just because you live in lah lah land don’t expect others to live there too.

            For your information, to date, your precious Palestinian Arabs accepted nothing. For starters, they have still not shown that they gave up their old aims of 1948 (and before). They still refuse to recognise that Israel is a Jewish state with an Arab minority. Which was always the intention of the UN vote of 1947. Yes. They mentioned JEWISH state specifically when they voted to partition Palestine. But your precious Arabs still have not accepted that.

            As for the Nakba, you say they accepted it? Well then, you are lying through your teeth (sorry, I have to say it as it is because we had this discussion before and you cannot pretend to be ignorant any more). The reason every peace initiative failed to date is because the Arabs insist that every refugee and their descendants (that’s Millions of Arabs) have the right to choose to “return” to live in Israel. Most of these people (the descendants) of course never lived in Israel.

            That’s your idea, Benny, that the Arabs accepted the Nakba? Yea, just because you say that the earth is flat, it does not mean that the earth is really flat. Get my drift, Benny?

            Reply to Comment

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